By Deborah Brauser
Is it getting hot in here or is just the new high-tech gadgets rolling out across the country? These gadgets are becoming more and more sophisticated to meet the needs of today's savviest travelers. Whether you're hitting the road for business or for fun, check out these cool tools that bring convenience in head-turning packages.
Battery- and solar-powered pocket-sized chargers, such as the JuiceBar
or Mophie Juice Packs
, are suddenly sprouting up all over. These light weight battery banks provide on-the-go power for USB devices such as phones, tablets, and portable game consoles.
Sue Poremba, from State College, Pennsylvania, used a JuiceBar on her recent trip to Italy and called it the "perfect" travel accessory, especially when she and her husband were on planes with MP3 players that were gasping for breath with no accessible outlets.
"It means I don't have to carry around a ton of extra plugs when I travel," said Poremba. "I knew I wasn't going to use my phone in Italy, so I didn't take my phone charger with me -- one less thing to worry about packing and losing."
She noted that the JuiceBar was also convenient after the trip while on a 4-hour bus ride from the airport to her home.
"I wanted to tell my kids we were back and also make sure I hadn't missed any important work emails, but my phone battery was about dead. I plugged into the JuiceBar and not only could it work, but it charged up my phone a bit, too," she explained.
Poremba added that she appreciates that the device has "a ton of different adapters" and charged everything she threw at it except for her camera battery. However, "you can plug in your own adapter directly to the JuiceBar," she reported.
"We take it with us whenever we travel, and I suspect I'll take it with me to football games this fall. It seems like our phones or mp3 players (with FM radios) seem to die in the middle of games."
Stylish and Green
Another option can be found with backpacks, duffels, and even purses with these types of chargers built right into the lining or inside pockets.
, known for its stylish line of travel laptop cases, is now offering 4 choices of "Power Trips Rechargeable Bags." These colorful AND highly useful bags have battery packs that will charge all USB or Micro USB-powered devices (except for a laptop) with 2 connection cords. The cases themselves can be charged from a standard wall outlet and are then ready to provide charge for up to 10 days.
Although the charger is considered to be "built in," it is actually located in a tightly velcroed pocket. This mean it can be taken out and moved to a different satchel, if needed.
Another interesting fact: the linings for all of the bags are made from recycled plastic water bottles!
Urban Junket's founder is a former marketing executive at Best Buy's corporate headquarters and helped launch the company's Geek Squad brand. After logging a lot of miles during her own days as a road warrior, Tracy Dyer wondered why she couldn't find anything that combined fashion and style with the need to carry (and keep organized) a lot of stuff.
"It was at Best Buy that I first got the idea for building better laptop bags," said Dyer. For the Power Trips, "We wanted to offer convenience…with eco-friendly, sustainable materials that are also strong enough to hold the technology well."
In addition, she reports that the battery packs are TSA safe and don't need to be removed at airport security points, and that they "run cool." This means there's no risk of it heating up items in the bag or melting lipsticks.
Although pricey (the Power Trips start at $228), you can't beat the convenience. And a pleasant surprise is how little each one weighs.
Confession time: I tried out early models of rechargeable backpacks and was disappointed with the feeling of carrying around a brick - even before adding anything else inside its confines. But the Urban Junket batteries only weigh around 5 ounces, "which is a third of the weight of an iPhone," said Dyer. "And our heaviest bag is only 1.8 pounds."
"This is really important if you're putting in a laptop and papers and folders and magazines, or if you're having to ferry around some of your husband's stuff, or if you need to carry a lot of kid travel items," she added.
Until the James Bond-like Google Glass computer-infused glasses drastically drop their price, the coolest option right now for wearable technology appears to be a fully loaded smart watch. And many reviewers agree that the best of the current options is the Sony SmartWatch.
This sharp-looking watch allows wearers to check email and texts, make social media updates, and control music playlists. And it's compatible with Android smart phones. Just put your watch by your phone, install the manager software from the Google Play store, pair the two gadgets, and use!
Although it comes with a black rubber strap, the watch face can be clipped to other wristbands.
A reviewer at CNET called the watch sleek and stylish while offering "a wide range of wireless functions." Their main bad points: that it functions only with an Android and that it can be difficult to read in direct sunlight.
A little bulkier, the Pebble E-Paper watch works with both Android and iPhone. And, according to ABC News, a smart watch from Apple is rumored to be launched by the end of this year.
For a less technical option, the LoungePac
portable lounge chair is simply brilliant. When folded down, the chair acts as a wheeled supply cart for a day at the beach, a tailgating party, an open-air concert, or any other outdoor event where a comfortable seat packed with storage options would be welcomed.
When opened, simply attach the enclosed umbrella, roll out the leg support, and start unpacking your supplies for the day. The LoungePac has an adjustable foam pillow, 2 detachable coolers (one big enough to hold a wine bottle), and a removable tote bag for belongings. And for just $20 extra, it can come with speakers that position behind your head and plug into most phones and other music devices.
At just 22 pounds, the chair is perfect for car trips. Although it's too big at 32" x 25" x 12" to fit into a plane's overhead bin, the Florida-based company's founder, Daniel Pedemonte, said that he and his wife have checked theirs as luggage.
And for 2014, the company is planning to sell a new custom bag accessory that exposes the LoungePac's wheels so that it can be transported through airports.
Click this link
for a short video clip showing just how easy it is to set up and use, including how the built-in cup holders can keep a full wine glass from falling over.
Speaking of wine, an entry for the "so simple why didn't anyone think of this before" award should go to WineSkins
. Designed specifically for anyone who worries about how to travel home with a prized bottle of wine, WineSkins are leak-proof, bottle-shaped, bubble-wrapped, sealable transport bags. And they only cost $10 for a pack of 3.
How secure are these bags? The company reports on its website that one customer travelled from Australia with a Riesling tucked into a WineSkin in their checked luggage. The baggage handlers managed to break the bottle but no wine leaked out onto the other items in the suitcase.
In addition to a clear look, the product is also available in a variety of bright colors, including 4 that represent the company's support to charitable organizations such as the Lupus Foundation of America.
WineSkins are currently available from retailers in 36 states, including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Texas. And they hope to go into Walgreens stores all across the nation soon. For now, the company suggests that any liquor store not currently carrying the bags should contact the company. So if you can't find any in your area, push your local retailer to make that call.
What are your current favorite travel gadgets? Drop us a line and let us know what tools you can't travel with -- and what we should check out next!