Last Friday, we asked readers to guess how many jelly beans would fit into our brand-new IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. The answer was 449 jelly beans (laboriously counted three times by the site’s editor, who only ate a few afterward as a reward). Randy, who answered with 413, has won the travel mug. (There was another guess closer to the correct answer, but it was submitted outside the stated entry period of the contest.)
If you weren’t the lucky winner, don’t worry. You’ll get another shot at winning a mug this Friday, when our How Much Is This Hotel? contest returns.
– written by Sarah Schlichter
IndependentTraveler.com readers, meet our brand-new travel mug. This sealable red and black logo cup will tote your coffee, cola, water or wine everywhere from cars to trains to planes (just be sure to fill it up after you’ve gone through airport security). To celebrate the arrival of our new mug, we’re giving one away to a clever reader.
To win the mug, all you need to do is figure out how many jelly beans fit inside it. Here are a few photos to help you guess:
We’ll award the mug (jelly beans not included!) to the reader who guesses closest to the correct number of jelly beans without going over. In the case of a tie, the mug goes to the person who answers first. Leave your answer in the comments below, and be sure to include a valid e-mail address so we can contact you in case you win. You must enter by Monday night, January 16, at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time. We’ll contact the winner and reveal the answer on Tuesday.
Update, January 17: The correct answer has been posted! See the answer and find out who won.
Editor’s Note: Our weekly How Much Is This Hotel? contest will return next Friday.
– written by Sarah Schlichter
My carry-on bag and I had a long-term relationship. I don’t know our anniversary, but I must’ve traveled with the same plain, green, cheap-brand rollaboard for at least 10 years. I knew how to pack it so all my clothes would fit perfectly for a weeklong trip, and I was confident that it would fit in the overhead compartment of any major airline because that bag had already racked up serious frequent flier miles. It was love.
And then, this summer, it died.
Once I got over my grief, I realized I would need a new carry-on. While my trusty suitcase had probably been a hand-me-down from my mom, I was now overwhelmed with the choice of picking out my own. At eBags.com alone, you can choose from 570 different rolling carry-on bags. From wheeled duffels to colorful hard-sided bags, spinner wheels to roll-aboards-cum-backpacks, the choices were endless. Which would make the best travel companion in the years to come?
Choosing the Right Travel Luggage
Just as I was going cross-eyed from reading too many customer reviews and considering therapy for my loss, I got an e-mail from a PR rep for Lipault of Paris, touting a new bag making its U.S. debut. The Lipault Travel Buddy was described as “light as a feather, ultra-durable and accessibly priced.” (It retails for $189.) I was attracted to its bright colors — red, orange and purple — as I hate straining to figure out which bag is mine on the carousel. And I was most intrigued by the claim that it squishes down to fit into a four-inch case for easy storage. When you live in an apartment and cruise a lot, compressible luggage is key.
So I got a free sample from the company to test out on a recent cross-country flight — a carry-on bag blind date, if you will. While I don’t think the Travel Buddy is the new love of my travel life, here’s my review of its, ahem, performance.
What I liked:
- The bag is definitely lightweight and compressible, made of strong 210-denier nylon twill fabric (I don’t know what that means either). I expected a thinner, floppier material (a la LeSportsac bags or ultra-light camping equipment), but it’s actually pretty sturdy. I carried it onboard one way, and could easily lift and carry the bag, while simultaneously pushing a stroller and carrying a backpack. I checked it on the way back, and it came back to me with no scuffs or tears. And it truly does squeeze down into a compact storage case that would fit easily under a bed, in a closet or in the corner of a cruise ship cabin.
- It’s very stuffable. I used it as my family’s laundry suitcase on the way back from our trip and just kept cramming more dirty clothes in, and the little bag just kept taking them. Though the bag looked full, I think I could have added even more with a little extra squishing.
- The carry-on fit easily in the overhead compartment with room to spare, even in the odd space over the lip between two compartment openings.
- The bag stood out, not only for its bright purple color but because it didn’t look like the typical carry-on. I even got a comment on it from the airline rep at bag check — and you know she sees a lot of luggage every day!
What I didn’t like:
- The bag has official dimensions of 21.6 x 14.2 x 7.9 inches (the PR rep calls it a 22-inch bag, while the Web site lists it as 20 inches). But as you can see from the photo, it appeared much smaller than my husband’s bag, the REI Tech Beast (official dimensions: 22 x 14 x 8.5 inches). As a tall person, I’m not sure I could fit a week’s worth of clothes in there (especially once you add in shoes). The next size up, the 25-inch bag, is not carry-on friendly.
- The outside pocket is in the middle of the bag, yet the pocket runs the length of the bag. It was awkward to pack, and once the inside compartment of the bag was maxed out, it was nearly impossible to squeeze anything into the exterior pocket. Also, while the bag expands to the limits of its flexible material, it does not have a zippered expansion section.
- The $189 price tag is a little high for a small-ish carry-on whose only real feature is its compressibility.
Final verdict: I enjoyed my time with the Travel Buddy, but I think we can only be friends.
11 Versatile Travel Essentials You Can’t Do Without
If you know an eligible bag good for a former frequent flier, now toting a tyke, who likes international travel, outdoor adventures, urban escapes, extra legroom seats and long walks through a terminal, let me know in the comments section below.
– written by Erica Silverstein
Unless you’re 18 inches tall, sleeping on a plane can require Zen, calculated fatigue, a prescription, and three or four Finlandia and tonics.
Enter the Napsac ($47.50): one part backpack, one part sleeping apparatus for the spatially oppressed.
Inventor Joe Maginness sent over a sample of his travel innovation, which is basically a well-constructed backpack topped with a U-shaped memory foam pillow. Inside, there’s a support beam that keeps the walls of the bag rigid and upright. Tired? Wear the backpack in reverse, tighten the straps, rest your chin in the bag’s soft concavity and ponder a placid mountain lake on a windless morning.
Sleeping on Planes
If a horse can sleep standing up, surely I can sleep stuffed in coach with the Napsac on a Continental red-eye to France. The bag was screaming — nay, neighing — for a field test.
Try as I might to get comfortable, though, sleep did not come. I felt too much downward chin pressure when using the bag. After about 90 seconds, a hungry grizzly started trotting through the lake toward me, and I needed to readjust, firing a metaphorical gunshot in the air, to ease my jaw tension. Ninety seconds later, he was back. I have a theory that the chin issue was caused by my torso being longer than the sac, thus creating too much space between pillow and beard. Either way, the in-flight squirming continued.
Perhaps my lack of comfort was my own fault. When using the Napsac, proper posture — a problem for anyone bound to a desk for a third of his life — is key. A straight back allows the sac to be sufficiently tight against one’s body and held in position.
While I couldn’t quite hit the sack with the backpack, I did use it frequently during idle moments on the road. I was the slightly hunched traveler, chin resting on pillow, on the fountain steps in front of Notre Dame, on a park bench, in an art museum studying Impressionists. When I was just looking for a quick break, I called on the sac. And despite my in-flight insomnia, I found myself commending the product for its above-standard bag qualities. The Napsac fit a laptop in a padded pocket, and a guidebook and a sandwich in the main compartment. A cell phone, an MP3 player, a packet of cookies and car keys occupied the many zippered pockets. Frankly, it was just a nice carry-on bag, pillow or not.
Now it’s your turn to try the Napsac. My field tested (gently used) version is up for grabs. Simply post your tip for sleeping on an airplane in the comments, and we’ll choose one responder at random to receive the bag.
– written by Dan Askin
Earlier today, we asked our readers to reveal their favorite travel shoes on our Facebook page. No single brand or type prevailed. Our well-traveled readers recommended everything from classic leather walking shoes like SAS Free Time to trendy offerings from Tom’s footwear. Some folks even hit the road Neanderthal style. Said John Channel, “None … [I] like to feel the earth.”
Unlike many of our Facebook followers, I’ve yet to find a go-to pair of travel kicks — and I’m not keen on wandering shoeless through the airport. So when CitySlips sent me some foldable shoes to review, I was pumped. CitySlips are lightweight, bendy ballet flats, which fold into a small, easy-to-pack shape. The shoes come with a nylon carrying pouch that unfurls into a larger tote. (Sorry, guys. CitySlips doesn’t make shoes for men.)
On a recent trip to Europe, I packed my pair of classic CitySlips, which sell for $24.95 on the company’s Web site. I was pleased to discover that each shoe took up about as much room as a balled-up pair of socks. I could even fit one shoe tightly into a pant pocket.
I always wear my bulkiest shoes in transit, for the sake of saving suitcase space. So during a transatlantic flight and a three-hour road trip, I donned knee-high boots. When I finally arrived at my B&B, pulled off my boots and slipped on the CitySlips, my feet sang. The shoes felt soft and cozy; they offer the comfort level of slippers, but you can wear them in public without looking like you’ve just escaped from the hospital.
Score one for foldable shoes. But there’s a downside: CitySlips weren’t built for long-distance walking. The flats were originally designed to be backup shoes for travelers caught in painful stilettos or blister-inducing boots. I tried wearing mine for a few hours while navigating the cobblestone streets of Paris, and I didn’t feel like I was getting the appropriate support for heavy walking. CitySlips are better suited for long car or plane rides, breakfasts at the hotel and short walks to close-by cafes than for multi-mile schleps through city streets.
Want to try ‘em for yourself? Enter coupon code 10OFF and receive a 10 percent discount when you purchase your shoes on CitySlips.com.
Now it’s your turn. Tell us about your favorite travel shoes!
– written by Caroline Costello
We’ve found a carry-on bag that does more than, er, carry. It’s a $66 bag that could pay for itself in just one flight (depending on which airline you choose) — a bag that was designed in direct response to ever-evolving airline fees and bag-size restrictions.
On most airlines, there’s an easy way to avoid baggage fees: restrict yourself to a carry-on bag only. But on ultra-low-cost carrier Spirit Airlines (one of those airlines we love to hate), you’ll have to break out your wallet no matter how efficiently you pack. The airline charges up to $45 each way for checked bags and up to $40 for carry-ons. (Even joining Spirit’s $9 Fare Club will merely reduce the fees, not waive them.) The only thing you can bring for free is a single personal item small enough to fit under the seat in front of you.
Before all you Spirit fliers start trying to jam a week’s worth of clothes into your purse, check out the luggage at CarryOn Free. Smaller than a standard carry-on bag, the CarryOn Free rolling suitcase is specifically designed to meet Spirit’s size restrictions for personal items (16″ x 14″ x 12″). Two zipper pockets help travelers stay organized and make the most of limited packing space.
At $65.99, the bag pays for itself the first time you avoid Spirit’s carry-on fee (up to $80 roundtrip). But even better, you can win one for free. We’re giving away a tan and copper carry-on to one lucky reader who leaves a comment below. Just share your smartest packing tip in the comments by Tuesday, September 27 at 11:59 p.m. ET for a chance to win.
Editor’s Note: This giveaway has ended. Check out the winning packing tip — and get an exclusive discount to buy the CarryOn Free rolling suitcase — in Travel Tip of the Week: Why You Should Always Pack a Hat.
– written by Sarah Schlichter
In “Super Sad True Love Story,” Gary Shteyngart’s fictional novel set in the near future, bar patrons use advanced smartphone-like devices to detect the best-looking person in an establishment and rate all patrons on a numeric scale of attractiveness. Such an app, thank everything that is holy, does not exist. Yet. But a similar kind of app is rolling out across the U.S., and it could, surprisingly, offer some advantages for travelers.
11 Essential Travel Apps
SceneTap, a free app for iPhone, Android and the Web, uses facial detection cameras to determine the male-to-female ratio of people in select bars, as well as calculate the average age of everyone inside. It’s kind of like Big Brother — that is, if Big Brother were a sleazy rake seeking gender-specific bar patrons of a certain age.
The app, which launched last month, presently functions just at bars in Chicago. But the folks at SceneTap are working hard to bring their app to a drinking hole near you. SceneTap spokesperson Andrew Cross told me in an e-mail that more than 250 bars and nightclubs around the U.S. have signed up to join SceneTap. And the company is in the process of researching international markets.
Now, here’s why I might actually use SceneTap. In addition to serving up the creepy age and gender stats, the app shows how many people are in a bar, and lists relevant food and drink specials. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve showed up at a historic pub listed in my guidebook, only to encounter a sweaty pack of patrons pushing out the door, half of whom were likely led there by the same mass-produced guidebook. Crowds spook me. So when this happens, I usually turn around and go someplace less interesting. I think it’d be useful to know how packed a place is before taking two tubes and a bus to get there.
What’s your take on SceneTap? Is it a useful travel tool … or an app for tools?
– written by Caroline Costello
Every Wednesday, we’ll feature one practical travel tip here, on our blog. Get our clever weekly tips and other travel resources in your inbox by subscribing to our blog (top right) or signing up for our newsletter.
So you’re going overseas and you’d sooner cut off a limb than leave your smartphone behind. (We understand. There’s nothing like a little Angry Birds to while away a long flight.) You probably already know that you can call your carrier and have an international calling/data plan temporarily added to your account to cover the dates of your trip. But Ed Hewitt identifies one potential pitfall:
“When you make a connection overseas, you are typically not connecting to your own carrier’s service, but to a third-party carrier, which then bills your carrier, which bills you. Some of these carriers will not bill your account in an entirely timely manner, such that data connections made in July might show up on your August bill. As such, you will want to make sure the dates for your data package extend long enough after your trip to cover these late-billing companies, and you will want to watch your account to make sure all charges have been applied before turning off your international package.”
If you remove your international package too soon, any subsequent overseas calls or downloads could be charged at your cell phone carrier’s normal (read: exorbitant) rates.
Don’t assume that your carrier’s international plan is your best option. Hewitt offers his own secrets for avoiding calling and data charges in Traveling with a Smartphone: Cut Costs Overseas.
– written by Sarah Schlichter
Who doesn’t love a list?
Time magazine has unleashed a doozy. Earlier this week, Time named the top 100 most influential gadgets produced since 1923 (the year the mag began publication), noting that many items “get the nod simply because they were the first of their kind. First may not always be best, but it’s surely a sign of smart innovation.”
I was intrigued, and not only because I’ve always gotten a kick out of the Clapper and the Roomba (no, I don’t own them, and, yes, they’re on the list). What piqued my interest was the fact that so many of Time‘s gadget greats turned out to be invaluable travel aids. For every Taser and Cordless Electric Drill included, there’s an equally useful tool for road warriors.
Here are five of Time‘s picks that travelers can particularly relate to:
I used to think the Sony Walkman (also on the list) was indispensable, then I got my hands — and ears — on the iPod. Now, the moment the flight attendants give me the all clear to use small electronics, I can’t turn that thing on fast enough and start zoning out. Bonus: It’s ridiculously easy to pack.
Bose Noise-Canceling Headphones
Ok, I never sprang for the $350 version, opting instead for (much) cheaper Bose wannabes. Still, credit goes to the company for coming up with the technology, and I’ll take the soft hum of nothingness over the drone of airline engines any day of the week.
Mattel Electronic Football
I’m a bit ashamed that I’m old enough to remember this gem (it came out in 1977). This portable electronic football game kept me occupied for hours in Dad’s station wagon on road trips — until the batteries died, that is, and the back-seat battles with my sibs would begin.
Ah, yes — every traveler’s little helper. Without it, how would we book online, eat in restaurants we can’t afford and make impromptu decisions to buy overpriced knickknacks when we don’t have enough foreign currency on hand?
From my wallet to the pockets in my travel pants to the handle on my duffel bag, it’s literally the one thing that keeps my vacations from going to pieces.
What do you say? What gadgets do you swear by when you’re on a trip?
– written by John Deiner
Step aside, fanny pack. Halloween is still more than a week away, but scads of publications are already coming out with holiday travel gift guides featuring the latest inventions in the travel world (stay tuned for the far superior IndependentTraveler.com holiday gift guide — to be published soon).
I’ve taken a look at what’s on offer this year, and it seems to me that some of these companies may be running out of ideas. While there’s no shortage of novelty among the gadgets and gizmos for sale this season, there are a few things that, quite frankly, I’m going to leave off my Christmas list. Like the infamous fanny pack or sandals with socks, these products get the job done — but only if you’re willing to sacrifice a little dignity.
The Tugo is a cupholder that rests between the handles of your upright rolling luggage. For a mere $9.95 (or $12.95 for the deluxe version), your previously restrained drink-holding hand can swing freely in the breeze, slap the airport security guy high-five and leaf through trashy magazines in the terminal book store.
PlaneSheets are said to “keep germs at bay” while bringing color and style to your drab airplane seat. The sheets come in washable ($24.99 – $29.99) and disposable ($14.99) varieties, with colors like black toile, leopard print, zebra and camouflage. Those of us who traditionally opt not to advertise that we’re obsessive germaphobes can now come out of our closets and show the world that our inflated fears of filthy public spaces can, in fact, be fashionable!
Teragram Solutions, Inc. is bringing burka-inspired sleepwear to a plane near you. The Snazzy Napper is a lightweight sleep blanket with a face-covering eye mask atop its billowing folds. A clever nose hole keeps travelers alive and breathing as they slip into an identity-free dreamland. This product is perfect for fugitive travelers and passengers not interested in friendly chats with seatmates.
I’ll admit it — this looks comfortable. Still, I gather that travelers passed out on the trashcan-shaped SkyRest might garner curious stares from fellow fliers, which may make the experience, well, less comfortable. This thing brings to mind so many questions. If you’re not sitting in a window seat, wouldn’t this pillow block your seatmates’ access to the bathroom? And wouldn’t a large inflatable beach ball work just as well?
The XShot is a pole that you attach to your camera so that you can snap thousands of pictures of yourself without having to balance your equipment on the cruise ship balcony or rely on the dubious photography skills of buskers. It’s not a terrible idea — this thing is great for the “Look at me!” Facebook generation. Just be careful, as dangling your $300 Canon in the air three feet in front of you screams “Free camera!” to thieves bold enough to snatch and run.
–written by Caroline Costello