As Senior Editor of IndependentTraveler.com, I’ve lost count of how many thousands of words I’ve written about how to travel more efficiently and intelligently. Many of those articles have been advice on how to pack — like tips for squeezing everything into a carry-on no matter how long the trip, and recognizing the signs of four common packing problems. So you’d think by now I’d be a perfect packer.
On a recent trip to Toronto, I forgot to pack not one, not two, but five things that I typically bring when I travel. While I managed to remember the absolute essentials — passport, medications, underwear — a couple of the items I forgot were pretty important. Like, oh, toothpaste. I also left without pajamas to sleep in, gum to equalize ear pressure during takeoff, a black tank top (without which one of my other shirts was unwearable) and a plastic bag for dirty clothes.
Fortunately, it wasn’t too hard to replace most of these items. My hotel came through with a dental kit, I borrowed a T-shirt to sleep in from a friend and I picked up a pack of gum (in a plastic bag, no less) at the airport. But I couldn’t remember the last time I’d packed so poorly — and done so by ignoring so much of my own advice. In the spirit of learning from my own careless mistakes, here’s what I’ll do better next time:
Start packing a few days before the trip. I never remember everything I need to put on my packing list the first time I write it out; starting a few days early lets me add additional items as I think of them. For my Toronto trip, I was so busy in the days leading up to the trip that I simply threw everything into a bag the night before I left. That was strike one.
Recycle packing lists from past trips. Let’s face it — most of what we pack is the same for every trip. So why reinvent the wheel each time? I often dig up old packing lists and adapt them for whatever trip I’m currently taking (shameless plug: it’s easy to do that if you save a copy of our interactive packing list). Had I done this for Toronto, there’s no way I’d have forgotten such basics as PJ’s and chewing gum. Strike two.
Restock your toiletry bag each time you get home. I grabbed the same quart-size bag of liquids and gels that I’d used on my previous trip, not realizing that I’d run out of toothpaste and failed to put another tube in. And that’s why I ended up brushing solely with water my first night in Toronto. Strike three.
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!
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.
For months I had been preparing for my eight-week trip to South America. As I bought new gear, I would toss it into my backpack without a second thought. It wasn’t until the morning of my flight that I dumped everything onto the living room floor — with less than six hours to determine what would make the final cut.
Space was at a premium because whatever I chose, I’d have to haul around on my back for two months. I’m typically a light packer, used to asking myself, “Is this necessary?” The items below answer that question with a resounding yes!
When you find yourself without electricity (Cabo Polonio, Uruguay), without street lights (San Pedro de Atacama, Chile) or simply in a situation where you want to be a considerate roommate (someone WILL be sleeping before you set out your toothbrush and pajamas), a headlamp is worth its weight in gold. Mine proved its worth by day three (of 60).
Hooded Silk Sleep Sack
My silk sleep sack, which folded up into itself and fit inside a quart-sized zip-top bag, felt luxurious … especially in hostels and budget hotels where the alternative was a sheet that was the texture of sandpaper. Bonus: In altitude, it provided me with extra warmth when the temperatures dropped.
Compression Sack Compression sacks are perfect for consolidating less-needed items; when I was in warm-weather locales, the sack eliminated the extra space taken up by my fleece and jeans.
iPod with Customized Playlists
I created a “sleep” playlist that served me well on overnight bus rides and when sharing rooms with snorers. To build up a little anticipation for your trip, you can create a playlist with popular and current music in your destination. When you return, you’ll have an instant souvenir with music you likely just heard on the road.
Go on, laugh. But don’t take TP for granted, even when you have to pay to use a toilet. In many parts of the world you’ll need to provide your own. (See Five Tips for Bathroom Preparedness.)
I was in an area known for mosquitos and I hadn’t taken any malaria meds. Upon checking into my hotel, I noticed there was a hole in the window screen. I whipped out the duct tape, covered the holes and hoped for the best. (For other uses, see Top 10 Travel Essentials You Can Find at Your Drug Store.)
Or as I call it, a cover-up, beach towel, pillow, pillowcase, sarong and blanket. Oh, and yes, a scarf.
Quick-Dry Travel Towel
This was a good alternative in spots where bath towels were the size of washcloths. It also proved useful at the beach. Bonus: Sunshine really speeds up the drying process.
Biore Cleansing Facial Cloths
After an overnight bus ride or just a few days sans shower, using one of these made all the difference. I will never travel without facial cloths again.
Thankfully I never used this, but it took up permanent residence in my daypack. It was at the ready if there was an abundance of stray dogs or if I was walking alone in the dark.
I never had to use it as such. Instead, it doubled as a change purse. Had I needed to hand it over, it was heavy enough to be believable, yet it didn’t hold enough to impact my travels.
Last week, we published a slideshow of the World’s Ugliest Luggage, highlighting suitcases that challenge the boundaries of taste, color, common sense … or all of the above. In response, reader Dona Stewart sent in a few ugly luggage photos of her own:
Gotta love that 70’s powder blue!
But it turns out that these less-than-stylish suitcases are being used for a higher purpose. Said Stewart, “I collected all of those suitcases (priced under $5 each, most $1) for my favorite small dog rescue. They made dog beds out of them, truly an up-cycle project. They sell on Etsy.com for $50 – $150 apiece.
“The idea to use the castoffs as a pet bed came from observing one’s pet jump into a suitcase opened for packing, often with a sad look,” Stewart continued. “My little Yorkie, Lana, jumped right into her suitcase bed the moment I placed it on the floor. Her ‘bed’ serves a dual purpose; when she is ready to go stay with her pet sitter while we travel, I use it to pack her ‘stuff.'”
All together now: “Aww!” We give this idea two paws up for turning travel trash into treasure.
People who discover that I travel often, long-haul mostly and for weeks at a time, say, sagely, during cocktail chat, “You must be a genius at packing.” Actually … no. I’m a graduate of the school of “But what if I need…”
As a packer, I’ve cut back on the books, thanks first to Kindle and now to iPad, though not so much when it comes to movies (Netflix doesn’t transfer out-of-country). Fashion-wise, I have found ways to maximize variety while minimizing outfits. But I’ll confess: Give me too much time in an airport and all hell breaks loose.
On a recent vacation jaunt from Newark to Helsinki, which took a whopping 22 hours thanks to late departures and missed connections, my most egregious problem was neither sleep deprivation nor travel annoyance. It was the extra time for shopping.
Once I got bored with sitting in the Newark lounge, it occurred to me that I could buy presents. In the airport’s expansive mall, I found a slinky New York-themed T-shirt for my teenage niece, a Big Apple-decorated onesie for the latest addition to my spouse’s Finnish family, and a couple (okay, a bulky wodge) of magazines to support me through the three-week-long English-language desert that is a vacation in Finland.
And that was just Newark. Once we arrived in Frankfurt, where we’d just missed our connecting flight and had four bleary hours to kill, the airport’s liquor stores offered quite the bargain-hunger’s justification. Finland’s taxes on alcohol make otherwise reasonable prices for wine, vodka and Champagne ridiculously expensive, so we loaded up. My husband’s impulse purchase of German sparkling wine put us over the top.
Suddenly, we were carting seven bags of carry-on stuff onto an airplane (these in addition to the two very chunky suitcases, full of American gourmet items, DVD’s and other necessities, that we’d already checked). Boarding the two-hour flight from Frankfurt to Helsinki, I felt like — to paraphrase my Finnish husband’s charming interpretation of American aphorisms — one of the “Beverly Hilly-Billies.”
So no, I am not a great packer. I will invariably have too much of one thing and not enough of another. But I can offer one silver lining: the things you scramble to buy because you don’t pack well will be the souvenirs you remember the most.
Be you bucket lister or wildlife buff, the idea of cruising the Galapagos is imbued with animal magnetism. It’s evocative of a science fiction adventure — ship as time machine transporting travelers to a prehistoric land of black lava, alien cactus trees and giant tortoises.
It turns out that planning for such a voyage, which includes ticking off items like “underwater camera housing” or “quick-drying pants that magically become shorts,” is oddly satisfying. So with the determination of a flightless cormorant who hasn’t had eel in a week, I began researching, prepping and packing for a July Galapagos cruise aboard Metropolitan Touring’s 48-passenger La Pinta.
As I dug through travel message boards and guidebooks, and picked the brains of past passengers, there emerged four cornerstones of the successful Galapagos cruise: protection from the sea and weather, proper footwear, a touch of pre-cruise study, and a means to record the experience of wandering onto a beachhead littered with groaning sea lions and thousands of fluorescent orange crabs.
Protection from Sea and Sun
The packing list skewed more backpacker’s trek than cruise. Instead of a blue blazer and dress shoes, I stuffed my carry-on with quick-dry shirts, zip-top bags to protect equipment and a floppy hat to repel the equatorial sun. Also part of the regimen: two large tubes of sunblock, one SPF 45 for the delicate face, the other a waterproof 30 for the rest of the body — plus aloe, should I forget to re-apply either.
The sea poses its own problems — the wind-drawn Humboldt Current can bring with it nauseating, choppy waters from July to December — so I scored some Dramanine (which I later found that La Pinta offered in an all-you-can eat basket). Other passengers ultimately went with the prescription motion sickness patch, the dot-behind-the-ear option not available in South America.
Simply put, lava, over which many of the hikes take place, is unforgiving. Still, I left my hiking boots at home, opting instead for the TEVA sandals I’ve taken over rocky Greek Isles, European cobbles and dessert sands. However Galapagos visitors roll, they should make sure they’re properly out-footed. “A lot of people think, ‘Oh, I’ll just bring my oldest pair of shoes and then dump them at the end of the trip,'” said John, one of our guides. “If there’s one tip I can offer, it’s to bring a solid new pair.” (Break them in pre-trip to avoid calluses.) Sure enough, one French passenger suffered a dual sole-ripping on a single walk. His well-worn boots literally ripped in half. Given his propensity for mocking American dining habits, no one seemed too upset for him.
The Galapagos is a place where pre-knowledge enriches the experience — or so I was told. “On the Origin of Species” felt a little too “Challenges of Modernity,” a 200-level class, so I tapped Dominic Hamilton, Metropolitan’s Head of Communications, for something less collegiate. He suggested three: “The Beak of the Finch,” a non-fiction look at a pair of evolutionary biologists who watched natural selection, in real time, shape a colony of finches; “My Father’s Island,” a memoir written by a woman whose family colonized Santa Cruz in the 40’s; and “Galapagos, the Islands That Changed the World,” a photo-laden companion book to the BBC documentary of the same name. My public library had them all and all were winners.
Capturing the Tortoise
Though the local wildlife remains bizarrely apathetic to encroaching, camera-wielding homo sapiens, a colleague’s husband suggested renting a telephoto lens. I discovered LensProtoGo, which ships the lens in a waterproof, nearly indestructible Pelican case. The Nikon 80 – 400 millimeter telephoto lens costs about $1,600 new but only $15 a day to rent, and is ideal for framing the red-rimmed eye of the swallow-tailed gull or spying on other expedition ships. If you do bring the “bazooka” and plan on switching lenses, don’t forget the accouterments (a sensor cleaning kit). Jumbo-sized zip-top bags, procured from Amazon.com, would shield my camera equipment, already in a water-resistant bag, during wet landings (when Zodiacs pull up to a beach rather than a natural “dock”).
A second splurge, inspired by Galapagos cruise vets who shared regrets, was an underwater camera. I opted for a waterproof case for my Canon S90 point and shoot, which cost about $150. The video I took underwater, including a spiritual moment with a baby sea lion, was worth the cost.
The one thing I didn’t pack? My cat, a plague-like invasive species, had to stay.
As frequent travelers, we at IndependentTraveler.com like to think of ourselves as expert packers … but even experts make mistakes. As our special Packing Week continues, we’re taking a look at all those important little things that somehow didn’t make it into our bags.
My own personal bugaboo is sleepwear. I’ve accidentally left my pajama pants at home on a couple of trips, and discovered that sleeping in jeans is just not fun. But I’ve learned my lesson; these days, pajamas are the first thing I check off on my packing list.
Of course, I’m not alone in my forgetfulness. Below are stories from six other IndependentTraveler.com staffers who left home without some vital item — or, in one case, whose luggage left without her! Read, laugh and share your own packing story in the comments.
“As a bald male, I’m generally very conscious to always pack a hat in the winter. But upon arriving in Chicago, in March, I realized I forgot my hat. No problem, I thought. There must be hats aplenty in Chicago. So I walked across the street to the Oak Brook Mall (oddly enough an outdoor mall in Chicago). There were no hats to be found. Store after store, nothing. Finally, I went into Neiman Marcus. I did not want to go in here as I strongly debated if there were any level of frigidity that would cause me to spend what they might charge for a hat. Sadly, I did in fact find a hat, succumbed and bought it. The hat was an enormous furry thing, and I looked like I belonged to the Royal Order of Water Buffaloes (remember the ‘Flintstones’?). My wallet was lighter (read: empty), my pride was hurt, but boy, was I toasty!” — Matt Leonard, Director – Traffic
“I once forgot my toothbrush for a week of camping (ugh). On a different trip, I forgot my shoes — tennis shoes with a suit, anyone? And I once forgot my ID. The only thing I had with my picture on it was a credit/debit card (Bank of America — they take your picture). We went round and round and the TSA finally just let me go through! My mom overnighted my ID to me for the return.” — Jim Walsh, Sales Manager
“I’ve been on several cruises where I didn’t bother to pack a sweatshirt and was freezing. On one, I broke down and bought a sweatshirt in Cozumel. On another, I spent a sea day huddling under the covers because my bed was so comfy and there wasn’t much to do.” — Erica Silverstein, Features Editor for CruiseCritic.com
“I forgot the all-important undergarment: underwear! I ran to Walmart (only store open at 11 p.m.) and was the proud new owner of Fruit of the Loom briefs in fruit-stripe colors. Not my usual style, but it was the only thing packaged in plastic wrap that hadn’t been fiddled with and looked safe for immediate use.” — Kim Gray, Director – Sales
“Back when I was younger I went to the beach with my girlfriends for the weekend. We took two cars because some of us worked later that Friday. Since we arrived late, my friend and I went straight to a local bar to do some dancing with our other friends who were already there. We all had a great time but my friend with whom I drove left early, assumingly to go back to the house. When we arrived back to the house, her car was nowhere to be found and there was no answer on her cell phone. She finally did call us the next morning. She went home — two hours away — with all my luggage still in her trunk. So I got to spend the weekend at the beach with nothing but the clothes on my back . Lesson learned!! Unpack upon arrival.” — Jennifer Kuhn, Community Support
“On my first river cruise, I forgot my hairbrush — and wondered how Eastern European women ever brush their hair because the stores don’t carry any. And that was when we were in ports that even had stores (many were in the countryside). So, for several days, I went from port to port looking for one (with a rat’s nest above my head, natch). Actually, I did find a makeshift brush in Croatia that was literally a wooden stick with some bristles glued onto it. I charged this one item on my credit card at the supermarket, which netted nasty looks from the cashier. It was a piece of crap. Finally, Serbia saved my butt. I bought a great hairbrush in Belgrade that I still use.” — Melissa Paloti, Director – Product Development
It’s Packing Week here at IndependentTraveler.com, and we’re celebrating by giving away a free handbag. One lucky blog subscriber will win a Villa Cross Body bag from eBags.
This is a great bag for travelers because the strap across the chest makes it more difficult for would-be thieves to snatch. It’s also got plenty of pouches and zippable pockets, including interior sleeves for smartphones or sunglasses. The removable strap is 1.25 inches wide and can be adjusted to suit your torso. At 10.5 x 10.5 x 2 inches, the bag gives you plenty of storage space without being too bulky. And it comes in six different colors: black, navy, sunset, eggplant, sandstone and espresso.
The bag retails on eBags.com for $29.99, but if you want a chance to pick up a free one, just subscribe to our weekly blog mailings. Enter your e-mail address here or in the top-right corner of this page before Tuesday, June 19 at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time for a chance to win. All readers who are already subscribed are eligible for the giveaway.
I was visiting New Zealand in the springtime, and temperatures fluctuated from the upper 30’s to the low 70’s. To cope with the changing conditions, I packed the following clothing:
-Two pairs of pants: jeans (worn on the plane) and lightweight hiking pants
-One set of lightweight thermal pants
-Five long-sleeved T-shirts (including one worn on the plane)
-One lightweight hooded sweatshirt
-One heavy hooded sweatshirt (worn on the plane)
-Water-proof rain jacket with zip-in fleece liner (worn/carried on the plane)
-Two pairs of shoes: hiking boots (worn on the plane) and walking shoes
-Seven days’ worth of undergarments and socks
-One set of lightweight sleepwear
-Gloves, scarf and knit hat (stuffed into pockets of rain jacket)
This was enough clothing to get me through the first week, at which point I did laundry. To save carry-on space, I wore all the bulkiest items on the plane — jacket, hiking boots, jeans, heavy sweatshirt. And during the trip, I was like a Russian nesting doll, adding and shedding layers of clothing as needed. In the colder regions of the country, I wore both my sweatshirts plus my jacket every day, changing nothing but the T-shirt underneath.
In addition to clothes, I also had a camera, travel-size toiletries, a snack-size plastic bag full of medications, a baseball cap and sunglasses, a plastic rain poncho, a travel journal, a guidebook, an MP3 player and, of course, the essentials — passport, credit cards and air/hotel/car confirmations. All of this fit easily into my carry-on (a roll-aboard suitcase) and personal item (a backpack), leaving room for souvenirs.
A few things I didn’t bring: a laptop or tablet (I paid a few bucks to visit Internet cafes twice during the trip), dressy clothes (I ate only in casual restaurants) and a hair dryer (I used the ones supplied in hotels). I don’t have an e-reader, so I packed a few used paperback books that I’d picked up at my local library for 50 cents each. As I finished each one, I left it in my hotel room or at the airport for other travelers to enjoy.
This is just one strategy for traveling without checked luggage. What tips and tricks have you used?