Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Which travel products were worth the money?

A few posts ago, I covered a list of new travel gadgets and gizmos I bought in preparation for my trip to New Zealand.

Now, on this sleepless North Carolina night (still must be suffering jet lag), I'll share my opinions of those products for you to help you decide whether they'll be right for you on your journey.

Note that I'm not affiliated with any of these firms ... no one is paying me to do this. I'm not an affiliate collecting a percentage or anything. I'm doing it simply because I like to read reviews like this to help me make decisions. Plus, I guess I just like writing :)

The Travel Products

1. Eagle Creek travel pillows from

If travel pillows help you sleep sitting up, then this is a good pillow to buy. Pros: It looks and feels like a quality piece. It's soft. I inflated it quickly with 2-3 breaths. I deflated it quickly simply by pushing in the air valve and squeezing -- the air zips right out. It has a removable, washable cover.

Cons: Several reviews I read warned about the material making you sweat. I felt this just a tad, but it was pretty cool on our Air New Zealand flight so it wasn't much of a problem.

I don't consider it a product con, but I still wasn't able to sleep sitting up with this pillow. But I don't anything beside a really potent drug would work for me. Next time, I may ask my doctor for that very thing as I couldn't sleep even with an over-the-counter sleep aid.

Good buy? Not for me; I probably could have used a $4 plastic affair with the same non-result. But don't let this stop you from buying if a neck pillow helps you. I'll still keep this and use it for long car rides and on future trips.

2. Coolmax travel blanket from

I purchased this after reading many people complaining about the filthy, awful quality of the blankets provided by airlines. I didn't want to wrap a dirty piece with unknown blobs of goo and stains all over it around myself. But the Air New Zealand blankets were wrapped in sealed bags. They looked clean and didn't smell funky. They were large. They were thick and warm. So I didn't even use my travel blanket inflight, although I did use it at my sister's place since she had very little stuff yet, her container still being in transit.

Good buy? Not for me. The blanket is very thin ... I'm not really sure how warm it would be. But it is larger than the average travel blanket, so that's something.

3. Baggallini ticket organizer/wallet from

Ok -- I initially felt a little scammed here. One reviewer for this product said how she fit "all of her children's passports" in this product, which cinched it for me. After all, I would only be carrying two passports and boarding stuff and money and one credit card. But it was a tight fit with just two passports; I really had to cram the other papers in.

Also, the reason I bought this was because the airlines say, very clearly, that you're allowed to bring on-board ONE CARRY ON and ONE SMALL PERSONAL ITEM. Well, I already intended to bring a laptop (for which I had to buy yet another gizmo to ensure it counted only as a "small personal item") AND a backpack -- which meant I couldn't also carry-on a purse.

So I figured I'd buy a thin travel wallet I could tuck under my vest or jacket -- it's so small that it wouldn't count as anything at all.

And this wallet, although it certainly won't hold more than two passports, fit the bill.

Beyond the fact that the airlines obviously don't pay attention to their own rules .. I could have easily carried on a purse and a regular laptop bag and my backpack without a problem and could have saved my money ... I did like using this bag. I left me hands-free and I felt very secure with my cash and credit card and travel documents safely tucked away yet easily accessible inside my vest.

Good buy? Yes. I really liked this, although I could have gone for a more stylish color :) I will use this again, even locally, so I can shop with my money and credit cards at hand without worrying about or carrying a larger purse. I recommend the Baggallini.

4. Panasonic portable waterpik from

Good buy? Yes. I'm glad I had this ... if you want to do a really thorough job you need to fill it twice, but it's easy to do. The unit is small and convenient. And, for a unit that runs of batteries, it's got a pretty powerful jet, so it gets down in gumline and in the cracks and crevices like you want it to. I recommend this waterpik and will get much use out of it while traveling!

5. Skooba skin laptop sleeve from CSN Stores (in the lovely shade of plum you see here)

First of all, as I mentioned, I bought this for two reasons: 1) so I could go through security without taking my laptop out of the bag and 2) so it would count as a small personal item on the flights. But I didn't need it for EITHER reason since I had to take the laptop out of the bag at every security checkpoint ... AND since I saw plenty, and I mean PLENTY, of people boarding the flights with regular briefcase-style laptop bags ... just like the one I had at home to begin with.

So the product was a waste of money in that regard.

But, even if I could have used it to get through security without taking the laptop out ... and even if the airlines stuck to their posted rules and required small bags like this for a laptop to count as a small person item ... then it still would not have been a good purchase.

I don't know who designed this thing, but it's AWFUL to carry, even for very short times. My hands were KILLING me even while getting to the gate at Charlotte. It's like the carrying handles dig into your hands in the wrong way ... very painful to carry. I actually looked in a Brookstone shop at the airport hoping to find padded cushions I could wrap around the handles to make it easier to carry. I dreaded the thought of carrying this around LA and then in New Zealand, so much so that I kept stopping at luggage stores and ogling regular laptop bags. But I just couldn't bring myself to buy a new bag when THIS was already a new bag and I had a very nice laptop bag sitting in the closet back home.

So I toughed it out.

I do NOT recommend this product, even though it looks cool.

6. Blackberry Storm from Verizon

I have to say ... despite a few technical difficulties when I first arrived in New Zealand, I LOVE LOVE LOVE my Blackberry Storm. Since I work on the computer, it seems natural to me to want to extend my "connectedness" to everywhere I am. It was a delight receiving e-mail day and night, wherever I was in New Zealand. And being able to do Facebook updates, basic Web browsing, check weather, take and immediately send slice-of-life-at-the-moment photos to family, talk via GoogleChat .... anytime, anywhere ... was truly amazing. And while traveling, I saw LOTS of people with iPhones and Blackberrys and other smartphones, so it seemed like an "in" travel product. Very happy!

Good buy? Yes!

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