Gadling gear review – Wordlock luggage lock

Hands up if you ever arrived at your destination (or back home) and couldn’t remember the 4-digit combination to your luggage. Wordlock is a product that could finally make locking and unlocking your luggage a lot easier.

The lock uses 4 letter dials to protect your luggage instead of dials with numbers. The lock has 10,000 possible combinations (same as with numbers) which means you can pick words like TEST, BYTE or HATS to safeguard your items.

The locks support the Travel Sentry key system, which means TSA inspectors will be able to open the bag without pulling out their bolt cutters.

Each lock is made of sturdy vinyl coated metal with a 1 1/2″ shackle. The locks are available in 5 colors (seen above) and retail for $9.99. The locks are are available directly from the Wordlock site and in store or online at several major retailers.

What to pack: Going light doesn’t have to mean going without

Jeff White had a love for travel, that much we all knew. But he also love to share his experiences, and the wisdom he gained while traveling, with the rest of us. I enjoyed reading everything Jeff wrote, but I especially loved this post in which he shared his packing tips. It seems no matter how much you travel, you can always pick up a few new handy tricks to make your next trip a bit easier. That’s what this post meant for me, and I appreciated Jeff’s insights. I hope you will too, and remember him the next time you’re packing your carrying on bag.

Given all the fees airlines are levying against passengers for baggage these days, it’s never been more important to think about how you pack and look for ways to go lighter.

Indeed, baggage fees are probably the best thing to have every happened to the one bag, carry-on movement. Even if people slim down their packing just to save money, they are bound to realize what die hard like packers have been saying for years: Lightening your load will keep you more flexible on the road and improve your travel experience. Once you go light you won’t go back.

But does going light have to mean going without?

Ultra-minimalists would say yes, because they’re goals in terms of packing are a little different than your average traveler. They go super light and super small (in terms of luggage), which they maintain gives them the maximum amount of freedom on the road.

I respect these types of travelers, the kind who travel months on end with only a change of clothes (I’ve even done this myself). Most people, however, are not ultra-light packers and often worry when they read the packing lists of one, viewing such lists as a little unrealistic.

You can afford to bring a few more things and still feel comfortable that you’re going light. The key is to pick good gear that is functional and versatile.

Here is what I pack for a standard one-month trip, where I am out of cities just as much as in them. All this fits easily into one carry-on bag, with room to spare. This list is also flexible enough that I barely tinker with it going between cold and hot climates. If I was traveling for a few months or a year, the list would still look the same.

Here’s what I bring:

  • 1 day pack
  • 1 fleece jacket
  • 1 rain jacket
  • 1 pair of shoes (wearing)
  • 3-4 techwik t-shirts (wearing one)
  • 4 shirts (wearing one): 2 wrinkle free cotton oxfords | 1 nylon long sleeve shirt | 1 nylon short sleeve shirt
  • 3 pants (wearing one): 1 nylon cargo pant | 1 nylon regular pant | 1 pair of khakis
  • 1 lightweight sweater
  • 1 toiletry kit
  • 1 waterproof pouch for notebooks, pens, travel documents, etc.
  • 1 iPod + small speakers

I’m also likely to pack a navy blazer if there are a lot of cities on my itinerary.

A note on the color black: A lot of my stuff is in black. I’m not a goth. I just don’t like to stick out too much when I travel and I find things in black are pretty nondescript.

Day Pack

A day pack is key, and it’s got to be compressible. There are a few on the market. Kiva makes a good one, for example. Mine is a Rick Steves’ Civita ($24.95). It’s pretty much as compressible as Kiva’s (mine fits into a small Eagle Creek PackIt cube), has enough room for a camera, books and fleece, plus it’s got water bottle holders, and it’s one of the cheapest available.

Fleece Jacket
Mine is a Eastern Mountain Sport Stretch with Gore Windstopper ($150), but pretty much any fleece will do. You want to make sure it’s at least 200 weight, and I recommend looking for those outfitted in Gore Windstopper with at least one horizontal pocket on the chest for your passport and other items you need easy access to.

Rain Jacket

The Marmot Precip ($100) is simply the best rain jacket you can buy for the money. It’s super lightweight, packs to nothing in your bag and keeps you dry against the hardest rainfall nearly as well as Goretex PacLite I never go anywhere without mine. In fact, when someone stole mine in Montenegro last year I was out of sorts until I was able to finally purchase another.

The perfect travels shoe is pretty much the traveler’s white whale. Does one exist? There isn’t one clear suggestion for a travel shoe, though there are certainly some ridiculous ones. I’ve gone through a lot of recommendable ones (Merrill, Keen, Clark’s) but I usually return to Timberland’s SMART line of shoes. They have bomber soles, are waterproof (I treat mine with an additional coat of NikWax) and feel great both on the trail and street. They are on the heavy side, though. If I were traveling in a hot climate, say Asia or the Middle East, I’d probably swap them for a pair North Face M Ultra 104s. They’re super light and totally waterproof (they have a Gortex membrane). You lose a little bit of the style look, however.

No matter where I’m going, I pack a few non-cotton T-shirts for my base layer — and you should do the same. First, they’ll wick away sweat, dry fast and deftly handle the odor that comes with wearing a shirt a few times without washing it. Second, they give you much more freedom in what you choose to layer over them (you don’t have to necessarily ditch cotton!) My pick are Eastern Mountain Sport’s TechWick t-shirts ($25). Why? Made of 100% polyester, they’re stylish on their own, do all the things a good base layer should and are not nearly as expensive as other options on the market. For really cold weather I choose a long sleeve version.

I’m probably one of the few who maintain that the old fashion cotton oxford shirt is the best travel shirt going. For years I wore old Gap ones — they’re amazingly comfortable (nothing beats cotton in terms of comfort) in hot and cold weather, durable and inexpensive. But travelers like to hate on cotton — it tends to wrinkle too much and doesn’t dry quickly. Luckily, I’ve found the answer: I pack two LL Bean’s wrinkle-free cotton oxfords ($29.95 each), which are comfortable, look great even having been rolled up, and are treated with a membrane that makes them stain resistant and easier to dry. I also throw in a North Face nylon long sleeve ($55) shirt for more rugged duty, and a North Face short-sleeve nylon shirt ($45) for Happy Hour.

Jeans are the absolute worst thing you can pack: they’re a lodestone on your back and take days to dry. Instead, invest in a pair of North Face Paramount Convertible Pants ($65). They’re roomy, comfortable to travel in, 100% nylon and easily zip off into a pair of shorts (which you can use as a bathing suit). I like these pants because the cargo pockets rest on your thighs, not on your side, so they’re easier to get at and the pant bottoms do not bunch at the heel like other nylon pants; they go over shoes and hiking boots very nicely (there’s even a zip flap at the pant legs to make them fit over thicker boots). I also throw in a pair of North Face Trekker Pants ($65), also 100% nylon but with a slimmer fit and no cargo pockets (they’re my day to day pants). Finally, I pack a pair of basic khakis ($29.95 at Old Navy) for evenings. I like ON’s because they’re more rugged and inexpensive.

I observed the sheer versatility of the Banana Republic Cashmere-Silk V-neck Sweater ($100) long before I owned one. My brother swore by his, wearing it everywhere from the beach after a swim (with wet trunks) to a hike to dinner to the theater. I can now say that it is the world’s best travel sweater: Ultra functional, thin and versatile, it keeps you warm in cold weather and is just about perfect for a cool evening in a warm climate. If you want to go less expensive, look for marino wool. If I’m going someplace really cold, I’ll swap this out for a beefier wool sweater.

Toiletry Kit
We’re talking shaving oil, razor, electric razor, toothbrush and deodorant — all of which fit easily into a small Eagle Creek PackIt cube. The rest I buy wherever I am.

Portable filing cabinet
I use a large Eagle Creek PackIt sack as a roving filing cabinet. It’s waterproof, so I put my notebooks, maps, travel documents, paperbacks and even my laptop, if I’m bringing it, in there and it keeps everything together.

I am not a gadget guy, and I honestly don’t understand those who insist on traveling with all the cords, adaptors and chargers that gadgets require. I make an exception for an iPod (or any MP3 device), easily the most useful gadget you can have for forging connections with different people. I throw in a very small, cheap set of portable speakers ($7), which work surprisingly well on just a few batteries. If I am traveling on assignment and have to take a laptop, digital camera and voice recorder, my small amount of accessories fit into a Eagle Creek toiletry case.

Did I leave out anything essential?

Airline baggage fees continue to climb

What started with a single airline charging passengers to check their second piece of luggage has slowly evolved into a massive money making scheme netting some airlines as much as $1 Billion in additional cash.

The state of airline travel now means there are just a handful of airlines that do not charge for additional bags, and those airlines that do charge you, are getting so greedy that they are actually raising their prices again.

At the moment, United Airlines and US Airways charge $15 for the first checked bag, and $25 for the second – that fee is about to go up an additional $5 for passengers who do not prepay to check using the airline website.

Delta and Northwest (the same airline now they have completed their merger) will be charging an insane $50 for the second checked bag on international routes.

The only major airline that has (so far) resisted the urge to charge for checking bags, is Southwest. This low cost carrier has even launched a massive TV advertising campaign promoting the fact that they offer free checked baggage on their flights.

Bottom line is that a family of 4, each carrying 2 bags will pay as much as $500 if they fly abroad on some airlines. The only solution to the problem is to bring less stuff, or try and stuff as much as possible into the overhead bin.

A well maintained airline baggage fee chart can be found over at the site of

What strange things have been found on planes?

Gadling gear review – The Tom Bihn Tri-Star

Let me open with a quick re-introduction to Tom Bihn bags. We first covered them here on Gadling when they announced their Checkpoint Flyer “TSA friendly” laptop bag. That bag was so impressive, that it went on to win a spot in our top 25 travel products of 2008.

Tom Bihn bags are a rarity in the luggage world – they are all designed, and hand made in the US, using many US sourced materials. The Tom Bihn Tri-Star is an interesting bag- it is the first bag that has actually made me excited about a piece of luggage.

When the bag was first announced, only a few details were released, and when the final product was shown, I knew it was going to be high on my “must review” list. So, here it is – the first ever review of the new Tom Bihn Tri-Star bag.

The Tri-Star is, as the name implies – a three in one bag. Previously, we took a look at the Tom Bihn Aeronaut, which offers similar features. The Tri-Star is a backpack, shoulder bag and carry-on bag all rolled into one. Best of all, these three features are extremely well implemented, and allow you to carry the bag in whatever way you want, each providing a ton of comfort. The Tri-Star holds 33 liters and weighs 3.4lbs. It measures 19″x13″x8″.

Folks following Tom Bihn bags will be interested to know that the Tri-Star falls between the Aeronaut and the Western Flyer (the Aeronaut holds 45 liters, and the smaller Western Flyer holds 26 liters). The size of the Tri-Star makes it ideal for a two or three day trip. In an upcoming article I’ll show you just how much stuff I carry with me when I travel!

One of the biggest innovations with the Tri-Star is actually the color. For the first time ever, Tom Bihn used blue in a piece of their luggage. I normally don’t pay much attention to things like fabrics and colors, but when you dive a little deeper into the technology behind luggage fabrics, you’ll be confronted with terms you’ve never used before, including “Dyneema/Nylon rip stop” and “ 1050 denier ballistic nylon”. What it boils down to, is that Tom Bihn spent a ton of time picking the perfect fabric for this bag, and actually had the “urethane coated, 1050 denier” specially dyed for them in the US.

The end result is a combination of abrasion resistant material in an amazing color. Seriously, when I opened the box containing the Tri-Star, the sun made the bag light up unlike I have ever seen in any piece of luggage.

The Tri-Star I am reviewing is a combination of their new Indigo (blue) and Solar Yellow (on the inside). This combination simply rocks, and makes the bag stand out from anything else you’ll find at the airport.

Now, on to the features of the Tri-Star. The basics are quite straight forward – you get 3 large main compartments, and 4 zippered pockets on the front. On the pack is a zippered portion for storing the backpack straps when you are not using them.

The rear compartment is the largest, and is designed to hold large items, like pants or shirts.This portion also features 2 tie-down straps, making it easy to stuff full of clothes and compress. The entire compartment folds open, making it easier to fill with garments.

The middle portion is designed to be able to hold more larger items, including a laptop sleeve (like their optional Brain Cell shown in the photo above). On the top of this compartment are 2 special clips which can hold the Brain Cell in place. Of course, you are also free to use this part for anything you want. This compartment opens on the top and a portion of the sides.

The third compartment is perfect for thinner items, like documents or a newspaper, but is also a great place for the “Horizontal Freudian Slip“, which is an optional accessory, but one that I can highly recommend. It is a removable “office” designed for pens, documents and other office-on-the-road items. The compartment can be split in half with a zippered divider. When you unzip the divider, the entire compartment can fold open.

On the front of the bag are 4 pockets – 3 horizontal, and one vertical. The three horizontal pockets reach to the bottom of the bag, and provide a ton of “give”. The largest of the pockets holds a removable key strap.

The vertical pocket to the right of the other 3 is a smart one – it is designed to hold a water bottle, and is fitted with what Tom Bihn refers to as “bellows”. The bellows prevent your bottle from falling out if you open the zipper. This feature can be “undone” by opening a button.

The zippers on the Tri-Star are as impressive as the bag itself. They are “YKK splash-proof Uretek zippers”, which means you won’t have a puddle in the bottom of your bag if you encounter a bit of rain. The zipper pulls are normal metal pulls, but Tom Bihn include a bag of cord zipper pulls with the bag. These can be attached to the metal pulls, or can completely replace the metal pulls (if you chose to remove the metal pulls, you won’t be able to send it back asking them to replace the pulls under their warranty).

(Photo showing the backpack straps stored inside the bag)

The Tri-Star costs $240
and is available in 4 different color combinations (Indigo/Solar, Steel/Solar, Crimson/Steel and Black/Steel). On its own, the bag does not include a shoulder strap. During the order process, you can pick one of two different shoulder straps. If you add the Horizontal Freudian Slip, a Brain Cell laptop case and a shoulder strap, the total price is $370.

Let’s be honest – this is not a cheap bag, and if you are used to buying $25 bags, then this price may seem quite insane. There is however something to be said for investing in a quality bag, and one that is designed to last for years.

Luggage like this is an investment, and if you treat high quality luggage well, then it’ll travel with you for years and years. If you are on the road a lot, then your luggage becomes part of your “home”. You can be in a different plane or hotel every night, but the one thing that always joins you is
your bag.

All Tom Bihn bags come with a lifetime warranty, and purchases have a 60 day money back satisfaction guarantee.

My conclusion about the Tom Bihn Tri-Star is simple – this is an absolutely amazing bag. Every portion of the bag feels like someone sat down and spent a massive amount of time trying to think like a traveler. The end result is a bag that not only looks great, but also works. With the current trend in airlines charging passengers for all their checked luggage, any bag that is designed to help you carry more of your stuff on board will eventually start saving you money.

In the coming week, I’ll take the bag on a trip and will report back (with photos) on how well it performs in the “real world”.

Ten of the world’s worst luggage incidents

Has an airline ever lost your bags? Did you arrive abroad, only to discover that your bags were sent in the opposite direction?

Quit your whining, things could be worse. Much, much worse.

In this lineup of major luggage mishaps, we’ll cover everything from luggage left out in the rain to bags burned to a crisp. We’ll even throw in an incident involving the tossed ashes of a passengers mother.

So, next time your bags get delayed by a couple of hours, just be grateful that the airline did not totally destroy your bag, or deliver a casket instead of your clothes.

Click here for our lineup of the world’s 10 worst luggage incidents