When tabletop supports are just too small, but you can't afford to pack a full-size tripod, you might want to consider a travel model that folds flat and fits in the smallest of suitcases.
On my last trip to Europe, I knew that I wanted to photograph landscapes and other subjects that would require a tripod. But I needed to travel light, because I was taking only a midsize duffle and my camera bag to store all of my belongings. A key piece of equipment for this adventure turned out to be a unique travel tripod called the Magic 2, made by Cullmann (see Figure 1-2).
Unlike other tripods that have a large circumference even when collapsed, the Cullmann's legs fold flat, forming a compact rectangle that is only 1.5 inches thick and 13.75 inches long. It fits almost anywhere. And even though it's constructed of anodized metal for durability, the Magic 2 weighs only 2.5 pounds.
You can extend this marvel of engineering to 57 inches, but I don't recommend it. Instead, resist extending the center post to maximum height and keep the tripod to about 50 inches for better stability. I also recommend you hang your camera bag over one of the legs or around the center post for a more stable shooting surface.
One of the reasons this unit is called Magic is that it also converts to a better-than-decent monopod. That's right, one of the legs detaches from the main unit and screws into the center post to create a walking stick with a ball-head mount on top. This is really nice for day hikes when you want to leave the rest of the unit back in the hotel room.
The legs extend to full height via four collapsible sections. They twist one way to loosen and the other to tighten, which works well most of the time. An important tip to remember is not to tighten the legs when you collapse the tripod. You'll have a hard time getting a good grip to loosen them later. I think it's a law of nature that tripod legs get tighter on their own over time. Keep them loose except when extended.
The ball-head tripod mount that comes with the Magic 2 enables you to position the camera at just about any angle. It even has a quick-release plate, so you can easily detach and reattach the camera.
You can purchase the Cullmann Magic 2 from most photo retailers, including http://www.adorama.com or http://www.bhphoto.com, for about US$115. It's quite effective for most of today's digicams. Even though it's not perfect, I've recorded many fine images with it that I would have otherwise missed.