with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Gadgets for Traveling

"Gadgets! Gadgets! All God’s children love gadgets!" Sings Sophie Tucker, the late great lady vaudevillian and comedian. "Buy one, buy one! All my friends say try one." She was singing about the then new electric refrigerator, but the travel industry is not immune to the "efficienct" and “gimmick” technologies. In fact, traveling is often easier and more fun with all the gadgets available to the traveler. For the photographer, these can be a great help, as well as speed up the process of doing things so you can get back out there and photograph.

Cook stoves
If you have room for it, a good sized charcoal or gas stove is great. If not, stick with the smaller PEAK or Colman camping stoves. They work great.There are a variety of cook stoves available if your dining experience is enhanced by eating outside of restaurants and saving money. Some are complicated gadgets, others are light weight burners, and others feature double burners and oven attachments. Our favorite is the Peak One by Coleman. It is a light weight single burner stove which can run on kerosene or unleaded gasoline with a special attachment. It features an adjustable leveling strip on the bottom to work with a variety of uneven grounds and tables.
Simply put, all you need is a good flashlight with Graphic of a flashlighta bright light and fresh batteries. But why stop there. We have to have a pen flashlight for Brent’s camera bag. Lorelle has to have a pen light with an adjustable and flexible head for reading at night. She also has to have a light that hangs around her neck on a cord which opens up to direct light on a book or a needle work project. We have to have headlamps for both of us. Then there’s that great snake flashlight with a flexible hose on it which will bend into all kinds of shapes to aim the light where we need it. Oh, and the big flashlight to use when walking to the outhouses. The spare flashlight for the car, one for the truck, and an extra pen light attached with Velcro just inside the door of the trailer – which always seems to be missing when you need it most. One by the bed, an extra in the kitchen, a spare in the suitcase….there are many kinds of flashlights out there for a variety of uses. Pick your fancy – just make sure you always carry extra batteries. Preferably the ones that match the flashlight that just went dead.
Clothing Travel Irons
Travel irons are great tools. There are steam travel irons, small travel irons, 12 volt travel irons, steamers, pressers and straighteners. All are designed to fit into cute little pouches to fit into your suitcase. We highly recommend getting one of the new models with the extra long cord – in whatever color and design you choose. But what about an ironing board or surface? Some campgrounds, motels and hotels will allow you to use a small ironing board for those desperate times, but you can also lay a towel either on the bed or the floor and iron on that.
Shortwave Radio
While you maybe out of range for most radio stations once in a while, or in a country where English news is not readily available, a shortwave radio can be a life saver. A good one features both AM and FM channels in addition to the various shortwave bands. In the USA, night is the best time to access most overseas stations fairly clearly. A shortwave radio can help you keep up with the news, provide entertainment, and weather reports.
Barameter/Temperature Meters
graphic of a thermometerThere are a variety of barameters, temperature guages and humidity level indicators available in high tech boxes with LCD readouts, or pick your choice of a wide range of old fashioned ones inset in wood. These gauges are great for helping to predict the weather outcome, which can seriously affect your photographic and adventure choices. These can also tell you what kind of coat or hat to put on before heading outside.
Door Alarms – Motion Detectors
Personal safety and self protection gadget stores are popping up all over the place. If you are a hotel or motel traveler, a good security device is a motion detector door alarm. They are typically under $30, battery powered and hang on the door knob inside your room while you are inside. Someone messes with the door, the alarm sounds. It not only attracts attention, it often gives you enough time to grab the phone before the burgler can get it. Or it will just scare them away. There are all kinds of sophisticated alarm systems for the personal traveler. When I have been nervous about where I am staying, I will often shove a doorstop under the door from the inside of the room. It might not stop someone, but it will slow them down. And make use of all security locks on the doors.
Collapsable Expandable Luggage
Animated graphic of luggageFor a gadget lover, this kind of luggage is prized. There are all kinds of suitcases, briefcases, purses, packs and cases that offer the ability to "stretch-to-fit". They feature zipper areas which may remain closed when not needed, but when needed, they unzip and expand out for an inch or more. A favorite gadget suitcase Lorelle used for years (until the bottom fell out) was the suitcase that opened on the top and had wheels on the bottom. When needed, it would unzip the expando part and double in height. Made out of durable but lightweight fabric and most will take quite a beating.
Wheels on Everything
graphic of a suitcase with wheelsOne of the traveling tools Lorelle hates to be without is her luggage carrier. She uses it for everything, even bringing the groceries into the house from the car. Her favorite is one that also features a seat that will drop down off the back so she can rest while waiting in line at the airport. Get a durable and sturdy one with very sturdy wheels. Lorelle tells stories of the cobblestone roads and sidewalks she has dragged her luggage carrier over in Europe and Mexico. She’s literally snapped the wheels right off. Some luggage carriers even come with traction tires. If you are going to rugged terrain, it’s something to consider.
graphic of an old compassForget the traditional compass! There’s a better way now. All kinds of gadgetry is available that takes advantage of satellites called Global Positioning Services (GPS). These tell you where you are at all times. You can not only target where you are but where you are going. Many modern cars take advantage of GPS and tell you where you are and where you should be going and how to get there. You still should know how to read a map, though.
Mosquito Repellent Clothing
Mosquitos a problem? Worried about West Nile Virus? Clothing manufacturers have come up with clothing featuring fabric with mosquito and bug repellent IN the material. Amazing. These are typically light-weight and breathable fabrics, too, as the mosquitos tend to thrive in hot climates. Shirts, pants, hats, and scarfs, all bug proof. Yeah!
Oh, you want a watch, mister? We got some watches! What kind are you interested in? Big or small, numbers or ticks, glow in the dark, illuminating, or reflective? Do you want an altimeter? Or to measure how far you go? Or to monitor your heart rate or breathing? Or link up with GPS to find out where you are? One that will link up to your computer to upload your schedule? One that will dial phones? Whatcha want? We got them all! But seriously, we searched for 4 years to find the right watch for Lorelle. It had to feature a white or very easy to see face background with numbers, not Roman numerals or dots. It needed to have a second hand, and the numbers and hands had to glow in the dark for night photography. It also needed to have a button to trigger the illumination of the watch face. Sounds easy to find, but it wasn’t. She finally found the perfect watch from Fossil Watches.
Online Weather Reports
Online services and the internet are great resources for finding out what the weather is like when you need it. You can also research historical information such as the fact that it typically doesn’t rain in July where you want to go. You can monitor the weather 24 hours a day, pick up satellite photographs, and get all kinds of weather related information. Just dial in.
The Weather One Weather Broadcast Receiver
This little "radio" provides current and accurate weather information 24 hours a day by reading the broadcasts of NOAA and the National Weather Service. NOAA is the sole government-operated weather radio designed to provide direct warnings for national disasters. Great for current local and distant weather forecasts in the United States.
Mobile Office Vehicle
If you are truly serious about your life on the road, there is a company for you. In Zeeland, Michigan, they will create for you the ultimate Mobile Office Vehicle called MO-V. It is a van complete with desk, swivel chairs, notebook computer, desk-jet printer, fax, and hands-free cellular and desk phones. The vehicles sell for an average price of $30,000. According to the news release, the Yankee Groups, a consulting firm in Boston, "estimates that by 1997 close to 6 million workers will be doing part or all of their jobs using mobile phones, faxes and modems." These people must be on to something here. Your office in a van. Why not? I just want to know where the bed and refridgerator are.
Connect Computers
graphic of an email symbolToday you are no longer bound to the hard drive in your computer or laptop. With software programs like LapLink and PCAnywhere, you can dial in from anywhere to your computer at home and run programs, look up and exchange and store files. If you use a network at work, you can also connect through the network, too. The technology is here to add a television and FM radio to your computer as well. What more could you want? A computer is now a telephone, fax, mail, copier, television, movie screen, radio, bulletin board, address book, calendar, and you name it!
Hot Coolers
The old ice chest has met it’s match. There are a variety of 12 volt coolers/warmers on the market now, and the prices are affordable. They just plug into your car cigarette lighter and require no ice. There is a "6 pack" size up to 36 quarts or more. Some open on the top like a regular cooler and others open on the side like a refrigerator. Each size pulls a different ampage so you will need to watch out that you don’t run down your car battery if it sits for a long period of time. For under $100 you never need to buy ice again and battle with water soaked food. Cool.
Fold up Coolers
Not into electrically cooled or heated ice chests? There are a variety of insulated fabric bags and packs destined to replace the old fashioned plastic cooler. When empty, these compress down and stay flat with velcro attachments. Open them up and they form different sized coolers from a six-pack of soda size to a full size ice chest. Some are even shaped like purses or small briefcases for day trips. Look out for poorly made ones with thin removable liners which will tear and crack in the cold. There are some really good fold up coolers that will last for years.
Platypus Bottles
Carrying water with you when you travel is critical in some areas, especially far from "civilization". Lorelle loves the Platypus water bottles available at major recreation stores throughout the United States. These leak-proof plastic water bottles collapse as they are drained, flattening out to take up little space in your luggage and pack. They are available in a variety of sizes. Lorelle enjoys the 1/2 liter bottles for traveling, carrying two to four of them with her. The liter bottle is good for long distance hiking or biking and can be used in a camel pack with a tube attached for easy drinking access. Convenient for camping from the car are the larger collapsible containers. There is a size for you
Air Detectors
The biggest killers of people in recreational vehicles is carbon monoxide and propane. Second comes smoke. Luckily, it’s now a law that trailers and motor homes must come equipped with a propane detector and smoke detector. Legislation is being considered to require carbon monoxide detectors in every trailer and motor home. They can be purchased from most hardware stores, but look closely. They come in 110 volt and 12v battery. Pick the one that meets your needs. A trailer may not always be plugged into electricity. This is your life we are talking about.

This is not a complete list of gadgets that are available for the traveler, but it opens your mind to the possiblities. People are always coming up with innovative ways to do things better, faster and more efficiently. If you know of any gadgets that might prove interesting, add your suggestions to our comments below. We are ALWAYS looking for new travel gadgets.


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