Monday, November 23, 2009

The Road More Travelled

I’m not generally a gear-head. When I find technology that works, I stick with it. I still have an answering machine, a land line, and I keep my cell phone and PDA as two separate entities. Until a year ago, I still had the VCR my parent’s gave me for my 21st birthday, and no I will not be telling you what ancient year that was, but suffice it to say it was PRIME technology for its time, but was thankfully not a Betamax.

I’m also a little bit old-school in some ways. I can read a book on a Kindle, but not the way I want…I like dog-eared pages, wrinkles from reading in the bathtub, and the occasional crumb or tea-stain on the flyleaf. I have an HD Television and the appropriate cable set-up, but I watch most things in standard definition, finding that things in HD are too sharp, too bright, and make me all blinky. Plus there are a lot of people on television who are very talented, but should not be seen in high def.

However, there is one area where I not only want gear, I want the best, the brightest, the newest and shiniest. Travel stuff. I’ve been fortunate to do a lot of traveling for pleasure in my life. Lovely vacations hither and yon, all over the world. Long trips and short trips. But it wasn’t until I started doing a lot of business travel that I began to appreciate gear. The essentialness of really good, make-your-life-awesome gear. When you spend any time as a road warrior, suddenly equipping yourself for travel comfort and success becomes a moral imperative. And as I began this new arena, I discovered an interesting phenomenon. When you talk with people about travel, women tend to share ideas about clothes and shoes and how to pack your suitcase, and men tend to share what stuff makes their trips less stressful.

I’m a smart girl. I know you’re supposed to decide whether a trip is a “black trip” or a “brown trip” for ease of packing accessories like shoes, bags, and belts. I know to pack anything messy in zip-top bags in case of inner-suitcase-explosion. I roll my stockings and put them in the toes of my shoes just like every other woman I know. I can fit my clothes into my suitcase, but WHICH SUITCASE?

With a three-week European trip imminent, which was to be followed quickly by a two- night and a six-night business jaunts, I decided to really explore the world of travel gear, looking for stuff that would make my travels easier and lighter, and if I could make it stylish as well, so much the better! I researched, read reviews, and then got hold of the things that seemed a good fit for my experiments. Then I took my shiny new toys on these three very different excursions. And here are my top-ten, never leave home without them finds:

Travelpro Luggage:

I’ve become fanatical about the right suitcases, especially with all of the new regulations for both carry-on and checked baggage. And my favorite suitcases are made by Travelpro. I noticed the logo on a lot of airline personnel bags, and asked a flight attendant about them. She said that the industry relies heavily on the brand and that they are very durable for extensive travelling. The Platinum 5 was top of the line when I was in the market, so I invested in a 19 inch for short overnights, a 22 inch rollabord to carry on for longer business travel, and a 25 inch version for checked baggage for longer trips, as well as the rolling tote for use as a carry-on bag. They have since come out with the Platinum 6, which surprised me, because I couldn’t believe they could improve on such perfection. Seriously, I love these suitcases so much I could date them. All sorts of useful stuff, shoe pockets and a clip-in hanging toiletry bag, zip-out internal hanging bags to keep your evening wear and business suits wrinkle-free, plus a strong yet light-weight frame that can withstand some rigorous handling. It even comes in a lovely blue, just so you don’t have to look at every black suitcase on the carousel with wonderment.

Okay, once you have the suitcase (and have decided on that “black trip/brown trip” thing), how do you effectively maximize the luggage space? A guy pal who takes extended trips for business, often to multiple cities, said that his best travel gear was his comprehensive set of these packing aids…zippered canvas cubes of many sizes and shapes. He explained that by packing his clothes in the cubes, he could keep himself organized, and easily find exactly what he needs at any given time. I outfitted myself with a wide array, (in the lovely pale green color called Tree Frog, and some coordinating patterns in green and gray) and segregated my clothes. One for lingerie, one for socks, one for workout clothes, one for pants and shirts, one for pajamas…it took less than two minutes to put the puzzle together in my suitcase, and the same to unpack when I arrived at my hotel. I took a couple of extra cubes packed flat so that I could shift dirty clothes into them, and Eagle Creek even has some that are two-sided, so that you can have clean on one side and dirty on the other! By keeping my clothes in the cubes inside the hotel drawers, repacking was a cinch.

iPod touch : with travel Apps

I’ve been an iPod girl for years. Couldn’t live without it. But my 60G Classic is so full of music that it was difficult to use for watching videos, which is the best way to get through a long flight or a weather delay. I thought what I wanted was the snazzy new 160G iPod, after all, with all that room I could load it with all the TV shows and movies I could ever want for a trip. That was until I found out about Apps. I have a phone I like, so when the iPhone hoopla began, I didn’t pay much attention. But then my girlfriend Jenn said I should take a look at the iPod Touch, and when I did, I was an immediate convert. Or I should say, addict. I got the 32G Touch, and proceeded to pillage the Apps store like a mad pirate. Best travel Apps: WiFi Finder to help you locate the nearest WiFi, Zagat/LocalEats/Urbanspoon/Yelp any of which will help you figure out where to eat in most major cities around the world, FlightTrack to help you keep an eye on your flights, iFareFinder to help find the lowest fares (great also for needing to find a replacement flight when yours is cancelled, MyGates to help you get around the world’s major airports. Travel Help can find you local info on hospitals or embassies or other essential contact numbers, Taxi can find you a cab and summon it to your location, Translator will give you the translation of anything you type into all the major languages you might need, plus there are plenty of travel guides and maps for places you might visit. I also love the Kindle for iPod, turning my Touch into an e-book reader, the addictive and soothing game Ancient Frog (you’ll just have to check it out, it is impossible to describe), and the NYT Crosswords App keeps my brain from turning to mush. SportsTap keeps me posted on how my teams are faring, Mobile News gives me the AP updates, and Pandora creates custom radio stations for me based on songs or artists I like. The fact that it is the best little video player on top of it seems like a bonus. (get the anti-glare screen protector…just my advice) If I had to choose the one single best piece of travel equipment from this list for you to invest in, this is it, hands-down.

Your iPod, phone, Blackberry…these are delicate little gadgets and they need protection, especially if you are schlepping them all over creation. But frankly, I’m sick to death of the ubiquitous rubber sheath or hard plastic cases. The plain leather ones at the store are boring, the fun ones are a bit too Generation Text for a professional gal on the go. I know they function well, but I wanted something pretty, and appropriate for a woman over the age of 16. Then I found Vaja Cases, a Buenos Aires company making handcrafted custom leather cases for all of your small electronics. And they are gorgeous. A bit pricy may be your first reaction, but I’ve had my classic iPod in one for over 6 years of heavy-duty use, and the case is still beautiful and looks barely used, and more importantly, the iPod inside looks practically new. I also have them for the iPod Touch as well as my Blackberry, and if they made one for my laptop, I’d invest in that too. With over 32 colors of buttery leather to choose from, not to mention some lovely and sophisticated designs, you’ll want all your small electronics dressed in this stunning couture.


The new mini laptop craze is in full swing, and there are many of these adorable things available in a wide range of prices. For me, I wanted the option of an ultra-portable netbook which would fit easily into my purse, would handle basic e-mail, word processing, and internet, and had decent hard drive capacity. And yes, I wanted it to be adorable! The most craveable one on the market is without a doubt the Sony Vaio P series. These tiny powerhouses are the size of a clutch bag, weigh less than a Chihuahua, and come in four sexy colors. But more importantly, they pack the punch of a much bigger laptop. It will take a bit of time to get used to the half-size screen, but just tell yourself it is the biggest Blackberry screen you’ve ever seen, and you’ll shift your thinking. The keyboard is 85% the same size as a regular one, and took only moments to get used to, and the touchpoint navigation button is instantly intuitive, but they also have a Bluetooth mouse available if you prefer. I wouldn’t want to have to do a ton of business on it, it will never replace your primary laptop, but for vacations or short business trips where you don’t need your whole life with you, but still need to check e-mail, do some review of business documents, and maybe look some things up on the internet, this is the one. It is on the high end of the pricing for netbooks, but that is because it is a serious piece of equipment, with a larger capacity hard drive, and decent processing speed. If the Sony isn’t in your budget, the Aceralso has a very cute one for about half the price, which functions well and also comes in a gorgeous dark copper color…my mom bought this one and loves it!

Okay ladies, this is where the rubber meets the road. This piece of travel gear is my new secret weapon, and I cannot stress enough how much easier it has made my life. The travel jacket has removable sleeves to make a vest and has 22 internal pockets, each designed for specialized use (phone, iPod, book, water bottle, travel documents, glasses etc.) the thing is incredibly sophisticated in terms of design. From the outside, it looks like a basic vest. Underneath it is fully rigged out to carry essentially everything you would normally put in a carry-on bag (laptop excluded, unless you get the Sony Vaio P, in which case it fits perfectly). The vest is designed to distribute the weight evenly, and the internal pockets don’t make bulges, so no one knows how much stuff you have in this thing! Plus it has a patented tech system which allows you to internally install your phone and MP3 player and get the wires where you need them…it even has tiny earbud pockets! It is like having a secret agent bonus carry on bag, and totally fulfills a large percentage of my Alias fantasies. On my last trip mine held: iPod, iPod Touch, Blackberry, cell phone, sunglasses, wallet, travel documents, passport, book, bottle of water, snacks, Kleenex, gum, camera, magazine, airplane charger for iPod, lip gloss, pen, magazine, and on my way home, the small bag of souvenirs I bought in the airport! Amazing.

Chargepod : system

All this gear has one downfall. All those chargers! The size of my charger bag has been growing exponentially, and creating a lot of extra weight in my suitcase. But all that is over. Callpod has created a single unit that can charge all your stuff, in one outlet and at the same time! The Chargepod can charge six small devices all at once. All in its own perfect little carrying case. You can finally leave all those huge chargers and bulky cords at home! Genius. (Stay tuned for their V2 which will be able to charge 3 USB devices, 3 small electronics, and a laptop all at once!)

The new security regulations against carrying on liquids are awful for those of us who travel to wine country. But the good people of Bottlewise have come to the rescue. They have developed a system for packing bottles of wine (or olive oil or honey or whatever else you want to bring home) in your luggage. The padded cases have a heavy-duty internal plastic bag with double zipper, which ensures that even if the unthinkable happens and that bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape does break in your suitcase, the damage is contained within the bag. But with this padding and proper use, you should be able to get your wine or other liquid treats home from abroad safely and securely.

Guide books are great, but heavy to lug around. Part of the fun of a trip is in the planning, and the rest is in the adventures you can’t plan for. These small pocket sized notebooks are the best of all worlds: They come with a full set of maps for the city you choose, and the rest of the book is blank for you to write your own travel guide! I buy one for the city I am visiting as soon as I book the flight, and then fill it in with the information I glean from the travel guides and magazines and online sites I read before I leave. That way I can leave the guidebooks home, and still am able to add the fun discoveries I make along my way to use for a future visit or recommend to friends. A great gift for someone who is planning a trip.

Most of my travel is for business, quick trips that often require I head straight from the airport to a meeting. Comfortable traveling shoes aren’t always that adorable, and a lot of them are difficult to get on and off at security. I have always had a small Imelda-level substance abuse problem with Pumas, I live in them, have them in every color and hue and my friends have attempted to have a Puma intervention for me ever since they found out I have a whole shoe closet devoted to nothing else. (Don’t judge me.) But as much as I love them, the lace-up versions can be tedious when you have to get in and out of them efficiently. Then I found the Puma Simplice. (insert singing of angels here) These adorable ballet style flats have all the comfort and durability I have come to expect of Puma, with kicky satin styling, in a range of awesome colors. They look like a great flat, wear like a sneaker, and best of all, you can step right out and in of them at security without missing a beat. And yes, I did get them in black, brown, navy, pewter, and hot pink, and no, I don’t think that is excessive, and yes, I do think it showed tremendous restraint not to buy the red and white ones too. Best place to buy them, Zappos, (which is actually the best place to buy any shoes).

My trips were unmitigated successes, all three. The Travelpro suitcases show no wear and tear from baggage handling, the Cote du Rhone in its Bottlwise jacket made it safely home intact to give to Dad, unpacking and repacking took less than five minutes at every location, neat little green Eagle Creek cubes lined up in drawers and on shelves in the blink of an eye.
My Sony Vaio P elicited open stares of envy from everyone in the travel lounges and my neighbors on the plane, including a deep sigh from a fellow female traveler who said “That is the sexiest computer EVER.” with an air of longing, and with its ultra-portable size and minimal weight, I could keep it with me on my wanderings in case I happened upon a place with Wifi and could shoot a quick e-mail home. It was great to have at meetings for taking notes or referring to documents.
The Vaja cases still look brand new (as do the little components they house), and the killer combo of my single voltage converter/adapter and my Chargepod meant that everything I needed stayed charged for all my trips and only took up one outlet! My super-secret-agent-spy vest became an essential extra carry-on bag, not to mention a great alternative to a backpack for those day trip excursions, and of course had the perfect pockets for my Moleskine city guide and a pen so I could make fast references to the maps, and remind myself which restaurants I had read about in the area.
I was in and out of my Pumas in the flash of an eye at security, and they were appropriate and adorable at meetings, and handled museum wanderings and Roman ruins climbing with equal finesse. And best of all, my iPod Touch got me through six flights, totaling over 30 hours in the air and twelve hours in the airport lounges, with e-books and movies and TV episodes, and the lovely Apps found me the right Metro stations all over Paris, translated menu items in Provence, found me a decent restaurant for lunch in New York, and got me driving directions in Sun Valley.

Sometimes, being a gear girl can really pay off!


  1. I love this! Super informative, thanks! :)

  2. This information is superb, especially for holiday travel. However, I still yearn for a Dec blog of yours to read. Maybe tell us how your Hanukkah was this year?

  3. I like those cubes. Those are a good idea. I haven't seen those before.

  4. I like that chargers. This will be a handy stuff during road travel.