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Day 21: Essential Low-Tech Travel Gadgets


Packing Hacks is a 31-part series devoted to helping you become an expert packer! Each installment offers advice on how to get organized, pack smarter, save on bag fees, and eliminate packing stress. New to Packing Hacks? Start at the beginning.

Yesterday, we discussed in-flight products for a happy, healthy, and comfortable flight. Today, we’re going to focus on a few more products on the decidedly low-tech end of the spectrum.

Travel gadgets don’t have to be high-tech to be highly useful. And while there will always be a place in our carry-on bags for our laptops, e-readers, tablets, and smartphones (and all their cords and chargers), sometimes it’s the old-fashioned gadgets that can make or break a trip. Save some space in your bag for these essential items on your next flight. You’ll thank us when you arrive at your destination.

You’ll learn:

    The single most important carry-on item you’ve never heard of

    That not all pocket “knives” are created equal in the eyes of the TSA

    How traveling with kids can change your technology needs

People are often surprised when I reveal what I consider to be the most essential item in my carry-on bag. The one thing I never fly without, my secret weapon against the aches and pains of the coach-class crunch, is the humble lacrosse ball. (My Kindle Paperwhite comes in a close second: Got to have something to occupy the mind while the body is suffering.)

I can sense your skepticism even as I type this, so I’ll get right down to it. Today’s torturous coach-class seat configurations might as well have been designed by the CIA for “enhanced interrogations.” (Seriously, who thinks a 29-inch seat pitch is OK?) A lacrosse ball gives you a fighting chance against the neck ache, stiff back, and piercing headache that are natural byproducts of cramped seating. When the aches kick in, pinpoint your tender muscles and massage them away with a sturdy lacrosse ball. It’s just the right size to dig into most problem spots, and it’s tough enough to give you the needed pressure to ease the pain away. Honestly, this is the cheapest, tiniest, lowest-tech travel tool you’ll ever need, and it might just end up being your favorite, too.

Bonus: It fits in any reasonably sized pocket!

Also pocket-sized and useful: the Swiss Army knife. Right about now you’re thinking, “But knives are banned on flights.” And you’re right. But you can get a Swiss Army knife without the knife, courtesy of the Victorinox Jetsetter, which gives you immediate access to a screwdriver, a bottle opener, a key ring, tweezers, scissors, and a toothpick—all in one handy space-saving device that the TSA isn’t allowed to confiscate.

Sometimes I travel with my kids, and when I do, I also keep a supply of low-tech items for them to play with during the trip. Not just on flights, either: on road trips, in vacation rentals, at the airport or train station … I owe it to them and to my fellow travelers to make sure they’re entertained and not disruptive. My “kid kit” includes a small puzzle or two, pencils and paper (or a Boogie Board eWriter), and a few travel-sized games. I load kid-friendly audiobooks onto my tablet and smartphone as well.

I’ve talked before about the Grid-It system, an inexpensive organization system that makes use of rubber bands to hold everything in place. People often associate it with tech gadgets only, but it’s very helpful for keeping all this other gear in place, too. You can either buy a large Grid-It to store all your electronics and cords alongside your non-tech gadgets (earplugs, travel games, etc.), or you can employ a second, smaller Grid-It to keep your gadgets separate.

Either way, as far as organizers go, there’s nothing better.

Up next: Day 22: Household Hacks for Common Travel Woes.

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