Travel Gear Reviews
Because I’m a blogger, people send me things. I don’t get it, either. But I guess they want me to write about their stuff. So I figured I would write some travel gear reviews to rationalize the growing pile of stuff that people have sent me.
Sometimes they send me cool things, like like these fantastically cute and comfy shoes from OTBT, and sometimes they are… puzzling.
I do try out just about everything that people send me, because someone went to the trouble to create it – sometimes it’s clearly a labor of love – and they paid someone to seek out bloggers, writers and influencers (which one am I again? Depends on the day.) who might write about it, and one of those people thought I might be the one to do so. So I try to give everything a fair chance.
On my recent trip to Barcelona and Ireland, I took a bunch of these products with me to try them out, and here’s what I thought:
So, here are the travel gear reviews.
The Good Stuff
First, the shoes. From the minute the OTBT Scamper shoes arrived in the mail, they have been in regular rotation for me. They are lightweight, which is great for this perennial overpacker. I almost always fill my suitcase to its maximum, no matter what size bag I bring. And when i am tempted to bring the big bag, as I did on my recent trip, it usually bumps up against that weight restriction. I will never forget the trip home from Belgium a few years ago when I had to unpack and repack my bags – dirty laundry everywhere – at check-in because I was about 5 pounds over the limit. In any case, lightweight shoes are much appreciated. And these are comfy! I’ve been wearing them sockless for a month without a single blister. And did I mention they were cute? I get compliments every time I wear them. OTBT stands for Off the Beaten Track, which is my favorite kind of travel, so yeah, I recommend these.
About that luggage…. I’ve been trying out a really nice carryon bag by ECBC. I’ve got a full video review of it on YouTube, but I’ll give you the basics here. The ECBC Sparrow Wheeled Garment Bag has two separate compartments for clothing, and another for a laptop and/or tablet. The latter can be opened all the way for easy access and for a quick trip through TSA. There’s an included power pack that can be accessed from a zipper at the top of the bag – perfect for recharging when everyone else has hogged the outlets by your gate. Of the two clothing sections, one can be used for hanging garments, with a nice folding section to protect longer pieces. There are two detachable zippered sections that can squeeze in above the hanging garments for small bits and pieces like socks or charging cords. The bottom clothing section is just a big open space for whatever. I’ve used the bag for weekend trips, but for longer trips I prefer one big compartment for everything. I think this bag would be perfect for a quick business trip, with suit and shirt in the hanging section, and toiletries, shoes and gym/loungewear in the other section. The hardware is solid, and the two wheels roll smoothly.
And then came the socks. I’ve known for years that compression socks could ward off deep vein thrombosis on a flight, but I just never bothered. But when the folks at ATN Compression Socks offered to send me a colorful pair, I thought I’d give it a try. Did I mention they were colorful? The ones they sent me were bright red with white stripes and green toes. Elf-y. I was determined to try them, but I didn’t want to show my stripes while waiting to board. So once I was in my seat, I gracefully and tactfully pulled them on. Who am I kidding? Squashed in a coach seat, I could barely lift my leg to put them on. And you know how they are compression socks? They are very tight. And hard to get on. I was cracking myself up trying to get them on. Thankfully, the only person who could really witness this was my husband in the next seat, who was trying hard to pretend he didn’t know me. Though they were tough to get on, and loud as all get out, the socks did what they were supposed to do and I didn’t die of DVT. Hooray! In all seriousness, though, if you need to wear compression socks for health reasons, or for comfort reasons, these will give you some fun reasons, too. You can choose from animal prints, polka dots, doughnuts (doughnuts?), argyles, and more. They have basic black or white, but why would you want those?
(this is not, in fact, my knee. sorry.)
Over the years, and I won’t say how many, I have developed a little pain in my knee. It’s not a constant pain, and I can even walk for miles without feeling it. But sometimes, when I’m walking down a hill, I get a little *ping* of pain in my knee. It’s not bad enough to do anything about, but once it appears it likes to come back again and again until I give in and rest it. So when I got an itBandz Knee Band Strap in the mail, I was happy to give it a try. We did a lot of walking in Barcelona, my husband and I, and I didn’t wear this every day. But on the day I knew we’d be climbing a big hill and coming back down again, I wrapped it around my knee and wore it (under skinny jeans, even!) all day. Did I have the knee ping? No. Am I sure the knee band helped? No. But I would definitely try it again on my next big hike, just in case.
And now we’ll move to the really sexy stuff: oral care. I received some cool bamboo bristle toothbrushes from a company with the unfortunate name MouthWatchers. I actually really like these toothbrushes, whose bristles are antimicrobial and very thin at the top which offers better cleaning – they say floss-like, but I’m not sure I’d go that far. They also hold up really well. I’ve been using mine for over a month now and the bristles look just the way they did when it came out of the package. A little sterilization in the dishwasher every now and again and it’s good to go. Of course, if you like to replace your toothbrush regularly, you can buy a 12-pack. I was quite happy with the travel version, and it comes in a power versionas well, if you like to really get into it.
The OK stuff
And how about sleeping aids? I’ve already written about my favorite jet lag cure on the blog. This time I tried the world’s tiniest noise machine by Sound Oasis. This one is so tiny it requires ear buds (included) and fits in a case a little smaller than a glasses case. It offers 10 different tones of continuous white noise – i.e. not a recording of a sound, but continuously generated sound – and 25 hours of run time per charge of its rechargeable battery. I’m not a person who needs white noise to sleep, and I found the ear buds uncomfortable to sleep in, anyway. I hoped that this might be a good option for my husband to keep him from waking up when I snore, but he had the same reaction. Sound Oasis offers lots and lots of white noise machines and sound therapy options, so there is probably one that would work for you; this one just wasn’t doing it for me. They do offer a travel version that does not require ear buds (pictured below), which I think might be a better option.
And now, for my least favorite of the bunch. Because this is a real life review.
I received an email way back during Sleep Awareness Week, which, as I’m sure you know, is in April, when no one can sleep because: taxes. I was interested in the Sleep Easily System because: snoring (see above).
What arrived in the mail was an 8″ x 10″ x 2″ glossy box describing the wondrous contents. A mini audio player with a built-in high-quality speaker! Eyeshades! Specialized earplugs! A charger for the speaker! A book! A summary card for using the system! FOUR sleep recordings! And three bonus recordings!
What I liked: the audio player is a nice small size and can be used with or without ear buds.
What I didn’t like: the recordings themselves. You can choose a nice soothing female voice – clearly a professional voice artist – or you can choose a sort of halting male voice that is very clearly not a professional voice artist. In fact, it is the voice of the creator of the Sleep Easily system. Which is I think part of why this whole package rubs me the wrong way. Here’s the problem: It’s expensive. It’s self-important. It makes you think it is more than what it is. For what is essentially 7 tracks of sound, half of which you are unlikely to use more than once, plus some accessories you can find at the drugstore, if not your bathroom drawer, the price starts at $60.
I guess, in reality, this is not so different from the Sound Oasis product above, but it is pretending to be something different. It is marketed as a special scientific approach to sleeplessness, developed by a behavioral sleep therapist. And sure, maybe he did come up with this particular method and script for the recordings. And maybe it even works to help people sleep better. But to me it sounds like the same advice that anyone would give: try to relax your mind before you go to sleep. I think you could probably pick up an eye mask and some wax earplugs from the drugstore, and search online for some guided meditation and ocean sounds tracks, and have the same experience. And plus, how are you going to hear the recording if you are wearing earplugs?
I received free samples of all of these products for review. My real life reviews are honest and thorough, because I know readers want to know the truth about products before spending their money. And speaking of money….
Some of the links in this post lead to affiliate sites where I might get a few pennies if you buy something there. If you do, thank you very much for helping to keep this crazy dream alive.
That’s it for now. If you have travel gear you’d like me to review, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s time, it’s time! It’s time to shop for holiday gifts! We’ve been collecting our favorites all year so we could share them with you.
Gifts to teach kids about other cultures
Try The World is a gift for the whole family to enjoy. Every two months, you’ll receive a box full of treats from around the world – a different place is featured in each box. Use our special discount code alloverthemap15 for a 15% discount on all gift boxes!
World Village Playsets are educational toys that immerse kids in different cultures. First stop, China! They are well-made and hours of fun.
Awesome throwback TV for kids who love geography and history (and parents who are watching with them). The entire series is available on Amazon for next to nothing. Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego? – The Complete Series
Gifts for world-builders
Ticket to Ride is a terrific board game where players build railroad networks to control the board. The game is available in several editions (Europe, Asia, 1910 Expansion) with different maps for each. Kids who like the Settlers of Catan game will enjoy the similar strategies in Ticket to Ride.
Gifts to remember your travels
We love this beautiful map that binds two locations that have captured your child’s heart. It’s customizable, of course. Available from seller PaperPlanePrints on Etsy.
These stunning laser-cut topographic maps by Lake Art are not just pretty to look at, but they really give you a sense of how very very deep some of those great Great Lakes are. Available from the Grommet.
Gifts for outdoor adventurers
K-Way Claude Jacket – cute, waterproof, folds into a small pouch that can be belted on. We had these on our trip to Machu Picchu and they were perfect!
Give the Gift of Travel
For the person who has everything except time to plan a vacation, give them a gift certificate for travel planning services from All Over the Map! Paige and Vero love to help people make great vacations happen. Contact us for details.
We first came upon them in Turkey. The droopy drawers, or Ali Baba pants, or Hammer (as in MC) pants appeared in every tourist market we came across. (And there are a lot of markets in Turkey. Home of the Grand Bazaar, after all.)
We didn’t think much of it then. There are actual Turkish people who wear something akin to these pants, so it seemed like a logical souvenir one might pick up.
But then we saw them again in Malaysia. And Thailand. And Cambodia. And Vietnam. And Peru. And Colombia. On pretty much every backpacking twenty-something in the hostels and buses we shared. And on no native person anywhere.
So where do these pants come from? And why do backpackers always seem to have a pair?
These pants do have a history – maybe even more than one. They are similar to the serouel worn by the French Zouave troops who fought in North Africa in the 19th century, which came from the sirwal worn in the Arabian peninsula for thousands of years, the Patiala salwar worn in the Northern Punjab region of India, and the shalvar worn in Turkey, Greece and parts of the Balkans. These are all baggy pants gathered at the ankle, sometimes the entire calf, draping and billowy above.
The Zouave serouel uniform, the Turkish shalvar, and the Serbian national costume
There are similar pants worn by Mao and Hmong hill tribes in Northern Thailand, Laos and Burma. These are made of patterned fabric and often have a pocket and ankle cuffs made of a stiffer embroidered fabric.
The pants that are now in seemingly every market in every tourist area on earth are a simpler version of these indigenous trousers. They are made from a lightweight, drapey fabric in solids or bright patterns. They are gathered with elastic at the bottom so they can be worn long at the ankle or pushed up above the knee so it looks like a skirt. There is often a panel of elastic and a string at the top that would allow them to be worn as a jumpsuit, either strapless or tied around the neck. They are comfy, to be sure. So comfy that they are considered sleepwear by natives in much of India and Southeast Asia.
The fact that thousands of Western backpackers roam the streets in these pajama pants must be pretty amusing to the locals. They are probably just relieved that people are covering themselves. The look is completed with flip flops, a tank top (preferably one with a Chang beer logo) and lots of bracelets and maybe anklets.
The pants are truly ridiculous. And utterly impractical in the land of squat toilets. But they are awfully comfy, and until they appeared in H&M this year in the US, they made unique souvenirs. Backpackers, for the most part, know they look ridiculous, but also can’t resist their siren call
I’m not here to judge. In fact I’m wearing a pair as I write this post. And I bought a pair for each of my siblings. With a matching pair for my sister’s baby girl. It’s adorable.
Pinterest recently unveiled a new kind of board that allows you to match pinned images with locations on a map. It’s a little quirky right now, only allowing pins to Foursquare locations, but with time and minor adjustments it should be a great tool for travelers. Imagine being able to zoom in on a map to check out meals from a local restaurant, or street art in a hidden alleyway, or playgrounds around a city. Check out our Pinterest map board “What to do on a rainy day in Paris with kids” and let us know what you think.
We’re getting ready to be away from the U.S. for a year beginning in, um, just a few days, and we’ve left this until the last minute. As I sit in a coffee shop with my two daughters and a niece, all of us perched in our comfy chairs and tucked into our electronics, I realize we need to figure out what we’re going to do about our all-important phone devices while we’re overseas.
We already know that one of our phones will not work overseas at all. Most U.S. cellular phones work on the CDMA network, whereas most of the rest of the world is on the GSM network. CDMA phones will not work on the GSM network. In order to have a phone that will work overseas, you will need a “world phone.” I have an iPhone 4S, which CAN be a world phone, but it was not shipped that way from Sprint. I called them and told them where we’d be, and they unlocked it for me, which required connecting it to iTunes for an update.
Having the phone unlocked, I will be able to use it overseas through Sprint, but upon further investigation, I discovered many less expensive ways to use it. Purchasing a SIM card in each new country we go to is a possibility, but in each new country I’ll have to find a place to buy one, and each one will give me a new phone number. And in some countries we’ll only be there for a few days at a time.
The best option for us seems to be a World SIM card, which gives us a single phone number for use in many countries around the world, and even offers data at a much lower rate than Sprint. The main downside to this is that they all use a technology that requires, when making outgoing calls, calling a central number and then receiving call back from them when your call is connected. It sounds a little like calling the international operator of old. But if it gets us a 49-cents-per-minute rate instead of $2.49, I think we can live with that.
The three main providers I looked at are Brightroam, OneSimCard, and Telestial. Each has slightly different coverage and rates, as outlined below. Honestly, I don’t use my phone as a phone all that often. I want to be able to make an occasional local call for reservations or information, and to receive texts. I’ll use Google Voice and Skype for calls home. I wanted a local US telephone number if possible, both so that family could call me on a domestic number and so that Google Voice could reach me (though it remains to be seen if this will work!).
Card cost – varies – some free
Incoming calls – from 0.69
Outgoing calls – from 0.49 in 95 countries
Incoming texts – free
Outgoing texts – from 0.49
US number available? – NO – UK number only
Data – 10MB/month $40, 50MB/month $100, 200MB/month $200
Card cost: $29.95 +$5 for micro-sim
Incoming calls – free in 150 countries
Incoming texts – free everywhere
US number available? – YES – $4.99 setup fee, $19.99 per year
Data – $2.49 for 10 MB day per 24 hour period in Europe
Passport card – $19 includes $10 credit
Incoming calls – free in 75 countries
Outgoing calls – from 0.49 in 95 countries
Incoming texts – free
Outgoing texts – from 0.69
US number available? – yes – both UK and a US +1 number are offered
Data – from 0.49/MB – depends on country
For me, Telestial made the most sense (and they had the least expensive overnight shipping, at $24.90 – key for Mrs. Procrastinator). I’ll update this post when I’ve had a chance to use it.
Three weeks of The Tale of the Runaway Pancake—narrated by a whiny John Lithgow— and Bob the Builder’s Pilchard Goes Fishing, an inane tale full of—boing!—loud sound effects threatened to destroy the very fabric of our family. But, since it was either listen to these books on CD during our three-week European vacation or endure three-year-old Jeremy’s tortured shrieks when we turned it off, we endured it. It wasn’t pretty but nothing a couple of years of family counseling couldn’t fix.
Since then, we take as much time packing our books on CD as we do our clothes. We listen to them on long road trips and pack them for plane trips when we know we’ll be renting a car. We get most of them from the library, if possible, but they are available on Amazon either as CDs or downloadable on a Kindle or smart phone.
And since I can’t seem to write a word without sharing my parenting philosophy, I have to mention that I’m a big fan of literature that makes you scared, makes you weep, and makes you laugh hysterically. I think too many children’s books are so toned down that they produce no reaction at all. The beauty of listening to books on CD on family car rides is you can discuss the themes as a family.
Here are some of our very favorites:
Pippi Longstocking, by Astrid Lindgren: We love listening to the classic antics of this little red-headed Swedish girl and her pet horse, the ultimate outsider.
James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl: This tells the story of a little boy who runs away from his horrible aunts to live in a giant peach with some colorful insects. Narrator Jeremy Irons does an incredible job bringing the story to life.
Flush, by Carl Hiaasen: A well-written and funny story about a cruise ship dumping waste into a Florida beach and the great lengths a family will go to stop them.
Sign of the Beaver, by Elizabeth George Speare: A suspenseful tale of a thirteen-year old boy who is left alone in the Maine wilderness in the 18th century. His friendship with a Native American boy and his grandfather teach him to live off the land and survive.
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, by Kate DiCamillo. If you like powerful heartwarming stories like The Secret Garden and The Velveteen Rabbit, you’ll love this one. It’s about a beloved china bunny who gets lost and travels from the depths of the ocean to gritty city streets. There won’t be a dry eye in the car.
We’ve already picked out one of our books for our long drive to Maine in August: Carl Hiaasen’s latest book, Chomp, about a boy whose father, a professional animal wrangler, gets a job working for a reality survivor show. We can’t wait to sit back and listen!
Read our other article for more tips for surviving long family car rides.