Five uses for carabiners (besides climbing)

I’m a big multi-tasker. I’m also tiny, cheap, and a “lite” traveler. Even when I’m going on the road for a couple of months, I somehow manage to cram it all in my backpack. I use a daypack for carrying my essentials (passport, credit cards, cash, documents, sunblock, sunglasses, water, etc..), but it’s only so big. At 5’2″ I don’t like to haul around something the size of a parasitic twin.

This is why I love carabiners. These oval, pear-, or D-shaped metal clips–of the style used by rock and mountain climbers–are handy and versatile, and come in a variety of sizes, gauges, and prices. I never use professional carabiners, which are more weighty and costly than my intended uses (they also have screw, auto-, or triple-locks, rather than straight gates, which I find more handy for light use). I do, however, purchase heavier, stainless carabiners of the sort found at REI or other outdoor stores.

I seem to find a new use on every trip, and admittedly, I sometimes resemble either a pack mule or a bag lady after a day of exploring, shopping, or hiking. But who cares? It’s better than wrecking my back by using a bigger pack or traveling with shoulder bags that don’t don’t compress well (I do, however, keep a canvas tote rolled into the bottom of my big backpack so I can haul souvenirs home).

So what exactly can you do with ‘biners? Read on.

1. Carry your baseball hat or shoes on your backpack
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done this, both on my daypack and large pack. Sometimes I don’t have enough room to pack my running shoes, Chaco’s, or hiking boots, or maybe I need a spare pair of shoes for a day trip (apologies to former seatmates who have endured the stench of my sweaty shoes during flights). I also wear a baseball hat for sun protection if I’m doing any kind of outdoor recreational activity, but once I’m done with it, snap.

2. Clip on some shopping bags
I travel with a nylon shopping bag in a stuff sack (I recommend ChicoBags) so I can cut down on plastic if my daypack is full. But it’s a pain to carry multiple shopping bags, regardless of material–especially if, like me, you’re easily distracted and tend to leave them behind at every stop. Clip ’em on to your day bag and they’ll make it back to your accommodation. I also carry my travel coffee mug this way (obviously, you want to purchase one with a full handle, which can be tough to find for some reason).

[Photo credit: Flickr user chriscom]3. Air-dry your bathing suit
Knot the straps or, if you’re a guy, use that little waistband tie (many boardshorts also have key rings in their pockets). Um, don’t forget a change of clothes.

4. Key ring
I love travel-size tubes of sunblock that come with carabiners on them. Not only does it provide me with an accessible way to reapply when I’m paddling, hiking, riding, or skiing, but I get a free key ring out of it once I’ve refilled the tube to death. When I’m traveling, I snap my hotel keys (card keys are few and far between on the budget traveler trail) to a carabiner, and attach them to my body or within my daypack. Some people prefer to leave keys at the front desk, but the control freak in me likes to hang on to them.

5. Makeshift/emergency zipper
I discovered this one last week when I acquired a few too many ponchos and woolen hats in Chile. My tote bag was overflowing, so I snapped a large ‘biner onto the handles. It helped contain the alpaca within, and kept my souvenirs from scattering throughout the overhead bin on the plane. The same concept applies if you have a zipper break on a bag. It won’t solve things if it’s an item that requires checking, but at least it will help keep your belongings together until you find a replacement.

Got any cool travel uses for carabiners? We want to hear about them!

Moleskine notebooks introduces new bags, reading, and writing accessories

Few products (analog, at least) get travelers, writers, and artists as excited as Moleskine. The classic black Moleskine notebooks have been used by Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, and Oscar Wilde, as well as many a journaler and design-lover. A new collection unveiled this week at Milan’s Salon del Mobile is the stuff of many travelers’ dreams. The Reading, Writing, and Traveling series from Italian designer Giulio Iacchetti includes bags and computer cases, pencils and pens, reading glasses, a rechargeable reading light and an e-reader stand. Each piece is designed for maximum mobility, and to complement each other as well as the original notebook, complete with the signature black elastic band.

The new collection is on view in Milan now and at the ICFF design show in New York in mid-May. See more photos and details on the Moleskine Facebook page and on the design blog core77, along with an interview with the designer.

We can’t wait to get our hands on a Moleskine laptop bag, though we can’t help hoping they branch out to luggage as well. What Moleskine products would you like to see?

Photo courtesy of Moleskine on Flickr.

Easy Luggage handling program for cruise passengers

One of the great benefits of a cruise vacation is only having to unpack one time as your floating hotel goes from port to port, a big advantage over land vacations. But the cruise eventually comes to an end and we have to pack up and go hone. A relatively new service makes that whole process much easier.

The normal procedure for luggage handling at the end of a cruise has a lot of steps. Leave it out in the hallway the night before disembarkation, get off the ship in the morning, wade through a sea of luggage with everyone else, claim yours, head to the airport, check your luggage again then claim it one more time at their home airport. That’s just the way it’s been done for years.

The procedure has so many steps that passengers often choose a “self-assist” option where they carry their on luggage on and off the ship, bypassing some of the handling.

But now there is a better way and it gets you airline boarding passes too. has a new service that allows guests to skip all that, set their luggage out the night before disembarkation then never touch them again until they get to their home airport. has partnered with cruise lines, airlines and government security forces to make it all happen and the cost is reasonable.

Onboard Airline Check-In Program from Airports Bags on Vimeo.

You now have the opportunity to complete the airline and luggage check-in process for your flight home before you even step foot off the ship. Simply complete an enrollment form while onboard the ship and return it to a staff member. The night before disembarkation your airline boarding passes and preliminary baggage tags will be delivered to your stateroom along with detailed instructions on how to proceed once departing the ship.

Ricardo Torres of AirportBags told Gadling “This disembarkation option allows you to enjoy your final hours in the port at your leisure. Imagine your options: 1) enjoy the sights of the city or 2) stand in a never-ending line at the airport–the choice is yours with Onboard Airline Check-In. “

I did a version of this coming off a Princess Cruises Alaska Cruisetour last year where we had to go through customs in Vancouver too. In that case we transferred from the ship to the airport on a sealed bus that followed a sealed truck with our luggage in it. Their version is called EasyCheck and it was simply wonderful.

Most major cruise lines have a version of it too. Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises call it the Luggage Valet and Onboard Airline Check in plan. Disney Cruise Line’s version is the Onboard Airline Check-in Service. On Norwegian Cruise Lines it’s simply Bags and Holland America Line calls it Luggage Direct while for Carnival Cruise Lines the program goes under the name of Luggage Express. Prices vary by line but range from free on Disney Cruise Line to $20 on pretty much all the others.

Flickr photo by quinn.anya

Five ways to keep your luggage safe through the airport

One of the biggest concerns expressed by first time flyers is in regards to luggage safety. Where does my luggage go after I check it at the counter? Who will handle it? Who will look through it? Will it even be on my flight?

All of these are valid questions, and with the wealth of baggage-handling nightmare stories out on the web it’s completely reasonable to have concern. That said, there are a few things that you can do to help make sure that your belongings make the journey safe and sound. Here are five ways to get started.

Using a luggage lock can add an extra layer of security, but it wont prevent the TSA from looking inside. They’re specifically allowed to remove the locks from any bag that they want to search, so unless you have a TSA approved device it’s going to get cut off. Why get a lock if the TSA can simply remove it at free will? Because it prevents access to other people (baggage handlers, ticket agents, etc) in the chain of operation. It’s also a deterrent to anyone who sees your bag on the arrivals carousel at your destination airport.

Speaking of the arrivals carousel, there’s no riskier place for your luggage to sit, so make sure you get to the beltway as soon as you can after your flight arrives — any random straggler can pick up your bags and wander off if they’re not picked up immediately.

To that end, make sure that your bags have distinctive features with which you can track them. We’re not saying that you have to get a hot pink leopard print roll-aboard, but a colored sash or a unique baggage tag will help you identify your bag on the carousel, in a thief’s hands or to a wayward airline agent.Another piece of data that will help keep track of your luggage is the baggage receipt. When the ticket agent at the departure airport prints out the sticker that will be attached to your bag, he or she will also print out a receipt that will often be attached to your boarding pass (or its jacket.) Hold onto this — airline representatives can use it to track your bag.While you’re in the process of filing away your receipt at the ticket counter, by the way, make sure to look over the shoulder of the ticket agent to check the destination of your bag. It should be printed in large characters next to the bar code. Hint: if it says SJO and your actual destination is SJU, ask the agent to double check the route.

Naturally, many of these tips are rendered null if you opt to carry on your bags. In addition to saving a load of extra fees, your bags will travel by your side for the entire duration of your trip, drastically reducing any risk involved and saving a little bit of time to boot.

Either way, it’s important to remember that baggage loss or theft happens to a minuscule volume of air travelers, less than 8 in 1000 on average. Keep those statistics in mind and use the above security tips, and at the very least, your mind will be more at ease.


If the shower cap fits, use it (for your shoes) – Packing tip

Unless you’re my grandmother (Hi, Grandma!!), you probably don’t use the shower cap provided at some hotels for anything whatsoever. But, that little plastic cap with the elastic ring can be very useful when packing your bags.

Shoes are often cumbersome and tend to get in the way when trying to maximize your luggage. Take the shower cap from your hotel room (or one you’ve previously stolen from a hotel room) and open it up. Put your shoes inside it and the elastic will hold them together, making them much easier to handle and pack/unpack.