There's Just No End of Gadgets to Tempt the High-Tech Traveler

Patrick Mott is a regular contributor to Orange County Life.

There you are in a little trattoria in Trastevere, exchanging furtive but ever-more-smoldering glances with the Isabella Rossellini look-alike two tables away and cursing yourself for learning the Italian for "My car is aflame," but forgetting to memorize the now-essential "Marry me, bear my children, grow old with me and let me die in your arms."

Well, too bad. Not even the Hexaglot can save you this time. However, if all you're looking for is a little innocent flirtation, it can come up with "Good evening, my dear." And, if you're too tongue-tied to speak, it'll even do the talking for you. Press a button and out comes "Buona sera, cara. "

The $179 Hexaglot, which looks like a pocket calculator and is available at the Sharper Image, is one of the more fanciful items that are appearing on the retail market with greater frequency, items that are designed to appeal to the traveler who loves gadgets but for whom an extra few inches of suitcase space is more useful than a diplomatic passport.

There is, for instance, the Seiko Japanese Translator (available at the Sharper Image for $89), a pocket-sized calculator-type device that allows you to enter an English phrase and then displays the corresponding Japanese phrase in Japanese katakana characters on a tiny screen.

And there is the Tripp, another calculator clone a bit thinner than a passport case, which contains a data bank of informational tidbits on 64 U.S. and 20 foreign cities. It can give you the phone number of the American Express office in London, the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, the El Al reservations desk in Tel Aviv, the Avis counter at LAX, the concierge at the Savoy and the maitre d' at the Cafe de la Paix, as well as information about local weather, theater tickets and sporting events. It also contains a world time calculator, an alarm clock and a currency converter, and it's $29.95 at A2Z.

The Tripp, however, will not show you where you are. For that you'll have to rely on the Road Whiz, yet another calculator-type device that can keep you from ending up in Goat's Knuckle, Ga., when you really want to go to Milwaukee.

You enter your location, including the state you're in, the direction you're traveling in the 48 contiguous states, the highway number and the mileage marker, and the Road Whiz provides information on more than 40,000 travel-related services, including toll-free numbers for hotel and motel reservations and road conditions. It's $79.95 at A2Z.

For the less electronically inclined, there is Brookstone's Mini World Atlas, in pocket-size book form, for $15.

Once you get to where you're going, unpacking can be an unpleasant reminder that you didn't fold your clothes as precisely as you thought. And if steaming out the wrinkles by hanging the clothes up in the bathroom with the hot shower water running sounds a bit too involved, you can try A2Z's Fabric Steambrush, a compact device that shoots steam on your clothes as you brush them ($39.95). Brookstone also offers a steamer with dual voltages for foreign travel for $30.

Also at A2Z is Qwik Press, a clothes presser slightly larger than your hand ($29.95).

And if you've already got your quota of electrical devices, but need a way to plug them into the wall in Europe, the Sharper Image offers a plug converter set for $39.

Some of the newer devices, however, work anywhere. For personal grooming, there's a particularly tiny hair dryer from Brookstone that operates on foreign as well as U.S. current ($30) and a cordless curling iron/brush from A2Z, powered by a butane cartridge ($34.95).

There are less technically spectacular but nonetheless thoughtful and useful items out there that can make you feel more secure knowing that they're in your suitcase.

There is, for instance, the Sewing Card, a tiny sewing kit about the size of a credit card that contains white and gray thread, two needles, two dress-maker's pins, three safety pins, and a pair of miniature spring-loaded scissors ($10 at Brookstone).

Also at Brookstone is the Urban Survival Kit, simply a tiny aluminum flashlight with a spare bulb and a small Swiss Army knife (blade, nail file/screwdriver, scissors, tweezers, toothpick) contained in a pocket-sized case: $27.50.

And there are a couple of deceptively simple contraptions available at A2Z that can make air travel slightly less frustrating. The first, called the Pocket Pullman and billed as the world's smallest luggage cart, can fold up to nearly pocket size when not in use ($9.95). The other is called the Sleep Over Neck Pillow. It's an inflatable collar-type pillow of the sort used in first class by European airlines ($19.95).

If you get lonesome for your office while you're on the road, you can turn to the Sharp Wizard (available at various stores), a calculator-sized computer with an appointment diary, calendar, memo pad, phone directory, calculator and a world/local clock, as well as a series of accessory programs, such as an IBM and Macintosh computer link, a city guide, an eight-language translator and even a small printer. The basic 64K unit costs about $299. The accessories are extra.

You can even have fresh-brewed coffee in your traveling office with Brookstone's travel coffee maker. It's 7 inches high and can brew up to two mugs of coffee at a time or can heat, water, canned soups and stews ($42.50).

Finally, if you find yourself in a corner of the world that the Gideons have yet to visit, you can turn to Franklin's electronic Bible (A2Z for $349.95). It contains the complete Old and New Testaments (King James Version), it can instantly retrieve any Bible verse. It features a pronunciation guide, a spelling and capitalization checker, and it weighs a scant 13 ounces.

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