One of the things that gets us jazzed here at Cruiseable is when we connect people with a great travel experience, whether it’s a cruise, shore excursion or land vacation. And while we’re big on mobile apps, we also like to keep on top of the latest and greatest gadgets for travelers.
I’ll start from the premise that you already have a smartphone and that you’re open to bringing along other gizmos if they do something you can’t get done on your phone.
Here, then, are 10 examples of cool gadgets and gear you may find useful — or even indispensable — on your summer vacation or your next cruise.
The trusty camera on your smartphone does the job for 95% of your travel photos. But to really wow your relatives, think about an action camera like the industry-leading GoPro. Of course, it helps if you do something interesting on your trip, like ziplining, parasailing, hang gliding, kiteboarding, paddleboarding, flyboarding, surfing, kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving, free diving, skydiving, skiing, bungee jumping, rappelling, caving (spelunking), taking a float plane, driving an all-terrain vehicle and even bicycling (though not all at the same time). But even if you never get off the ship, a GoPro can capture some great time-lapse sunsets.
I like the HERO4 Silver model ($399), which captures dazzling video at full-HD 1080p and 720p and 12-megapixel photos at 30 frames per second for those can’t-miss moments. A video-trimming function lets you create and share short highlight clips. And when you’re back home, use it while playing with your kids or grandkids — say, on the swings.
Alternative: A lower-priced alternative is the Waterproof 12MP sj1000 ($100.45), which records high-quality 1080p footage and lets you play back video on a small screen.
Track your stuff
OK, I'll 'fess up: I lose stuff more often than the average traveler. So I'm glad to see the rise of several startups offering us a way to keep track of everything from car keys to a wallet to a laptop — maybe even a passport. Just attach a small device to your most critical items and track their location on your smartphone. There are several options out there — Tile, Duet, StickNFind — but the one I like best is TrackR. Affix a TrackR bravo to your belongings and see their location in real time. A tech solution to absent-mindedness — who knew? Cost: $29.99 to track one item, $89.99 to track five.
Portable hotspots & off-grid communication
A goTenna is a candy bar–size device that lets you text a travel companion without the need for cell towers, wi-fi or satellite uplink. No one buys walkie-talkies anymore, but goTennas work on the same device-to-device principle: The gadget attaches to any iPhone or Android phone and transmits messages over long-range radio waves to other goTennas nearby, and it can transfer data up to several miles away. So think about it: A goTenna would come in handy not only on long nature walks but on cruises abroad when you don't want to pay roaming charges. Genius! Cost: $199.
Alternative: Limited to the United States, Karma Go is a great solution for domestic travelers. Unlike other mobile hotspots that require you to pay a monthly charge regardless of whether or not you use them, Karma Go, a portable LTE hotspot, only charges you for the data you use over a 4G LTE connection. Cost for the 2.3-ounce device: $119.
Portable power boosts
(Battery chargers & smartphone extenders)
Like most travelers, I bring my devices along when I’m cruising abroad, and battery life is still a challenge — especially for my iPhone 6 — on long day trips in port. Solutions to his problem come in many flavors. See which one is right for you:
- The Mophie Space Pack case does two things well: It doubles the battery life of your iPhone (various models) and can add up to 64GB of extra storage for photos, videos and other files you might not have space for on your device. Multiple versions: The Space Pack for iPhone 6 costs $149.95. The Juice Pack for Galaxy 6 (for twice the battery life but no extra storage) costs $99.95. Other versions, too.
- Moshi’s iGlaze Ion solves the problem of too-bulky smartphone battery charge cases. It’s designed to slide on when you need it and slide right off when you don’t, and it comes with a sleek matching iPhone case so your phone will always stay protected. iPhone 6 and 6S only. Cost: $99.95.
- The Goal Zero Venture 30 Recharger isn't a smartphone case, it's a standalone waterproof charger with an impressive 7800mAh of power that lets you charge small devices, cameras and tablets charged — up to two at a time via two high-speed ports. Cost: $88.14
- Want something less pricey? The Powerocks Thunder Power Stratus Portable Charger is a detachable 3200mAh unit that you can carry in a purse, pocket, carrying case or backpack. Just connect it when your juice is running and low and it'll recharge your iPhone, iPad, Android phone, mp3 player, GPS gizmo or other mobile device up to two times. Cost: $19.95. Other units with more power cost $39.99 to $59.99 but they're heavier. (I own an older powerstick model, which works well.)
- Another worthy low-priced choice: the Lumsing Power Bank (LUM 008-01), which sports a high-powered 10,400mAh battery and two USB ports to recharge your mobile devices. The unit weighs in at just 8.35 ounces. Cost: $25.
- A final economical choice: the myCharge Hub 6000 mAh Power Bank. Costs $35 for the 6000 mAh unit with built-in USB ports to charges three devices at once.
Multiuse chargers & power banks
Having portable power to go is great for your smartphone on board a ship or in port. But what about bigger power needs? Up until now, you had to add a big, bulky extension cord to your packing list. Today, these two solutions offer an alternative.
- The chargers above are great for your smartphone but won't do anything for your laptop, especially on long flights with no electrical outlets. The Zolt Laptop Charger Plus, introduced in November, is a compact charger that lets you power up your laptop and two mobile devices — say, your smartphone and tablet or camera — at the same time. It's light, portable and simple. Cost: $99.99. In fact, I'm ordering one right now.
- There are lots of "power banks" and "power stations" out there, all set to charge a multitude of devices — not really for on-the-go use, but for use in your stateroom or hotel room or campsite after a heavy day of media or phone usage (and especially for families with teens and 20somethings ). One good choice is Intocircuit’s 26000mAh Power Castle, which offers both USB and voltage-adjustable DC outputs and comes with more than 20 power adapters for laptops, tablets, phones, cameras, mp3 players, you name it. It's not tiny, at 7.28 x 0.79 x 4.92 inches. If the 26000mAh is overkill, choose a smaller unit. Cost: $99.99.
360-degree photos & video
The Ricoh Theta, a 5-inch-high camera, takes 360-degree spherical panoramic videos and still photos, letting you claim the mantle of cutting-edge media superstar in your family. The compact digital camera comes with a fixed lens and 4GB of memory, and it lets you share your creations with your social network on the fly. It's pricey but has that sizzle factor. Cost: Two versions, $249.95 and $349.95.
Let me get this out of the way: I'm not a fan selfie sticks — they're emblematic of our self-obsessed times. Some cruise lines have banned them, they've even been banned in South Korea. But I know a lot of you like them! So here you go: the Fugetek FT-568 Selfie Stick for Apple, Android, GoPro, & DLSR cameras, with wireless Bluetooth remote. Cost: $19.99
A short video showing the Nest Cam IQ, which debuted this year.
Monitor your home
Do you worry about what's happening back home when you're traveling? Simplicam ($149) and Nest Cam ($199) let you tune into a live video feed of your home from wherever you are to make sure your house hasn't been ransacked or your teen isn't throwing a party worthy of "Animal House." They both work essentially the same way: Set up a Wi-Fi–connected camera in one or more rooms that you can access via the Web from your laptop or smartphone. The services record continuous video and will also send you alerts if anything bad happens while you're away.
If you're traveling cross-country, overseas or on a cruise, you just might want a little down time to relax with your digital media. The LaCie Fuel is a device that lets you carry your entire home movie or music collection with you wherever you go. You can use the LaCie app to stream music, movies or photos to up to five different devices at the same time. Android and iOS users can access the Fuel with the Seagate Media app. No more need to upload movies you want to bring along to your tablet or phone before you take off. Cost: $179.99.
High-tech sleep aids
Whether you're on a transatlantic flight, in a hotel room or sacking out in a stateroom on your cruise, you might have trouble getting to sleep in the new surroundings on your trip. Here are two solutions:
- The Glo To Sleep Sleep Mask from Sound Oasis is a high-tech sleep aid where soft blue lights inside the mask help you drift off to sleep. The approach is based on Eastern meditation and relaxation techniques. Cost: $29.99.
- The official sound conditioner of the National Sleep Foundation, the Dohm from Marpac is a compact, no-nonsense device that emits white noise that resembles the sound of rushing air in your room. It has the effect of blocking out everything from street noise to disco music in the nightclub upstairs. Cost: $45.99 to $49.99.
There are other travel-worthy devices I’ve left out of this roundup — digital cameras, ebook readers, smart watches, noise-canceling headphones, fitness devices like the Fitbit, music players like the $49 iPod shuffle — but those will have to wait for another day.
How about you? What cool gadgets do you bring along on your travels?
Editor's note: J.D. Lasica is a former columnist for Engadget, among other things. As always, Cruiseable accepts no compensation from brands in return for featuring their products here. See our Ethics and Disclosure policy.