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!

Top five uses for Ziploc® bags when traveling

Over the years, I’ve become a bit of a bag lady. I’m always finding new and surprising uses for Ziploc® bags or their generic counterparts when I travel. I’m also a rabid recycler, so I like getting extra mileage out of my airport security “liquids and gels” see-through baggie.

But that’s not the only reason I love these little guys. They’re tough, they’re resealable, and they’re economical, because they usually survive multiple trips. Below, my favorite uses for this home kitchen staple:®

1. Holding a wet swimsuit.
When you’re on a day or side trip, or don’t have time to dry it before catching your flight.

2. Collect seashells.
Make sure it’s legal, first.

3. Safeguard against spilled liquids.
I also place bags on top of shaving cream canisters (secure with a rubber band). Because it only takes one exploded can in your backpack to learn your lesson.

4. Seal off your shoes (or socks) for packing.
Hiking. hot weather. ‘Nuff said.

5. Keep your passport/money/other paper valuables (including tissues/t.p.) dry.
If you’re an adventure traveler, you may find yourself in situations where your daypack (or whatever you use to carry these items) gets soaked. I’ve had to hang my passport out to dry after a.) having to hitchhike in a major storm; b.) having to swim across a deeper-than-expected creek; c.) falling into the water while climbing out of a dinghy in rough surf.

*Bonus: “Have food poisoning/need to vomit while stuck in Marrakech rush hour traffic” emergency satchel.
Not that this happened to me.

Have your own travel uses for Ziploc® bags? Let us know!

Want to cut down on plastic altogether? ChicoBags come in their own little stuff sacks, and are the size of a deck of cards. I clip one inside of my day pack when I travel for groceries or other purchases.

[Photo credit: Flickr user hfabulous]



The empty bladder: why hydration packs make great travel companions

I’ve never been into purses. Even at home, I find them loathsomely girly, and they completely jack up my bad back. When I began zipping all over the globe as a food and travel writer, a day pack was the only thing that made sense for my carry-on/on-the-road essentials (my clothes and other gear go in my beloved Dana Designs Bomb Pack).

While I travel pretty light, there are things I require be within close proximity to my body: passport, copies of passport and medical insurance, emergency contact info., cash, credit and ATM cards (always carry a back-up for when, say, the machine in Portugal decides to eat yours), camera, flash drive, water bottle, water purification tablets or filtration system (I’ve finally learned my lesson on why these are non-negotiable), pocketknife (don’t forget to check it before you fly), notepad, hand sanitizer, tampons (Ladies, do not trust foreign countries to have ’em), Kleenex-aka-TP, Imodium and ibuprofen, sunblock, sunglasses, snacks, language guide, reading material, itinerary, sarong for freezing bus and plane rides. These are the items I am utterly screwed without; should everything else get stolen, life will suck, but I’ll be fine.

Due to my somewhat misanthropic tendencies, I choose never to rely upon the hotel safe or front desk for stowage of my valuables.That, my friends, is why I consider my daypack to be an extension of my body when I travel. I remove it to shower, and to sleep (I’ve also kept it hooked upon my arm while sleeping, when I end up in some shit-hole with a malfunctioning door lock). My day pack goes out drinking with me; it goes dancing, fords rivers, rides horses, and climbs mountains.

It’s a bit of a pain (literally and figuratively) at times, but at least I know I’m in charge of my travel essentials. And yes, I look like a total dork, trudging from destination to destination with my big pack on my back, and my daypack worn across my chest, marsupial-style. But it’s convenient, and it doesn’t throw me off-balance the way a messenger bag or purse would.

I don’t do money belts or fanny packs. I find them too small to be of use, inconvenient, and uncomfortable in hot weather. They scream “tourist.” You’re not fooling those gypsy kids in the piazza — they know you’re packing under your Ex Officio shirt. If I’m in a sketchy area or crowded place like a market, I’ll wear my daypack across my chest, because it’s less likely to be vandalized or cut off my body. Sometimes, I’ll also use travel locks on the zippers (which is why having double zips on your pack’s stowage compartments is key). You’re probably thinking, “Paranoid, much?” but put it this way: I’ve never had a theft, and I’d much rather look lame than spend a few days stranded somewhere, waiting for the Embassy to process my new passport.

Over the years, I’ve experimented with a wide variety of brands and sizes, and I’ve learned that hydration packs, like those made by Camelbak, Burton, DaKine, and Osprey’s new Hydraulics line (coming to a store near you this week), make great travel companions. I always remove the bladder, and leave it at home. The zippered bladder compartment makes the ultimate passport/plane ticket/itinerary holder. It’s flush against your back, so it’s theft-proof while you’re wearing it. Documents are also more likely to stay dry in this padded compartment, when you’re inevitably caught in a downpour or if fording that river doesn’t go as planned.

Everyone has different needs, and I’m not loyal to any particular brand because by the time one of my packs bites the dust, there’s something better on the market (don’t forget to check the company’s warranty policy before you purchase). Because I’m petite- 5’2″, and 100 lbs., I’ve come to rely upon women’s lines to give me the right fit. It really does make a difference, and your body will thank you. I could wear a kid’s pack, but they just don’t offer the tech-details and bells and whistles of adult versions. They also tend to be made in obnoxious colors. Come to think of it, it would be nice if all those great-fitting women’s packs weren’t always pastel or adorned with foofy graphics.

I also require elasticized side pockets, a hip belt and sternum strap for serious day-treks, deep stowage pockets with zips, an interior key chain for keeping hotel keys handy, and a reinforced bottom layer that can withstand dragging, maximum weight load, and pointy objects. Top-loading packs, and designs with zips that splay the pack in two are just begging to be pick-pocketed. Also, if your zipper breaks, you’re SOL. I’ll say it again: Look for multi-zip compartments that don’t go all the way down on either side.

Purchase a couple of mid-weight carabiners to clip onto your pack’s front loop (make sure it has one, or the equivalent). They’re invaluable for toting items like travel mugs, wet bathing suits, a pair of shoes (knot the laces together), or small grocery sacks.

Now, go forth and travel. Hold your bladder until you get home.

Before you go, be sure to check out Gadling’s Travel Talk TV! This week, the guys are in VEGAS!

Daily deal – REI Traverse daypack in red for $19.83

My daily deal for today is for the REI Traverse daypack. This (women’s) daypack only comes in red and offers a huge amount of storage space.

Inside the spacious pack is a special sleeve for holding a hydration pack as well as pockets for smaller items like a compass, multi-tool or a flashlight.

The bag has been specially designed for woman, and has a molded backpanel with air channels to help keep your back cool and dry.

The REI Traverse daypack normally retails for just under $70, but is currently on clearance for just $19.83.

If you chose the REI “ship to store” option, you can pick it up at your local REI store, plus you’ll save on their $5.99 shipping charge.

As with all deals like this, if it’s something you need, don’t wait too long to order as this bag is sure to sell out before the end of the afternoon.

AmeriBags: Ergonomic and Useful

If you’re looking for a bag that’s like a day pack, but less cumbersome and more sleek looking try an AmeriBag. My mom bought me my first one after she became friends with the inventors and owners of the company. The bag design came about after Margery Griffin, one of the founders hurt her back. She was looking for a bag that was a healthier fit and figured that is she wanted one, she and her husband Irwin should design one.

The reason I like the Healthy Back Tote is because it’s durable but light, and I can sling it over my shoulder. When I use a daypack, I tend to use only one strap anyway. The one pictured is only one of the colors. There are several other choices.

The AmeriBag company also has a variety of smaller bags that can be used for jewelery, toiletries or wallets. There is also a collection made to carry baby paraphelia and one with sports types like cyclists in mind. If you want to go more upscale, some items come in leather. The company has expanded its offerings into duffle bags and purses as well. You can order an entire set like this Metro collection that go together.