Canadian Wanderer

Travel plans, thoughts & lessons

Month: December 2014

A few travel products that just missed the mark

I’m always on the look-out for travel items and products I think may make my journeys that little bit smoother but inevitably a few failed to work for me so thought I would share a shortlist though just because they weren’t my thing doesn’t mean they may not work for you.

To minimize the amount of liquids & gels in my toiletries bag I bought a small matchbook size box of a solid toothpaste tablets called Toothy Tabs from LUSH. These toothytabsall-natural tablets are meant to be crushed in your mouth just before you wet a toothbrush and begin scrubbing your pearly whites but I found the peppermint, spearmint, lavender oil and wasabi flavored Ultrablast tablets didn’t fully dissolve while brushing leaving small bits behind. The upside however is the grittiness I’d expected wasn’t there.

A small box however isn’t a huge investment at only $5 and am using up what I have left so it’s far from a huge loss for trying something new.

compI’d read several articles on compression sacks or bags which reduce the volume if not the actual weight of clothing in luggage by squeezing out the air and so ordered a two pack set online from Amazon for $5.99 with S&H. I should note that this amount is a fraction of what these bags can sell for through various luggage or travel retailers as some sets can be $30 or more.

After inserting clothing the air is designed to be forced out through a one way valve by rolling the bag but what I found happened was the items didn’t roll but bunched up at one end instead of laying flat as advertised. This effect was somewhat reduced by putting fewer items into the bag but doing so would mean you would need more bags and so after one of the bag valves gave way I abandoned this packing experiment. I found good old Ziploc bags in the larger sizes perform well at a fraction of the price of some of the name brand compression bags and always have a few handy in an outside pocket of my carry-on bag.

While staying in Brooklyn and taking in the excellent New York Transit Museum I bought a Mighty Wallet in the gift shop largely as a souvenir because of the subway map design but also because I thought the lightweight Tyvek material would be lighter than leather and less conspicuous in my pocket. wallet

Tyvek is the same synthetic material used in courier envelopes so delivers a strong lightweight material but found after a number of trips the card slots didn’t hold credit cards as firmly and a wrinkled patina with wear stains was forming which detracted from the wallet design.

For $15 it was an impulsive museum gift shop purchase that didn’t quite work out for me but have kept the wallet for future trips to New York City.

My travel product hits & misses are my own personal experiences as a result of trial and error and will continue tinkering with things to see if they fit my travel routine. Please leave me a comment if you’ve had travel items not work out as well as intended.

 

 

A few favorite travel products

Rather than pen a ubiquitous ‘Top Ten’ list of travel items I would instead offer a few products I find handy and had performed well for me on the road.

Travelling with only a carry-on necessitates watching the amount and size of liquids in the little plastic pouch you must use for airport security so two years ago started using a bar of shampoo as it not only counted as a solid and not a liquid but it had the added bonus of never leaking and spilling inside my toiletries bag. lush

The 55g bar by LUSH comes in nine varieties -I’m using the Jumping Juniper  at present- and will last for months with normal daily use. At  $10.95 it is a good value especially for those who prefer supporting socially conscious firms as it is vegan friendly having no animal products of any kind,  is fresh without preservatives or additives, comes naked without packaging and is handmade.

This lightweight bar surprised me by lathering up more than I’d expected it to and doesn’t leave behind too strong of a scent. Like any solid bar it should be left in the open air to dry but  does dry fairly quickly. I opted to buy a little metal holder to put it in for those times where I need to hit the road before it can dry out.

A staple in my toiletries bag for its sheer usefulness this item is a solid choice for travelers.

Another innovative product born of an equally innovative company is the 3D Clear Organizer Cube from Seattle-based Tom Bihn. Designed to replace the disposable plastic liquids bag for airport security as the name implies this cube has with zippered closure and features clear urethane sides with a frame of nylon available in a variety of colours.

tombihnPost 9/11 with the creation of the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) in the U.S. and not long after the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) having to store your liquids in an open ended plastic baggie just wasn’t convenient for those flying often so was happy to have find this permanent solution which has performed admirably over the past three years.

New models come with a cord and plastic hook that make the bag handy to hang on in the bathroom though my early edition is with one that lacks this hanger. O-rings on either end allow a should strap to be attached making it useful to carry while hiking or camping so this little performer works well for all kinds of travel. The zipper and zipper pulls are plastic to reduce the overall weight but do not make the cube waterproof.

Despite comments from other travellers that airport security may not approve of the cube none has ever rejected it in my travels and quite the opposite in fact as several have actually taken a closer look at it in the x-ray bins or remarked on it’s clever design.

The 3D Clear Organizer Cube is one of a number of rugged bags and travel accessories assembled in the small firm’s Seattle factory. Tom Bihn is very engaged with its customers through blogs and forums and welcomes feedback on how to improve the design or construction of its products and it’s this customer focus coupled with a commitment to design and produce their own high quality products that have earned the company a growing legion of fans and count myself among them.

The Innate Portal Billfold is a wallet  made of durable rubber-like material which the company says is recycled urethane underneath a top layer of repurposed 210-denier nylon material from scrap fabrics. The two layers are put together without seams so there is no stitching or other obvious ways of bonding the two layers. There is room for at least 6 cards in one of two stacked slots plus a side covered pocket however the more cards carried the thicker the profile and more obvious it becomes in your pocket.   innate2

The urethane used in the card slots offers a secure grip and as a field test I put a few cards into the pockets, held the clip point and turned it upside down and shook the wallet hard for 30 seconds and nothing budged so while travelling the likelihood of a card falling out is low. I have tried other lightweight travel wallets including one made of Tyvek, a synthetic fibre material used in building insulation and courier envelopes, and the hold on the cards in the slots was not as firm as with the Innate Portal Billfold.

I liked that the cash pocket was deep enough to accommodate a variety of currencies without sticking up too high although as there’s no divider in this pocket your currencies will be kept all together.

The clip point on the right might be useful for some to attach a key ring however have not used it in my travels to date.

Note that this is a wallet and therefore is not large enough to hold a passport. I keep my passport in a separate holder which includes a few card slots I use for spare credit cards should I ever lose my wallet.

The Innate Portal Billfold is sold through MEC and at $16 is a very good value that has performed admirably for me in my travels over the past year and hopefully lasts for many more journeys.

There are a number of other travel products I carry that perform well but these have become my most indispensable items however not all the products I’ve tried have proven themselves and so will review a few in another post.

 

 

 

Flight review: Economy Comfort seats on Delta Airlines

After making me an offer I couldn’t refuse I confirmed a remarkable Delta Airlines deal roundtrip Edmonton – Hong Kong over Chinese New Year in February 2015 another of the airline’s offerings proved equally as impossible for me to resist.

In May 2014 Delta announced it was reinstating the Seattle – Hong Kong route previously flown by Northwest Airlines, an airline which merged with Delta in 2010, and much to my delight nabbed a roundtrip ticket with connectors from Edmonton under $500 with tax. While the price was right the thought however of 14 hours in regular economy seats between Seattle and Hong Kong in what would likely be a full aircraft wasn’t something to be savoured but rather more endured despite Delta’s recent improvements to their intercontinental economy in-flight service. The biggest consideration was the relative smallness of the legroom afforded passengers in regular economy so after some consideration opted to upgrade to what the airline calls Delta Comfort + which are the first four rows in the economy cabin with  an extra 4 – 5 inches of legroom. Within these seats on the Airbus A330-200 I flew roundtrip from Seattle there are some that are better than others as some research found the bulkhead row 10  seats directly behind the business class cabin offered even more legroom for the same price as other Comfort + seats.

Hong Kong February 2015 016

The aircraft is configured with two seats on either side of the central block of four seats and is my preference for being in a window seat within normally only one passenger to jump over to access the aisle. That however wasn’t a concern at all as these bulkhead seats have enough legroom to easily step out past the passenger in the aisle seat and stretch the legs in the aisle.

Hong Kong February 2015 017

I’m 5 foot 10 inches tall and was able to fully stretch out my legs and have my feet on the bulkhead – although the flight attendants don’t like you doing this – so plenty of room to stretch out. The added seat recline wasn’t too big a bonus but the extra legroom definitely was.

Beyond the added legroom however another perk of Delta’s Comfort + seats is priority boarding, something very important to this flyer who travels only with carry-on and prefers to board early to secure overhead bin space and avoid having to gate check my trusty Briggs & Riley carry-on.

The $160 one way Economy Comfort upgrade premium is non-refundable so should be seriously considered before being confirmed. It should  be noted that depending upon your elite status in Delta’s Skymiles frequent flyer program these upgrade costs can be reduced or even waived altogether but alas as I hold no special status on Delta I paid the full price but felt it was worth it for the additional legroom and priority boarding on a route that should be fairly full over the high demand Chinese New Year travel time to & from Hong Kong. I could’ve rolled the dice and waited until check-in to see if any of these upgraded economy seats were left available for a smaller upgrade cost but at a high demand season felt the chances of the extra legroom row 10 seats being available were small so opted to confirm them around 70 days prior to departure and not take any chances. The decision quite literally sat well with me.

 

 

Colossal Christmas displays

While I’m rarely if ever away over Christmas I have on occasion found myself on the road travelling in December when some of the Winter & Christmas displays have been set up and wanted to share a trio of my favorites.

New York City is big and bold in ways few other cities are and nowhere is this more evident than in the annual Christmas tree erected in Rockefeller Center, a holiday tradition that dates back to the year 30 Rockefeller Plaza, or ’30 Rock’ as many call it, opened in 1933. The tree, normally Norway spruce, ranges from 60 – 100 feet tall and is bedecked with 45,000 lights that twinkle above the skaters on the ice rink just below it.

Rockefeller Center tree

photo by Anthony Quintano/CC BY 2.0

This view is from Channel Gardens which separate La Maison Française on the left from the British Empire Building on the right , just as the English Channel separates the two countries in whose honor the buildings were named.  The tree dominates what is not a huge public space and can be seen from other entrances to this square. When here be sure to take the trip to the Top Of The Rock observation deck which offers some of the best skyline views of the city including the Empire State Building.

As big a scale as New York occupies for sheer size a life-size nativity scene and Christmas tree that regardless of dimensions are almost lost in the simply massive St. Peter’s Square in Rome. While St. Francis of Assisi is credited with creating the nativity scene in 1223 this annual display was inaugurated at the base of the Egyptian obelisk in the middle of the square by Pope John Paul II in 1982.

stpeters nativity

photo by deadmanjones/CC BY-NC 2.0

A world away in Osaka, Japan beneath a towering Umeda Sky Building is a Christmas tree and market done up in faux Bavarian wooden huts selling holiday gifts and souvenirs, a scene memorable as much for it’s size and location as it’s Western theme.

Osaka

photo by Kojach/CC BY 2.0

These are a few of my favorite Christmas displays but please leave me a comment on which ones are yours and why. Happy holidays!

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