1. Hydros self-filtering water bottle

Photo courtesy of http://www.hydrosbottle.com

Photo courtesy of http://www.hydrosbottle.com

Ideal for: all travelers; general daily use

Specs: bottle holds 16 oz.; filter lasts for 60 refills

Best price: $24.95 on Amazon

Review: The perfect companion for any traveler, be it backpacker, solo explorer, or a family of four. The convenience of filling and filtering your own water from anywhere is a huge relief when traveling: fill up at public water fountains, bathroom sinks, or any other source of safe water, and say goodbye to chlorine, metal elements, and other undesirable additives. Plus, the money you’ll save from not buying bottled water is astounding. (Note: the bottle is equipped with a carbon filter, which does not purify 100%! It is not meant to purify tainted, polluted, or undrinkable water.)

Filling it is simple: slide open the cap, stick it under a running faucet, tilt to let the water filter, and the bottle fills in under a minute. Once the cap clicks into place, the bottle is sealed and watertight, so you can stick it in the same bag where you carry your camera and guidebooks. (There is also a handy little grip hook attached to the cap if you’d rather carry it.) Be sure to follow the installation video carefully so you understand how the parts come together (and apart.) Even with regular daily use, you’ll only need to wash it every week or so.

My experience: My best friend gave me this bottle as a going-away present for my 6-week trek through New Zealand and Australia. Although it took a while to learn about the different parts of the cap and filter (the installation demo made it look easier than it was), once I had it down it was magic. I used it on all of my day trips – and the best part was being able to refill on the go, even in a bathroom sink. The only time it wasn’t completely sufficient was on my long hikes, in which case I needed far more than 12 ounces of water, but I simply bought a bigger bottle to supplement. And quite frankly, in New Zealand, I could have filled the bottle from mountain springs if I needed to. I found it easier to refill if the bottle was completely dry outside, though; otherwise it was very difficult to disassemble the parts if they were wet.

2. Eye-Fi SD Card

Photo courtesy of http://www.eye.fi

Photo courtesy of http://www.eye.fi

Ideal for: high-volume photography; travelers using iPads

Specs: 4-16GB; built-in Wi-Fi

Best price: $27.99 on Amazon for 4GB

Review: This powerful little SD card is perfect for travelers who want to minimize the amount of cords and accessories in their bags, or simply for anyone who wants the convenience of wireless photo transfer. Equipped with built-in Wi-Fi and data storage capacity, the Eye-Fi SD card communicates between your camera and computer, tablet, or even smartphone over a Wi-Fi connection. After a little configuration on the receiving end’s part, all you have to do is make sure your camera and receiving device are within the same wireless connection – then turn on your camera, and the photos will upload to your device. They will be stored in the Eye-Fi library as well as your tablet’s photos folder – and if you are using an iPad, they will automatically back up to iCloud if you have it enabled. No cords or adapters are necessary, and you don’t even have to remove the SD card from the camera. Plus, your photos will be stored in several online places, giving you at least three safeguards against loss.

The best part: if you’ll be moving around or traveling for an extended amount of time (and thus constantly moving through different Wi-Fi signals and connections), you can configure the built-in “direct mode” – which creates a temporary private signal between the card and your receiving device. Simply turn on your camera, direct your device to join the “Eye-Fi” network, and proceed as normal.

My experience: After some experience with this card at the doctor’s office where I worked, my interest was piqued. Since I had previously made the decision to travel through New Zealand and Australia with only my iPad and iPhone, I had to make sure I wouldn’t need a USB connection for any photography or data purposes. The Eye-Fi card worked absolutely flawlessly. I opted for the 4GB card since I frequently upload batches of photos to my iPad and back them up to iCloud, so I can free up space on the card when necessary. I set up the card with the adapter on my laptop before I left, but while abroad the photos would only upload to my iPad since my laptop was out of network range. I configured my iPad to operate on direct mode, and I was able to upload/back up photos from hostel dorms, airports, even busses and trains – as long as the camera was on and my iPad was connected to the Eye-Fi network, photos transferred within minutes.

And when I got home, I simply opened the Eye-Fi program on my computer, connected my iPad to my home Wi-Fi network, and 3,000+ photos were copied to my laptop in less than 5 minutes.

3. LifeProof iPhone Case

Photo courtesy of http://www.lifeproof.com

Photo courtesy of http://www.lifeproof.com

Ideal for: iPhone users

Specs: Available for iPhone 4/4S/5, iPad 2/3/4, and iPod Touch 4; comes in 11 colors; dust and dirt-proof; shock-proof; snow-proof; waterproof up to 6.6′ (2 m); weighs less than 1.05 grams

Best price: $49.99 on Rakuten for iPhone 4S – $79.00 on Abt for iPhone 5

Review: This sturdy, resilient iPhone case is everything it’s advertised to be: dirt-proof, snow-proof, shock-proof, water-proof…lifeproof. Resistant to nearly anything you could possibly do to damage your iPhone – from dropping it in the toilet to running it through the washing machine to burying it at the beach. The case is sleek, with a flat plastic front, rubber backing, and lined by shock-absorbent Goretex. The two halves snap together along the edges to create a watertight seal, while still allowing sound to filter in and out of the speaker ports. And it’s built to allow the charger cord and earphones in, without having to disassemble the case; it even comes with a sealed adapter for the earphone jack so you can plug them in and still keep the case waterproof.

My experience: Luckily, I am not cursed when it comes to cell phones: I don’t have a track record of running them through the wash or dropping them on concrete, and so far (knock on wood), I haven’t had malfunction problems. However, that being said, I had a nasty feeling that if I trusted my good fortune with my brand new iPhone 4S on a 6-week backpacking trip down under, something would go awry. I had heard of the Lifeproof case and read many raving reviews, so on Black Friday, when Amazon had a stellar deal on them for only $45 (regular MSRP is $99), I jumped on it.

The installation process detailed in their manual is detailed and specific, mainly involving a scrupulous check that all ports are functional, the O-ring that lines the inside of the case halves is tight, and that the pieces snap together to create a watertight seal. After this check, you must run a water test with the empty case held underwater for an hour to ensure there is no condensation inside when you remove it. When my first case arrived, the O-ring was loose – and thus, failed the water test. However, the return process was easy – I simply returned the case, got a refund, and ordered a new one straight from Amazon for the same sale price.

The new one worked flawlessly. After passing all tests, I secured my precious iPhone into the sealed case and tossed it into my day pack the night before my flight. And it turned out to be priceless: though I am not a rough phone handler, traveling – as I was right in predicting – with an iPhone means almost certain scares. In one hostel, it fell off my top bunk and onto the wooden floor of the dorm…with no damage. When I climbed Mount Doom, I took it out to snap a few photos and it fell into the deep volcanic silt on the mountainside…not a speck of dirt got inside. In St. Kilda, I dropped it in the sand on the beach…and simply dusted the sand off the case. And when we roared right through a pouring rainstorm coming back from the Great Barrier Reef, it got absolutely soaked…but the phone stayed safe and dry.

I grew to love the Lifeproof case, and began getting almost reckless with my phone because I trusted it so much. It was easy to pop open the bottom panel and insert the charger, just as it was to unscrew the earphone jack cover and insert the adapter. The plastic cover on the screen is thin enough that I only noticed a tiny difference in how hard I had to press on it, while the entire case is sleek enough to still put the phone in my pocket. And the perimeter lining of Goretex makes it slip-free and easy to grip.

My only complaint: I was excited to bring my phone with me onto the Reef to take underwater pictures (the case allows you to take your phone underwater up to 6 feet). Clever me figured I could save the money on an underwater camera and use the phone instead — but it didn’t work. Once underwater, none of the screen functions worked, though I pressed and jammed the shutter button on the camera at least a dozen times. My suspicion is that the touch screen is sensitive to a layer of water pressing on it, much like when your finger is already pressing on another part of the screen and you try to touch a selection elsewhere. If that’s true, it would be a drawback of the phone itself, and the Lifeproof case can’t get around it. Still, it was disappointing not to be able to take advantage of that particular perk of the case. But coming home with a pristine, untouched, and almost mint-condition iPhone was more than worth it.

(Note: I have read many poor reviews about the Lifeproof cases on Amazon, and they did slow my decision process. However, because of the deal I found, I decided to give it a go and test it out in the weeks before my trip. Admittedly, my first purchase was defective – but as my second one worked out so perfectly, I still believe the (functional) product is worth the money. Just be sure to follow the installation and functionality checks, and contact the company if the case fails the test. Don’t just slap the case on without following the procedure, as I suspect many of the negative reviewers might have done.)