Home

Explore. Experience. Engage.

Home Travel Tips Travel Deals Destinations Trip Reviews Blog
The IndependentTraveler.com Blog

If you’re looking for a lightweight carry-on that you could also bring on a hike or take to the gym, consider the new High Sierra 22″ Duffel Backpack. As the name suggests, you can wear it on your back or carry it over your shoulder, making it a versatile option for various types of trips. The bag retails for $89.99.

We took the bag on a couple of quick holiday trips to test out its features — and here’s what we found.

high sierra 22 inch duffel backpack


The Good
It’s got plenty of compartments: Two side-loading compartments are ideal for stowing shoes separately from clothes, and you can tuck your phone or glasses case into the fleece-lined front pocket. An internal mesh pocket can hold dirty laundry. One caveat: It can be awkward to pack around items in the side compartments, which jut into the main section of the bag.

You can carry it multiple ways: You can grab the bag via sturdy handles on either side, or use the two straps on top to wear it as a backpack. You can also Velcro the top straps together to put the bag over your shoulder.

It’s lightweight and easy to stow: The bag weighs less than two pounds and, because it doesn’t have wheels or a rigid internal structure, is easy to stuff into the overhead compartment of a plane.

It’s water-resistant: When we poured water on the outside of the bag, the liquid immediately beaded up and ran off the side. The bag isn’t fully waterproof, so if you’re in a downpour it’ll eventually soak through, but your stuff should be protected well enough in light rain.

high sierra 22 inch duffel backpack


The Bad
It could use a longer shoulder strap: The company suggests that you can combine the grab handles into a single cross-body shoulder strap, but they’re not quite long enough to make this comfortable, especially for taller and/or larger travelers. A longer clip-on shoulder strap would have been a nice touch.

It doesn’t have wheels: If you’ve stuffed the bag full, it could get heavy during long treks between airport terminals. (Note that High Sierra offers a number of wheeled duffel bags and backpacks if you’re seeking those alternatives.)

It might be too big to carry on: The bag measures 22 x 14 x 12 inches, which exceeds some airlines’ carry-on restrictions. (American Airlines, for instance, limits carry-ons to a total of 45 inches, or 22 x 14 x 9.) That said, because the bag is so soft and flexible, you could easily squeeze it into the airline’s sizer if it’s not completely full.

There’s only one color: The bag is a new product and so far is only available in black with bright yellow-green trim.

Want to give this bag a try? We’re giving away our gently used black High Sierra 22″ Duffel Backpack! Just leave a comment below by 11:59 p.m. ET on Monday, January 25, 2016. We’ll pick one winner at random to win the bag. 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.

Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner is Susan David. Congratulations!

We received a free sample of this bag from High Sierra for the purpose of reviewing it and giving it away to a reader. All products are accepted with the understanding that we will review them in a way that honestly reflects our experience — good, bad or indifferent.

— written by Sarah Schlichter

stocking beach holiday christmasRaise your hand if you’ve scrambled at the last minute to fill a Christmas stocking. We’re all usually focused on bigger gifts, leaving stockings to get stuffed from the mishmash of small, nominally priced items in the checkout aisle of a big-box retailer.

This Christmas, I’ll be filling stockings with as much care as I hang them. Here are indulgent and practical items under $20 that your travel-happy loved ones will appreciate (listed in order from least to most expensive):

Mini-funnels: How many times have you tried to fill those travel-sized bottles, only to end up with shampoo oozing down the side? These little funnels prevent gooey messes. Price: $1.29 for three

Bottle-top humidifier: This is ideal for frequent hotel guests who find their rooms too dry. You simply screw the device onto a bottle of water and plug in using the included USB cord. Price: $5.61

Soft-sided bottle: Airports’ filtered water fountains and bottle refill stations are handy, but hard-sided plastic or aluminum water bottles don’t often fit well in the seatback pocket on an airplane. A soft-sided, pouch-like water bottle is a great solution. This one holds 34 ounces. Price: from $6.93

Waterproof labels for toiletries: I’ve used masking tape and Sharpies to make labels for my toiletries for years, but they look low-brow and don’t last very long. These vinyl, waterproof, reusable labels from the Etsy shop ElvaandJune are much prettier, with custom shapes and printed patterns. Price: $8.91

RFID-blocking passport wallet: Savvy hackers employ wireless devices to steal your identity by reading the Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) info on your credit card and passport. Thwart their attempts by using a wallet that cannot be penetrated by wireless signals. This wallet stows cash, credit cards and a passport. Price: $9.99

Lavender chamomile pillow mist: I use linen sprays like these to freshen up stale-smelling sheets, spritz worn clothing and help immortalize the memory of a trip, as I wrote about in September. This particular scent isn’t overpowering and could appeal to men and women. Price: $10

Luxury-brand toiletries: Most of us either refill bottles with the shampoo and lotion brands we have at home or buy whatever’s cheapest at the local pharmacy. Why not indulge your loved one with a luxury brand, such as Bvlgari or Kiehl’s? Price: from $10

Portable battery charger: Before you purchase a portable battery charger as a gift, make sure you know what brand of smartphone your loved one owns. This sleek, eight-ounce model works on iPhones, Androids, BlackBerries and other devices. Price: $11.45

Sleep mask: Not only does this mask do superb work blocking out light, but it also contours around your eyes — you can actually still blink when it’s on — and it doesn’t slip down your nose. Comes with free earplugs. Price: $12.80

Gadget organizer: This is the perfect companion for a long-haul flight: a nylon pouch with tons of tight elastic loops, pockets and pouches to keep all your little items organized. You’ll never have to root around on the floor for your lost pen or lip balm again. Price: $15.19

Neck rest: Unlike a standard neck pillow, the Releaf Neck Rest prevents you from becoming a sound-asleep bobblehead, because it supports all of your neck, not just the back and sides. Price: $19.99

For more ideas, check out 10 Unexpected Holiday Travel Gifts.

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

There’s a clever new bag in town for travelers who want to stay organized on their next trip. It’s called Oregami, and it involves an innovative system of interior compartments that are part shelf, part packing cube. The three zipped-together compartments fold neatly into and out of the suitcase, and can be separated if you want to stow them in drawers or keep them in different parts of a hotel room. Check out the video below to see the design in action:


The Oregami Touring 100 suitcase measures 30 inches high, 15 inches wide and 12 inches deep, and retails for $399.97 on the Oregami website. It’s currently only available in black, but a “fossil”-colored (light brown) model is coming soon, with a carry-on size to follow.

Sarah Schlichter, senior editor of IndependentTraveler.com, and Lissa Poirot, editor-in-chief of sister site Family Vacation Critic, teamed up to test the bag in a variety of settings. Lissa took the suitcase on a cruise with her son, while Sarah and her fiance shared the bag over a weekend car trip. Here’s what they loved — and what they weren’t so fond of:

The Good
It’s an organized person’s dream: What better tool to provide a Type A, organized personality than a bag with different compartments, each with zippered covers? If you love packing cubes, you’ll appreciate this bag.

It’s easy to unpack: Lissa’s favorite thing about the suitcase was being able to unzip each tray and slip them into the drawers on her cruise ship. She had packed her son’s clothes in one tray, her own in another and bathroom items in the third, so everything had a place.

It’s customizable: If you only need one or two of the trays, it’s easy to unzip them from each other and leave behind the ones you don’t need.

It’s made of high-quality materials: The bag feels sturdy, and we liked that the wheels are a standard size for in-line skates, making them easy to replace if necessary.

oregami suitcase


The Bad
It’s heavy: The bag weighs 14 pounds when it’s empty — more than a quarter of your weight allowance for checked bags on most airlines. If you tend to be a heavy packer, you might struggle to avoid overweight fees.

It’s not the most efficient use of space: Travelers who are more interested in maximizing every square inch of a suitcase than in staying organized will find it frustrating to try to work everything into or around bulky rectangular compartments. (This is the same reason ultra-light traveler Sarah is not a fan of packing cubes.)

It’s not a grab-and-go bag: If you need to access an item that you didn’t put in the top tray, you’ll have to lay out the suitcase, then unzip and undo the compartments until you reach the one where your item is stored. (With an ordinary suitcase, it’s easier to simply unzip and root around.)

It’s not easy to maneuver in crowded spaces: The suitcase rolls smoothly, but its short handle keeps the bag very close, making it difficult to turn quickly when moving through crowded airports. It doesn’t pivot or turn and is best-suited for easy, direct walks.

Want to give this bag a try? We’re giving away our gently used black Oregami Touring 100 suitcase! Just leave a comment below by 11:59 p.m. ET on Monday, December 21, 2015. We’ll pick one winner at random to win the suitcase. This giveaway is open only to residents of the United States. To read the full contest rules, click here.

Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner of the suitcase is Mary Fortin. Congratulations!

— written by Sarah Schlichter and Lissa Poirot

orion luggage adsWould you shelve your favorite piece of luggage and instead use a bag plastered with advertisements if it meant you didn’t have to pay airlines’ checked bag fees anymore?

It’s an intriguing idea, especially for families and frequent travelers who spend several hundreds of dollars a year merely to hand off their luggage before a flight. A former Continental Airlines flight attendant dreamed up this concept, in which you’re paid to use a piece of luggage that’s enveloped in an ad for the U.S. Army or an upcoming Hollywood blockbuster or another big brand.

“A family wants to travel to Disney World and it will cost them $250 in baggage fees, and that makes a dent in their budget,” creator Gary German told TODAY.com. “I want to alleviate that.”

Participants sign up on the website of German’s company, Orion Travel Tech of Celebration, Florida, which is waiving the $19.99 sign-up fee for the first 1 million people. Beginning in February, participants will receive two pieces of wheeled luggage in the mail — a 21-inch carry-on and an expandable, 25-inch checked bag. The bags are made of hard-back plastic, and each bag will have a non-removable advertisement molded directly into it.

Each time you travel and check the bag, Orion will deposit a roundtrip fee of $50 on a special gift card that can only be used to pay for checked luggage fees at your airport check-in counter.

7 Smart Ways to Bypass Baggage Fees

The brands advertising on the bags haven’t been announced yet, but Orion’s website is showing samples with logos from Verizon, General Motors — and how’s this for irony? — Southwest Airlines! German said participants will get to choose which ad is on their luggage.

“Most people have corporate logos on their luggage now and they’re not getting paid for it,” German said.

He’s got a point. People have had advertisements on their luggage for years. Remember the now-vintage luggage labels that travelers used to stick on their steamer trunks and suitcases to brag about where they’d been? Surprise — they were brilliant advertisements for hotels, ski resorts and tourism destinations.

Plus, ads are plastered all over airports as it is, so what are a few more?

Today.com reports that the suitcases will come with a few fun extras, including airport lounge access and a tampering alert system to warn you if someone breaks into your bag.

Weigh in: Would you carry advertising-covered luggage if it meant you didn’t have to pay checked bag fees?

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

Like many travelers these days, I prefer to pack light and fly with nothing but a carry-on. I hate the lines for checking luggage, waiting in crowds at baggage carousels and hoping against hope that my checked bag didn’t get lost in transit. Airlines, though, keep adjusting allowable carry-on sizes, and some, like Frontier and Spirit, charge you for a carry-on that must be stowed in the overhead bin.

So naturally, I was intrigued by the CarryOn Free bag, which is designed to be a suitcase that fits underneath your seat — even on Spirit — which makes it a “personal item” and is, thus, free to travel with. The bag retails for $69.99. I gave it a whirl for a three-day getaway to Vegas and a two-day trip to New York City. Read on to learn how it fared — and find out how to win one for yourself.

carryon free


The Good
It fits! The bag’s design is unique. It’s a true rolling suitcase with a telescopic handle, but it’s compact, and the top is narrower than the base so it can be slid under a seat. And at 16 inches tall, 14 inches wide and 12 inches deep, it really does fit. We tried it on a United flight and found that it didn’t require any fancy maneuvering.

It’s sturdy: This is not a flimsy suitcase that feels cheap. The polyester fabric is thick and doesn’t stain easily. The handle, which extends to 40 inches, isn’t shaky, as we’ve seen with some suitcases. The zippers operate smoothly, and the fabric inside seems durable. We gave this case a workout, dragging it through the streets of Manhattan, over sewer grates and through packed sidewalks, and it rolled smoothly. The handle also pulls up (and pushes down) quickly and easily, for when you need to transition between pulling and carrying. My 6-foot-4 husband liked the length of the handle and didn’t have to stoop to use it.

There’s lots of room: Despite its compact size, this case can fit a lot. I was easily able to pack for our trip to Vegas in this case alone, and I included three pairs of shoes in addition to day clothing, nightwear, fitness clothing and pool garb. My trip to New York was a business trip, and I had plenty of room for several pairs of shoes, business attire and even my laptop and tablet.

carryon free


The Bad
No legroom: The problem with putting the CarryOn Free bag under your seat is that you sacrifice legroom — which is especially troublesome if you’re tall or traveling in economy class. The suitcase takes up the entire space beneath the seat, so you can ‘t stretch out at all. This can get fairly uncomfortable on longer flights.

Digging around: While there’s enough space in the bag for a long weekend’s worth of packing, it’s because the suitcase is so deep. If you don’t like to unpack, you’ll be digging around in the suitcase all the time to find what you’re looking for, which inevitably is at the bottom of the case. An inside pocket on the lid is sufficient for holding small items like toiletries, but the deep bag itself lacks dividers (though two straps at the bottom can help prevent items from shifting).

In-flight access: Once this case goes under the seat, it’s there to stay, so don’t plan to pack anything into it that you might need to access mid-flight. When it’s packed, it can be heavy and difficult to maneuver from under the seat without jostling your seatmates.

The Carry-On Challenge: How to Pack Light Every Time

Want to give it a try? You can win our gently used suitcase! Just leave a comment below by 11:59 p.m. ET on Wednesday, September 23, 2015. We’ll pick one winner at random to win the suitcase. 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.

Editor’s Note: This contest is closed. The winner of the bag is Lisa Dudding. Congratulations!

— written by Colleen McDaniel

If you’ve ever had a travel-size bottle of shampoo or lotion leak all over the inside of your suitcase, you might be a good candidate to try a new brand of toiletries called Squeeze Pod. As the name suggests, these are stored in lightweight, single-use “pods” that can be squeezed to dispense each product. They’re designed not to leak until you break the seal; after use, you simply throw them away.

Check out this quick video about how they work:


I tried out a variety of Squeeze Pod products on a recent trip to Cuba. I found that the toiletries were pleasantly scented and did their job just fine. The only slight exception was the toilet odor eliminator, which didn’t entirely banish the smell I needed banished, but helped matters significantly by masking it with a clean, eucalyptus-tinted fragrance. All Squeeze Pod toiletries are vegan, sulfate-free, made in the U.S. and not tested on animals.

My only hitch was actually opening the pods. It’s important to break the seal by pulling the tab up toward the colored side of the packaging, not the other way. (The pods I tested didn’t have this labeled, but a spokesperson says the company is hoping to add clearer instructions in the future, as well as experimenting with different kinds of plastic that would only bend in one direction.) Pulling the tab the wrong way at first causes the seal not to break cleanly, leaving me spurting shampoo all over the shower wall on one occasion, and having to squeeze with a wrestler’s strength to eke the gel out through a too-tiny hole on several other occasions.

The Ultimate Guide to Travel Packing

squeeze pod variety packSqueeze Pod currently has five products for sale on its website: toilet odor eliminator, moisturizing lotion, hair gel, shave cream and hand purifier. Four of the other toiletries I was able to try are not currently for sale, but the company tells us they’re coming in June: shampoo, conditioner, facial cleanser and body wash. The cost ranges from $1.49 for a three-pack of hand purifier to $120 for a sampler of more than 225 pods of various types.

Want to try these toiletries out for yourself? We’re giving away a variety pack that includes two to three pods each of shampoo, conditioner, body wash, facial cleanser, toilet odor eliminator, shaving cream, hand purifier, moisturizing lotion and hair gel. Just leave us a comment below by 11:59 p.m. ET on May 31, 2015. We’ll pick one winner at random to win the variety pack. 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.

Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner of the Squeeze Pod toiletry pack is Anisa Parker. Congratulations! Stay tuned for further chances to win.

— written by Sarah Schlichter

apple watchWhen the much-anticipated Apple Watch debuts next month, the accompanying Apple Watch store will introduce numerous nifty features for travelers as well. Skift lists six different travel apps you’ll want to watch out for (no pun intended).

We think the coolest one is the SPG app, which will allow travelers to use their watches to open their Starwood hotel room door — without having to fiddle with a room key. You can also use this app to check in or get directions to the hotel.

American Airlines’ app will send you notifications of gate changes and baggage claim information, while Expedia will give you details on hotel check-in/check-out times, flight seat assignments and more. Other travel apps that will be available on the new watch include OpenTable (restaurant reservations), TripAdvisor (hotel/restaurant/attraction reviews) and Citymapper (public transit information). Numerous others are sure to follow.

The Best New Travel Apps

The Apple Watch debuts on April 24, with prices ranging from $349 (for the most basic sports model) up to $10,000 for a luxury version. Note that the watch does not work as a standalone product; according to Apple’s website, it requires an iPhone 5 or later.

Will you buy an Apple Watch?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a subsidiary of TripAdvisor, Inc.

skymall logoLast month we mourned and gnashed our teeth when SkyMall, that lovable in-flight catalog of incredibly useless items, declared bankruptcy and stopped its print publication. But take heart: Turns out you may still be able to purchase a six-foot Statue of Liberty replica or a Tyrannosaurus rex trophy head to hang on your wall.

Yahoo! Travel reports that the CEO of ScotteVest, Scott Jordan, is hoping to bring back the print catalog on planes — but there’s a catch: “We’re going to include items in the magazine that people actually want to buy.”

Well, that’s no fun.

Or is it? According to Yahoo!, the new SkyMall could feature some pretty nifty features. You could, for example, purchase a digital camera in the air and have it delivered to your hotel the day after you arrive. There may also be a page in the new magazine for app reviews, including a special code so you can buy the apps at a discount. Along with plenty of catalog items for sale (including travel gear and even tours and hotel rooms), there will also be articles about topics relevant to travelers, such as how those clever noise-canceling headphones work.

But the best news of all is that some of the wacky products SkyMall is known for will still be in the magazine, only in a small section rather than spread throughout the publication. What a relief!

The new SkyMall could be onboard flights as soon as June if all negotiations go well. In the meantime, if you need a hit of cow-shaped benches and porch potties for your dog, you can still visit SkyMall.com.

The Best of SkyMall:
9 Useless Items You Can Buy at 35,000 Feet
7 More Useless Items You Can Buy at 35,000 Feet

— written by Sarah Schlichter

pivotal soft case gear bagOne of the biggest innovations in luggage over the past several years has been the development of spinner wheels — but now a company has come up with a spinner handle.

The Pivotal Soft Case Gear Bag has a sturdy grip that doesn’t extend and retract the way most suitcase handles do; instead, it rotates 360 degrees so you can hang onto it at any angle that’s comfortable for your hand and wrist. (The idea is based on Perfect Pushup exercise grips.) To make up for the non-telescoping handle, the suitcase is taller and thinner than most: 36 inches high, 14 inches wide and 12 inches deep.

I liked the idea of the pivoting handle, and I wasn’t alone — the bag won the Product Innovation Award at last year’s International Travel Goods Show. In practice, though, it wasn’t such a hit. When I filled up the suitcase and began walking around with it, the shortness of the handle meant the top of the bag banged into the back of my thigh with each step. I could avoid it by holding my arm out to the side, but the position felt unnatural and made the bag seem heavier.

To make sure it wasn’t just me, I took the bag for a spin around the office and let a few colleagues try it out. It turns out that your height (or perhaps your wingspan?) may determine how comfortable this suitcase is to walk with. The tallest person in our office — at 6’7″ — called the bag “the most comfortable suitcase I’ve ever used.” The other folks who were able to pull the bag smoothly were 6’0″ and 6’1″, respectively. But my less lanky colleagues, ranging from 5’0″ to 5’10”, ran into the same problem I did, with the bag hitting their legs as they walked. It seems that shorter arms and the shorter pivoting handle make for a bad combination.

The Ultimate Guide to Travel Packing

That issue aside, the bag has plenty of perks. There are three different external pockets, two on the sides and one on the front, where you can store items for quick access. Inside are even more options for compartmentalization, with two dividers that you can use to separate, say, shoes from sweaters and books from clothing. There are also three different sizes of flat zipper compartments.

The bag can be collapsed for easy storage, and while the wheels don’t spin, they are large and look durable enough to handle cobblestones or rougher terrain. The weight of the bag is reasonable at 10.7 pounds, and the length of the bag, as well as the duffel straps, mean it can be used as a sports gear bag between trips.

pivotal soft case gear bag handleOne possible concern: Most U.S. airlines limit checked baggage to a total of 62 inches (height + width + depth), and the bag fits just fine by that measure. But a few airline websites we checked, including those of British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, specified a maximum height of 35.5 inches, which this bag would ever-so-slightly exceed.

The suitcase sells for $249.95 at PivotalGear.com and comes in six different colors.

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 12, 2015. We’ll pick one winner at random to win the Pivotal Soft Case Gear Bag. 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.

Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner is Honey Bolas. Stay tuned for more chances to win!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

southwest luv seat duffel bagSouthwest Airlines, long known for its inexpensive fares, unassigned seating, free checked bags and singing flight attendants, is now jumping into the world of fashion. Partnering with an Oregon-based company, the airline has turned scrap leather from its airplane seats into high-end handbags.

According to Forbes, Southwest was left with 43 acres of used leather after replacing seats on some of its aircraft with lighter ones to reduce fuel costs. It took most of the material to Looptworks, a company that uses industrial scraps to create unique pieces that reduce waste and aim to help the environment, where it will be made into vintage-inspired bags. (In another admirable move, Southwest also sent some of the leather abroad to SOS Kenya, which benefits orphaned children, and Massai Treads, which makes shoes for people in need.)

Looptworks is offering three bag designs — backpack, duffel and tote — which can be preordered as part of what has been dubbed “Project LUV Seat.” The company claims that each bag produced saves 4,000 gallons of water and reduces CO2 emissions by 72 percent (when compared with what would be required to use brand-new leather for the same bags).

As if this idea couldn’t get any more awesome, Looptworks employed disabled adults to deconstruct and clean the leather.

Part-Time Voluntourism: How to Give Back During a Trip

The irony, though, is that the bags are retailing for anywhere from $150 to $250 each — more than the cost of some of Southwest’s roundtrip flights.

Would you purchase one of these bags? Leave your comments below.

–written by Ashley Kosciolek