Review on Tortuga Air Carry On Backpack

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The seat belts sign flashed off. Immediately the aisle filled with people, reaching overhead for bags, hauling suitcases from the ceiling. Slowly the plane emptied. Finally, it was my turn to step into the aisle to freedom.

I reached below the seat in front of me, pulled free my bag, slung it over a shoulder and jogged for the terminal. Outside, while waiting for the train to take me to downtown Vancouver, I shrugged on my jacket, and admired the svelte black bag at my feet. It was the only bag I’d brought with me.

Packing only in a carry on is a form of art.

Each time I pack, I search for the perfect balance between necessity and excess. I hunt for the elusive feeling of success where I’m light and fancy-free, yet enough Bear Grillis’ed to face the world.

Recently, Tortuga Backpacks graciously gave me a Tortuga Air Carry On Backpack to review on a long weekend trip to Vancouver, Canada. My trip was exactly the kind the Tortuga Air backpack was designed to tackle: shorter than a months-long jaunt around the world, but slightly longer than your normal weekend getaway.

tortuga air backpack

Unlike a typical backpack, the Tortuga Air has a clamshell opening so you get the best of both luggage worlds: a backpack’s unencumbered freedom without the chaotic mess inside and a suitcase’s organization without the dreadful wheels clunking over cobblestones.

While exploring Vancouver, I tracked three main things on the Tortuga Air to test it:

  1. Comfort,
  2. Packability,
  3. Durability.


With a backpack, you carry your home on your back, and sometimes that home can get heavy quickly. Then your shoulders rub raw. Or your lower back begins to ache. Or you start to despise the look of your bag after only day two.

You need to pick a backpack designed with your comfort in mind:

  • Padded straps,
  • Chest strap,
  • Contoured padding against your back,
  • Weightless feeling of having it on your back.

Tortuga Air hit all those marks, plus some like a padded handle on the backpack’s top. Sliding the Tortuga Air on was like shrugging on my coat: warm and comfortable.

Both my shoulders bore the backpack’s weight and never complained about it, thanks to the padded straps. (This backpack doesn’t come with a waist belt since it’s designed for shorter trips, hence a lighter load.)

Against my back, the weight distributed evenly. Even the padding felt sturdy and ready to take on the world.

Some extra thoughtful perks that Tortuga Air had were: a padded handle on top of the backpack that didn’t bite into my hand for quick grab, no thin layer of padding but thick cushiony padding, no confusing plethora of pockets so you can’t find your passport when you need it now, and a separate padded laptop compartment.

My favorite part is that the bag never felt bulky. Some backpacks feel like you’re hauling a Lincoln around by two straps.

The Tortuga Air amazingly felt like a part of me.

No more swinging around suddenly and whacking a line of people behind me in the face with a backpack. No more running for the last train and squeezing on-board only to find my backpack hanging outside the doors.


This the how the bag feels mentally when you pack it. It’s the feeling you have right after you zip up your bag. The moment when you feel burdened by the amount of things you’re bringing, or invigorated by your amazing ability to pare down the necessities into a few must-haves.

It’s the feeling when you wonder how much the bag will hold after shopping in several cities. Or browsing a few too many bookstores, in my case.

What’s the feeling I had when I zipped the Tortuga Air shut the night before takeoff?

Surprise. Pride. Elation. I felt like the best version of myself.

For the first time, I wasn’t debating if I should bring this red shirt versus that blue shirt, and do I have room for it? Usually, I’m a light packer and have managed to visit Alaska in finicky fall weather by packing only in a Timbuk2 bag. Yet inevitably when I pack, I’m fine-tuning the contents of my bag, seeking the spot of nirvana where I have just enough but not too much.

Instead I unzipped the Tortuga Air, packed what I thought I’d need, and still there was room in the bag. This was unusual. Four shirts, two tank tops, underwear, socks, pajamas, cardigan — yup, the gang’s all here. Nothing was missing.

Wait, I can pack more if I wanted? What is this feeling of space in a carry on?

The backpack’s inside is divided into two compartments: 1) a mesh zippered section on one side, and 2) a slightly deeper compartment with buckles and straps to cinch down your clothes. Thanks to the clamshell design, it was super easy to keep my bag organized during my trip and find exactly what I needed, when I needed it.


tortuga air unzipped

Through the trip, that feeling of surprised pride didn’t vanish. Tortuga Air made me feel like I was Captain America’s superslick alter ego: Packing Hero. Heck, if I wanted to buy a couple shirts (or books) in Vancouver, I could. I had the room, no question.

And if I went overboard with shopping, simply unzip the expandable section and watch the bag grow by three more inches. But the beauty was I didn’t have to use it.


Let’s face it: durability is where most bags fail. They do a great job of holding our stuff until the third trip and then they fall to pieces. Here a zipper breaks, there a pocket rips.

I’m willing to spend extra money to get a bag that will last me years. I like the thought of a bag traveling with me through countries, like a best friend.

And Tortuga Air is my next best friend in three big ways:

1) Fabric: tough outer fabric that feels ballistic, like it can take a beating on the train and repeatedly shoved under an airplane seat.

2) Industrial zippers (that fit a lock!): I hate it when a bag dies just because of faulty zippers. These bad boys on the Tortuga Air are heavy in your hand and feel like they aren’t going anywhere.

3) Good-sized pockets: for me, durability is more than just the fabric. Durability is also the way a bag is designed. You’ll reach for a thoughtfully designed bag more often than one with awkward pockets and unhelpful compartments.

Tortuga Air has good-sized pockets, a nice large front pocket large enough to fit a hardback book, a zippered side pouch, and a zippered pocket on the bag’s top for small items that are always wandering off like your sunglasses.

As a (crazed) bag devotee, I’ve tried a lot of bags over the years, always hunting for the bag that strikes the threefold lucky strike of comfort, packability, and durability. Never have I found a bag that makes me a better packer (and feel so good about myself) and is so comfortable to wear — until the Tortuga Air.

Laura Lopuch blogs at Waiting To Be Read where she helps you find your next awesome book to read — and points out a few you might not know about. 


Posted by | Comments (0)  | May 3, 2015
Category: Travel Gear

How to choose and use packing cubes

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I opened my backpack, reached a hand into its dark depths and frowned. It was going to take forever to find the black shirt I was looking for. The clock next to the bed said I had to leave in five minutes.

My hand fished, searching for the black shirt. It kept coming up grasping other clothing: a blue shirt, a cardigan, a black skirt.

Let’s just say I’m not the most organized of packers, and my backpack with its open-access top wasn’t helping.

Three minutes until I had to leave. I sighed. Only one option was left. But it was one I really didn’t want to take. It was one that would leave me in a worse place than where I was now: just missing a black shirt and hunting for it.

Two minutes until I had to leave.

I dumped the backpack’s contents onto my bed. Immediately half of the bed was covered. Of course, the black shirt I was hunting unfolded on top of the pile and winked at me. Quickly I put it on and surveyed the mess. Later I’d clean it up.

There had to be a better option than totally unpacking my bag anytime I needed a specific item. The savior is called packing cubes.

What are packing cubes

They are small bags constructed of fabric or mesh and adorned with zippers. You pack each one like a little suitcase, with similar items, or outfits to divide your cavernous bag into organized utopia.

A packing cube compresses your clothing, so you can fit more into your bag. The idea is to max your packing space while keeping it organized.

Also, in hard-sided suitcases, they keep your clothes folded nicely and wrinkle-free until you’re ready to wear them.

Types of packing cubes

Like travel bags, many varieties of packing cubes exist. Each one is constructed for a different, specific purpose.

Here are the types of packing cubes you can get:

  • Waterproof cubes to protect clothing from damage
  • See-through mesh to easily identify the clothing and for breathability
  • Cubes constructed of super light-weight fabric to shed weight from your bag
  • Expandable cubes to grow with your travels
  • Hardy, tough cubes to last many trips
REI's expandable packing cube

REI’s expandable packing cube

How to choose your packing cubes

Enter packing cubes into Google and you’re likely to be overwhelmed with options. Fear not, selecting packing cubes is as simple as deciding your priorities.

  1. Purpose: why are you buying this cube? Do you need to keep your wandering socks in one place? Or keep your shirts together? Your purpose will dictate the size and material of the cube you choose.
  2. Size: A cube can hold socks, underwear or shirts. It depends entirely on its size. I prefer the smaller bags as the larger ones can defeat the purpose of segregating your clothing.
  3. Budget: generally, the more lightweight the cube is, the more expensive it will be. If you need something that performs a bag’s main function (keeping certain items together), opt for cheaper. But if you’re looking to keep the weight out of your bag, be prepared to spend more.
  4. Color: if you’re using a hiking-style backpack, I’d suggest cubes in bright colors — not the standard black — to help find them in the murky depths of your bag.
  5. Examine your suitcase/backpack: how big is it? If it’s a messenger bag, pick smaller packing cubes to keep all the smaller items in one place (like socks or underwear) and skip cubes for larger items like shirts. If you have a large hiking-style backpack, consider packing cubes in a variety of sizes to max all your space.
  6. Sturdy: check out the seams, zippers and fabric that make the cube. You’ll be using them daily, putting them through stress, and cramming clothes into them. Look for well-constructed bags that feel well-made.

How to use packing cubes

So how do you use these little bags to make your life easier?

Return to your purpose in buying packing cubes.

Do you want to solve the lonely mess living inside your bag? Do you want to keep your clothes folded nicely, wrinkle-free while you pull other items out of your bag? Or do you just want to find socks when you need them?

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Here are a few tips on how to pack cubes:

  • Always roll the clothing up to max the space
  • Designate one cube for warm weather clothing, and another for cool weather clothing
  • Group similar clothing together to easily find That Shirt
  • Use one cube for your dirty laundry to segregate it
  • Use one suitcase to hold several family members’ clothing by divvying up the space per person with cubes
  • Pack all your electronics/cables in one cube

I don’t normally use packing cubes, but I will start using them to keep my bag organized. Plus, I’ll never have to root around in my bag for that last clean pair of socks again.

Laura Lopuch blogs at Waiting To Be Read where you can find your next great book to read.

Posted by | Comments (0)  | April 26, 2015
Category: Travel Gear

Top 5 language translation apps


You’re standing in a train station, staring at two signs. Back and forth your head swivels. Likely the words on these signs are the end destination points of the train line.

But they could be anything. The language printed on the signs is complete gibberish to your eyes. In fact, it doesn’t even look like a language — these swooping, artistic curves and flat-topped characters.

You take a deep breath and choose a sign based on gut instinct. Usually your gut guides you down the correct path, following unseen sign posts. But today — if you’re being completely honest with yourself — your gut didn’t make a decision. It was as flabbergasted as you at the sight of these foreign characters, so unlike words you could at least puzzle out.

Before this happens to you on your next trip, download a language translation app to translate those signs into meaning.

Here are the top five language translation apps:

1. Google Translate

(Free, Android Google Play, Apple Store)

The app that lets you do everything: read a foreign language, translate any text (even handwriting), and converse with another person as the app translates. This app translate instantly via text, phone or voice. It includes Word Lens: point your camera to a sign or text, the app translate it without an internet/data connection. Perfect for mastering those foreign transportation systems.

2. Waygo

(Free, Android Google Play, Apple Store)

The only app that gives you an instant visual translation of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean characters. Simply point and translate signs and food menus. No Internet connection needed. This app will smooth any hiccups in navigating a new transportation system.

3. iVoice Translator Pro

($0.99, Apple Store)

A personal, double-sided translation service that lets two people talking two different language to speak using the app. Speak into the app and it translates for you. It’s like having a personal, mini translator in your pocket.

4. iStone Travel Translation

(Free, Apple Store)

A simple app containing over 300 daily, common phrases in several languages. To get cool features like text to speech to hear the phrase, you have to purchase the paid version ($4.99).

5. myLanguage Free Translator

(Free, Apple Store)
An older translation app that has grown into a powerful translator thanks to a huge database of 59 languages. It’s free to download and, a rarity these days, it’s free of advertisements within the app. You can get voice translation, but in a separate app.

Bonus language translation app:

S Translator

(Free, only on Samsung Galaxy S5)

A preloaded app that translates text or speech for you. You can download language packs for differently regions of the world. An extensive section of the app has preset phrases commonly used, like where’s the bathroom? Only downside to this app is you need a data or Internet connection for it to work.

Laura Lopuch blogs at Waiting To Be Read where she helps you find your next favorite book… and explains why reading expands your mind.

Posted by | Comments (1)  | March 1, 2015
Category: Travel Gear

A gift guide: top 10 gifts for travel-lovers


Christmas is right around the corner. But what do you get someone who loves travel’s intangible thrill, feeling of a plane taking flight, or adventuring into distant worlds and getting to know themselves deeper?

How do you shop for someone like that?

Answer: you give them gifts to further their travels. Or remove some pesky hurdle in their travel. The greatest gift you can give is to aid them in their travel quest.

To help you, here’s a gift guide of the top ten gifts for travel-lovers:

1. Moleskine journal

An old classic as nothing beats scribbling thoughts in its blank pages while you bounce along the road, staring out the window in search for the perfect word. Its hardy leather cover lasts miles. Eight years and counting, I haven’t had a single page rip out of mine yet. My favorite part — other than how the journal’s edges wear attractively dog-eared — is the pocket flap in the back cover. Perfect for stashing train ticket stubs, receipts, other papers to document your travels.

Where to buy: Amazon

2. Grayl Quest filter

Until you’re stuck on the side of the road, thirsty, in hot sun, you hardly realize the value of water. Never go without fresh drinking water again, wherever you are in the world. In under 15 seconds, you get freshly filtered water. Thanks to the easy-drinking built-in mug, you can drink up right away. Fill, press, repeat, enjoy.

Where to buy:

3. FlyLow Vixen jacket

Light, sexy, and waterproof, this jacket takes London and Moscow’s roughest storms and keeps punching. Originally built for the ski slopes, it has thoughtful design features like three inner pockets on the women’s jacket (compared to a measly none on other jackets), waterproof zippers, and an oversize hood for Boston’s worst storms.

Did I mention it’s lightweight, has armpit vents for regulating your temperature, and folds up into a discrete sleep-able pillow when necessary? She’s everyone’s best friend.

Where to buy:

4. A good book

Some may say a Kindle Fire is better than a book. But I’d argue that a book greatly outweighs a Kindle’s flimsy fight.

A book never requires re-charging, runs out of batteries, dies when you drop it in water. When you’re sitting in the airport, waiting for a delayed flight, a book holds your hand and keeps you company. And when your relationship is finished on the last page, you can make a new friend by passing the book on. A book is truly the gift that never stops giving, especially when that book lingers with you long after the last word.

How to pick a good book: check out — their reviewers are excellent and have amazing suggestions. Or ask someone in your life what they’re reading and do a quick Google search on the title. The next teacher you stumble across, ask them. Teachers have disturbingly impeccable reading taste.

5. White noise machine

Sleep is vital to good travel. If you can’t sleep, it can throw off your entire mood. Help your vagabonder rest up with a white noise machine. It drowns out ambient noises and soothes you to sleep.

Look for a model that is travel-friendly: small size, uncomplicated, with different plugs to suit country’s outlets. My white noise machine has saved me many restless nights on the road. It’s the first thing I pack in preparation for a trip.

What to buy: Marsona Travel Sound Conditioner

6. Timbuk2 classic messenger bag

Handsome, sturdy, waterproof are three of my favorite words about a bag. The Timbuk2 messenger bag embodies all three.

Small enough to be called a flight carry-on, it comes with a cross-chest strap to prevent the awkward around the waist flop that happen to even the best messenger bags. It has a myriad of pockets, a handy side Napoleon pocket, padded internal laptop slash pocket, and padded shoulder strap.

I’ve used my Timbuk2 to go to Alaska for six days, bike to work, carry gear (and beverages) to football games, and on long weekend camping trips. Thanks to awesome heavy-duty fabric that never gives up a rip, it still looks brand new. And if it does succumb, a lifetime warranty has you covered.

Where to buy: Timbuk2

7. Noise canceling headphones

Sometimes you need a break from the world you set out to experience. This is when noise cancelling headphones will save your sanity.

Noise-cancelling is different than noise isolating. Noise cancelling headphones use technology to block out ambient noise, whereas noise isolating headphones create a seal around your ear (think of padded headphones) to block noise. I haven’t had a chance to try out noise cancelling headphones, but I’d opt for lightweight, compact, and comfortable while still producing excellent sound. According to Amazon reviewers, Audio Technica Noise Cancelling Headphones rated highly on value, size, and sound production.

Where to buy: Amazon

8. Superb quality sunglasses

See your destination clearly with sexy sunglasses.

Look for sturdy construction so they won’t snap the moment you leave the country, UV-protection to protect your eyes, and larger frames to shield the delicate skin around your eyes (i.e. where wrinkles show up first). Get polarized sunglasses to take you easily from land to sea.

I’ve had my Oakley Inmate polarized glasses for four years and they’ve held up well under many miles of travels. A few scratches on the lenses are unavoidable, but I haven’t had any cracking or breaking of the frame. Plus, they came with a one-year warranty with excellent customer service.

Where to buy:

9. City pass (or equivalent) for destination

Opt for thoughtful with this gift and buy your traveler a pass so they can cut to the front of the line at museums, historic cites, and cool attractions in their destination city.

Many cites in the United States have a CityPass allowing you entrance to about six attractions at a significant discount off normal ticket price. As a side perk, you can usually jump to the front of the line. I’ve done Boston and Seattle’s CityPasses and both were well-worth the cost.

However, Paris’ Museum Pass was one of the best I’ve seen: one-time payment gives you free access (and queue jumping abilities!) to over 60 museums and monuments in a certain allotment of time. Perhaps one of the best choices I’ve made was buy that little credit-card-sized pass in the time it saved me in just waiting in lines.

Where to buy: CityPass and Paris Museum Pass

10. GoPro Hero +3

Tougher than a square linebacker, this compact camera is ready to take on the world — and record your adventures while you jump off mountains, dive into lakes, jostle down rocky trails.

About the size of Post-It notes but far meatier, the camera is encased in a waterproof shell. It comes with a dual-purpose clip that attaches to a variety of mounts like chest strap, handlebar or helmet mount. This little guy hangs in the bottom of your bag until you need him to record your white-knuckle, heart pounding adventure in high def, fish-eye video that unbelievably captures your elation. And when you need him, he’s quick to respond and takes amazing photos.

Where to buy: Amazon

Splurge: DSLR camera

Photography extends your travel long after you return home. Hang pictures of your adventures on your walls, breathe in the imaginary Swiss Alps air, and lose yourself in memories.

But that only helps if your photos are clear enough to recognize your subject. DSLR cameras are a god-send to remedy that issue. I do not have a DSLR camera yet (my iPhone takes stunningly good pictures), but cost and size are two important factors. You need something small so you don’t feel like you’re a traveling movie set, and not blow the bank on a camera. Also, I want a camera quick to catch those fleeting moments. Based on my research, Canon EOS Rebel T2i and Nikon D3100 (or D3300) are two very popular options for their smaller price tags and heft.

Laura Lopuch writes at Waiting to Be Read where she gives you the best books to read, which books to avoid, and why deep thoughts are vital to your health.

Posted by | Comments (0)  | December 7, 2014
Category: Travel Gear

Packing for a longterm trip in a warm climate


Packing for long-term travel is unique because you have to consider what you may need over a long period of time rather than what you can do without for a few weeks. Questions arise, like Will I need allergy meds? How many books should I bring? How many tank tops do I really need? Is it worth bringing my laptop? Here are some simple tips that I’ve learned from over- and under-packing through the years.

Buy a box of travel space bags

These nifty bags cut the size of your clothing in half. Just throw your clothes in and roll the air out the bottom. A bonus is that it keeps your clothes airtight and wrapped in plastic so you don’t have to worry that your clothes are all now sopping wet when you get caught in that freak monsoon shower.

Only bring half of what you first laid out

On a camping trip through the Arizona desert two years ago, we had a short stop in Las Vegas. I figured it would be very important to have a nice dress and a pair of high heels to go see Cirque de Soleil. By the end of the night, my feet were so sore that I walked home barefoot carrying the damn shoes and then lugged them around in my bag for the rest of the camping trip. More than once have I brought too many clothes or something bulky thinking it was worth the hassle and then regretted it. You only need the basics.

  • 3-4 tank tops

  • 2-3 T-shirts

  • 5-7 pairs of underwear

  • 1 skirt (for women)

  • 1 lightweight dress (for women)

  • 1-2 pairs of shorts

  • 1 pair of jeans/pants for colder days and your flights

  • 2 pairs of shoes (1 closed toed and 1 pair of sandals)

  • 1 lightweight sweater for cold nights and the plane

It is imperative that you either learn to hand-wash your clothes or seek out laundry services that wash for you. Bring no more than a week’s worth of clothes. You will likely wear an item more than once before washing it, so this doesn’t mean you need to bring seven t-shirts.

Men: Your jeans are bulky, heavy, and they don’t pack well. Sorry. Consider finding some lightweight linen/cotton pants. It’s not weird; trust me. Most travelers switch over to them at some point along the way.

Women: You may also never wear that dress or skirt you brought. Some countries have these for sale at great prices and are more suited to the climate you are in. Forego packing these and just buy them when you arrive. You’ll fit in a bit more with the locals. If you have a favorite piece from home you don’t think you can live without, just bring it as long as it’s lightweight and packs small.

Bring an eBook

You will always finish that first book on the flight to your destination. If you’re heading to Europe, Asia, or Africa from North America your flight/s will be long. Very long. You may not be able to sleep for a chunk of the time. Your book won’t last long. An eBook can be hundreds of books in one and quite compact. Before you leave, load it up with books you’ve always wanted to read from free eBook sites like Project Gutenberg, and download some best sellers or a trilogy while you’re at it. You’ll be set for reading and won’t ever have to carry around more than one book at a time.

Personal Hygiene

Everyone has a different idea of what a must-have personal hygiene item is. Just be sure to keep yourself clean in whatever way is necessary while you travel. Consider these tips to cut down on what needs to be brought.

  • Lightweight microfiber travel towel (holds a lot of water and dries incredibly fast)

  • Bar body soap (skip heavy and messy body washes)

Women: Feminine hygiene products can be hard to find or expensive in foreign countries. Buy a Diva Cup a few months before you leave so that you have time to adjust (it does take a couple months to get used to). The bonus is that it’s small and has a little baggie for storage when not in use to keep it clean. It’s reusable for quite a long time and there’s no garbage. Ladies, this is a lifesaver.

Make medication smaller

Those boxes or bottles they come in are BULKY. If your pills are in a blister pack inside a box, just pull them out. I keep a small zippered first aid kit with all the meds in it. If it’s a blister pack write directions in sharpie on the back. Believe me, if you can’t remember if you’re supposed to take one sleep aid or two, writing down the directions can make a huge difference. You shouldn’t be bringing an entire pharmacy with you, but if you know you usually get headaches, have trouble sleeping in new places, or get motion sick on windy roads, it’s nice to have these already with you. In a top-heavy Indian SUV, making tight turns and speeding down pot hole ridden roads in Southern India, I met my match: motion sickness. A friend with a ginger supplement helped me keep my insides inside and I vowed to never go without this important medication ever again.


If you’re not a professional photographer and your photos are all going on social media, you only need one small camera. Something digital that’s lightweight. If you find something waterproof, even better. This may even be your phone. Your smartphone can be an easy all-in-one to save space. It’s a music player, a web browser, a camera, and, if it’s unlocked, it can even be a phone if you buy a local SIM card. If you’re bringing more than this, you should have a good reason for hauling around more gadgets. I’m referring to digital nomads who travel with laptops and tablets for work or photographers who travel with all of their camera gear. These people are in a totally different category for electronics. If you are bringing your smartphone, consider investing in a sturdy case like Lifeproof or Otterbox. These keep your phones safe and waterproof.

Must haves:

  • A travel power adapter

  • Power cords for electronics (bonus if one cord can charge multiple devices)

  • Headphones

  • Camera with rechargeable battery

  • Smartphone

Luxury items

If you can forgo a luxury item, then good on you. I’m not there yet, and may never be, because I just feel better about myself when I have a little bit of makeup on. On my latest trip, I had to decide whether to bring makeup or a travel-sized flat iron. I allowed myself one. I brought a tiny bag of makeup (mascara, concealer, and powder) and let my hair be wild and free. My husband, on the other hand, allowed himself a very small hair trimmer (actually marketed as a mustache trimmer) for his beard. It saves him from having to shave and his beard from getting too long and hot. Just remember that when you’re on the road, you’re often choosing experiences over possessions. Don’t let your possessions hinder you.


Everyone’s packing style is different and priorities will differ from person to person. Be sure you’re willing to carry what you pack and that you have the essentials. Also keep in mind that each country will have different ideas about what is modest and this can often mean bringing along a scarf to cover your head/shoulders if you’re a woman or long pants if you’re a man. Do your research and get packing!


Posted by | Comments (2)  | November 30, 2014
Category: On The Road, Travel Gear

Review of new Grayl Quest cup


What if you could filter water in 15 seconds or less by simply pressing down? What if that motion also purified your water so it was delicious enough to drink?

Water’s a big deal when you’re traveling. In a matter of a few gulps, you could jeopardize your health. That’s why purifying water on the road is so important. But shaking, pumping, waiting, squeezing to purify your water can take a while.

Especially when you’re so thirsty even mud-water looks yummy.

What’s why Grayl cup was invented. It purifies water like working a French press. Push down. Clean water rises up in the inner cup. What’s even better? A clear, plastic cup that purifies your water, switches filters easily, and works like a mug so you can drink your freshly-pressed clean water.

Enter the new Grayl Quest cup.

Disclaimer: the nice folks at Grayl were generous enough to send me their newly launched Grayl Quest cup with some filters to test out.

grayl quest

What’s different in the new Quest cup?

Unlike it’s predecessor — the Legend — the Quest comes with a clear outside cup. So now you can fill up the outer cup with water and easily see the water line. The Legend is a hybrid design of stainless steel inner cup with a hard-plastic outer cup.

Plus, the Legend was all stainless steel and almost 4.5 ounces heavier than Quest. Fill that stainless steel up with water, and suddenly your cup adds some substantial weight to your bag.

With the Quest, that heavy-duty plastic takes weight off where it matters.

Three types of filters

Not only did Grayl add another cup to their line, but they also added another filter. Now you have three filters to choose from:

  • tap;
  • trail;
  • travel.

Each one is designed for different uses.

Tap filter

The tap filter is designed for urban uses. It removes many chemicals and heavy metals that may affect flavor, odor and health. Filters water in 7 seconds. Best used for traveling in developed countries where the water doesn’t taste as lovely as bottled.

Trail filter

Hitting the back woods? Take this filter with. It’s crafted to fight the protozoan cysts and waterborne bacteria found in mountain streams. It removed 99.99% of bacteria like salmonella. Filters water in 15 seconds.

Travel filter

Specially suited for the uncertainty found in traveling the world. It removed 99.99% of viruses like Hepatitis A, bacteria and protozoan cysts like salmonella and Giardia. And the filter is derived from coconut husks to filter and absorb odors and flavors from the water. Filters water in 30 seconds. Call it your best friend in times of need.

What I like about Grayl Quest

  • Rubber-ribbed bottom: when the motion to filter water is repeatedly pushing down, the last thing you need is your cup sliding across a slick counter. Not with this cup. A well-portioned rubber lip lines the bottom of the cup. It didn’t budge when I put it down on a wet spot and pushed down — hard! — to filter.
  • Mug-like drinking capability: I’m not a fan of sucking on straws. I like a coffee mug with a slot in the top. Now my water filterer has that slot.
  • Flip-lock lid: a little button clicks the drinking spot closed. Flip the cup upside down and the water inside doesn’t spill. Or leak out. Or do anything. It stays inside the cup like it should.
  • Dishwasher safe: self-explanatory.
  • How quickly it filters: I filtered about three rounds of water, one right after the other. Total time: 3 minutes tops. Longest part was filling the outer cup with water.
  • Drink or pour out: fill up a Nalgene, a Platypus SoftBottle, or your neighbor’s empty glass. Or guzzle the clean water and fill it immediately back up.
  • Interchangeable filters: travel filter fits both Quest and Legend cups. And you can swap filters in less than 5 seconds — if you’re in that type of scenario where you need to.
  • Feels sturdy: my gear needs to withstand the rigors of the road — prolonged exposure to me. The hard plastic outer cup feels like it could take a beating and still look good. The whole cup feels durable. I like that.
  • Delicious-tasting water: self-explanatory.

What I don’t like about Grayl Quest

  • Fill-to water line on plastic is faint: it’s a light etching in the plastic. It’s a little hard to see unless you hold it up to the light.

The time to come clean.

There’s nothing big I don’t like about Grayl Quest.

Nothing that would prevent me from buying Grayl. Nothing that makes me hesitate. Even the prices and expected life (about 3 months) for the filters seem reasonable. In fact, I wish I had this cup while backpacking through Europe. It would have saved me hundreds of dollars on bottled water and filled up dozens of Nalgenes.

I can’t wait to take it on my next trip — whether it’s to a city, mountain, or misty lands far beyond. Well done, Grayl.

Laura blogs at Waiting To Be Read where she talks about why thinking is a dying sport, gives you new awesome books to read, and how pursuing perfection damages you.

Posted by | Comments (1)  | November 9, 2014
Category: Travel Gear

How to pick a good traveling jacket and jacket review on FlyLow Vixen

2014-08-30 13.59.05Next to shoes, choosing the right jacket for a trip is my hardest decision. It’s more difficult when you’re spanning several cities, leap-frogging continents, or criss-crossing the equator in both directions.

How can you choose a jacket lightweight enough for a cool fall night but warm enough for a snowy trek through the city? And let’s not forget the waterproofing aspect if you get caught in a Parisian rainstorm.

How can you pick the perfect jacket for all conditions? It boils down to three items:

  1. Waterproof/rain proofing
  2. Fabric
  3. Flexibility for changing conditions (venting)

1) Waterproofing or rain proofing

Nothing is worse than getting caught unexpectedly in a cold rainstorm. Usually, rain jackets are super lightweight and designed only as the outer shell.

But you can find a jacket that is waterproof and designed as a warmth-holding jacket. Where?

In the ski gear section. Many of these jackets are designed to be wind-resistant and waterproof to keep up with ever-changing elements on the mountains.

What to look for:

– Waterproof breathable material

– Durable Water Repellant (DWR)

– YKK waterproof zippers or “fully seam sealed” (means the zipper teeth are coated to prevent water from leaking through)

– A large hood to shield your head

2) Fabric

I’ve found my favorite jackets have a bit of stretch to them. They move with my body. They adapt to my circumstances. They like movement. If this is you, check the label for Lycra in your jacket.

If you want warmth, check the jacket description for the branded elements to hold in body heat, like:

– North Face: ThermoBall

– FlyLow: Intuitive

– Helly Hanson: PrimaLoft

These are simply different types of high performance fabric, designed to do the same thing: hold in heat in damp conditions.

Also, check out how many layers of fabric the jacket has. Some jackets have two layers. Some have three. The more layers, the warmer the jacket. Think back to that flimsy rain jacket you throw on over your blazer. It’s simply one layer of fabric designed to repel rain.

I like a jacket with three layers. It gives the right amount of warmth but still stays lightweight enough that I can cramp it into a tiny spot in my backpack.

3) Flexibility to changing conditions

Adaptability is very important while traveling — not just for your mental attitude, but also for your gear. Due to the demands of hauling your stuff and traveling like a turtle with your house on your back, you need to find clothing that is heavy multi-taskers. Your jacket should be no different.

So what are you looking for to gauge this type of flexibility?

1) Arm venting: so you can cool off and circulate air without ditching your jacket; perfect in cold wind but hot sun on your face.

2) Breathable material: to wick sweat away and cool you during long hikes or dashes for the subway; in the end, this also keeps you more comfortable so you’re not stewing in your sweat.

3) Plenty of interior pockets: stump the pickpockets and keep your valuables in interior zipped pockets next to your body. As a girl, I love a jacket with lots of pockets since that means I don’t always have to carry a purse.

4) Media player compatible: okay, this is a minor item on the list. But it could be a lifesaver when you need a moment to yourself and your personal space is limited to that jacket.

5) Color: a florescent jacket will make you stick out like a sore thumb. Perhaps black is the standard classy choice, but everyone has a black jacket in their closet. Pick a color that makes you feel happy but doesn’t target you as a potential victim.

So what does my favorite traveling jacket look like?

Review on FlyLow Vixen jacket

fly low vixenThis is the jacket I’ve been traveling with for the past six months.

It weathered a downpour in Boston while I watched the Red Sox and steel beams overhead dripped cold rain relentlessly on my legs. It has shielded my head from chilly winds off Seward, Alaska. It soldiered through an early fall snowstorm. I wish I had brought it with to Chicago during a nippy weekend.

I’m in love with it.

What do I like?

– Oversize hood: designed to fit over a snowboarding helmet, this hood is extra large. It prevents any wind from nipping down my neck, overhangs my eyes to guard against driving rain, and I can wear a hat with it.

– The color: a pretty berry color, this jacket was my first non-black one. It brings a pop of color to my cheeks in pictures. And it makes me happy just to see the color. Also, it doesn’t get lost in my bag, blending in with the bag’s dark depths.

– Lightweight but warm: The fabric blocks wind and water, but keeps my body heat in. I have a knack for getting cold in any weather condition. This jacket fights the cold. But it isn’t bulky or heavy-feeling on my body.

– Waterproof: I’m a girl who gets caught in rainstorms in every country. So I love that the seams are fully taped, the fabric is water-repellant, and no annoying little cold raindrops can find my warm center.

– Plenty of pockets: carry it on your body is my motto. So when I can slip my wallet, keys, phone and a book into my jacket pockets and just go, that’s heaven to me. With this jacket, I can do that — and have empty pockets to pick up things along the way.

– Durability: six months in, and the jacket still looks brand new despite being used a pillow multiple times, stuffed into my bag, shoved under plane seats, and exposed to Boston and Alaska’s notorious nasty weather.

What I don’t like:

– The price ($300): it’s a hefty cost for just a jacket. But if you think about it as a jacket that will last for years and look good doing it, it’s worth it. Like my husband says, “you get what you pay for.”

Laura blogs at Waiting to Be Read where she dishes about awesome books to read, what actors work best as main characters, and why thinking is a dying sport.


Posted by | Comments (0)  | October 5, 2014
Category: Travel Gear

What’s the best water purifier for traveling?

2014-06-15 12.26.05

Water is a huge deal when you’re traveling. Drinking contaminated water is the quickest way to sabotage your health. But water quality can vary greatly outside the United States, especially in developing countries.

You could stick exclusively to bottled water. But your budget (and the environment) would hate you.

But don’t worry — there’s a better way. You can purify the available water. This method eliminates the protozoa and bacteria so the water is safe to drink.

Perhaps you’ve done some research on water sanitizers. In your research, two words have popped up: purifier and filter. They seem to be used interchangeably. And they appear to both clean your water.

But they’re for two different functions and one is better for traveling than the other.

Difference between purifier and filters

Filters attack the visible gunk in your water. They transform muddy water to clear, pretty water.

Filters are commonly used when camping or hiking. Typically mountain streams are clean of the bacteria found in overpopulated areas. Instead, this water is laden with twigs, mud, and other debris. The filter separates all that out of your water.

Whereas, the purifier works on a microscopic level to cleanse your water of nasty bacteria. Water-related illnesses are linked to 1 of 3 types of pathogens (disease-carrying pests). Purifiers rid your water of all 3 pathogens.

Typically while traveling, you’re not worried about twigs in your drinking water. Instead, you’re worried about the bacteria that will make you sick. That’s why purifiers are best for international travel, so your water can be sterile and safe to drink.

Some devices offer an integrated filter and purification system. However, most of the devices on this list are strictly for water purification.

How to purify your water

You have three options to purify your water:

  1. Iodine/chemicals
  2. UV light
  3. Boiling
  4. High tech filters

Top three water purifiers for travel



A water purifier that works like a french press and comes in its own handsome bottle. You simply fill up the bottle with water, press, and clean water fills up in the inner reservoir. It filters 16oz of water in 15 seconds. It’s G3 filter captures 99.999% of bacteria and protozoan cysts like Giardia and viruses like Hepatis A.

If that wasn’t enough, it’s stainless steel body is sleek and handsome. And, my favorite part: it doesn’t have a straw, but rather a snap lid. Perfect for the traveler who aims for minimalism and one-device-for-all.

Pros: It purifies in 15 seconds. The container is attractive and looks more like a to-go coffee mug than high tech water purifier.

Cons: It’s designed for one person’s use. So to fill up a Playpus or Nalgene for later, you’ll have to clean another bottle of water and wait 15 seconds.

Cost: Total cost, including filter: $70

Replacement purifier: $40

Lifespan of purifier: 150 L


Lifesaver Bottle

This is the only purifier and filtration combo device on this list. Resembling a biker’s water bottle, this device removes all bacteria, viruses, cysts, parasites, fungi and other microbiological waterborne pathogens without using any chemicals. And it doesn’t use any batteries, power or UV light. So it’s ideal for going totally off the grid.

Simply fill up the bottle with whatever water is available, swiftly pump two or three times, and drink clean water. When the cartridge is depleted, the bottle shuts down. All parts, including cartridges, carbon filters, and sponge pre-filter, can be replaced.

Perfect for the countries where you can’t count on clear water and need heavy-duty water purification, without relying on power.

Pros: I like the purifier and filtration combo. And that the water is clean quickly, without relying upon outside power or technology that could break down.

Cons: The initial cost is the priciest purifier on the list. Plus, parts and filters are expensive to replace.

Cost: Total cost: $170

Replacement parts: $100 per cartridge, $8 per carbon filter, $6 per pre-filter

Lifespan of bottle: 6,000 L


SteriPen Ultra

UV light kills 99.99% of waterborne bacteria in 16oz of water in 48 seconds. You simply put the upside-down pen into the water and stir the water to treat. You can use this UV light pen in any water container (like Nalgene bottles and store-bought bottles). The Water Quality Association awarded SteriPen with a Gold Seal, certifying its effectiveness.

Lightweight and slender, this little guy is a perfect match for the lightweight traveler.

No need for batteries as the SteriPen comes with a USB cable and you can easily charge it. You can even hook it up to a solar charger. You get about 40 treatments per charge.

Pros: The compact size and that you can purify any bottle of water in less than a minute. The geek in me loves the idea of the UV light killing bacteria. I also like that you can charge this device almost anywhere thanks to the USB charger.

Cons: Your water has to be clean (i.e. no floaties or sediment) to start with. According to some reviewers online, your water container has to be very, very clean. Beware, some Amazon reviewers reported faulty LED screens, the device has the tendency to turn on in your backpack and drain its battery.

Cost: Total cost: $99.95

Lifespan of UV light: 8,000 L

Which one would I pick?

Before this article, I would have chosen the SteriPen based on the compact design and ability to sterilize any bottle of water.

But now, it’s a toss up between the Grayl and the Lifesaver. I like to camp, and the purifier and filtration combo is very attractive because of that. Combined with the fact that the Lifesaver doesn’t rely on any outside power and seems perfect for any traveling situation.

However, the Grayl would be my choice for a traveling-only purifier. You can’t beat sterile water in 15 seconds and the low initial cost price.

But, keep in mind, I have not tried any of these devices and real life may alter my decision.

Laura blogs at Waiting To Be Read where she explores the benefits of reading and traveling, is forever making “best of” lists, and writes three-second book reviews with actors cast as the book’s main characters.

Laura blogs at where she explores the benefits of reading and traveling, makes tons of lists, and writes book reviews with actors cast as main characters. – See more at:

Posted by | Comments (3)  | August 3, 2014
Category: Travel Gear

Best Five Fitness Trackers for Travel

2014-06-07 12.58.39

Travel with its long flights and sitting in transport can wreck havoc on your health. But how can you avoid both while traveling?

The answer is simple: give yourself a challenge. The challenge is in the form of a fitness tracker. As Peter Drucker, an Austrian-born American management consultant, says, “What gets measured, gets managed.”

Fitness trackers aren’t just one-function pedometers anymore. Most track your steps, measure the distance you’ve walked, and time your sleep. A few even capture heart rate, perspiration, body motion, and types of sleep, including how long you spend in REM. When you use a fitness tracker in conjunction with a sleep app, you can kick jet lag.

When I’m traveling, I walk more than I do at home. A fitness tracker not only can measure the quality of my sleep, but also the distance my feet have traveled or how much water I’m consuming — two valuable measurements after recycled air and cramped quarters on flights.

So I rounded up the available fitness trackers and picked the top five based upon factors that are important while traveling:

  • sleep tracking;
  • actual distance walked;
  • unobtrusive design;
  • battery life.


1. Misfit Shine

Waterproof, minimalist design and has a watch battery rumored to last four months. It has the awesome ability to discern between swimming, walking, running, and cycling. Thanks to its jewelry-like design, you can wear this tracker in a variety of ways; like as a necklace, a watch, clipped to your pants. An interesting sidenote for you startup business fans, Misfit Shine was a successfully funded Indiegogo project. The tracker works in conjunction with an app, available on Android and iTunes.

Downside: you will need a smartphone to get info off the tracker. It doesn’t have a display on it.

Price: $102


2. Jawbone UP24

Sleek wrist band that has a vibrating reminder to urge you to move if you’ve been idle for too long — perfect for a quick walk during a long flight or train ride. Also, the alarm will wake you during a lighter sleep period so you wake easier and quicker. This feature is perfect for adjusting to new time zones. The design looks more like a wrist band than a tracker busily measuring your activity. It claims to have up to 7 days of battery life.

Downside: the unusual design snags on your clothes and you need a smartphone with the app to check your info since it has no display.

Price: $150

fit bit flex

3. Fitbit Flex

A slender, comfortable wrist band holds the small Fitbit tracker. Tap on the tracker and lights show your progress to your daily 10,000 step (or any other step!) goal. The tracker works in conjunction with a smartphone app (available on Android and iTunes) which tracks your sleep, water intake, daily mileage walked, total steps, exercise with GPS monitoring, calorie intake. It even has a vibrating alarm to wake you. This is the tracker I use and I can’t wait to try it out on my next trip. My battery life is roughly one week between charges.

Downside: it doesn’t wake you during a lighter sleep period like Jawbone does.

Price: $100


4. Basis

The new kid on the block, this fitness tracker does it all for a great price. It looks like a watch, but thanks to little sensors under the face, it tracks your heart rate patterns, motion, calorie expenditure by activity, perspiration and skin temperature, and sleep cycles including REM. It’s akin to having a doctor strapped to your wrist. This tracker would be very valuable if you are traveling to hotter climates where you run the risk of dehydration and you’re on the move. Battery life is claimed to be up to 4 days. And the strap is carbon steel.

Upside: the larger display shows you info at a glance, no need to pull out the smartphone to check it.

Price: $200


5. Garmin Vivofit

Best part is you don’t have to charge it for a year. Reviews by the users back up that stat. When it needs new batteries, they are  common batteries found at any store. This tracker does everything else all the other trackers listed do. But it also pairs with a heart rate strap. And the display provides more information like time, steps, distance, calories.

Price: $130

Laura blogs at Waiting To Be Read where she explores the benefits of reading and traveling, is forever making “best of” lists, and writes book reviews with actors cast as main characters.

Posted by | Comments (0)  | July 6, 2014
Category: Travel Gear

The Passport Protector – review and interview with its founder


Patrick was eating at a Olive Garden in Buffalo, New York when he should have been enjoying fresh pizza at a sun-baked cafe in Rome.

A few days earlier on Friday in Charlotte, he had been leaving on a two week trip with his girlfriend to Europe. He couldn’t wait to see Cinque Terre’s famed breathtaking cliffs and explore Paris’ countless monuments. This moment had been six months in the planning. Deep inside him, the wanderlust was pounding its fists in excitement.

But at the airport, he got an unwelcome surprise. His passport was denied for wear and tear. The airport wouldn’t allow him on his flight. They could be fined and they weren’t going to let that happen.

He was shocked. But there was no way around it. Patrick and his girlfriend watched their plane take off without them. And with it went visions of seeing Arc de Triumph and Eiffel Tower.

To salvage the remnants of their trip, they faced several challenges. First, they had to find a regional passport agency to order a new, rush passport. New Orleans and Buffalo were the only two that had availability on the next business day — Monday.

They picked Buffalo. And they sliced off segments of their itinerary, cancelling planned stops in Nice and Brussels.

Four days and $2500 to cover fees, cancellation notices, and wasted train tickets later, he was finally on the plane to Europe. But he couldn’t stop thinking about how to prevent this nightmare from happening again.

He needed a passport protector. Something hardcore, waterproof and sturdy. He needed something stronger than what a plastic baggy or leather protector could give. But he couldn’t find anything like that.

He decided to make his own. He wanted it to be “a hardcore case to withstand adventure travel but also having a innovative modern design that… looks smart enough for a business traveler.”

When he was in high school, the travel bug infected him. For him, travel isn’t just something you do — it’s a way to open your thinking. He believes that “travel creates a buffer or free space for people to interact and grow where they wouldn’t otherwise in their own comfort zone.”

While studying abroad in southern France, he fell in love with how life-changing travel can be. “Travel has opened my mind to so many ideas and my own views on life,” Patrick says. “In the States, we measure success based on our bank account; elsewhere I saw it measured in relationships. Open-mindedness, personal growth, and adventure don’t happen in a vacuum; they happen through experience.” That’s why a portion of proceeds from Passport Protector sales are donated to fund study abroad scholarships. One day he hopes to give away two scholarships a year.

Review on the Passport Protector

passport protector

It claims to be small enough to fit into a jacket pocket, impact and water-resistant, and metal-free so you can pass through certain security checkpoints. The final version will be RFID blocking for extra protection.

Never one to back down from a good challenge, I tested this little guy and here’s what I found:

Water-resistant: when I ran water over it, my documents stayed dry. When I submerged it, it floated. Good news in the event that your boat capsizes, your documents won’t sink to the ocean’s bottom. But the bad news is when I opened it up, my IDs were wet and stuck together.

Size compatibility: Fits easily into man-pants pockets, large inner pockets in jackets and my Timbuk2 bag pockets. It doesn’t really fit into girl-pants’ pockets, but then neither does anything larger than lip gloss and a credit card.

Impact resistant: I held back a little on this test for fear of possibly totally damaging the prototype (I do have to return it!). But I discovered the protector will survive if you accidentally sat on it, or sleep on your bag in an airport. The hard plastic bends slightly, but doesn’t break. It also doesn’t seem to scratch easily.

passport protector 2

What I liked:

– The smooth, hard feel of the plastic case. It feels sturdy. It feels like it can handle what I dish out.

– It’s wide enough to fit my passport (and my husband’s), some money and credit cards. Possibly, it could fit an ID if you did some creative arranging.

– Water resistant: I’m the person who’s forever spilling coffee or beer on herself. My gear needs to be able to withstand an unexpected soaking.

What I disliked:

– The rubber top on my prototype was a little hard to finagle. The rubber tab to keep the top in place wouldn’t stay in the hole. But that’s just a preliminary issue. Patrick says the final lid will close tighter on the finished model.

– Not completely waterproof. Again, this seems to be a prototype quirk. I’m told the final version will have a more rigid rubber top. Hopefully that means it’ll be completely waterproof as well.

– It doesn’t fit my phone. My iPhone is just a smidgeon too wide to fit into the case.

Where to get it:

You can get one during Passport Protector’s crowdfunding campaign that ends June 9th. Here’s the link:

If you miss that, sign up at their website for notifications when the final version is ready.

Laura blogs at Waiting To Be Read where she explores the benefits of reading and traveling, is forever making “best of” lists, and writes book reviews with actors cast as main characters.

Posted by | Comments (1)  | June 3, 2014
Category: Travel Gear