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Monday, March 31, 2014

Review: ECBC Tomahawk Messenger

Review: ECBC Tomahawk Messenger
As you know, I visited Phoenix to attend the International Travel Goods Show and was overwhelmed by the selection of bags that were hitting the market in the coming months. One of the new brands I encountered was ECBC. They sell a variety of TSA-friendly bags that allow you to get through security without taking your laptop out of your bag before you put it through the X-ray machine.

Finding that there aren’t that many bags that can work for business travelers, moms and men all at once, the Tomahawk Messenger seems to be a great fit for every traveler. The bag features – as all their bags do – multiple pockets for those who love who loves technology and needs to carry everything with them. The laptop pocket can hold up to a 17” laptop, but it has an insert to make it perfect for a smaller size as well, so it doesn’t jostle around while you’re running from gate to gate.

Got a ton of paperwork you need to bring with you? The inside pockets are large enough to hold legal-size files, all your travel documents or a selection of your favorite magazines. In the front, there are pockets for all your electronics, from your smartphone to your iPad, plus you can keep your passport, tickets, money and any other necessities right at hand and super organized.

My favorite part of this bag, as is my usual problem with messenger bags, is the top zipper, giving you easy access to everything inside. If you’re running around with kids, you don’t want to be fumbling around trying to get everything out they want. Though I like the security of the flap with snap-in buckles, it can be a pain if you have to get in and out of your bag on the go, which makes the zipper an genius addition. Everyone’s going to love this feature. 

Hate it when your bag gets snagged on everything as you’re walking around? The buckles on the Tomahawk are fantastic because they are adjustable, based on how full the messenger is, and they are hidden between the material of the front flap. It would take a lot of effort for someone to actually try to steal anything out of this bag.

Keep your cell phone and hydration right at your fingertips with the included pouches on each end of the bag. I like to keep my phone out of reach from everyone, so I used the zipper compartment in the flap to store it, with other things I want to use more often, like a scarf to use if the airplane gets cold.

The zippers on this bag are heavy-duty and hidden behind a rubbery material, which makes them water resistant as well. In fact, all the material of this bag is water repellent, so in the event you get caught in a downpour, your electronics (and everything else inside) won’t get wet and ruined.

As you can see, there is plenty of room in the Tomahawk. I was able to use it for my laptop and cord, Kindle, iPad (in case), cell phone, 3-1-1 bag, snacks, random reading material and a spare pair of shoes. The bag wasn’t totally full, so it holds quite a bit. Use it as a diaper bag, and weekender or to drag all your work with you from the plane to the office.

No matter how much you stuff in the Tomahawk, the wide shoulder strap won’t cut into your shoulder. It is heavily padded where you need it to be and the length is easily adjustable with a sturdy seatbelt-like mechanism. Make it longer to wear it crossbody, or make it shorter to wear it as a shoulder bag. The bag also has a nice padded handle on top to carry it as a briefcase. You don’t have to carry the burden of all your stuff though, as this bag has a great trolley handle slip pocket to fit right onto your roller bag handle.

So, if you’re looking for a large multipurpose messenger bag for your travels that can help you get through security a bit faster and with more convenience – every little bit helps when you’re in a hurry or have little ones traveling with you – then the Tomahawk is a great addition to your trips and possibly even your daily commute.

More information:
How big is it? 22.5” x 13.5” x 4.5”
Where can you buy it? ECBC website
Colors it comes in: Black and Grey (shown)
How much is it? $139.99
Other specs: Body made of 840d HD ballistic nylon, lining made of 210d double diamond ripstop nylon

Loving this bag from ECBC? Follow them on Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | YouTube

Disclosure: I was provided with the Tomahawk Messenger for the purpose of this review, but all opinions are 100% my own.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The French Museum for Everyone

The French Museum for Everyone
I've been to a lot of museums. I like to see different ones when we travel. Though we had some big plans to hit up several in Paris, we again didn't make it to the Louvre and the Dali museum was closed. The Centre Pompidou was on our list of museums that we could get into for "free" with the museum pass that came with our Paris Pass. I had seen on the Metro that they had a Roy Lichtenstein exhibition and they were open later than all the other museums in the city, so we made an effort to get there on one of the days after we had done some general sightseeing. 

The museum has several floors, a bookstore, cafe and gift shop. If you've ever been to Universal Studios in Hollywood and had the joy of taking the 9 escalators from the parking garages and lower lot to the upper lot, you'll have deja vu when visiting Centre Pompidou. We made it all the way to the fifth floor and through the line, only to be told that we needed to buy tickets for the Lichtenstein exhibit on the ground floor. Annoyed that this was not pointed out anywhere, we decided to wander through the rest of the museum (we had already read all about the life and art periods of Lichtenstein waiting in line) and were completely delighted. Most museums focus on one thing and while modern art is not always my cup of tea, the sheer variety at Centre Pompidou was enough to keep anyone interested. 

I enjoy textiles, pop art and retro pieces and Eric likes different stuff, which made it fun to wander the rooms that were never the same and always had something interesting and thought-provoking. Of course, some of my favorite pieces looked like they could have been done by a small child and another was a nylon pantyhose material that was filled with different spices, creating a weird formation, but an interesting smell.

With so much art to choose from, we were surprised by how much more exciting it was from the Tate Modern in London, which we both though was going to be amazing and ended up bored after only 20 minutes. I'm sorry, but a starfish with a shoe and a lady sitting in a chair complaining about life do not count as art to me. At Centre Pompidou, I felt like there was a lot of thought and talent put into each piece. it made me wish I had more time to explore the hundreds of works on display. It truly is a museum that holds something interesting for everyone of any age, whether you are a lover of art or a total novice and think museums are lame. For free admission with your museum pass, it's definitely worth a stop. 

Do you have a favorite museum from your travels? Where was it?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Review: NapWrap Personal Travel Armrest

Review: NapWrap Personal Travel Armrest
Stuck in the middle seat again? Or maybe you have the aisle and your elbow sneaks out into the walkway, putting it right in the way of the beverage cart – ouch! - or those on their way to or from the restroom. Seats on the plane seem to be getting smaller and smaller, so you have less and less room each time you travel. If you fly with a spouse or friend, it’s not a big deal if you invade each other’s space. If you’re flying alone or have that aisle seat issue, you probably feel like there’s no place to put your arms and you don’t have an armrest to yourself. You might want to cross your arms and take a nap, but when you fall asleep, they flop around, making you uncomfortable again.

photo courtesy of NapWrap

This was the problem that resulted in the NapWrap. It’s a convenient little wrap that helps to keep your arms crossed, without giving you achy joints, for as long as you need to. You don’t have to make the continual effort to keep your arms in position, plus the fabric is breathable, so it doesn’t make your arm or hand all sweaty. It’s also stretchy, which means people of all sizes can wear it and it fits over sleeves. Though it can be a little tricky to work at first, once you have the hang of it, it’s super easy to use. There’s this handy video to help.

Of course, I’m not one to buy something that has just one use, even though the NapWrap is very comfortable and does exactly what it’s meant to do, it isn’t just a cool arm holder that you twist your hand into. It can also be used as an armband that holds your phone or MP3 player, so you can listen to your music.

Another great thing you can use your NapWrap for is an eye mask. I usually pack one of those in my bag when I travel, because you never know if you will be sleeping in a room that has inadequate curtains (where you’re woken up at 5 am with light right in your eye) or you just need a little extra help falling and staying asleep. The NapWrap is adjustable and also covers your ears, muffling noises that might be keeping you awake as well.

And if your destination is cold, use it as a headband that covers and protects your ears. It’s way better than also packing a pair of earmuffs. Even if you carry more than one with you, they still pack flat and take up almost no room in your bag – less if you wear it on your arm as you are commuting through the airport.

So, if you have issues with sharing armrests with strangers, having a place to put your phone, sleeping when it’s not pitch black in your room or need to keep your ears warm, then the NapWrap should be on your list of must-have travel items. 

More information:
How big is it? One Size Fits All
Colors it comes in: The velcro closure comes in black, sky, carrot, lime
Where can you buy it? NapWrap website
How much is it? $20.00

Disclosure: I was provided with the NapWrap for the purpose of this review, but all opinions are 100% my own.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

What’s the REAL Value of Your Hotel Room?

What’s the REAL Value of Your Hotel Room?
When you book a hotel room, do you look only at price? If you do, you could be losing value on your stay, especially if you are staying for more than a few days. The more things you can get included in your nightly rate, the better, especially if the price is still budget-friendly for you. I don’t book any hotel without free WiFi, but I also like to have a mini fridge – for leftovers, snacks and drinks – and a microwave if possible.

Having a restaurant on-site is great. If you’re only going to be in town for a couple days or you are spending your trip nearby, it is convenient to be able to just run downstairs and get a meal. It’s the next best thing to free breakfast, but it’s also perfect for a romantic getaway, because you don’t have to waste time searching for a good restaurant in the area. There’s one right out your front door. If you haven’t rented a car,  it can also save you money on transportation.

I love a boutique hotel. Often, they offer great rooms with unique or funky furnishings that have all the comforts you’re looking for away from home. Many will have their own restaurants, coffee counters, shops and other amenities that make staying in much easier, while also keeping more of your money in the hotel (read: in the community).

The Croft Hotel is one such hotel (find them at http://www.crofthotel.net/). It can be found in a very desirable – and quiet – neighborhood in Darlington, England. Set right near the river, on beautiful ground, and close to local attractions, the hotel has just 20 rooms, which means you’ll get the personalized service you want and deserve. Right outside your cozy room, you can pop into the gastro pub or the tea rooms on-site. Whether you’re in the mood for a light breakfast, afternoon tea, a fine dining experience or anything in between, you are covered. Get out for a bit of sightseeing in Richmondshire or get in a round of golf and come back to your lovely room to relax and change before dinner.

As you can see, a good location can also increase the value of your room cost, because it enables you to save transportation time and costs, so make sure you look at everything included in your room rate and think about how it can benefit you and save you time and money. If it doesn’t do either of those things, you’re paying for more than you should, so possibly look elsewhere.

What are your must-have amenities when you stay in a hotel?

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post.

Review: Travel HoodiePillow

Review: Travel HoodiePillow
Sometimes you get on the airplane and you just want people to leave you alone. You don’t want to talk to your neighbor, you want to either listen to your iPod or play a game on your phone. We all feel like that at times, especially when traveling alone. I view my time on the plane as my time and I like to use it to read a book, do a crossword or write a blog post. In short, I like to focus on a “me” activity. I’m cool with talking to my seatmates, but I don’t want to chat with them for the whole flight usually. We’ve all had that chatty neighbor who wants to tell you their whole life story and doesn’t take the hint, even when you are clearly trying to take a nap or hide behind a magazine. HoodiePillow might just help get your point across, while also making you comfortable.

Photo courtesy of HoodiePillow

HoodiePillow combines your two favorite things: a soft, comfy hoodie and a neck pillow to help you sleep without waking up all stiff and achy. It features a drawstring, so you can pull it tight and block out light, or keep it loose, just so you can cover your head. It won’t get in your way if you want to use your big headphones and, since it’s only one piece, it’s easier to use and less cumbersome than a full hoodie and separate neck pillow.

Unlike many neck pillows, this one doesn’t take up a bunch of room in your bag, because it’s inflatable. You can adjust it to your own needs and it folds flat when you aren’t using it, making it a great space-friendly travel product. I often see people trying to attach their heavy, non-inflatable pillows to their bag in some way. They just get in the way and add weight to all the stuff you’re already carrying. I don’t need that.

Got a partner who likes to turn on the vent when you’re on the plane? I do, and even though it’s his vent that’s directed at him, it somehow either freezes my shoulder or blows right in one of my eyes. I don’t want him to be uncomfortable, but if my eyes are glued shut from having air blowing in them for hours, I’m going to be very cranky. This is another great solution for us. The HoodiePillow will protect my eyes and keep my head, ears, neck and shoulders warm when on those flights.

The HoodiePillow is a great gift for the teenager or college student who is never seen without a hoodie on. They can use this on the bus, on road trips, in hostels and plenty of other places.

It fits over anything you’re wearing, without getting all bulky like wearing a full hoodie over anything else, especially when a hoodie doesn’t work with your travel outfit – really, they don’t go with everything. Sleep easy on planes even in the daytime, because the HoodiePillow can block out the light. It also protects your head from nasty germs that might be on the airplane seat headrest. Getting sick right when you start your vacation is the pits. When you get home, or to your destination, the HoodiePillow is hand washable. Just let it air dry and it’s good to go next time you need it!

I used this on my flight back from Phoenix, but since I’d had a long two days and was dead tired, the second I put it on and leaned back on the plane, I immediately fell asleep, so you only get a picture of me trying it on in the terminal before take-off. I woke up refreshed and my neck didn’t hurt, so I call it a success! My husband wants one now and I know several people in my circle of friends and family who would love to get this as a gift. Got a student on your gift list? Perhaps they are taking their year off to go backpacking through Europe, or just going on vacation this summer with you or their family. They are going to adore you for buying this for them. In fact, you may find they rarely take it off. The material is super soft, so I can’t blame them.

More information:
How big is it? One Size Fits All, like your favorite hoodie and/or neck pillow
Colors it comes in: Fire Red | Black | Heather Gray | Ocean Blue | Lipstick Pink (shown)
Where can you buy it? Hoodie Pillow website or Amazon 
How much is it? $19.95.

Like the coolness of HoodiePillow? Follow them on Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | Instagram | Pinterest

Disclosure: I was provided with the HoodiePillow for the purpose of this review, but all opinions are 100% my own.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Review: Travelon Waterproof Pouch

Review: Travelon Waterproof Pouch
With the promise of warmer weather coming soon – or I assume, since we have one day of nice weather and three days of cold rainy ones here – plenty of travelers are thinking about trips to the beach, destinations with pools and cruises. I, myself, will be spending a few days in Virginia Beach on our trip to Williamsburg and Washington, DC. When I go, I always wonder if I should leave my phone in the room or bring it with me and keep it in my bag, or what. On one hand, I don’t like to leave it in the room, but on the other, I don’t want to risk someone stealing it out of my bag when I’m not right next to it. I can’t take it in the water with me, though. Or can I?

Travelon has solved my problem. The Waterproof Pouch is made specifically for cell phones – all sizes! – and enables you to carry your phone around where it might get drenched, while completely protecting it and still allowing you to use your phone and its camera. Even better, if you happen to lose your pouch in the water, it actually floats, so you aren’t immediately disappointed by it sinking all the way to the bottom.

The Waterproof Pouch is totally easy to use. Put your phone in upside down, with the camera pointed towards the clear back, squeeze out as much air as possible with your hands and then roll up the top and hold it in place with the Velcro tab. Now you can check email, play music, go swimming or anything else you want and have your phone along for the ride and absolutely protected. When you’re at the beach, it’s not just water that is a problem for your electronics, but sand and salt, too. You don’t have to worry about that either.
The Waterproof Pouch has a removable strap, so if you do end up doing something active, you can easily hang it around your neck. This is especially great for those that do a lot of water activities, like snorkeling (you can even put your regular point-and-shoot camera inside to take underwater photos), jet skiing or fishing. In fact, my dad has lost his phone in the lake when fishing before, because his phone fell out of his pocket and over the side of the boat. Worst. Day. Ever. Next time he goes, he won’t have a problem, but even if he does, he won’t have to buy another phone, because he’ll be able to scoop up the pouch as it bobs on the top of the water. Brilliant!

Don’t want to bring your phone with you, but want to protect some other items? Who doesn’t need to bring their I.D., some cash and their car keys with them when they hit the beach? Keep it all with you and safe from thieves. Going somewhere with high humidity or a very rainy season like the Amazon? Stuff your small electronic inside and your passport and you don’t have to worry about them getting damaged.

With a retail price of $13, there’s no reason to not buy one for everyone who is traveling with you. It’s so much cheaper than hundreds of dollars for a new phone, right? You don’t have to worry about the size either, because it will fit even the largest smart phone, while not taking up much room in your travel bag. If you’re traveling this summer or do a lot of water sports/activities, this pouch is a must. Even if you’re just spending the day at a theme park where there are water rides, this little pouch is a smart investment!

More information:
How big is it? 4.25” x 6.25” 
Where can you buy it? Travelon Website
How much is it? $13.00
Colors it comes in: The float comes in blue (shown) | pink | white | lime | yellow

Like the coolness of the Travelon Waterproof pouch? It also comes for non-electronics, with an audio jack (soon), for an e-reader and for an iPad.

Follow Travelon on Facebook | Twitter | YouTube

Disclosure: I was provided with the Waterproof Pouch for the purpose of this review, but all opinions are 100% my own.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Review: Icepops Bag by Cool-it Caddy

Review: Icepops Bag by Cool-it Caddy
When I travel, I always bring my own snacks. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to keep things like fruit or cheese cold so you can actually take it with you? I know it would be useful when traveling with kids, too. As much as I like chips and crackers and homemade granola bars, fresh foods would be lovely.

I was able to meet up with Cool-it Caddy at the Travel Goods Show in Phoenix and picked up a sample of one of their great Icepops bags. Not only do they come in snappy colors, but the bags have built-in freezable coolants packs in the sides. You pop the bag in the freezer and a few hours later you have a bag that you can take with you on the plane, to the beach, to amusement parks and anywhere else you want to keep things cool.

A small water bottle can fit in the Icepops, which is great when you’re out and about and don’t want to spend money on drinks or have no way to keep a drink cold for longer than 10 minutes. We go to a lot of theme parks. Imagine how much better Disney would be if the water you brought in DIDN’T have to be frozen before you left your hotel and you didn’t have to wait for it to unfreeze to drink it, or you an unfrozen one stayed cool longer than the time it takes to actually get into the park? Cold water is just more refreshing and tastier.

Going to the beach? Many of us don’t just head down to the sand and then go straight home. Use your Icepops bag to store your sunscreen, lip balm, deodorant and anything else that can help you freshen up, so you can toss on a cover-up and go straight to lunch or dinner. Melted beauty products is a bummer, especially when you have paid good money for decent products. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to have to replace things when I don’t have to. Things an only stay cool in your beach bag for so long, but if they’re in an Icepops bag, they will stay cool for hours.

In Portland, we have a lot of outdoor festivals and activities where having a bottle of water and a few snacks would be great to have. Icepops would fit in my purse, or with the handy loop handle, I can slip it on my wrist and go. With the nice slip pocket on the back, I could also carry my hotel key, I.D., debit card or some cash with me. (If plain water is not something you love, you can add a few of those flavor packets to your bag to make tea or other yummy drink.)

Run your errands and keep cool, too. Once you’ve gone in a few stops, that bottle of water in your car is going to heat up. Not only is warm bottled water gross, but experts say it’s also unsafe to drink. Icepops keeps it cold through all your errands and keeps other items from warming up, too: your tube of lipstick for touch-ups, that candy bar for a little indulgence, your medications you have to take throughout the day that are supposed to stay at a certain temperature.

Stuck with the wee ones at Little league? Stash a couple of juice boxes and carrot sticks in your Icepops for those that aren’t playing or for celebrating after the game. How exciting to be able to present totally cold drinks and nibbles for your little ones anywhere you go. And if you go anywhere with babies and need to keep milk cold, this is the perfect solution! Slip the bag into your diaper bag and you have milk that is good for hours. If items are cold before they go into the bag, they are able to stay colder even longer.

Icepops can stay frozen for up to 7 hours, which can get you through a lot. Keep it in the freezer to use at a moment’s notice. For maximum space inside, roll up a small towel or stuff some paper inside, so you can easily get your items inside when you’re ready to use it. If you forget this step, don’t worry. You can still stash a water bottle and other goodies inside, it will just be a bit of a tight squeeze.

With summer vacations coming up, you might want to buy a couple of these to take with you anywhere you end up going. If you would like a Cool-it Caddy for just your beauty items or a more manly black, check out the website for more styles and materials.

More information:
How big is it? 8.5” x 5.5” x 3”
Where can you buy it? Cool-it Caddy Website
How much is it? $19.95
Colors it comes in: Tangerine (shown) | Raspberry | Lime | Blueberry

Like the coolness of Cool-it Caddy? Follow them on Facebook | Twitter

Disclosure: I was provided with a Icepops bag by Cool-it Caddy for the purpose of this review, but all opinions are 100% my own.
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