By Travel writer
msnbc.com contributor

Explainer: 12 products that take hassle out of traveling

  • Image: iPad Flip Case
    Piel Leather

    Necessity may be the mother of invention, but in travel, frustration makes a pretty good midwife.

    For Kenny Johnson of Dallas, it was the sight of people struggling to create decent workspaces in the concourses of nearby Love Field; for Dale Benton of Atlanta, it was watching people fight with their travel pillows on a flight to Seattle.

    In response, both men came up with new travel products that are now on display at the Travel Goods Association (TGA) show in Chicago. Along with some of the biggest names in the business, they hope to provide relief for some of the age-old annoyances of travel.

    “Innovation is about making travel easier and more comfortable,” said David Sternlight, CEO of Cabeau Travel, another TGA exhibitor. The following 12 products aim to do just that.

  • Shrink to fit

    Image: Compressible Packing Cubes from Kiva Designs
    Kiva Designs
    Tired of sitting on your suitcase to get it to close? With a set of Compressible Packing Cubes from Kiva Designs, you won’t have to. Simply fill the soft-sided, mesh-topped bags with your clothing, then use the integrated zipper system to compress them to half their original height. Sold in packs of three — one large (11.5”x15”) and two medium (11.5”x7.5”) for $25 — they’re designed to provide increased organization in less space.

  • Weighing in

    Image: iTalk Scale
    Heys USA

    Any luggage scale will show you what your bag weighs, but the iTalk Scale ($40) from Heys USA actually tells you. Attach the rubberized hook to your bag, give it a lift and a computerized (female) voice will announce how much your bag weighs. “It does everything short of weighing your bag for you,” said Chief Marketing Officer Marcy Schackne, although, alas, it won’t tell you what to remove if said bag is overweight.

  • Work anywhere

    Image: Traveldesk 21
    Courtesy Kenny Johnson

    Talk about a mobile office. Created by Dallas-based insurance consultant Kenny Johnson, the Traveldesk 21 ($349) is a ballistic-nylon carry-on bag that features multiple pockets and an integrated 15.5”-x-13.5” platform that folds up and out of its pocket to provide a stable desktop. “You don’t have to use your lap or look for a table,” said Johnson. “All you need is a chair and you’ve got a place to work.” (Available in September.)

  • iProtection

    Image: iPad Flip Case
    Piel Leather

    According to industry tracker iSupply.com, Apple will ship more than 43 million iPads this year, more than a few of which, we presume, will be subject to dings, dents and scratches. Protect your investment with the new iPad Flip Case ($88) by Piel Leather. Available in black, chocolate or saddle (tan), the full-grain-leather folio serves as a vertical or horizontal stand and features three inner pockets for business cards, plane tickets and other items.

  • Get cushy

    Image: First-Class Travel Cushion
    Courtesy Hummingbird Gear

    You don’t often see the words “comfortable” and “coach” in the same sentence, but the new First-Class Travel Cushion ($30) from Hummingbird Gear can at least make the concept possible. Filled with urethane foam, the self-inflating seat cushion takes the pain out of long plane, train or boat rides, then rolls up small for easy stowing. Alas, it can’t help with seat width or legroom but, if nothing else, your butt — technically, your ischial bones — will thank you.

  • Heads up

    Image: Head Holder
    Courtesy Dale Benton

    Walking down the aisle of a Seattle-bound flight four years ago, Dale Benton was struck by how uncomfortable everybody looked: “They were bent over forwards, leaning left, leaning right. I thought this is just not right.” The solution, he decided, was something that would cradle your head like a pair of hands, which is how he came up with the Head Holder ($40), a lightweight unit that combines a chest pad, adjustable vertical post and foam chin pad to create a supportive alternative to the traditional travel pillow.

  • Practical pets

    Image: Travel BlanKid
    Cabeau Travel

    Traveling with a little one? You could cram a pillow, blanket and stuffed animal into a child-sized backpack — or you could opt for a Travel BlanKid ($30) from Cabeau Travel, which combines all of the above into one kid-friendly unit. Zipped up, it’s a plush polyester backpack/stuffed animal in the shape of a panda, monkey or ladybug. Unzipped, it’s a 30-inch-by-5-inch travel blanket, in which the animal’s arms form a neck-supporting pillow.

  • Soothing sleep

    Image: Day Dream Aloe Vera Travel Eye Mask
    DP Style

    Just because you’re taking a red-eye flight doesn’t mean you have to arrive with red, puffy eyes. The Day Dream Aloe Vera Travel Eye Mask from DP Style uses micro-capsules of aloe vera to provide soothing relief while you sleep. Good for 300 uses, “it’s like time-release medicine for your skin,” said Phyllis Leung, vice president of business development. It comes with a removable cool pack for $25 or with a travel pouch, cool pack and ear plugs for $29.50.

  • Just in case

    Sandy beaches, boat trips, the occasional thunderstorm — summer travel can be tough on personal electronics. Keep your tech toys intact with a waterproof E-Case from Hummingbird Gear. Available in four sizes (8x14 cm, 13x19 cm, 14.2x22 cm and 20x30 cm, $20–$40), the soft, polyester cases feature clear windows that allow full functionality for touchscreen phones, MP3 players and e-readers. And although it’s hardly recommended, they’re even submersible to one meter for up to 30 minutes.

  • Soak up some sun ...

    Image: Guide 10 Adventure Kit
    Dana Sorensen  /  Goal Zero

    And recharge your personal electronics while you're on the beach. The new Guide 10 Adventure Kit ($140) from Goal Zero is an ultra-lightweight solar charging system that will charge small personal electronics as well as rechargeable AA and AAA batteries. Recharge your phone in three hours or less via USB or DC output; use the integrated battery pack to recharge nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries for headlamps, portable radios, etc., and when you’re done, fold the kit up and stash it in your pocket.

  • Worry-free water

    Image: SteriPEN Freedom
    Courtesy Hydro-Photon

    The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 10 million international travelers suffer from, shall we say, gastrointestinal discomfort, every year. Avoid that unpleasant fate with the SteriPEN Freedom ($120) from Hydro-Photon, the world’s first UV water purification device rechargeable via AC or USB. According to marketing manager Pam Fields, the pocket-sized unit will purify 16 ounces of water in less than a minute, provide 40 treatments per charge and give you “one less reason to carry another set of batteries.” (Available this summer.)

  • A smaller hauler

    Image: Ultra Compact Cart
    Travel Smart by Conair

    Finally, if all of the above starts weighing you down, consider the Ultra Compact Cart ($40) from Travel Smart by Conair. In use, it’s a 39-inch-high rolling trolley that will handle up to 50 pounds of luggage, tradeshow gear and more; when you’re done, it folds up, Transformer-like, to just 13.5”x 7”. “Everybody’s looking for things to be so compact these days,” said sales coordinator Kathy Piccirillo. “This will slip into a briefcase or carry-on pocket.”

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    Piel Leather
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