Tim Leffel: Travel Expert
Tim Leffel is an award-winning travel writer and expert who is frequently quoted in the major media. He is author of the book Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune and co-author of Traveler's Tool Kit: Mexico and Central America. He edits the narrative webzine Perceptive Travel and reviews travel gadgets and clothing for the Practical Travel Gear blog.
With a few notable exceptions, the airlines are getting stingier and stingier about how much baggage you can bring without incurring extra fees. Packing more than one suitcase can be costly and some airlines will charge you for even one. The only way to always avoid fees is to carry on a small bag that meets the strictest size requirements.Read More »
So how do experienced road warriors get a week's worth of items into one bag? There are lots of tips and tricks, but the right gear can help as well. Here are the best travel packing aids to make the most of your luggage.
Sure, it's easy to find some book about 100 or 500 or 1,000 places you have to see in order to make your life complete, but most of us don't have that kind of time or money. We need to know how to make the most of one or two trips a year, whether they are one state away or halfway around the world.Read More »
I'm an author with several travel books on the shelves (“Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune” and “The World's Cheapest Destinations”), plus I'm co-author of “Traveler's Tool Kit: Mexico and Central America.” So I often get asked about which books I would recommend for travelers. The following titles all meet an essential need by providing the advice and knowledge to make every trip more fun, more interesting, and less stressful — no matter where you happen to be heading. Most will probably save you a wad of cash as well, so you can come back home without being broke.
Many people who are exposed to dangers all around them at home nevertheless get extra worried about safety when they go on vacation. Some of the most reliable ways to avoid trouble are based on common sense and require no extra purchases. Don't pack your expensive jewelry and watches, keep your valuables locked up, and don't walk around iffy areas at night by yourself. Pack a flashlight in case the power goes out. There are some travel gear items that will provide some extra protection and peace of mind however, ensuring that your prize possessions don't disappear, and that you stay safe on the road.Read More »
Traveling for business or pleasure is not as simple as it was in the days before e-mail, digital cameras, digital video cameras, and files that need to move from computer to computer. Photos, videos, and work files all take up a lot of storage space and we often need to back them up or access them while on the road. So whether carrying a laptop or not, an external hard drive of some kind provides portability, peace of mind, and additional security.Read More »
There are essentially three kinds of external storage devices to serve most needs. A portable external hard drive holds the most data - with many models as much as your regular desktop or laptop. But the size has shrunk down to the height of a soda can. Photo storage hard drives are larger, but come with a screen for viewing photos and they can pull data directly from memory cards.
Thumb drives, or USB drives, are small devices that plug directly into the USB port of any computer. These tiny drives don't hold as much, but they are convenient and some come loaded with software enabling you to leave your laptop at home.
Whether your body wants to cooperate or not, worry-free travels often involve waking up early to catch a train, plane, or bus on time or getting ready for a meeting or conference. Alarm clocks in hotels are notoriously difficult to program and wake-up calls have been known not to happen as promised. Many watches and cell phones have alarms built in, but they're not so loud and can be a pain to set and reset.Read More »
As insurance, if nothing else, it pays to carry your own travel alarm clock. That once meant loud tick-tocking mechanical alarms or simple electronic ones, but alarm clocks on the market now are meant to do a lot without taking up a lot of space in your bag.
Many people use their portable music players while working out, jogging, or taking public transportation to work - activities where shutting out the surrounding noise can be inconvenient or even dangerous.Read More »
While traveling, however, music players are used as an isolation device, especially on an airplane where they provide an escape from crying babies, chatty seatmates, and engine noise. There are two main choices to accomplish this effectively: active noise canceling headphones and passive noise blocking earbuds. The first generate sound waves to cancel out existing noise, while the latter simply keep the external sound from entering your ear. Two hybrid models reviewed here attempt, with mixed success, to bridge the gap.
People with sensitive ears may want to avoid the “on the ear” noise cancelling headphones or at least try them out in a store first. With these there is more pressure in the ear canal from the noise cancellation sound waves. The passive noise cancellation ones may let in more external noise, but they don't apply additional pressure.
In the old days, toiletry kits were “shaving kits” for men and “cosmetic kits” for women, with both being basically a rectangular or circular bag with one main compartment. Both were fine if you had plenty of counter or vanity space in your hotel room, but not if you got a tiny pedestal sink or a bare-bones bath in a budget hotel.Read More »
If you're confident you'll have nice marble vanities everywhere you travel, you can still find plenty of very nice toiletry kits that stick to the old model, with the best ones featured here. For many people, however, the compact, super-organized hanging kits are going to be a better bet, whether made of nylon or soft leather.
Just be advised that if you are carrying on your bag, you might want to stick with one of the simple totes we featured in our Fly Through Airport Security Items rundown. Otherwise you'll need to carry a second cosmetic case: a quart-sized Ziploc bag.
As more airlines charge for even the first checked bag and flight delays keep getting worse, it is getting increasingly more important to pack light enough to carry on what you need. The trick is finding a bag that will hold what you need but still come in under the size limits for the airline cabins.Read More »
For most airlines, the length plus width plus height should be no more than 45 inches. Some have a stricter limit than this though, so a bag that's 22 inches long may be technically advertised as a carry-on, but it will require checking in some cases. A soft bag gives you more flexibility in these situations because you can scrunch it up smaller (if it's not packed to capacity) to make it fit in those bins the airline displays as the limit.
If you are traveling more for pleasure than business, you are better off with a non-wheeled carry-on bag since it will be significantly lighter and will have a higher capacity for the size. Wheels add both weight and bulk, even in the most lightweight versions, so be sure you'll be spending most of your transit time in airports and taxis before going with a wheeled carry-on. Otherwise you're better off with a duffle-style bag that can be slung over your shoulder or a small backpack that can be worn up and down stairs and hills.
Walk into a gear store or visit a product website to browse for backpacks and you may feel like an overwhelmed tea-totaler trying to pick out a bottle in a wine for a gift. Once upon a time there were a few dependable brands of backpacks with a handful of models a year. Now there are literally hundreds of them vying for your attention.Read More »
Fortunately, you can dismiss a big subsection of them by eliminating the ones for campers and hikers. These are generally lightweight, stuffed-from-the-top affairs that enable you to traverse the Appalachian Trail with a sleeping bag, tent, and cooking gear along for the ride. What you need for travel is a different kind of backpack. Here are the best ones out there for a short group adventure tour or a yearlong trip around the world.
If you're traveling where the sun is strong, you need to travel with a hat. In the tropics and in desert regions especially, it only takes ten or fifteen minutes to get sunburned and a half hour to get dangerously fried. Perhaps the best travel hat is one you pick up where you are: the Panama Hat in Ecuador or Panama, the woven reed hat in Thailand, or a handmade wool cap in New Zealand.Read More »
Meanwhile, you need a back-up that you can stuff in your suitcase and have at the ready anywhere, something suitable for outdoor adventures. The following are the best travel hats to protect you from the elements without creating a nuisance when it's time to pack.
Go into any book superstore or online book site and you'll find a dizzying array of products meant to do one simple thing: light up the pages of your book in the dark. There is a big market for solutions to situations where we can't just turn on lamp on our bedside table. We've got sleeping spouses with a different body clock, plus trains and planes where everyone else is trying to sleep or watch a movie.Read More »
Early book light designs suffered from large bulbs and large battery packs, making them something easily left behind when it came down to making hard packing choices. Compact LED bulbs changed all that, however, and most lights are now light and easy to carry.
Designing a good book light is still not a science, however. It needs to be bright enough and flexible enough to work for a variety of book sizes, yet be compact enough to work outside your own bedroom. The book lights featured here all take different approaches to the challenge, some in innovative ways, some by just tweaking the standard clip-on light design. All slip easily into your bag for that next journey.
A few short decades ago, travelers hit the road with very few electronics. A flashlight, maybe a short-wave radio, and later a cassette Walkman. The number of electronics going into the average carry-on bag has increased dramatically in the past ten years, with many people carrying five or six different electricity-powered gadgets with them in their travels.Read More »
All those gadgets increase our impact on the environment, from the materials used to the power sources required. The following travel gadgets can lessen some of that impact by using natural power sources to power up your devices and eliminate waste. By harnessing the sun, the wind, or the power of your muscles, these items can keep you away from disposable batteries, fossil fuels, and power outlets.
When padded laptop bags first came out, they were pretty much all the same: black, roughly shaped like a briefcase, and very masculine.Read More »
Thankfully those days are gone and there is no longer any reason to stick with a boring bag that brings down your wardrobe. Now that laptops outsell desktop computers in the U.S. and Canada, there are hundreds of stylish and functional bags to fit your needs, whether you are an executive, an artist, or a traveler. From flashy and pink to smooth leather and classic, there are bags for every style and situation.
The following bags are the best out there for getting things done and surrounding your laptop with style. All of the following have a padded interior pocket to protect your computer or a removable padded sleeve.
Just as the luggage carousel seems to present a sea of black wheelie suitcases, the airport’s executive lounges are full of businessmen lugging around the same boring briefcase-style black laptop bags. Yes, we know you probably got that boring black bag as a bonus when you bought your laptop or when the IT guy dropped off your computer to your cubicle. But that doesn’t mean you have to stick with it.Read More »
Now that laptops outsell desktop computers in the U.S. and Canada, there are plenty of stylish and more functional bags to fit your needs, whether you are a photographer traversing the souks of Marrakech, a fashion designer navigating the streets of New York and Milan, or an executive just bringing a bag back and forth between work and home. There are bags meant for looking incognito and others meant to be as flashy as your Italian suit.
The following bags are the best out there for either pulling double duty or surrounding your laptop with some style. The one thing in common is that they have an inner compartment for your computer. Otherwise, they collectively offer a rainbow of styles and colors.
The airport security gauntlet. It can be the most daunting and frustrating part of any vacation or business trip. All the fumbling, undressing, and liquid separating can get anyone flustered. If you’re in a hurry, it’s downright maddening.Read More »
There are plenty of ways to ease the pain, however. Not long after the TSA took over and stepped up security measures, a few innovative companies launched products to make it easier. After the liquids ban went into effect preventing carry-ons over three ounces, a range of other products arrived to help us deal with the new hurdle. Until another rule gets piled on top of those, the following items will help you do three things:
- Cut down on the amount of metal on your body
- Help you keep everything accessible and organized
- Make it easy to meet the 3-1-1 ban on carrying large liquids aboard
Pack the items you like best and remember to dress for the airport. That means no clunky metal jewelry, shoes that slip on and off easily, and a bag with a pocket to hold your mobile phone and keys.
Traveling abroad with electronic gadgets?Read More »
Just a couple of decades ago, most travelers didn’t set off with anything electronic beyond a hair dryer or a short-wave radio. Now it’s not uncommon for a tourist or business traveler to be packing a miniature Radio Shack selection in their carry-on: cell phone, digital camera, portable DVD player, MP3 player, digicam, laptop, portable speakers… and the list goes on.
That’s all fine if you’re staying on home turf, but what about when you travel to another country? In some spots, you’ll need something to adjust the voltage or your precious electronics will go up in smoke. In other destinations, the current is fine but your plug won’t go into their wall socket. Making matters worse, a twenty-mile trip across an international border may present you with two vastly different kinds of plugs.
Thankfully, there are plenty of travel adapters available to solve these problems and prevent a citywide search for an electronics store. Many of them are built to be used in 150 countries or more, yet are designed in a way that the plugs fold or fit together tightly to enable the device to easily fit into a suitcase. Note that most don’t include adapters for the odd three-prong plugs used in India and South Africa though. Upscale hotels in both countries generally have a 110v plug in the bathroom, but otherwise you’ll need an additional plug for those countries.
The following travel adapters are the best available and are both convenient and lightweight.
Why Purify Your Water?Read More »
While much eco-friendly travel advice focuses on buying carbon offsets and choosing “green hotels”, other less dramatic habits can actually have a greater effect over time. Take bottled water. On the one hand, travelers are told, “Don’t drink the water” in a lot of foreign countries. On the other hand, bottled water is an environmental disaster. It takes a tremendous amount of petroleum to process the water, make the plastic bottles, and ship it to where you buy it. Then even in the U.S., less than 25 percent of the disposable bottles get recycled. In some foreign countries that percentage is zero; every one you throw away goes into a landfill.
The solution? Carry your own personal water purifier to stay healthy and eco-friendly. There are a few different kinds of purifiers, generally breaking down into four categories. There are pumps, purifiers that use ultraviolet light, gravity filters, and purification tablets. Depending on whether you are hiking through the wilderness or spending a week in Mexico, different filtration methods will be appropriate.
What to buy? Consider your needs and the condition of the water you are likely to run across. For most travelers, ultraviolet purification or a simple charcoal filter will be fine for water coming from the tap. In areas where water may come from a stream, such as on a hiking trip through the Andes, something that treats a wider range of threats may be needed.
The following water purifiers are the best available and are both convenient and effective.