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They say you should pack just what you need. The trouble is that often you don't know what that is until you get there, and by then it's too late. So here's some advice on a bunch of travel accessories that you just may find indispensable, especially when embarking on a trip abroad. These accoutrements are designed to make your vacation more comfortable, more secure, or simply more fun.
Though rolling luggage has become increasingly popular, there will be times when you wish you had another set of wheels. Travel Smart by Conair offers a series of sturdy hand carts that can be easily folded and stowed. One model, the LadderKart Combination Stepladder & Hand Cart (right) even doubles as a small ladder, which could prove particularly useful when you need to shoot over the heads of people in a crowd. The ladder supports up to 300 pounds; the cart, 250 pounds. Of course, if you couldn't care less about achieving extra height but could really use an extra set of hands like those made possible by a hand cart, several models varying in weight capacity are available that dispense with the steps.
Being able to control noise goes a long way to letting you charge your own batteries during a long flight. Start with headphones that offer an around-the ear design to create a seal that naturally blocks noise. Make sure they include an electronic noise cancelling technology such as NoiseGard that kicks in to actively eliminate certain frequencies like those from the jet's engines. Now, you can clearly hear the movie or music you're experiencing. The Sennheiser PXC350 Active Noise Cancelling Stereo Headphones plugs into most portable devices. Adapters for airline seat and 1/4-inch audio receiver jacks are included. A volume control is built into the hard-to-tangle cable. Unlike some competitors, the PXC350 can continue to be used as passive headphones in case the batteries drain. The phones use two AAA batteries (a pair are included) which operate for many hours. A carrying case is supplied and the padded frame makes the phones very comfortable to wear as you relax in your seat.
Securing your notebook when it's unattended can mean the difference between a trip that's uneventful and a disaster. Whether you're leaving it behind in your hotel room or on a table at the espresso bar while you get a refill, knowing that only you have the key can bring peace of mind. That's why the Kensington MicroSaver Notebook Security Cable for Laptops can make such a big difference. Two keys are supplied along with a 72-inch steel cable and T-Bar lock that fits the standard Kensington security slot found in the majority of notebooks.
Knowing where you took a picture is perhaps more important than when you took it upon returning from a 7-countries-in-8-days tour. A variety of cameras now embed a Global Position System (GPS) receiver including the Leica V-LUX 20. If you don't yet own a camera with a GPS receiver, consider carrying a small accessory such as the Sony GPS-CS3KA GPS Image Tracker. The geo tagger keeps track of your locations as you go through the day, then matches latitude and longitude information to your pictures according to their date-time stamps. You can add the data to each image on the fly by temporarily transferring the camera's SD or MS card to the tracker; or you can do it later in a Windows computer using the included Picture Motion Browser software. The thing about GPS is that the system is global, so don't think that just because you're out of the country you're out of position.
If French isn't your forte or your Spanish skills have atrophied since you last asked where the bathroom, I mean library, is located, the Wizcom Technologies SuperPen Translator Pen Scanner may be just the thing you need to decipher Europe. Besides French and Spanish, the pen is capable of scanning and translating English, German, Italian, Portuguese, Swedish, and Finnish. A set of earphones with volume control is included so you can take advantage of the built-in text-to-speech technology and impress people by speaking the foreign word yourself. Used as a line scanner, the Wizcom can also capture printed text for output to a Windows computer. The device weighs just 3.2 ounces and runs on two AAA batteries. (Dos are included.)
Since electrical standards vary by country, you may discover that the portable equipment you brought along in need of recharging isn't plug-compatible with the wall outlets in your hotel room. You can buy a specific adapter plug or you can choose a multi-plug assortment such as the Impact Adapter Plug Kit (below) which contains five of the most common types of adapters.
Consult the manual or contact the manufacturer about using your equipment in foreign countries. Alternatively, MP3 players and cameras are almost always rechargeable via their USB cables, so even if you didn't bring an AC plug adapter with you, you may be able to cop a charge from your own computer or someone else's . (Just keep in mind that charging time via USB is typically longer than using an AC adapter.)
To see an illustrative chart of plug types matched to 72 countries Americans are most likely to visit, see the B&H guidebook, World Wide Video. For instance, the inverted eyes and nose style plug (right) is common in the United Kingdom. The guide also discusses the different video standards in use, so if you were planning to show footage recorded in your U.S. camcorder on an overseas relative's non-multi-system TV, you'll probably be disappointed. Also, if you purchase a movie on DVD that's been coded for that country, it may not work in a conventional American (Region 1) player unless you use a multi-region player.
By the way, if you're bringing a new camera or camcorder with you on a trip overseas, it can't hurt to bring along a copy of your purchase receipt just in case there are any questions from U.S. Customs upon your return. That way you'll be able to show that the equipment was bought in the U.S. and is not a foreign purchase that needs to be declared.