Do you remember the days when you packed for a trip with little more than a change of clothes and a toothbrush? Now you may feel like a traveling electronics store. Senior travelers have many of the same needs as anyone else, as well as a handful that relate to our age and physical condition. Depending on your needs, here are suggestions for some of the things you might consider packing for your next trip, whether it be to another city or another country:
Power Adapter – If you travel internationally, there’s a pretty good chance that, outside of North America, you’ll find a different voltage and different plugs. These days, most of your electronics such as laptops, tablets, and smartphones have chargers that work with either 110 volts or 220 volts. The problem becomes the plugs. The Ventev Global Charging Hub 300 is a clever device that combines almost all the plugs you may need into one unit, so you no longer have to fumble for the right adapter. It also includes 2 USB ports. Price is about $28 from Amazon.com.
Portable Humidifier – It’s not unusual to find that your hotel room may be a little too dry for your comfort. You may be in a dry climate or in someplace that just cranks up the room heat. There are a number of travel humidifiers that can solve the problem. One is the Boneco Travel Ultrasonic Humidifer 7146. It does not use a water tank – instead you use a disposable plastic water bottle and insert it in the top of the device. It comes with several plugs for international travel. Also sold under the brand name Air-O-Swiss, it’s available on Amazon for $49.99.
CO Detector/Nightlight – A hotel fire is both frightening and potentially life threatening. Even waking up in a strange room and not knowing where you are can be disconcerting. We saw a great device at this year’s CES that can put travelers at ease. The American Red Cross branded Blackout Buddy – CO from Eton is a combination carbon monoxide alarm, nightlight, and rechargeable flashlight all in one. A full charge will keep it going for seven days. It’s available at Amazon.com for about $35.
Portable CPAP Machine – If you’re a traveler who suffers from severe sleep apnea, you know the problems of dealing with bulky CPAP machines and the constraints they place on your ability to travel. Now there are several portable CPAP machines on the market, and while they are not cheap, they will give CPAP users the flexibility to travel with a small battery powered device. The Transcend miniCPAP Machine costs $449. It is approved for travel on airplanes and comes with a rechargeable battery.
Blood Pressure Cuff – Another health concern for many of us is keeping track of our blood pressure. Full sized blood pressure cuffs are bulky. The tiny ones that slip on a finger on not always accurate. A good compromise for travelers might be the wrist cuff blood pressure monitor from iHealth. This is a wireless device that pairs to your iOS or Android smartphone with Bluetooth. It comes in a small plastic carrying case that makes it convenient to pack in a suitcase and keep clean as well. The free app will allow you to keep track of various vital signs and share the information with your doctor or caregiver. It’s available for $79.95 on Amazon.com.
Portable Charger – If you’re on the road, sooner or later you will probably run out of power, whether it’s for your smartphone, camera or laptop. There are almost an infinite number of charging solutions on the market. Some are big external batteries; others are power adapters like the Zolt. We like the Zolt because it is compact, stylish, and will charge most laptops and two other USB powered devices simultaneously. Price is about $100 from Amazon.com.
External Battery – If you need to power up your phone or other USB device and there’s no outlet in sight, an external battery will do the trick. You can get them in sizes from roughly 1000mAh that will keep your phone going for a couple of hours, all the way up 10,000 mAh that will keep you juiced for days. One that carries plenty of power in an almost indestructible form factor is the Kodiak Plus T650 10000 mAh from Outdoor Tech. It’s ruggedized, waterproof, shockproof, and dustproof, and a single charge will recharge your iPhone up to four times. Price at Amazon.com is between $63.73 and $79.95, depending on color.
SOS Application – Dealing with a medical emergency is a frightening prospect, whether you are traveling domestically or internationally. But, now, there’s an app for that. SOS QR will help you be prepared and stay safe during an emergency when traveling: it features a one-touch SOS button that alerts your emergency contacts that you are in need of help, with your GPS location, and an emergency record attached to a personal QR code that lets emergency responders quickly access your critical health information. The initial download is free for iOS and Android, though for major functionality, such as the SOS button calling, you’ll part with $10. The app lets you create an emergency record for yourself with entry of your emergency contact medical information such as: allergies, medications, immunizations, or medical conditions using convenient pick lists. In an emergency situation, EMTs can scan your QR code (with a QR code scanner) and quickly see your health information in one of five languages (English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Mandarin Chinese). In addition, when the QR code is scanned, SOS QR automatically generates email Auto-Alerts to your listed contacts, with a map with the location of the emergency.
Mobile Hotspots – If you absolutely, positively, need to have access to your data via your laptop or tablet when you are traveling, there are a couple of solutions. One is to use your smartphone as a wi-fi hotspot. There are a couple of issues with this. The first is that it can suck the battery life out of your phone in fairly short order. The other is the data charges you may run up. The alternative is a wireless hotspot, a small standalone device that connects with your tablet or laptop wirelessly so you can use it in an airport, or in one of those hotels that still charges stupidly high fees for daily Internet access. There are devices made for each of the major U.S. carriers, and you can also rent one to use overseas (which will cost you a lot less than international roaming charges). Here’s a list of devices and prices, which do not include the data plans.
AT&T – Velocity – The device itself is $150 without a contract, free if you’re willing to sign up for two years. Monthly data plans are additional.
Sprint – Netgear Zing Mobile Hotspot – The Netgear Zing is a great-looking, very easy to manage wireless hotspot for Sprint’s LTE network. It’s only $1 if you take a two year contract, $300 if you don’t. Data charges are extra.
T-Mobile – ZTE Falcon Z-917 Hotspot – Without a contract, this is $80, or you can pay $3.34 for 24 months. It’s another $20 for the sim and then there’s a monthly data plan.
Verizon – Jetpack 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot AC 791L – Verizon sells a variety of mobile hotspots. This one is $200 for full retail or $50 with a two-year contract. Plus the data plan. This particular unit gets high marks for its long battery life.
International – If you’ve ever taken your U.S. smartphone overseas and used it for data, you’ve probably discovered the hard way that it’s an expensive proposition, with huge data charges. You can try to get a local SIM card, but I’ve heard (and experienced) far more frustration stories than success stories. We’ve found two solutions for travelers that are not cheap but won’t break the bank.
XCom Global International MiFi Hotspot – You rent this for $17.95/day and get unlimited data. XCom Global’s MiFi solution gets good reviews as a great way for business travelers to stay connected abroad. You basically rent the device for the length of your trip. They charge extra for more than one country. Battery life is considered pretty good, but we recommend renting a second battery.
SkyRoam Personal Hotspot – You can get this at Amazon.com for $100, but then it will cost you a flat rate of $10 a day for unlimited data. It uses a “virtual” SIM card that automatically configures for any of 80 countries.
Flashlight – We think that carrying a flashlight is an absolute essential. There are so many small, high grade LED flashlights on the market that we couldn’t begin to list them. The light we carry is the Olight S1 Baton. It is tiny, less than 2 ½ inches long. It uses a powerful 500 lumen Cree LED bulb and has four different light levels plus a strobe. And it has a magnetic cap so you can stick it on a car chassis or other metal surfaces for hands free use. It’s available at Amazon.com for $49.95.
Rugged Smartphone Cases – You’ve probably spent a chunk of change on your latest smartphone. And if you bought it on a discounted carrier plan, it will probably cost you a mint to replace or repair it. If you want to protect it from the most common challenges, scratches, water, dropping, etc, we think the best case is Lifeproof. The Fre line of Lifeproof cases for the iPhone 6 come in a variety of colors and are available for $35 at Amazon.com.
Urban Armor Gear (UAG) makes a line of drop resistant protective cases, but they are not waterproof. Those will run you $39.95 at Amazon.com. While waterproof cases are obviously more protective, there’s a trade-off since it is more difficult to use the touchscreen on your phone when it’s so well protected.
Water Purifier – If you are traveling in the US, Canada, or most of western Europe and staying in a hotel, you generally don’t have much to worry about when it comes to drinking water. But if you’re camping out or traveling to many other countries, you may want to bring a device with you to make sure the water is safe to drink. There are a ton of filtration systems that will filter out bacteria and improve the taste of water. We like the SteriPen UV Ultra Water Purifier – a battery powered device that kills almost all bacteria, viruses, and protozoa. It does not improve the taste of the water, but does make it safe to drink. It’s easy to use and the UV lamp will last for thousands of treatments. It’s available at Amazon for $74.
Smart Luggage – It’s almost inevitable that a piece of luggage will go missing. But now, there’s an app for that. The Bluesmart Carry On Bag is a roll aboard bag for the 21st century road warrior. It will help you keep track of where your bag is by using a smartphone app. It has a TSA compliant built-in lock. It comes with a USB charge port and battery so you can juice up your smartphone while you’re waiting to board the plane without having to scramble for an outlet. It also has an outside pouch for quick access to a tablet computer. It is a hard sided case with four multi-directional wheels. It also has a built-in scale (there are airlines, mostly overseas, that limit the weight of carry-ons). If you do check the bag and it does get lost, the app will help you help the airline to find your luggage. The bag is available on Amazon.com for $263.99.
Translation Devices/Apps – There are a ton of translation programs available for your smartphone that can help you manage in taxi cabs, stores, and restaurants around the world. One that we’ve tried and liked is itranslate. It’s free for iOS or Android.
At CES, we got to see a device that does instant voice translation. The Logbar ili Translator is an unassuming necklace dongle with high aspirations. Like a gadget from Star Trek, the ili can translate a spoken foreign language in real time. The ili can only handle English, Japanese, and Chinese at the moment. The company plans to add French, Spanish, and several other languages in subsequent versions. It probably won’t be on the market until same time later this year, and so far there’s been no price announced.
Portable Power Strip/USB Charger – Plugable Power 2015 Dual AC Outlet Desktop Power Strip – Very few hotels have enough outlets, or have them where you want them. And you never seem to have enough ports to charge your USB devices like smartphones, tablets, or cameras. This device provides for all with two standard outlets and four USB ports. It’s at Amazon.com for $24.95.