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2009 Christmas Gadget Gift Giving Guide

The Travel Insider's 2009 Top Ten List

Stuck with what to buy for the special people in your life?

You're probably going to surprise and delight them by placing some of these items under the tree this Christmas.  For sure, it will probably be something they don't already have and which no-one else is buying them.

Better still, delight yourself with a personal treat or two also.



Here is a selection of the best of the items received and/or reviewed during this year.  They've been chosen for their low to moderate cost, their novelty value, and their usefulness.

Ranging in price from $15 and up, you're sure to find something that will be a creative choice, a useful gift, and something that even 'the person who has it all' does not yet own and would want.

And if you can't find something on this list, check out our previous year guides - the products on them are mostly still available, innovative, and appealing (links on the left).

I own, use and recommend all these items myself.


Bluetooth Headset (Cardo S-800) :  $15-20

Small and functional, the Cardo S-800 performs as well as headsets costing more than $100.

Increasingly, states are outlawing talking on a cell phone while driving, unless you're using a hands-free device such as a Bluetooth headset.

Even if not yet illegal, it is sensible to use a headset any time you're using a cell phone.  It vastly reduces your exposure to radiation, and makes it safer to talk and drive.

Bluetooth headsets have been dropping in price and improving in quality, but many headsets remain overpriced and give poor quality sound.

Fortunately, our favorite headset is also one of the lowest priced ones.

Reviewed here.

Available from


Bluetooth Headset Holder (Nectar Blueclip holders) :  $15-30

Clip this retractable headset holder to your belt, or shirt pocket, or lapel.

Or wear this holder around your neck.

So maybe the person you're buying for already has a Bluetooth headset.  However, chances are 99% certain they don't have any way to carry it, other than shoved in a pocket or stuck in their ear.

Here are two different solutions to this annoying problem.  The Nectar Blueclip Retractable headset holder (top picture) and/or the Nectar Blueclip Necklace headset holder (below).

These units are sensibly priced, are available in different styles/colors, and not only look attractive but work amazingly well.

Click links for reviews of the Nectar Blueclip Retractable headset holder and Nectar Blueclip Necklace headset holder.

Available direct from Nectar's own website.


An Apple iPhone or iPod :  $149 - $399

The iPhone, or its almost identical cousin, the iPod Touch, have redefined the concept of a personal digital assistant, offering enormously more functionality than just a phone and music player.

The latest range of iPods are better than ever before, and the new Nano shoots acceptable quality video too.

Buying someone a cell phone is a difficult sort of gift - who then assumes the obligation for the two year service contract?  But if that is not an issue, then for sure there's only one choice of phone to consider for most people - Apple's transcendental iPhone.

If buying a phone is not practical, you should realize that the iPod Touch is almost identical to the iPhone (it just lacks the phone, GPS and camera) and will run nearly all the same programs.

For a different type of product, don't overlook the new iPod Nano, which combines a brilliantly simple video recorder with a music/video player - ideal for creating your own Youtube videos (here are three examples of Nano videos I filmed myself).

An iPhone 3GS costs $199 or $299 (plus monthly phone service costs).

An iPod Touch costs $199, $299 or $399.  An iPod Nano costs $149 or $179.

iPhone review series starts here.

iPod review series starts here.

Available from many different places, none of which discount.


iPhone Accessory - Mophie Juice Pack Air :  $80

The Mophie Juice Pack Air wraps around the iPhone, protecting the phone and adding only slightly to its size while doubling its battery life.

The iPhone is a wondrous device for sure.  But because it does so many things, its battery life is regrettably short, and with a battery that can't be removed/replaced, you need to consider ways to supplement its short life.

The best solution is the Mophie Juice Air - this doubles as both a protective carry case for the iPhone and also as a backup battery, giving you almost twice the battery life of the phone by itself.

Available from Amazon.


Noise Cancelling Headphones for all budgets :  $100 - $300

The latest Bose Quiet Comfort 15 noise cancelling headphones are far and away the very best noise cancelling headphones money can buy.

Ideal for anyone who flies for more than the shortest of flights, noise cancelling headphones greatly reduce the physical stress of flight caused by the subtle din of the background noise on a plane.

Here are the three best choices for noise cancelling headsets, depending on the price you wish to pay.

Plane Quiet Platinum - a good entry level performer at an entry level $100 price.

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7B - better than the PQP but twice the price (~$200).

Bose Quiet Comfort 15 - quite simply and by far the best, but at $300, pricey too.


Portable Electronic Luggage Scale :  $20 - $40

The stylish and lightweight Design Go Luggage Scale means you'll always know the weight of your suitcases.

The lower priced Balanzza scale is a good alternative if you're seeking to keep the cost of your scale down.

These days, airlines will gleefully charge you up to $100 and sometimes more if your checked bag is even a single pound overweight.  And with a standard weight allowance of only 50lbs, you need all the weight you can get, while not wanting to risk going over your limit.

Now more than ever a portable luggage scale is an invaluable traveling tool, allowing you to pack safely up to the limit and giving you peace of mind when checking in.

The Balanzza Scale (sometimes sold under different brand names) is an excellent low priced unit for only $20-25.  But our favorite is the stylish, lightweight, and very functional Design Go Luggage Scale, costing $40.

Or, if you prefer, there's no reason not to go low tech and get a simple 'old fashioned' spring/dial type scale as well.

Click the links to be taken to the Amazon product pages.


Scangauge Vehicle Engine Monitor - $160

Choose any four from a broad range of engine information options to display on this panel.

Here's a great gadget for the car lover in your life.  The Scangauge is easily installed and provides a fascinating range of useful and helpful extra information about a car's operation.

It can also give useful diagnostics if you get a 'Check Engine' light, and you can use the information it displays to help you adjust your driving style to get maximum fuel economy.

Reviewed here.

Available from Amazon.


Logitech Squeezebox :  $200 and up

Easy to understand controls make it simple to harness the flexibility and huge range of music available to you from the internet on a Logitech Squeezebox player.

Internet radio services are revolutionizing what and how we listen to music, giving us incredibly customized music programmed designed uniquely for our own preferences.

Combine this with access to all the music you have on your home computers, and the ability to network and control it all, anywhere/everywhere in your house, and you've understand the essence of the Logitech Squeezebox family of digital music playing products.

Ideal for anyone and everyone who enjoys listening to music (and don't we all?).

Logitech review series starts here.

Available from Amazon.


TravelRest Headrest :  $27

The TravelRest headset is innovative and successful way of making it easier to sleep in a coach class seat.

One area of 'negative progress' when traveling is the ever-diminishing comfort of flying in coach class.

The clever TravelRest won't give you more room, but it will help you to sleep on your next flight.  A definite improvement on the old fashioned neck collar type devices.

TravelRest review here.

Available from Amazon.

Other Thoughts and ideas

Here are some further thoughts about other possible gift ideas :

Blu-ray Disc Player

You can now find Blu-ray disc players for about $150 at major retailers such as Costco and Wal-mart and online.  Blu-ray players will not only give you the ability to play the wonderful new high quality Blu-ray discs, but will also 'up-convert' existing DVDs and make them appear better, too.

With the cost of the players now down to affordable levels, and with both a massively increasing range of movies and more sensible prices for the discs too (hint - buy movies during one of the almost continual discount/sales at Amazon or elsewhere - you can now sometimes get Blu-ray movies for as little as $10 each) it becomes time to consider upgrading your movie watching to Blu-ray.

You really can see the difference in picture quality with a Blu-ray disc compared to a DVD, but you'll need a HD television/monitor for this - ideally one rated at 1080P.  On the other hand, with many of us having upgraded our televisions for the new digital signals, the chances are we already have a monitor that can handle the improved definition of Blu-ray.

E-Book Reader

E-book readers are one of the hot new items this year.  Amazon has released several new versions of their Kindle, and have dropped the price repeatedly down to its current $259.  Barnes & Noble have brought out a competing Nook player at the same price, and Sony continues to slog on with its product range too.  New products from new manufacturers are expected to be released regularly over the months that follow.

If you want to get a dedicated eBook reader, we feel that the Kindle remains the best unit out there for two reasons - the broadest range of titles available, and also because Amazon tends to sell its eBooks at lower prices than Barnes & Noble or Sony.  The B&N Nook might be a more appealing reader, but both units use the identical screen, and so the lower cost of the books from Amazon is the most important factor to consider.

But - maybe your best eBook reader is neither the Nook nor the Kindle.  Please consider getting an iPhone or iPod Touch instead and adding the free reader software for both Kindle and Nook titles to that unit.  If you do that, you don't need to buy either (or both) a Kindle or Nook at all, and the reading experience, even on the much smaller screen, is perfectly good.

GPS Unit

The downward trend in GPS pricing has continued unabated in 2009, while hardware features have continued to improve.  Nowadays, you can realistically expect to find a good GPS unit with a 4.3" sized screen for under $200, and maybe you'll find a unit around that price that also offers extra features such as free traffic data for life.

But are free-standing GPS units soon to be obsoleted?  I've two excellent GPS programs running on my iPhone that give me all the same functionality that I could have in a stand-alone unit - why buy another piece of equipment when you can use an existing item for multiple purposes?

A GPS program to run on your phone, with the same mapping and routing and turn-by-turn voice directions as provided by a dedicated unit, will cost about $100.  Probably it remains slightly preferable to get a dedicated unit, but this is likely to change as phones become more versatile.

We continue to consider Garmin units the very best available, primarily because of their user-friendly interface, and nowadays there's no longer much of a price premium to buy a high quality Garmin as opposed to a generic brand with much less user-friendly features.

Amazon currently offers over 100 different Garmin products, many at less than $200.  Last we looked, the best value was probably a factory refurbished Nuvi 255W, otherwise for a more fully featured unit with traffic data too, consider the Nuvi 780 with MSN Direct service or the Nuvi 265WT.  All three units are under $200.


With airline weight limits going down and down, and with extra bag charges going up and up, these days the sensible packing strategy is to get one big light bag that is strong enough to survive airline handling.

If your strategy is to get the lightest suitcase possible, we'd recommend the Heys range of lightweight bags.

On the other hand, if you don't mind a slightly heavier bag, and want to get one made of the finest construction and with a literal no-exceptions lifetime warranty, your clear choice remains Briggs & Riley.

The best place to buy either Heys or Briggs & Riley suitcases is probably through  Heys products are sometimes discounted, Briggs & Riley almost never.

Still More Ideas....

If the ten ideas above don't help, perhaps visit our 2007 Christmas Gift Giving Guide2005 Christmas Gift Giving Guide, our 2004 Christmas Gadget Gift Giving Guide or our  2003 Christmas Gadget Gift Giving Guide - maybe one of these items will be just what you are looking for instead.

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Originally published 6 Nov 2009, last update 20 Jul 2020

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.



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