When I arrived at my hotel on a recent trip to Toronto, I did my usual bed check, pulling back the duvet and casting a careful eye over the mattress and box spring. Fortunately, I saw no telltale reddish brown spots, so there didn’t seem to be any bed bugs lurking between my sheets. But if there had been, I had a line of defense: a 20-inch carry-on suitcase from ThermalStrike.
The suitcase (also available in a 24-inch size) uses infrared technology to heat its contents to a temperature of 140 degrees — hot enough to kill bed bugs and their eggs. To start the heating process, you must load both sides of the suitcase evenly, stand it up, raise the telescoping handle and plug the bag into the wall. The heating process shuts off automatically once the treatment is over. (The company’s Web site offers an estimate of 2.5 hours for the “fatal temperature” to be reached, but in two different tests my carry-on shut itself off within 45 to 60 minutes.)
The suitcase gets hot to the touch during the process, but not to the point of danger; kids or pets touching the case by accident shouldn’t be harmed. Of course, you’ll want to take out anything that might be damaged by heat, such as cosmetics, sensitive electronics and that chocolate bar you’re bringing home for Mom.
Read on for a few of my favorite and least favorite things about the suitcase — and to see how to win it for yourself.
Bed bug concerns aside, the ThermalStrike is a solid carry-on bag. The materials are sturdy and high-quality (with the possible exception of the telescoping handle, which felt a tad flimsy), and it’s an attractive bag inside and out. A built-in TSA-approved lock allows for a little extra security, and the spinner wheels were an upgrade over the rolling upright I’ve been traveling with for the last decade.
Though I don’t believe I was in any danger from bed bugs on this particular trip, treating my clothes and other belongings with the suitcase gave me a little extra peace of mind.
I’m used to traveling with a soft-sided carry-on, which has a couple of external pockets where I can stow things like my quart-size bag of liquids and gels for easy access at security. The hard-sided ThermalStrike carry-on was less convenient on that front; to get my toiletry bag out, I had to lay the suitcase on its side and unzip the main compartment to get to the “quick-access pocket” inside — not ideal in a crowded security line.
The pivoting wheels occasionally seemed to get a little stuck when I tried to turn the suitcase, both in the airport and on a few uneven sidewalks in Toronto.
To run the heating process in countries outside of North America, you’ll need both an adapter for the plug and a converter with a voltage of at least 300 watts. (See Electricity Overseas for more info on this topic.)
At $349 for the carry-on and $399 for the 24-inch suitcase, the price may be beyond the reach of many travelers.
If you can afford the price tag, the peace of mind may be worth it, especially for an otherwise sturdy bag.
Editor’s Note: For those who are asking, the 20-inch carry-on weighs eight pounds, according to the product specs on Amazon.com. The 24-inch suitcase weighs 10.5 pounds.
Want to try it out for yourself? We’re giving away our (gently used) suitcase! Just leave us a comment below by 11:59 p.m. ET on June 11, 2013. We’ll pick one winner at random to win the ThermalStrike carry-on. This giveaway is open only to residents of the lower 48 United States and the District of Columbia. To read the full contest rules, click here.
My greatest weakness as a travel professional? I can’t sleep on planes.
If you’re like me, then you know the feeling of dread that washes over you when you realize that nothing stands between you and an incredible trip to Europe (Asia, South America, etc.) but 12 hours of red-eye misery, cramped in coach class, a hard, unyielding armrest digging into your hips, head banging against the windowshade, legs going numb as you try to contort yourself in the one miracle position that will bring on sleep. And you almost don’t go.
But if you love travel as much as I do, you suck it up and go. In a desperate attempt to make long-haul flights more bearable and find a miracle cure for the sleepless flight, I took four travel pillows with me on a recent trip from San Francisco to Germany and the Netherlands. I chose products that seemed unusual or intriguing. Here’s how they ranked. (Spoiler alert: I barely slept a wink.)
Kuhi Comfort Travel Pillow The Pillow: The Kuhi Comfort Travel Pillow is not your standard-shaped neck pillow. It’s made of two soft cylindrical balls, attached by a strap. The selling point is that you can use it multiple ways. Turn it one way and the curved part is by your neck; flip it around and the flat part is against you. Straighten the strap and you can tuck one end over your shoulder and cuddle the other, put it behind you for back support and place it in your lap to rest a book.
The Flight: I was pretty excited about this one — the design is original and the materials feel high-end. To my disappointment, the fit is just off. The strap is too short and the balls are (ahem) too big. When the pillow was around my neck, I felt surrounded by material. Trying alternate positions didn’t work — the pillow is too bulky for good back support and too short to sling across your body. The final blow: Because the pillow isn’t inflatable, you have to carry it around in its little stuff sack, which attaches nicely to the handle of your rollaboard but dangles awkwardly if you’re carrying a backpack or other bag.
Final Verdict: I wanted to love it, but I just couldn’t make it work.
Cabeau Evolution Pillow The Pillow: The Evolution Pillow is an enhanced version of the standard, plush (non-inflatable) neck pillow. It’s made of memory foam and has raised side supports to cradle your neck — or you can wear the pillow backwards to support your chin. It even has a pocket for your MP3 player. It comes with a travel case and memory-foam earplugs.
The Flight: I was the least excited about the Evolution Pillow, but it was actually really comfortable. I used this one while dozing on an early-morning flight, and I did appreciate the extra head support, the soft material and the absence of the inflatable-pillow plastic smell. However, I would like to see a step-by-step video of how the designers scrunched the pillow down to a quarter of its size and fit it into the stuff sack. I couldn’t even get the entire pillow into the bag, so I couldn’t use the Velcro straps to attach it and it just dangled awkwardly, threatening to fall out.
Final Verdict: Until someone can show me how to make this pillow travel-friendly, I’m sticking with my blow-up model. (Editor’s Note: Cabeau recently offered us the following instructions for packing the pillow.)
EZ Sleep Travel Pillow The Pillow: Imagine a miniature version of an inflatable pool mat that you could stand up like a wall between airplane seats, attached by a Velcro strap around the arm rest. What you see in your mind is the EZ Sleep Travel Pillow. The concept is to create a support structure for you to lean against as you catch some in-flight Z’s, so your body isn’t flopping about like a rag doll.
The Flight: It hit me in the airport — if I have the aisle seat and someone else has the window, I may be too embarrassed to set this inflatable wall up. It’s big and it encroaches into shared territory. Luckily for me, I had two seats to myself. The pillow does not seem as sturdy as the claim — if I really fell asleep on it, I don’t believe it would hold my weight without collapsing onto my seatmate. What it was great for was putting against the armrest or the window to create a soft surface to lean against — preventing hard metal and plastic plane parts from bruising my body as I tossed and turned.
Final Verdict: If you and a family member are sharing adjoining seats, by all means, set this pillow up. Otherwise, it might not be worth packing the EZ Sleep to use in conjunction with another pillow for your head or neck.
Travelrest Travel Pillow The Pillow: Here’s a new one — an inflatable pillow shaped like a banana, or possibly an apostrophe. It’s larger on the top, so you can rest your head, and then tapers into a slight curve (this part slings across your body). A long string at the bottom lets you attach the two ends to secure the pillow around you or your airplane seat.
The Flight: This pillow was hands down my favorite. I contorted my body into all sorts of positions trying to sleep across two airplane seats, and whether I was sitting up or half-lying down, the pillow cradled my head and gave me something to wrap my arms around so they didn’t just dangle uselessly. The only downside was the plasticky smell that plagues all inflatable travel pillows, though perhaps that would go away after a few uses.
Final Verdict: While it didn’t help me sleep, the Travelrest pillow made my attempts more comfortable. I’m keeping this one and will definitely use it again.
Do you want to win one of these travel pillows? We’re giving away the Kuhi Comfort Travel Pillow and the Cabeau Evolution Pillow (both gently used). Just leave a comment below and let us know which pillow you’d prefer by 11:59 p.m. ET on June 9, 2013. We’ll choose a winner for each pillow at random. The contest is open to residents of the 50 United States and the District of Columbia. For the full contest rules, click here.
You’re in a new city and you have the near-unavoidable checklist of sights to see and things to do. Let’s review here: Museums, national parks, historic sites, art installations, so-and-so says this is the home of the world’s best wiener schnitzel — the list could seemingly go on forever.
And while many attractions are simply a case of beholding them (it’s free to stare at the Eiffel Tower but not to climb), entrance fees and related costs add up over the course of a vacation.
So what destination is available in just about every city you’ll visit, is a great porthole into local culture, offers spectacular people-watching as well as potentially free Internet access (handy in a foreign land) and is always free to visit? Libraries! I’m not just talking about Washington D.C.‘s Library of Congress (on many actual to-do lists), but any community building for book loan. You probably grew up visiting your own, from time to time, and never even considered it as a tourist attraction. Admittedly, that’s because some libraries are a tad more impressive than others — not in what they stand for, but perhaps how they stand (picture a repurposed industrial complex in Germany shaped like a Tetris block and filled with books).
Flavorwire recently put together a slideshow of 15 standout libraries from around the world — including one in Denmark featuring a giant mouth that recites poetry aloud, as well as reading nooks resembling birdcages in an eco-retreat at a Thai resort.
Editor’s Note: Slides one and nine represent private, home libraries and while awe-inspiring, are not recommended for your next sightseeing list!
While attending college in Poughkeepsie, NY, I was drawn to study in the library of my friend’s alma mater, Vassar College — not for the millions of pages at hand, lying dormant in their many tomes, but for the Gothic architecture: the marble touches, hidden staircases and stained glass windows. This didn’t improve my grades as much as fuel my wandering imagination, and solidify my appreciation of libraries that appear as grand and mysterious as the knowledge within.
If the library you find doesn’t resemble a cathedral or a giraffe, don’t fret. The volumes you find abroad may not always be in your native tongue, but the communal library experience is guaranteed to be shared. Libraries are often used as a space for community announcements and events, so take advantage of tapping right into the source — find a bulletin board or events calendar (if you can read it) to get a pulse on the area.
Micro Luggage might be the most fun you ever have schlepping your belongings from airport to hotel. It also might be the most impractical way to travel for anyone who is embarking on a trip longer than a weekend.
Micro, a Swiss company known for cutting-edge scooters and kickboards, has made the leap into travel gear, combining a carry-on-sized suitcase with a three-wheeled scooter. A YouTube video (watch it below) shows users gleefully gliding through airports aboard the foot-powered scooter, passing other luggage-dragging suckers stuck with standard rolling bags.
Realistic? Not so much.
Having never set foot on a scooter in my life, I decided to try it in a safe — flat — environment first: the office. The carpet slowed my roll a bit, which was just fine for this beginner. I worked a little on turns, which was an intuitive process (lean left, turn left; lean right, turn right).
Feeling empowered, I decided to give it a true test: an eight-day work trip. Read on to learn how it fared — and find out how to win one for yourself.
Micro Luggage is small — somewhere between the size of a rolling laptop case and a standard carry-on — so I needed to pack an additional suitcase, which meant I wouldn’t be able to use the actual scooter part until after I checked my bag at the airport (you can’t ride a scooter while pulling another bag). While the Micro Luggage pulls behind like a standard roller, it doesn’t roll smoothly or turn easily when using it in this manner. I found myself picking it up far too often because it was “skipping” as I pulled it.
Going through security, I made the mistake of placing the suitcase on the belt wheels down, which caused it to get caught going through the X-ray machine (to be fair, the instructions warned about that; I just didn’t thoroughly read them until I returned from my trip).
The interior has all sorts of neat pockets, but the functionality falls apart when it comes to packing efficiently. You must pay special attention to how you load it, placing heavy stuff in the back and light stuff in the front, to prevent it from tipping over when you’re riding it. The max weight allowed is only about 15 pounds. Also, the handle is large, so you can grip it like a scooter’s handles as you ride it, but this means you can’t slide another bag — such as a laptop bag — over the handle to pull them both at once. I was forced to shoulder my heavy laptop bag, which made my ride feel unbalanced.
It’s completely impractical to ride at full speed (never more than about six miles an hour, as per the instruction booklet) through a crowded airport, unless you want to do some serious damage to fellow passengers or suffer the wrath of security.
This thing is fun. The wheels glide so smoothly that you feel like you’re playing a game rather than slogging through an airport. It also gets you from Point A to Point B much more quickly than it would otherwise take. Once you get the turning down, it’s easy to maneuver. I didn’t actually use the brake, finding it easier to stop by putting my foot to the floor.
Micro Luggage is a great conversation starter. If you’re uncomfortable talking to strangers or getting weird looks, you shouldn’t ride a scooter/suitcase through a busy airport or hotel lobby. But if you’re not shy, you’ll make friends who ask about your sweet ride. At my hotel, the bellhops took turns trying it out, and a girl of about 6 boldly proclaimed it was her turn before I crushed her dream (yes, I felt awful, but “This product is not for children!!” according to the instructions).
It’s sturdy. It accommodated my husband (at 6’4″ and almost 200 pounds) as easily as it accommodated me (at 5’7″ and significantly less than 200 pounds). He had fun testing it out in a parking ramp, though we later discovered that’s another no-no, as Micro Luggage is intended to be used indoors only and on flat surfaces.
While Micro Luggage is a blast, it’s not suitable for heavy travel use. It’s too small and doesn’t accommodate enough weight to be useful for someone who needs to pack, say, a large laptop, a tablet, a camera and other carry-on essentials. The novelty of it is great, but at a retail price of $249, it needs to be more practical.
Want to try it out for yourself? We’re giving away our (gently used) suitcase! Just leave us a comment below by 11:59 p.m. ET on March 15, 2013. We’ll pick one winner at random to win the Micro Luggage. This giveaway is open only to residents of the 50 United States and the District of Columbia. To read the full contest rules, click here.
I love to globetrot, but I’m not the biggest fan of air travel — particularly because I get bored on flights longer than an hour (which, unfortunately, is most of them). Cue SkyMall, the infamous and ubiquitous mail-order catalog found in most seatback pockets. Targeting impulse buyers who have nothing better to do while soaring, it provides a means of procuring “Star Wars” plush toys, talking dog collars, gold-dipped roses and even Harry Potter’s wand. If those examples aren’t ridiculous enough, check out our list of the nine most head-scratching, money-wasting, dust-collecting products from the company’s early spring 2013 catalog.
Editor’s Note: Click on the thumbnail images for a larger view of each product.
9. SkyRest Travel Pillow: If you’ve ever fallen asleep on a flight and woken up with a stiff neck, this lap-based, wedge-shaped travel pillow appears to offer an affordable ($30) solution. Its cumbersome size may initially be a turn-off, but don’t worry — it’s inflatable, ensuring that you’ll thoroughly disturb the person in the seat next to you with all of the huffing and puffing required to blow it up.
8. Nano-UV Wand: Pack this $160 bad boy when you travel, and you can instantly kill dust mites and their eggs on pillows, bedding and carpets, according to the ad. Awesome — now you can sleep on dead bugs instead of bedbugs. If your sheets aren’t what’s worrying you, you can also pick up less expensive models for killing foodbourne bacteria ($60) or for sanitizing dinner plates and tap water while traveling ($100).
7. Bacon Throw and Pillow: Now bacon lovers of the world can do more than just eat it; they can sleep on it, too. This polyester pair is expensive at about $65 for both items, and apart from the hefty price, my question is simply: Why bacon? Why not eggs? Why not pancakes? I’d imagine the hash browns feel pretty left out too.
6. DermaTend: Talk about getting personal. With this handy-dandy tube of miracle cream, you can “safely remove your unwanted moles and skin tags at home.” Ranging in price from $40 to $100 (depending, of course, on how many moles you have), this product can be described in one word: gross.
5. Porch Potty: Has your pooch ever wanted his very own patch of synthetic grass on which to do his business? This wicker-enclosed 52″ x 6″ faux lawn — including a drain hose for outdoors, a catch basin for indoors and a scented fire hydrant — is certainly one step up from a Wee-Wee Pad, but at $260, it should be. For an extra $20, they’ll even throw in a sprinkler system to clean the Porch Potty. (After all, if you’re too lazy to take your dog outside in the first place, it’s likely you’ll also be too lazy to clean this darn thing.)
4. Tabletop Photo Studio: If you find yourself wanting to take professional photos on the go, be sure to pick up this portable 40-inch foldable photo studio ($200), which will give you the perfect shot … after you set up one of four backdrops, a tripod, two lights and whatever it is you’re hoping to photograph. For a smaller — but equally intricate and infuriating — experience, you can always try the 20-inch one instead ($100).
3. Bigfoot, the Garden Yeti: Pink flamingos are SO last-century. If you agree, show your disdain by snagging yourself one of these statues. It’s sure to be a conversation-starter at any garden party. (“Pssst! Did you SEE that thing? It’s so tacky!”) Ranging in height from 21″ to nearly 6 feet, medium ($90), large ($125) and life-size ($2,250) versions are available. Oh, and don’t forget to budget up to $200 extra for delivery charges.
2. Mounted Squirrel Head: Don’t hunt? Don’t worry! Pretend you do with this disturbing and not-at-all-lifelike squirrel head … and torso … and arms. Ew. This item is perfect for anyone interested in glorifying roadkill or a “Deliverance” revival. I beg you, spend your $25 elsewhere.
1. iGrow Hair Rejuvenation: If you’re in flight and really wishing you had more hair, this is one product you won’t want to pass up. Expose your scalp to 51 lasers and LED lights that will regrow what nature has taken away. This gadget, which will set you back a cool $695, looks like a cross between a space-age bicycle helmet and unnecessarily large headphones (for use with the built-in iPod interface, naturally). Whether you’re a male or a female, you’ll look stunning in this … contraption.
… check your pulse. VisitScotland has just released a new video featuring two adorable Shetland ponies named Fivla and Vitamin, standing on a barren winter hillside in cozy-looking wool cardigans. The video was shot to promote the Year of Natural Scotland, a celebration of the region’s glens, lochs, mountains, wildlife and other natural attractions. Check it out:
After watching this, the first thing I wondered was just how they got the ponies into those stylish sweaters! Luckily, VisitScotland has provided a video of that too.
Now I want to do two things: Book a trip to Scotland — and figure out how to get a Shetland pony as a pet.
‘Tis the season for travel shows! If you’re interested in getting first-hand recommendations from destination experts, checking out cultural performances and cooking demonstrations, listening to talks by travel celebs like Rick Steves or Pauline Frommer, or even winning a free trip, you might want to consider attending one of these upcoming travel trade shows around the U.S. and Canada.
From misspellings and incorrect translations to messages that elicit a big, fat “duh,” we’ve all seen signs that have made us chuckle. Inspired by the folks over at AOL Travel, here are a few of the amusing ones the editors here at IndependentTraveler.com have captured, whether far from home or right down the road.
During a European river cruise on Avalon Visionary, we spotted this sign in our cabin bathroom — right above the toilet. Good thing we weren’t hoping to flush any Oreos or cartons of milk.
This shot, snapped in Portland, Oregon, isn’t exactly a side-splitter, until we tell you that it was taken a mere step from the river itself, making the bottom arrow just a tad obvious.
When we landed at Chicago‘s Midway Airport, we saw this gem upon exiting the terminal. In Amsterdam, we get it … but in Illinois, not so much.
Take your chances at this business in Annapolis, Maryland, which we assume is also “open: sometimes.”
Posted in the parking lot near the entrance to the Oosterbeek War Cemetery in Arnhem, Netherlands, you’ll find this message. We aren’t sure what it means, but you may want to lock your vehicle.
This not-so-subtle threat serves as a gentle reminder that you shouldn’t throw anything (especially cigarette butts) overboard on MSC Poesia, which carried us on a cruise through the Western Caribbean last year.
If you’ve ever wished for a crystal ball, you might be in luck — at least as far as air travel is concerned. Imagine the scenario: You’re flying home for Christmas, presents crammed carefully into your carry-on. After arriving at the airport, you learn that due to impending snow, your flight has been delayed by hours or, worse, canceled completely. Talk about a holiday headache. That’s where KnowDelay comes in.
The new service, which covers 36 of the United States’ busiest airports, uses a combination of weather tracking and airline flight schedules to predict when your flight might be impacted by impending bad weather.
It’s free to sign up, and when you create an account, you can have “Captain Delay” — the mastermind behind the site — track your flights and send you alerts, allowing you to know as far as three days in advance whether you should attempt to rebook before your flight is canceled.
KnowDelay will also provide you with a list of alternate flights that are available, should you choose to change your plans. Keep in mind that you may face change fees for rebooking or canceling your itinerary in advance (although airlines often waive these during severe weather events). For some travelers, paying a change fee may be cheaper in the end than having to shell out for a hotel during a weather delay or missing an important client meeting.
If you’re a last-minute traveler and you’re booking your flight within three days of your trip, you can use KnowDelay proactively to determine which flights are ideal and which ones to avoid.
Here’s a more in-depth look at how the service works:
Have you had a flight delay fiasco in the past? Share your story below.
What do you do with your expired passports? If you’re anything like me, you’ve got them sitting in a box in the back of a closet somewhere, along with other fading mementoes of past trips. But one traveler we know has a more creative idea: “Since an old passport has a punched hole in the upper left hand corner, it sounds like a Christmas ornament for hanging to me!”
Old passports aren’t the only souvenirs that Chicago-based travel writer Kit Bernardi has transformed into holiday decorations. “Our Christmas tree has been travel-themed for years with funky, not-meant-to-be ‘ornaments’ that remind us of great travel memories,” Bernardi told us. Below is a snapshot of her family’s freshly decorated Fraser fir tree, which offers a glimpse of some of their favorite journeys.
Here’s what’s on Bernardi’s tree, in her own words: “Next to one of my retired passports there’s a springbok’s horn ‘love potion’ powder carrier with an ostrich egg shell bead strap from Namibia, a gift from the Bushman tribe we camped with; a geisha doll’s shoe from Kyoto, Japan; hanging off the branch left of the passport is a red, mini-devil’s mask from Carnival in Brazil; a dream catcher from a family snowmobile trip in Jackson Hole, WY, is next to a terra cotta ‘kitchen god’ from Santa Fe, NM; a carved bone horn for a necklace from Botswana is sort of behind it; an acacia seed pod from Zimbabwe is hooked over the branch above the passport; a paper Chinese doll from Beijing is below the passport. And that’s just a sampling.”