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Ed Perkins on Travel: Black Friday gifts for travelers

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“Black Friday” is upon us, and despite the expansion of its scope in recent years, heavy focus will still be on electronic gear. And the advent of a “let's have a big sale” on just about everything means a chance for you to load up early on deal-priced electronic gifts for travelers on your list.

A Black Friday electronic gift approach requires a minor deviation from my usual rule on gifts — that an ideal gift is an extravagance that you know the recipient would enjoy but probably not buy for him/herself. Electronics stuff is inherently something you buy because it's useful, not because it's fun or tasty, so a more pragmatic approach is indicated.

In the realm of big-ticket gifts, the top suggestion for this year is easy if your recipient usually schleps a Windows computer on his/her travels: a new laptop. If the current laptop is more than three or four years old, chances it won't support Windows 11, the newest version of the venerable operating system that most PC users depend on. Yes, Microsoft will support the current version 10 for another year or two, but the future features and security enhancements will be limited to version 11. Sooner or later, just about every Windows user will have to adapt version 11, so you might as well get in early. I list a laptop in the knowledge that specific computer features are very important to travelers, and different travelers demand different feature sets. For me, light weight is paramount; for others it might be screen size, gaming capability, or something else. Try to suss out the details before you look for deals. Figure $500 up to more than double.

Another big- but not-huge-ticket option is an e-reader. If your traveler likes to spend travel time with a good book or two, extended reading on either a laptop or phone is not ideal but on a dedicated e-reader it is. My preference is a Kindle “paperwhite” unit, but some folks prefer the less expensive Fire tablets or equivalent. Both technologies can store hundreds of books and have online access to thousands. Figure $80 and up; don't be afraid of buying last year's model, and you really don't need some of the extras that inflate prices up to $250.

For U.S. travelers, international trips no longer pose the language challenge they did when I first started traveling: English has become the unofficial “international language” just about everywhere. But not everywhere, not every time. So for a frequent international traveler, consider a real-time voice-to-voice translation system. I haven't personally tested any so far, and I still haven't even seen a good evaluation from a trusted source. You have two options: a dedicated phone-like separate device or an app for your smartphone. If you like the idea, find out as much as you can and consider it. Just make sure any system you're considering has two-way real-time voice-go-voice functions; if you're haggling in a bazaar, a voice-to-text translation doesn't help. Device prices run $50 and up; apps vary from free to yearly-fee charges.

Yet another device possibility is an extra travel dongle for whatever streaming system you use: Roku, Fire Stick, Chromecast, or whatever. Yes, most hotels and resorts these days offer cable or satellite TV, but their systems don't include streaming. I've found that almost all hotel flat-screen TVs have an unused HDMI port, so I can schlep my Roku and an HDMI cable, and I'm in business. Because hotel TVs sometimes come with remotes that don't have an input-select function, I also usually take along one of those cheap universal TV controls. Although I haven't tried it, I see no reason why those systems won't work overseas, although you might have to register locally.

A final recommendation is a portable charger to support a phone, laptop, or anything else with limited battery life. Not all planes have power outlets, and you don't want to have your device go dead just when the detective is about to expose the villain. They cost $20 or so.

(Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at eperkins@mind.net. Also, check out Ed’s new rail travel website at www.rail-guru.com.)

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