The instant that electronic ding signals we've climbed past 10,000 feet, we Pavlovian travelers drool, then feverishly reach for our treasured e-readers, tablets, game players, laptops, and smartphones. Yet it's the lower profile, smaller ticket items that come through for us time and again. Highly functional accessories such as the seven we've assembled below—each costing $30 or less—are the true unsung heroes of travel tech. Best of all, they're all small enough to fit in your purse, coat, or bag on every trip.
Why We Like It: Journey to the heart of the Amazon jungle and you won't find a more helpful arachnid than this super-bendy, multi-jointed accessory. It's just the right size to support a smartphone. But it's flexible and strong enough to clutch a camera, pocket projector, game player, or other device—in multiple positions, whether on the hotel nightstand or dangling from the back of a headrest. Definitely the optimal octoped to have at all times.
How Much: $20 regular version, $35 tablet version
Buy It: Visit Breffo.com.
2. Toddy Cloth
Why We Like It: With all the tapping and swiping we do, our touch-screen devices wind up looking like smudgy little pointillist works of art. These dual-textured microfiber cloths can handle that inadvertent impressionism lickety split. They absorb dust and oils. They've got an antimicrobial coating that's good for screens, as opposed to the harm many sprays can cause. And they come in a wide variety of nifty patterns, to complement any outfit.
How Much: $10 for 5" by 7", $15 for 9" by 9"
Buy It: Visit ToddyCloth.com.
3. Beam N Read LED 3 Hands Free Travel Reading Light
Why We Like It: There's lots to like about this little lamp on a lanyard. Most importantly, it's plenty bright to illuminate your personal space, whether reading (any electronic or paper-based book, magazine, etc.) or taking an evening stroll from your cabin. It can shine 120 hours at full blast, up to ten times longer than other battery-based booklights (which will crumple a map or newspaper under their weight). It's easy to use: just flip the head up or down to turn it on or off. And it's got a flat base, in case you want to rest it on a table or the ground. It also comes with a clip-on red filter, great for tiptoeing out of a tent without blinding—or stepping on—your mates.
How Much: $20
Buy It: Visit Amazon.com.
4. Ematic eSport clip
Why We Like It: For the money, you won't believe what this tiny, amazing, multimedia wonder can do. As you might guess from its appearance, yes, it's a music player. But you can also use it as a voice recorder. It takes 5-megapixel photos and can record video. You can listen to and record FM radio. And you can read basic text files. The memory expands to store dozens of hours of video and thousands of songs or pictures. Oh yeah, did we mention the built-in pedometer?
How Much: $30
Buy It: Visit JR.com.
Why We Like It: After escaping the doldrums of your desk, your travels could take you anywhere under the sun. That's precisely why you should toss one of these compact devices into your bag. With a press of its little white button, it instantly indicates the intensity of the sunlight you've escaped into. So you can see whether it's a good day for catching rays or a brighter idea to stay in the shade.
How Much: $10
Buy It: Visit PurelyProducts.com.
6. Rock N Talk
Why We Like It: You can use this handy device for hands-free calls. Just speak towards the microphone and listen through your car radio's speakers. Or skip the calling altogether and use it as a reliable wired connection for playing music. The retractable cord conveniently winds out to 32 inches— enough so you can rest your device in the center console and keep those hands on the wheel.
How Much: $15
Buy It: Visit ZipKord.com.
7. Verbatim Store 'n' Go Car Audio USB Drive
Why We Like It: To be musically set for your next road trip, you wouldn't think of bringing along a big box of records or a giant crate of tapes. But even packing a binder of CDs or lugging that multi-ounce lummox you call a digital music player are bulky overkill in this digital age. Popping right into the USB port available in today's car stereos, this barely noticeable device will supply you with about four continuous days of your favorite tunes. That should be enough to get you coast to coast (along with the right balance of sugar and open windows).
How Much: $14
Buy It: Visit Amazon.com.
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Fodors.com Travel Technology Columnist Scott Tharler is an expert in gadgets, gambling, and travel. He's written four books, plus hundreds of mobile and wireless tips for Sony and PC World. In addition to his daily Discovery News gadget blog, you can find links to other gadget articles, social feeds and lists of his current favorite gadgets at about.me/gadgetfans.
Photo credits:1 Breffo, 2 Max Borges Agency, 3 ASF Lightware Solutions, 4 Ematic, 5 Purely Enterprises, LLC, 6 ZipKord Solutions, 7 Max Borges Agency