The 73rd annual Travel Goods Show was held in New Orleans on March 4 and 5, which seems like an eternity ago. During the show, I took a temporary break from the news amid the comforting rows of rolling luggage, racks of neck pillows and community of travelers whose pulses also rise over soap containers and portable coffee presses. In the midst of so much uncertainty, the products were reassuring and hopeful: One day soon, we will be speed-wheeling through international airports and sleeping fitfully at cruising altitude. And when that day comes, we will need to stock up on the latest gear and gadgets — not pasta and antibacterial wipes. Over the two days, I picked through 20,000 products pitched by 130 exhibitors from 20 countries. (The virus prevented 20 Chinese companies from attending.) I inspected contraptions that made me wince, such as sleep aids that resembled instruments of torture, and others that I enthusiastically welcomed into my life — and my luggage. Here are my top discoveries:
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Keeping insects away: Wearing bug spray is hardly fashionable, but neither is scratching like a dog infested with fleas. To bring some panache to an outdoor imperative, Pang Wangle founder Jennifer John infused permethrin, an insecticide blessed by the World Health Organization, into a line of garments. "Insect Shield was created for the military," she said, "but we're putting it into pretty clothes." The line includes an infinity scarf ($48); the Optimist Pant, which resembles leggings ($64); and a wrap ($58) in four colors: sandshell, rust, faded denim and black. John, a New Orleans resident who frequently battles bugs in a steamy environment, plans to introduce a linen pant with more air flow. The repellent lasts for more than 70 washings and deters a host of bugs, including mosquitoes, ticks, chiggers and midges, also known as no-see-ums. The clothes are stylish: Imagine Eileen Fisher dressing a remake of "Out of Africa." I also conducted a deep sniff test and inhaled the comforting scent of natural fibers, including organic cotton, silk and fibers made from eucalyptus and beech trees. The scarves won't cover all of your exposed parts, so you will need to loop and layer creatively.
No more soggy soap: My soap storage routine is shameful. I usually start the trip with a bar in a plastic bag and end with a sliver wrapped like a Halloween mummy in toilet paper or tissues. So I was beyond excited to find Matador's FlatPak Soap Bar Case ($12.99). The lightweight waterproof pouch is constructed out of a fabric called welded Cordura that allows the bar to dry without leaking or creating a slimy mess. After washing, simply slip your wet (!) soap into the sleeve, fold down the roll top and snap the buckle enclosure like a troll-size dry bag. You can decrease the size of the container as your bar diminishes, then expand it when it is time for a full-size replacement. The company also makes FlatPak Toiletry Bottles ($12.99) for more liquidy substances. Simply transfer your toothpaste, shampoo, lotion or other goopy product from the larger bottle or tube to the pouch using the wide-mouth opening. Then squeeze out your daily amount through the small hole in the cap. The item can hold up to three ounces, the magic number anointed by the Transportation Security Administration. Be sure to write the contents on the white label, so you don't end up brushing your teeth with conditioner.
Hold the phone: BendyMan needed a strong woman to help carry his load and light the way. Walter + Ray complied. Like her rubbery male counterpart, BendyWoman ($10) works multiple jobs. For example, she can hold a smartphone or tablet in her lap, illuminate dark surroundings with her button eyes, and use her limbs as hooks for bags, hats and dangling cords. Of course, BendyCouple have their limitations. They can't, for instance, reliably carry your hot chai or coffee through the airport. For these moments, the California company launched the Trolley Partner ($15). The heather gray luggage accessory has three pockets: two spaces can hold a cup or water bottle, and a third is sized for a smartphone or documents. The ultralight item wraps around the handle of a rolling bag like a cummerbund, and the Velcro closure prevents jiggling and spills as you race to your gate. However, Tania Rodrigues, the company's founder and designer, reminds beverage-swilling travelers to "put a lid on your coffee and a stopper."
Squeeze your luggage: TheRollink Flex Vega 21 won the Innovation Award for best new luggage plus the Buzz Award — deservedly so. As someone who just returned from an expedition cruise to Antarctica with her mother and her rolling bag, I can't overstate the need for collapsible luggage in small spaces. The carry-on, which will become available in June ($89), features a polypropylene hard shell with fabric sides, up to 11 gallons of storage space, two wheels, a retractable handle, a side pocket and several color choices. Standard stuff, until you break it down: The bag compresses to two inches in thickness. I am terrible at spatial challenges, so I was the perfect guinea pig for this test. After a quick demo by Eyal Azoulay, the Israeli company's chief executive, I stepped up to the table. I unzipped the bag, pushed in the soft sides and watched it come crashing down like a house of cards. In its slender state, the bag could slide under a bed or squeeze into a narrow closet, out of toe harm's way.
A portable chair: If you suddenly need a seat — maybe you found a perfect patch of lawn in Paris or happened upon an engaging busker in Nashville — pull up Standley's Leanbag ($89). The Danish-designed backpack transforms into a lounge chair: Attach the padded seat to the clips on the bottom edge and pull out the aluminum frame, which fits snugly against the bag's sides when not in use. The bag is sturdy, unlike many stadium chairs. At the New Orleans show, I pushed my full weight against the frame, and neither seat nor seated toppled over. The backpack, which comes in camel, black or burgundy, shares the same utilitarian chicness as Sweden's Fjallraven Kanken backpack. But all of Standley's products hold a little secret inside: an inscription to "Watch More Sunsets than TV." Whether that sunset is in the sky or on your laptop, which slides into its own padded sleeve, is not specified.
Vanity on the go: Trust me, a hotel or cruise bathroom mirror is not a true reflection of yourself. Your skin is not wan; your eyes are not jaundiced. Blame the lighting, not last night's second martini. To look your best, Riki Loves Riki created Riki Colorful ($80), a miniaturized version of a Hollywood star's bulb-trimmed vanity. The portable mirror closes like a clam shell and pops into action with three dimming settings and a magnetic tray that allows you to curate your makeup kit, so you don't have to bring your entire toolbox. With the depotting device (heart-shaped, of course), remove your chosen palette of eye shadow, blush, foundation or other cosmetics and place the smaller squares and circles on the magnetic tray. If the individual sections do not have a metal backing, affix one of 20 magnetic stickers. If your cruise ship hits a wave or your travelmate accidentally topples your Riki, your makeup will stay put. The mirror also comes with a USB cable, rechargeable battery and velvety case for clandestine touch-ups.
Stay safe, in style: Welly starts with a stackable metal tin, a reusable, recyclable and retro material that puts plastic to shame. Then the company fills the palm-size container with items critical for non-911 medical emergencies. The Quick Fix Kit ($6.99), for example, is stocked with eight colorful fabric bandages in two sizes, plus three single-use antibiotic ointments and three hand sanitizer packets. If you're more accident-prone, upgrade to the Human Repair Kit ($8.99), which increases the first-aid supplies to 30 bandages, two kinds of ointments and six hand sanitizers. When it's time for a refill ($3.49), turn your cuts and scratches into a fashion statement with decorative bandages featuring such whimsical motifs as monsters, eyeballs, unicorns and rainbows.
Embrace compression socks: At the SockWell booth, which seemed cool enough to sponsor a roller derby team, I realized how wrong I had been about compression socks ($26.99). I learned that everyone, not just folks with vascular disease, should don a pair. That I should wear them not just for long flights but for extended hours of walking, standing and sitting as well. That they come in different heights, from knee-high to ankle. And that the style choices are no longer "ugly and uglier," in the words of Emily Yann, a national sales manager. SockWells are made of merino wool grown in the Rocky Mountains and bamboo rayon, which help manage moisture and keep your foot and shoe drier. Yann recommended moderate compression for short-haul flights and firm compression on lengthier trips but left the design decision to me. She showed me dozens of patterns and colors, including some that sparkled. I was drawn to a hot pink pair with a chevron pattern, proof that I was an enlightened compression sock-wearer.
Tea, please: Coffee drinkers seem to receive all of the attention and inventions from the travel industry (see the AeroPress Go Travel Coffee Press, which won Best Use of Technology and appeared in Travel's 2019 holiday gift guide), while tea-sippers are left holding the soggy bag. But no more. Lightload Puer Tea's sampler pack ($6.99) is a tiny peridot box filled with five bricks of Camellia sinensis that was harvested from the high mountains of China's Yunnan province. The slabs of compressed leaf tea are as small as a square of chocolate and can fit in a wallet or pocket. When tea time rings, break off a piece for a personal-size mug or drop the whole 5-gram portion into the pot for gallon tea party. Disciples of the "leave no trace behind" ethos can do exactly that with a big gulp.
Stay untangled: Logan Bailey, founder of Fuse Reel, found his inspiration inside his university library in Utah. Not in the stacks but on the study tables, amid a spaghetti tangle of chargers. His mission was to tame the cables. Two years ago, he came out with the Side Winder ($26.99), which organizes a Macbook charger with a simple snap of the case and the wheeee! of the wheel. He eventually expanded the line to cover the entire Apple oeuvre, including earbuds and chargers for iPhones and iPads, called the Snap Back (from $9.99), and his latest release, the Watch Side Winder ($11.99). With all of the products, you can charge your gadget while it's housed in a Fuse Reel, but the Apple Watch's has an additional amenity: a docking station. You can also shorten or lengthen the cable distance between machine and outlet, so you won't be the traveler who trips other passengers with your lifeline.