Last week, we published a slideshow of the World’s Ugliest Luggage, highlighting suitcases that challenge the boundaries of taste, color, common sense … or all of the above. In response, reader Dona Stewart sent in a few ugly luggage photos of her own:
Gotta love that 70′s powder blue!
But it turns out that these less-than-stylish suitcases are being used for a higher purpose. Said Stewart, “I collected all of those suitcases (priced under $5 each, most $1) for my favorite small dog rescue. They made dog beds out of them, truly an up-cycle project. They sell on Etsy.com for $50 – $150 apiece.
“The idea to use the castoffs as a pet bed came from observing one’s pet jump into a suitcase opened for packing, often with a sad look,” Stewart continued. “My little Yorkie, Lana, jumped right into her suitcase bed the moment I placed it on the floor. Her ‘bed’ serves a dual purpose; when she is ready to go stay with her pet sitter while we travel, I use it to pack her ‘stuff.’”
All together now: “Aww!” We give this idea two paws up for turning travel trash into treasure.
Traveling is a pricey proposition, and flying adds even more nickel-and-dime expenses to your tab. Checked baggage fees. Extra leg room fees. In-flight movie fees. Wouldn’t it be great if you could get someone else to pay for your airport parking while you globetrot?
FlightCar, a new company based in California, may soon match up travelers looking for rental cars with travelers who have cars sitting, unused, in long-term airport parking lots.
According to the company’s Web site, the idea hasn’t yet come to fruition, but the service is slated to launch later this year in Oakland and San Jose.
What’s in it for renters? Cars rented through FlightCar will supposedly be up to 50 percent cheaper than cars rented through standard rental companies like Hertz, Avis or Enterprise.
What’s in it for rentees? Your car will be earning you money — instead of costing you — while you travel. Plus, FlightCar will even clean your vehicle for you, pre- and post-rental. When you register online, you can set the daily rate and the mileage limit, and each car is insured up to $1 million, according to the company’s Web site.
For more info, check out the video:
What’s your take? Would you let a stranger drive your car while you’re out of town? Share your comments below.
Ballet flats can be ideal for travel. They’re small and easy to pack. They’re almost always cute and they go with many different outfits. But – and this is a big but – they can be iffy when it comes to comfort. So when Tieks, an online retailer of the “reinvented” ballet flat, asked us to test their shoes, which they claim you can “wear all day, every day,” we decided to take them up on their offer. After all, a truly comfortable pair of stylish ballet flats we could travel everywhere with would be an amazing find.
I picked a clover green pair of the shoes (there are more than 35 colors to choose from) and waited for them to arrive.
When they did arrive I was in for a small treat. The shoes come in a pretty box, wrapped with a flower bow. I expected to open the box and pull out the shoes, but no, it’s not that simple. The box is full of goodies besides the shoes, which come tucked into their folded-up style. There’s a small black stretchy carrying case for the flats, a larger scrunchable bag to throw your heels into if you’re switching shoes and several clips to pin up your trousers for going from heels to flats.
But the shoes were what I was really interested in and I immediately slipped them on.
It was apparent right away that they were cute – and I’ve since gotten numerous compliments on them. Their comfort was also immediately obvious. They just molded to my feet. The leather is soft and bends easily. It felt more like slipping on a pair of comfy house slippers than putting on shoes.
But I work at a desk all day. How do they hold up when you’re out and about, I wondered. After a week of wearing them to the office every day I finally had a chance to street test them when the entire IndependentTraveler.com company hit the streets of Princeton for a scavenger hunt. I spent nearly two hours running around 10 square blocks.
They did okay. The first hour was fine, but after that I could feel a sore spot slowly growing on the bottom of my left foot. By the time I sat down for dinner, I had a bona fide blister. So I probably won’t wear them again for heavy-duty walking – sorry, no walking tours through Paris in these shoes. But for a casual stroll, yeah, I’d slip them on.
So, are these shoes good for traveling? Definitely. Even if I can’t wear them for a day of sightseeing by foot, these shoes are so easy to pack. When folded in half inside their carrying case, they really don’t take up more space than a camera. If I want to wear heels on the plane but don’t want to sit in them, I can easily switch them for the flats. They make great dinner shoes, because they really are stylish. For a moderate day of walking, they’re perfect as well.
There is one drawback to these shoes, however. Definitely geared toward the trendy jetsetter, the price tag is quite steep. The clover green pair I selected cost $165 – and that’s the least expensive option! Other price points are $195, $235, $265 and $295.
I rarely spend more than $75 on a pair of shoes, so even at their lowest price point these shoes are out of my budget range. Besides, I’d find it difficult to justify spending $200 or more for a pair of ballet flats. But they certainly are cute and comfy, so if you’ve got the means and you don’t mind shelling out the bucks for fashion, then I say go for it. I doubt you’ll regret it.
Plane tickets, hotel reservations, copies of your passport and credit cards: Would you trust your most sensitive travel documents to a cell phone app? We were skeptical, so we tested it for ourselves.
We first checked out Web site www.personal.com, where we created an account and added “gems” — categories under which you can upload and save everything from contacts to bank statements. (For our purposes, we tested out the travel gem, where we stored passport copies, trip itineraries and flight information.)
Overall, we found the site a little tricky to use — there are still some pages we can’t figure out how to get back to — but the cell phone app, available for iPhone and Android, proved a bit easier to navigate. The app allows you to easily access your important information on the go, even while abroad, without incurring crazy international fees. The best part? It’s free to download.
So, how secure is it? Personal.com’s Web site promises all information is encrypted, and your account is also protected by a username-and-password login combination. There are ways to share gems, but much like Facebook, users have to request to share information with other users before it can be seen by others, and each user has the right to deny said requests.
As part of its newest software updates, Apple has released a program called Passbook, which, through various applications, offers functions similar to those afforded by Personal.com. We haven’t had much time to test it out, but it seems these sorts of paper-saving features are becoming more common.
Overall, we’re still unsure how safe these services are — especially if a phone containing sensitive documents were lost or stolen — but they sure do make traveling a lot more convenient.
Have you used applications like this? If not, would you consider it? If so, how was your experience? We welcome your comments below.
I still remember the first time I saw the movie “Koyaanisqatsi” back in the 80′s. It was my first introduction to time-lapse film, and I found the combination of sped-up images and music to be moving in a way few things are.
Today time-lapse video is more common, and a quick search through YouTube turns up videos of flowers growing, children aging and buildings developing. But my favorite videos are those that show mountains, lakes, monuments or cities over the course of a day or week in just a minute’s worth of time.
Forget flipping through a picture book — I never want more to travel than after watching a day unfold somewhere in the world I haven’t yet been.
Here are a few time-lapse travel videos that will inspire you to travel.
Speeding Around The World in Under 5 Minutes
This time-lapse video spans 17 countries visited over the course of 343 days. Among the countries highlighted are England, France, Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Thailand and Uruguay.
New York City
A great time-lapse glimpse at the city that never sleeps.
Some of Paris’ most iconic sights zip through time in this video.
It’s Packing Week here at IndependentTraveler.com, and we’re celebrating by giving away a free handbag. One lucky blog subscriber will win a Villa Cross Body bag from eBags.
This is a great bag for travelers because the strap across the chest makes it more difficult for would-be thieves to snatch. It’s also got plenty of pouches and zippable pockets, including interior sleeves for smartphones or sunglasses. The removable strap is 1.25 inches wide and can be adjusted to suit your torso. At 10.5 x 10.5 x 2 inches, the bag gives you plenty of storage space without being too bulky. And it comes in six different colors: black, navy, sunset, eggplant, sandstone and espresso.
The bag retails on eBags.com for $29.99, but if you want a chance to pick up a free one, just subscribe to our weekly blog mailings. Enter your e-mail address here or in the top-right corner of this page before Tuesday, June 19 at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time for a chance to win. All readers who are already subscribed are eligible for the giveaway.
The pants worked. I wasn’t pickpocketed on a recent Eastern Mediterranean trip.
Whether it was the P^Cubed “Pick-Pocket Proof Pants,” a test sample of which was recently sent to our sister site Cruise Critic to review, is hard to say. Wandering the narrow, cobbled streets and open squares of one Mediterranean city, I noticed a man who could have been a thief — the greedy looking type with a gold tooth and moist eyes. I think he ogled the pants, with their button-secured flaps hiding deep zipper pockets, and secret zipper pockets within zipper pockets, and thought better. You can’t burgle a walking money belt.
Paranoid hallucinations aside, the odds that you will be pickpocketed on the road depend on many factors — most of which the savvy traveler will be able to mitigate, whether he’s wearing pants or not. (Many savvy travelers do don trousers of some sort.)
Still, confidence is a valuable asset when visiting a strange, new destination — as those who’ve suffered the sickening violation of being robbed abroad so suddenly learn. PPP Designer Adam Rapp said a near-miss with a team of cut purses at Xian, China’s notoriously congested Bell Tower were the inspiration behind the product.
I haven’t had the pleasure of finding a stranger’s hand in my pocket, so it helps, too, that the PPP’s are about more than just their marketing angle and the system of zipper-, button- and secret-pocket-based deterrents. The front pockets are big — small guidebook-size big — and the light, dense material is stain, water and wrinkle resistant. The “Business Traveler” model (there’s also a cargo-style version, the “Adventurer”) is stylish enough to wear to a restaurant. Add a black blazer and some dress shoes, and you won’t be seated next to the kitchen.
The stain, water and wrinkle claims basically held up — the pants resist all three. If you end up crumpled in a fetal position after a rainy Tomatina, expect the worst. But if you’re just a run-of-the-pants everyday slob, you’re in luck. Hot sauce intended for my mouth streamed off a slice of pizza and onto my lap, where the Teflon-coated fabric rendered the liquid into tiny orange beads. Some sauce sank in, but later, water, mild hand soap and a slightly abrasive towel took care of the remaining splotches.
For me, the one downside was printed on the price tag. If you’ve got a pants ceiling of $30, spending $100, the cost of the Business Traveler, might not be in the cards. But Adam makes the case for flashing your wallet. It comes down to the materials — special zippers, rugged thread that you can’t break “without hurting your hand” (I tried), the highest-grade Teflon and the overall utility of the pant. It also takes 120 minutes of labor to produce one pair, compared to the 20 minutes an average pantsmaker spends on a pair of chinos, said Adam. Am I convinced? Not exactly, but that may speak to why I’ve never been a target for pickpocketing in the first place.
Do you feel as though you are nickel and dimed — or more like $10′d and $25′d — to death when you travel? It seems that as you plan your trip budget, you have to allow for about one-third again of the costs in fees. Of course, many charges you can avoid. But wouldn’t it be nice to throw budgets to the wind and treat yourself to that $8 airline meal or $15 late hotel check-out?
With the new online subscription rebate service Feecation.com, you can. Here’s how it works: You pay a membership fee of $14.97 per month. Within 30 days of incurring a fee while traveling (consult the list of payable fees under the site’s terms of service), you send proof of payment via either e-mail (use your smartphone to take a picture of the receipt and e-mail it while still on vacation to streamline the process) or the U.S. Postal Service. Then, within three to six weeks, you should receive your refund.
How much will that refund be? Feecation.com will cover $10 per instance of incremental airline fees up to $500 per year, and $10 for each hotel, car rental and Wi-Fi fee up to $250 per year in each category. Theoretically, you could be reimbursed $1,250 each year, which more than covers the cost of membership. To make the cost of membership worth the $179.64 a year, you should travel often enough to incur at least 18 charges and also be organized enough to actually send in your receipts.
Four new Web sites claim to either save users bundles of money on hotels or match them to the right property based on a variety of personal parameters. IndependentTraveler.com fiddled around with the sites to see which ones are worth your time and which you shouldn’t bother with.
Show Me the Money
Less than a year old, BackBid.com gets hotels to bid on your business.
You start by already having a hotel reservation in a city. You enter your hotel reservation with dates of travel and competing hotels send you bids in an attempt to lure you away. Bids can be in the form of money-saving discounts or value-added services, like upgraded rooms, free breakfasts or parking fee waivers. If you like a bid, you can claim it; if you don’t, just keep your original reservation. Keep in mind, if you take a bidder up on their offer you’ll need to cancel your original reservation – beware of cancellation penalties!
Travelers without hotel reservations simply enter their travel plans to get bids from hotels in their city of choice.
BackBid claims to provide competitor rates that cover all U.S. cities, and plans to expand into other countries eventually.
IndependentTraveler.com’s Take: BackBid looks promising but we haven’t yet received a bid from a hotel. If bids are few and far between, the site won’t be around for too long. However, it costs only a few minutes of your time to give it a try. Who knows? Maybe you’ll get an offer you can’t refuse!
Guestmob.com is another relatively new travel booking site, which claims to use algorithms to find deals up to 50 percent off Internet prices – what it calls the “magic price.” The catch: You don’t know which hotel you’re staying at until one to six days prior to check-in.
It’s not as dangerous as you might think since when you do a hotel search, the site returns one or more hotel collections composed of four to eight hotels, all of the same star ranking (as determined by Guestmob). If you decide to book a magic rate, you are guaranteed a stay in one of the hotels within the collection you chose. Additionally, if you find out what hotel you’re staying at and you don’t like it, you can cancel any reservation up to three days before your stay and get a full refund. Of course, if you don’t get your hotel notification before that three-day time period, you’re out of luck on the refund.
A quick search for Seattle for Aug. 9 to 18 returned two collections – one 3.5-star and one 4-star. The magic price for the 3.5-star collection was $160, while the magic price for the 4-star collection was $174. A comparison search on Hotwire for the four hotels in the 3.5-star collection came up with prices $17 to $85 higher.
The site currently only offers hotels in 20 U.S. cities.
IndependentTraveler.com’s Take: Because you’re not selecting a hotel completely blind, we see no reason not to give Guestmob a chance. The site does claim it offers deeper discounts to people who sign in via Facebook – thus sharing their travel plans with their Facebook friends. However, we didn’t test this, choosing to register via e-mail instead.
Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make Me a Match
Still in its infancy, CasaHop.com is a social networking platform designed to aid people in finding homeswaps. Unlike other home exchange networks, CasaHop works through Facebook. So for the most part you’re networking with friends, family and friends of friends/family. The more public you’re willing to make your CasaHop profile, the broader the network you can exchange with.
Right now all you can do on the site is sign up via Facebook and enter information about your house, your neighborhood and your own vacation interests. The database and interactive community functions are scheduled to go live over the next few weeks.
In theory, by networking through Facebook, you’re avoiding swaps with “total” strangers. However, for those who are hesitant about sharing personal information on Facebook, CasaHop may not be right for you. In order for the site to work effectively you do need to enter a significant amount of personal information about your home and community, including photos.
IndependentTraveler.com’s Take: We’re leery of entering too much personal information, but for those who don’t mind, we say go for it.
A second match-making site, seriously in a beta testing phase, is simplehoney.com. This site claims to match users to accommodations based on their travel personality, assessed through a couple of short quizzes. But the site has so few hotels in its database that the matches seem a bit of a stretch right now.
IndependentTraveler.com’s Take: The jury’s out. According to the hotel matching page, they currently offer only hotel matches in California and Hawaii. But at the bottom of every search we’ve done, hotels in Vancouver and Nicaragua appear, which makes us think they’re throwing advertisers into the results. Another bad sign — while free at the moment, it says there will eventually be a one-time membership fee of $100. But for what? The two personality tests do offer a moment’s diversion, but for now we don’t think the site is worth your time.
In a recent poll, more than 77 percent of IndependentTraveler.com readers told us that they keep a travel journal during some or all of their trips — and I’m one of them.
Over the past decade, I’ve filled two and a half journals with scribbles about watching the sun rise in Morocco, hunting for “Lord of the Rings” sites in New Zealand and spotting totem poles in Vancouver. I’ve jotted down restaurants I wanted to recommend to friends and e-mail addresses for locals I wanted to keep in touch with. And at the end of every trip, when I get home and start sorting through hundreds and hundreds of photos, consulting my journal helps me figure out where I might’ve snapped those shots of fountains or flower boxes.
You can record your own trip memories in this attractive journal from Paperblanks, which we’re giving away to one lucky reader. The blue and gold cover is embossed with the writings of William Wordsworth, including quotes from his famous poem “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” (also known as “Daffodils”).
Aside from its old-fashioned beauty, we like the journal for its convenient size — just 4″ by 5.5″, perfect to slip into your purse or jacket pocket — and for the magnetic cover that keeps the book shut when you’re done writing. This journal retails for $14.95.
To win the journal, leave a comment below by Monday, May 7, at 11:59 p.m. ET. Be sure to include a valid e-mail address so we can contact you in case you win. We’ll choose a winner on Tuesday.