Top Gadgets for Your Next Travel Adventure

Planning a vacation? We let you know what to bring to get the most out of your travel photography.



Whether you're hitting the slopes in Colorado or crossing the Atlantic for a European family getaway, chances are your camera will be making the trip as well. But why stop there? We recently spent a couple weeks traveling throughout Italy and France, making sure to pack the latest gear designed to optimize photography on the go.

From a laptop with integrated wireless broadband to a mini tripod to keep those HD movies steady, we'll show you what to bring while still managing to travel (relatively) light.

Digital Camera (duh)

Though your existing digicam will probably do the trick, we selected two compact still cameras and one pocket-sized high-definition video camera to bring along on our two-week adventure.

While not small enough to fit in your pocket, the Canon A650 IS offers full manual controls and great performance in a compact package. The 12.1-megapixel camera features a 2.7-inch swivel display and 6x optically stabilized zoom lens. Best of all, a set of four Energizer AA lithium batteries kept our camera shooting after nearly 1700 frames and two-weeks of use. Look for an in-depth review of the Canon A650 IS in the coming days.

In the market for a more pocketable snapper? The 8-megapixel Pentax Optio Z10 weighs just over 5 oz. with the battery and SD card and features a 7x optical zoom lens and 2.5-inch display. The camera's lithium ion rechargeable battery can capture approx. 180 frames, making the Optio Z10 a good choice for casual shooters. Look for in-depth review of the Pentax Optio Z10 in the coming days.

The Sanyo Xacti HD700, advertised as both a 720p HD camcorder and 7.1-megapixel digital still camera, leaves much to be desired in the stills department, but it totally rocks as a high-definition digital video camera. While the camcorder's small size and light weight is an advantage to some, you'll need to find a flat surface to keep the camera steady. A pocket-sized tripod is a very good idea. While you'll probably want to pick one up before your trip, tripods seem to be a hit among European street vendors. We found several for sale in front of the Coliseum in Rome. Look for an in-depth review of the Sanyo Xacti HD700 in the coming days.

Links • Travel Photos Gallery • Product Gallery

If you're planning on bringing along your existing digicam, consider the following to make sure yours is up to the task:

- Batteries: Love them or hate them, your camera becomes an overpriced doorstop without some juice. We'll talk about power a little later, but be sure your camera's battery charger is compatible with the voltage and plug type available at your destination. If your digicam runs on AA batteries, stock up before your flight to avoid dropping extra cash on highly inflated price tags. Because they're lighter than alkaline and last much longer, Energizer AA lithium batteries work best. Purchase a few four-packs before you leave home for about 10 bucks each.

- Lens: While you may be impressed by your camera's 10x super duper zoom lens, be sure to check its wide-angle focal length as well. To get the most out of your camera, look for a lens with a 35mm equivalency beginning at 28mm or below. A wider lens allows you to fit more into a single frame, and could mean the difference of backing up hundreds more feet to fit the Eiffel Tower into a single frame.

- Video mode: Unless you're bringing along a camcorder, be sure your camera can record video with a minimum resolution of 640x480 (VGA) at 30 frames per second. You should also be able to record audio with your video. Optical zoom while recording is also a nice touch. Even if you have no intention of distributing family footage once you return, it doesn't hurt to bring back some memories for yourself.

- Storage: Most new cameras can store images on SD or SDHC (high capacity) cards. Whatever your recording medium, be sure to bring enough cards for your trip. Like batteries, you'll likely be able to find these on the road, but you might have to skip a few meals to afford them. Sandisk's Ultra II Plus USB SD cards are a great choice, with a USB port built right into the card. Sony users -- stock up on memory sticks before you go! Fujifilm and Olympus shooters should also get more than enough xD cards before traveling, as these are more difficult to find. [Editor's note: Most of the recently introduced Fujifilm cameras now accept both xD and SD/SDHC media, although this is a recent feature addition. Check your user's manual to confirm if your FujiFilm camera accepts both formats if it is more than a few months old.]

Secure Backpack

Unless you plan on keeping an eye on your valuables 24/7, chances are you'll want to keep them locked up while out seeing the sights. Many hotels offer in-room safes, but they're normally too small to fit much more than your passports and some extra cash.

PacSafe's DaySafe 200 offers a "safe" compartment secured by lock and key and thick wire mesh. A cable attached to the center secure compartment allows you to lock the bag and its contents to a fixed object in your hotel room, such as a radiator or bed. I felt peace of mind after locking down my bag of gadgets, and always kept a close eye on my DaySafe while traveling.

While the backpack won't keep determined thieves from snatching your possessions, it still provides an effective deterrent. The bag's use isn't limited to travel. The secure compartment can also be locked outside of the backpack, so you can keep electronics and sensitive documents under lock and key whenever you're away from the bag. The DaySafe 200 offers additional security features as well, including reinforced shoulder straps and tamperproof zippers.

When not functioning as a traveling safe, the bag is also a good choice for day-to-day use, with plenty of space to accommodate everything from passports to liter-sized bottles of water. Two mesh side pockets are large enough to hold large beverage bottles (drinking while shooting is not recommended), medicine, power adapters, and even a pair of flip-flops, all at the same time. A front zippered pocket includes a clip to secure the zippers when not in use, making it difficult for a thief to reach into your bag while on the move. Inside the pocket you'll find padded pouches for your iPod and cell phone, and storage for pens, pencils and notepads as well.

It goes without saying that a secure backpack needs to be well-made. PacSafe sure doesn't skimp here. Every last zipper and strap feels sturdy, and it's obvious that comfort was considered as well, with thick padding included on the rear of the bag and shoulder straps. A rubberized handle allows for a firm grip while carrying or lifting the bag. Available now, the PacSafe DaySafe 200 can be purchased online for about $190.

Backpacks aren't for everyone though. If you're the type who prefers storage with wheels, Think Tank Photo has some great options for the security obsessed photographer. The company has three rolling options, all with a built-in cable to secure the bags to fixed objects. Designed with professionals in mind, these bags include removable dividers to keep all your gear organized.

The largest of the bunch, the Airport Security 2.0, is small enough to fit in domestic (U.S.) overhead bins and can hold up to a 600mm lens and plenty of other gear. It even includes "emergency" shoulder straps, should you want to submit your back to dozens of pounds of gear. The Airport Security 2.0 retails for $369.

Slightly smaller, the Airport International 2.0 can accommodate up to a 500mm lens with room to spare. All three bags, including the Airport International 2.0, come with TSA-approved combination locks for securing individual compartments. The Airport International 2.0 is small enough to meet international carry on size requirements and will run you about $329.

New to Think Tank's rolling security line, the Airport AirStream is the smallest of the bunch. The bag is able to hold a 400mm lens or several smaller lenses and DSLR camera bodies as well as a 15-inch laptop in the main compartment or in the front compartment with the optional laptop case. The AirStream retails for $289. All three bags are available now on Think Tank Photo's website.

Notebook with Integrated Wireless Broadband

Imagine your ideal vacation. Chances are your Blackberry, colleagues, and laptop computer don't come to mind, but in the 21st century it's difficult to escape from life back home. Wireless broadband service allows you to share your vacation photos and keep in touch with family and friends just as easily from onboard a train as you would from your own home. A lightweight laptop with integrated wireless broadband makes pay-by-day Internet, hotel business centers, and Internet cafes a thing of the past.

While certainly not the only good choice, Dell's XPS M1330 is a good fit. The computer we tested came equipped with integrated wireless broadband, an Intel Core2Duo 2.2Ghz processor with 2GB of RAM, a 13.3-inch LCD, and enough storage for oodles of photos, music and applications. And weighing in at around 4 lbs., this compact notebook won't break your back.

Perhaps its most appealing feature, the M1330's integrated wireless broadband card allows you to check your e-mail, surf the web and send pictures home from just about anywhere in the world. While Dell includes options for integrated broadband cards from AT&T, Verizon and Sprint, we chose AT&T for our international test, because of its ability to provide service in over 130 countries, and our travels brought us outside the service area of rival networks.

AT&T offers a monthly international data plan for $139.99 with a one-year commitment, which includes 100MB of access in 29 countries and unlimited access in the United States. Avoid underestimating your international data usage needs. With image sizes often topping 3MB, transmitting full size images can run you over the limit faster than you think. Be sure to size images down in Photoshop before posting them to web galleries or e-mailing friends. For trips longer than three or four days you may want to consider using WiFi whenever possible to avoid coming home to thousands of dollars in overage charges. With that disclaimer out of the way, integrated broadband is very convenient.

For domestic use only, AT&T offers an unlimited data plan for $59.99 with a two-year contract. Verizon and Sprint both offer unlimited monthly access for $59.99 as well. Last year, I tested domestic wireless broadband services from all three providers, and speeds in Europe were comparable to those experienced in the States.

The M1330 worked seamlessly with AT&T's integrated broadband service. While surfing speeds varied depending on location, connecting was seldom an issue. Connection speeds in the Italian cities of Rome and Florence were superior to those at our hotel only a few blocks away from Paris's Eiffel Tower. Service was very fast and consistent while using public transportation in Italy, including trains from Rome to Florence and on to Venice. While the signal was lost when passing through long tunnels, the computer reconnected automatically only seconds after leaving a tunnel. Web pages continued loading where they left off and image transfers were never aborted.

As a photographer addicted to Apple, it wasn't easy for me to leave my MacBook Pro back in the States, but admittedly, I didn't miss it nearly as much as I had expected. The M1330 was fast, and the 2GB of RAM included with my demo unit seemed to be more than enough. I was able to surf the web, download and organize photos with Adobe Lightroom, and correct images using Photoshop CS3, all at one time without a single hiccup.

Other photocentric features of the M1330 include a built-in SD slot and an HDMI port, allowing you to show off your vacation photos on an HDTV once you return home. Two USB 2.0 ports are also included, allowing you to connect digital cameras and external storage devices. Pricing for the XPS M1330 begins at $999 ($1799 as configured). Add a 9-cell battery for $30 and have enough power to watch two full DVD movies on a single charge.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 and Lightroom make a great team for organizing and correcting images while on vacation. Photoshop offers post-production image correction and manipulation tools, allows photographers to enhance colors, correct exposure, resize and compress images for web use and even create Flash- and html-based web galleries. Lightroom offers automatic image backup and catalogs images by date and camera EXIF data, which includes make, model and exposure information. You can easily add keywords to individual images or groups of images at a time, making it easy to search for an image even years down the road.

While Photoshop CS3 can be cost prohibitive for many casual users, Photoshop Elements offers many of the popular features of its full-featured counterpart and even ships in the box with some digital cameras. Photoshop CS3 is available for $649, or $199 when upgrading from earlier versions. Adobe Lightroom is available for $299, and Adobe offers a $125 discount when purchasing the software together. Adobe Photoshop Elements 6 includes many of the features of its big brother without the big price, retailing for about $100.

While Photoshop and Lightroom provide solutions for still images, they won't do you much good when it comes to editing video. Adobe Premiere Elements 4 is an easy to use solution for organizing clips, editing video, mixing audio tracks, adding titles, and even uploading finished videos to YouTube. The newest version also includes an option to burn finished high-definition movies to Blu-ray Disc. Adobe Premiere Elements 4 will run you about $100, though it may have been included with a recent camcorder purchase.

For Mac users, additional software may not be necessary. Apple's iLife suite of software, which includes iPhoto, iMovie HD and iDVD, allows you to edit and organize photos and movies and burn your finished videos to disk. The software is compatible with virtually all digital still cameras and most digital video cameras. Check Apple's website to see if a camcorder is compatible before making a purchase.

Image Backup and Digital Audio

Even equipped with a secure backpack and brand new computer, things can still go wrong. An external hard drive will provide peace of mind and a complete backup of your images should your laptop go astray. Bus-powered solutions are often much smaller and draw their power from your notebook's USB port, so there's no need to search for an outlet to back up your images.

Apple's iPod Classic digital media player is one of the smallest external backup solutions, and is plug and play compatible with PC's and Macs alike. I never leave home for long without my iPod, backing up images and documents on a daily basis. Even though I rarely use my iPod to listen to music, the device provides storage for thousands of songs, and includes video and still image playback as well. In addition to backing up your entire image library, you can also use the iPod to watch movies or television shows while waiting in line for rides at Disneyland.

Available in capacities of 80 and 160 GB, the smaller version provides plenty of storage for even more aggressive travel shooters, and space was never a concern during my two-week adventure. The 80GB iPod Classic is available in silver or black with a retail price of $249.

While the iPod ships with those famous white earbuds, you may want to invest in a more powerful set of headphones. With noise isolation and noise cancellation technology creating a tranquil environment even mid-flight, a nice pair of headphones can cost several hundred dollars, but dare I say they're worth the price.

The Shure SE310 sound-isolating earphones do just that; isolate audio by forming a tight seal with your inner ear. The earphones use sound isolation technology rather than noise cancellation, so unlike bulky noise cancelling headphones, no batteries are required. Performance may vary depending on several factors, notably the size and shape of your ears, though Shure includes their "Deluxe Fit Kit" to help with that problem. The kit includes multiple sound isolating sleeves, allowing you to get the most firm and comfortable fit possible. The default sleeves fit just fine in my ears, but additional sizes are included in the box.

The Shure SE310 earphones sound fantastic, providing incredibly rich bass. Shure claims that the included sound-isolating sleeves are able to block 90-percent of ambient noise, and they were very effective at doing so, blocking out almost all engine noise during my flight across the Atlantic, even before plugging them in! In addition to extra sound-isolating sleeves, the Shure SE310 also includes a 3-foot extension cable and a small disc-shaped carrying case. With a street price of about $250, the earphones cost about as much as an iPod, but if you're sparing no expense for quality sound, comfort and convenience, the SE310 is the way to go.

Sound-isolating earphones are compact and convenient, but they're not for everyone. If you're looking for a less invasive solution, over the ear noise-cancelling headphones are a good choice. Though they may not block noise as effectively as their in-ear counterparts, noise-cancelling headphones work by using a microphone positioned near the ear to capture ambient noise, causing interference that in turn cancels out unwanted sound. Because of all this electronic voodoo, noise-cancelling headphones often leave me with a headache, but I know many people who swear by them.

With a street price of about $220, the Sennheiser PXC-300 noise-cancelling headphones offer a comfortable, extremely lightweight design. Sennheiser contained much of the weight in an external wand-shaped device, which houses the unit's dual AAA batteries and electronic circuitry. The headphones themselves are mounted on a standard headband and provide cushions on both the headband and earphones themselves, adding to comfort.

Though not without its faults, audio quality was fair with the PXC-300. Highs were clean and crisp, but the rich bass enjoyed with the Shure earphones was absent here. Noise cancelling, which Sennheiser calls "NoiseGard" on the PXC-300, worked well, and is activated with a switch on the battery wand. Included with the headphones are a compact rectangular carrying case, a two-prong airplane audio adapter for use with older equipment, and a standard quarter-inch adapter for use with audio receivers. The headphones fold to fit into the carrying case, but folding them correctly still proved a chore after several months of use.

Overall the Sennheiser PXC-300 headphones worked as described, but lackluster bass performance, the awkward battery wand and confusing headphone folding technique made them less appealing. A bit of digging can turn up sites selling the PXC-300 for $150, and at that price I think they're worth the expense, but if you're not set on an overhead design, spend a extra few bucks and pick up the Shure SE310.

First, congratulations is in order for making it all this far - good job!

Now that you have all of these wonderful goodies, how do you keep them juiced up in the air, on the road, or overseas? Power terminology can be confusing, with adapters, converters and inverters all playing their key roles. As someone who uses all three on a fairly regular basis, I'll help sort it all out.

Adapters are a lifesaver if traveling overseas. These multi-pronged intermediaries often have a male component on one side and a female on the other. When traveling overseas, you'll likely run into power outlets that aren't compatible with devices purchased back home. Keeping a few conditions in mind, this is an easy fix.

On the label of your device's power component, you should see an "input" variable, most likely with 100-240V listed to the right. While power in North America comes out of your household outlet at 110-120 volts, most countries operate at a higher voltage, usually 220-240 volts. Most electronic devices are designed with this in mind, and are compatible with voltage from any country. If your device covers both voltage ranges, you're in luck. There's also something called hertz (Hz) that comes into play, which deals with power cycles per second (it's called alternating current for a reason), but if your device is compatible with 100-240v, it'll likely work with 50-60Hz as well.

If your device is dual voltage compatible, you'll only need to purchase a power adapter, sold for compatibility with individual countries (more than one country will use the same style plug) or for use in any country, as is the case with universal adapters. Individual adapters will likely run you about five bucks, and can be purchased in airports or electronics stores. Universal adapters, though bulkier, might be a good idea if visiting multiple countries on one trip, such as France and the U.K., which believe it or not both use drastically different plugs. Universal adapters can be purchased for about $20.

If for some reason your device is not compatible with the higher 220-240V range, you'll need a converter as well, which basically takes the higher voltage electricity and reduces it from 220-240V to 110-120V, saving your device (and possibly yourself) from electrocution. Similar devices are used to reduce higher voltage power from outdoor power lines to 110-120V for use with household devices in North America. Most homes in the U.S. actually have 240V hook-ups as well, used to power high-draw appliances such as clothing dryers or electric ranges. If you end up needing a converter to power your lower-voltage device, be sure to purchase one designed for use with electronics rather than heating or motorized devices, and check the output wattage to make sure your device won't cause an overload.

Inverters come into play during your journey, and will covert power from 12-volt connections found on airplanes or in cars to 110-120 volts for use with electronic devices. Such a device will actually allow you to plug in your laptop on an airplane, with many more recent aircraft offering under seat connections. Not all seats have these connections, so check with your airline (or when booking travel to make sure you're placed in a powered seat. Power inverters range in price from $15 to $150, but the one you need should cost closer to $15.

To power a single laptop computer, look for an inverter supporting 100 watts or more. The wattage should be listed as both continuous and peak. Be sure the continuous wattage is listed at 100 watts. If you have an inverter that doesn't provide enough output wattage for your device, try removing the battery and running directly on power from the plane or car. The battery draws unnecessary power, even when fully charged.

Once you get to your destination, chances are you're going to have a tough time finding outlets in your hotel room. A power strip will help with this problem. Try unplugging a lamp if you have a room with no free outlets (I'm always this lucky). Just be sure to choose a fixture that doesn't have a switched outlet, or you'll end up with dead batteries when the outlet loses power!

One free outlet is all you need. Monster's Outlets to Go 4 or 6 (number of outlets), a compact power strip, works great both domestically as well as overseas. For overseas use, just plug the power strip into an outlet adapter. Outlets to Go is compatible with both 110-120V and 220-240V power supplies and will cost you $20 or $30, for 4 or 6 outlets, respectively.

My power strip is about to explode after all the energy I used to write this article. Nearly 4,000 words later and you've reached the end! Now grab your fully loaded backpack and go see the world. After you return, be sure to enter your images in our photo contests and discuss the photographic aspects of your trip on the forums. Follow the links below for in depth reviews of the cameras mentioned and a travel photography how-to article as well. Happy travels!



Travel PhotosA tourist uses food to attract pigeons at St. Mark's Square in Venice. Vendors sell bags of pigeon feed to tourist for 1 Euro. Captured with the Canon A650 IS.Photo By Zach Honig


Travel PhotosPositioned near the Mediterranean Sea, Rome is home to many palm trees, a welcome sight after visiting frigid European cities to the north. Captured with the Pentax Optio Z10.Photo By Zach Honig


Travel PhotosArguably one of the most photographed structures in the world, the top of the Eiffel Tower is hidden by fog on this chilly day. Captured with the Canon A650 IS.Photo By Zach Honig


Travel PhotosDocked gondolas frame this image of San Giorgio Maggiore Island in Venice. Captured with the Canon A650 IS.Photo By Zach Honig


Travel PhotosKnown for its food and wine, empty bottles and corks are commonplace on the streets of Italy. Collections are harder to find, however, such as this grouping outside a restaurant in Venice. Captured with the Pentax Optio Z10.Photo By Zach Honig