Traveling brings challenges both maddening and mundane: fees for overweight suitcases, tight fits in overhead bins, lost luggage and ever-shifting security policies. Fortunately, gadget makers have your back, inventing all kinds of new devices that may bail you out on a trip and still fit in a carry-on suitcase.
After reviewing the best of what’s new, we’ve chosen seven time-saving and stress-reducing gadgets to help you check your travel troubles at the gate.
It’s no fun having to unpack your overweight luggage at the check-in counter to transfer a few pounds of your unmentionables to another suitcase so you can avoid additional fees.
The Balanzza Mini compact hand-held scale lets you weigh your luggage before you get to the airport and avoid hassle and embarrassment.
Attach the USB-powered scale to your suitcase and lift the ergonomic handle. After a few seconds, the back-lit screen displays the weight in pounds or kilograms. The handy scale is about the size of a harmonica, weighs only a few ounces, and stows easily.
Travel & Leisure named the Balanzza Mini one of its Ultimate Travel Essentials picks, raving that the little luggage scale is “so functional you can use it on autopilot.” Wirecutter calls the Balanzza Mini the next best thing to smart luggage with a built-in scale.
Balanzza Mini luggage scale on Amazon: $24.95
Winter isn’t quite over yet, which means trying to find space in your suitcase for bulky items such as jackets and sweaters. It’s easy to use a vacuum cleaner with compression bags when you’re packing for a trip at home. But what do you do once you get to your destination and unpack?
The Vago vacuum compressor solves the problem with a spice jar-sized device that CNET says “makes it easy to vacuum pack your luggage.” And who couldn’t use a little more room for the souvenirs and gifts we all pick up during your travels? The process is simple. Put your bulky clothes inside the compression bag, attach the micro USB-charged compressor and press a button. In less than five minutes, your clothes will shrink to half their previous size. A pressure sensor automatically turns off the compressor once all the excess air is removed.
One con: The Vago comes with only one medium-sized bag, and additional bags aren’t cheap at $18.99 to $20.99 (depending on the size).
Vago vacuum compressor on Amazon: $69.99
SMART WRITING SET
Sometimes nothing beats the feeling of putting pen to paper — even if you want the results to end up in digital form eventually. The Moleskine smart-writing set lets you take notes and draw pictures in one of its distinctive journals as your work syncs in real time to a smartphone or tablet. The mobile app can transcribe handwritten words into digital text in 15 languages.
PC Magazine named the Moleskine smart notebook its Editors’ Choice for digital note-taking devices, praising it as “an impressive note-taking solution, combining the familiar tactile feel of writing in a notebook with convenient modern technology.”
At first glance, the notebook looks just like any other Moleskine with its elastic strap enclosure.
But flip it open, and a dotted grid on the technology-embedded pages pairs the notebook with an infrared camera-enabled smart pen. The companion app lets you adjust stroke thickness or change the ink color on the fly. The micro USB-powered pen’s onboard memory can store up to 1,000 pages if you happen to be away from your phone or tablet (like that would ever happen).
The one knock: It’s expensive.
Moleskine smart writing set on Amazon: $199.99
Smartphones can take very fine pictures, but what if you want to elevate your photography to the amazing level without the hassle of lugging around a bulky digital SLR camera?
Lenses from a company called Moment let you take DSLR-quality photos with either an iPhone or Android. Mount one of its wide-angle or telephoto attachments over your phone’s lens and you’re ready to go. The wide lens expands your field of view beyond your phone’s fixed lens to capture two times more picture while the telephoto lens offers four times the optical zoom with less image degradation.
Wirecutter says Moment has the best wide-angle and telephoto lenses, producing impressively clear images with little distortion. “For avid smartphone photographers concerned about high-quality, print-ready results, Moment lenses are worth the investment,” says the Wirecutter’s review.
Moment DSLR lenses: $89.99 (telephoto) and $99.99 (wide angle)
Sometimes you need a little extra peace of mind when you’re traveling to an unfamiliar place.
The Lewis N. Clark travel alarm is a reusable sensor that attaches to a door or window in seconds, adding a layer of protection to your hotel, Airbnb or hostel room while you’re out or asleep.
To set it up, just slide the motion-sensor blades into the crack between the door and the doorframe, loop the cord around the doorknob and set the alarm. When triggered, the alarm produces a high-pitched sound and flashing LED light that alerts you and, hopefully, deters intruders.
The alarm runs on two lithium button cell batteries and doubles as an LED flashlight. The pocket-sized device weighs only a couple ounces and fits comfortably in your suitcase.
The Points Guy calls the Lewis N. Clark travel door alarm a “great little accessory.”
Lewis N. Clark travel door alarm on Amazon: $11.99
Ditch that ridiculous-looking selfie stick for a pocket-sized photo drone that takes photos and video from up to 65 feet in the air. The AirSelfie photo drone is the size of a cell phone and weighs about two ounces. The micro USB-powered drone can fly for about three minutes on a charge. To launch the drone, you just toss it in the air and swipe the take-off switch on AirSelfie’s smartphone app, which also lets you control the drone. Built-in sonar and a visual sensor help steady it in the air. Be aware: Rules regarding drone flight vary by state and country, with some locales banning their personal use.
Image files are transferred wirelessly to your smartphone from the drone’s four-gigabyte memory. Mashable says the “pocket-sized flying camera takes the perfect aerial selfies.” Forbes says the drone “delivers Snapchat-worthy selfies.” The recently announced AirSelfie2 upgrades the camera quality, battery life and memory capacity of the original.
One downside: The five-megapixel camera isn’t fantastic, but it still takes sharp photos, according to Forbes.
AirSelfie photo drone: $339
It’s easy to misplace things when you’re traveling, especially in unfamiliar environments where nothing is where it usually is. Fortunately, there’s a small solution to this big problem: Attach one of Tile’s smaller Tile Mate trackers to anything you want to find if it should ever get lost: Your keys, passport, wallet, suitcase or even a wandering child. You’ll know exactly where they are at all times via a smartphone app.
The Tile Mate uses Bluetooth wireless to connect with an app on your phone. If it’s within range (100 to 200 feet, depending on the model), you can push a button on the app to make the Tile sound a ringing noise. Lost your phone? The Tile Mate can find that, too. Press the button in the middle of the tiny square fob twice, and your phone will ring, even in silent mode. The Tile Mate can even track possessions outside of your Bluetooth range. Anyone with the Tile app open immediately picks up the location of any nearby trackers and updates Tile’s home-grown network with their latest location.
The Points Guy calls the Tile Mate the “best little travel companion.” Popular Mechanics says it “can be a lifesaver if you’re hotel hopping around the world.”
Tile Mate Bluetooth tracker on Amazon: $19.99
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