A Travel Essential For Women: The Little Black Dress

Even though the seasons are shifting to spring, I’m still dressing in wool. I’ve said before that I’m crazy for the newer merinos; they’re not just for long underwear anymore. And because they’re made of natural fibers, they breath well making them surprisingly versatile for those transitional seasons. It’s a little counter-intuitive to think that wool is okay in warmer temps, but the lighter fabrics work well for winter, spring and fall, and I’ve worn my merino skirt in summer, too, because it’s got so little weight to it.

For my spring travels, I’m packing the M2 dress by Nau. It’s a drape-y, flattering boat neck, three quarter sleeve piece that shakes out nicely after it’s been crumpled up in your bag. You can dress it up with whatever shiny extras your packing – a pashmina (because you always have one with you, right?), or some sparkly flats, or a pair of cute tights, or just wear it with sandals and go casual. A pleat at the hip gives it a little bit of swish, so even though it’s “just” a black dress, it’s got a bit of style.

The M2 is the medium weight merino so it provides some warmth if you’re wearing it in chillier places (or overly air-conditioned restaurants. I throw all my merino in the washing machine, have done for years, and it’s washed up just fine – but it’s best to keep it out of the dryer, it lasts longer that way and has less risk of shrinking.

I’m a lazy dresser and I don’t like to pack single use only items. I’m also a sucker for anything that makes me look stylish but feels like something I could wear on a long-haul flight. You might be thinking it’s a little late in the season for buying wool, but depending on where your travels take you, it might not be, plus, off-season pricing applies to clothing, too. Get your little black three-season dress directly from Nau; it’s on sale as I type this.

[Photo: Nau]

Three New Experiential Eco-Fashion Trips Taking Off This Summer

This summer, three new eco-fashion-oriented package tours will offer the chance for ethical designers, makers and consumers to meet artisan communities, take workshops in craft production and see the impact of their conscious purchasing decisions.

While different in structure, these trips all offer the chance to travel along an artisan product’s supply chain, from visiting farming communities in Ecuador, to knitting with naturally dyed alpaca yarn in Peru, to shopping finished products in Guatemalan boutiques.

Even for people who don’t geek out on beautiful textiles and hand looms, these trips offer a different way to travel, one that emphasizes connections with the people behind your souvenirs.

Awamaki-Kollabora Collaborative Crafting Workshop

When: May 25 to June 2, 2013
Where: Ollantaytambo, Sacred Valley, Peru
Perfect for: Students, or travelers who seek an authentic off-the-beaten-path experience
What: “A cross-cultural tour pairing you with a Rumira knitter to develop a Kollabora knit item using local, hand-spun alpaca yarn. We trace the entire creation of your project through hands-on engagement: visiting alpaca farms high in the Andes to source fleece, learning to spin fleece into soft yarns, dyeing yarn skeins with native plant dyes alongside Quecha weavers, and studying the local backstrap loom.”
Accommodations: Home-stays with Awamaki’s host families.
Side trips: Incan ruins, markets in Cusco, Machu Picchu.
Organized by: Kollabora, an online community for DIY inspiration, projects, skills and supplies, in partnership with Awamaki, a non-profit that supports artisan groups in Peru’s Sacred Valley.
Price: $1,799, which includes home-stay accommodations, most meals, day trips, guides and crafting materials. Fee does not cover international airfare to/from Cusco, visas, travel or health insurance, tips and personal purchases.
For more information: Visit the trip description page or email peru@kollabora.com.Mercado Global Insight Trip: Community Empowerment

When: June 30 to July 4, 2013
Where: Lake Atitlan and Antigua, Guatemala
Perfect for: People who are curious about social enterprise models and their impact on communities. Mercado Global also offers a Women Helping Women trip for women interested in mentoring and a Financial Empowerment trip for people interested in the entrepreneurial side of rural artisan businesses.
What: “An exclusive week-long journey that fuses service, leadership, and once-in-a-lifetime cultural exchange. Attendees will meet the indigenous Maya women we partner with in the Guatemalan highlands and learn about how their transformation into leaders has impacted their families and their communities.”
Accommodations: Four-star lodging in Lake Atitlan and Antigua.
Side trips: Boat trip to Santiago Atitlan, tours of colonial Antigua.
Organized by: Mercado Global, a social enterprise that links rural indigenous artisans to international markets in order to break the cycle of poverty.
Price: $1900, which includes accommodations, all meals, local transportation, guides and translation and staff support. Fee does not cover airfare.
For more information: Visit the website or contact Leah Vinton at community@mercadoglobal.org.

Fashion Designers Without Borders Immersive Sourcing Safari

When: July 22 to 28, 2013
Where: Quito, Tena and Otavalo, Ecuador
Perfect for: Fashion industry professionals who want to explore opportunities to collaborate with developing world artisans. Other sourcing safaris have taken place in Kenya and Guatemala.
What: “Climb volcanoes, trek the Amazon and get lost in cloud forests. Ecuador’s atmospheric landscapes, resources and people will enchant you. Recognize new opportunities in accessories development. Appreciate the unique resources of this truly magical place.”
Accommodations: Four- to five-star hotels in Otavalo (in the Andes), Quito and Tena (in the Amazon).
Side trips: Activities at an Amazon jungle lodge, trip to the Inga Alpaca Farm, tour of colonial Quito.
Organized by: The Supply Change, a consultancy that connects the fashion industry with global artisan communities, in partnership with The Andean Collection, a line of handcrafted accessories with a social mission.
Price: $4000, including accommodations, meals, day trips and local transportation. Fee does not cover airfare.
For more information: Visit the website or contact Chrissie Lam at chrissie@thesupplychange.org.

[Photo Credit: Mercado Global]

Gadling Gear Review: Bergan’s Osen Down and Wool Jacket

Sometimes, when I look at the price tag on a piece of gear, I think, “Really? It’s made in some factory in Asia, there’s not that much material to it, and really? REALLY?” Other times, I’m lucky to get to try out something super nice and my reaction is different. It’s more along the lines of, “Yeah, it’s expensive and I totally get why. And I really don’t want to send it back now that I’ve seen it.”

Bergan’s of Norway’s Osen jacket fits that category. The wool and down, water resistant jacket (available in both a men’s and a women’s cut) is one of the nicest things to pass through my hands for some time.

This isn’t your typical “poof” layer – it’s a combination of a wool and polyester blend on the sleeves, shoulders and waist with a down torso and collar. It looks great – the women’s cut makes sense; it’s got a bit of shape to it and the bright, contrasting zipper pulls are in a cool neon green on the jacket’s dark blue. Add a rain shell to this and you are set for just about any weather.
Everything about the way this jacket is made speaks of attention to detail. The collar is lined with microfleece so it’s not itchy or cold on your chin when it’s zipped up all the way. The pockets are big and they zip the right way (you’d be surprised how often this is not the case). The finish work is immaculate; the seams are all folded over and sealed and there are no loose edges or threads. And the sizing is right – something that’s increasingly rare in women’s outdoor gear.

The jacket was missing two things I’ve come to appreciate in this kind of gear – pit zips and a two way front zipper – but it’s still nicer than many a jacket that’s been in my test queue.

The wool/poly mix is a nice alternative to the usual slippery nylon shell you get with your typical down jacket. It gives the jacket some alpine formal style. I wore the Osen jacket out and about a few times and always got compliments on it.

The Osen jacket will set you back $329. The line doesn’t seem to have wide distribution in the U.S. yet, but check with your local mountaineering store or use the Bergan’s “Find a Dealer” link provided on the site.

[Image courtesy of Bergan’s of Norway]

Travel Hacking: Best Holiday Gifts For Low-Tech Travelers

I’m an unapologetic Luddite. My colleagues at Gadling will attest to this. The fact that I write for AOL is both cosmic luck and hilarious irony given my initial reluctance to embrace the digital era.

I can’t help it; it’s hereditary. At least, that’s what I tell myself, whenever I watch my dad pecking away on my grandparent’s 1930s Smith-Corona (not a lie), or fumbling with the remote.

It’s unsurprising that when I travel, I try to keep things as low-tech as possible. It’s a matter of both practicality and part of my old school aesthetic that leads me to eschew costly devices and other gadgets. I’m also incapable of figuring out how to use them, so I look at it as less items to get stolen or malfunction.

I know I’m not alone, so I’ve compiled a list of holiday gifts for the die-hard travelers on your list who refuse to change their old-timey ways. Just remember, one of these days, us minimalists are going to be cutting-edge for being retro.

Gift card to an actual bookstore (preferably independently-owned), or travel store.
Yeah, books are heavier to lug than a Kindle or a Nook, but as a writer, I value the written word. So do a lot of people, and one of the joys of traveling for us is exchanging books with fellow vagabonds or trading in at a guesthouse or hostel.

Prepaid international phone card
Cheap, abundant, and a hell of a lot less of a hassle than dealing with Verizon overseas (in my experience). A prepaid international card is easy to purchase, although do note it’s usually less expensive for travelers to purchase cards at their destination. It’s the thought that counts.

Netbook or airbook
I may be tech-challenged, but I’m not crazy. I can’t earn a living if I don’t travel with a computer. My inexpensive little Acer has seen me through a lot of countries and fits neatly into my daypack, along with its accessories. Don’t forget a wireless mouse to go with it.
Waterproof journal
Many travelers keep journals, and some of us who travel occupationally still carry notebooks (I don’t even own a tape recorder). It’s a huge bummer, however, when the inevitable rain, beer, wine, or coffee renders covers soggy or writing illegible. An all-weather notebook is the solution.

Ibex undergarments
I used to work in a mountaineering/ski shop in Telluride, and I swear by Ibex. Their 100% merino wool, American-made boy shorts, long johns/long “janes,” cami’s, sports bras, and adorable, long-sleeve, stripey tops are the ultimate underlayers for cold weather adventures. I road-tested some items on a month-long backpacking trip through Ecuador, from the Amazon Basin to one of the highest active volcanoes on earth. I was able to do laundry exactly twice. Ibex: 1, Stench: 0. Men’s and women’s items available; they also make outerwear.

Travel scarf/shawl/blanket
Many women get cold on airplanes and long, AC-blasted bus rides. Since I backpack, I’ve found several different drapey items in my travels that pull triple duty. Depending upon what part of the world I’m in, I’ll use a soft, alpaca shawl to dress up outfits, as a lap blanket, or an impromptu pillow. In the Andes, I sub a llama wool poncho. In the tropics, it’s a pretty, airy sarong. When I get home, I have a wonderful souvenir.

If you’re buying for someone departing on a trip, any department store will have a wide assortment and price range of pashminas or scarves. Just be sure it’s a dark color, to hide dirt and stains, and that it’s made of soft, preferably natural-fibers, so it won’t absorb odors as readily. The item should be able to withstand sink-washing.

Multi-purpose beauty products
Regardless of gender, everyone loves multi-purpose travel products: more room for souvenirs! I like Josie Maran Argan Oil, which can be used as a lightweight, yet rich, face or body moisturizer, or to condition hair (use just a few drops for soft, gleaming strands). Rosebud salve comes in cute, vintagey tins, smells lovely, and soothes everything from dry lips and cracked heels to flyaways. Many top make-up brands produce multi-use products: I crave Korres Cheek Butter, which is also gorgeous on lips (all available at Sephora).

Lush makes luxe bar soaps that work on body and hair, but perhaps the kindest gift for the female adventure traveler? Inexpensive fragrance that does double duty as perfume and clothes/room freshener. I never leave home without Demeter’s Gin & Tonic Cologne Spray.

[Photo Credit: jurvetson]

Kiwi Cool: Saving Money While Traveling In New Zealand

Saving money in New Zealand - supermarket lamb
Last month, I spent three weeks traveling through New Zealand, focusing mainly on the cities and culture. After living in Istanbul for two years, it wasn’t the culture shock, the jet lag, or the seasonal switch that was hard to adjust to, it was the prices. While I knew New Zealand wasn’t cheap (though their dollar is slightly weaker than ours), I was unprepared for the sticker shock. Dinner and drinks can easily run $50 a head or more, city buses can cost more than a NYC subway ride, and $3.50 for a bottle of water seemed offensive. I did discover a few ways to save money and still enjoy the Kiwi cool.

1. Drink locally, eat globally – New Zealand is known for its excellent wines, and starting to get accolades for their craft beer as well. Whether you’re dining out or picking up a bottle in a supermarket, it’s hard to go wrong with anything made in New Zealand; even the cheapest glass of house “Sav” is likely to be pretty tasty. Also note that many pubs are likely to be “tied” houses (unlike the excellent Free House in Nelson, pictured in my first “Kiwi cool” post) and will carry a limited range of brands, giving you an incentive to stick to the “house” tap. In contrast, for cheap eats, look for foods with origins outside the country; Asian cuisine like sushi, Chinese noodles, and Indian curries are often the most budget-friendly options and given the country’s ethnic mix, just as authentic Kiwi as roast leg of lamb and Pavlova.

2. Rent a car – This is one area where I didn’t follow my own advice, preferring to explore the country on public transportation as my husband is the only driver in the family and my baby is not a fan of car rides (yet she’s perfect on planes). Generally, public transportation in New Zealand is not cheap – a day pass for the Auckland bus system is over $10, taxis from the airport can cost up to $100, and the cost of two bus or train tickets between cities often exceeds the daily rate for a budget rental car. Kiwi companies Jucy and Apex offer older model cars as low as $22 – 34 per day, if you don’t mind a less than sweet ride.

3. Book transportation online – If you do choose to go the public transportation route, it can pay to make your arrangements online rather than in person. By booking tickets for the Waiheke Island ferry online, I saved $7 on each adult fare, even for a same day ticket. As part of the promotion for the new Northern Explorer Auckland-Wellington train, Kiwi Rail was offering two-for-one tickets, check their website for current promotions.

4. Check out motels – In my European travels, I’ve been using AirBnB and other apartment sites to book accommodations, as it pays to have extra space, laundry and a kitchen when you are traveling with a baby. The AirBnB craze hasn’t quite hit New Zealand yet, though you may find luck with BookABach (a bach is a Kiwi word for a vacation home that might be more basic than a typical house). I was more surprised by the quality of motels and motor lodges in New Zealand, they are often modern in style and comfortably outfitted with nice amenities like heated towel racks, electric blankets, and real milk for your coffee standard (a small pleasure compared to the powdered creamer typical in most hotel rooms). Motel rooms range from modest studios to sprawling apartments with jacuzzis. I found a useful directory of accommodations on NewZealand.com, and you can filter for features such as laundry or pool and check for special deals. Golden Chain is a quality collection of independent motels spread over both islands.

5. Create your own Wi-Fi hotspot – Another surprise I found in New Zealand is the lack of free Wi-Fi. Even many coffee shops only offer Internet for a fee, and some accommodations will limit your free connection to 100 mb or so per day. The city of Wellington has set up free hotspots in the city center, but I found the signal hit or miss. A more reliable and affordable option is to make your own hotspot by purchasing a pre-paid SIM card with data. Consult this helpful wiki for rates; I bought a SIM through 2degrees with 1 GB of data for about $20. One other tip is to find the local iSite tourism office for a short period of Wi-Fi access if you need to check email or make travel plans (they can help with booking travel and accommodation too, of course).

6. Shop vintage – After a few days in Kiwi Land, you’ll feel an urge to buy lots of nice merino wool clothing and gifts. For a country with apparently more sheep than people, it is everywhere and you can easily spend hundreds of dollars on new sweaters. Another option is to try vintage and thrift shops. I found a lovely baby sweater probably knitted by a nice Kiwi grandmother for $8 in an antique store, just as quality as the $30 one I bought at a market, and both far cheaper than most retail shops. Auckland’s K Road and Wellington’s Newtown have lots of used and “opportunity” shops, often with proceeds going to charity. Eco-friendly fashion is also becoming more widespread, and “recycled” fashion shops can be found in most cities.

7. Stay in on public holidays – One upside to the high cost of a pint of beer is that tipping is unnecessary in New Zealand; the GST tax on goods includes service. However, you will note on many restaurant menus a surcharge for public holidays of 15%. This covers the owner’s cost of paying their employees more for the holidays. Try to avoid dining out on holidays or look at it as a special holiday gratuity.

A bonus tip that may or may not be relevant in the future: follow the rugby fan trail. Started for the Rugby World Cup in 2011 to ease traffic congestion and crowding on public transport, Auckland’s Fan Trail was revived for a match against Australia last month. The trail stretches two miles from downtown to the stadium and is lined with entertainment, food and drinks, and other activities, most of which are free. Even if you aren’t headed to a game, it’s fun to watch both the performers and the fans dressed up to cheer on their team. If you happen to be in Auckland during a future big rugby match, find out if the city plans to run the fan trail again.

Stay tuned for more “Kiwi Cool: New Zealand for the Un-adventurous.”