If the favorite people on your holiday gift list spend more time in hotels and airports than they do hanging out with you, then we can help. This guide to gifts for the frequent traveler is sure to put a smile on the face of your friends or loved ones wherever their travels may take them in 2009.
Power on the go
With rare exceptions, it's almost impossible to find an airport or hotel room with enough power outlets for all of your electronic gadgets. Rather than challenging someone to a duel with presentation laser pointers to see who gets to use the one available airport outlet, I've come up with a more peaceful solution -- carrying a compact multiple outlet with me.
Belkin's Mini Surge Protector with USB Charger (at right, above) can handle three AC and two USB devices simultaneously. It's tiny and light, and fits just in just about any laptop case.
My personal favorite is the Monster Cable Outlets To Go Power Strip (below), which fits six widely-spaced grounded AC outlets in a very flat 8.5" x 2.25" x 1.8" box. This one works very well with those obnoxious adapters that cover two or three outlets by themselves, and is perfect for sharing a single power outlet with five total strangers. If more people carried these in their laptop cases, there would be world peace...at least in airports. It's also available in even more compact 3 and 4 outlet models.
- Belkin Mini Surge Protector with USB Charger: $24.99
- Monster Cable Outlets To Go Power Strip -- 6 outlet: $29.95
Backup Hard Drive
Just because they're on the road doesn't mean they shouldn't be running those Time Machine backups. Fortunately, there are some compact USB-powered drives that are perfect for keeping your MacBook company on those long trips.The Western Digital My Passport Essential USB 2.0 portable drive comes in 250GB, 320GB, 400GB and 500GB models, weighs a scant .4 lbs. (.18 kg), and comes in a broad spectrum of colors.
Need Firewire 400 or 800? Try the My Passport Studio line, which adds those two interfaces to the same tiny drive.
- Western Digital My Passport Essential: $119.00 to $199.00
- Western Digital My Passport Studio: $199.00 to $249.00
Computer Bag / BackPack
Your gift recipient may have a nice new MacBook, a backup hard drive, and some other compact goodies, but they'll need something to carry all of the gear in style. For short business trips, a nice Kensington Contour Cargo Notebook Sleeve may be just the perfect size. It's lightweight, water-resistant, and endorsed by the American Chiropractic Association.
For gadget junkies on the run, or for those extra long biz trips where a sleeve and a carry-on bag just aren't going to cut it, a backpack might be more useful.
My favorite backpack, and one that I see a surprising number of techies carrying, is the Wenger SwissGear Maxxum Backpack (below). This backpack has more pockets and pouches than any other I've found, as well as a very well-padded slot for your laptop. There's a port for your iPod headphones to poke through, mesh holders on each side for bottles of water, and it's built to last forever.
I've only found two problems with this backpack. First, it has so many pockets and zippers that I'm constantly forgetting what I've put into each place. That's become less of a problem as I started packing it with a "system" of what gear to put in what pockets. The other issue is that it's so roomy that I will sometime find paperwork months later that I left in the backpack on a previous trip.
There are times that even the most hard-core computer geek just can't stand to look at a laptop screen for one more minute. This usually happens to me on the last day of a trip, when I've been using the machine for work the entire week.
So how can you keep your gift recipient entertained on those trips while still keeping their geek credibility afloat? You can always tell them to read a book, and the geekiest way to do that is to buy them an Amazon Kindle for Christmas. No, it isn't an Apple product, nor is it made for Mac. It's the standalone ebook reader that comes complete with a mobile broadband connection built in, so they can buy books from just about anywhere with Sprint Mobile Broadband service.
If there's one negative about the Kindle, it's that the user interface and industrial design is definitely not up to Apple standards. Jonathan Ive probably has nightmares about this thing. Apple users will not be happy with the poorly designed keyboard, the lack of a backlit screen, the oddly placed buttons for paging forward and backwards, and the lack of a touch screen.
On the other hand, the ability to buy a book and have it delivered in seconds definitely makes up for that lack of design savvy. I've got one and I love the ability to carry a complete library in one lightweight device. The Mac or iPhone fanatic on your list will also be happy with the Mac and iPhone titles that are now available on Kindle, including -- if your holiday checklist includes "learn to code for the iPhone" -- Erica Sadun's iPhone Developer's Cookbook! (Unfortunately, Scott McNulty's Building a WordPress Blog People Want To Read isn't on the Kindle yet -- a tragic omission.)
- Amazon Kindle: $359.99
That travelin' companion may get tired of hearing crying kids, loud obnoxious laughter, or the TV in the hotel room next door, so give them the gift of silence. The favorite of the First Class crowd seems to be the Bose QuietComfort 3 Noise Cancelling Headphones, which have a built-in lithium-ion battery pack for up to 25 hours of quiet bliss. They're not cheap, but they do their job very well and make that iPod sound even better.
That MacBook-toting friend or relative might also have an iPhone that is their constant companion on the road. I often find that I wear down my batteries between talking and surfing with the iPhone while I'm in airports, and playing games or listening to music in the air.
I've written about the RichardSolo 1800 for iPhone before, and I still think this is one of the best backup batteries on the market. It has an 1800 mAh battery pack, comes with AC, USB, and automobile plugs for charging both the iPhone and the battery at the same time, and it has a built-in LED flashlight and laser pointer. The traveling iPhone 3G owner on your list will love you for getting him or her this cool little device.
- RichardSolo 1800 for iPhone: $69.99
Getting back on the road
Most rental car agencies now lease GPS navigation units by the day for their cars in hopes that renters won't end up in a neighborhood in the "bad part of town" or driving on dirt roads. We're all waiting for turn-by-turn navigation software for the iPhone 3G, but it isn't here yet.
If the person you're gifting this Christmas does a lot of driving, be sure to get them a GPS navigation unit they can take with them wherever they go. The Garmin nüvi family of GPS receivers is not only popular, but comes in a wide range of prices and models. On the low end, the Garmin nüvi 200 provides basic capabilities at a bargain price, while the top-of-the-line nüvi 775T is packed with features such as lane assist (gets you into the correct lane on a street or highway), live traffic rerouting, 3-D building view, photo navigation using Google Panoramio pictures, and European and North American maps.
Make your gift recipient even happier by downloading the free Garmin software available for the Mac. You can burn a CD or DVD loaded with such classics as RoadTrip, MapInstall, and the Garmin Communicator Plugin.
Garmin nüvi Navigators: $199.99 - $799.99
Do you have any gifts that are must-haves for the traveler in your life? Fill in the gaps by leaving us a comment below.