16 Travel Gadgets That Need to be Invented

I never cease to be amazed by the range of new fangled travel gadgets that are invented, seemingly on a weekly basis. From the latest, greatest travel pillow to luggage for your dog, there’s always a new accessory that simply must be added to your pack.

Someone once thought to give me the perfect Christmas gift for a traveler: disposable underwear and a Wag Bag. Yes, really.

This week about a dozen long-term travelers coalesced on my patio for dinner and drinks. We talked about the journey as the sun set behind the volcanoes and watched the fireflies come out to dance. I thought it might be amusing to pose this question to them:

“What are the most useful travel gadgets that no one has invented yet?”

Everyone laughed. Conversation exploded. I’m sure the wine enhanced our creativity.

Here, from real life travelers, are sixteen of the best:

An Underwear Washing Compartment
in Your Backpack

Luke, a thirty year old from Australia, who’s taken several long-term walkabouts, was quick to suggest this one. Just fill it with warm water and a sliver of soap in the morning, the motion of walking provides agitation. At the end of the day, presto, clean unmentionables! I guess he hadn’t heard of disposable underwear.

Inflatable Bathtub

Oh, how I love this idea. The thing I miss most is a good bathtub. I’ve been known to pay several Euros to fill coin operated ones, in Europe, on occasion. I once carefully pushed a clawfoot one without proper plumbing over the drain hole in the bathroom floor, and plugged it with a rolled up plastic bag in Hanoi. Bathternoons, in the few places where I could find tubs, were the best part of an afternoon in Spain last summer. An inflatable bathtub would almost be worth lugging around the developing world. Almost.

Automatic Faith Renewer

Pete, from the UK, suggested this one, and I didn’t quite understand what he meant to begin with.

“You know, an automatic renewer of your faith in humanity, and in the process, that you’ll find a place to stay tonight and that everything will be okay even though your wallet gets stolen.”

Indeed. I need one of those three times a week.

Shower Filter


Only Luke thought this was a good idea. Apparently, he likes to gargle and drink the water while he showers and misses doing so in the third world. His idea is a screw on filter that makes the water drinkable. His partner, Em, just rolled her eyes.

Subtle Knife

“You know, one of those cool knives in the Phillip Pullman books that allows a traveler to carefully cut through the partition between worlds and move through!” As someone who’s greatest liability, in a family of six, is airfare, this is a gadget I could get behind.

“I don’t know,” someone added, “Too many places, if you could cut a hole and have a peek, you might change your mind and not actually pass through… and you really need to go, you know?”

True story. I’d never have visited Jakarta, the smell blasting through the rift in time and space would have been enough for me. I’d have cut my way out of half a dozen places. And I’d be home with my Mama for Christmas every single year.

Blow Up Sack

Chris, from the USA, who’s been traveling longer than I’ve been alive, was adamant that the biggest news in travel luggage should be an inflatable sack that fits around a guitar and then can be inflated. Remembering Jet Star’s lack of compassion when they broke the head off of our guitar on the flight between Sydney and Auckland a couple of years ago, I concur. Of course, we also need someone to produce one for a fiddle and a mandolin to accommodate the ridiculous number of instruments that accompany us on our travels.

Vaccination for Anxiety

I think it was Meri, from the UK, who tossed this one out there. Argue all you want about vaccine injury and the causes of autism, but THIS is a shot I’d get, and give to everyone I travel with.

Gone are the self imposed discomforts of culture shock, worry about whether your hiking boots are going to be a fashion faux-pas at the wedding you’re lucky enough to crash, or the continual concern over where you’ll rest your head tonight.

Perhaps this can be bundle marketed with the Automatic Faith Renewer?

Babble Fish Chip

Inspired by the literary theme and the subtle knife suggestion, the wish for an actual Babble Fish, a la Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, floated to the surface. We decided a fish would be too slimy, and wriggly, and hard to keep hold of while actually traveling.

Instead, we’d like to ask the inventors of the world to please produce for us a chip, that could be implanted, that would automatically translate for us. There was unanimous agreement that we would buy this.

All in One Coffee Maker

Luke was full of ideas. “It would have to be about this big,” he demonstrated, with his thumb and forefinger stretched wide. “It would need to have the heating element and the gas included right in there, and it would need to make one really good shot of espresso. If it was much bigger it would be too much to carry… but that would be awesome.”

Wintering in the land that brought you instant coffee and that exports all of its good stuff, a murmur of approval passed through the crowd.

Tony, neck deep in inventing a coffee related product, mused aloud, “I wonder how much gas that would take… maybe we could do that?”

Herb Roll

Herb Roll

When Sam piped back up and suggest an “herb roll,” hilarity ensued. There are no shortage of “herb rolls” in this part of the world.

“No, NO,” he explained, “Like, a roll up mat that has spaces in it for tiny jars of herbs, for cooking and for medicine, and it would just slide down the side of your backpack.” Who knew Sam was a foodie?

Chris locked on to the medicinal aspect, and before long the idea had expanded and it was decided that what we really want, to go with our herb roll, is a pocket shaman, who can dole out the required treatments and perform the necessary ceremonies.

Have I mentioned that I’m living in a hippie-rich environment this winter?

Battery Operated Mosquito Zapper Belt

The rains have started and the first mosquitos of the year are emerging on our lago. As the sun slipped lower, a few came out to play. A leg was slapped.

“What if there was a belt clip that emitted a mosquito zapper forcefield around whole body?”

Now that would be truly useful.

“Except you’d have to remember to turn it off before you had sex!” Chris reminded us. Thank goodness for the wisdom of elders.

An Internet EMP

There is nothing more annoying than logging onto that free wifi to try to work and finding that it’s tortuga slow because there are two dozen other backpackers escaping their travel reality through YouTube videos.

“What if there was a pen (Men in Black style!) that emitted a pulse that just shut down everyone’s internet except yours?”

The possibilities were explored, “Like an EMP blast… only just for internet… I like it.”

Universal Remote

It’s not what you’re thinking. It has nothing to do with TV. The general consensus is that what travelers really want, and really need, is a truly universal remote. One that you could point at someone or something, and just change the channel.

Jakarta sucks, no problem, change your travel channel to Nai Yang Beach. The guy you’re dancing with is getting a little drunk and handsy? Swap him out for Prince Charming. Getting a bit tired of plates of $1 nasi goreng, switch the food channel to Espalier, in Boston, for the night.

Boom. We need that.

STD Steri Pen

You know how they have those blue light pens for sterilizing water? Well, what if there was one that you could wave about the private bits of a potential hook up and have the light glow red, or green, indicating… how shall we say it… medical suitability? Cute prospect of the evening gets a red light? No problem, flip a switch to steri-pen mode, direct the beam at the offending parts and disinfect him, just like the water. Yes. Thank you. Genius.

A Truly Universal Phone

Really, tech geniuses of the world, how hard can this one be? Why haven’t you figured this one out yet? Swapping SIM cards is a pain, and it gets expensive, and we hate it. Could someone please sort out a truly universal phone that isn’t a million bucks like SAT phones are?

A consistent phone number, reasonable rates, maybe a feature built in that accounts for time zone differences so that I don’t call my Uncle Dick at three in the morning his time, from New Zealand, again. Is that really too much to ask?


If you’ve traveled for five minutes you’ve stood looking at a taxi driver, or a market stall vendor, or a street urchin and wondered to yourself, “Is this guy legit, or is he bullshitting me?”

You roll the dice and take a chance. The travelers on my deck think that a Geiger counter style meter for the veracity of a person’s pitch would be a useful tool in the traveler’s arsenal.

Where would it be most useful?

“India!” was shouted loudly by more than a few people. I haven’t been there yet. I’m thinking Indonesia, Tunisia and NYC fall near the top of my list.

Hologram Clothing

Luke’s underwear washing compartment in a backpack is really just a stop-gap measure for what we really want, which is hologram style clothing. How great would it be to not have to carry clothes? Or hand wash them. Or mend and replace them on the road. Or be stuck wearing the same three things over and over. Or have to show up in Keens and zip off pants when a knight invites you to dinner! That happened.

Imagine scrolling through the style selections and pushing a button: Presto! Clean, stylish clothes for every occasion. A traveler’s dream.

So, what about you? What would you like to see invented for travelers? Tweet us with your ideas!

Photo credits: Yuganov Konstantin, Ranglen, Africa Studio