I'm a travel-gear geek. Two-way radios, crampons, a helmet cam bought for filming a motorbike ride through the Himalayas, dry bags for protecting gear on boating trips, solar devices for charging my iPad when I'm far from mains power - I've got the works. Worst of all is my addiction to camera bags.
Eight at the moment, each one for a different purpose. But I'm not alone in my travel-gear fetish. Noise-cancelling headphones, smartphones, tablets and e-readers have become, for many, an essential part of our travel kit.
Depending on what you're doing when you're away, you may want to throw in a PlayStation Portable, a speaker to beef up the sound on your MP3 player or an underwater camera. Many of these items require chargers, and so these modest devices require a whole subset of cables and chargers just to keep them functioning.
My addiction means I hardly ever travel light, and although light is virtuous, the hair shirt is no foundation for fun. The right gear at the right moment will enhance your life on the road, and may even save your bacon.
After a recent sundown dinner cruise on Katherine Gorge in the Northern Territory, my torch saved a dozen of us from having to grope our way back to the parking lot on a pitch-black night.
On a mountain trail in Italy's Dolomites, my walking poles were the only thing between me and a nasty fall when I had to make a traverse across a late spring avalanche.
Now that passengers on certain flights to Britain and the US are being asked to demonstrate that they have a working device, a back-up battery that will add juice to your smartphone or tablet could be a lifesaver. Passengers who cannot power up their device will have to surrender it before being allowed to board. Something as simple as a flat battery could see you parted from your mobile phone, with reunion a distant prospect.
Some travel gear should be used with discretion, or not at all. If you're thinking of using a Zadro UV Disinfection Scanner Wand that you wave over foreign dishes to zap bacteria, you should probably stay home. Ditto the CamelBak Hydration Pack. Wear it around the Colosseum and the Italians will joke about feeding you to the lions. Save that one for trail running.
Here are some favourites that lie in my "must ride" bin, tried and true friends that have proven their worth over many years on the road.
Bose SoundLink Mini Bluetooth Speaker Just slightly longer than your hand, with up to seven hours of battery life, this portable speaker connects wirelessly to your phone, tablet or laptop to juice up your listening experiences, whether it's meditation podcasts or Meatloaf.
Merino Loft jacket from Icebreaker Toasty warm, windproof and compact. A new enviro-friendly take on the puffer, this handsome, tailored quilted jacket is lined with superfine merino, which offers warmth with minimal bulk. The recycled polyester skin blunts breezes and resists light showers, and there's a hood for the big chill. Available in black or Aegean blue.
Fuji Instax mini 8 Want to spread love, joy and smiles in a Third-World village? Nothing beats a portrait shot you can give to your subject, which is just what this moulded plastic miracle camera produces - instantly. This is a fantastic icebreaker that will guarantee happy faces if you also want to shoot digital-camera images. Credit-card size prints cost about $1 each.
Leki trekking poles If you're taking a serious walk in the wilds, walking poles give you poise, balance and put wings on your feet, especially when you're descending over rough terrain.
Leki make a quality range - I like the Aergon grip models but that's a personal thing. Get two, one won't do the job.
Joby GorillaPod Lugging a tripod around on your day out is no fun, but how else to shoot the Taj Mahal by moonlight, or a waterfall with that ghostly flowing-water effect? Enter the Gorillapod, your stable, light and flexible friend. Its three multi-segmented legs bend and rotate like tentacles. Although you can use it as a conventional tabletop tripod, you can also wrap it around a lamp-post, a branch, a railing or any other solid piece of street or forest furniture. From lightweight models up to the Gorillapod Focus, which can support a load of five kilograms.
Aeronaut bag from Tom Bihn The gold standard of carry-ons. Weighs 1.36 kilograms, sneaks in under the maximum dimensions yet holds a whopping 45 litres and squashes happily into overloaded carry-on compartments. On the downside, there are no wheels. This is luggage you must lug, although the built-in, zip-away backpack straps lessen the strain. At US$250 (NZ$295), and available only from their Seattle headquarters, the Aeronaut bag is more suitable for the frequent traveller who values quality engineering and will pay for it.
USB car charger If you're behind the wheel and using your phone or tablet as a GPS you're likely to chew through your device's battery, which is why you need one of these. Get a dual-port version and keep everyone happy.
Lowepro Street & Field camera bags Lowepro camera bags come in many versions and they're built for the rough stuff. I attach my Lowepro Toploader and lens cases to a Lowepro Technical Belt which allows me to customise my gear for the occasion, worn around the waist for quick access.
Black Rapid camera strap SLR cameras are tedious things to tote around, but Black Rapid straps soften the pain. Wide, non-slip and well padded, these superlative straps banish shoulder fatigue and the twin clips let you determine exactly where you want the camera to hang alongside your body.
Torch Tree roots, moonlit staircases and cobblestones can bring you to your knees after dark, so you need a pocket-sized torch. I use an UltraFire Cree LED torch, which casts a big pool of light and zooms down to a pinpoint, available from Amazon USA.
Hat Rain or shine, frolicking on the Cote d'Azur or footslogging on the Kokoda Trail, you need a hat. Crushable and broad-brimmed are key, and better still if it sheds water. Mine is a Watership Cape Flattery waxed cotton in tobacco brown, available from Paddy Pallin.
Universal adaptor plug Some come with a USB charge port, which is a useful addition. If you plan to plug in a three-pin Australian appliance, make sure it has compatible socket holes - some will take only a two-pin device.
Lightweight, squashable daypack Perfect for water bottles, tablet device, sunblock and all the other bits you need for a day out. Eagle Creek's Packable Daypack squeezes down into a zippered case about the size of a paperback.
Zip-lock plastic bags Pack your suitcase with see-though bags and you'll never have to burrow for that elusive item. For hotel-hopping travellers without time to unpack properly, zip-lock bags are a gift from the travel gods.
Clothesline Still hanging wet laundry on your hotel room towel rail? They'll dry a lot quicker on a clothes line. I use the Go Travel washing line. Slip your clothes through the braided elastic cord and they're held tight, no pegs needed.
Luggage strap It seems 90 per cent of all the luggage that comes off the carousel is black, and lots of those look the same. Wrap a cheap and colourful strap around yours and it stands out from the crowd.
THE TRIPOLOGIST'S IN-FLIGHT TRAVEL KIT
IN-EAR HEADPHONES Over-ear, noise-cancelling headphones deliver a fabulous listening experience but they're bulky and top-quality versions cost a bomb. My Klipsch S4 earbud-style headphones slip into your jeans pocket, deliver fantastic sound, soften aircraft noise and make it possible to understand Robert Downey jnr in mumble mode on the in-flight video. Far superior to the ones the airlines hand out but you need an adaptor to make them fit some airline sockets.
EYE DROPS Long flights in low-humidity cabins leave my eyes tired, red and scratchy. I use Refresh Plus single-use vials, with just a few drops in each.
PEN You'll need it for filling in departure and arrival cards - an obvious item until you don't have one.
EARPLUGS The world is full of unfamiliar sounds that can wreck your sleep, and quality earplugs are a must for light sleepers. My favourites are the soft, tapering Howard Leight MAX1 Earplugs, available from Amazon.
EYE MASK Essential for catching a few zzzs on a long flight, or signalling you're not in a conversational frame of mind to fellow passengers. Invest in a soft, padded version. Even the ones the airlines hand out to business-class passengers fall short.
MOISTURISER Real men do it.
LEFT TO YOUR OWN DEVICES: FIVE TIPS
1. The more expensive an object, the more likely you are to drop it. This applies especially when you travel. Protective cases for phones, tablets and cameras are essential.
2. At airport security checks, you'll probably have to remove your tablet device from your carry-on case and put it through the X-ray scanner separately, just like a laptop - be prepared in advance.
3. Finding a power outlet can be frustrating exercise, even in your hotel room. If there are several of you with devices to charge, consider taking a power strip. Different voltage is never likely to be an issue with chargers, even when the power supply is DC rather than AC.
4. As far as possible, keep an eye on your belongings at airport security scans. It is not unknown for security staff to delay your passage, distract you and remove phones and even laptops as they pass through the scanner.
5. Many small, high-value electronic items are not included in standard travel insurance policies, or coverage may be limited to a prescribed sum. Consider upgrading your policy if you need to.
What are your essential travel gadgets? Post your comments and tips below.
- Sydney Morning Herald