The Ostrich Pillow gives its wearer a dark, quiet environment in which to take a nap. (Courtesy The Ostrich Pillow)
Traveling can get complicated with all the packing, keeping your phone or tablet charged, going through airports, flying, hotels and more. It helps travelers that there are some inventors who have worked to make the whole experience a little easier.
Here are 10 of our favorite recent inventions that make traveling easier, faster and more comfortable. We also rank the items' usefulness on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being as useful as a map, and 1 being as useful as something from an old Sky Mall catalog.
The product: Oregami Luggage
The pitch: Oregami Luggage launches the first bag in a line of suitcases that the company says makes packing and traveling a breeze. Oregami, whose tag line is “Luggage that Works,” has a patent-pending internal organizing system that includes three organizer compartments that fold out easily, can each be taken out separately and placed into hotel drawers, and reconnected and folded back into the suitcase when it’s time to leave.
Usefulness level: 9
Our take: Regular travelers know the best way to get settled into a new place is to actually unpack. Here, you just pull the suitcase apart and toss the pieces in the dresser drawers. Easy, breezy. And when there's no dresser available, the organizational structure would keep you from digging through layers of neatly folded and pressed pants to find a pair of dress socks. Assuming it's relatively easy to put back together, we're on board with this idea.
Where to get it: $399.97 at oregamiluggage.com
The Hydaway Bottle
The pitch: The Hydaway bottle is a reusable water bottle that folds down into the shape of a small disc. Hydaway can fit in almost any pocket. When expanded, the bottle holds 21 ounces, though there is a smaller one that holds 12 ounces. The larger bottle fits in most vehicle cup holders and backpack water-bottle pockets. The 12 oz. bottle features a stable base to prevent tips and spills. And they are dishwasher safe.
Usefulness level: 5
Our take: The concept is neat (although we just wonder how many times you can collapse it before it leaks), but now that so many bags have a mesh holder for your bottle, do you really need a collapsible version?
Where to get it: $20 at hydawaybottle.com
The product: Ostrich pillow
The pitch: The Ostrich Pillow enables easy power naps anytime, everywhere. Its soft interior shelters and isolates your head and hands for a short break, without needing to leave your desk, chair, bench or wherever you are. Simply slip the soft pillow over your head and place the central opening over your mouth to facilitate breathing. The top two openings are designed to create further comfort while enabling you to rest your hands through them. A variety of other pillows and similar inventions can be purchased from the manufacturer at studiobananathings.com.
Usefulness level: 1
Our take: Do you really need to insulate your head to take a nap? More important, it seems it would make the user an easy target for thieves. On the plus side, though, it does help you look like Admiral Ackbar from "Star Wars."
Where to get it: $93.99 at Amazon.com
The product: Tidy Snap
The pitch: Forget folding clothes to put them in a suitcase. This invention allows you to place the clothes face down on the Tidy Snap board, flip the sides to the center and roll it all up on the included Tidy Rod. A Tidy Band snaps the clothes together for easy and compact storage.
Our take: Folding clothes can be a pain. This automates the process. And how many times have so-called "experts" told you that rolling your clothes is the most efficient way to pack?
Where to get it: Still in development, but will be available for purchase soon at tidysnap.com
The product: Micro Scooter Luggage
The pitch: The Steve Aoki Micro Luggage is a roll-aboard with built-in scooter and Bluetooth speaker. With a TSA-compliant suitcase, the Micro Luggage lets you get to your gate in half the time it takes walking. Fold the scooter up, and the luggage becomes a conventional roll-aboard you pull behind you. While waiting at the gate to board, access your laptop and paperwork via the specially designed front pocket without disturbing you clothes. When you reach the plane, retract the handle and place in the standard overhead luggage bin as you would a regular roll aboard.
Usefulness level: 3
Our take: You might look strange riding your suitcase through the airport, and the usefulness level is low, but you gotta admit, it would be fun.
Where to get it: Starts at $299.99 at www.microkickboard.com.
The product: Bluesmart Luggage
The pitch: An IndieGogo campaign has unleashed the Bluesmart, a suitcase with pretty impressive features. The Bluesmart can be locked and unlocked via your phone, weigh its own contents and charge your devices. By connecting to a smartphone app, it also can be tracked worldwide. Can't find your luggage at the airport? Look on your phone and see where it is. It's also been approved by the TSA and all the airport regulators worldwide. Bluesmart will work with iOS and Android, and compatibility with other platforms is coming. Bluesmart provides two USB chargers that can be used simultaneously. A USB port is on the exterior behind the handle, for easy access. On the inside, there is an additional USB port that allows charging while on the go.
Usefulness level: 8
Our take: For techies who want everything connected, this is as cool as it gets ("Hey, watch me lock my suitcase with my phone." Just hope no one steals your phone.). But for the average traveler, $329 might be a bit much for a carry-on size suitcase, especially when you can buy portable chargers and luggage trackers separately. Still we have to give credit to anyone who tries to reinvent the suitcase. As Bluesmart CEO Diego Saez-Gil recently pointed out during the Skift conference in Brooklyn, the last major rethinking was when someone put wheels on our suitcases. The guy nabbed $11 million in venture capital funding to produce this bag, so a lot of people think it's a great idea.
Where to get it: $329 at bluesmart.com
The product: Airhook
The pitch: If you like having your phone or tablet out at all times, the Airhook might help. Place your phone or tablet at eye level on the airplane seat in front of you, and store your beverage in the built-in cup holder. It hooks onto the fold-down tray and gives you more personal space.
Usefulness level: 2
Our take: Really, is it THAT difficult to fold down the tray or hold a phone or tablet? Save that $25 for a burger at the airport and allow yourself to carry one less gadget.
Where to get it: $24.95 at theairhook.com
The product: Pocket Socket 2
The pitch: The Pocket Socket 2 hand-crank generator incorporates what K-Tor learned from long-term testing and customer feedback since the launch of the original Pocket Socket. The Pocket Socket 2 has a stronger power train; improved electronics; newer, stronger polycarbonate plastic; molded, patterned grips for secure handling; emergency yellow graphics; and Earth-friendly packaging. The Pocket Socket 2 is a hand-cranked generator that can charge anything that can plug into a standard outlet, from tablets and cell phones to digital cameras and rechargeable batteries. It can easily be adapted to the European two pin standard.
Usefulness level: 10 if you're an off-the-grid adventure traveler. 5 if you're like the rest of us who live in an on-the-grid world.
Our take: Charge your stuff AND get a cardio workout? Sign us up! Seriously, though, this can be used anywhere at any time to charge just about anything, but how long do you have to crank that thing to charge up your phone?
Wher to get it: $64.95 at www.k-tor.com/hand-crank-generator
The product: The Chic Charger
The pitch: The Chic Buds Crossbody Power Purse features a built-in lightweight, ultra-thin battery and USB cord to recharge any smart phone or USB device anywhere. The crossbody has enough room for cards, keys, lip products and other on-the-go essentials. The company also makes tangle-free, flat-cord earbuds and slim phone chargers.
Usefulness level: 6
Our take: Sure, it's small, lightweight and charges phones, which keeps you from having to sit on the floor next to the outlet just outside the bathroom. But we've not yet met a woman whose purse purchases are determined by lithium ion batteries. We think you're better off buying a lipstick-sized rechargeable battery and then pick your purse based purely on fashion choice.
Where to get it: $69.99 at chicbuds.com
The product: Original Znzi Travel Pillow
The pitch: Six magnets and two suction cups allow you to customize the ultra-soft pillow to your exact needs and location. Whether sitting in a window, middle or aisle seat, snap it, stick it or roll the pillow into different shapes. The pillow rolls up and fits in a custom bag, making it easy to take with you through airports and onto planes.
Usefulness level: 8
Our take: There are tons of neck pillows on the market because travelers love neck pillows, but this has the Transformers cool factor working for it.
Where to get it: $45.99 at www.znzitravelstuff.com