If you're like most of us here at SmarterTravel, you love to visit new places. But the whole "getting there" part? Eh, not so much. That's where we can help. Whether your future travels call for planes, trains, automobiles, or experimental nylon balloons, there's a whole world of indispensible gadgets out there to make your trips more enjoyable. Below we highlight the best of the best—all for under $30 each. Just remember the golden rule of holiday shopping: "One for them, one for me, one for them, one for me..."
Gifts Under $30
Sleeker and sturdier than many cheaper alternatives, Brookstone's Lighted Eyeglasses shine a light directly where your eyes are pointed. No more re-arranging that annoying clip-on book light! The glasses provide more than 30 hours of light and are available with or without magnification.
Why We Like It: A creative solution to the age-old problem of trying to read in the low light of an airplane cabin.
Where to Buy: Brookstone.com
TravelSox Compression Socks
There's nothing comfortable about the distinct lack of legroom in coach class these days. But while we can't do much about the seat pitch on most commercial flights, we can point out the benefits of TravelSox. These "gradual compression socks" stimulate blood flow and reduce the risk of swelling and fatigue brought on by sitting in cramped conditions.
Why We Like It: They're comfortable, discreet, and a good defense against Deep Vein Thrombosis.
Where to Buy: Magellans.com
The Travel Slanket
Let's face it: The airlines aren't exactly focused on providing creature comforts to those of us crammed into coach. And those standard-issue airline blankets that barely cover your feet? Not exactly a luxury item. That's why we love The Travel Slanket, a 58-inch by 66-inch fleece blanket with sleeves that's both comfy and practical. It even comes with drawstring bag to carry the whole thing with you. Comfort is king once again!
Why We Like It: Sleep, work, watch movies, wander the cabin, and eat your in-flight meal, all without leaving your Slanket.
Where to Buy: TheSlanket.com
Balanzza Digital Luggage Scale
Indispensable in the airline fees era, the Balanzza Digital Luggage Scale could save you hundreds (yes, hundreds) of dollars in surprise baggage fees at the airport. Weigh your luggage before you go, and again before your trip home to make sure all those gifts and souvenirs you picked up on vacation don't send your baggage costs into the next stratosphere.
Why We Like It: Weigh heavy bags (up to 100 lbs.) without lifting them by attaching the scale and lifting it instead of your suitcase.
Where to Buy: Balanzza.com
Gifts Under $20
Quik Pod Handheld Convertible Tripod
The Quik Pod is a compact, light-weight handheld tripod that extends the reach of your arms and hands so you're not restricted to awkward close-ups when no one else is around to snap your picture or video. A built-in self-positioning mirror helps you center each shot. The whole kit fits easily into your pocket, purse, or backpack when not in use.
Why We Like It: No more extreme close-ups.
Where to Buy: Amazon.com
TravelTow Rotating Luggage Handle
Tired of tripping over your own bags at the airport? Anyone with a rolling suitcase will appreciate the TravelTow Rotating Luggage Handle, a strap-on adapter that coverts your bag's rigid handle into an ergonomically rotating 360-degree one.
Why We Like It: It's easy to use, works with just about any kind of luggage you can imagine, and at under $20 it's a small price to pay for reduced wear and tear on your arms and shoulders.
Where to Buy: Tamperseal.com
Lights Out Sleep Mask
What's the best way to start your trip off right after a red-eye or long international flight? Getting a good night's sleep on the plane, of course. Yes, you read that right. The form-fitting Lights Out Sleep Mask is designed to encourage Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep by allowing complete eye movement while blocking out even peripheral light. Night, night.
Why We Like It: Anything that helps us arrive bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in a whole new time zone is okay in our book.
Where to Buy: Magellans.com
Gifts Under $10
TuGo Cup Holder
It's the little things—like, say, that steaming hot cup of coffee—that really make a trip to the airport bearable. That is, unless you're spilling said boiling liquid all over yourself while trying to juggle your bags, your wallet, and your boarding pass at the same time. Enter the TuGo Cup Holder, an ingenious little invention that holds your drink snugly between the upright handles on your rolling luggage and effectively gives you a much-needed extra hand.
Why We Like It: Makes good use of a convenient—and otherwise unused—area of your luggage.
Where to Buy: Magellans.com
LUSH Solid Shampoo Bars
A popular choice with the frequent travelers here at SmarterTravel, LUSH Natural Solid Shampoo Bars are great for getting around the 3-1-1 liquids rule. Just rub the bar onto your wet hair, lather, and rinse. Voila! One bar is good for about 50 washes.
Price: $9.25 per bar
Why We Like It: While it's ideal for travel, it's also great for everyday use.
Where to Buy: LUSH.com
PicTranslator for the iPhone
Lost in a foreign city and don't speak (or read) the language? Not a problem. Easily the most useful travel app for iPhone users, Fotozio's PicTranslator allows you to snap a photo of any street sign or subway map and instantly get an English translation. Bonus: Pair it with Dots winter touch screen gloves ($15) to keep your hands warm in colder destinations.
Why We Like It: Works with more than 15 languages.
Where to Buy: iTunes Store
These are our favorite gift ideas for the 2009 holiday season. What are yours? Share your top travel gadgets in the comments section below!