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Compact Travel Tools
There's a fine balance between traveling light and traveling right, particularly for those who journey without the safety net of an outfitted group. The smartest travelers don't skimp on essential items but simply find the smallest ones.
Here, then, are the compact tools that will help keep you healthy, safe, informed, low to the groundand prepared for any and all bumps in the road.
All prices in U.S. dollars
Impervious to the mountains and bodies of water that foil AM and FM transmissions, shortwave broadcasts can travel thousands of miles using a technology known as radio-wave reflection. Equip yourself with the new Grundig eTraveller VII and you'll be able to harness these broadcastsincluding English-language programs from Voice of America and the BBCto keep up-to-date on news and security information when on the move.
The palm-size eTraveller is the smallest shortwave radio with a digital display, so it's both packable and easy to tune. And, in case you want to rock to a local heavy metal station, it also gets AM and FM frequencies.
Water Purifier: SweetWater Guardian Purifier System
The quickest way to ruin the perfect trip is to drink bad water. But your old filter won't always stop stomach-racking bugs: Only four filters are approved by the EPA as virus-removing "purifiers." Among these, the SweetWater Guardian Purifier System is both the most trustworthy and the biggest hassle.
While other purifiers break more easily or use iodine cartridges, which may not be as effective in cold and turbid water, the Guardian requires you to first pump water through the filter, then treat it with a tasteless chlorine solution to kill viruses. The extra step is inconvenient, yes, but then again, so is hepatitis.
Mobile Medic: Adventure Medical Kits Savvy Traveler
Created specifically for travel in the developing world, the Adventure Medical Kits Savvy Traveler comes with sterile needles, syringes, and examination gloves for mishaps in regions where medical supplies are recycled or entirely unavailable.
Of course, all the standard first-aid stuff is included, toobandages, antibiotic ointment, aspirin, rehydration salts, even insect repellent. Soloists on shorter trips may find the Savvy Traveler a bit cumbersome, but if you need a full arsenal of medical gear, you'll have it.
When it comes to hauling gear, adventurous travelers have long lived with compromise, choosing either impractical wheeled bags or gaudy, oversize rucksacks that scream "Mug me" to potential thieves.
The Mountainsmith Ramble in contrast, is cloaked in discreet tones of gray and fits unobtrusively in the luggage rack of an airplane, train, bus, or camel. Better yet, its zip-away suspension system converts it from utilitarian duffel to backcountry-capable, panel-loading backpack, with adjustable straps and a ventilation system that keeps air flowing along your spine.
If your definition of "independent travel" doesn't include the constant presence of a hired interpreter, but your linguistic abilities won't allow you to get directions in Vietnamese, you may find occasion to use the Lingo Eurasian 14.
With a memory that holds 56,000 words and 1,700 common phrases in 14 languages (covering popular spots such as Latin America, Turkey, West Africa, Thailand, and China), this pocket translator provides two-way translations as well as metric and currency conversions. It also has a data bank to hold contact information and memos.
The headlampinsurance against blackouts, poorly lit hotel rooms, and boredom on long nighttime train ridesmay be the single most useful item you can bring on your travels. And the two-ounce [57-gram] (including batteries!) Petzl Zipka may be the best travel headlamp available.
The key innovation: a thin, retractable cord that disappears into the light's compact body, making the Zipka the only headlamp in the world that fits comfortably in your pocket. The lamp's three LED bulbs are surprisingly powerful and burn for a full 150 hours on a set of three AAA batteries.
Photographs by Eric Piasecki