by Jules Older
I'm a travel writer and videographer. I fly to New Zealand, drive to San Jose, train to Banff, ferry San Francisco Bay. I've come to know what travelers need and what they're better off without.
So here's my list: what to buy and one thing to avoid. Here we go…
Clic reading glasses. They've gone up in price from about $30 to just under $80 (or $24.99 at The Trip Shop), but they're still savers of time and space. One pair of Clics replaces, in my case, a dozen reading glasses, one in every room of the house, one in the car and one in the place I put them where I'd never forget them and then forgot them. Clics, which you can buy online, just hang around your neck waiting to be magnetically clicked into action. I never travel without ‘em. And I no longer use strong language when searching for my accursed glasses. www.clicgoggles.com
High Sierra luggage. First rule of suitcase: It’s gotta have sturdy wheels. Second: Must be as light as possible. Third: Has to hold everything you need. If, like me, you're a skier, that means a lot of holding. Between boots, helmet, gloves, parka and ski pants, we don’t travel light.
One bag that meets all these requirements is the High Sierra 32” A.T.GO expandable, wheeled duffel. It’s big enough to hold everything, thus avoiding airline extra-bag charges. It’s light enough to save your back and avoid airline extra-weight charges. Sturdy zipper, strong wheels, good balance. If you pack big, you'll be glad you got it. And though it retails for $340, The Trip Shop (powered by Amazon) has it at $126. www.highsierrasport.com
Salomon shoes. Start with this: For any footwear — hiking boots, running shoes, ski boots, sandals — fit is 10 times more important than brand. If they don’t fit in the store, when you get to the trail, the track, the mountain or the beach, expect a world of pain.
That said, if they do fit (and they fit me better than any other brand) Salomon athletic shoes are your best bet. That’s because Salomon came up with QUICKLACE — where one pull replaces tying and retying laces. It’s Lacing for the Lazy. Like me.
Ah, but which model: the XA Comp 3 or Wings? The XA Comp 3 is a bit lighter, 350 grams, and somewhat cheaper, about $100. Wings has more padding, which means more protection from pavement. It also means more weight, 390 grams, and more moolah, $130-160. www.salomon.com/us
Camelbak Better Bottle. Travel is thirsty work. That’s why the Camelbak Better Bottle is such a good stocking-stuffer. It’s BPA-free, spillproof, easy to access, clips to a carabiner, looks kinda cool. And you can toss it in the dishwasher. Under $15. www.camelbak.com
Packs. So, let’s talk packs. They come in two varieties: back and fanny. The backpack is bigger, heavier, and if you want one with a built-in water bladder, I recommend the Camelbak MULE NV. It’s relatively light, relatively comfy, and its bright colors make you easy to spot in the woods. And since it was designed for mountain bikers, the MULE wicks away sweat and is narrow enough not to get snagged on trees and puckerbrush.
The smaller fanny packs also come in two varieties: ones that hold a water bottle and ones that don’t. If you don’t need to carry water, my favorite is the PUP. The PUP, a.k.a. Personal Utility Pouch, is discrete, flat and doesn't bounce around when you run. It holds cards, a power bar, glasses, money, cell phone, digi camera and notebook. The PUP goes for under $20. www.lovemypup.com
It used to be a gimmick. But since airlines began punishing overweight baggage with stiff fines, the luggage scale is now a tool. The Balanzza Digital Luggage Scale costs about 25 bucks and can save a lot more than that on the flight to adventure. www.balanzza.com
BanZ. If you're traveling with a baby or a toddler, consider Baby BanZ. Their hats, sunglasses, swimsuits, sunscreen all protect the small traveler from harsh rays, and all are designed with kids in mind. http://usa.babybanz.com
Canon camera SD940 IS. Back in the day, the bigger the camera, the better the photo. There's still some truth to that adage, but not nearly so much since digital replaced film. Before then, Nikon (and before them, Leica) was the serious shooter’s brand. In the digital age, the big dog is Canon. While there are other brands and other models, for 90% of traveler’s needs, the pocket-sized Canon SD940 IS is the best all-round camera there is.
For 200 bucks or less, you get wicked decent photos, pretty good zoom, really strong hi-def video and simply incredible low-light capabilities. To see for yourself, go to www.YouTube.com/julesolder and check out At the Marin County Fair and Carving Waiheke. The first was shot entirely with the 940; for the second, all the video was shot with it. www.canon.com and The Trip Shop.
Earplanes. Ah. Here's an item for under $10 that will change your traveling life. At least if you fly, it will, especially if your ears jam up on the descent like tubes of two-year-old glue. Earplanes are earplugs designed to equalize pressure slowly and thus protect your delicate inner ears from the rapid cabin pressure changes that cause popping and pain.
They work. For travelers with ear pain, EarPlanes are a trip saver. www.cirrushealthcare.com
AlphaSmart computer. Years ago, I read an article about a cheap, lightweight, unbreakable computer designed for high-schoolers. Cheap, lightweight, unbreakable... Dude, forget students — that’s what travelers need. I carried one everywhere until the Internet came along, and I had to be in constant contact with editors on the other side of the world. If you just need a traveling notebook, I urge you to try the AlphaSmart. The latest model is the Neo 2, but I've tested just about every model and never found one that didn’t suit. Oh, and AlphaSmarts run on — wait for it — AA batteries. $150. www.renlearn.com
Darn Tough Socks. I know socks don’t sound like a really exciting gift. I know that socks pretty much define a boring gift. But not these socks. I've tested beaucoup brands; Darn Tough are unquestionably the best. They're warm, they wick, they're mostly made of itchless Marino wool. And I have never, ever been able to wear them out.
Here's a bonus: Not only is the company HQ’d in Vermont, USA; they actually make the socks there. www.darntough.com
SwissCard. You need a tool. Knife, scissors, file, toothpick… the toothpick gave it away, didn’t it? Yep, Victorinox, the folks who make Swiss Army Knives, have a version for travelers, the SwissCard, that’s the size of a credit card. It costs under $30, and some rival brands cost even less.
I carry one (though not in my hand luggage). I've never used it. But I like to know it’s there. www.swissarmy.com
Don’t Buy. OK, we've come to the item I suggest you do not buy, do not give, do not own or wear. It’s the expensive watch.
There was a time when expensive watches, in addition to being status statements, were more accurate timekeepers than cheap ones. That went out with the stemwinder. Now, $10 electronic watches keep more accurate time than $10,000 mechanical watches —and, really, look just as swanky. The best-looking watch I've owned I bought at the Delray Beach Florida Flea Market. $7.95.
So what do you do with that $9,992 you’ve just saved? Give it to your favorite worthy cause. Mine is water.org, which brings clean drinking water to impoverished people. That means fewer infant deaths and more educated women who no longer have to spend their days walking for water. www.water.org
The feeling of inner satisfaction you get by helping beats the hell out of the one you get from wearing a Rolex.