Your face says it all: You are starting to panic. Don't. If you're shopping for a traveler, you might just find the answer to your gift-giving conundrum in these pages. Our team of travelers has tested items large and small, pricey and affordable, and we want to share them with you so you can share them with others. This is by no means comprehensive, but it can start the old synapses firing. If you can't get said item in time for the big day, cut out the picture, tie it up with a bow and use it as an IOU. The true traveler will always have a use for it because there's always that next trip.
Bags, bags and more bags
They say breaking up is hard to do. Nonsense. My old black carry-on bag and I have been tight for years, but there's a new charmer in my life. It's the Lipault folding 22-inch bag. This lightweight beauty comes in a variety of colors, is made of nylon twill and sports what the French company calls "airplane grade" aluminum handles. It doesn't have as many pockets as my old Black Beauty, but it also weighs 5 1/2 pounds empty, about 2 pounds less than BB. On a weekend trip, it was a breeze to roll through the airport and so light to lift into the overhead that I felt like Charles Atlas. Bye-bye, BB;
Lipault. You're not cheap, but you are easy.
Info: From $200,
Here's a briefcase that's got your back and your tablet as well. The Pelican ProGear U140 Urban Elite Tablet Backpack has a hard-sided latching case built in, which is designed to shield your tablet from the rigors of travel. Besides that case, it has a pocket for your office gear and another where cords and chargers will snuggle right in. Because of the hard-sided case, the pack weighs about 6 1/2 pounds, so it's no lightweight. This backpack says it's designed for netbooks, but measure first; my 11.6-inch netbook did not fit.
Light and easy:
The sleek Delsey Helium Aero carry-on is the "it" bag for a weekend getaway. The 100% polycarbonate construction means the case is durable and lightweight — a measly 8.4 pounds —and easy to maneuver up and down stairs or in and out of the overhead bin. The case can expand up to 2 inches to accommodate your shopping spree, and the double spinner wheels mean it can roll easily alongside you. The Helium Aero also comes in 25- and 29-inch sizes and is available in titanium, cobalt blue and red.
Info: Carry-on, $300; 25- and 29-inch cases, $400 and $450, respectively.
Walking on air:
Airbac backpacks are outfitted with a built-in air cushion that protects your camera and other tech gear — as well your back — from the bumping and jostling you encounter while traveling. You need only inflate the cushion, using a standard hand pump, to your desired level of comfort and lumbar support. I tried two: The smaller Zoom, part of the Airbac photography line, weighs about 3 pounds and has six sturdy padded compartments to hold your camera equipment. The under-seat-size Airtech travel backpack weighs about 3 1/2 pounds and has a thickly padded sleeve to hold your laptop, as well as two roomy compartments and zippered pouches in which to stash the rest of your travel gear.
Info: Zoom, $99.99; Airtech, $89.99.
RuMe's colorful luggage tags, made from recycled aluminum, do more than distinguish your bag from all the other black bags on the luggage carousel. On the back of each tag is a QR, or Quick Response, code and a URL. To register your contact information, you scan the QR code with your smartphone or log into the URL. If your bag is lost, the finder scans the tag's QR code or enters the URL to locate you. RuMe's anonymous third-party email link allows the finder to reach you without disclosing your personal information. Each luggage tag contains a unique QR code pattern and URL address; the printed image won't chip or fade.
Luggage tags and passport holders-wallets by Brazilian-born artist
are so pop-art bright and cheerful they could elicit a smile from even the sternest
or immigration agent. The luggage tags ($15 and $16) have a slit in the back to hold contact information. The passport cases ($25 to $30) have a flap to hold your travel documents, pockets for currency and slots for credit cards and indentification.
On the road, I miss things that make home home. Sounds silly, but my sonic toothbrush is one of them. In the war against excess weight (I mean the bag, not me), the big sonic toothbrush, about 7 1/2 ounces, stays home. But now, I've found a Violight, a 1 1/2-ounce thing of beauty that resembles a long lipstick tube and comes in a variety of pop-artish colors. It runs on one
Cream of the crop:
If living in SoCal's humidity-free zone weren't enough, flying will sap the last ounce of moisture from your skin. Packing cream is imperative, but if you're a carry-on bagger, a tube must be less than 3 ounces, the Transportation Security Administration says. Enter Tiny Hands, by Lush, which offers a solid facial serum and a hand serum, both of which can be carried in a tin. The 0.7-ounce facial serum contains Portobello mushroom extract and camomile tea. If that's not your cuppa, the 2.1-ounce hand serum smells (strongly, be warned) of vanilla and marigold. Smooooth.
Info: Hand serum $8.95; facial serum $14.95,
These ballet flats by Tieks may be the ideal travel shoe, just right for wearing on the airplane or padding around in your hotel room. The shoes, made of Italian leather, are lightweight — about 12 ounces — yet sturdy enough to wear outside. The split-sole design allows you to fold them in half and stash them in their compact pouch, then tuck in your purse or carry-on bag. Tieks come in 41 colors and patterns, but they had me at their jazzy turquoise soles.
Info: From $165,
Just for fun
Why isn't this under "Books"? Well, it's more than that. To wit: I would have gotten all my work done the day "Safari" arrived, but I started playing with it, and soon time stood still because the book did not. It's billed as a photicular book, and each page of this African animal book, created by Dan Kainen with text by Carol Kaufmann, has images that move so that rhino or zebra trots as slowly or as quickly as you like, just by wiggling those pages. It's not electronic so it's suitable for kids — of all ages.
Seeing is believing:
If you want to make sure the house and the spouse are in good order when you're away, TelyHD may be just the ticket. If you have HDTV and a
account, you hook up the device (easy enough for a nongeek), sign in to your Skype account and voilà — it's visual Skype on steroids (depending on the size of your TV). Yes, you can skip TelyHD and use a laptop equipped with a webcam, but this felt spacious and relaxed. Caveat: I called a colleague in Washington, who didn't have her makeup on either. We scared each other.
If space is no object and fashion is, think about a different headphone experience. I tried the iLuv ReF headphones with a red canvas exterior; they're made for the
and some Android devices and Kindle, among others. The musical experience was rich and, best of all, the phones blocked most of the noise that makes travel wearing. The only downside: My ears got hot. Seems a small price to pay for sanity and style.
How many times are we told, "You don't get to have it both ways"? Excuse me, but with the Polaroid Z2300 you do. This camera, which has a 6X digital zoom, gives you prints and 10-megapixel digital files. You put in the ZINK photo paper, take the picture and hit print. The prints aren't huge (2 inches by 3 inches), but they do you tell you, in a way that digital sometimes can't, whether the shot is a keeper. You can also shoot 720p HD video. The camera is clunkier than the digital models you're used to, but it's still fun in a cake-and-eat-it-too way.
It's winter, and you're visiting Grandma in Minnesota or Uncle Fred in Boston and you need to call Grams or text Fred. Which means you must remove your gloves to use your cellphone, thus freezing your fingers. Enter Boss Tech's one-size Cashmere Knit Touchscreen Gloves, which have six fingers that will work with your cellphone/tablet/e-reader screen. There are lots of these kinds of gloves out there; I liked these because they won't break the bank, come in various colors and fit my stubby fingers like, well, a glove.
Info: $6 or less from various merchants,
It takes a special person to like "Gross America." Fortunately, among my friends and family, there are many who will enjoy Richard Faulk's semi-encyclopedic book about such places as
Hair Museum in Independence, Mo. (which focuses on the Victorian practice of hair mourning art), the waste lagoons of eastern North Carolina and a statue to the Donner Party in Truckee, Calif. Well, I suppose it's a matter of taste — the book, I mean.
In his foreword to "Food Lover's Guide to the World,"
, editor of
magazine, writes, "For me, there is no better way to understand a place — to literally get it inside you — than by eating its food. Through food, I always find my way." In the lavishly illustrated pages of this coffee-table tome, you'll find food and drink from a host of countries, recipes (pork
from South Korea) and explanations of local foods unique to those places. There's even an entry on California cuisine.
Thrill of it all:
Not all of us are going to hike
Simien Mountains, but that doesn't mean we can't dream about seeing its gelada baboons. In Lonely Planet's "Great Adventures," the reader is treated to a breathtaking array of travel experiences, illustrated with beautiful photography. From washing elephants in Thailand (which even a tame traveler could do) to driving El Camino de la Muerte (Road of Death) in Bolivia (which seems redundant for freeway-loving Californians), the book will have you reveling in the sheer variety of a world without chain restaurants and strip malls.
"The Longest Way Home: One Man's Quest for the Courage to Settle Down," by
. An actor is born again as a traveler and writer. "They say it's the male 'Eat Pray Love,' " said Greg Freitas, co-owner of the Traveler's Bookcase in Los Angeles, which has sold many copies. The key, Freitas said, is that "it's not too self-absorbed."
If you're stuck in an armchair, "Hello Goodbye Hello: A Circle of 101 Remarkable Meetings," by Craig Brown, can reproduce the serendipity travelers thrive on. This odd volume, researched and written with breathtaking precision and abundant British wit, recounts a chain of weird encounters among famous people.
. Igor Stravinsky meets Walt Disney.
meets T.S. Eliot.
meets Madonna. Oh, and each chapter is 1,001 words. Brown is a British critic, satirist and, it would appear, obsessive. Vanity Fair called the book a "feat of narrative engineering."
Taking a long view:
"London: Portrait of a City," by Reuel Golden, editor, is a sweeping view of London in color and black-and-white photography, from the Victorian era to now. The image-savvy folks at Taschen give London the same sophisticated, provocative treatment they gave our hometown in 2009's "Los Angeles: Portrait of a City" (which wouldn't be a bad choice, either).
"DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Paris," by Rosemary Bailey, Katherine Spenley and Alan Tillier, is a guidebook rich in maps, charts and imagery. Daniel Jacobson, manager of the Distant Lands bookshop in Pasadena, says the DK book "cuts through a lot of possible confusion by representing things visually.... It's a good book for an expensive but popular city."
From us to you:
"SoCal Close-Ups: Your Vacation Guide," by Christopher Reynolds and the
, includes about 40,000 words of frank advice in an ebook or iPad app on hotels, restaurants, museums, bars, parks, beaches and shops in Los Angeles and Orange counties. The iPad app version, "Los Angeles Times SoCal Close-Ups" is a visual feast that combines text with about 600 photos and a dozen videos from Times photographers, breaking L.A. and Orange counties into 12 chapters.
Info: $4.99 for ebook; details at
. iPad app is 99 cents per chapter in Apple's App store,