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4 Surprising, Low-Tech Travel Gadgets You Need

Save some space in your bag for these low-tech gadgets. You’ll thank us when you arrive at your destination.

People are often surprised when I reveal what I consider to be the most essential item in my carry-on bag. It’s not some fancy device or expensive gadget (though, to be fair, I wouldn’t leave home without my Kindle Paperwhite either). In fact, four of my must-pack items are decidedly low-tech.

Lacrosse Ball

orange lacrosse balls.

The one thing I never fly without, my secret weapon against the aches and pains of the coach-class crunch, is the humble lacrosse ball.

I can sense your skepticism even as I type this, so I’ll get right down to it. Today’s torturous coach-class seat configurations might as well have been designed by the CIA for “enhanced interrogations.” (Seriously, who thinks a 29-inch seat pitch is OK?) A lacrosse ball gives you a fighting chance against the neck ache, stiff back, and piercing headache that are natural byproducts of cramped seating.

When the aches kick in, pinpoint your tender muscles and massage them away with a sturdy lacrosse ball. It’s just the right size to dig into most problem spots, and it’s tough enough to give you the needed pressure to ease the pain away. Honestly, this is the cheapest, tiniest, lowest-tech travel tool you’ll ever need, and it might just end up being your favorite, too.

Bonus: It fits in any reasonably sized pocket.

Swiss Army Knife

victorinox swiss army jetsetter pocket knife.

Also pocket-sized and useful: the Swiss Army knife. Right about now you’re thinking, “But knives are banned on flights.” And you’re right. But you can get a Swiss Army knife without the knife, courtesy of the Victorinox Jetsetter, which gives you immediate access to a screwdriver, a bottle opener, a key ring, tweezers, scissors, and a toothpick—all in one handy space-saving device that the TSA isn’t allowed to confiscate.

Kid Kit

Ticonderoga pencils.

Sometimes I travel with my kids, and when I do, I also keep a supply of low-tech travel gadgets for them to play with during the trip. Not just on flights, either: on road trips, in vacation rentals, at the airport or train station … I owe it to them and to my fellow travelers to make sure they’re entertained and not disruptive. My “kid kit” includes a small puzzle or two, pencils and paper, and a few travel-sized games.

Grid-It Organizer

large grid-it organizer.

I’ve talked before about the Grid-It system, an inexpensive organization system that makes use of rubber bands to hold everything in place. People often associate it with tech gadgets only, but it’s very helpful for keeping all this other gear in place, too. You can either buy a large Grid-It to store all your electronics and cords alongside your non-tech gadgets (earplugs, travel games, etc.), or you can employ a second, smaller Grid-It to keep your gadgets separate.

Either way, as far as organizers go, there’s nothing better.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2015. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

By Josh Roberts

Josh Roberts believes the best trips involve long hikes and muddy boots. His life goals haven't changed much since he was a kid: He still wants to be Indiana Jones when he grows up.

Follow him on Twitter (@joshwhowrites) and Instagram (@joshwhowrites), and visit his website (joshrobertsbooks.com) or Goodreads page to learn more about his forthcoming novel.

Josh joined SmarterTravel in 2001, and is an active member in both the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) and the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

In addition to SmarterTravel, he has written for USA Today, The Boston Globe, Yahoo! Travel, The Huffington Post, Airfarewatchdog, TripAdvisor, Jetsetter, ABC News, Oyster, and Business Insider. His travel photography can be seen in Britain and Ireland's Best Wild Places, published by Penguin UK.

The Handy Item I Always Pack: "A lacrosse ball. It's small, lightweight, and works wonders on loosening up tight muscles."

Ultimate Bucket List Experience: "Being the first to discover an ancient lost city. Failing that, visiting as many of the already-discovered ancient ruins as possible."

Travel Motto: "Not all those who wander are lost." -J.R.R. Tolkien

Aisle, Window, or Middle Seat: "Aisle."

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