A few years ago, we conducted a Travel Pillow Challenge, road testing four unusual accessories to help you sleep better on long-haul flights. Back then, we thought some of the pillows were pretty weird looking — remember the giant inflatable apostrophe that looked more like a beauty pageant sash than a pillow?
But, oh my, the embarrassment factor has grown so much since then. Check out these awkward-looking travel pillows for flights.
Nothing says chic like a giant pillow that looks like a vintage deep sea diver helmet. At least the makers of the plush Ostrich Pillow have a sense of humor and play up the ridiculousness of this $99 sweat factory in photos on their website. I’ve never seen anyone wearing this on a flight, but I’d definitely tweet a pic of him or her if I did. Buy it at OstrichPillow.com or Amazon.
Little Cloud Nine Travel Pillow
I’m not sure if this blow-up device was invented by someone looking to catch a few Zs on an airplane or by a member of the Witness Protection Program. The device is said to provide stability to your neck and prevent your head from bobbing forward. It also makes the person in the middle seat so utterly afraid to ask if they could slide by to use the restroom that they’ll hold it in for the duration of your long-haul flight. Buy it at CloudNinePillow.com or at Amazon.
Really want to convey the “don’t talk to me” message to your seatmate? Wrap this inflatable U-shaped pillow around your neck and draw up the attached hood. For maximum passive-aggressiveness, pull the drawstring so tight that only your nose and mouth appear. Buy it at HoodiePillow.com or Amazon.
SkyRest Travel Pillow
It’s like propping a recycling bin on your tray table! As large as many carry-on bags, this inflatable pillow supposedly counters the natural tendency of your head to fall forward when you sleep. It also requires that you ask the person next to you to hold your drink and your iPad and your snacks. Buy it at SkyRest.com or Amazon.
That’s the question — more like a whine — that I hear from my husband every time we plan a trip. Don will suit up when he needs to, but he associates jackets with work and clients and meetings, not relaxing and traveling.
Nonetheless, many vacations include at least one time to get fancy. Think cruises, weddings, a milestone dinner, a theater performance. But finding the space to pack dress clothes and keep them looking nice can be a problem when you’re looking to save space.
Enter the SkyRoll Spinner. This spinner suitcase meets most airlines’ carry-on size limits when packed (22 x 14 x 9 inches) but has the extra feature of a garment bag that clips onto the side and wraps around it. There’s also an included toiletries satchel. The inside of the garment bag has slots for folded dress shirts and ties, and the top of the carry-on has a compartment that the company designed to store the toiletry bag, but could also be a clever place to put shoes to keep them separate from your clothes. Seems like the perfect bag for the stylish traveler on the go. Right?
Well, maybe. The SkyRoll website notes that the bag is mostly designed for women, and that the size of the garment bag — 19 by 55 inches — makes it unsuitable for men’s jackets above size 40. My husband is 6’5″. While he liked the way the garment bag snapped onto the bag, it wasn’t wide enough for his dinner jacket, so he had to bend the edges to make it fit — not exactly what you want to keep it pressed. My dresses, which are smaller, were a better fit.
We discovered that the top compartment would work for shoes if your feet aren’t too big. (My women’s size 9.5 shoes went in fine; Don’s size 12 shoes were too large.) Don appreciated the thoughtful pockets in the garment bag, as well as the ease of rolling. If he didn’t already have a dopp kit, he would have gladly used the SkyRoll version, which comes with a hook to hang over the bathroom door.
What We Liked: The bag is ideal for the average-sized person who wants a comprehensive solution for a business trip or a short weekend escape. The top compartment itself is a joy for the organizer, with a glasses pocket and slots for cards and a pen in the top. If you don’t need the compartment, you can zip it out and use the extra space for the rest of your clothes.
What We Didn’t Like: If you’re tall with broad shoulders, this isn’t the bag you’re looking for.
Bottom Line: For most travelers, the SkyRoll Spinner solves the problem of keeping a jacket or dress neat and separate from the rest of your clothes. We’d recommend it for a shorter trip — say, a wedding weekend or a quick business trip — and for a shorter person.
The SkyRoll Spinner weighs 10 pounds and sells for $299.99 on the SkyRoll website. The site also offers a carry-on with rolling (rather than spinning) wheels, a garment bag and a toiletry bag. For the next month, SkyRoll is offering a special coupon code for IndependentTraveler.com readers. Use IT916 to save 15 percent on any purchase through October 21, 2016.
Want a chance to win our gently used SkyRoll Spinner? We’re giving it away. Leave a comment below by 11:59 p.m. ET on Wednesday, October 5, 2016. We’ll pick one winner at random to win the SkyRoll Spinner. 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.
As I prepared for an early-morning flight from Newark to New Orleans, I was excited to pack the JetComfy pillow, billed as the “world’s best travel pillow.” I hoped it would help me sleep through the entire flight.
JetComfy is a boxy pillow, built into a frame with an extendable pole so that you can bring the pillow closer to your head rather than the other way around. On the other end of the pole is a strap and clamp that you can use to attach the device to your seat’s arm.
The full pillow is fairly large, about half the size of a shoebox, so it’s not easy to take onto the plane if you’ve got a lot of carry-on luggage. I solved this issue by purchasing a bottle of water in an airport store and then putting the pillow into the plastic bag.
Here’s what I discovered about JetComfy:
It’s soft. I mean really soft. With two inches of memory foam, your face sinks gently into the pillow. The fleece-soft cover is also a pleasure to lay your head on.
It’s got phone chargers. Probably my favorite thing about JetComfy was the two USB chargers. I loved being able to power up my cell phone (even after I’d given up trying to sleep on the pillow). Note, however, that the chargers aren’t available with the standard JetComfy purchase; you’ll need to pony up an additional $29.99 for the Upgrade Kit, which includes two USB charging ports, an extra pillow cover and a stylus/pen/flashlight/pointer combo that fits into a slot in the base of the pillow.
It doesn’t angle well. Because it’s so soft, I couldn’t wait to rest my head on the JetComfy pillow and drift off into sleep. However, I found the ability (or lack thereof) to angle the pillow to be a problem. Though the pillow would start out angled, it would not remain so, and I’d wake up with a major crick in my neck. Because I was sitting in an aisle seat, there was nothing to lean the pillow up against to keep the angle in place. It’s possible a window seat would have solved this problem.
It’s bulky. Not only is the JetComfy a bit cumbersome to carry around and onto the plane, but it also takes a bite out of the space surrounding your seat. I quickly realized that using the pillow on the aisle-side seat arm wouldn’t work, as I’d just keep getting bumped by anyone passing by. But using it on the other arm wasn’t much better. Thankfully I was sitting next to my spouse, but he complained about the pillow bumping into him. I don’t know how you’d be able to use it next to a stranger. (Again, the window seat probably would be okay.)
My overall impression of the JetComfy pillow was mixed. I did sleep on it, and I loved how soft it was, but the pain in my neck from waking up with my head completely tilted to the side was not something I’d care to experience again.
The JetComfy pillow costs $49.99 and can be purchased at the JetComfy website (use coupon code INDY for a 10 percent discount, good through December 31, 2016) or at Amazon.com.
Want to give it a try? We’re giving away a JetComfy pillow. Leave a comment below by 11:59 p.m. ET on Wednesday, August 31, 2016. We’ll pick one winner at random to win the JetComfy pillow. 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 JetComfy pillow is Jessica Chen. Congratulations! Stay tuned for further chances to win.
Behind the Scenes at a B&B: The Joys — and Challenges — of Being an Innkeeper
Ever dreamed of retiring to run a B&B out in the country? You might change your mind after reading this story, in which a Washington Post reporter shadows an innkeeper at a Pennsylvania B&B. She discovers a life of grocery store runs, room maintenance and endless guest requests — as well as moments when it’s all worth it.
Living Where the Sea Turns to Ice
BBC takes us on a moving journey to northwestern Greenland, where a reporter meets a 5-year-old named Dharma living in an orphanage in the village of Uummannaq. In a land of seemingly endless ice, the child and the reporter find a few brief moments of connection.
The NASA Space Treatment That Will Cure Your Seasickness
A doctor who regularly travels on cruises to the North and South Poles reveals to Conde Nast Traveler her choice for the best seasickness remedy: a prescription medication called promethazine. She also explains why the medicines we usually use for allergies also work for motion sickness.
10 Travel Innovations That Make Globe-Hopping Better Than Ever
As much as we like to complain about the annoying parts of travel, this story from Bloomberg reminds us of the many nifty innovations that can really improve a trip, from smart bag tags that help prevent lost luggage to the rise of premium economy.
Get pumped up for the Olympic Games in Rio with this commercial from United, featuring members of the U.S. Olympic team.
With germs lurking everywhere from airplane tray tables to ticketing machines at train stations, hand sanitizer is an essential part of any smart traveler’s bag of tricks. After all, you’re on vacation — who’s got time to get sick?
I recently tested a new type of hand sanitizer called Touch, and it’s a little different than the usual antibacterial gel most of us pack for a trip. First off, it’s a mist rather than a gel or lotion, so it comes in a little aerosol spray can. Secondly, it doesn’t contain any alcohol, relying instead on a main ingredient called benzalkonium chloride to kill germs, bacteria, fungi and viruses. Finally, it’s formulated to stay on the hands rather than evaporating, protecting against germs for up to six hours.
Here’s what I liked and disliked about the product during our test on a recent trip to Europe.
The Good We didn’t get sick: My husband and I used the spray at least every other day during our two-week trip, and we came home healthy. I admit that one trip isn’t exactly a scientific study, and it’s impossible to know whether we would’ve gotten sick if we hadn’t used Touch (or if we’d used a different hand sanitizer instead), but it’s still a good sign.
It’s a convenient travel size: Touch comes in a 1-ounce container that is easy to fit into a purse or daypack and will get through a security checkpoint in your quart-size bag of liquids and gels.
The long-lasting protection offers security: I liked that I didn’t need to keep reapplying Touch every hour or two.
The Bad It’s not very discreet: One nice thing about using hand-sanitizing gel is that you can squeeze a dab of it into your hand without making noise. There’s no avoiding the sound of the aerosol spray when applying Touch — which made us a little a little self-conscious when we were trying to sanitize our hands in public places like a plane or a nice restaurant. (A Touch spokesperson tells us that spraying the product rather than rubbing it on helps ensure quicker and fuller coverage.)
It doesn’t necessarily leave hands feeling soft: Although Touch contains “skin-softening essential oils” (according to a product fact sheet), my husband and I didn’t love the way our hands felt immediately after spraying. It was an odd, almost powdery texture, similar to the way your hands might feel after pulling off a pair of latex gloves. Luckily, it didn’t last long.
It’s not available online: Touch is currently only available at Walgreens pharmacies. (Other sales channels are in the works.) The recommended retail price is $5.99 per 1-ounce container. Touch comes in four scents: ocean mist, tropical breeze, mint green tea aloe and unscented.
Want to give Touch a try? We’re giving away a sample of the mint green tea aloe product. Leave a comment below by 11:59 p.m. ET on Thursday, June 30. We’ll pick one winner at random to win the can of Touch. 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.
Maps are a classic and captivating gift for avid travelers. Stylized maps as art are popular, as are classic, National Geographic-style maps tacked to an office wall or speckled with pins indicating where you’ve traveled.
But if you’re looking for something a little different for your travel-happy dad, here are eight non-traditional maps that would make great gifts for Father’s Day in just a few weeks:
Wall decor: Here’s a gift that provides a surprise twist: Etsy vendor Bombus cuts letters out of solid wood and then lacquers onto them maps of locations of your choosing. Select maps that have personal meaning to your Dad — he probably won’t notice them at first but then will likely be touched by the personalization. Cue the watery eyes.
Smartphone case: This iPhone holder is a beauty — it’s a thin polycarbonate case with a world map cover made of hand-finished, sustainably sourced inlaid wood.
Clock: Art vendor ArtPause puts a modern spin on the world map by rendering it in watercolor and then digitally manipulating the design. The result is a sleek, colorful map that looks vibrant against the white background of this circular clock.
Corkboard: This is a cool gift for an office: A cut-out corkboard in the shape of a map. It stretches more than three feet wide.
Luggage: If Dad’s always grabbing the wrong ubiquitous black bag from the luggage carousel, this three-piece set will make baggage claim a lot easier. The hard-sided cases are adorned in brightly colored, classic maps.
Cufflinks: Sterling silver-plated cufflinks depict a rendition of the historic “New and Accurate Map of the World,” which dates back to 1626 and is thought to be one of the first ones published in English.
Beer stein: Nice to pair with a six pack of brews from different countries, this hefty stein with a green world map and gold trim holds 22 ounces.
Tie: A Father’s Day shopping list wouldn’t be complete without a tie. This one isn’t a cliche, though: It’s a tasteful ivory-colored silk tie painted with a vintage map.
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.
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.
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.
Raise 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
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.
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!
Would 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.
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?