Gadling Gear Review: Tumi Ticon Leather Backpack

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips have become increasingly popular in recent years, with the inexpensive technology finding its way into everything from our credit cards and cellphones to passports. The chips allow for the sharing of information over a short range making it possible to make purchases with just the tab of a card or to pass through a security checkpoint more quickly. But the technology has also shown a penchant for being easily hacked, allowing someone to obtain a host of data simply by scanning for nearby RFID-enabled items. This has led to a rise in identify theft while consumers scramble to protect themselves from yet another threat.

Enter ID LOCK from Tumi, a company well known for creating high-end luxury bags and luggage for the seasoned traveler. When the designers at Tumi saw the threat of identity theft via RFID hacking becoming a bigger issue, they put their heads together to come up with a way to defend their customers from this new form of high-tech pickpocketing. The result is ID LOCK, a specially designed pocket on Tumi bags that helps to prevent RFID signals from passing through, making it nearly impossible for anyone to capture private information from the chips.

The secret to keeping your data secure while on the go is in the fabric of the ID LOCK pocket itself. Tumi has woven metal threads into the cloth, forming a barrier that prevents RFID signals from getting in or out. The pocket is easily identifiable on any Tumi bag as it is always a distinct color of red. Placing your passport, credit cards, mobile phone or any other item packing an RFID chip inside the zippered pocket instantly dampens its signal, greatly reducing the chance of anyone tampering with your information.The ID LOCK pocket is an example of how Tumi is always looking for ways to innovate in an attempt to make their products better while also providing travelers with peace of mind in the process. It is a welcome addition to the company’s wonderful Ticon leather backpack, although it is just one small part of what makes this bag stand out from the crowd. In terms of carry-on packs for the typical traveler, this is a backpack that delivers everything you could possibly need in a compact, durable and attractive package.

The pack includes more storage than you would think possible at first glance. The main interior pocket is spacious enough to carry most things you would need on a typical flight, including books, magazines, headphones, an iPod and more. Tumi says that it has been designed to support notebooks with up to a 12-inch screen, but my 13.1-inch MacBook Air had no problems slipping into the laptop sleeve as well. A dedicated pocket just for the iPad is a nice touch too and adding a tablet to the load didn’t make the Ticon feel over burdened in any way. A zippered external pocket provides another versatile and easy to reach storage option, while two side pockets, each with magnetic closures, are suitable for small water bottles. Pen loops, a key clasp and an internal card pocket help round out the pack’s other features.

Listing the storage options for a Tumi bag is a bit like reviewing which items come pre-installed on a BMW. They sound good on paper but they do very little to convey the true quality of the overall product. Quite simply put, the Ticon leather backpack is one of the finest bags that I have ever seen. It is lightweight, incredibly well put together and designed with frequent travelers in mind. The pack is built from extremely high-quality leather that will likely look just as good in ten years as it does today. The Ticon has a timeless ascetic about it that somehow manages to appear both modern and classic at the same time, and while using the bag over the past few weeks I’ve had numerous people comment about how much they like it. Several of them I even had to run off with a stick as they eyed the pack a bit too longingly.

The Ticon is versatile enough that it certainly can be put to good use even when you’re not traveling. For example, I used it as a commuter pack for a couple of weeks and found that it served well in that capacity. I occasionally felt like I could have used a bit more room, but overall it handled the job admirably. Ladies looking to ditch their purse when they head out on the town will find the pack to be a great alternative as well, providing all the capacity needed for a night out.

Of course, considering the price of this bag you’ll definitely want to maximize how often you put it to use. Tumi is well known for making high-end products and that is certainly reflected in their pricing. The Ticon leather backpack comes with a luxury sized price tag of $595, which puts it beyond the means of most consumers. But if you’re someone who appreciates very high quality travel gear and has the cash to spend on such products, you certainly won’t be disappointed with what Tumi has delivered here. The Ticon really is in a class all its own, deftly melding form and function into a beautiful package. Throw in the added benefit of the ID LOCK and you have a product that will serve you well on numerous travel adventures for years to come.

[Photo Credit: Tumi]

How To Turn Your Daypack Into A Traveling Office

No one is ever going to accuse me of being a tech junkie. But as a journalist, I’ve had to temper my Luddite proclivities so that I can earn a living while on the road.

Compounding the issue is my essential frugality and innate dirtbag tendencies. I only travel with a backpack, using a daypack in lieu of a purse. For low-maintenance or business/pleasure-combo travelers such as myself (although I recognize that not everyone has the luxury of ditching business attire and trappings; I’ve been known to stuff a nice computer bag and dress-to-impress items into my backpack), a daypack easily transforms into a portable office.

Because I also keep my passport, money, credit cards, camera, cellphone, adaptor, and other essential documents and items on my person at all times, it also means my netbook is never left behind. This serves the dual function of ensuring I have access to a computer should I need to edit a story or file a deadline, as well as alleviates theft concerns due to entrusting my valuables to my room or hotel safe. If you’re a budget traveler, I firmly believe it’s better to risk carrying anything of value on your person than entrusting them to the vagaries of youth hostels, dodgy guesthouses, or cheap hotels.

The key to creating a user-friendly portable office lies in choosing the right daypack. I’ve written before about my preference for using hydration packs, because if you remove the bladder, it creates a space to safely store documents. I’m 5’2′, so I also require a woman’s pack, and because most of my trips include some form of outdoor activity, I like having a hip belt (the zip pockets of which double as holders for my mouse and cellphone cord), and multiple exterior and interior pockets.

I highly recommend the hydration daypacks made by Osprey and Gregory. They’re incredibly durable, and have useful bells and whistles. I’m not a fan of CamelBak, as I’ve found they don’t hold up well. The brand and style are up to you, but do check to see if the pack you’re contemplating comes with a raincover. If not, it’s a wise investment, and will spare you the anguish of waterlogged gear and devices.

[Photo credit: Flickr user incase]

A Traveler In The Foreign Service: No Passport? No Honeymoon

The day after I got married, I spent much of the day nursing a hangover. And when I was finally ready to emerge from my bed, in the middle of the afternoon, I told my new bride that I was going out to rent “Braveheart” and “Rob Roy” to get us geared up for our honeymoon in the Scottish Highlands. But when I returned from the video shop, I had some bad news for her. Our first full day as man and wife was going to be a stressful one.

After suffering through an interminable, miserably hot summer in Washington, D.C., my first after joining the Foreign Service in 2002, I wanted our mid-August honeymoon to unfold in a cool, comfortable foreign locale. My wife was lukewarm on Scotland, but I sold her on the idea of hiking in The Highlands and on the island of Skye and spending our nights in cozy pubs listening to traditional fiddle music.

I’m a risk taker by nature and had no qualms about booking most of our trip with nonrefundable bids on I booked the flight and four nights of accommodation in London on Priceline and made reservations at B & B’s in Scotland for the rest of the two-week trip. At the time, I was in a six month long Albanian language course at the Foreign Service Institute in Northern Virginia, and my wife was finishing up a masters program in Chicago. We were newlyweds, but didn’t live together yet.I don’t recall what triggered my memory but I came to the sickening realization that I’d left my passport 1,000 miles away at my apartment in Washington, D.C., as I drove down Western Avenue on Chicago’s north side back to my wife’s apartment. It was about 4 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon and our completely non-changeable, non-refundable flight to London via Cincinnati was scheduled to depart in 24 hours.

I dreaded telling my wife about my mistake, but when she didn’t lunge after me with a butcher knife I knew I’d made a wise choice in marrying her. I had a good woman but no passport.

A series of frantic phone calls and web prowling revealed that there were two options to get my passport: A) I could fly to Washington myself, get the passport and then catch a flight to Cincinnati to board our connecting flight to London, or B) Find someone in Washington to bring my passport to Dulles airport on Monday morning and send it via cargo to Chicago.

Both scenarios left no margin for error. If I traveled myself, I’d have to pay about $500, and would arrive in Cincinnati just on time for our flight, but the routing involved three total flights and if any were delayed then my wife would be going on the honeymoon herself. When I broached this topic with her, and opined that if I didn’t turn up at the airport, she should proceed to London on her own, and I’d try to buy a ticket for another flight, she took a stand.

“I am not leaving for our honeymoon alone,” she said. “You bought non-refundable tickets and now we just have to deal with it.”

Option B was cheaper, at about $175, but was also more complex and riskier. The routing had the passport arriving in Chicago about a half hour before our flight was due to board, but this plan meant that I’d have to find someone in D.C. who could gain access to my apartment, where the passport was, and then drive the passport to the airport at an ungodly hour on a Monday morning to catch an early flight.

I decided to ask two people to help me execute option B. I asked Mike Katula, the nicest Foreign Service colleague I could think of, to try to get my passport, and Kathy, my cousin’s wife, to drive the passport to the airport. Both immediately understood the gravity of the situation and offered to help immediately without complaint.

Katula had to go to my apartment building and do some detective work to find the super to explain the situation. I would have called to warn her but I had no idea what her phone number was, and didn’t even know her full name to look her up in the phone book. As my wife and I sweated the situation out in her little apartment in Chicago, I got a call from the super.

“There’s a tall guy here who says he needs to get into your apartment to get your passport,” she said.

“It sounds a little fishy, I know,” I said. “But, please, let him in.”

Katula got the passport, and Kathy, saint that she is, got it to the airport on time and for us, all that was left to do was chart my passport’s progress online. My passport had a connection to make in Cleveland, and even though it was August, we feared delays. We spent much of the day online, refreshing flight data pages to see if our flights were running smoothly.

The first flight to Cleveland appeared to have come off without a glitch, and the onward flight to Chicago left on time so we left for O’Hare full of hope that the passport would be there. We had to report to a cargo office on the periphery of the airport and as we entered the building, which was full of boxes and delivery people, I felt pretty certain we were the first people with a honeymoon riding on the arrival of a package.

The passport wasn’t there when we arrived at the office but the clerk verified that the flight had just landed. We had a little more than an hour before our flight to Cincinnati left and I explained our situation to the woman at the desk.

“Well, it takes a while for the packages to get here and be sorted,” she said, much to our chagrin.

About twenty very nervous minutes passed and finally the woman announced, “I have something here for you,” holding up a large white envelope. I have never been so excited to receive a package in my life.

“Now the honeymoon can begin,” my relieved wife said.

We dashed over to the airport in a celebratory mood, caught our flight and had a terrific time, despite the initial fright. Two months later, I took up my first job in the Foreign Service at the U.S. Embassy in Skopje and frequently dealt with Americans who had lost their passports. And while some of my colleagues were prone to scolding and hectoring Americans about taking better care of their passports, I was sympathetic because I had a dark passport secret of my own.

Read more from “A Traveler In The Foreign Service” here.

Tomorrow is Passport Day in the USA

Tomorrow the U.S. Department of State will hold its third annual Passport Day, giving Americans an opportunity to apply for their first passport, or renew their current one. To commemorate the event, all regional passport agencies, along with most application acceptance facilities, including post offices, will be open and no appointments will be necessary.

These agencies are rarely open on a Saturday, which makes this a perfect time to apply for that passport you’ve been meaning to get or renew your old one, particularly if you have an international trip on the horizon. Remember, it takes approximately 4-6 weeks to process a passport application, although for an extra $60 you can expedite the process, getting your documents in about half the time.

If you are planning on participating in Passport Day, you may want to get to your facility early. Due to the fact that many travelers often can’t visit their nearest facility during regular hours, and since no appointment is needed, there is the possibility of long lines. Before you go, you’ll also want to make sure you have all the necessary forms, and a proper photo, with you as well. First time applicants will find everything they need by clicking here and information on renewals can be found here.

The number of Americans who hold a passport has increased steadily over the past few years, but if you still haven’t gotten around to getting yours yet, now is the time. Haven’t you always wanted to visit Paris or Rome or some other wonderful destination? The first step in making that trip a reality is getting your passport.

For more information on Passport Day in the USA and to find the nearest passport agency to you, click here.

Visa-free travel by the numbers

Visa-free travel is easy travel. Procuring visas takes time, energy, and money, and is beyond debate a pain for frequent travelers. The erection of visa barriers responds to a number of factors, though it can be said without too many qualifications that the citizens of rich countries tend to have a much easier time accessing the world visa-free than do the citizens of poor countries.

The Henley Visa Restrictions Index Global Ranking 2011, excerpted in the Economist last week, was just published by Henley & Partners, an international law firm specializing in “international residence and citizenship planning.” Henley & Partners divide the world into 223 countries and territories.

And who gets to travel with few visa restrictions? The best citizenships for visa-free travel belong to nationals of Denmark, Finland, and Sweden, at 173 apiece. On their Nordic heels is Germany at 172 and a mess of countries (Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, United Kingdom) at 171. The United States isn’t too far down the list, tied in fifth place with Ireland at 169. The US comes in ahead of Switzerland (167), Canada (164), New Zealand (166), and Australia (166).

Some of the least lucky countries, according to the Henley Visa Restrictions Index survey: India (53), China (40), Iran (36), Lebanon (33), and Afghanistan (24).

[Image: Flickr | megoizzy]