If you're like us, you start planning summer vacation when you see the first crocus. This year, why not trek high-tech? We found several super gadgets.
If you're heading by car to adventure in our fabulous U.S.A., check out Whistler Interstate Travelmate. It's a computer the size of a pocket calculator - and the only one of its kind that we've found.Don't let size fool you. It's packed with more useful trip information than you could cram into 10 old-fashioned glove compartments. If you printed out all the data jammed into its minimicrocomputer, it would easily fill 2,000 pages.
When the kids get cranky, wouldn't it be nice to know where's the next burger stand? Done! Punch Travelmate's BEGIN button. Its tiny screen asks what state you're passing through. Enter the abbreviation. It asks what highway you're on. Search a list until you spot the number.
Next it asks what direction you're heading in. You can't stump it. If you punch N on an E-W highway, it makes you try again.
Finally, for the 49 states whose highways have mile markers or exit numbers, it asks which number you just passed. For California, where they do everything different, there's a printed mile guide.
Once the computer knows your location, you're ready to roll. Punch the FOOD button. For folks who aren't picky, the display shows the number of miles to each upcoming food stop. It identifies greasy spoon chains by name and tags non-chain spots FAMILY.
If the kids are clamoring for a Mac milkshake, punch in MC. The display shows how far the next Mac exit is - and warns if the diner's a mile or more off the highway. Travelmate has equally smart buttons for MOTEL, CAMP, GAS and DIESEL FUEL and the nearest HOSPITAL.
It can find the nearest 24-hour gas stop and the closest motel that does business around the clock. It lists 800 numbers for motel chains and popular travel clubs' closest offices. It has phone numbers for highway patrols, tourist centers and weather and highway information lines.
Whistler's Interstate Travelmate costs $100. Phone Traveler's Checklist at (203) 364-0144 to find out where it's sold locally.
If you've reactivated plans to go abroad this vacation, you're in real luck. Several companies now make good pocket-sized phrase translators. They're a cinch to use. You just type in the English. If the computer's dictionary knows the expression, the foreign equivalent pops up onscreen.
INSTA-PHRASE Travel Translator one-ups brands that stick to one foreign language. One model holds English, French, Spanish, Italian and German. Another adds Dutch, Portuguese and Japanese. You turn it on, pick the language you know and select the one you need to fake.
There are 10 keys, each stamped with a graphic symbol: conversation, airports and flights, ground transportation, hotels, phones and mail, dining, money and shopping, recreation, medical, and emergencies. To reserve a flight home from Italy, click the airplane icon for "airports and flying." Next reclick the icon to roll through subtopics. Stop at "flight reservation." Thumb through this subtopic's list of phrases and sentences by hitting a down- or up-arrow key.
When you see, `I'd like a round-trip ticket,' punch the sideways arrow key. That past, you can read aloud to the airline clerk, `Vorrei un biglietto di andata e ritorno.' Your pronunciation might get some grins. But INSTA-PHRASE gets you the ticket home.
The slim, purse-sized computer packs in a tidy bundle of other helps for travelers. When you punch in currency exchange rates, it calculates equivalents between countries. Helpfully, it stores currency exchange rates even when you turn off the computer between uses. Also stored on board are a calendar and a clock with a wake-up reminder alarm.
Prices for INSTA-PHRASE computers go from $70 to $150. The cheapest models have less convenient one-line instead of two-line displays. All are distributed to local stores by travel book publisher Rand McNally.
Laptop computers are great little travelers. But only child-size hands take easily to their tiny keyboards. They're OK for hunching over in airline seats, but on a motel table they drive us nuts.
This vacation, we won't have to grin and bear it. Since nobody uses our desktop computers while we're away, we're taking along one of the keyboards for our laptop. Along with it, we'll take a tiny gadget, the $100 Genovation Serial Box. The device combines a plug for plugging it into the port and a socket for plugging in a keyboard.
The theory is simple. Few laptops come with a place to plug on an extra keyboard. But most have ports for attaching printers and modems. Electronics inside the tiny box fool the laptop computer into thinking the printer port is a keyboard port.
Can't take your desktop computer's keyboard along on your travels? Buy Genovation's special $150 Parallel Keyboard. It's a largeIBM-compatible keyboard that's designed to plug directly into the laptop's parallel or serial port, without any box needed.
If most of your out-of-office computer work involves keying in numbers, you may not need a whole regular-sized keyboard. Genovation makes a lovely full-sized numbers keypad that plugs into laptop printer ports. The $140 Parallel Keypad II model includes a 00 key and other symbols some laptops don't provide.
While Genovation's gadgets were invented for use with laptops, they work with any IBM compatible computer. For where-to-buy information, phone 714-833-3355.