These days my clothes pack quickly. My gear takes longer. By the time I synch gadgets, coil power cords, juice up batteries and prepare my SD cards and USBs, the clothes seem practically incidental.

But, these days you are what you carry. For maximizing your travel gear and minimizing the headaches, try a few of these tips…

THE TABLET

Tablets are the most multi-functional device in the portable electronics world. Of course you’re familiar with the ubiquitous iPad, but it’s not the only way to go, nor the most functional. 

A tablet like the Samsung Galaxy Note Tab has a couple of advantages. It’s available in sizes ranging from 5 inches (slightly bigger than a phone) to 10 inches (slightly bigger than an iPad). If you’re planning to use it as an entertainment device for watching movies and TV, the 10 inch tablet is a good choice.

The second (and much touted) advantage is a stylus which which you can jot down a few notes, sketch an idea or even put a note on top of a photo or map.

A third advantage, which is huge if you’re serious about photography, is the Galaxy Tab USB & SD Connection Kit, which will allow you to backup and view photos from your camera on your tablet.

The Galaxy Tab has full HD video recording and playback. It’s your music player, camera (rear and front facing so that you can use it to video chat), e-book reader, email, web browser, and more. And it takes advantage of the high speed 4GS network as well as Wifi and Bluetooth.  

Word of caution – even the 5-inch tablet is bigger than most phones. You won’t want to be holding this one up to your ear to make a call. Invest in headphones. Make sure you install and download your apps before the travels. Getting apps downloaded at remote wifi hotspots is not fun.

THE CAMERA

Even with the built-in cameras on many of today’s tablet and smart phones, you’re going to want a digital camera to step up your game for that once in a lifetime vacation. The two main reasons that digital cameras take better pictures than phones are that they’re optimized for low light, and they usually have better lenses. There are a lot of digital cameras out there, so think a bit about what’s important to you.

If you simply want to point and shoot and get a great shot, you’ll enjoy the Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ7/SZ1. It’s a slim camera with an impressive 10X optical zoom lens that gets you close to the action on the beach or at a soccer match. Plus it captures full HD video. The camera has an image stabilizer that helps you get a clear shot even when you’re zoomed in all the way.

If you’re tough on your camera you might want the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX20. It’s compact and waterproof (up to 16 feet), dustproof and shockproof. It’s a great choice if you want to take photos of the kids while standing in the surf, or if you want to bring a camera with you while doing water sports. And it’s a good choice if you’ve always been a bit rough on the gear.

Those who can never remember where they took their shots should look at the Casio Exilim EX-H20G. It’s got one of the best camera/GPS mapping features with a one-touch globe button that records where you took the photo.

Travelling alone or with the very hip? Try the Casio Tryx – its rotating body lets you do all the self-potraits you crave. A similar option is the Samsung DV300F, with a front-facing LCD display so you can see the camera image even when you’re facing the lens.

For keeping the camera extra steady the pros grab a travel tripod like these from Joby. A tripod is also great for self-potraits using the camera’s self timer.

If you’re going somewhere where you might not be able to recharge the camera every evening, invest in a 2nd (or 3rd) camera battery. eBay is a great place to get extra camera batteries on the cheap, just search for your camera model plus “battery”. For longer trips, consider getting a 2nd (or 3rd) SD card, so you have lots of space. eBay is also a great option for memory cards.

ALL THE OTHER STUFF…

Phone Chargers: Phones and vacations are not a match made in heaven.  The Mophie Juice Pack Air is a slim iPhone case that also acts as a charger, and can nearly double your phone’s battery life.

Schoshe flipCharge Burst ($45) is a tiny emergency battery and charging unit that promises up to 30% of an iPhone charge or up to 70% of an iPod charge, depending on the model – enough juice to get you back up and running in a pinch.

Hands Free Calling and Streaming Internet Radio: Livio Radio makes a number of car add-on kits to let you make hands-free calls and stream thousands of Internet radio stations to your car’s radio.  And it’ll even charge your phone as it plays.

Action sports in your plans? Check out Otterbox. The new reflex series cases are rugged but not rigid. They’ll protect your phone taking a blow or force in a flexible way.

And how to get all of this stuff through TSA without missing your flight? That’s your problem. 

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