A pop-up book and a smartphone prop. A pretty little poncho and a sturdy, stylish tripod. A comfy new pillow and a little lamb that lulls you to sleep. These are some of the finds that just might wind up on your wish list — or your shopping list for the traveler in your life. Here are ideas curated by staff writers An Amlotte, Chris Erskine, Catharine Hamm, Anne Harnagel and Christopher Reynolds. Happy shopping.
Know when to fold 'em
I lust after luggage the way many women lust after handbags. Can you really have too many suitcases? You can, especially if storage space is an issue, as it is for me. That's what I love about this Biaggi Contempo four-wheeler: You can collapse it so it fits under a bed. Useful for a cruise, useful for a cramped home, this 20-incher has another great aspect. It weighs only 7 pounds, thanks to its nylon exterior and aluminum frame. So far, I've taken it only on a weekend trip; if you're a Scrooge-like packer, you can probably pack it for a much longer stay. Or you could buy a larger size; you can find foldables up to 30 inches and several sizes in between. Comes in several colors too.
Info: About $150, http://www.biaggi.com
Packing it in
More and more, our work travels with us. We're not saying that's a good thing; it's just a thing. And here's a nifty way to take along all the things that let you get the job done. Genius Pack's High Altitude Flight Bag is a contemporary take on an old-fashioned briefcase. It wraps around the upright tray table in front of you so that your papers, magazines and electronics are within reach during your flight. For cyclists, it wraps around the bike's center bar, out of the way for commuting but still safe. It also hooks nicely on your carry-on luggage. In sky blue, coral red, plum and mint. Just think of it as a stylish pocket protector.
Info: $58 http://www.geniuspack.com
It's time to ditch that frumpy old black backpack in favor of this colorful Allende weekender bag by Stela 9. Handmade in Guatemala, it features a finely embroidered exterior and rolled handles, with an optional pebbled leather shoulder strap. There's a convenient zip pocket in back, and the zip top opens wide to a lined interior roomy enough to store all the essentials for your getaway.
Info: $282, http://www.shopbop.com
You're getting sleeeeepy
It was love at first sight for me and Cirrus, SleepPhones' super-cute aid for people who have trouble sleeping when they're away from home. Although the plush sheep is a storage accessory for the company's comfy headphones, the soothing power of a soft, cuddly toy is not to be underestimated, even for grown-ups. The SleepPhones headband is home to two felt-covered speakers that deliver a warm sound for their size. Bluetooth pairing is a breeze, and the headphones are a dream to sleep with. The volume can be turned up high enough for air travel, but don't expect it to drown out that pesky chatterbox in the row behind you or silence snoring roomies. Be sure to order the correct size for the most comfortable fit.
Info: $99.95, http://www.sleepphones.com
If you're the type of traveler who's always being reminded to chill, HeartMath's iOS Sensor is for you. It clips to your earlobe and feeds information about your pulse to the accompanying Inner Balance app, which in turn guides you through a training session that is designed to improve well-being and clarity of thought. Although we can't vouch for the science behind the technology, we did find that the app was effective at keeping our scatterbrained self focused on relaxation for a few minutes. The sensor has a 30-pin connector, so if your device uses a lightning connector, you'll need an adapter.
Info: $99, http://www.heartmath.com
Getting an earful
Ready to tune into "Song for a Winter's Night"? British speaker manufacturer KEF enters the headphone market with the M500 over-the-ear headphones, so warm and comfortable you could use them for earmuffs. Even better, the soundscape ranges from deep and warm to high and clear. The handsome headphones offer sweat-resistant and breathable memory foam ear pads that rotate easily to adapt to different-sized heads. They fold up into a stylish carrying case, ideal for travel. High fidelity, low fuss. Works with most computers, smartphones and other mobile devices.
Info: $299, http://www.kef.com
You have a fine set of earbuds or headphones that you love, but now you need a mike (for Skype or other VOIP uses or gaming). The MoovMic by Headset Buddy can step into the breach. This lightweight boom mike can attach to a spot on your buds or phones using a small adhesive-backed plate. Then plug the mike part into the appropriate receptacle on your PC and Skype away. The sound on my test call was crisp and clear, superior to the sound on my smartphone earbuds.
Info: $24.95, http://www.headsetbuddy.com
One key to great travel photos and videos — often underappreciated by amateurs — is a steady lens. Menotti tripods can give you that, with portability and a dash of style. Most of its products come in eight colors (handy for spotting your sticks when it's time to move on). The Day Trip tripod ($119 and up) is the most compact — just 9.4 inches long when collapsed. The top-of-the-line Globe Trotter can support up to 26.4 pounds, converts into a monopode and can be ordered in aluminum ($209) or lighter, pricier carbon fiber. The company also make $59 monopodes.
Info: $59-$369, http://www.mefoto.com
Props for you
It's small, it's smartly designed and it makes life easier. What's not to love about an item like that, which is what Keyprop is. It's a smartphone stand shaped like a key that you attach to your key ring. Why do you need a stand? If you're watching a movie on an airplane tray tabletop or you're shooting a selfie or you're doing video Skype. One prong of the Keyprop fits in the earphone jack, which means it works in non-iPhone products. Another prong fits into the lightning connector on an iPhone5 and above, which means it can work two ways on the Apple of your eye. It will not work if your phone's case is big and bulky. On an Otterbox-encased phone, it worked only with the earphone plug. Your world won't end if you don't have a Keyprop, but it may revolve a little more smoothly if you do.
Info: About $13, http://www.lat.ms/1brAh6h
Neat, neat, neat
Want to be the most popular kid in the class (or attendee at the conference)? Carry a power strip — one whose size is manageable as it is in the Pack and Plug, from GUS (Great Useful Stuff). When outlets are limited, you'll have star power. That's just one of the functions of the Pack and Plug, a roll-up home for that power strip and the other assorted lightning connectors and mini- or micro-chargers as well as a mesh pocket for that thumb drive, batteries and other assorted gear. It also keeps those various connectors neat and tidy; you plug them into the power strip and the power strip into your hotel outlet. No more snarls. Its blue protective case makes it easy to find in the recesses of your bag. Its sibling, the Cotton Cord Roll, does the same thing, minus the power strip. But this organizer, which is coated cotton, is lighter (no power strip) and has labels for the tablet, phone and computer cords. My bag no longer looks like Charlotte's web, which takes some of the bite out of travel.
Info: Pack and Plug and Cotton Cord Roll, $19.99 each, http://www.greatusefulstuff.com
Zap those identity thieves
Ward off the unseen enemy with these protective passport sleeves, one of the most-interesting — and telling — stocking-stuffers of the season. These lightweight radio frequency-blocking sleeves purport to keep your information safe from cyber pickpockets. The simple cover, known as an RFID-blocking sleeve, looks just like another paper envelope, yet it's water-resistant and tough to tear. And something special for those with a James Bond complex.
Info: $5, credit card; $6, passport; http://www.pacsafe.com
Travel clothing, accessories and comfort
Fanny pack, redux
To call Trabeca's sash a fanny pack is a bit of a cheap shot. It's a more fashionable alternative to the accessory that has room for everything but your dignity. With three styles to choose from, the sash is ideal for those who don't like to carry a purse. A zippered pocket at the small of the back holds a smartphone, and a front pocket with a Velcro closure has room for cash, cards or a key. Travelers no longer have to fumble with money belts that tuck under clothes; this sash keeps everything close at hand yet hidden from prying eyes.
Info: $46-$68, http://www.trabeca.com
If you need to make every centimeter of suitcase space count, consider the One Piece Camp Slipper Shoe, which lies flat in your luggage and weighs about 3 ounces. This slipper is what you want if you're staying in a dive hotel with a grimy shower floor or anywhere you don't want your tootsies to touch the ground (or anywhere where the owner of said ground doesn't want your feet scuffing up their lovely parquet, for example). To slip them on, you stick your foot through and flip them over. You don't have to worry about width if your dogs are wider than usual; there's enough neoprene to keep them covered. If you need arch support, these slippers aren't for you; if that's not an issue, these may be minimalist nirvana. In black, green, blue and red.
Info: $11.95, http://www.lat.ms/1h1fqhq
As right as rain
This cheery polka-dot poncho by Reisenthel could brighten even the rainiest day in London. Made of tough, lightweight polyester, it has a drawstring hood and a zipper at the neckline, making it easy to pull on and off. Snap closures on the sleeves keep out the wet weather. And when the sun does shine, the poncho folds into its own pouch. Also in black-and-white houndstooth.
Info: $25, http://www.containerstore.com
Is it a wrap? Or is it a blanket? Either way, it means you have one less item to pack. The multipurpose Wrapper Blanket by Chilly Jilly can be worn as a sarong-like beach coverup or as a wrap in a drafty opera house. Impromptu picnic? It's a ground cover too. But I like it best as a blanket to ward off the arctic chill of a long-distance plane trip. The brushed microfiber and spandex fabric is warm, lightweight and washable. In brown, slate and navy.
Info: $40, http://www.chillyjilly.com
Even the sturdiest road warrior could use some TLC — totally luxurious cashmere. This travel set from Ralph Lauren features a warm cashmere blanket and eye mask in a coordinating zippered bag that doubles as a pillow. Wrapping yourself in the blanket, which measures 32 by 55 inches, is like snuggling in your fave cable-knit sweater. In navy, gray, camel, black, red, Champagne and cream.
Info: $395, http://www.ralphlauren.com
You snooze, you cruise
You know those travel pillows that fit you like a collar? They're a pain in my neck. I fall asleep, my chin sags and the next thing I know, I've tipped forward and drooled on myself or tipped to the side and drooled on my seatmate. Not a pretty picture. The J-Pillow stops that from happening. It can be used several ways, but I used it like a mini-collar around my neck and the abbreviated elephant trunk cradling my chin. On a recent flight, it kept me from bonking my head on the plane window; when I switched to the right side, it kept me from becoming too familiar with my neighbor. It weighs in at about half a pound, but it squashes down to a packable size. Worth the weight for no crick in the neck.
Info: $30.95 with free shipping, http://www.jpillow.com
Help's at hand
There's no excuse for a droopy hemline or spinach in your teeth with this teeny-tiny (3-by-2-by-2-inch) tool bag. The Transportation Security Administration-compliant Minimergency Survival Kit is packed with 17 items — double-sided tape, dental floss, stain remover, mending kit and more — to help you cope with fashion, beauty or personal predicaments while away from home. The zip-touch pouch comes in glittery pewter or fuchsia, making it easy to find in your carry-on or tote bag.
Info: $15, http://www.containerstore.com
Men can keep their travel odds and ends organized with a lightweight pouch, detailed with playful graphics such as Man Things. The 8-inch-long pouch, from Flight 001, can handle most of your travel-related vitals — passports, cell chargers, keys, breath mints. In fact, they would make perfect cigar pouches for your next Vegas trip. Durable canvas topped by a heavy-duty zipper for travelers who are looking for a simple pouch that just gets the job done.
Info: $18, http://www.flight001.com
Get the message?
Sometimes, the best thing you can do for a friend is to push them toward the paradise they might not otherwise explore. Use the power of suggestion to get them on the road with this luggage tag from Jonathan Adler. Also sold as a passport cover, the Take a Trip message gets the point across in a hurry. Both items are made of leather, with bold and colorful graphics. While you're at it, maybe you can get them to take a friend along as well?
Info: $38 each, http://www.jonathanadler.com
Good to gift
Art of the matter
Maybe you don't have that killer photo that shows the glories of San Francisco or the beauties of San Diego, but you can have a representation of these and other destinations beautifully framed. And they may evoke more oohs and aahs than your photos. Art.com offers prints that evoke the heyday of the picture postcard and can be framed to your liking. If you're more literal-minded, check out Art.com's Associated Press collection, which can also be framed. For the traveler in your life — and maybe that's you — these are fitting reminders of the roads you've traveled and the memories you've brought home.
Info: From $7.99, http://www.art.com
New York fans will appreciate this handmade 100% wool needlepoint pillow, velvet backed with a hidden zipper. Emblazoned with one of the city's ubiquitous taxicabs, this colorful pillow will elicit a smile from even the toughest cabby — just don't forget to tip.
Info: $98, http://www.johnathanadler.com
Take a pass
Here's a cool tool for the beaten path. If you know somebody headed to New York or another major U.S. city, a Citypass booklet can save substantial money on major tourist attractions. With New York, for example, $106 buys adult admission to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA, the Guggenheim and several other major attractions, which otherwise would cost you $185 (and you'd spend more time standing in line). The booklets are typically good for nine days from your first use. Also covered by Citypass: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Hollywood, Houston, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Southern California and Toronto.
Info: Price varies by city, http://www.citypass.com
Pop goes the park
Nothing better than feeling like a kid again, especially during the holidays. The 3-D "America's National Parks — A Pop-Up Book" evokes that feeling when you turn a page and up pops the Grand Canyon in all in its blazing-red-hued glory. Five other parks (yes, Yosemite is one of them) are given the pop-up treatment, and a dozen other parks are highlighted as well. The National Parks Conservation Assn. receives $8 from the sale of each book. From the signed, numbered, limited deluxe edition, $80 goes to the organization.
Info: $34.95, $105 for the deluxe edition; http://www.nationalparkspopup.com
Not for women only
"Earth's crammed with heaven," poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote in "Aurora Leigh," her poem/novel published in 1856. Those who have been to Yosemite know that's true; those who pick up "Yosemite Meditations for Women" can see it in the photographs that illustrate the quotes (of which Browning's is one) and vice versa. This small book with photos by Michael Frye and edited by Claudia Welsh is short and sweet. My only quibble: It's suitable for men too. Don't believe it? Look for the Mae West quote. Yes, Mae West in the same book as Mother Teresa and Edna St. Vincent Millay. If that doesn't make a smile pass your lips, you need Scrooge therapy.
Info: $9.95, http://www.yosemiteconservancy.org
For some, stamp collecting is about as exciting as watching paint dry, so you might be tempted to skip "A History of Britain in Thirty-Six Postage Stamps," by Chris West. Don't do it. West uses stamps as a way to explain societal and economic (and, of course, postal) changes in the United Kingdom. It's an unusual portal that, for instance, explains why the stamp commemorating King Edward VII, issued two days before his death in 1910, was so somber (coincidence because, as he notes, the king was anything but). The author uses the Diana commemorative stamp, issued in 1998, to say that the stiff-upper-lipped British let down their guard when she died, noting that the outpouring of love and grief represented "the tears of people who had spent their lives being told to bury their emotions and were now suddenly allowed to let them out. It was a substantial shift in national sensibility." A million times more interesting than watching robin's egg blue adhere to the walls.
Info: $28, http://www.lat.ms/1a2pEd0
This collection of essays is as Boston as a bowl of clam chowder. In fact, one of the essays deals with just that — the communal experience of making the beloved soup. But whether you're a true chowderhead, a Red Sox lover or just a fan of fine writing, you'll love "Our Boston," a celebration of the city by dozens of writers assembled in the wake of this year's marathon attacks. Eighty percent of the essays are original, but the book also includes classic Boston odes such as John Updike's "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu," on Ted Williams' last game at Fenway, as fine a piece of baseball writing as you'll find. Also featured: Mike Barnicle, Susan Orlean, Pico Iyer.
Info: $16, http://www.hmhbooks.com
L.A. as it never was
Here's a strange and wonderful city you're never going to see in person, so you might as well buy this new coffee table book. "Never Built Los Angeles," by Sam Lubell and Greg Goldin, is an exploration of about 100 grand L.A. ideas that never got built. Some of these phantoms you may vaguely know, such as Walt Disney's rejected plan for a theme park in Burbank (before he moved the idea to Anaheim); or the Olmsted brothers' failed 1930 proposal for a series of parks along the L.A. River (before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers entombed it in concrete). But mostly, these assiduously illustrated schemes and dreams will be revelations to you — sometimes cruel news, sometimes welcome relief.
Info: $55, http://www.metropolisbooks.com
Eye on Ireland
"Ireland is a prism between the sun and the Irish Sea." With these telling words, photographer Jay Ben Adlersberg begins a book full of stunning images and lyric salutes to the Emerald Isle. Think you've already seen every kind of Irish steeple and saloon? Perhaps. But Adlersberg's eye for texture and detail brings familiar subjects alive in new ways. "Ireland: In Word and Image" is as wide and long as a dinner tray, making the 160 photos even more stunning. Passages by wordsmiths such as Thackeray and Yeats also grace the pages.
Info: $60, http://www.welcomebooks.com/ireland
Fresh and breezy
If "Four Seasons of Travel" doesn't give you wanderlust, see a doctor immediately; you're probably half dead. National Geographic's look at destinations worldwide is a symphony in four parts: winter, spring, summer and fall. Christmas in London is fairly obvious. But how about a sleigh ride across Russia's icy Lake Baikal or the northern lights over Norway? Even the most experienced travelers will find fresh travel ideas in this vivid exploration of the best destinations on the planet.
Info: $40, http://www.nationalgeographic.com/books
Hitting the high notes
Opera lovers and world travelers will want to treat themselves to the just published "The Most Beautiful Opera Houses of the World," with 200 color photographs by Guillaume de Laubier, text by Antoine Pecqueur and foreword by James Levine, musical director of the Metropolitan Opera in New York. This armchair tour of more than 30 of the world's most distinguished opera houses is filled with discussions of their history and architectural, design and acoustical features. Hundreds of photographs showcase the facades and often opulent auditoriums of these landmarks and take the reader behind the scenes for a look at dressing rooms, rehearsal halls and workshops.
Info: $60, http://www.abramsbooks.com
"Art & Place: Site Specific Art of the Americas" celebrates art created for a specific space, whether it be an urban environment, a far-flung island or a distant mountain peak. The handsome volume, edited by Amanda Renshaw, is illustrated with 800 color photos arranged geographically from Canada to Argentina, a road trip of sorts through 15 countries and some 60 cities to visit more than 500 artworks. Artists range from members of ancient civilizations such as the Anasazi and Inca to modern artists such as Claes Oldenburg and Anish Kapoor. "Art & Place" also includes a section on works no longer with us — either lost, destroyed or ephemeral.
Info: $79.95, http://www.phaidon.com
— A.H.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun