Travel juice… a must have!


The more I travel, whether for a day or for days, the more I realize that a portable battery charger is as indispensable as my toothbrush. 

I recently* spent 4 days in Sonora, California. Lovely area, but horrible cell phone service. My battery drained 5% within minutes of unplugging my phone. No joke, but when using Google Maps for navigation, with my phone plugged in and charging to the car’s USB, my battery still lost power – it couldn’t even maintain juice!

If you haven’t already bought one, invest $10-30 in a portable charger pack that you can carry in your purse or bag and stay juiced up.

How do you choose? Price and mAh. What’s mAh? The amount of power stored in the pack. Look at the battery in your cell phone or tablet (or Google your phone’s mAh) to find out how much power (in mAh) you typically have. If your phone takes 2000 mAh to charge, for example, a 3000 mAh portable pack will charge your phone, in theory, 1.5 times.  Continue reading

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Decisions, decisions… and my dilemma.

When I think about travel, I think about upgrading my gear. I am a firm believer that you can never have too many bags… until it comes to actually footing the bill. Then I’m a flip-flopper.

See a bag. Check it out. Add it to my cart. Leave it in my cart. Think about it. Go back and stalk it. Almost complete the purchase. Think. Stalk. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

I am currently stalking two bags…

The Tortuga Air and the Tom Bihn Spiff Kit.

Do I need either of them? No, not really.
Do I want to spend the money on them? No, not really.
Do I stalk them online every few days. Yup.

So… If I don’t need them, why do I want them so bad? I love the idea of them. Continue reading

Two companies, similar products, different styles, same city.

Whenever I can, I like to buy products made right here in the U.S.A.. I have found several companies that I keep going back to, two of which are based in San Francisco – Waterfield and Rickshaw Bagworks. Coincidence? I doubt it. I think one successful entrepreneurial spirit inspires another.  Quality demands quality competition. Both companies believe strongly that producing on a small scale produces uncommon quality. Both companies believe in using quality materials, like high-grade waxed canvas and heavy-duty YKK zippers. Now, Rickshaw and Waterfield may both produce quality bags and accessories, but they do not exactly vie for the same target demographic. Continue reading

Rickshaw Velo… commuter, carry-on, utility pack.

Months ago I promised a review of my new Rickshaw Bagworks Velo Backpack. What happened? Life.

Sometimes life takes over, we get busy, and the next thing you know I realize that I can’t quite call myself a blogger if I am not, in fact, blogging. But, today that changes.

So, the Velo.

veloWhat can I say? Since July, since “life happened”, I think I have carried it with me every day. 

We flew across the pond and visited Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium and the Nederlands together.

We carried thousands of dollars of cameras, computers and tablets together.

We weekended in Michigan and Chicago together.

We commute to work carrying grade book, papers to grade, a laptop (sometimes two), a tablet (sometimes two), and all of the accessories I need for a day at work.

And the verdict… I love this bag. I do. I wasn’t sure I would when I opened the box, but love happened.

So, what do I like about the Velo?

One Step Closer to Organization Nirvana.

I am organized. Not in my daily life, just when traveling.

I love packing cubes, bags, and now… cells?

Yes, packing cells. Sea to Summit produces a very versatile  Ultrasil (lightweight) packing organizer called a packing cell.

Sea to Summit TravellingLight Packing Cell, Medium Berry, $24.95 at Amazon.com.

The Sea to Summit TravellingLight Packing Cell is solid Ultrasil (nylon) everywhere except the top, which is mesh. There are handles on both sides, a heavy duty zipper, and 2 tabs for tie/hook connections. The cell takes a cube shape, but can also pack down a little when it’s not full.

I am using a medium cell in my carry-on to hold my in-flight go-to’s: Able Planet noise-reducing headphones, sleeping mask, Kindle, Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 tablet, MP3 player with ear buds, 12,000 mah portable battery charger, micro USB cord, Samsung Galaxy s5, USB 3.0 cord, journal and pen,  inflatable travel pillow… and still there’s room for a few more things.  It’s so much easier to pull this cell from my underseat bag than to dig through the bag for what I need. The cells are also the perfect shape to hold bras.

I have several types of packing organizers that I also like – Eagle Creek Specter Compression Cubes and Folders, Rick Steves Packing Cubes, and various Waterfield and Tom Bihn previously reviewed.  But, different bags and trips require different approaches.

If you don’t want the mesh top, look for the Sea to Summit Toiletry Cell.

So how much are they? Prices vary (I’ve found them at my local outdoor gear store and Amazon), but seem to stay in the $20-40 range depending on size, model and color.

The two TravellingLight Packing Cells I have are my first organizers from Sea to Summit. I hope to add more of their UltraSil organizers to my inventory someday, but for now I need to save my money for the actual traveling. Hmmm… hint-hint, Sea to Summit… I’d be happy to test and review a few (grin).

Packing Light Without Sacrifice

My parents’ 50th Anniversary trip is quickly approaching. Just when I have my mom ready to pack less than what she might normally, we hit a bump in the road: There aren’t many laundromats in Europe.

We’re not backpackers. We’re not the type of travelers who can strap a few items on our backs and explore an underdeveloped country for 2 months, wearing the same unlaundered shorts two weeks later.
We’re also not the 5-star hotel every night (unless Priceline comes through), bell hops taking care of the luggage, private car at the airport, there are people to do our laundry types.
We’re the types who want to travel in relaxed comfort, but still look for good values (no hostels), and need to pack light since we will be schlepping our own luggage. 

We’ll be gone 2+ weeks. She was all ready to pack 1 week of clothes, then wash them before they boarded their week-long river cruise. After all, that works when traveling in the U.S. But, a basic Google search of laundromats (wachsalon) in Basel, Switzerland, their departure point, shows possibly 1-2 actual laundromats (far away from the tourist highlights), not just laundry/dry cleaning services. And, one load (wash + dry) will cost around $20. Still, that’s less than paying for extra bags and definitely worth it if it means one less bag to lug around. (Yes, they can also have laundry done on the ship or in a hotel – $6 per shirt, $8 per trousers, etc.).

So, how do we balance traveling as light as we can while still having everything we need – including unwrinkled, clean clothes?

First of all, get over the idea that you have to wash your clothes after each wear. You don’t. (Exception: underwear. Please do.) With the help of a stain stick or wipe, you can wear those pants for 2-3 days before they need washed. And ladies, if you layer camisoles (which take up little to no space in your luggage), it will keep your shirts and sweaters fresher. Add a little Downy Wrinkle Releaser and a fabric refresher like Febreeze, and no one will know this is the 3rd time you wore that outfit on this trip. (Warning: don’t go heavy on the perfume or cologne as the scent lingers and goes stale.)

Now, I’m not advocating wearing the same outfit 3 days in a row. But, you can rotate your outfits, leaving the last one to air out while you are sightseeing. And definitely mix and match.

And, don’t ignore the best weapon in your arsenal to fight wardrobe overload – the bathroom sink.

Packing a small laundry kit can help you cut down on the number of clothes you pack. So, what’s in my kit? Continue reading

No, the TSA still doesn’t allow cattle prods.

At least not in carry-on. You can, however, check your cattle prod. (Not kidding; check out the link at the bottom.)

I totally get why the TSA has banned most items. There are times, however, that a multi-tool would be very handy when traveling.

  1. Knife to cut tags from purchase or plastic packaging
  2. Corkscrew for a wine bottle
  3. Screwdriver to fix sunglasses or open battery compartments
  4. Poking device to clear mud from shoe treads

But, they still aren’t allowed in your carry-on.  Trust me. I have had a key chain Swiss knife and  a corkscrew (that little blade to cut the foil got me on the return trip, but not the outbound) confiscated. In both instances, I was not trying to get away with sneaking something banned on board. I either didn’t realize it was in my bag, or in the case of the corkscrew, naively thought it would be fine.

There is one simple multi-tool that I have always, unwittingly (I swear), managed to get through security. Probably because it would only be good for #1 & #3 above. (I’m still working on the pocket corkscrew without the foil cutter.)
Continue reading

Twist ties out, Gear Ties in.

Nite Ize GT3-4PK-A1 Gear Tie Reusable 3-Inch Rubber Twist Tie, Assorted ColorsEar buds, charging/USB cables,  power cords… our lives are ruled by them.  There are many ways to cinch up cords to be more compact… reused twist ties, cable ties,old hair ties, velcro straps.

If you haven’t yet tried them, I recommend Gear Ties by Nite Ize (Amazon.com). Gear Ties are reusable, sturdy, and will not cut into your cords.

Available in various sizes (some ready for heavy duty outdoor use) and colors, Gear Ties are relatively inexpensive. Example: a 4 pack of 3-inch ties is around $3.

Don’t forget the dog tags!

Product DetailsWhenever you travel, you should tag your bags (all of them, not just the suitcases) just in case you accidentally leave them somewhere.

Most people use luggage tags. You know the ones – bright colors, meant to stand out on the airport luggage carousel. But, if you put them on camera bags or purses they scream “Tourist!”.

So, I propose an alternative: dog tags. I have a dog tag in every bag I carry – purse, messenger bag, camera bag, backpack, luggage, etc. And I use them year-round, not just when traveling.  Continue reading

Worried about losing your travel docs while away?

When you travel, no matter how well you plan your trip, there are several circumstances beyond your control:

  • Transportation strikes, especially in Europe where protesting is a sort of national sport
  • Lost or delayed luggage
  • Illness
  • Pickpockets, tramps and thieves – wait… is that a Cher song?

While you can’t fully protect yourself against these trip-altering situations, you can do your best to protect yourself with a few simple, and often inexpensive, steps.  Continue reading

Trash + Fashion = Trashion. Barcelona’s Vaho.

Souvenirs – the things you find in tacky tourist shops. Magnets, key chains, ubiquitous t-shirts made in China.

Souvenirs, Barcelona. Courtesy of http://www.virtualtourist.com.

I don’t buy souvenirs. I prefer functional reminders of a trip, made locally.

From the Cahors region of France, I brought back wine and a piece of pottery made by an atelier whose rustic, quaint studio was a shack built into the side of a mountain by a road. I also made it home with reusable shopping bags from the local grocery store, and over a thousand digital photos.

From Guatemala, a table runner handmade locally. For my mother, a hand-embroidered pillow cover. Well, that’s not true. The little old lady in the Chichicastenango Market showed me a hand-embroidered pillow cover, we haggled, I agreed to a price, she bagged the cover, I put it in my luggage back at the hotel, I brought it home, I gave it to my mother, I turned it over to show her the hand embroidery… the old lady had switched it out for a machine-embroidered, almost-identical pillow cover. Lesson learned.

From California, I brought back rocks. Yes, rocks. Not pet rocks. Just rocks. I use them around the house for vase fillers. And I don’t just pick up rocks in Cali. I have several bowls and vases with rocks from all over the world – Venice Beach, San Francisco, Galway, Lucerne, Dachau, etc.

But from Barcelona I brought back trash. Yes, trash. Well, sort of. Trashion.

Continue reading

Taming Cables, Cords and Chargers

How did I get so many cables, cords and chargers? Wait. Don’t answer that. I know how. Electronics rule our lives, or at least mine.

Those cords can become an unruly mess in luggage without a little help.  So, what’s the best way to tame the mess?

There is no clear consensus. From simple Ziploc bags to the new elastic grid systems, most seasoned travelers have their favorites.

So far my go-to cable tamers have been mainly from Waterfield (www.sfbags.com) and Tom Bihn (www.tombihn.com)Continue reading

Coming soon… My first Rickshaw

 Large Velo Backpack | Waterproof Sailcloth Navy
Last week I ordered my first bag from San Francisco-based Rickshaw Bagworks.  I can’t wait for my custom Velo to arrive… the clichéd suspense is killing me.

2 Excellent Carry-on Bags… Made in the U.S.A.

I love bags. I love backpacks, messenger bags, luggage, packing cubes…
I love quality-made, customized bags. 
But, I am cheap. (I take after my father.)

A few years ago I was on my first trip to Ireland. I packed my 26″ High Sierra drop bottom rolling duffel, which I had been using for years. Great bag. Good wheels, excellent capacity, tough fabric. But, any wheeled checked luggage would struggle when the ferry landing was 4km away from the town on a gravel road. On that trip I learned why I needed to find a good non-wheeled carry-on bag that could hold a few weeks of clothes.

When my mom asked what I could use for Christmas I showed her a reasonably priced Timbuktu bag. Timbuktu bags are good, well-made, and well-reviewed; and I love the colorful options. But, like me, my mother researches and reads reviews on most purchases. She came across the bag the Timbuktu seemed to be modeled after. It was twice as much as the Timbuktu, but was it better?

Tom Bihn Aeronaut

Enter the Tom Bihn Aeronaut ($250), made in Seattle. The Aeronaut is the largest capacity carry-on, fitting every major airline’s requirements. Instead of wheels, the Aeronaut offers stowaway backpack straps and an optional Absolute Shoulder Strap (worth every penny). Additionally, the Aeronaut has a top carry handle and side grab handle – very convenient when trying to quickly grab your bag from overhead storage. You can choose from at least a dozen color combinations, in 1050 denier nylon with an interior of 250d Dyneema nylon ripstop fabric, or in the 400d Dyneema on the outside. My Aeronaut in steel (charcoal), now 4 years old, looks as good as new.

Tom Bihn’s Aeronaut

The Aeronaut consists of 3 compartments – 1 large main center section and 2 side compartments – each with waterproof, high quality zippers. With packing cubes and compression bags, I can fit at least a week of clothes, maybe even 2 (depending on the season), a pair of shoes and a pair of sandals, jewelry, carry-on toiletries, maps and a guide book.

Tom Bihn has thought of everything. To make the Aeronaut even more functional, they offer dedicated Aeronaut packing cubes, key straps (to attach to several rings sewn into the bag), and other gear bags. Check out the Aeronaut and the rest of the Tom Bihn line at www.tombihn.com .

Was the Aeronaut worth twice as much as the other bag? I have no idea. I never tried the other bag. What I can say is that the Aeronaut has been worth every penny of its $250 tag.

So, with the Aeronaut on my back, my 2nd carry-on needs to be a shoulder bag that can fit under the seat. For that I have chosen another American-made bag…

Waterfield Design’s Sling

The Sling bag ($139, large) from Waterfield in San Francisco. The Sling is a different type of bag – think designer duffel with style. And when I say style, I mean sleek, modern, shiny. But don’t let the Sling’s good looks fool you – it’s a well-made, tough bag able to take a beating.

Travel Duffel Bag - the Sling

Waterfield’s Sling

It’s a simple bag, really. Several pockets ring the interior of the Sling, and two open end pockets add quick access to maps, phones, itineraries, etc.

Waterfield advertises the Sling as perfect for commuters, gym-goers, and parents. I’m sure all of that is true. But, that’s not how I use it.

I love its versatility as a weekend or carry-on bag. The Sling can transform shape from a stuffed barrel when full to a hobo style when partially packed. I added a small Nite Ize S-Biner (Amazon) to the strap loops to pinch the ends together when I needed or wanted it to look smaller.

Like the Aeronaut, my Sling is 4 or 5 years old, but still looks new.

Bottom Line

The bottom line is you can’t go wrong with Tom Bihn or Waterfield. Both are West Coast companies producing high quality, customized bags. They may cost a little more than some of the more ubiquitous brands available at every department store, but they will last you for years. And both companies will stand behind their product should you have a problem.