Next week: John Day Fossil Beds
Forget the eight maids a-milking. I prefer Christmas gifts that are far more practical.
I won’t be looking under my tree for French hens or lords a-leaping, unless the birds come with a flight to Paris and the lords are welcoming me to Fontainebleau Palace.
I’ve sorted through a lot of possible holiday gifts for the travelers on my gift list, from maps to travel adapters, lightweight binoculars to cufflinks loaded with USB connections, and I’ve decided that the presents I would consider giving are those that I would want to receive.
So with a nod to the fabled “Twelve Days of Christmas,” and in escalating order of cost, here are a dozen suggestions for items to stuff the stockings of your vagabond friends — or perhaps to wrap in shiny paper and finish with a colorful bow.
On the first day of Christmas, I won’t see a partridge in a pear tree because I’ll be happily slumbering, thanks to a Good Night Sleep Mask ($14.50).
Contoured to fit around the nose, this cushioned mask completely blocks out light. But unlike some other masks, it neither pinches off the nasal passage nor puts pressure on eyes, allowing the orbs to move beneath the lids. An elasticized strap with a Velcro adjustment allows users to tighten or loosen the mask to individual preference.
Anyone who has spent time on long flights, or even on overnight bus trips, knows how difficult it can be to find restful sleep in a coach seat. The Sleep Mask doesn’t promise an REM slumber, but it certainly will bring you closer.
Fashion-conscious travelers may be pleased to know it’s available in five colors: black, ocean blue, cocoa, pewter and plum. Order it from www.magellans.com.
No turtle doves, please. On the second day of Christmas, I will be cooing over the fact that, thanks to my new Travelon Bag Bungee ($15), I didn’t spill my Starbucks coffee while balancing my multiple carry-ons as I hurried to the airline departure gate.
The Bungee is a cool little device that wraps around smaller items like coats and purses, holding them securely atop your rolling carry-on as you hustle to make your boarding call. For me, that includes a laptop and camera case; it’s hard to juggle both of them, a heavy coat and that last shot of espresso when I’m in a hurry. This makes it a lot easier.
Available in black or leopard print, you can find the Bungee online or at www.travelonbags .com/accessories/ or from any Eddie Bauer store.
On the third day of Christmas, after stuffing the French hens, I will express gratitude that my digital luggage scale has saved me an exorbitant overweight airline baggage charge.
There are several scales on the market. One of the most highly regarded is the EatSmart Precision Voyager ($19.95), which weighs exactly 5½ ounces — a mere smidgen when you’re concerned with keeping your burden under 50 pounds. Little more than a handle with a grip, the Precision Voyager easily clips onto a suitcase, duffel or backpack. Lift it with two hands, wait for the beep, and the weight of your baggage will instantly appear on the gadget’s digital screen.
Best of all, you can do this right in your own home, so unnecessary wardrobe items can be immediately returned to your closet. When you leave for the airport, you’ll already know you’ve met the weight limit, so there’s no stress.
The Voyager comes with a lithium battery (featuring an automatic 20-second turnoff) and a two-year guarantee. It will measure bags up to 110 pounds, or 50 kilograms if you’re headed out of the country. Order it from www .eatsmartproducts.com.
My calling birds won’t be getting any attention on the fourth day of Christmas. I plan to be perusing the 448 pages of Lonely Planet’s “The Travel Book: A Journey Through Every Country in the World” ($50 hardcover, $30 paperback), dreaming of the places I haven’t yet visited.
Covering 229 countries and destinations from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, this giant coffee-table volume is filled with insights on culture, food and drink; suggestions for travelers on what to see and what to go; maps and more than 800 color photographs.
As a onetime guidebook author for Lonely Planet Publications, I can appreciate the amount of work that goes into a book such as this. It’s no surprise that the current second edition, released in October 2011, isn’t due for a complete revision until next fall. I don’t want to wait that long. Order it at http://shop.lonelyplanet .com/world.
If I were to leave five golden rings in my checked bags, I certainly wouldn’t want to lose them. That’s why, on the fifth day of Christmas, I’ll be glad I have a Trakdot Luggage Tracker ($49.95).
Place this device in any checked bag and it will send the location of the bag to a smartphone (iPhone or Android) app. This app automatically goes into “airplane mode” when the plane takes off, then reactivates when the plane lands. It works globally, sending a text message or email to let you know where the bag is located.
Hopefully, that will be at your destination airport. But on the off chance that it became separated from you and wound up in a different location, the Trakdot will let you know that, as well — long before airline agents provide you with the information.
FCC-certified and FAA-compliant, the Trakdot communicates with the app to let you know when you are within 30 feet of your luggage. In addition to the retail price, it requires an activation fee of $8.99 and an annual fee of $12.99. Place your order at www.trakdot.com.
Staying up front
Curious about the expression “to lay a goose egg” — to fail miserably — I consulted an online source on English-language idioms. I learned that the expression originated on British cricket pitches in the 1800s, because the shape of a goose egg resembled a zero. That doesn’t speak well for the six geese a-laying on the sixth day of Christmas.
Speaking of miserable failure, I long ago learned that carrying a wallet in my back pocket is inviting theft when I travel in an area where pickpocketing is commonplace. Having twice been relieved of cash, credit cards and other valuables, and going through the accompanying anxiety and duress in replacing those items, I took to wearing items beneath my clothing or in my front pocket, where a wallet is the wrong shape to be comfortable.
That’s why I love the new Front Pocket Wallet with WalletGuard ($54.99) from the SkyMall Collection. With its unique curved shape, the leather wallet fits snugly into the contour of a front pants pocket, yet has plenty of room for plastic and paper.
Not only is it comfortable; a shield to prevent radio-frequency identification (RFID) is stitched directly into the leather, preventing digital theft of credit-card numbers. The wallet may be ordered online at www.skymall.com.
Speaking in tongues
In many foreign lands, on the seventh day of Christmas my head would be a-swimming like seven swans were it not for translation dictionaries or phrasebooks to carry me through requests like “Where is the train station?” or “Do you have a room available?”
It’s a big help to have even a basic conversational knowledge. But my school languages can only take me so far — certainly not to all 229 countries that Lonely Planet writes about. A little language learning before an international trip can go a long way.
Rosetta Stone has set an industry standard for language learning, but more and more adult students are embracing the Pimsleur Approach. In a series of 30-minute lessons, this audio course begins with eight foundational lessons on four CDs, for an introductory cost of $29.95. Beginners immediately acquire basic conversational skills, including common words and phrases, without any focus on rules of grammar or spelling.
Thereafter, advanced courses are mailed for 30-day trial periods, and billed at $64 a month for four months. Courses in 29 languages are currently offered. Details are available online at www.pimsleurapproach.com.
It’s much more convenient to carry an iPad or tablet when you travel, rather than a much heavier laptop computer. The smaller items can do just about anything that your computer can — from emails to word processing to online research about “eight maids a-milking.” Nevertheless, we often carry a laptop because, if we plan to write anything longer than a Facebook post, we may find typing on screen to be slow and less natural than on a keyboard.
A perfect solution for this quandary is a portable keyboard case (from $79.99) from Zagg or Belkin. The extra weight it adds to your tablet is nothing like the heft of a MacBook Air or Ultrabook PC.
Some keyboard models attach to the face of the tablet to create its own case. Others provide an enclosed case that can hold both the tablet and the keyboard. The best cases have mechanical keys that “click.”
Zagg keyboards are full size yet still compact. Belkin’s cases are smaller and lighter, but keyboards are truncated with quote keys and question marks moved to another position and function keys requiring a special key press. Order online at www.belkin.com/us/Products.
Come the ninth day of Christmas, I can imagine at least nine ladies (and men!) dancing when they learn about the features of the new HalfPack RT Backpack by Urban Xplorer. Convertible packs with vintage designs created for multi-functional use, these are easily transformed from business or overnight bags into gear totes for short road trips (thus the “RT”).
Thanks to a design concept called REVO, an acronym for Rapid Expansion Volume Options, the rugged bag may be physically expanded or contracted in seconds. An attachable pouch, added to the bottom or front side of the bag, has customizable pockets and compartments for everything from laptops and computer accessories to shoes or books. A leather-wrapped handle makes it a briefcase; a detachable backpack strap allows it to function for hikers; a long shoulder strap turns it into a messenger bag.
Made of weatherproof, stain-resistant nylon fabric, the bag is available in black, bronze and burnt-orange colors. Normally priced at $198, it is being offered for $124 through Dec. 15, as part of Urban Xplorer’s Kickstarter campaign. To order, or for more information, visit www .xplorerbrand.com.
On the 10th day of Christmas, the lords may leap with excitement when they see the Pocketed Impervious Carry-On ($139.95) by Hammacher Schlemmer. Billed as the only hard-sided carry-on with an exterior pocket, this little suitcase enables you to stow and access vital travel needs without having to plunder the entire case. For instance, you can easily stash and retrieve your passport, boarding pass, iPod and/or reading material.
The shell is made of high-density polycarbonate composite, the same material used in automobile bumpers — so it can withstand at least 250 pounds of force, to protect fragile items from major impact. Yet at 7½ pounds, it is 30 percent lighter than most soft-sided carry-ons. Nylon lines the interior, which has a built-in divider with a mesh pocket.
This carry-on rolls upon four ball-bearing wheels that each rotates 360 degrees. They are trimmed with the same rubber as the wheels of in-line skates, so they will not corrode from exposure to rain, snow or salt. The bag also has an 18-inch telescoping aluminum handle for easy movement. www.hammacher .com.
A gift for the traveler who has everything else — with the possible exception of 11 pipers piping — the limited-edition Adventure Hamper must have been great fun to create. Don’t wait till the 11th hour of the 11th day of Christmas to buy this basket from Bompas & Parr for any friends who may be off to conquer arctic peaks or explore equatorial jungles.
It’s hard to know when they might need such essentials as raspberry-and-violet jam (for altitude sickness), pickled shallots and juniper (to wash jellyfish stings), cucumber-and-quinine gelée (as a remedy for malaria), or a St. Bernard keg of over-proof gin (to help them forget about insect bites).
Hopefully, your friends will make more use of a custom-fitted ice axe (useful for carving cocktail ice as well as climbing mountains), a flag of conquest (it doubles as a picnic blanket), a pack of Taste of Victory chewing gum and a magnum of celebratory, rare Piper Heidsieck champagne. These are just a few of the other items in the hamper, along with flares and whistles.
While supplies last, it’s sold in London at Selfridge’s (www.selfridges.com), priced at 700 pounds ($1,148). Thereafter, check the manufacturers’ website: www.bompas andparr.com.
Happy in Hawaii
By now, 12 drummers are drumming — so a drum roll, please!
On the 12th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me — a vacation trip! She booked us six days and five nights at the Royal Hawaiian resort hotel on Honolulu’s Waikiki Beach, the legendary pink palace that for nearly a century has been the icon of Pacific travel for generations of travelers.
Her cost, for two, was $4,537 for the first week of February. But that includes all taxes (which can easily add 10 to 20 percent to air and hotel bills) and a one-stop, round-trip flight aboard Delta Airlines from the Redmond airport. And this is, after all, intended to be a luxury vacation (through www.deltavacations .com).
We’ll look forward to snorkeling in Hanauma Bay, an evening at the Polynesian Cultural Center, a reverential visit to the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, a hike to beautiful Waimea Falls, and perhaps a brief surfing lesson.
— Reporter: email@example.com