Gadling Travelers On Their Favorite Gear

Gadling contributors are, by occupation, a well traveled lot and they’re hard on their kit. They want stuff that works – stuff that lasts, stuff that’s genuinely useful, stuff they’re never sorry they packed. While you’re hunting little extras to gift your favorite traveler, consider this list of favorites from some of the most traveled people on the Internet.

McLean Robbins: As a traveler who can’t manage to ever get comfortable on an airplane or with hotel pillows, I can’t leave home without this Brookstone accessory. I purchased it on a whim before a long-haul European flight where I thought I’d be stuck in a middle coach seat, and have used it on even short domestic flights ever since. The pillow is great in its U-shaped form, but I place it under those flimsy hotel pillows for extra support too. Best of all? It compacts nicely into my carry-on bag as well.

Jessica Marati
: Melatonin. This natural sleep aid is the best way to get rest on redeye flights and combat jet lag. I don’t travel without it.

Chris Owen: I usually pack specifically for each trip but one thing that always makes it is my bag full of cords, plugs, power converters and backup battery power. It’s called a Flex Pack and made by Victorinox.

Dave Seminara: I travel with a Princeton Tec headlamp so I can read in hotel rooms (or tents) after my sons go to bed! [Note: There’s always a headlamp in my pack too. And if you get one that’s got a red light mode, you can dig around in your bag or find your way to your bunk in the hostel without waking and/or blinding your roomies.Kyle Ellison: The two things I never travel without are duct tape and nylon cord, both available at your local hardware store. With the tape you can fix a rip in your backpack, seal a cut on your foot, create a waterproof barrier on anything, make labels, bookmarks, a lid for your food … anything really. With the cord you can make a clothesline, tie a tent down, fix a backpack, make a tourniquet, a belt, shoelaces … again, it’s a life saver.

Mix these in with a Leatherman multi-tool (opening cans, getting out splinters, cutting your tape and cord, opening wine bottles, sawing through wood, unscrewing air ducts in hotels, which are vibrating, fixing your glasses, hammering in tent stakes, etc.) Unfortunately, your multi-tool can only travel with you via land travel or checked baggage.

Laurel Miller: This small, rip-stop compact folding duffel bag. It has zippered side pockets so you can stuff it into itself, and it compacts to the size of a sandwich. I keep it in the bottom of my backpack and use it to bring home the inevitable souvenirs or press materials that accumulate on my travels. It also makes a great overnight bag, especially if I’m on a big trip that has some side trips where I can leave my backpack behind.

Meg Nesterov: I love the TotSeat portable high chair. It fits in a purse/bag, weighs almost nothing, and is handy anytime I want to put my baby in a regular chair and have her stay there. It is way superior to the other “travel” high chairs that are as big as phone books (if that reference even makes sense anymore), though it is essentially like tying your child to a chair!

Alex Robertson Textor: It’s super un-techy but I don’t like to travel without my Moleskine Classic Large Ruled Notebook. Notes feel more substantial in a paper notebook.

What do you want to add to your travel kit this year? What are you giving your favorite traveler?

[Images courtesy of Brookstone and Leatherman]

Travel Smarter 2012: Travel tips for health and wellness

Films like “Contagion” (which I very much enjoyed, and not just because Gwyneth Paltrow bites it within the first 10 minutes) instill a paranoia in the public consciousness about the hazards of air travel. It’s true, however, that most public transportation is the equivalent of a mobile petri dish; one can’t deny the inherent germiness lurking within. Subsequently, antibacterial hand gel is my new best friend.

There are other quasi-self-inflicted, travel-related maladies: neck and back pain, deep vein thrombosis (DVT), infectious disease, foodborne illness, stress–all of which kind of make you wonder why we travel in the name of relaxation, but I digress.

For many, myself included, part of the thrill of recreational travel is the element of risk involved, even if said danger involves nothing more than scarfing down a few street tacos. Regardless of why you travel, there are always new products on the market designed to make your trip more comfortable, or minimize your chances of getting sick. New research on the hazards and benefits of travel also keep us informed about what we can do to stay healthier on the road.

Below are my picks for making travel in 2012 a little less treacherous:

1. Reduce your risk of DVT
New studies show that choosing the window seat on a long flight can increase your chances of developing DVT. A theoretical DVT risk known as “economy class syndrome” (how’s that for an “f-you” to airlines?) has been debated for years, and attributed to the lack of legroom in coach.

Now, however, the American College of Chest Physicians have determined that the real issue is that window-seat fliers have limited opportunities to walk and stretch their legs during lengthy flights, which can lead to potentially fatal blood clots that may travel to the lungs (pulmonary embolism). There are a number of factors that contribute to one’s risk of DVT including age, preexisting health conditions, certain medications, and recent surgery, but even if you don’t fit these criteria, you should always try to get out of your seat and/or do some stretching exercises and leg movements once an hour during long flights. In other words, consider the aisle the path to clot-free veins.

2. Time-release DEET
Some people have no problem dousing themselves in insecticide, personal health and environmental side effects be damned. I used to silently sneer at those people while I sat around the campfire, my unprotected skin providing nutrients to legions of winged, blood-sucking creatures. What were a few bites (Note: it was never just a few bites; try dozens) compared to not getting cancer or maintaining the purity of the local watershed?

Then I got sick as a result of deadly bacteria-harboring sandflies, and now I’m one of those people who understand why DEET exists. I still don’t like it–it’s definitely not something I, nor the CDC, recommend using with abandon–but it’s critical for protecting yourself from mosquitoes, sandflies, ticks, and other potentially harmful insects, in conjunction with protective attire such as long socks, long-sleeved shirts, and pants (you can also purchase insect-repellent clothing). Note that I’m not taking into account malarial conditions, in which case you should be supplementing your DEET applications with a doctor-prescribed anti-malarial drug.

I was thrilled when I recently discovered controlled release DEET at my neighborhood travel store. Sawyer® Premium Controlled Release Insect Repellent is designed to “reduce the rate of DEET absorption” by 67% per application, and “extend the duration of its effectiveness.” This 20% DEET lotion is also odorless, so you don’t have to huff noticeably toxic fumes all day.

3. Hummingbird Lumbar Pillow
If you have existing back problems or an epic backpacking adventure planned, this little baby from innovative gear company Hummingbird is the bomb. Measuring 7″ x 14″, it weighs just 3.5 ounces, rolls or packs flat, and will keep your lower back happy while camping, or riding a Third World bus sans shock absorbers on a rutted highway with potholes large enough to swallow a Mini Cooper.

4. Simply Being Guided Meditation app
I’m way too ADD to meditate, but this suggestion came to me from my Gadling colleague, and fellow meditation-phobe, McLean Robbins. She loves this app, which runs through a brief series of relaxation exercises. As McLean says, “Perfect for shutting out the world on a terrible plane ride or easing into sleep in an unfamiliar hotel bed.” The app is available for iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, and Android.

5. Maqui berry
Move over, açaí, there’s a new free-radical fighter in town. Chilean maqui berry, which is FDA-approved and contains the highest ORAC (a system of measure for antioxidants) level in the world, has hit the U.S. Only a few companies manufacture it, but I recommend Isla Natura brand (Full disclosure: the company is owned by a friend of mine, which–in addition to maqui’s health benefits–is why I feel comfortable touting this product). Maqui (Aristotelia chilensis) is indigenous to southern Chile and was traditionally used by the Mapuche Indians as a medicinal aid.

Isla Natura’s USDA and EU-certified organic (Fair Trade certification pending) wild fruits are harvested by hand, dried, ground, and sold in eight-ounce packets. Use one tablespoon in smoothies or on top of yogurt or oatmeal as a daily dietary supplement, but also consider it an immune booster for when you’re traveling.

Bonus: you’ll avoid the high sugar content of Emergen-C, and the “licking a dirt floor” flavor of açaí, and Isla Natura provides employment to local indigenous families at its small Chiloe processing plant. Travel-friendly capsules will be available in April; go to the company’s website for information on scientific studies. To order, click here.

[flickr image via]

11 tips for sleeping on planes

I have been blessed with the gift of being able to sleep on virtually any moving vehicle. I’ve slept in large airplanes, small propeller planes, trucks on unsealed roads, cars, trains and boats. I sleep without the help of drugs, herbal supplements or any other gimmicks. I find my seat and my brain seems to decide, “Hey, this is going to be boring; let’s just skip it.” Several hours later, I wake up as my plane is on final approach.

My personal record for continuous sleep on a plane is 11.5 hours on a flight from Sydney to Los Angeles. Granted, that was in first class on V Australia, so the conditions were optimal. But my coach class record is 8.5 hours of uninterrupted sleep on a flight from Detroit to Tokyo. I followed that up with a 2.5 hour nap later in the flight. I would say that, on average, I spend 85% of my time on airplanes in an unconscious state. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

So, how do I do it? Well, if I could guarantee a solid slumber on a flight, I’d be hosting an infomercial right now selling the Mike Method for two easy payments of $49.95. Sadly, I think I am just lucky that I can sleep anywhere. However, there certainly are a few things that you can do to create an environment more conducive to sleeping on a plane (or any mode of transportation, really).1. Relax
Whether you’re on your way to an important meeting for work, visiting your in-laws or just going on vacation, the act of transporting yourself from one place to another can, in and of itself, be stressful. The same things that keep you awake at home – stress, anxiety, pressure – will keep you awake on the plane. Clear your mind and sleep is more likely to come.

2. Remove Contact Lenses
I always fly with my contacts out and my glasses on. Plane air is dry and sleeping with your contact lenses in is never fun. I’m much more apt to fall asleep if my contacts are out and my eyes are comfortable. In fact, when I’m ready to go to sleep, I take my glasses off and clip them on my shirt. They’re close by for when I wake up, but without them my body knows that it’s time power down.

3. Familiar Music
An iPod (or other portable music device) is a great way to block out the noise around you. But for optimal results, create a playlist purely for sleeping. Fill it with music that is soothing (for you) and, most importantly, very familiar to you. If you listen to music that is new to you, your brain will stay active trying to pay attention to the unfamiliar stimuli. Find some comfort music that you know backwards and forwards so that your brain can listen to it on autopilot. I have a playlist on my iPod entitled “Sleep.” I’ve listened to that 400+ song playlist on countless flights over the years. It has changed minimally and the moment it starts, my mind begins to shut off.

4. Earplugs/Noise-Canceling Headphones
If music isn’t your thing, simply block out the noise with good old-fashioned foam earplugs or new-fangled noise canceling headphones. Whatever you need to block out the crying babies, sniffling germ-carriers and endless announcements from the flight crew about how the in-flight entertainment system needs to be reset.

5. Dress Comfortably
THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT SWEATPANTS IN PUBLIC ARE SOCIALLY ACCEPTABLE! However, packing a change of clothes for long flights can be very helpful. If you don’t want to carry around a pair of pajama pants, wear an outfit that is comfortable and breathable. Bring layers so that you can handle whatever the plane’s climate control system throws at you. And take off your shoes when nap time comes. But trust me, put them back on when you visit the toilet.

6. Have a Drink
Notice that I said a drink. Drink too much and you’ll only guarantee yourself numerous trips to the lavatory and some fitful half-sleep followed by dehydration and a headache. If one glass of wine makes you drowsy, don’t feel bad. Just don’t let that one drink turn into a party at 35,000 feet.

7. Travel Pillows
This is going to shock many of you, but I do not use a travel pillow. At least not on planes. But I know more than a few people who swear by them. If you’re one of those people, find one that works for you and stick with it. The more you make it a part of your routine, the more likely you are to get comfortable with it.

8. Sit With Friends
Every little creature comfort can help when you’re not used to sleeping on planes. Having friends around you rather than strangers may help you relax and get comfortable. Plus, you won’t feel bad if your snoring keeps your husband awake. He probably deserves it.

9. Sleep Masks
Again, this one isn’t in my toolkit, but it may work for you if you are easily distracted or are a very light sleeper. Sure, you’re going to look like a moron, but if you need to block out everything in order to sleep, then you need to make sensory deprivation your top priority. What’s more important to you: Looking cool in front of people you will never see again or arriving at your destination well-rested?

10. Pack Snacks
Many people eschew sleep out of fear that they will miss the in-flight meal. While microwaved chicken is pretty underwhelming, it is often the only substantial meal you’ll receive on a long-haul flight. Pack a few filling snacks (ie, trail mix, dried fruit, a sandwich or Handi-Snacks) and you can eat whenever you stomach desires. Once you’re not held hostage by the flight’s feeding schedule, you’ll be able to relax, sleep and wake up to a treat of your own choosing.

11. Sleeping Pills
Call me a purist, but I consider sleeping pills and herbal supplements to be cheating. However, if you genuinely cannot fall asleep naturally and truly need to sleep on a flight, then I suppose I can understand going the pill-popping route. But I will put an asterisk next to your name in the record books.

It’s not rocket science, but falling asleep on planes can be challenging for some people. Hopefully these tips help you drift off to your happy place rather than enduring the mundanity of air travel. Your mileage may vary, and I can’t guarantee that you’ll be a plane sleeping machine like me, but utilizing some or all of these suggestions should help you get comfortable and sleep through almost any flight.

Do you have your own method for falling asleep on planes? Any tricks worth sharing? Drop us a line in the comments.


Greyhound travel: A worthy option and travel tips for the ride.

When deciding how to get to New York City from Columbus at the last minute earlier this week, airfares were hefty, even for flights with connections that may or may not happen according to schedule. Fly to New York from Columbus and you’ll see what I mean. Frankly, when tossing in the realities of making my way through airport security, Greyhound was a better option. Last summer I traveled from New York to Columbus on the bus, and I’m still a fan of bus travel.

One advantage to bus travel was being able to leave at 11:25 p.m. Because it was a last minute trip, I had much to do before heading away from home for a few days. There wasn’t a flight that fit my needs.

Before embarking on a night bus, however, there are a few items to consider. Here are some tips to having a more restful, relaxing and enjoyable ride.

  1. Bring a neck pillow. Yes, I know a neck pillow looks sort of dumb, something that Mike could josh about in SkyMall Monday, but the one I brought along made a difference to how well I was able to sleep. Whether you’re in an aisle or a window seat, it works well.
  2. Bring socks if you’re wearing sandals. It feels good to slip off shoes. When my feet started getting cold I put socks on and was glad that I had them.
  3. Bring water. Unlike the airplane, you can buy water beforehand and bring it with you without a hassle.
  4. Bring something for listening to music. Sure, this might be obvious to most you Gadling readers, but I’m not a person who plugs into music. For this trip, though, I scrounged around the house for a portable CD player, bought a new pair of earplugs and grabbed some batteries along with a couple of CDs before I left the house. I only listened to a CD when I wanted to go to sleep. It helped relax me.
  5. Bring an apple or two. Apples travel well. Fresh fruit on a bus trip feels healthy.
  6. Bring a lightweight blanket–like maybe one you took from an airplane, by mistake. Or a shawl. The shawl I had was lightweight, but it helped give me a sense of comfort.
  7. Bring a few snacks. Even though you can buy snacks at rest stops, you may not find what you feel like eating and the rest stop may not have power. When we stopped in Pennsylvania, the electricity at the rest stop was out so I couldn’t get some of that yummy machine coffee I was so looking forward to.

Things to keep in mind:

  1. Keep your toothbrush and toothpaste handy in your carry-on bag. Brushing your teeth in the morning at the breakfast stop helps you feel fresh.
  2. If you do bring your toothbrush and toothpaste into the breakfast stop bathroom, don’t forget them there. Particularly if they are with your makeup bag. If you do that, be glad it wasn’t your money that you left behind. I know I’m glad.
  3. If the bus driver tells you not to get off the bus because it’s a quick stop, don’t get off the bus. One man got off in Newark, New Jersey and was left behind. People on the bus told his wife to tell him to take the Path train in order to meet up with her in Manhattan.If this happens to you, the Path train is on the second floor of the Newark terminal. At least, that’s what I heard.
  4. If you are stuck waiting for the transfer bus, like in Cleveland, Ohio at 3:00 a.m., for example, take the opportunity to people watch and be glad that there wasn’t enough room for everyone on the first bus. If you are on the 2nd bus, you might be lucky enough to sit by yourself. I was.
  5. And, best of all, enjoy the scenery as you roll by. Think about what it would be like on a wagon train. At least you have air-conditioning and a cushioned seat.It could be worse. You could be stuck in an airport wondering when your connecting flight will ever take off.
  6. One more thing. Even if you do put your bag under the bus, you can keep track of it since you are the one to transfer it from one bus to the next. After you pick it up after the luggage handler has set it next to the bus, put your suitcase in the line for the gate, chat with one of the people standing in line along with you, ask “Would you mind watching this for a second?” and then go to the bathroom. Everyone does this. At least they did in Cleveland.
  7. If there is an artist in you waiting to come out, release the muse. Look at these lovely sketches of people at the Cleveland bus terminal by Emily R. Feingold that I just came across.

I’ll be heading back to Columbus on another night bus tomorrow. Because it’s a bus ticket, as long as I’m heading from New York to Columbus, I can go on whichever bus suits my schedule.

Not a bad deal for $169 round trip, the cost for a last minute ticket. If I had purchased it a week earlier, it would have been cheaper.

Sleeping on Airplanes

Falling asleep on
moving objects has never been an issue for me. If I’m not the one in the driver’s seat it’s safe to say I’ll be out
cold until the final destination has been reached. Buses, trains, planes, you name it – sleeping on each has been
something I’ve trained myself to do. For the most part it keeps me from getting "are we there yet"
syndrome and makes time fly a whole lot faster. However, I have to admit snagging my zzz’s on planes can sometimes be a
little embarrassing. Let’s start with the strange gravitational pull that somehow keeps my mouth wide open like a
stuffed bass mounted on someone’s trophy wall. (I know I’m not the only one.) Neck pillow or no neck
pillow I always seem to become a real life bobble head and many times I find myself being nudged by the passenger next
to me to either wake up or get the hell off their shoulder. I don’t know how many times I’ve apologized in the past for
managing to sleep so well on planes at my poor neighbor’s expense, but such is my sleeping style.

Now all of
this brings me to a fine piece of ‘sleeping on plane how-to’ from Independent Traveler, who
better understands that not everyone can nap so well on board. The folks at the Independent title the time spent on
planes "a modern Purgatory for the living" and offer tips on how to close your eyes and make it all
go away. You know – crying babies, the bearded woman, or the poser pretending to chug along on his laptop for some very
important deadline. Yes, just make it go away! Here are some of their tips
with my own two cents.

  • Get seat savvy. Learn which ones are the best and worst seats for getting
    shut-eye on your red-eye.
  • Keep the carry-on luggage to a minimum since they take away from your
    precious legroom.
  • Coffee? Are you kidding! Skip it.
  • Fight for pillows and blankets if you
    have to. Board early and to get yours from the overhead bin if it’s going to help you sleep in peace.
  • Turn
    the neck pillow around for chin support. (Never thought of that one!)
  • If taking off your shoes, know the
    rules. They’ve got the basics listed.
  • Give the bookworm beside you a nasty glare if they choose to use the
    light. Make it known you’re trying to sleep.

Several others which include the use of drugs, headphones and
seat reclining etiquette are listed as well. Whether you have troubles sleeping on planes or not I encourage everyone
to check this piece out.
If you’ve got a moment share a tale from one of your flights. What’s your in-flight sleep style like?