There are two big companies - Boxwave and ZipLinq - manufacturing retractable USB cables that both sync and charge peripherals. There are also dozens of outlets taking those cables, rebranding them, and reselling them in various packages. The deculttering idea is two-fold: have one cable that does everything you need it to and make it as small as possible.
That's not as easy as it might be. If you've got a peripheral that syncs and charges from the same port then you're set. All you need is a cable that sends some power back into the device. But many peripherals don't use the same port to sync and charge, even if both those ports are USB flavors. To build a dual cable for those you either need a plug big enough to span both ports or two separate tips at the end of a single cord. These aren't product that people can welding in their garages.
The ultimate result, though, is pretty neat: if your peripheral can recharge while the battery is inside the device, one of these companies almost certainly makes a small, single cord for it.
The arrangement really begins to pay dividends when it's combined with other tiny peripherals. We know travelers who literally carry around squids for their four or five devices. With everything charging via USB, though, a mini hub plugged into a laptop becomes a de facto powerstrip. Special bonus: no more buying transformers for each device when traveling overseas. There are even small outlet converters - which you're buying for your laptop anyway - that have USB ports built in.
Now some notes of warning:
* Both Boxwave and ZipLinq have retractable earbuds that are billed as convenient and tangle-free. Skip them. They're uncomfortable, the sound they produce is sub-par, and - most importantly - it's impossible to get the length exactly right. Instead the cables "click" into place. The cord always ends up too short or too long, and you end up sacrificing high-end sound for no real benefit.
* There are plenty of companies selling retractable cable kits, where you have a few dummy cords and you mix and match tips. Skip those too. Even if you leave the bulky carrying case at home and just carry the parts you need, you're still not saving much space over separate cables. Plus these kits tend to be less solid overall, more useful for hawking at trade shows than for extended travel.
* Most decent digital cameras won't charge via USB. Something about having to put circuits near the lens and how that would screw up the receptors (read: every time you forget a wall charger under a hotel desk they make a 500% profit on the replacement). So your best bet is to buy a slim travel charger and carry extra batteries.
· Cell Phones To Get Universal Chargers, Travel To Become Moderately Less Annoying [Jaunted]
[Photo: mr prudence / Flickr]