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Updated 04/18/06

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                                  skateboarding dog, Manly Beach, Australia
Welcome to the online home of travel columnist Donald D. Groff, who has dispensed advice  and stories since 1988 in such publications as the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Newark Star-Ledger, The Kansas City Star, Newsday, Salon, Condé Nast Traveler, Consumer Reports Travel Letter, The Boston Globe, and Endless Vacation magazine.

Travel gadgets

Gear to go

Stocking stuffers: Gadget bags, memory sticks, educational playing cards, Fandex Family Guides, disposable underwear, Appalachian Trail bandannas, flight-ready locks, Brush-Ups for in-flight freshen-ups.

By Donald D. Groff

Travel gadgetry once meant a Swiss Army knife tucked in a pocket. Today, the knife is relegated to the checked luggage, while what we - and our gift-loving friends and relatives - keep closest at hand are cell phone, digital camera, PDA, iPod, extra batteries (AA and AAA), chargers, adapters, digital memory cards, and so on. top

Keeping everything accessible and organized is the new challenge. Are those batteries in my pocket fresh, or in need of a charge? Where's the charger? That sort of question led to Podzilla, a bag designed for those nearing gadget overload. Its padded main compartment holds a full-size camera or any number of smaller devices. 

But it's the zipped outside pockets on three sides that are engineered for organized storage, with elastic strips that anchor paraphernalia that often ends up in a mess at the bottom of normal bags. In one pocket, elastic puckered like a bandolier holds batteries in place; in other pockets, more elastic grips other accessories. 

You can carry the Podzilla by the padded handle on its lid or a shoulder strap, or wear it on your belt. I tried one of these on a month-long road trip and, for the first time in years, I always knew where everything was. 

podzilla sm.jpg (43629 bytes) The Podzilla measures 8 by 6 by 9 inches and is available in half a dozen color combinations. RoadWired, the manufacturer, also offers a smaller case called the Pod and many other carrying cases. The Podzilla retails for about $70 and can be ordered at, where you also can find stores by zip code, including Seidenberg Luggage in Ardmore and Laptop Lane at the airport. 

Memory sticks with an edge. Swiss Army nostalgia goes digital with the Victorinox Swiss Army Memory AirTravel, which resembles the traditional knife but, instead of a blade, has a memory stick for carrying digitized photos, music, and other computer data that can be easily retrieved using a USB port on most computers. 
300dpiSwissMemoryAT_WhtBc.jpg (84020 bytes) Also tucked in the "knife" are a pen and an LED mini light ($77 for 128K memory). Another version is available with memory stick and blade and other hardware, but don't try to fly with it. Find the gadgets online at or call 1-800-442-2706. 

memstick.jpg (50531 bytes) For computer users, the memory stick gift idea is a good one even if it's not wrapped in a knife casing, and there are many choices of brand and size, starting at about $25. The more capacity - 128K, 256K, 512K - the better. Among top suppliers are Lexar,, and SanDisk, The devices can be found in many places, including Staples, Wal-Mart and Target. 

Educational cards. Teaching kids to be card sharks can be educational - if the cards are embellished with U.S. and world maps. Universal Map makes several types of 52-card decks that teach geography whether they're played at home or in the back seat of the family SUV. The U.S. Cards each feature a different state - the ace of spades is Alaska - with map and details such as the state bird, flower, tree and nickname. 

worldcards.jpg (88766 bytes)Other decks feature national parks and U.S. cities. And the faces on World Cards feature 192 countries with area, population, growth rate, and capital. Single decks are $4.95, double deck sets are $8.95. Large-format cards are available, too, for little hands. Order or find the cards through, phone 1-800-359-6277, Ext. 212. 

Family Field Guides. Plotting a family vacation means including the children in the planning, yet tykes can't trudge through dense guidebooks. But they'll enjoy the Fandex Family Field Guides, whose format is decidedly unbooklike. 

fandexguide (Small).jpg (45301 bytes) Imagine colorful photo-flashcards mounted on cardboard shafts that spread open fan-style. It's fun, and the information on the front and back of each of the fan pages whets the appetite for each attraction. Whole guides are devoted to New York City, Washington, and the 50 states, and other guides are devoted to nearly 20 topics such as the Civil War, wildflowers, explorers, presidents, and American Indians. 

In the 100-page New York guide, Harlem, Soho, Central Park, Little Italy, and other must-sees are highlighted in photos, with amusing and informative details that engage the minds of children and adults alike. 

In Grand Central Station's celestial ceiling, the New York guide notes, the 2,500 stars in the Zodiac are arranged as you would see them if you were looking down from the other side, not from Earth. Who knew? The Fandex guides are from Workman Publishing and cost $9.95 in book and travel stores. 

Throw-away underwear. Years ago, a friend touted the practice of packing worn undies for travel, then discarding them as she went along. It lightened the load and made room in her bag for new acquisitions. That's the idea behind OneDerWear - underwear designed to be worn once, and then thrown away. 

MBX_pkg.jpg (68357 bytes) OneDerWear comes as boxers and briefs for men and as thong, bikini, and classic brief styles for women, and is not going to win any fashion awards. Think plain white. They come in packs of five and each pair in its individual plastic wrap is not much bigger than an egg. They're made of lightweight cotton and are acceptably comfortable. 

I don't see most people packing 14 pairs of these for a two-week trip, but they do come in handy on those days when your undie stash has run out and the hotel laundry hasn't returned your silk drawers just yet. And there's a dirty little secret here: You can wash and reuse them. OneDerWear is $8 to $10 per pack, available from or through travel-goods retailers such as Magellan's, phone 1-800-962-4943, Web site

Fast-dry underwear. Another twist in underwear strategy is knickers made from durable fabric that dries quickly, such as Tilley Travel Underwear, from Tilley Endurables, the company best known for its travel hats. The underwear is made of fabric that wicks away sweat and is thin enough to dry overnight after being washed in your hotel sink. 

All but the backpacking set might find this tiresome day after day, but the Tilleys provide an option if you need it. They're available in white and gray, with boxer ($19) and brief ($17) models for men, brief and high-cut brief (both $15) for women. Stores that sell them can be found through, or order at 1-800-363-8737. Fast-dry briefs also are available through Magellan's. 

Appalachian Trail bandannas. Even if you don't have time to hike it, you can wear the Appalachian Trail around your neck, thanks to a series of four bandannas that have the whole 2,174-mile trail printed on them. 

Dubbed "mapdannas" by the Appalachian Trail Conference - theAT3.jpg (42415 bytes) venerable volunteer organization that preserves and promotes hiking the trail - each depicts a different section: from Springer Mountain, Ga., to Damascus, Va.; Damascus to Harpers Ferry, W.Va.; Harpers Ferry to Falls Village, Conn.; Falls Village to Katahdin, Maine. Harper's Ferry to Falls Village includes the section running through Pennsylvania and New Jersey. 

Besides the novelty, it's a useful gift; every outdoors person knows the many ways bandannas come in handy on the trail - keeping off the sun, mopping the brow, holding pot handles. Each bandanna costs $12.95 (less for ATC members) at

TravelSentryLocks (Small).jpg (72495 bytes)TSA-approved locks. A year ago, the government approved a new type of luggage lock that airport security inspectors could open without breaking, which was music to the ears of travelers who didn't want to leave their checked bags unlocked. But the locks were a new product in short supply, and it was nearly impossible to find them for holiday gift-giving. 

That has changed. Now many companies offer the Transportation Security Administration-approved locks in many styles and sizes. They're more colorful than ever - red, black, yellow, aqua, purple, blue, lime green – which could also help you spot your bag on the luggage carousel. 

The TSA-approved locks all have a red diamond-shaped Travel Sentry logo. Prices range from less than $5 for a small brass lock to $10 for heftier models. They're in airport shops, baggage and outdoor stores, and many places online. A pack of two three-dial combination locks from Lewis N Clark was recently $13 at

Dental refreshment. Our cultural fascination with fresh breath has produced a product that travelers can smile about: Oral-B Brush-Ups. Think dental squeegee. They may be intended to compete in the Altoid universe, but for passengers at the end of an overnight flight to Europe they provide a welcome solution to jetlag mouth. Brush-Ups are disposable, mint-flavored wipes that you slip onto a finger to give your teeth a good scrub-down. No rinsing is necessary, which is good news if you're trapped in the window seat. The Brush-Ups cost about $3 for a pack of 12 individually packaged wipes. Find them at drugstores or at sites listed at



  • Rip-proof maps; Road Trip book series; Traveling Curmudgeon; National parks, leather-bound. Posted Dec. 16, 2003
    • Stocking stuffers with punch 

      By Donald D. Groff
      or holiday gift giving, nothing beats surprising a traveler with stocking stuffers that he or she didn’t anticipate – or never even heard of – but which, once unwrapped, prove to be satisfyingly perfect. The sort of gift that catches the recipient’s fancy, as when a 6-year-old embraces a particular present and parades around all day with it while ignoring other gifts.

      Here are a handful of small travel items that could easily fit into that category.

      Rip-proof maps. Many mapping innovations have arisen in the past decade, but none more practical than the new Rough Guide maps made of a fabric called Polyart, a synthetic paper that reminds me of tough Tyvek envelopes.

      The maps are rip-proof and waterproof, yet the map image is sharp and smooth as if printed on high-quality paper.

      Those who consult their maps often know how wear and tear takes its toll, first along the fold lines, eventually fading the print and making parts of the map unreadable. These maps could put that old pattern into the history books.

      Heck -- in a jam, you could use them for a tablecloth or rain scarf.

      Twenty maps are available so far, including Mexico, New Zealand, Thailand, Hawaii, Baja California, Argentina, Cuba, Ireland, and the Yucatan Peninsula. The maps are double-sided, measure 27.5 by 36.2 inches flat, 10 by 4 inches folded, and each costs $8.95, or £4.99 in the United Kingdom.

      Find them in map stores or online at the Rough Guides site.   

      Road trip map guides. Face it – if you’re road-tripping along a famous route, you don’t really need a thick guidebook that covers the entire state or region. A guide that provides good maps and a framework for what to see

      and where to eat and stay along the way does nicely, thanks.

      Lonely Planet has hit upon an alluring solution with its new series of Road Trip guides, including, so far, California Highway 1, Route 66, and Napa & Sonoma Wine Country. (Due out in the spring are guides for New England and the Hudson River Valley.)

      The 64-page, pocket-size guides have tri-fold maps built into the front and back covers, and in between is a wealth of concise information that lets you pause at the right places while rolling down that ribbon of highway. Even though it’s terse, the prose does not overlook the negative. Along East Santa Fe Avenue in Flagstaff, Ariz., for instance: "Vintage neon signs may look alluring, but the rooms are decidedly lackluster."

      The guides cost $10, £5.99 in the U.K., and can be found in stores or at the Lonely Planet site.

      Travel quotes & notes. Collections of travel-related quotations come down the pike regularly, but few have the thrust and attitude found in The Traveling Curmudgeon, by Jon Winokur, who one can only imagine has spent decades lying in wait for these hundreds of quotes and anecdotes both modern and historical.

      While the overall tone of these observations is, well, curmudgeonly, they serve a higher purpose, too, a sociological survey reflecting not just the angst of travel today, but neatly documenting that travel generated angst long before the Transportation Security Administration arrived on the scene.

      What’s more, they’re fun – and educational. Anyone who’s become obsessed with his own recent travel misfortunes need only peruse these pages to put things in perspective.

      The book has more than the usual number of categories, including sections with country-by-country and city-specific aspersions, as well as themes such as souvenirs, baby boomer behavior, customs, and traveling companions. There’s a photo section, which may merit extra scrutiny given the burst of digital photography among travelers. Certainly a quote from Erma Bombeck has more relevance than ever: "No one wants to see your slides. Get that through your head. Not your parents, who gave you life. Not your kids who are insecure and need your approval. . . . Not even someone whose life you saved in the war and owes you big."

      The 180-page book, about the size of an adult hand, is in book stores or can be found through the publisher, Sasquatch Books.


      National parks in leather. For the national parks lover on your list, a classy stocking stuffer is the leather-bound America: National Parks and Destinations, a small atlas of the country’s parks and recreation areas that, despite its size and simplicity, is bound to set the park aficionado’s heart a’twitter. I received one of these as a Christmas gift two years ago, and it has had a place at my desk, never more than an arm’s length away, ever since. When you cup it in your hand, you feel like you have the whole park system at your disposal.

      The book’s 320 pages are edged in gold leaf, making even the clutter surrounding it look good. National Parks is part of a series produced by Graphic Image New York. Stores that sell the book can be located by calling 1-800-232-5550 during business hours, or email

      For a one-two punch, tuck inside the book a one-year National Parks Pass, granting admission to parks that have entrance fees. The $50 pass can be bought at the National Park Service site, though at the moment a note there says orders will not be filled until January 2004.

      To get one in time for the holidays, try a visitor center such as the one at Independence National Historical Park (215-965-2308) in Philadelphia.

      The Golden Age Passport, which offers the same admission privileges, is available to those older than 62 for a one-time fee of $10.


  • Comfort in flight: Pillows, blankets, audio & video players, food and drink   Dec. 30, 2001
    • Measures to ensure your comfort in flight
      The flight attendant standing next to me on the train platform one recent evening had just flown to Phila- delphia from Los Angeles, and she was describing how things had changed on board her flights since Sept. 11. Passengers often seemed more patient and nicer to each other, and some flights had more empty space.

      Since this column was written, airlines have restored some amenities. Others, such as hot meals, are limited to long-haul flights on some airlines, and several airlines now offer meals for sale on longer flights. 

      Then she said Kareem Abdul-Jabar had been on 
      her flight that day, flying in first class. But when he asked for a pillow the crew had to tell him there was none available. Not one on board.

      "They’ve stopped giving us supplies," she told me, alluding to the airline cutbacks.

      Which raises the question: If a 7-foot-2-inch basketball legend can’t get a pillow in first class, what chance do the rest of us have?

      Fact is, passengers have a great chance of flying comfortably on long flights -- especially if they prepare themselves with selected travel gear.

      Pillows. Take the pillow. The basic inflatable travel pillow has evolved in recent years away from cold plastic to cozy inflatables with many kinds of patterned, washable zip-off coverings. Others styles have loft more like your pillow at home.

      Cascade Design Deluxe Pillows

      The Cascade Design Deluxe Pillow weighs only 7.5 ounces and compresses into a small draw-string sack. Out of the sack, it swells into a 10-by-14-inch fluffy pillow filled with polyester fiber ($18, in travel and outdoor stores such as Eastern Mountain Sports; Another style, best known by the name Bucky, is filled with supportive buckwheat hulls. The U-models (some in faux leopard skin) start at about $30 and are available at Rand McNally, luggage stores and other outlets listed at Eleven kinds of pillows, most self-inflating, can be found on the Campmor site at, or call 1-800-226-7667.

      Bucky neck pillow

      Blankets. Regular fliers know that jet cabins at times have temperature-control problems – too warm or too cool. In any case, passengers aren’t uniform in their comfort levels. But they can cover their own needs by keeping a wrap handy or taking along their own blanket.

      The Travillo is a 40-by-60-inch fleece blanket that stores in a pouch and serves as a 10-by-12-by-3 inch pillow until you need to unfold it. It’s available in gray for $34.85 from Magellan’s travel catalog, phone 1-800-962-4943,, and in other colors from the manufacturer at In a similar theme, TravelSmith offers a 36-by-60-inch fleece blanket that stores inside a microfleece-covered inflatable pillow. The blanket has a pouch at one end for tucking tootsies. The duo sells under the name Airplane Comfort Kit for $39 at 1-800-950-1600,

      Entertainment. With body temperature under control, passengers can turn

      to creature comforts such as entertainment. Long-distance buses in Mexico sometimes show better movies on their screens than U.S. airlines do – and there’s no headset fee. But airline passengers can take charge of their entertainment options by carrying personal stereos or video systems.

      Music systems have become more personal than ever as new software lets users prepare their own CDs and MP3 technology allows travelers to download music digitally. The Archos Jukebox 6000 is a palm-size gadget that holds 100 hours of CD-quality music downloaded by you (about $249 at computer and music stores; Sony’s CD Walkman Compact Disc/MP3 Disc Player ($149) gives the best of both worlds for listening to traditional CDs or downloaded, customized music choices.

      CDs also can be played on many laptop computers, as can video games and movies. But even if you don’t carry a laptop, there are personal viewers such as the Panasonic DVD-L50 Portable DVD Player and the Sharp DV-L7OU that put passengers in the driver’s seat for video entertainment. They play DVD movies and other entertainment on a 7-inch screen.

      Prices for such portables commonly run between $600 and $1,000. Other choices are at

      For far less cash, a company called InMotion Pictures rents portable DVD players at more than a dozen U.S. airports. One-way or round-trip rentals are available, or if you’re stuck in the airport you can watch on site. The cost is usually $12 for one movie and a player. No such rentals are available at Philadelphia International at the moment, airport officials said. A list of InMotion airport locations elsewhere is at

      Whine & dine. Another long-flight wild card – and traditional burr for those who prefer fine cuisine -- is food and drink. Most airlines continue to serve meals on transcontinental nonstops, but a two-leg trip may mean no food service at all. Again, passengers can trump the problem by packing their own snacks or meals, and taking along water has become de rigueur.

      Cascade Designs, which produces Platypus water gear for athletes, also produces collapsible water bottles suited to travelers. The bottles cost a few dollars; thePlaty Tote carrying accessories are more expensive. One combination offered by Magellan’s is the Platy Shoulder Tote for $24.85. Other combinations are at

      Besides the many insulated sandwich bags and small cooler-pouches that lend themselves to hauling your own meal in a carry-on, another handy tote is the insulated wine-bottle carrier. They hold sandwiches and fruit equally well, tuck neatly under the seat in front of you, and are available in many stylish designs at kitchen and gourmet shops, as well as at outdoor stores. Selections can be found at and


  • Anti-nausea wristbands, slipper socks, medication reminders, hat in a bag. Sept. 30, 2001

    • Preparing for security

      By Donald D. Groff

      What airline passenger hasn’t at some time been caught at the security checkpoint fumbling slightly nervously, trying to determine what on their person set off the security alarm?

      Such delays, multiplied by many passengers, often contribute to long rush-hour X-ray lines that can be especially knotty when trying to catch a flight already in the boarding process.

      With new, tighter security precautions at the nation’s airports, this is a timely point for gadget-bearing passengers to think ahead, doing what they can to speed their own passage through security checks. That means having ticket and I.D. readily available and sidestepping delays before they arise.

      Gadget and accessory bags that can easily be removed from shoulder or belt are worth considering as a repository for the many items that can set off an alarm, from loose change and pens to sunglasses and cell phones. By centralizing such items, they can be placed on the conveyor and passed through the X-ray machine without delay.

      If all passengers took such care, undoubtedly we could make a big dent in the time that will be lost because of the increased scrutiny. The new rules also mean that we must learn to pack our old friend the Swiss Army Knife in the checked luggage – or leave it home altogether.

       Among items in today’s gadget grab bag:  

      Anti-nausea band. More than a decade ago, wristbands that rely on acupressure to fight motion sickness appeared in stores and gradually caught on as a way to fight the problem without drugs and their side effects. The bands, which contain a bead that presses at certain spot on the wrist, work for many people and have become common on cruises and deep-sea fishing trips worldwide.  Now comes the latest twist in fighting motion sickness – the ReliefBand, which delivers electrical signals to those same pressure points.  The ReliefBand looks like a watch worn on the underside of the wrist and retails for $125. Why spend that much when the low-tech wristbands cost only $10 or so? For those who don’t find the simpler bands effective, the ReliefBand may be more versatile. It has five “stimulation levels” that can be adjusted with the push of a button. It also has   the FDA’s stamp of approval, something the other wristbands have never obtained, though they cite medical studies in support of their products. The ReliefBand operates on two batteries that last about 150 hours, and it comes with a tube of gel that is applied to the wrist to improve conductivity.  It also fights nausea and vomiting caused by morning sickness and chemotherapy. The device is available in travel stores and CVS, Rite Aid and other drugstores. For a list of retailers, visit the Web site of the manufacturer, Woodside Biomedical of Carlsbad, Calif., at

      Slipper socks. The coach seat on my five-hour flight from Seattle to Philadelphia had great leg room, but what I wouldn’t have given for a pair of warm slipper socks. It was one of those rare window seats that had no seat in front of it. As soon as I shed my shoes for added comfort, though, I realized the chill creeping in from the bottom edge of the emergency exit was going to be troublesome. Passengers on long overnight flights, particularly in first class, routinely are provided with cabin socks to slip over their feet. But long-haul travelers can take control of their own comfort by packing slipper socks, which come in a variety of fabrics. Most have flexible soles and pack easily in a shoulder bag. The ones you bring will almost certainly be sturdier and warmer than what the airlines offer. They can be found in many shoe, outdoor  and department stores, ranging in price from $5 to $25. Among many online sources is Healthy Legs at or 1-888-495-0105. Magellan’s travel catalog offers a pair with gripper treads for $14.85 at or by calling 1-800-962-4943.

      Medication reminder.  Travelers who are saddled to a daily regimen of pills have a new remedy to the problem of keeping track of them all. Its hefty name – the 7-day Travel Medication Reminder & Organizer system – aptly describes its function. But it doesn’t convey the cleverness of the system, which comes from Denmark and is being sold in the United States by a company called e-pill. The system includes seven 6-by-2-inch trays, one for each day of the week, subdivided into four bins for morning, noon, evening and night. The trays stack into a carrying case for packing, but can be carried individually if you’re going to spend the day away from the hotel. The system also includes a slender, almost stick-like timing device that fits easily into a pocket and can be set by moving little tabs to easily designate any number of alarms. The system is designed with details important to many older users. The lettering is large enough to be read easily; the trays are large enough to be handled easily; the timer doesn’t require the engineering degree and surgeon’s touch that seem to be prerequisites for operating many digital devices. The system is not compact – roughly 7 by 7 by 2 inches – and at $49.95 is not inexpensive. But for orderliness it is without peer. It can be ordered from e-pill by calling 1-800-549-0095 or from Web site  

    • Hat in a Bag. Traveling with a ballcap or sombrero can be a hassle when you’re not actually wearing it. Caps get left behind in the overhead bin, more-elaborate chapeaus demand careful attention in transit. But a California company called Izeo Two Design offers a novel solution with the Hat in a Bag series, four styles of hats that fold with a twist and stash in a nearly flat storage bag that can be tucked away or hung from a belt loop. All are designed to provide shade and repel water, owing to two-ply DuPont Supplex fabric, and they weigh in at a very travelworthy 3 ounces.  The cowboy hat model has a 3 ½-inch brim that curls up on the sides and has an accent band; the Shade model has a 3 ½-inch flat bring all around; the Carrier model has a 5-inch front brim and a 2-inch back brim so that it can be worn with a backpack or baby carrier; the Big Shade has a 5-inch brim for even more all-around sun protection. The Big Shade retails for $34.95; the others for $29.95. Most of the company’s retail outlets are in the West, but the hats can be ordered from Izeo Two in San Rafael by calling 415-459-3800 or at Web site


  • Shopping for the perfect shoulder bag, cooling sprays, rail map, OptiClock. July 29, 2001

    • What to look for in a shoulder bag

      By Donald D. Groff

      Some people obsessively search for new shoes while they travel – always glancing into storefronts, grilling others on the source of their footwear.  Me, I search for the perfect carry-on shoulder bag.

      In particular, one that’s not too bulky but has compartments or inner sleeves to hold a book, a CD player, an electronic organizer, a small camera, a cell phone, sunglasses, a notepad, a water bottle, a magazine or two, my ticket, passport and other documents.

      It needs a clip strap to secure the ring of keys you don’t use while you’re away, and an easy-to-access, zippered pocket for stashing coins, beepers, and anything else that will set off the X-ray alarm if you fail to remove it from your person.  

      Fact is, hundreds of bags answer that description. But it’s a fun and continuing expedition to find one that looks and feels right and doesn’t, in the end, bulge desperately or take too much legroom.

      My latest candidate for “just right” is a bag by Kiva Designs called the Little Big Mouth. It’s 13-by-11-by-9 inches in size and is distinguished by a “big mouth” design, in which the unzipped top is wired to gape open when spread. It has a comfortable leather hand grip and shoulder strap, with two outer zip pockets and easy-to-grab zipper tabs. The outer bottom resists abrasion.

      Inside, it’s lined and has pockets that are easy to find and reach into, thanks to that big mouth. In fact, the only drawback might be the temptation to keeping slipping in more than you need. A new pair of shoes, for instance.

      Another plus is the bag’s looks – it’s a nice design that blends style with outdoorsiness. It comes in six color schemes: slate, red and Aztec sun are sporty; black, blue and evergreen are subdued but appealing.

      The Little Big Mouth retails for about $65 and can be found at Eastern Mountain Sports, as well as luggage stores. For other locations, call 1-800-645-8818 or visit

      Among other items in today’s gadget grab bag:

      Cooling sprays. The Texas sun pounded down on the afternoon concert crowd at the Kerrville Folk Festival one day last month, but the hombre in front of me had his personal climate well under control. He had a cylinder in hand that he would pump briefly, then direct the tip of a slender hose at his head. With a pinch of a valve, he released pressurized water in a cooling mist across his face and neck. You could almost hear him sigh. What he was using was a “personal mister,” a gadget that comes in many styles and prices. They’re great for golf, the beach, or any spectator sport that means sitting in hot conditions. On an steamy train in Thailand they would be heavenly.

      Among them is the Arctic Mist by Misty Mate. You fill it with tap water (add ice, if you wish), pump a plunger to compress the water, and it cools for up to two hours of intermittent mist or 20 minutes of continual mist. It comes in 10 ounce, 16 ounce and 24 ounce sizes for $18 to $25, available from Misty Mate at 1-800-233-6478 or

      A more sophisticated system, the Personal Mini Mister, is produced by  Island Mist. It uses carbon dioxide cartridges to power its spray.  It’s online at for $34.95, or less expensively at  The misters also can be found at outdoor and recreation stores.

      More-basic misters include a line by Circulair. One, Mister Fan, is a squeeze-trigger bottle with a plastic fan blade attached.  A side cap opens to receive  ice cubes. A smaller option is the Pocket Spa Keychain Fan, in which a little thumb-pump atomizer attaches to a little fan, which can be detached and used separately. Circulair makes many other portable fans, too, including the ever-popular Visor Fan, also known as the “wearable cooling system.” They’re all described at, where there’s a list of stores carrying at least some of the products, including Kmart, CVS Pharmacy and Bed, Bath & Beyond.  

      Rail map. The new Northeast USA Passenger Rail Travelers Map is a six-panel laminated map that covers the rails from Virginia to Maine, and not just the Amtrak stops. At a glance you can see the commuter rail networks of  Washington, Baltimore, Boston, New York and Philadelphia, as well as the spine of Amtrak service. It’s packed with information sources, too, such as the Web site for the Penn’s Landing-Camden ferry and all the major mass transit systems, including the Cape Cod ferries and ferries between Fire Island and Long Island. It also shows tourist spurs, such as the New Hope and Ivyland Railroad. The map costs $6.95 and can be found in map stores or ordered (for $2.50 shipping) through the publisher, Hedberg Maps, at 1-800-933-6277.  

      OptiClock. The Zelco OptiClock is one the newest travel clocks on the market, distinguished by its simplicity and lack of bells and whistles. It has a   face with hands and numbers 1 to 12 – nothing digital here – and one unusual feature: a magnifying glass. The stylish clock is only about 2 inches high, and the magnifying lens can slide across the face to double the size of the numbers. The lighted magnifier also can be used for reading maps and other fine print. The clock has a quartz movement with a four-step crescendo alarm and snooze function. It comes with a travel pouch and runs on one alkaline button cell for the clock and a Lithium button cell for the light. The OptiClock retails for about $30.  Locations of stores stocking the clock can be found through 1-800-431-2486.  One location is Scarlet Alley (241 Race St., phone 215-592-7898). It can also be ordered at



Steps to ensure a comfy flight

Rip-proof maps

Road Trip series

Traveling Curmudgeon

National parks, leather-bound


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