Trying to keep it to carry-on? This list of essential and compact travel gadgets and tips will make your trip easier – and your luggage lighter – without skimping on fun and convenience.
Books are beautiful, tactile and can be taken to the beach without fear of damage or theft. But the moment you talk about lugging around more than one, the convenience of an ebook reader becomes more attractive. You can read them in bright sunlight, unlike an iPad or a computer screen, and they have batteries that can last up to a month, perfect for trips away from a power source. Try a top e-reader like the Kindle Touch (www.amazon.com/kindle) or Nook Simple Touch (www.nook.com), or check out other devices, such as those from Kobo (www.kobo.com) or Sony (www.sony.com).
E-readers also offer basic web browsers that you can use to check your emails (provided you have wi-fi). On the Kindle, look under the experimental menu in settings; on the Nook, click the virtual 'search' button at the top of your screen and type in a URL.
Digital travel guides
A travel guide is nice to flip through, but carrying one doesn't have to mean lugging around a hefty book. PDF chapters and MP3 audio guides are fantastic weight- and space-savers. Smartphone travel apps go even further by giving up-to-date information that's location-based, so you can pinpoint the best nearby restaurants, galleries or clubs, all without using costly phone data.
If you don’t already have a phone that can take high-quality photos to share over social media quickly, an iPhone 4S or 5 is a travel-friendly star – even replacing a compact camera for many casual travellers.
The iPhone 5 claims to last slightly longer on standby than the previous iPhone 4S, and it's slightly lighter in weight, but there's little else to justify getting one if you already have a perfectly good phone. Another caveat to keep in mind: the iPhone 5 has a different kind of connector cable from previous iPhone models, so keep this in mind before taking it on the road – replacement cables may be scarce, and users of older iPhone won’t be able to help you out in a pinch.
International plug adapter
Plug your gear in anywhere in the world with a power adapter that can fit any shaped socket. Most work in over 100 countries and some even have sockets to charge your devices via a USB cord.
Save space by using one USB charger to replace multiple regular chargers. For example, both your iPhone and Kindle charging cables can plug into the one USB wall charger, so you only need one to match the power socket of your destination country (and of course they can both charge off a laptop as well).
If you need to use rechargeable AA batteries (which are still used in some cameras, offering the convenience of getting spare batteries quickly anywhere on your travels around the world), a USB-powered battery charger is another way to save space.
One cord to charge them all
Did you know that the following devices all use the same charger? The Kindle, Nintendo DS, Blackberry, Android-based phones (eg HTC and Samsung Galaxy phones) and all phones in Europe (except the iPhone) made from 2012 onwards all use micro USB (not to be confused with the mini USB used with most cameras), so bring just one of their chargers and leave the others at home.
This is also true of most iPhones, iPads and iPods till late 2012, which use the same charging cable. (Again, the iPhone 5 and iPod Touch from late 2012 onwards both use a newer connector.)
Try a compact netbook, or get a bluetooth keyboard that can be connected to your smartphone or iPad and rolled up into a small tube when not in use. The Kindle Fire, Nook HD, and iPad mini have 7" to 8" screens, making for a slim, internet-enabled travel buddy – many e-reader devices have basic web browsers already installed.
Install this app (www.skype.com) on your smartphone, laptop or iPad to keep in touch with friends and family using free face-to-face chat. If you want video calls without the trouble of installing anything, it’s now integrated into Facebook too – just click on a friend's name in chat and look for the camera icon.
Skype only charges for calls to phones that don't have Skype installed, such as a landline. These calls are a simple and cheap option because you pay in your own home currency and are accessible wherever you have wi-fi.
If you write your life's work on a laptop and it gets stolen, you’ve lost your files, too – but not if you work in ‘the cloud’. Web services such as Google Docs (docs.google.com) save your work online, meaning you can access it from anywhere. Create a presentation on a home computer and finish it on your iPad online from your hotel. Other lifesavers such as Dropbox (www.dropbox.com) do the same with photos and other files.
So-called travel cameras offer a small body with a large optical zoom – up to 22x – so you can take photos of people or places from far away.
All the big camera brands such as Canon, Nikon and Olympus now offer waterproof and shockproof cameras. You can drop these in the snow or take them to the beach without fear, though it does still feel odd to take underwater photos. The iPhone can also be kitted out with a waterproof case to take scuba-diving snaps.
Hybrid cameras such as the Sony NEX offer SLR quality in a compact size with lenses that you can change. If you want to get really adventurous, the GoPro HD Hero2 is a headcam (a camera on a helmet) that the BBC use for video footage of extreme travel.
Digital luggage scales
A compact set of hand scales for your luggage is useful if you're packing down to the last gram of your baggage allowance – potentially saving you a hefty fee at the check-in counter. Just don't forget to factor in the (small) weight of the scales.
People are always surprised by how full a sound the tiny X-mini capsule speaker (www.x-mini.com) produces. It’s fantastic for playing music from your phone or watching video on a laptop (both of which usually have dismal speakers), and it charges off USB, so you don’t need to have it plugged in or worry about extra power adapters..
In-ear headphones work like ear plugs that connect to your phone, laptop or music player, and also help to block out airplane or roommate noise. The advanced models come with noise-cancelling capabilities, meaning they listen to the noise around you and produce an opposing frequency to block out external sounds, such as the background roar of an airplane cabin.
Need to share your audio with a travel buddy? Listen to your music or movie with a friend (or four!) with a Belkin Rockstar headphone splitter (www.belkin.com), which lets you plug in up to five headphones into one device.