Welcome to IndependentTraveler.com’s 12 Days of Travel Giveaways! Every day between December 2 and December 13, we’ll feature a different travel product for our readers to win. You may enter to win as many items as you wish (but only once per item).
“SuperSmartTags feature a code that anyone can use to report your bag online. Once the code for your bag is submitted, you’ll receive a text message, email or phone call explaining that your luggage has been found. Enter your itinerary on the SuperSmartTag site and airport staff will be able to view your travel plans and forward your luggage to your next destination. SuperSmartTag retails for $19.95 AUD [about $18.15 USD as of this posting] and comes with a three-year membership to the SuperSmartTag system.”
We’re giving away a set of two SuperSmartTag luggage tags. Want to win them? Leave a comment below by 11:59 p.m. ET on December 15, 2013. We’ll pick one person at random to win the tags. 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 Andrew Perry. Congratulations!
Always excited to test out gadgets that might make my travels easier, I set off for Alaska last month with the Solar Backpack from J. Bullivant, a company that specializes in what it calls “Urban Survival Gear.” The pack is equipped with enough pockets and compartments to fit everything but the kitchen sink, as well as built-in solar panels for charging what’s known as a Personal Power Generator (PPG) — a tiny power pack for charging a cell phone or iPad when your devices are dead and there just aren’t enough outlets.
When it comes to the bag’s construction, I have no complaints. It’s comfortable, attractive, lightweight and durable. (Anything that survives my chronic overpacking has to be.) The storage options are plentiful, with spots specifically designed to hold everything from laptops and pens to car keys and spare change. There are even hidden compartments for more important items like passports and wallets.
But this backpack’s claim to fame is its ability to charge electronics — and unfortunately, in that regard it was a bit of a bust. After two days of putting the pack in the sun for several hours, I saw no increase in the charge it gave to the PPG. It does work well if you use the included power/car adapter to plug the PPG directly into the wall to charge, but if you’re going to spend time and effort doing that, you might as well just plug in your cell phone or laptop or whatever it is you need the PPG for in the first place.
Of course, the semi-functionality of the product wouldn’t be such a big deal if it were priced in line with other backpacks. But for the most basic model, you can expect to shell out nearly $200. The amount you’ll pay increases from there, depending on what else — pepper spray, hazmat mask, water purification system, ballistic shield — you choose to add to your paranoia pack. (And no, we’re not kidding about anything in that list.)
All things considered, this is a great item to own if you’re active and need to keep your things organized on the go. The PPG is an added bonus if you have access to a car or wall outlet, but don’t get too hung up on the solar panel “cool” factor.
Want to try it for yourself? We’re giving away our (gently used) Solar Backpack. Just leave us a comment below by 11:59 p.m. ET on October 31, 2013. We’ll pick one person at random to win the backpack. 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. Frannie Heath has won the backpack. Congratulations! Keep an eye on our blog for further chances to win.
As a 5-foot-1 woman who travels alone on a semi-regular basis, I’m always on the lookout for ways to feel more secure on the road. That’s why I was intrigued when the DoorJammer crossed my desk.
The sturdy red gadget is a more sophisticated version of those little triangular wedges you can shove under a door to keep it from being forced open. It has an adjustable foot that allows it to be used on a variety of surfaces and even on uneven floors.
I gave it a try here in the IndependentTraveler.com office, once on carpet and once on a wood floor. While I wasn’t immediately sure how to work the DoorJammer just from looking at it, the step-by-step directions in the manual were easy to follow — put the flat part under the door and tighten the bolt until the engagement foot is firmly anchored against the floor. To take it off, unscrew the bolt. (In an emergency such as a fire, you can also simply pull straight up on the DoorJammer, and it will release immediately. I tested both removal strategies with no problems.)
When someone pushed on the door from outside, the DoorJammer held firm; although there was a clear gap between the frame and the upper part of the door (where my potential assailant was exerting force), the door did not open enough to let anyone in.
To see how the DoorJammer works, check out this short video:
Do you really need the DoorJammer if you’re staying in a hotel with both a standard lock and a deadbolt? Probably not. But at hostels, older properties or budget hotels with only single locks or flimsy-looking chains, a product like the DoorJammer can offer an extra layer of protection. It won’t take up much space in your suitcase either: it weighs in at 8 ounces, and stands 4.75 inches high and 2.75 inches wide. You can buy it for $29.99 plus shipping and handling on Door-Jammer.com.
Want to try it out for yourself? We’re giving away our (gently used) DoorJammer! Just leave us a comment below by 11:59 p.m. ET on October 9, 2013. We’ll pick one person at random to win the DoorJammer. 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 DoorJammer is Terry Kong. Congratulations!
Standing in the middle of a sidewalk with a map spread out in front of your face, trying to determine whether the cathedral is to the right or left, is a sure way to let everyone know you’re a tourist.
And that’s not only embarrassing; it’s dangerous too. You can be sure pickpockets and scammers are noticing you. But even with maps downsized onto our smartphones, how do you avoid looking like a lost tourist while trying to navigate unfamiliar places?
Here’s how it works. First, type your destination into a special GPS app you’ve downloaded onto your phone to get walking directions. Then plug your belt, which looks like a normal brown belt, into the phone via a small cable. The phone will send the directions to your belt and, as you walk, the belt will vibrate in one of four places indicating which way to go.
Directions call for you to go forward? The front of the belt will vibrate. Time to turn right? The right side of the belt will vibrate. And so on.
Sound too futuristic to be real? You’re halfway right. Triposo, best known for Android and iOS travel guides, has created a working prototype of the belt, but isn’t yet in a position to make it available to the general public.
What happens when an architect gets her hands on aerial topography? She turns maps of major cities (New York, Tokyo, Paris, London, Dhaka) into dresses, purses and scarves, of course. Initially we rolled our eyes at the idea, but let’s face it: the results are super fun. The line, called Cityzen by Azin, was created by New York City architect Azin Valy, who got the idea while helping with an exhibition on urban planning for New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
It’s not always apparent that the prints are really maps — which is probably a good thing! — but the apparel still turns heads with bright colors and fun shapes. What we find extra intriguing, though, are the fun recommendations for things to do in each city for which a dress is made. Heading to Bangkok? Try Thai cuisine at Bo.Ian. Visiting Rome? Stroll through Bernini’s colonnades at St. Peter’s Basilica. We love that Valy also recommends a local charity in each city. (Check out more here, on the right.)
One caveat: While we were really excited by the concept, we weren’t so excited about the prices. A scarf will set you back $250, and the least expensive dress is $762 — clearly not ideal for a woman on a budget.
The last time I packed for a long trip, size did matter. I had to stuff as much as I could into one suitcase. Thankfully, it was a big suitcase. But this was a 12-day cruise, and I had to pack for a variety of weather and occasions — including formal night. That meant I needed to have as much room as possible at the top of the suitcase so my dresses wouldn’t crease.
Enter these nifty elastic bands called rollnbands, which you can use to wrap rolled pieces of clothing together to make more room. They were very helpful for compressing my T-shirts, workout clothing and PJ’s into a small space, leaving more room to pile in my folded items. (For those more organized than me, you could also use the bands to roll each day’s outfits together, so that all you have to do is grab a bundle before getting dressed in the morning.)
Fearing wrinkles, I didn’t feel comfortable trying to wrap my “nicer” items with the bands. That didn’t matter though, as the extra space provided by the tightly packed rolled items was more than enough to put my folded pieces on top. The larger bands proved more useful than the small ones, as a large band could wrap three to four items and a small band only wrapped two.
I didn’t find rollnbands to be as helpful to me as packing cubes, which are more appropriate for clothing that’s easily wrinkled. But they work great for packing mushable items into a tight space in order to make room for clothing that needs a bit more room.
A pack of rollnbands comes with five small and five large bands and retails for $19.95.
Want to try them for yourself? We’re giving away a few of our gently used rollnbands. To win, just leave a comment below by 11:59 p.m. ET on August 15, 2013. We’ll pick one winner at random to win the rollnbands. 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. Reader Linda Conner has won the rollnbands. Stay tuned for further giveaways!
Just when you thought SkyMall’s offerings couldn’t get any more ridiculous, we’re back with another round of silliness as a follow-up to 9 Useless Items You Can Buy at 35,000 Feet, straight from the company’s summer 2013 catalog.
Editor’s Note: Click on the thumbnail images for a larger view of each product.
7. Singing Toothbrush: Just can’t get enough of Justin Bieber? Bring him into the bathroom with you … while you brush your teeth, that is. This toothbrush plays your choice of tunes from the Biebs, Lady Gaga, LMFAO or Psy for two minutes while you clean your pearly whites. Fun? Sure. Necessary? At $14.99 each, not so much.
6. Rednek Party Cup: Let everyone know that you’re classier than the average frat boy at your next cocktail get-together with these melamine and glass cups. They’re whimsical, and they’re useful, but at $12.95 apiece, we wouldn’t recommend using them for beer pong.
5. Mademoiselle Floor Lamp: Looking for the perfect accent piece to decorate your home’s dungeon in the basement? Resembling a headless woman wrapped in faux leather, this lamp will surely fit the bill. Speaking of the bill, this conversation-starter will set you back $499 (not including $99 for shipping and handling).
4. Replacement Collar Dress Shirt: Perfect for the lazy, white-collar (no pun intended) bachelor, this snazzy dress shirt comes with two removable collars. When one gets dirty or wears out, simply replace it with a new one via Velcro strips. For just $29.99, you can eliminate unsightly collar-sweat stains … and any chance of finding a date for this weekend. It’s a shame this must-have fashion piece doesn’t also come with replaceable armpits.
3. Toppik Hair Building Fibers: Correct the appearance of thinning hair with this … stuff. What we’ve gathered from the description is that it’s basically colored baby powder that’s sprinkled onto existing hair to create the appearance of a thicker mane. Choose from nine different colors for $21.95, and watch as it stands up to “wind, rain and perspiration.” We hear it also outlasts nuclear winter, withstands chicken pox and repels telemarketers.
2. Zombie of Montclaire Moors: For just $99.95, this creepy zombie garden statue will make it look like the undead are pushing daisies from under that pristine flower bed you just planted in your backyard. Some assembly is required — it ships in three pieces. (Tip: Place one of his arms in a nearby birdbath for a more authentic look.)
1. Humunga Lips, Tongue and ‘Stache: Would your dog look better with a mustache or a pair of bright red lips? We didn’t think so, but apparently the weird-stuff purveyors at What on Earth did. These comical canine rubber balls come with a tongue, a mustache or lips attached. They’ll set you back anywhere from $12.95 to $17.95 each, depending on size.
When I arrived at my hotel on a recent trip to Toronto, I did my usual bed check, pulling back the duvet and casting a careful eye over the mattress and box spring. Fortunately, I saw no telltale reddish brown spots, so there didn’t seem to be any bed bugs lurking between my sheets. But if there had been, I had a line of defense: a 20-inch carry-on suitcase from ThermalStrike.
The suitcase (also available in a 24-inch size) uses infrared technology to heat its contents to a temperature of 140 degrees — hot enough to kill bed bugs and their eggs. To start the heating process, you must load both sides of the suitcase evenly, stand it up, raise the telescoping handle and plug the bag into the wall. The heating process shuts off automatically once the treatment is over. (The company’s Web site offers an estimate of 2.5 hours for the “fatal temperature” to be reached, but in two different tests my carry-on shut itself off within 45 to 60 minutes.)
The suitcase gets hot to the touch during the process, but not to the point of danger; kids or pets touching the case by accident shouldn’t be harmed. Of course, you’ll want to take out anything that might be damaged by heat, such as cosmetics, sensitive electronics and that chocolate bar you’re bringing home for Mom.
Read on for a few of my favorite and least favorite things about the suitcase — and to see how to win it for yourself.
Bed bug concerns aside, the ThermalStrike is a solid carry-on bag. The materials are sturdy and high-quality (with the possible exception of the telescoping handle, which felt a tad flimsy), and it’s an attractive bag inside and out. A built-in TSA-approved lock allows for a little extra security, and the spinner wheels were an upgrade over the rolling upright I’ve been traveling with for the last decade.
Though I don’t believe I was in any danger from bed bugs on this particular trip, treating my clothes and other belongings with the suitcase gave me a little extra peace of mind.
I’m used to traveling with a soft-sided carry-on, which has a couple of external pockets where I can stow things like my quart-size bag of liquids and gels for easy access at security. The hard-sided ThermalStrike carry-on was less convenient on that front; to get my toiletry bag out, I had to lay the suitcase on its side and unzip the main compartment to get to the “quick-access pocket” inside — not ideal in a crowded security line.
The pivoting wheels occasionally seemed to get a little stuck when I tried to turn the suitcase, both in the airport and on a few uneven sidewalks in Toronto.
To run the heating process in countries outside of North America, you’ll need both an adapter for the plug and a converter with a voltage of at least 300 watts. (See Electricity Overseas for more info on this topic.)
At $349 for the carry-on and $399 for the 24-inch suitcase, the price may be beyond the reach of many travelers.
If you can afford the price tag, the peace of mind may be worth it, especially for an otherwise sturdy bag.
Editor’s Note: For those who are asking, the 20-inch carry-on weighs eight pounds, according to the product specs on Amazon.com. The 24-inch suitcase weighs 10.5 pounds.
Want to try it out for yourself? We’re giving away our (gently used) suitcase! Just leave us a comment below by 11:59 p.m. ET on June 11, 2013. We’ll pick one winner at random to win the ThermalStrike carry-on. This giveaway is open only to residents of the lower 48 United States and the District of Columbia. To read the full contest rules, click here.
Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner of the suitcase is Susan Dalpe. Congratulations, Susan!
My greatest weakness as a travel professional? I can’t sleep on planes.
If you’re like me, then you know the feeling of dread that washes over you when you realize that nothing stands between you and an incredible trip to Europe (Asia, South America, etc.) but 12 hours of red-eye misery, cramped in coach class, a hard, unyielding armrest digging into your hips, head banging against the windowshade, legs going numb as you try to contort yourself in the one miracle position that will bring on sleep. And you almost don’t go.
But if you love travel as much as I do, you suck it up and go. In a desperate attempt to make long-haul flights more bearable and find a miracle cure for the sleepless flight, I took four travel pillows with me on a recent trip from San Francisco to Germany and the Netherlands. I chose products that seemed unusual or intriguing. Here’s how they ranked. (Spoiler alert: I barely slept a wink.)
Kuhi Comfort Travel Pillow The Pillow: The Kuhi Comfort Travel Pillow is not your standard-shaped neck pillow. It’s made of two soft cylindrical balls, attached by a strap. The selling point is that you can use it multiple ways. Turn it one way and the curved part is by your neck; flip it around and the flat part is against you. Straighten the strap and you can tuck one end over your shoulder and cuddle the other, put it behind you for back support and place it in your lap to rest a book.
The Flight: I was pretty excited about this one — the design is original and the materials feel high-end. To my disappointment, the fit is just off. The strap is too short and the balls are (ahem) too big. When the pillow was around my neck, I felt surrounded by material. Trying alternate positions didn’t work — the pillow is too bulky for good back support and too short to sling across your body. The final blow: Because the pillow isn’t inflatable, you have to carry it around in its little stuff sack, which attaches nicely to the handle of your rollaboard but dangles awkwardly if you’re carrying a backpack or other bag.
Final Verdict: I wanted to love it, but I just couldn’t make it work.
Cabeau Evolution Pillow The Pillow: The Evolution Pillow is an enhanced version of the standard, plush (non-inflatable) neck pillow. It’s made of memory foam and has raised side supports to cradle your neck — or you can wear the pillow backwards to support your chin. It even has a pocket for your MP3 player. It comes with a travel case and memory-foam earplugs.
The Flight: I was the least excited about the Evolution Pillow, but it was actually really comfortable. I used this one while dozing on an early-morning flight, and I did appreciate the extra head support, the soft material and the absence of the inflatable-pillow plastic smell. However, I would like to see a step-by-step video of how the designers scrunched the pillow down to a quarter of its size and fit it into the stuff sack. I couldn’t even get the entire pillow into the bag, so I couldn’t use the Velcro straps to attach it and it just dangled awkwardly, threatening to fall out.
Final Verdict: Until someone can show me how to make this pillow travel-friendly, I’m sticking with my blow-up model. (Editor’s Note: Cabeau recently offered us the following instructions for packing the pillow.)
EZ Sleep Travel Pillow The Pillow: Imagine a miniature version of an inflatable pool mat that you could stand up like a wall between airplane seats, attached by a Velcro strap around the arm rest. What you see in your mind is the EZ Sleep Travel Pillow. The concept is to create a support structure for you to lean against as you catch some in-flight Z’s, so your body isn’t flopping about like a rag doll.
The Flight: It hit me in the airport — if I have the aisle seat and someone else has the window, I may be too embarrassed to set this inflatable wall up. It’s big and it encroaches into shared territory. Luckily for me, I had two seats to myself. The pillow does not seem as sturdy as the claim — if I really fell asleep on it, I don’t believe it would hold my weight without collapsing onto my seatmate. What it was great for was putting against the armrest or the window to create a soft surface to lean against — preventing hard metal and plastic plane parts from bruising my body as I tossed and turned.
Final Verdict: If you and a family member are sharing adjoining seats, by all means, set this pillow up. Otherwise, it might not be worth packing the EZ Sleep to use in conjunction with another pillow for your head or neck.
Travelrest Travel Pillow The Pillow: Here’s a new one — an inflatable pillow shaped like a banana, or possibly an apostrophe. It’s larger on the top, so you can rest your head, and then tapers into a slight curve (this part slings across your body). A long string at the bottom lets you attach the two ends to secure the pillow around you or your airplane seat.
The Flight: This pillow was hands down my favorite. I contorted my body into all sorts of positions trying to sleep across two airplane seats, and whether I was sitting up or half-lying down, the pillow cradled my head and gave me something to wrap my arms around so they didn’t just dangle uselessly. The only downside was the plasticky smell that plagues all inflatable travel pillows, though perhaps that would go away after a few uses.
Final Verdict: While it didn’t help me sleep, the Travelrest pillow made my attempts more comfortable. I’m keeping this one and will definitely use it again.
Micro Luggage might be the most fun you ever have schlepping your belongings from airport to hotel. It also might be the most impractical way to travel for anyone who is embarking on a trip longer than a weekend.
Micro, a Swiss company known for cutting-edge scooters and kickboards, has made the leap into travel gear, combining a carry-on-sized suitcase with a three-wheeled scooter. A YouTube video (watch it below) shows users gleefully gliding through airports aboard the foot-powered scooter, passing other luggage-dragging suckers stuck with standard rolling bags.
Realistic? Not so much.
Having never set foot on a scooter in my life, I decided to try it in a safe — flat — environment first: the office. The carpet slowed my roll a bit, which was just fine for this beginner. I worked a little on turns, which was an intuitive process (lean left, turn left; lean right, turn right).
Feeling empowered, I decided to give it a true test: an eight-day work trip. Read on to learn how it fared — and find out how to win one for yourself.
Micro Luggage is small — somewhere between the size of a rolling laptop case and a standard carry-on — so I needed to pack an additional suitcase, which meant I wouldn’t be able to use the actual scooter part until after I checked my bag at the airport (you can’t ride a scooter while pulling another bag). While the Micro Luggage pulls behind like a standard roller, it doesn’t roll smoothly or turn easily when using it in this manner. I found myself picking it up far too often because it was “skipping” as I pulled it.
Going through security, I made the mistake of placing the suitcase on the belt wheels down, which caused it to get caught going through the X-ray machine (to be fair, the instructions warned about that; I just didn’t thoroughly read them until I returned from my trip).
The interior has all sorts of neat pockets, but the functionality falls apart when it comes to packing efficiently. You must pay special attention to how you load it, placing heavy stuff in the back and light stuff in the front, to prevent it from tipping over when you’re riding it. The max weight allowed is only about 15 pounds. Also, the handle is large, so you can grip it like a scooter’s handles as you ride it, but this means you can’t slide another bag — such as a laptop bag — over the handle to pull them both at once. I was forced to shoulder my heavy laptop bag, which made my ride feel unbalanced.
It’s completely impractical to ride at full speed (never more than about six miles an hour, as per the instruction booklet) through a crowded airport, unless you want to do some serious damage to fellow passengers or suffer the wrath of security.
This thing is fun. The wheels glide so smoothly that you feel like you’re playing a game rather than slogging through an airport. It also gets you from Point A to Point B much more quickly than it would otherwise take. Once you get the turning down, it’s easy to maneuver. I didn’t actually use the brake, finding it easier to stop by putting my foot to the floor.
Micro Luggage is a great conversation starter. If you’re uncomfortable talking to strangers or getting weird looks, you shouldn’t ride a scooter/suitcase through a busy airport or hotel lobby. But if you’re not shy, you’ll make friends who ask about your sweet ride. At my hotel, the bellhops took turns trying it out, and a girl of about 6 boldly proclaimed it was her turn before I crushed her dream (yes, I felt awful, but “This product is not for children!!” according to the instructions).
It’s sturdy. It accommodated my husband (at 6’4″ and almost 200 pounds) as easily as it accommodated me (at 5’7″ and significantly less than 200 pounds). He had fun testing it out in a parking ramp, though we later discovered that’s another no-no, as Micro Luggage is intended to be used indoors only and on flat surfaces.
While Micro Luggage is a blast, it’s not suitable for heavy travel use. It’s too small and doesn’t accommodate enough weight to be useful for someone who needs to pack, say, a large laptop, a tablet, a camera and other carry-on essentials. The novelty of it is great, but at a retail price of $249, it needs to be more practical.
Want to try it out for yourself? We’re giving away our (gently used) suitcase! Just leave us a comment below by 11:59 p.m. ET on March 15, 2013. We’ll pick one winner at random to win the Micro Luggage. This giveaway is open only to residents of the 50 United States and the District of Columbia. To read the full contest rules, click here.