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When I travel, my smartphone acts as my camera, wallet, GPS, e-reader, MP3 player, communication center, and means of streaming movies and TV on long flights. Without it, my trips are far more cumbersome, but the more I use it, the more quickly the “low battery” notifications roll in.

mycharge hubxtra portable charger


Over the years, I’ve tried several portable chargers — tiny energy packs that are plugged into the wall ahead of time and brought along as a means of backup power. No matter how long I charged them, none ever seemed to be able to properly refuel my phone in a reasonable amount of time.

Enter the MyCharge HubXtra. This lightweight portable charger took my phone’s battery life from 6 to 60 percent in 45 minutes, with a full charge after about two hours. The best part is that, afterward, the HubXtra itself was still at 75 percent power.

What We Liked
It worked. There’s not much worse than investing in a product only to find out it doesn’t live up to the hype — especially in a pinch. Not only did the HubXtra do its job, but it did so quickly.

It has a long life. In addition to holding enough juice for more than one charge when it’s at capacity, the HubXtra comes fully powered up, so you can use it right out of the package. (The device charges via a standard two-pronged plug that folds out from the back.)

It’s versatile. In addition to cell phones, the HubXtra can charge other electronics like tablets, e-readers, MP3 players, wearables and Bluetooth speakers.

It can power up more than one device at a time, even while plugged in. The charger comes with two built-in lightning micro-USB cable connections — one that fits most recent iPhones and one for most recent Android devices — and they can both be used at the same time, even when the HubXtra itself is charging.

It’s easy to pack. Measuring 4.1 x 2.5 x 0.9 inches and weighing a mere half-pound, the HubXtra will fit in nearly any bag, and it looks as sleek as it sounds.

What We Didn’t Like
It’s expensive. The HubXtra retails for $69.99 on the MyCharge website and $54.95 on Amazon. Considering how many chargers are available at a price point of $30 or less, it’s a little pricey.

It could soon be obsolete. A tech savvy-friend with one of the most recently released Android devices was unable to use the HubXtra without an adapter because it doesn’t offer the most updated cables. For the price, it should.

It only comes in one color. This is a minor quibble, but give us some color! Although the power pack’s metallic silver finish gives it a sleek, industrial look, a choice of one hue simply isn’t enough.

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–written by Ashley Kosciolek

Editorial Disclosure: Some products are sent to us free of charge to be considered for review. We choose products to review based on their relevance and usefulness to our readers. We offer our unbiased opinions and do not promise any editorial coverage, particularly positive reviews.

Looking to pack lighter? You can save some space in your suitcase by storing your stuff in the clothes you wear. SCOTTeVEST offers a line of vests, jackets, pants and other clothing specifically designed with tons of pockets to help you stow gadgets and other essential items on your person instead of in a purse or backpack.

scottevest quest vest


I tested out the SCOTTeVEST Q.U.E.S.T., a vest that boasts a whopping 42 pockets, to see what it offers for travelers. Here’s what I discovered.

What We Liked
It’s cleverly designed. The designers clearly put a lot of thought into the layout of the Q.U.E.S.T., with pockets specifically meant for items such as cell phones, passports, tablets, glasses and pens. (Most of these compartments are labeled with little graphics so you can tell what’s supposed to go where.) Then there are dozens of catch-all pockets for everything else. Some are more useful than others — I’m not sure exactly what you’d want to put in the large back compartment, given that most items wouldn’t be all that comfortable to lean back on when you sit down — but there are plenty of pockets to customize in any way you see fit.

It’s attractive and well made. The vest feels well crafted and has a sleek, attractive look.

It’s water-resistant. When I poured water on both the hood and the body of the vest, it beaded up and ran right off.

There are tons of little surprises. Open the RFID-blocking pocket, and you’ll find a little document pouch that you can remove and then Velcro back in. The glasses pocket offers a soft cloth for wiping your lenses. There are holes and loops throughout to thread cords for earbuds or chargers.

It’s not just good for travel. Sure, the vest can save you space on vacation, but it’s also useful at home for day hikers who don’t want to carry a backpack or women who want to go shopping without lugging a heavy purse.

scottevest quest vest


What We Didn’t Like
It gets bulky. Realistically most travelers won’t use all 42 pockets; once you start putting in things like a full-size water bottle or multiple gadgets, the vest starts looking bulky and less flattering. If you do plan to use most of the pockets, you might want to order a size larger than you normally would to give yourself a little more space.

You may lose track of some of your things. There are so many pockets so close to each other — some divided only by a thin layer of fabric — that I sometimes forgot where I’d put certain items. In one case I could feel that there was a bottle of antibacterial hand gel in a certain quadrant of the vest, but I had to try about three different zippers before I could access the pocket I needed.

There’s only one color option. Other vests from SCOTTeVEST come in hues like blue, white and red, but the Q.U.E.S.T. is currently only available in black for women. (Men can buy the Q.U.E.S.T. in black or beige.)

It’s not cheap. The Q.U.E.S.T. is currently on sale for $175 at the SCOTTeVEST website and at Amazon. (To buy the men’s version, see the SCOTTeVEST website or Amazon.)

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— written by Sarah Schlichter

Editorial Disclosure: Some products are sent to us free of charge to be considered for review. We choose products to review based on their relevance and usefulness to our readers. We offer our unbiased opinions and do not promise any editorial coverage, particularly positive reviews.

Travelers who spend a lot of time exploring cities and riding public transportation have natural concerns about pickpockets. While the best way to protect your valuables is to stow them in a money belt hidden under your clothes, you don’t want to expose it each time you need to pay for a coffee or buy a souvenir — and that’s where the Rogue Front Pocket Wallet comes in.

rogue front pocket wallet


Because front pockets tend to be deeper, they’re considered a safer spot to stow your wallet than back pockets if you’re looking to deter thieves. The Rogue Front Pocket Wallet is designed with a curved shape so it fits more naturally into a front pocket; you are supposed to put the pointy end down and the curved part out. How does it work? I asked my husband and frequent travel partner to give it a try.

What We Liked
It feels well made. The wallet is constructed of real leather and appears sturdy and well stitched.

It fits comfortably. My husband used the wallet in several different pairs of pants and didn’t have any issues with how it fit.

It blocks RFID skimming. Although experts disagree on just how much of a threat RFID skimming actually is, this is still a nice security feature just in case.

It’s made in Maine. Americans sick of seeing “made in China” on every product can support a homegrown business with this purchase.

What We Didn’t Like
There’s some wasted space. The way the wallet is stitched means that the pocket for bills and receipts isn’t as wide as it looks, with what feels like a couple of inches of space sealed off. While U.S. bills fit fine, my husband had to fold quite a few longer receipts instead of sliding them in flat, making the wallet bulk up quickly.

rogue front pocket wallet


It takes up more space than many other wallets. Because of the curved design, the Rogue wallet is taller (5 inches) than a lot of standard men’s wallets. My husband’s old trifold wallet fit just as well in his front pocket (where he’s worn it for years), and because it was smaller he was able to get it deeper into the pocket — which might be an even better hedge against theft.

It has adequate but not plentiful storage. There are three slots that hold up to six cards, plus a see-through ID pocket, another pocket for miscellaneous items, and a larger compartment for bills and receipts. There’s plenty of room for the basics, but men who carry a lot of cards might prefer a few more slots.

Rogue Industries offers a variety of front pocket wallets as well as money clips, women’s bags, women’s clutches and more. The classic front pocket wallet that we tested retails for $45 at the Rogue website or $40 at Amazon.

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Editorial Disclosure: Some products are sent to us free of charge to be considered for review. We choose products to review based on their relevance and usefulness to our readers. We offer our unbiased opinions and do not promise any editorial coverage, particularly positive reviews.

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Hiking in Alaska? Strolling around Singapore? No matter the type of trip, a good daypack is a vital part of any traveler’s arsenal. I recently tested out the Matador Freerain24, a daypack that can be rolled up into a small storage bag when you’re not using it. Is this the right backpack for you? Read on.

matador freerain24 daypack


What We Liked
It’s waterproof. Aside from the front and side pockets, the bag is well sealed and will protect your stuff in a rainstorm.

It’s lightweight and space-efficient. The bag weighs just 5.5 ounces and folds up into a drawstring bag that fits in the palm of your hand.

It’s stronger than it seems. The fabric is so thin that I worried it would tear easily. But while the tag cautions users to keep the bag away from “abrasive surfaces and sharp objects,” I attempted to stab it with a pen and found it more puncture-resistant than it initially seemed.

It holds a lot. For such a lightweight pack, it holds more than you might expect. The main compartment has a 24-liter capacity, and I was able to get several garments into it along with books, snacks and a couple of bottles of water with no problem.

What We Didn’t Like
There aren’t many pockets. The main part of the bag is a single large compartment, with no internal pockets or slots to keep things organized. There is a vertical pocket on the front of the bag as well as two pockets on the sides for water bottles or other items.

It’s a little tricky to put back in the bag. If you struggle to refold a map or to squeeze everything back into your suitcase at the end of a trip, you might also have a hard time rolling this backpack into the right shape and size to fit back into its little storage bag.

matador freerain24 daypack


There’s no sternum strap. Many travelers rely on a strap across the chest to help stabilize the shoulder straps and balance the weight of the pack. That may or may not matter with such a lightweight daypack, but if a sternum strap is important to you, then you’ll need to add one yourself to the Freerain24.

It’s a little pricey. At $59.99, the Freerain24 costs more than many other daypacks on the market.

You can purchase the Freerain24 at the Matador website.

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Editorial Disclosure: Some products are sent to us free of charge to be considered for review. We choose products to review based on their relevance and usefulness to our readers. We offer our unbiased opinions and do not promise any editorial coverage, particularly positive reviews.

–written by Sarah Schlichter

Ever wanted to read in bed at a hotel without waking your spouse, or needed a little extra light while working on a crossword puzzle during a long flight? If so, you might like the Beam n Read.

beam n read reading light


I tested two versions of this personal reading light — the LED 6 Hands-Free Task Light and the LED 3 Hands-Free Travel & Reading Light. Both run on four AA batteries (not included) and are worn around your neck on an elastic cord that can be adjusted for length. The LED 3 is a less expensive travel version with only three small LED bulbs, while the LED 6 has six bulbs and casts a wider glow.

You can turn on each device by flipping the light into position for reading. The LED 6 has a switch that toggles between turning on all six bulbs and turning on just three, which is useful if you don’t always want quite as much light.

Both reading lights come with two filters — one red, one orange. These are designed to block out blue light, which can cause eyestrain. Using one of these filters makes for a dimmer light that some users find relaxing, especially before bed.

After testing each light in a dark room, I found them both adequate for reading or other handheld tasks (such as knitting or writing), but, unsurprisingly, the wider LED 6 was better for illuminating a whole open book or magazine. Because both lights use the same number of batteries, there’s very little difference in size or weight between them — so if you can spare the extra $10, I’d recommend getting the larger version. It won’t take up much extra space in your suitcase, and you’ll get more light.

The one advantage of the LED 3 model is that the batteries will last longer. That said, you can purchase a USB/AC power kit (sold separately) that enables you to plug the light into a wall socket when available, saving the batteries for when they’re necessary.

You can learn more about Beam n Read at ReadingLight.com. You can also purchase on Amazon: see the LED 6 ($29.95), the LED 3 ($19.95) and the USB/AC Power Kit ($14.95).

Would you try the Beam n Read?

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Editorial Disclosure: Some products are sent to us free of charge to be considered for review. We choose products to review based on their relevance and usefulness to our readers. We offer our unbiased opinions and do not promise any editorial coverage, particularly positive reviews.

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Tangled charger cables and knotty earbud cords have quickly become one of the most irksome pet peeves of the technology era, especially for travelers. Raise your hand if you’ve ever dug around in your purse or backpack on a plane to retrieve your headphones, only to pull out a jumbled snarl containing a pen, a comb and old gum wrappers.

tangled cord earbuds


Wondering how to keep cords organized and tangle-free while traveling? Try these six items.

1. Binder clips: Binder clips are a great tool for keeping your workspace organized, and they’re helpful when traveling too. On a plane I clip my headphones to my shirt, to ensure I don’t drop them. You can also snap a binder clip onto your seat pocket and hang your headphones or earbuds from them.

2. Old eyeglass case: A great storage solution for a phone charger, an old case for your eyeglasses or sunglasses will keep the cord from tangling and protect it from damage.

3. Twist ties: You could use the ones that come with a box of trash bags, though they often aren’t very sturdy. Or purchase ones specifically designed for cord management. EliteTechGear sells a pack of 16 bendable, reusable silicone-covered wires that keep your cords nice and neat.

4. Cord “tacos”: How cute are these? Little leather or fabric pouches with a snap keep cords looped well. A number of vendors on Etsy, such as Beaudin Designs, sell them for around $5 each. Or you could follow these simple instructions from the blogger Local Adventurer and make your own.

5. Grid-It Organizer: With a number of tight elastic loops of various sizes, the Grid-It Organizer by Cocoon will keep cords and their devices super snug. The loops can be reconfigured into the design that best meets your needs, and it easily slips into a carry-on bag. With some modest sewing skills you could make a similar organizer following these DIY instructions from The Labeled Life.

6. Roll-up or fold-up pouches: If elastic straps aren’t your thing, you can tuck earbuds and chargers into the pockets of roll-up or fold-up pouches, such as this monogrammed leather roll-up from Mark and Graham or a mesh fabric organizer from Patu, and then tie the bundle together.

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— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

The STM Drifter Backpack makes an attractive option for travelers who bring laptops, tablets or both when they hit the road. There’s room not just for your devices and chargers, but also for travel documents, a book or magazine for the plane, and even a change of clothes. You can also use the bag at home for commuting or hiking.

stm drifter backpack


After taking the bag for a quick spin, here’s what we liked — and didn’t like so much — about the STM Drifter.

What We Liked
It’s comfortable to wear. The back is well padded, and the adjustable back and sternum straps make it easy to distribute the bag’s weight.

It feels sturdy. Everything from the heavy-duty zippers to the thick, well-padded straps feels durable and well made.

It’s got lots of storage. There are three pockets on the front of the bag, including one fitted with slots for pens and other small items, and one that’s padded for a cell phone. On one side is a pocket for a water bottle or umbrella; on the other is a small zippered compartment. In the main section of the bag are a see-through mesh pocket (with zipper), one large open pocket, padded sleeves for a laptop and tablet, and a few other nooks and crannies. The sleeves for your devices “float” above the bottom of the main compartment, helping to protect them if you drop the pack.

It’s got a rain cover. Hidden away in zippered compartment at the bottom of the bag is a thin rain cover that you can pull up to protect the bag. (Mustard yellow isn’t the most attractive color for it, but its high visibility might be an advantage if you’re walking or biking on a gray, rainy day.)

It’s easy to pair with a wheeled suitcase. There’s a wide strap on the back that lets you slip the pack down the extendable handle of a rolling suitcase.

What We Didn’t Like
It won’t work for large laptops. The bag is meant for 15-inch computers, but will hold most 11- to 16-inch laptops. If your machine is larger, you’ll need to try a different bag.

The main compartment doesn’t unzip very far. This is a top-loading bag, and the zippers for the main compartment don’t extend too far down the sides, so it’s not as easy as it might be with other bags to reach in from the side to grab something, or to find things at the very bottom.

It’s expensive. At a price point of $135 to $140 (depending on where you buy it), the STM Drifter is pricier than most other laptop backpacks.

The Bottom Line
This is a good-quality laptop backpack that’s ideal for both traveling and commuting, but the price point may make it a stretch for some travelers.

You can buy the STM Drifter at the STM website or at Amazon.com.

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— written by Sarah Schlichter

Editorial Disclosure: Some products are sent to us free of charge to be considered for review. We choose products to review based on their relevance and usefulness to our readers. We offer our unbiased opinions and do not promise any editorial coverage, particularly positive reviews.

In the market for a new toiletry bag? ToiletTree Products, a company that sells bathroom and travel accessories, offers a couple of options worth considering.

toilettree bag with tsa bottles


The Toiletry Bag with 3 TSA Bottles weighs less than half a pound and has a hook you can use to hang it from your hotel or cruise ship’s bathroom door. The main compartment is separated into two parts by a mesh divider; here you’ll find three TSA-approved refillable bottles, with caps labeled as “conditioner,” “shampoo” and “body wash.” (Note that if you’re bringing these bottles in your carry-on on a flight, you’ll need to take them out of the toiletry bag and put them into a clear, quart-size, zip-top plastic bag with your other liquids and gels.)

There’s enough room in the main compartment for other items as well, such as makeup, toothpaste and a toothbrush. The bag also has two flat mesh pockets with zippers where you could slip things such as cotton swabs, feminine products, bandages, razor cartridges and the like. Once you’ve zipped the whole bag, there’s a handle at the top for easy carrying.

This bag sells for $18.95 at ToiletTree.com or at Amazon.com. It currently only comes in one color, navy blue.

toilettree bag


If you’re looking for a heavier-duty option, the Toiletry Bag with Sonic Travel Toothbrush is larger and sturdier, made of synthetic leather instead of polyester. Weighing in at 1.2 pounds, this bag has a main compartment large enough to store full-size toiletry bottles (shaving cream, sunblock, etc.) as well as a hairbrush, comb, large tube of toothpaste, etc.

On the bottom of the bag is a flatter compartment with elastic bands that hold three refillable TSA-size bottles — again marked for shampoo, conditioner and body wash — as well as a slot for the included travel-size sonic toothbrush. (Note that you’ll need to add your own AAA battery.) In this compartment is one wide, flat mesh pocket with a zipper.

This bag isn’t really designed to be used while hanging, so there’s no hook — but there is a handle at one end to carry it. It sells for $29.95 at ToiletTree.com or at Amazon.com. It’s currently only available in black.

Which one should you buy? For travelers looking to pack light and travel only with a carry-on, the smaller bag is a better bet. The larger bag is more suited to road trips or longer vacations where suitcase space and weight aren’t as much of a concern.

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— written by Sarah Schlichter

Editorial Disclosure: Some products are sent to us free of charge to be considered for review. We choose products to review based on their relevance and usefulness to our readers. We offer our unbiased opinions and do not promise any editorial coverage, particularly positive reviews.

In early October, I embarked on a weeklong family vacation around the southwestern United States. This loaded itinerary promised hiking, rock climbing, swimming and a family reunion spread across five cities, three states and eight days. While I’m generally an efficient packer, I was having difficulty narrowing down my clothing options and keeping myself organized this time around.

ezpacking packing cubes


Normally, I’m skeptical of any packing cubes or aids. I’m a bare-bones traveler who has managed just fine with rolling, folding and cramming in the past. So when I was given the EzPacking Starter Set, a collection of four packing cubes in various sizes, I can’t say I expected much. If anything, I figured they’d complicate the packing process and add unnecessary bulk to my bag.

I was wrong. In fact, these little plastic cubes worked so well for me that I ordered another set shortly after this trip.

I used the large cube (which measures 16″ x 10.3″ x 4″) for casual wear, the medium (12″ x 10.3″ x 4″) for athletic clothes and running gear, the small bag (10.3″ x 6″ x 4″) for my bathing suits and intimates, and the extra-small bag (6″ x 6″ x 2.5″) for toiletries. When detouring to Page, Arizona for two days in the middle of the trip, I took the largest cube as an overnight duffel rather than lugging my full-size suitcase all over the Southwest.

Altogether these bags nestled nicely into my suitcase, maximized space and worked well with our multi-faceted and activity-intensive itinerary.

What We Liked: The EzPacking organizers are like the Mary Poppins bag of travel. These little things don’t look like much on the outside, but they can fit a lot. For instance, one of the larger bags comfortably held nine warm-weather outfits and a light jacket. (Disclaimer: I’m a petite, 5’0″ female.)

Beyond compactness, these bags are also lightweight and sturdy. They added very little extra weight to our luggage (20 ounces), and held their shape no matter how much stuff I crammed in around them. Unlike some other packing cubes, EzPacking organizers are transparent on four out of six sides, so it’s easy to see what you’ve packed where.

What We Didn’t Like: While the cubes are compact and convenient, they will take up the bulk of your bag. Because of this, I had difficulty squeezing in some last-minute souvenirs that were too delicate to fit elsewhere.

Another downside is that these cubes make it dangerously easy to overpack. I had to transfer several items from my suitcase to my carry-on just to keep my bag within the airline’s 50-pound limit.

Bottom Line: While a bit on the pricey side for a set of four (they retail for $48), the EzPacking organizers are a great asset for people with packing OCD, or travelers looking for extra organization.

EzPacking organizers can be ordered individually or purchased online in one of several bundles. They come in different colors and are TSA-approved (in fact, the smallest bag is perfect for TSA’s liquid and gel regulations). You can buy them on the EzPacking website or on Amazon.com.

Want a chance to win our gently used EzPacking Starter Set? We’re giving it away. Leave a comment below by 11:59 p.m. ET on Wednesday, November 9, 2016. We’ll pick one winner at random to win the Starter Set. 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.

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— written by Christina Janansky

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.

ostrich pillow


Ostrich Pillow
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


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.

hoodiepillow


The HoodiePillow
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


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.

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Would you try any of these pillows?

–written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma