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Best New Travel Gadgets

iPhone 3GS

Courtesy of Apple

Like thousands of fellow travelers pining for home’s creature comforts, Atlanta resident Karyn Meltz anticipated spending many happy hours with friends and relatives this holiday season. But having recently accepted employment at Washington State, she wondered how to share the holiday magic with little vacation time and even less flexibility.

After buying an HP 311 Mini ultra-portable PC with a built-in web camera, though, she realized she’d inadvertently stumbled upon the perfect solution. Instead of sacrificing much-needed R&R, she decided to bring the entire extended family to her instead.

“I love what you can do with technology today, even just a simple notebook computer and webcam,” says Meltz. “Using free or inexpensive online calling and videoconferencing programs, my husband and I can share special moments with everyone, even friends in Paris and London.”

The moral of the story for modern travelers: wake up and smell the silicon, because the road, skies, and seaways have suddenly become a wired wonderland. Given a dizzying array of new high-tech gadgets—from Internet-surfing smartphones and pocket-friendly camcorders to touch-sensitive video game systems—seasonal adventurers hardly need strings of cheap bulbs to stay awash in flashing, multicolored lights. Consider that not only are four in five adults planning on gadget shopping this holiday season, but that they’re also expected to spend $222 (8 percent more than last year) on cutting-edge gizmos, according to the Consumer Electronics Association.

The evidence of a boom is everywhere. To date, more than two billion iPhone/iPod touch apps have been downloaded, including 85,000-plus programs available for instant online purchase that now include sightseeing guides, foreign language translators, and restaurant reviews. Even major airports and air carriers (American, Delta, United, more) are finally realizing you can’t fight forward progress, with many now offering in-flight and on-location Wi-Fi services. Google, too, is bringing free in-flight wireless networking to Virgin America customers and to 47 U.S. airports through January 15, 2010.

Regardless of whether it’s the simple desire to stay in constant touch with family and friends, or merely the irresistible urge to tweet at 30,000 feet, everyone’s starting to tune in.

“No matter your level of technical proficiency, high-tech gadgets deserve a place in any carry-on,” agrees Nick Mokey, staff writer for technology lifestyle site DigitalTrends.com. “Between catching up on last week’s shows, sourcing instant flight-status updates, and chatting with friends while waiting for sightseeing tours to start, they provide countless practical everyday uses.”

Ready to upgrade to the hottest new technology toys? From the all-purpose, video-camera-equipped iPhone 3G S and T-Mobile’s android-powered myTouch 3G to eBook-compatible Sony Reader Touch Edition and brilliant battery life–boasting Toshiba NB200 laptop, rejoice in the tech revolution. Read on for the scoop on 2009’s hottest holiday gadgets, each guaranteed to make every day feel like Hanukkah or Christmas all over again. —Scott Steinberg

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