Absurd Gear Pitches For Things We Don’t Need

When you’re on the mailing lists for the gear companies, you get some very odd things pitched your way as “perfect for travelers!” Sometimes the pitch is spot on, and you think, yeah, I would totally recommend that. But other times … uh, no – just no. Here are three strange ideas that came my way recently – you decide for yourself, but I’ll pass.

The Utilibrush: This project, funded through Kickstarter (why doesn’t this surprise me) solves a problem you didn’t know you had. It combines toothpaste, a reel of floss, a mirror, a cap you can use as a cup to rinse with, and, of course, a toothbrush. This all-in-one, handy device is good for approximately 40 uses (if you floss every day, I guess). The campaign is kind of amusing and the device is only 12 bucks, but you know what? I’m good with throwing those little tubes of toothpaste the dentist gives me into my carry-on.

The Sash Bag: “A modern take on the fanny pack.” I’m going to confess something – I own and still sometimes travel with a fanny pack. It’s earned its place in travel. I find a money belt about the most awkward piece of travel gear ever invented and my ancient fanny pack, sourced somewhere in the depths of the ’80s, fills that role if the type of traveling I’m doing requires it. Beyond that, I just carry a shoulder bag or a day pack. Dudes put the kind of stuff the Sash Bag is supposed to hold in their pockets. I’m taking a cue from the dudes.

The Earbud YoYo: Apparently, there’s an epidemic of accidents on the slopes caused by the annoying tangle of earbud cables. Now, don’t get me wrong, the annoyance of tangled earbuds is a legit, albeit first world, complaint. But what I do not need is an additional do-dad attached to the high-speed shred metal loving denizens of the slopes. What I need is for them to pay attention to what’s around them, not to focus on their own personal sound tracks. Yes, I’m old. Get off my (snow covered) lawn.

[Photo credit: Avrene via Flickr (Creative Commons)]

Top 5 travel fashion trends for summer 2011

With summer just around the corner, it’s time to take a look at what travelers will be wearing as temperatures rise and vacations abound. Before you know it, schools will be out, beaches will be packed and road trips will be in full effect. So, what are the hot fashion trends for tourists and travelers alike? We attended fashion shows from Milan to Albuquerque so that we could report back on the styles that will have everyone looking chic, sassy and, of course, functional as they hit the road for summer fun. Grab some sunscreen, a good book and your camera because we’re going to have you looking your best. These are the Top 5 travel fashion trends for summer 2011.

1. Mankinis
Long the style in Europe, swim briefs are ready to hit the shores of the good ol’ US of A. They dry fast, allow your thighs to breathe and their snug fit keeps sand away from all of your naughty bits. While most American men used to shy away from these skimpy briefs, sensibilities have changed over the years and the time has come smuggle those Yankee plums.

2. Socks & Sandals
For years, Germans have understood the secret to comfort during travel. Finally, however, their fashion-forward ways have caught on in the States. Sandals can cause blisters, awkward tan lines and injuries to exposed toes. By adding a sock layer between your feet and the sandals, you eliminate chafing, create one easy-to-manage tan line and protect yourself from injuries. Beyond that, a fashionable pair of socks can dress up any sandals when it’s time to transition into your evening affairs.

3. Fanny Packs
Whether you’re out for a day of sightseeing, on a hike or just hitting the hottest clubs, you’ll want your hands free to take pictures, keep your balance or grind with anonymous dance partners. Fanny packs (or bum bags to many of you) are convenient, practical and suit any fashion sense. There are rugged lumbar packs for hiking, exquisite designer fanny packs from Louis Vuitton for formal occasions and styles for everything in between. Your passport, money, hotel key and map will fit perfectly in a handsome fanny pack and you’ll turn any sidewalk into a fashion runway.

4. Shirts emblazoned with the name of the place you’re visiting
People love to get souvenirs but most of what we bring home is just schlock that takes up room in our homes. The most practical souvenir is the one that you can wear at any time – including during that very trip. That’s why fashionistas the world over are sporting stylish shirts purchased at airports, gift shops and amusement parks. Showing off logos and name brands is so passé. Today, it’s not about who you’re wearing, it’s about where you’ve been. Do you love NY? Then show it off! Been to DisneyWorld? Let the world know! Checked out the Anne Frank House? Good for you.

5. Everything that these ladies are wearing

5 reasons to be a tourist

After three months living in Istanbul, I’ve gained a stable of a few dozen Turkish words to string into awkward sentences; learned some local intel on what soccer teams to root for, where to get the best mantı, and the best Turkish insults (maganda is the local equivalent of guido); and have come to avoid Sultanahmet with the same disdain I used to reserve for Times Square when I lived in New York. Then a funny thing happened while wandering the Asian side or the city with some visiting friends: I stopped worrying and learned to love being a tourist. Letting your guard down and realizing you will ultimately always be a tourist no matter how “local” and “authentic” you can live, no matter how long you explore a place, is remarkably liberating, even fun. The old traveler vs. tourist debate is one of the most pernicious and tiresome in the travel world, and while there’s a lot of truth and value in being an independent traveler, tourists are a good thing, and being a tourist can be a lot less annoying and worthwhile than the travel snobs would have you believe.

  1. Get unabashedly lost – When I make a wrong turn in Istanbul, I’m so self-conscious about being “caught” as someone who doesn’t belong here, I find myself hiding in alleys furtively studying maps, seeking out street signs from the corners of my eyes, and acting as if that wrong turn was entirely planned for and intentional. Yet on a recent trip to Prague, I was on the hunt for a cafe recommended to me by David Farley, and after giving up on the hopes of finding a wifi connection, I started going into bars and shops and asking directions. Eventually I found the (excellent) Meduza Cafe, saw some interesting dive bars/casinos along the way, and got over my shame of toting a map around.
  2. Do something you could do at home – Sure, you came to Paris to see the Louvre and absorb the cafe atmosphere, not to sit in your hotel room and watch pay-per-view movies, but seeing the everyday abroad can be a great window into another culture. I’ve wandered malls in Buenos Aires, gone to the movies in Turkey, and had coffee at a Chilean McDonald’s (I’m also a big fan of zoos). Each place I have been surrounded by locals and experienced a surreal clash of the foreign familiar.
  3. Eat foreign foreign food – Sushi is great in Tokyo, but so is Korean, Chinese, Indian, and Italian; pretty much everything other than Mexican, which for some reason is a total fail in Japan. Just because something isn’t a “native” dish doesn’t mean it isn’t widely enjoyed by locals or “authentic” to the region. If you are insistent on only eating the national foods, you could miss out on great pizza in Colombia or cheap French food in Lebanon.
  4. Speak English – Learning please and thank you in a foreign language will get you a long way and it’s always a good idea to know a few key words, but English has become the lingua franca of the world and using it abroad is often easier and can lead to good conversations. My fractured Turkish is often met with English responses and I’ve met shopkeepers, bartenders, and taxi drivers eager to practice their English, discuss politics (apparently many Turks would like Bill Clinton to be president of their country, who knew?), or ask if the cafe they frequented while studying abroad in Raleigh is still around.
  5. Stop, gawk, and take pictures of stupid things – Another thing New York instills in you is to not look up, watch street performers, or act as if even the most ludicrous spectacle is anything other than commonplace. Remember when virtuoso violinist Joshua Bell played in the D.C. Metro? I’d bet that more tourists than locals stopped to listen. Or what if I’d let my embarrassment prevent Mike Barish from taking a picture of this sign in my neighborhood subway station? Could have been tragic. Soak up as much of the sublime and the ridiculous as you can.

Maybe one day we can eschew the traveler and tourist labels, shed our fanny packs and backpacks, realize we’re all a little obnoxious, and embrace the wonder and fun of exploring a new place in whatever way we want.

Don’t be “that” tourist – things to avoid when you are abroad

We all make mistakes – but when you are heading abroad, little mistakes could mean the difference between being a prepared tourist, or a pompous jackass.

It isn’t too hard to look like a well traveled jetsetter, and it only takes a couple of common sense measures.

After the jump, you’ll find a list of things (I think) you should avoid if you plan to go abroad. Some of the items are quite logical, others may be things you’d normally overlook.

Feel free to add your own “don’t do’s” in the comments at the end of the article.
Leave the stupid T-Shirt at home

Your “Female body Inspector” T-Shirt may be a riot back home with the guys and girls, but when you are heading abroad, you may want to leave it behind.

A trip abroad doesn’t mean you need to dress up in your best tux, but remember that you are representing your country. A little respect and good behavior goes a long way. Plus most stupid t-shirts make you look like an immature jerk.

Loud and obnoxious

Speaking loud and slow is not a sure way to make people understand you. And no – this isn’t just something from the movies. I have witnessed plenty of people doing it.

Picture someone speaking Chinese (assuming you don’t speak any Chinese) – if they talk louder and slower, does it help you understand what they are saying?

Do keep in mind that foreigners may not always be able to keep up with your tempo or accent, so slow things down a little.

Don’t be the unprepared one

Before you leave, spend some time getting to know your destination. Investigate simple things like airport to hotel transportation, and the local voltage (that Travelocity gnome was onto something). Other things to keep in mind; will your phone work, can you get any required medications abroad and will your credit card be accepted.

Brush up on your geography

When you travel the world, you’ll come across people who are doing the same thing – so try and brush up on your basic geography.

I know it’s been ages since you had to learn the world capitals at school, but if you come across someone from Copenhagen, you’ll look like an ass if you tell them you’ve always wanted to see their home country of The Netherlands. And trust me, I’ve met people like this a lot, you’ll be amazed how quickly people forget basic geography as they grow older.

Learn the language (a bit)

Even if your only phrase is “do you speak English?”, speaking some of the foreign language will always show you put some effort into visiting their country.

English may be one of the most popular languages in the world, but to many people so is their language. Even with just a couple of hours practice a week, you’ll learn some of the basics of other languages.

Eating at US restaurants

Resist the temptation to ignore foreign foods by sticking to US restaurants when abroad. The only exception is when your favorite fast food chain offers something particularly local (like the Maharaja Mac in India). Try that once.

If you don’t want to eat all that icky looking foreign food, stay home next time. Part of heading abroad is adapting to their culture, which includes food.

Wearing a fanny pack

Seriously, just don’t do it. Very few people can pull it off without looking like a complete fool. If you need to carry that much crap with you, get a backpack or cargo shorts with big pockets. Nothing screams “rob me” like a loud tourist with a fanny pack.

Counterfeit products

You may think you look cool with your new Looey Vuitton luggage, or a nice Shannel handbag, but remember that anyone who knows a thing or two about luggage or handbags will spot you from a mile away.

Do you really want to be walking through the airport with people staring at you because they think you can’t afford the real thing? Just don’t do it – if you really want a piece of exclusive luggage, save some money, but don’t fall for the temptation of a counterfeit product.

The same goes for counterfeit watches, perfume or electronics. When you get back home and show off your new Roleks watch, do you really think your friends will think it is real? Another risk is the risk of being caught at the border – US customs and immigration will seize counterfeit products.


No Wrong Turns: How to Not Look like a “Gringo” in Mexico

When traveling I prefer to lay kind of low and do my best to not draw too much attention to myself. This doesn’t seem to be the case with other travelers visiting Mexico. This is mainly due to their questionable wardrobe choices. Years of watching “What Not to Wear”, combined with my love for all things fashion-related, made it easy for me to pick out some of the worst faux pas in “gringo” fashion. Though I think these clothing disasters would be hard to miss!

Shallow or not, what you wear can make you a target when you are traveling. So I give you “What Not to Wear: The Gringo Edition” also known as “How to not be inconspicuous in Mexico.” Please avoid the following:

Wearing a fannypack

Wearing this sad sack of fashion anywhere warrants a citation from the fashion and tourist police. But sporting one in Mexico pretty much screams, “Here is all my money, credit cards and other valuables! Please come rip me off!” This just makes you walking target for theft. Seriously, what’s wrong with a money belt worn under your clothes?

Dressing like a hippy

I swear anywhere you travel be it Mexico, India or SE Asia you are bound to come across so-called hippies. Here is the thing…none of the locals dress like this, so these dreadlock-loving, patchouli-smelling kids look very out of place. The downside of dressing like you rolled out of the ’60s is that, to the Mexicans, you look unclean. Mexico is relatively conservative and it isn’t unusual to see the locals looking amazingly fresh, in a clean shirt and pressed pants, in ninety-degree heat. Looking presentable warrants respect and better service.

Wearing booty shorts

This skanky look is a detriment for all women travelers. This look only furthers the unfortunate belief that western women are easy conquests and encourages the charming catcalls and hissing from the men. Rule of thumb, keep skimpy clothes limited to the beach otherwise keep it covered to prevent unwanted attention from the male population.

I’d be interested to hear any other tips on what not wear while traveling.

For more terrible tourist fashions and a good laugh click here.

“No Wrong Turns”
chronicles Kelsey and her husband’s road trip — in real time — from Canada to the southern tip of South America in their trusty red VW Golf named Marlin