Traveling Ultra Light: What to Leave Behind

May 19, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

A recent article on About Travel, a student travel website, brings up the issue of what items you should leave behind when traveling. We think the advice could apply to anyone, although the advice for hostels may indeed be more of a student/cheap traveler thing. (We’ll leave the youth hostels to our younger compatriots!)

A lot of the advice boils down to the simple recommendation that you act like you do at home instead of gearing up and buying a lot of specialty items. For instance, the author said she paid $100 for a silk sleeping bag liner that she had never used.

Wenger Swiss Army knife, opened.

Wenger Swiss Army knife. These aren’t always necessary, unless you’re going camping. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The article also discusses the fact that money belts aren’t necessarily as useful as some may think. Just be conscious and careful as you are at home with your money. A Swiss army knife is another overrated item. It can be useful, but isn’t strictly necessary because things you need will probably be available unless you’re camping.

And don’t buy dedicated travel clothes. Just wear what you normally wear instead of buying special clothes. People do tend to over pack in general. You can’t really pack for every possible situation unless you want to deal with a massive suitcase. Just plan in advance, and figure out how to do laundry while you’re on your trip.

You can also assume that wherever you’re going, they have stores and you can purchase something if you have an emergency.

Another thing to think about: Do you need to take a laptop on a non-business trip? Especially if you have a tablet or even a smartphone. You can give up that luxury of the bigger screen for efficiency. You’d be surprised at what you can accomplish with a smartphone, and a pen and notebook.

The advice in the article and from TravelPro boils down to keeping common sense in mind when packing. Be realistic about what you will really need while you’re traveling and try to think back to other trips where certain items have sat in your luggage for the entire time. Leave that stuff behind.

What are some travel items you’ve learned to live without? Visit our Facebook page and leave a comment, or just leave one below. Let us hear some of your travel secrets.

Marriott Tests In-Room Netflix Service

April 16, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

If you’re staying in a Marriott hotel and find you miss your Netflix, Hulu, and Pandora, and don’t want to chew up the data on your cell phone, you’re in luck. Marriott is planning a new in-room entertainment service that includes access to the three entertainment streaming services.

A Yahoo Travel article reported that Marriott is working with a number of different content providers to get their different hotel chains up and running with the latest in on-demand programming.

English: Copenhagen Marriott Hotel Dansk: Cope...

Copenhagen Marriott Hotel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We think this is a smart move on Marriott’s part, because it not only helps the people who already have the service, but it could be a lower-cost alternative to the in-room movies or trying to catch up with the shows you may have missed.

Its usefulness will boil down to how much it costs. Hotels already charge a lot of money just to watch movies, so if this service will cost an arm and a leg, it may not be worth it to many travelers.

On the other hand, sometimes when people are bored and trapped in a hotel room, they’ll pay for anything. What else can explain the continued existence of the minibar?

And if Marriott can come up with an affordable way to do this, especially for people who already have accounts, or make it affordable for people who want to take the services for a test drive, it seems like a great idea.

It also seems like allowing people to view Netflix on the hotel TV instead of wifi would be a great way to free up some wifi bandwidth, which tends to get bogged down, as people watch Netflix on their laptops and tablets.

However, Marriott seems to also be exploring the option of allowing guests to upgrade to a paid “premium” Internet connection.

Since guests with Netflix and similar accounts can already access those services through wifi, they could get a guaranteed high-speed service. Or Marriott could throttle video streaming through their regular wifi, which would force viewers to shell out for the extra bandwidth.

Access to movies and music that doesn’t have to endure a long load time can perhaps be considered worth paying for, especially if your kids need it to settle down after a long day on the road.

What do you think? Would you pay extra for Netflix in your hotel room? Leave us a comment and let us know.

Marriott Backs Down and Says it Won’t Block Wi-Fi… For Now

April 14, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

After previously announcing in January that they were going to block hotel guests’ personal wifi devices at conferences, Marriott has backed down, after facing a great deal of blowback from consumer groups, frequent guests, Google, Microsoft, and the news media.

The hotel giant was recently fined by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for blocking wifi access in Nashville and their knuckles are apparently still stinging from the rap. They did file a petition to the FCC and do not plan to withdraw it, and have said they still wish to receive clarification on the rule.

English: Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel

Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Marriott says that they put these blocks in place to protect against cyberthreats.

But despite the hotel chain’s thirst for security, they have backed down and promised not to jam guests’ signals while at their hotel chain.

The main reason they seem to be backing off due to a resounding amount of public criticism, coming in the form of public comments, negative new articles, and vows from guests not to spend another dime at Marriott.

This is the type of fury that can only be roused by someone attempting to take wireless devices away from the American consumer and Marriott seems to have seen its mistake.

“To set the record straight it has never been nor will it ever be Marriott’s policy to limit our guests’ ability to access the Internet by all available means, including through the use of personal Mi-Fi and/or Wi-Fi devices. . . To be clear, this matter does not involve in any way Wi-Fi access in hotel guest rooms or lobby spaces,” Marriott said in a recent statement after the controversy grew so big that the New York Times ran a scathing article about the incidents.

What do you think? How important are your wifi devices to you when you travel?

Bring This, Not That: MP3 players vs. Mobile Phones

March 10, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Music is an integral part of travel for many of us. And the advent of mobile devices, whether mp3 players or mobile phones, has made traveling with music easier than ever. Sitting in your seat with ear buds or perhaps a set of Beats by Dr Dre embracing your head can be a great way to avoid talkative seat mates, if you’re the sort of person who prefers not to chat in transit.

But which is the best option? Should you take your phone and use up precious battery life and even more precious data? Or do you take an extra mp3 player, like an iPod Classic, and have one more device to keep track of?

As usual, it depends on your own needs and preferences: what are you doing, and what do you need the device for?

A stack of the iPods I now own... included are...

A stack of iPods. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If space and weight is an absolute concern, just take your phone. Any smartphone on the market today can store music and stream music from one of the streaming services such as Pandora, iHeartRadio, Spotify, or even Stitcher for podcast fans.

But an mp3 player can be a great option if you have space or data concerns or if you want to work out while you’re traveling and prefer not to use your phone while exercising. It’s also a great option to avoid wearing down the battery on your phone while you’re in transit.

A small iPod shuffle can be extremely convenient when you’re traveling. You can easily stick the device in your pocket or clip it to a clothing item so you don’t lose it. And since it was specifically marketed for those that work out, it’s a great option if you want to work out on the road.

Another choice to make is whether you should store music on your device or use a streaming service such as Pandora iHeartRadio, Spotify, or Stitcher. Storing music on your phone takes up storage space, while using a streaming service uses data and your service may cut out while you’re in transit, unless you want to pay for wifi on the plane.

But no matter whether you bring your smartphone or your mp3 player and no matter how you store it, take a moment to remember that people used to make mix tapes or CDs.

How do you listen to music when you travel? Leave us a comment on our Facebook page or in the comments section below.

Keep Your Devices Charged When You Travel

January 20, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

A recent article in CIO magazine got us thinking about how to make sure your phone stays charged. There are a few new pieces of technology the article discussed, a couple of which we weren’t familiar with.

One option is the Powermat. This is a wireless charging station that doesn’t plug your phone directly into the wall. To use Powermat, you can plug a Powermat ring into your phone, and set the ring on or near the Powermat. If your phone is already Powermat enabled, you simply set the phone on top of the mat, and it will charge wirelessly. You can buy both the Powermat and the charging ring online or at electronic stores.

Duracell PowermatStarbucks has rolled out a Powermat program in the San Francisco area; if it’s successful, expect to be able to walk into a Starbucks and charge your phone wirelessly across the country for free. There’s even an app that tells you where to find Powermat-friendly locations. Or you could rent a ring from Starbucks while you’re enjoying your latte.

Speaking of charging stations, ChargeAll is another charging station widely available throughout the U.S. Rather than scrambling to find that one outlet in a coffee shop or fast food restaurant, many of them are installing ChargeAll stations so travelers can get a quick boost when they stop for a break or a bite to eat. You can find a list of the ChargeAll stations here. They also offer an app to help you locate their stations.

You can also buy an external portable battery. The battery itself is about the size of your phone, and only adds a half pound to your bag weight. You can even plug into it with your USB cord, and charge it overnight with another power cord.

If you’re at the airport, be aware that many now offer a variety of charging stations. Just scout around or ask an airport employee. In some cases, you may have to circle the charging area like a shark in order to secure a newly opened spot. You can also make a pit stop at a coffee shop or airport restaurant, where you’re fairly likely to find a charging station or at least a couple plugs. (This is why you should carry your charging cord with you at all times.)

More planes now offer in-flight charging for passengers. Although it’s mostly a first class or business class perk, some airlines have begun offering USB chargers throughout the plane for all seats in all sections of the plane.

Finally, just make sure you’re fully charged before you leave for your trip. A lot of people end up taking off when they’re not fully charged, so they’re already starting at a disadvantage.

How else are you keeping your electronic devices charged? Any tricks or devices we didn’t cover? Leave us a comment and let us know what works for you.

Photo credit: Julia Roy (Flickr, Creative Commons)

TSA Needs to be Consistent on New Security Rules for Electronics

October 7, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

The TSA is now requiring anyone flying into the US to be able to turn on their mobile phones and other mobile devices whenever prompted by security. Right now, the plan is only in effect for those traveling into the United States, but it could eventually become standard procedure here in the US.

So far, each airport has approached the policy differently. Heathrow Airport in the UK is checking devices at the gate while others are checking them at security or at check-in. Many people are confused by the new rules, with a lack of consistent direction from the airports.

Heathrow has put up signs to instruct people about the device policy, and others should be following their lead soon. Airlines and airports will be posting the policy on their websites to allow for more people to understand the new policy before arriving at the airport.

At Travelpro, we’re curious whether the security will screen every single device or randomly select based on some criteria. TSA recently released a statement that said that “officers may also ask that owners power up their devices,” which suggests that not everyone will be required to.

We also wonder how the TSA will enforce this policy? Most of the screening will be done overseas and therefore under other countries’ control. Will TSA require certain regulations and reports? Will this be a cooperative effort between all the countries?

All airport security processes are somewhat networked, but they’re also independent. Therefore, they don’t have to follow each others’ rules and requirements. However, because each agency and country is concerned with security, we would hope that they would work together to ensure everyone’s safety.

If you are unsure how the device policy is going to work and you are traveling, call the airport or search on their website to find more information. Homeland Security has commanded TSA to regulate this policy with little disruption if possible, so we hope this will be the case for all travelers in the future.

The best move for a traveler is to have their mobile devices charged before arriving at the airport. If you are chosen to turn on your device, you will be prepared.

Virgin Atlantic Launches Wearable Tech Trial at Heathrow

September 11, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Wearable technology — fitness bands, health monitoring devices, Google Glass, and even garments that light up when your phone rings — is beginning to appear in business settings like airports. Instead of wearable technology being solely used as a consumer device, staffers are in the early testing stages of using it to help them do their jobs better. Airports have talked about using wearable technology in the past, but it finally took off (pardon the pun) when the airline, Virgin Atlantic, tested out Google Glass and the Sony Smartwatch at London-Heathrow Airport in the Upper Class Wing.

Virgin Airline's MollyThe technology was used to create a more customized customer service for passengers. Google Glass was used to identify passengers through facial recognition, while Sony Smartwatches were used to increase efficiency of passing along information instead of referring to paperwork.

Virgin Atlantic’s findings were presented at FTE Europe 2014. Although the trial lasted only six weeks, preliminary results were positive. The goal was to simplify the airport experience and reduce the amount of paperwork for the staff and passengers.

The only problem they discovered involved the reliability of connectivity, which they decided could be resolved by increasing wifi signals and using Bluetooth (something most travelers would love to see as well).

Right now, using wearable technology in airports is only in the testing phase, but as more airlines like Virgin Atlantic take the plunge and embrace the future, we may see wearable technology in the airport world quickly, and hopefully seamlessly.

 

Photo credit: Peter Russell (Flickr, Creative Commons)

Bring This, Not That: Portable Battery Chargers

August 21, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

In light of the TSA’s new “no dead electronics” policy, not having any charge is more inconvenient than just not being able to check email or play Flappy Bird. If you can’t charge your phone at a TSA checkpoint, you can either have your phone sent to your home or they’ll keep it for you until you return to the airport.

And while people are asking that the TSA bring power outlets to those checkpoints, it may be a good idea to have a portable battery charger in your bag. Even if you’re not traveling on a plane, a batter charger may make your life easier.

Cell phone and battery charger

Cell phone and battery charger

For frequent travelers, a dead phone, laptop, or tablet can be a serious problem. People need more and longer power to be able to work and entertain themselves while on their journey. I have gone on long trips, and even though I power down before takeoff, my phone can still be at 10 or 15 percent when I get to my destination. If I’m not going to be near a wall socket for a few hours, that’s a problem.

Luckily, portable batteries are becoming more prevalent and more affordable for the everyday person. Until they figure out how to reconfigure batteries to last longer, portable batteries are a great option. We’ve found five of the “juiciest portable battery options”, according to an article on Digital Trends.

  • RAVPower Xtreme Portable External Battery Charger
  • Lumsing Harmonica Style Portable Power Bank
  • Anker 2nd Gen Astro3 Portable External Battery
  • Jackery Bar Portable Charger
  • EasyAcc Slim Power Bank Charger

These range from $20 to $100. They also vary in power capacity, how many devices you can hook up and the weight. The EasyAcc only weighs about a quarter pound, which is great for travelers who are limited by weight of baggage. A friend recently bought one from Amazon for $23, and he’s able to charge his Android phone 5 times.

Another option is the Pocket Socket Portable Hand Generator available on ThinkGeek.com. It requires a lot of hand cranking, but it’s very useful if you happen to be in the car, or are stuck in a zombie apocalypse, and far away from a power source.

For as light and inexpensive as these batteries are getting, they may end up being a great alternative to trying to find an outlet in the airport or at a restaurant to extend your battery life.

Bring This, Not That: Charging Cables and Extension Cords

August 19, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Have you seen the new cell phone commercials that show travelers and their phones hugging the walls while they try to power up their battery hogging devices? Have you ever been one of those wall huggers? It may get worse, thanks to the TSA’s new rules that require devices to be able to power up at checkpoints.

This is going to be a bigger problem, as most airports seem to have only one outlet for the entire terminal, although some airlines, like Delta, are adding more power outlets to their gates. Even so, there are still a limited number of outlets to use. And half the people using them are watching Netflix on their iPads, when you’ve got important work to get finished.

Pivot Power GeniusThis is where a charging cable and extension cord may come in handy. We’re not referring to those bulky beige utility-style surge protector extension cords. There are smaller more compact and flexible options out there, like the Pivot Power Genius available at ThinkGeek.com or other electronics stores.

Imagine pulling one of these out of your bag and asking someone nearby to plug it in. What cranky flight-delayed person would say no? They may not be any happier, but you may brighten a couple other people’s days.

The Pivot Power is just one option out there. There are hand crank generators, portable hydrogen fuel cell generators (no, seriously), and even Tony Stark’s Iron Man Mark V Armor Suitcase Mobile Fuel Cell. And of course, even a 3-in-1 splitter and 1 foot extension cord would let you share a plug with two new friends.

An extension cord is not only convenient in airports but also for hotels. Most hotels have made it so outlets are easily accessible and plentiful. However, if you happen to book a hotel that hasn’t been updated in the last 20 years, the extension cord can save a lot of hassle. You may also run into problems if a hotel’s desk lamp plug doesn’t accommodate your bulky charger block.

Now that we depend on all these electronic devices, it’s just as important to be able to power them up conveniently and quickly. Now that the TSA’s rules are changing, and we’re dependent on our phones and tablets, don’t leave yourself without an option to power up.

TSA’s New Smartphone Rules May Cause Bigger Problems

August 14, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Thanks to new proposed rules regarding dead mobile phones and tablets, many travelers are worried about what could happen if their portable electronics die before they get through airport security.

The new rules require that all electronic devices must be able to be powered up at security, after it was revealed that Al Qaeda has figured out how to disguise bombs in electronic devices without detection. Currently, the only flights affected are those going into the United States, but not out of the country, or within it.

The Controversy

Cell phone and battery charger

Cell phone and battery charger

What happens when someone cannot power up his or her devices? According to an article by Conde Nast, the dead devices would be held at the airport or could be shipped to the owner’s house. If the devices are held at the airport, where would they be stored and what kind of security would oversee this storage? Many people have expressed concern at possibly being without their phones because of a dead battery, especially when their power cable is in their luggage.

The Costs

If the devices are to be shipped to the owner’s house, this method could be quite costly, especially for travelers returning to the US. Depending on how the policy is enacted and enforced, there could be a lot of confiscated devices to process.

One suggestion we’ve seen lately is to install electrical outlets and chargers at security stations. This means airports would have to relocate power supplies and install plugs. Then they would have to allow time for devices to charge enough to power up. However, this would solve the problem for travelers whose mobile device died in the airport. Another possibility would be charging stations outside security, where people can charge for several minutes before entering the line.

Will This Create Backups?

On the other hand, what kind of problems could be created as people fumble with dead phones, trying to charge them at the new stations, or even arranging them to have sent back home. And, what if you miss your flight? Though the new rules are for safety and security, the implementation process could cause quite a dilemma for many travelers if it’s not planned and implemented well.

Word to the wise: regardless of where you’re traveling, charge all your devices before heading out to catch your flight.

Photo credit: Jeremy Page (Flickr, Creative Commons)

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