Travel

One Month In Italy

Zeke, the filmmmaker behind many of our videos, documented a 30 day trip through Northern Italy with his wife and son. In this post, Zeke shares an essay about the reasons for the trip, as well as the videos he captured: how his family packed for the trip, their favorite travel hacks, and their tour of Italy. 

The Videos

Episode I: How To Pack For 30 Day Trip Without Checking a Bag

Episode II:  Zeke’s Top Travel Hacks

Episode III:  One Month In Italy

The Essay

Ten years is a long time. That’s why my wife and I wanted to do something really special for our 10 year anniversary. We took a 30 day trip through Northern Italy with our 7 year old. With our 7 year old? Yes. Turns out, spending a month in a foreign country, changing towns every 3 to 6 days, and bringing along a 7 year old can sometimes make 30 days feel longer than 10 years! Of course, that’s nothing a bit of gelato can’t fix!

We started our adventure in Venice. Now, as a filmmaker and an entrepreneur, I’ve traveled all over the world, but Venice is unlike anyplace I’ve ever seen. At times it felt like we were in the middle of movie set, or a weird dream. Other times it felt like if we sneezed all the buildings would crumble to dust around us. Everything was beautifully old. The buildings and bridges that carry foot traffic over the canals are held together with what look like iron staples. There aren’t any cars. I mean, none. No bikes—at least, we didn’t see any. Everyone, and everything, moves around on foot. Everything about Venice was magical.

From Venice we took the train to Bellagio. If I could pick any place in the world to live all year long, it would be Bellagio in the summertime. It had all the magic and charm of Venice, but with 100 times the beauty. The town climbs out of a giant lake that is surrounded on all sides by mountains. Stunning. There’s no point in me describing it in detail. Watch the video. One of my favorite moments from the entire trip was when we were taking the ferry boat from one side of the lake to the other. A massive rainstorm rolled in on top of us. It turned the lake black. Most people on the ferry ran for cover, but I decided to stand out in it, getting soaked and soaking up the incredible views that surrounded me.

From Bellagio we went to Milan, then up almost to the northern border of Italy where my wife had planned a surprise. After a long drive, we started winding up a hill and arrived at a castle. Like going from one dream to another, we got to spend two nights IN a castle. It once belonged to one of the first kings of Italy. There are only a few guest rooms there, so it felt like we had the entire place to ourselves.

We were in Italy during Ferragosto, a holiday where most places close and most of the people go away on vacation. This was perfect for us as it meant small to no crowds almost everywhere we went. Enough stores and restaurants were open that we never went without. We were in Parma at the height of Ferragosto. So instead of crowds, it was mostly empty. The food in Parma was—never mind. I don’t want to rub it in, and it’s making me hungry just thinking about it. Parma was lovely and charming and that’s where our 7 year old realized that he and his friends at home all dress like slobs—his words (superhero T-shirts and silky basketball shorts). He decided from that point forward he wanted to dress sharp like the people he saw all over Italy. We bought him his first suit and that was that. It’s almost a year later now, and he has worn a blazer and a tie or bow tie nearly every day since. If you look close in the video, you’ll see the moment he went through this mental change. It’s when he’s trying on a suit for the first time. It’s become so much of his personality, I’m really happy that I caught the moment on film.

There’s really too much to write about: a 14 hour lightning storm in Tuscany where we stayed in a 500 year old tower, a view of ancient ruins from our balcony in Bologna, the food—everywhere. So much more.

During the few moments a week that my brain isn’t focused on what’s in front of me, it quickly drifts off to vivid memories from our 30 day trip through Italy. The moment is always followed by a deep feeling of peace and happiness. A smile. I’d do the trip all over again at least 100 times.

You asked, so here’s a list of some of the bags and accessories that Zeke and his family took on their trip. — TB Crew

Aeronaut 45
Night Flight Travel Duffel
Synapse 19
Shop Bags
Spiff Kits
3D Clear Organizer Cube
Side Effect
Key Straps
Clear Organizer Pouches
Q-Kit
Packing Cubes
Clear Quarter Packing Cube
RFID Passport Pouch

What and How to Pack for a Day at the Museum

What and How to Pack for a Day at the Museum

Museums aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but they can be a great way to learn more about a place you’re visiting, explore different facets of human life, or teach you things about your own home town. Whole vacations can be built around museum-hopping, and sometimes a museum visit is just a nice way to while away a cold, rainy afternoon.

In addition to housing art and artifacts, museums and museum-like spaces address a wide range of interests: science and industry, specific professions, or natural history. Other places, such as archives and libraries, can also reveal the history of a place or people.

Let’s also not forget those strange little museums that seem to hide out in city side-streets, remote villages, or what appears to be the middle of nowhere. These treasure troves of curious and occasionally grotesque relics can be the most enjoyable of all.

Whatever you’re into, there’s probably a museum (or three) out there for you. We’ve put together some suggestions for how to get the most out of a day of museum-hopping, and have created a list of museums around the world that may be under your radar but could be worth exploring.

 

Tips:

Book admission to popular destinations online whenever possible. Although you may have to reserve a particular day and/or time, this method allows you to bypass the line of people waiting for admission at the door.

Familiarize yourself with the museum layout. This is especially useful if you are planning to visit many sites in one day, or if you’re with kids or companions with limited patience and attention spans: you can go directly to the exhibits you most want to see, and anything else after that is just a bonus.

Similarly, scope out the area immediately around the museum: where’s the closest cafe, bus stop, or route to your next destination?

Plan breaks, whether it’s time in the park, a sandwich and coffee, or a few minutes on a bench watching the autumn leaves swirl around. Knowing that you’ll be taking breaks—and, ideally, where these breaks will be—will help preserve your good mood, allow you to refresh your body and mind, and give you time to process everything you’ve just seen and experienced.

 

The Bag Check:

Many museums require visitors to check bags that exceed a certain size. Depending on the rules, you may also have to check items like outerwear, umbrellas, cameras, and food/drink.

If you have only a few items to carry, use the smallest bag you can: for instance, a Luminary or  Daylight Briefcase or Backpack (the Backpack will draw less attention if you pack lightly, fold it, and carry it in under your arm). Bags like the Small Cafe Bag and Packing Cube Shoulder Bag can often pass as purses, and, if it’s packed lightly, the Aeronaut 30 Packing Cube Backpack can give you backpack comfort when you’re walking between museums and then fold up into a convenient shoulder or hip bag when you’re inside.

If you need a larger day bag, it’s handy to have a way to keep a few valuables on your person in case you must relinquish it. Most museums—even those that require all bags to be checked—will allow a purse, so it’s a good idea to stash your money and other essentials in a Side Kick or Side Effect, which you can carry by a strap or loop (you can also wear them around your waist if desired). If you’re at the museum to draw, tuck some supplies into the Field Journal Notebook.

More minimal carrying options include the 3D Organizer Cube and Cubelet, which can be carried by a loop, or packing cubes (like those for the Mini Yeoman Duffel or Night Flight Travel Duffel), which have a carry handle built in. Or, slip your passport and credit cards into an RFID Passport Pouch and wear it around your neck and beneath your clothes.

 

Useful items:

  • Water in a closed container and wrapped snacks for breaks
  • Camera
  • Journal or sketchbook and related supplies
  • A light layer in case it’s super cold inside
  • An envelope or flat pouch (like the Clear Organizer Pouch) to keep tickets, brochures, admissions stickers, and other ephemera—all items that can enliven your vacation scrapbook or photo album
  • A small first aid kit, including painkillers and ample supplies of moleskin for blisters

 

Just a Few Museums and Libraries

We haven’t been to all of these places (we wish!) so we can’t guarantee you’ll have an unbelievably good time if you go, but hopefully this list will contain a gem or two that piques your interest. This list is not exhaustive, by any means: it focuses on just a few categories in the interest of space; we also left off most of the biggest/most famous museums. Please let us know your favorite museums and museum-like spaces in the comments.

Natural History

  • Australian Fossil and Mineral Museum, Bathurst, New South Wales, Australia
  • Beaty Biodiversity Museum, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
  • Beneski Museum of Natural History, Amherst, Massachusetts, USA
  • Francisco P. Moreno Museum of Patagonia, San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina
  • Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, Singapore
  • McGregor Museum, Kimberley, South Africa
  • Museo Nacional de Historia Natural, Santiago, Chile
  • Museo Paleontológico en Tocuila, Texcoco, Mexico
  • Museum of the North, Fairbanks, Alaska, USA
  • Museum of Tropical Queensland, Townsville, Queensland, Australia
  • Natural History Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Leiden, Netherlands
  • Palangos Gintaro Muziejus, Palanga, Lithuania

Libraries

  • Beitou Branch, Taipei Public Library, Taiwan
  • Biblioteca Joanina, Portugal
  • Bibliotheca Alexandria, Egypt
  • Central Library of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
  • Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, Ireland
  • Chicago Public Library, Illinois, USA
  • George Peabody Library, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
  • Halifax Library, Nova Scotia, Canada
  • Real Gabinete Portogues da Leitura, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  • Seattle Public Library (Central Branch), Washington, USA
  • State Library of South Australia, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Children’s Museums (most are good for adults too)

  • Children’s Museum Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
  • City Museum, St. Louis, Missouri, USA
  • Deutsches Museum, Munich, Germany
  • Discover Children’s Story Centre, London, England
  • Exploratorium, San Francisco, California, USA
  • The Ghibli Museum, Mitaka, Tokyo, Japan
  • Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, Illinois, USA
  • The International Spy Museum, Washington, DC, USA
  • National Science and Technology Museum, Kaohsiung City, Taiwan
  • The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre, Great Missenden, England
  • Science Centre Nemo, Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • The Strong National Museum of Play, Rochester, New York, USA
  • Universeum, Göteborg, Sweden

Museums of Curiosities and the Bizarre

  • Cancun Underwater Museum, Cancun, Mexico
  • Iga Ninja Museum, Iga, Mie, Japan
  • Icelandic Phallological Museum, Reykjavík, Iceland
  • Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum, Ikeda, Osaka, Japan (not to be confused with Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum, also in Japan)
  • Museum of Bad Art, Somerville, Massachusetts, USA
  • Museum of Broken Relationships, Zagreb, Croatia
  • Museum of Human Disease, Kensington, New South Wales, Australia
  • Museum of Jurassic Technology, Los Angeles, California, USA
  • Museum of Medieval Torture Instruments, Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • The Mütter Museum, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
  • National Mustard Museum, Middleton, Wisconsin, USA
  • Sulabh International Museum of Toilets, Delhi, India

A South Island Sojourn

Jenny and Joe are the photographers behind some of the (awesome) photos of our bags. We asked them to write about a trip they took to New Zealand in a guest post for our blog. – Darcy

The gentle lapping of the waves was lulling me to sleep. Joe was outside, manning a camera that was pointed out towards the water, shutter wide open, capturing a nighttime scene of Elaine Bay in the Marlborough Sounds of New Zealand’s south island. The stars twinkled brightly and left arcs of light as proof of their existence inside the camera. The International Space Station and a satellite floated past, leaving long straight trails. Lights from the small commercial harbor glittered and reflected their power off the surface of the water. The white painted pier which had been balancing on rickety, spindly legs twenty feet above the water when we had finished dinner hours earlier was now at the exact correct height. The pull of the moon had played its trick and it stuck out magnificently into the still, dark water, the white of its rails reflecting the dark of the sky.

It was our third night of what would be two weeks of sleeping in a van and driving around New Zealand. So far, so good. We hadn’t wrecked the van nor driven, too much, on the wrong side of the road. New Zealanders insist on driving on the opposite side of the road and in order to, well, not die, we had to do the same. That part wasn’t too hard, but let’s not talk about the roundabout I took on the wrong side. The real challenging part was shifting the old manual transmission van with your left hand as the driver’s seat was on the right. That and not turning on the windshield wipers when you meant to hit the turn signal, those controls on the steering column were opposite. Let’s just say it was a learning process.

The author and her husband, Joe, with their van “Vince” at Meatworks Beach campground, Kaikoura, New Zealand

Our van had come with a name, Vince to be exact. Named after Vincent van Gogh, the sides, front and back were all covered in murals paying homage to the Dutch master’s paintings: tulips and sunflowers on one side, starry night on the other. We knew what we were getting into, driving a mural around the countryside. After extensive camper van research we settled on this company because their vans would fit Joe, who is a tall 6 foot 4 and likes to sleep taller. Would it have just been easier to sleep in a tent for two weeks? Yes and no. We could have been more fuel efficient in a smaller vehicle and there is nothing like a sleeping under the stars with only a thin layer of nylon between you and the heavens, but the majority of campsites in NZ don’t allow tents, camper vans only. And some don’t even allow the type of camper van we had because it wasn’t tricked-out with an onboard toilet. It’s all about being self-contained. So we settled on the middle ground and were extremely glad we did. We soon felt at home in Vince, our trusty steed for over 2,000 km.

Here are some photos from our trip:

Joe celebrates our own private beach after a very enjoyable three-mile hike on the Archer Track just past Elaine Bay. The beach and bay, ironically called Deep Bay because it was very shallow, was a very relaxing place to spend the afternoon swimming and watching the tide go out. We were the only people there. Some skinny-dipping may have been involved.

Mmmmm, New Zealand green mussels! Fresh off a boat that tied up at the commercial dock about ¼ mile from our campsite. The captain couldn’t take any money; his catch was going to a big processor, not small retail, so they were free! (And absolutely gigantic!)

Wharariki Beach. Holy cow, amazing. Similar to the Oregon coast but much more rugged and more extreme. The Archway Islands, seen here, stand at the far northern end of the beach. The beach extends for about a mile further south of here. We went at mid-tide and were still able to scamper through archways and explore caves that are filled with water at high tide. Too cool.

From the Wharariki Beach, we cut up a bluff on the far east side and continued on to hike the Cape Farewell/Pillar Point Lighthouse Track. It’s about a 10km loop but since there is no “trail” per se, just colored posts marking where the headlands are, it’s rugged and challenging. But oh the views! The track cuts across sheep pastures and tickles the very edges of deep cliffs and inlets.

The impossibly blue water rushes into the ravines hundreds of feet below your hiking boots making a thundering noise in its urgency. Baby seals ride the waves like no human surfer was ever able to do. Farewell Spit, the longggg jutting and curved beach that stretches 26km off the far northern part of the island can be seen from the viewpoint once you reach the lighthouse. Lunch from this track was lovely.

Next up, the most unusual beach we have ever been to; Paturau Beach. In short, you just must go here. I could spend hours trying to describe the rock formations on this beach, but ultimately, I would fall short. I could show you pictures, like this one of me wandering about the beach but again, it wouldn’t be enough. Just do yourself a favor and go. The limestone rock on the beach has been channeled, fissured, eroded, scoured and tortured by the tides and waves to make the most dramatic rock features. Then the limestone ends and the mud and sandstone appear, forming arches and caves that dot the beach. Just make sure you go at low tide to see all you can.

Ready for another NZ “hike”? This time up to Rawhiti Cave. The hike is short but it gains an amazing amount of elevation in the last little stretch up to the cave. My watch said about 500 feet in the last km. That’s a lot. Bring water. Well worth the breath, the trail ends at the yawning mouth of the cave. Giant stalactites hang down from the roof and sides. There is ample sunlight that enters the cave causing the front, sunlit side of the stalactites to grow moss and algae. The plant matter is then incorporated into the stalactites by the ever-flowing calcium carbonate forming CURVED pinnacles called phytokarsts! (SCIENCE!)

Now here is where it gets interesting. We went for a little bit of a “tramp.” We were warned that it was hard. We were warned that it was steep. We were warned but still we persisted. Holy moly, was it hard and, holy moly, was it the BEST HIKE EVER. On a stunning mountain road connecting the west and east coasts of the south island at Arthur’s Pass, stands Avalanche Peak and home to what is commonly known as the island’s most challenging hike. As native NW’ers, we’ve done our fair share of hiking, but this was hiking at a whole other level. It lives up to it’s billing and gains over 3,400 feet in just over 3 miles. And we’re not talking nice stone stairs built into the trail. Picture roots as hand holds, loose scree under foot and boulders the size of vans standing in your way. At points the trail isn’t a so much a trail as it is steel rods bent and twisted by the constant movement of the rock giving you “guidelines” as to where the trail might have been before the latest winter avalanche.

But oh, the view on the way to the summit is delightful. Snow capped mountains, lush green valleys. Everything you want in an alpine hike. Including leg busting grades and colorful birds, such as these keas pictured here, that would eat you if they were only bigger. Going down was much harder than going up and we deserved ice cream, LOTS of ice cream when we finally made it to the valley floor.

And no trip to New Zealand would be complete without doing something “Lord of the Rings” related. And so we went to Edoras, home of the horse lords. Here, Joe is standing pretty much where the Golden Hall stood when they filmed the second movie. As with everything in NZ, it was absolutely stunning, if not a tad bit windy.

Finally, we made it further south and decided we couldn’t miss Mount Cook/Aoraki. The Hooker Valley Track makes up in scenery what it lacks in vertical elevation gain and quad busting strain. Not to say that it doesn’t steadily rise up a river valley, but it’s very slight and almost gentle for NZ. And, oh, the views. Both sides of the track are surrounded by towering alpine peaks, snow capped even at the end of a long, hot summer. Glaciers hang as if magically suspended from the canyons between the mountains, forming tiny streams that become rushing rivers as they merge and hit the valley below. The track ends at a glacier moraine formed lake, icebergs bob up and down in the milky water as they are steadily calved off at the head of the lake. Perfect spot for lunch and a nap in the sun.

 

Finally, I would be remiss if I failed to mention that en route to New Zealand we stopped over in Tasmania, Australia. A close family friend is studying there and since we were in the relative neighborhood, we figured we should see her too!

 

A dinghy sails into the mouth of River Derwent at the Port of Hobart, the second deepest natural harbor in the world.

Walking along a Lake Dobson in Mount Field National Park, Tasmania.

Dolerite cliffs of the Cape Hauy track in Tasman National Park.

We’re Joe and Jenny. Among the many hats (& bags!) that we wear are those of photographers for TOM BIHN. Pacific Northwest natives, we both moved to Seattle for college and never left — except for traveling, of course! When we’re not behind the camera, we have a lot of fun outdoors hiking, skiing and gardening. You can see more of our work at joenicholsonphotos.com and jenniferbuchananphotography.com. Joe’s Instagram handle is @jnichpix.

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10 Travel Tips to Make the Most of any Trip

10 Travel Tips to Make the Most of any Trip

I’m lucky enough to have been traveling pretty regularly for the past five or six years, from city breaks in Belgium to exploring the Antarctic peninsula and thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. Traveling is a part of everybody’s life in one way or another, whether on a daily commute or further afield on a multi-month adventure. My experiences have enabled me to dial in the gear I bring with me and to have a few tips to share that can help you make the most of any trip.

1. Bring less than you think you need

I’ve never been on a trip and thought, hmm, I wish I’d brought more stuff. It’s usually the opposite—I’ve brought a piece of gear that sat in the bottom of my bag and was used only once or twice on the entire trip.

There are some key items you should always bring with you, but we humans need very little stuff to survive and be happy. Having less stuff enables you to be more mobile, to immerse yourself in your surroundings, and focus on the experiences, not the things.

2. Think quality, not quantity

The things that you do bring with you should be tried and tested. You don’t want your equipment to fail—like when you’re running to catch the last train to your destination and you reach for the ticket inside your bag and the zipper jams and you can’t get it open and you rip the ticket and the furuntlun mmmprh grr! …  You get the idea. Living and traveling with less stuff is something we can all aspire to do but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy functional, quality items.

3. Bring a pack of cards or a travel board game

Boredom is boring. Traveling usually involves a lot of waiting around even without the inevitable delays, and having a game with you is a great way to pass some time and stimulate your brain. One of the reasons I prefer hostels to hotels is because you can get a bunch of strangers together over a fun game and maybe some adult sodas; then, within a really short space of time you can have a whole new group of friends to explore with.

4. If you spend the time and money to travel, then get out there and see the place!

If you spend your vacation to the Bahamas sitting at the hotel pool and eating in the hotel restaurant, then can you really say you’ve been to the Bahamas? Often, we see vacation and travel as a chance to relax and do nothing and there’s definitely a time and place for that, but it’s also okay to get off the beaten track sometimes, and even get a little lost.

I’ve been guilty of not getting out there and have regretted it, so I make a real conscious effort to get out and see the place for what it really is. One of my favorite ways of doing this is to find a coffee shop or restaurant that has zero tourists and sit and watch the world go by, listening to the conversations even if I don’t understand the language. That to me is travel.

5. Bring a foldable tote or backpack

I picked this packable tote up as a souvenir on our Antartica adventure back in 2013. Ever since I’ve had it, I’ve used it on a weekly basis and brought it on almost every trip. I try to keep my packing minimal, but having a secondary smaller bag that you can bring inside your day bag or handbag is so useful. Inevitably, you pick up some souvenirs or want to buy some food for an impromptu picnic—and voilà! You have your packable tote!

6. Bring snacks

Too many times, I’ve been stuck waiting around unexpectedly at 2 a.m. when everything around has closed and then hunger strikes. Now, whether I’m heading to the gym for a workout or catching a flight to Asia, I always try to bring some shelf stable snacks. I like mixed nuts and seeds and protein bars because they last a long time, are high in calories, and keep you full for longer. I’ve also learned that pulling out some snacks is a good way to make friends.

7. External batteries are extra convenient

My first experience using external batteries came on the Appalachian Trail last year. I needed a way to keep my devices charged between towns so I invested in a small 6700mah Anker battery pack. It charged my iPhone 6 two and half times, and I never ran of battery life the entire trip. I found it so useful I now carry one with me in my Everyday Carry and whenever I travel.

The ability to plug in devices and charge on the move rather than fight for a wall socket at a bus station or airport is huge. With the smaller versions, you can have your phone plugged in and charging inside your pocket.

8. Roll your clothes

I’ve experimented with different packing methods for clothes and I always come back to rolling my clothes and using a few different sized packing cubes. It helps me to keep my stuff organized, minimizes wrinkles, and saves space inside my bag.

9. Use a security wallet

I was told to pick up a travel wallet back in 2009 when I set out on my first solo trip and I’m still using it today. Yes, a travel wallet seems like one of those cringe-worthy, camera-around-the-neck, socks-and-sandals tourist gadgets, but I can’t say enough good things about mine.

Whenever I’m on the move, in the airport, moving from the hostel to the bus, or in any situation when I feel a little exposed, I have this bad boy on. It holds my passport, emergency credit card, vaccination certificate, the bulk of my cash, and all the sensitive stuff. I have a small coin purse style wallet that I use on a daily basis that holds enough cash for the day, a bank card, and ID, but if someone wants to rob me I can give that up and not lose everything. When the wallet is around my waist, I cover it with my shirt and it’s hardly noticeable. I personally prefer the belt style wallet, but many different styles are available so see what works for you.

10. Bring a smile and an open mind

Nothing you can bring with you on a trip can have a bigger impact than a positive attitude and a desire to push your comfort zones and see new things. On shorter trips, I find it difficult to leave home behind and really stay in the moment, but when I am away for a couple of weeks or more I begin to accept and love where I am. It doesn’t matter if the food sucks or it’s one hundred degrees in the shade—I am alive, I am here, and I am grateful.

I hope you found this post interesting and helpful; now get out there and have some adventures!

Pie is the author of pieonthetrail.com, which was originally conceived as a space to share his adventure thru-hiking the 2189 mile (3523km) Appalachian Trail. It’s since grown into a travel, adventure, and gear blog; see Pie’s reviews of the Aeronaut and Packing Cube Backpack here.

Part Two: Jenn’s Road Trip on Highway 1

Jenn's Road Trip on Highway 1

Be sure to read Part One of Jenn’s trip report, which details how and what she packed.

After finding out my husband would be in southern California for work, we decided to take advantage of having a paid flight and make it our vacation for the year. We did a cross-country road trip to the Pacific Northwest last year and fell in love with the Pacific Coast, so driving Highway 1 seemed like the best way to take in as much as possible in our 10 days. Normally, I would have planned our stops better but some unforeseen house problems at home (that nearly cancelled our trip) tied up all of my free time until the night before I was scheduled to fly out. Let’s just say, thank goodness for the chatty gent sitting next to me on the plane, who happened to have a fierce love for his home state!

First Stop: San Diego, California
Drinks: Champagne cocktails at Cody’s La Jolla.
Eats: The Cottage in La Jolla and Bistro D’Asia in Coronado.
Sights: We spent the better part of a day walking around Coronado. The homes are stunning and the Hotel del Coronado should not be missed—its architecture and beachfront make it a beautiful setting!

Second Stop: Ojai, California
Stay: There are some amazing Airbnbs here; however, Ojai Rancho Inn is fantastic with its own bar and pool with a relaxed vibe.
Eats: Everything at Hip Vegan Café was amazing, and being able to order anything on the menu doesn’t happen often for me.
Drinks: The Ojai Beverage Co. is a triple threat of bar, liquor store, and restaurant. Chris loved their fish tacos, which were highly recommended.
Sights/Activities: Bart’s Books, an open-air bookshop. The Ojai Certified Farmers’ Market on Sundays is potentially the best market I’ve ever been to—you can’t beat the variety! Last but not least, all the thrift stores!!!

Bart's Books of Ojai » The World's Greatest Outdoor Bookstore

Third Stop: Morro Bay, California
Drinks: Presqu’ile Winery is actually half way between Ojai and Morro Bay. My knowledge of anything wine-related is pretty much non-existent (craft beer is another story) but I loved their Sauvignon Blanc. The view was pretty lovely as well!
Coffee: Top Dog Coffee Bar. Can’t go wrong with a coffee shop that also has beer on tap! It’s inland a few blocks from the bay, which is probably why it felt more like a local spot.
Eats: Shine Café, another vegan spot, with kombucha on tap! Fish and chips from Giovanni’s was a recommendation from our Airbnb host that Chris was pretty happy with.
Sights/Activities: Morro Rock is the main draw of this fishing town turned vacation spot. We took a morning stroll through the Elfin Forest; the views of the bay here were some of my favorite at this stop. Once again, thrifting scene!

morro-bay

Fourth(ish) Stop: Big Sur, California
We didn’t actually spend the night anywhere in Big Sur but it highly deserves its own mention. We stretched a 3-hour drive into an 8-hour day with all our stopping to take in the views.

Big Sur Road Trip | TOM BIHN

Fifth Stop: Monterey, California
Eats: Crêpes of Brittany has delicious food but for me it was their almond milk chai—the best I’ve ever had!
Drinks: Alvarado Street Brewery—Chris liked their Citraveza so much he flew home a 4-pack. Their rotational sour didn’t disappoint either!

monterey

Sixth Stop: San Francisco, California
Drinks: 21st Amendment Brewing Co. is among my top favorite breweries and they serve their Hell or High Watermelon with a slice of watermelon. It’s perfection, especially after hoofing it around the city. Hi Dive is a fun hole in the wall if you’re on your way to AT&T Park for a game. And last but not least, margaritas from Mijita’s in the Ferry Building Marketplace.
Eats: We went to an Eat Drink SF event our first night in the city. You’ll pay a fee to get in and then have unlimited food, wine, and mixed drinks. The restaurants showcased some of their most popular dishes; unfortunately for me, that meant a lot of meat…so I ate some of the produce displayed throughout the venue and got my money’s worth from the beverages. It was still a blast and Chris was able to sample some of the best places and dishes from around the city. Sausalito Bakery and Café was a great brunch stop after taking the ferry across the bay.
Sights/Attractions: Pier 39 for the sea lions! I was a sucker for those guys the whole trip! We also took ferry rides around the bay. We weren’t able to do an Alcatraz tour so that was as close as we got. We’ll definitely be doing a tour during our next visit.

sf

Part One: How Jenn Packed For Her Road Trip

Jenn's Road Trip With The Aeronaut 45 Travel Bag Packing List | TOM BIHN

Light packing has always been a bit of a stretch or wishful thinking for me. I used to lean towards a “more = better prepared” philosophy instead of “planning = better prepared.” However, in the last couple of years we’ve begun to pare down our belongings and expenses and concentrate on things that really make us happy. The freedom to travel and experience as much as we can started to make its way up our priority list.

With a 10-day trip up Highway 1 on the horizon, I knew I wanted an Aeronaut, but I was extremely unsure which of the two sizes I needed. I was flying by myself for the first time in nearly 15 years…and I’m not a fan of flying, not to mention the hassle and cost of checking a bag, or the risk of losing said bag. I wanted to be able to pack for the whole trip in a carry-on. Ideally, I hoped to fit everything in the Aeronaut 30 but I ordered an Aeronaut 45 too as a potential contender in case my newfound packing skills didn’t turn out to be so good.

A couple of weeks before the trip, I started to check the weather for each of our stops and plan my packing accordingly. The day the bags showed up, I pulled out the items on my packing list and put them in a pile. I wasn’t at all confident that I could make everything fit in just a carry-on. However, I had read that multiple other travelers had had the same doubts until they tried organizing all their stuff in packing cubes. Before I threw in the towel, I had to see for myself if cubes could work for me. I’m happy to say they do! The only things I ended up not packing were things I never had on my list to begin with, the things I grabbed in a panic “just in case.”

Jenn's Road Trip With The Aeronaut 45 Travel Bag Packing List | TOM BIHN

My entire packing list for a 10-day trip up the Pacific Coast Highway included:

  • 6 bottoms: 2 pairs of jeans, 1 pair of chinos, 2 pairs of shorts, and 1 pair of leggings
  • 3 dresses
  • 9 tops: 4 tees, 3 button ups, 2 tanks
  • 1 sweater
  • 1 jacket
  • 3 pairs of shoes: sandals, clogs, and Keds (I did end up buying a pair of Sanuks on the trip)
  • 2 sleep shirts
  • 3 pairs of socks
  • 5 pairs of underwear
  • 3 bras
  • 1 bikini
  • Toiletries: deodorant, toothbrush, concealer, blush, razor, face oil, and a hair tie
  • Other: sunglasses, phone charger, canteen, 2 stainless sporks, a cloth napkin, 2 cloth bags, headphones, camera and lens, Turkish towel, watch, iPad and charger, a foldable purse, and 3 books

Jenn's Road Trip With The Aeronaut 45 Travel Bag Packing List | TOM BIHN

I was able to fit everything above in the Aeronaut 30 and the Night Flight Travel Duffel. I wore my bulkiest items on the days that I flew to save space and I carried my jacket. I also found it helpful to clip my Klean Kanteen to the Aeronaut’s sternum strap when I carried it as a backpack.

Jenn's Road Trip With The Aeronaut 45 Travel Bag Packing List | TOM BIHN

jenn-packing-5

Packing lessons learned on this trip:

Don’t do any wishful thinking with regards to weather. Being from the Midwest, I felt like even coastal California would be warm. With the exception of the first four nights of the trip in San Diego and Ojai, I was cooler than I would have preferred. I could have done without one or two of those dresses, a pair of shorts, and sleep shirts in exchange for another sweater and a pair of sweatpants.

Pack everything in the same order. I used three packing cubes for the Aeronaut: one for bottoms, another for tops and dresses, and one of the smaller ones for sleepwear and underwear. Early on, I got in the habit of putting the cube with bottoms in the main compartment first, and then the cube with my tops. It took the guesswork out of which cube I needed when reaching for something.

Keep toiletries to a minimum. I used one 3D Organizer Cube for everything I needed. I also tried to forego as much as possible, meaning no toothpaste (sorry if that’s gross, but 10 days of brushing with water only won’t kill anyone), nothing for hair styling, and bare bones for makeup (frees up time to do other things, plus we could all stand to love ourselves a little bit more these days sans face paint).

Use a duffel as a personal item. I used the Night Flight as my personal item on flight days and packed my regular purse in the Aeronaut. I used one of the end pockets of the duffel to hold my regular purse items. Once I reached my final destination I transferred my wallet, phone, and canteen back into my purse. This was the best way for me to take my regular purse—along with everything else—while sticking to the 2 bag carry-on rule.

Be sure to read the rest of Jenn’s trip report here!

How to Choose Where to Go on Your Next Trip

How to choose your next travel destination | TOM BIHN

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I intended to be.”
—Douglas Adams


Where are you going on your next trip?

If you’re like us, the number of destinations on your travel wish list probably exceeds your vacation days. Of all the contenders on your travel wish list, which is the one you should set your heart on, and dream and plan for? This question might be further complicated by indecision over when you’ll go and what you will do. Most folks have professional and personal lives that place limitations on the amount of time available for leisure travel, not to mention financial constraints. Moreover, the travel you want to do (Paris in the springtime!) may compete with the travel you must do (that regrettable wedding in Topeka!).

Trying to generate a destination without any forethought or deliberation can be a non-starter. If you don’t travel frequently, you might be feeling even more pressure to choose and execute your trip perfectly; anxiety over planning can be a major stumbling block to actually getting out there. When you add up all the variables, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the possibilities, all the options.

While we can’t dictate your next destination (SEATTLE—oops, sorry), we’ve thought of some questions you can ask yourself to help you pinpoint what you’re really hoping to get out of your trip. From there, you can winnow the mental list of places you’d like to visit to just one: your next travel destination.

Do a travel brain dump

You may already know that your next trip will be either to Spain or Austria; if that’s the case, you may not need to generate a travel list to help you pick a contender. But if you are finding yourself inundated with options, it can be helpful to put everything on paper in order to tame the chaos.

To get a good list, the first step is to do a brain dump. You might be familiar with this rather inelegantly-named activity if you’ve read David Allen’s Getting Things Done. Allen argues that in order to accomplish things, the first step is to list everything that must be done—it’s only after seeing the totality of your thoughts and ideas when vague to-dos can begin to be translated into actionable steps.

To do a travel brain dump, consider the following: Where would I like to go? When do I want/have to go? What do I want to do? Then just list everything and anything that you can think of. This list can and should be quite long, and the sky’s the limit. Don’t worry about categorizing or thinking through logistics at this point.

The travel brain dump is great for seeing all of the places you might want to go and things you might want to do. It’s a list you can return to again and again, adding and removing items as your interests and commitments evolve. Once you have this big list, you can start thinking about what seems most doable, fun, and affordable for you right now.

Determine your top travel priority

Check out your master list. Right away, you’ll probably recognize some destinations or activities that, on second thought, aren’t actually that appealing or are simply not possible right now. You can save those for another time, but for now, think about your top travel priority—the number-one consideration in your deliberations. Is the most important thing a specific location, or is it a time of year or activity? Once you know what’s most important to you, you can refine your list by asking more pointed questions, the answers to which will be more specific and context-based.

Let’s pretend that next year, you can take a 10-day trip in September or October—this part of the equation is non-negotiable. From this central priority you might ask: how far afield can you realistically go in that amount of time—that is, would it be better to go somewhere that you can get to more quickly, or are you willing to power through the travel time and jet lag in order to get to a particular destination? Is somewhere better in terms of seasonal activities, sights, or cultural events? Note that there is no right answer to these questions. One person might be able to go to the other side of the world, whereas another won’t want to travel more than four or five hours. Just be honest about what you want and are able to do.

Say you’re flexible about where you go, but you want to do certain things either there or en route. For example: museums, theatre, and nightlife? Quiet walks through an idyllic countryside? Snowmobiling to an ice hut? Running across a black sand beach? Seeing a bunch of castles, or churches, or monuments? Beginning your search with your most-desired activities can lead you to discover some potential destinations you may not have considered: ecotourism in Bolivia, winery-hopping in Hungary, cooking classes in Morocco. Or perhaps a week of hiking, swimming, and visiting out-of-the way restaurants in an area closer to home that you didn’t even know existed.

These questions will lead you into a phase of research: local weather, average prices for accommodations and food, the exchange rate, stuff to do, and so on. While we can’t guarantee it, it’s likely that as you gather this information, someplace will latch on to your conscious or subconscious mind. You’ll find yourself daydreaming about the sights and sounds of a given place, mentally running through your travel wardrobe, wondering how to say phrases in a different language. It’s a very good sign that place is where you want to go next.

Note: don’t throw away the information you’ve amassed on other locations, though—having this knowledge ready to hand can help you plan a trip further down the road, or be ready to act if an unexpected opportunity drops into your lap.

The journey: or, how to get to where you’re going

Now that you know where you’re going, how will you get there? Sometimes, for the sake of simplicity, economy, or logistical necessity, you may find yourself booking a flight or reaching for your car keys. But be sure in the course of your research to investigate if there are transportation options that you may have not considered that could add enjoyment, convenience, or a different facet to your trip.

You could drive your own car down Route 66, but renting a convertible or driving a motorcycle might be more fun. Maybe instead of taking a train between Paris and Rome, there’s a discount flight that will have you smooching your honey on the Spanish Steps that much more quickly. If you plan to take a driving trip, renting a camper van or Airstream could let you take your lodging with you. Instead of driving to one of America’s national parks, you could take the train.

Also consider transportation at your destination: once you’re there, will you stay put or move about? For example, will you rent a car to drive over the Alps, take a plane or train, or traverse on foot, hut-hopping as you go?

Letting go of worry so you can go

Finally, you know where you want to go. You know the time of year, what you’ll do when you’re there, and how you’ll get there. Yet, something’s keeping you from buying that plane ticket or putting down the deposit on the dog sled expedition. What on earth is happening? You were supposed to be excited—after all, you wanted this.

There are many things you could worry about as the trip moves from the realm of fantasy to actuality. Especially if you aren’t able to travel often, the pressure to plan a flawless trip can have you second-guessing all of your decisions. As hard as it might be, try to put that worry on the shelf. Sure, it’s true that a cheaper ticket might become available, or that there’s an awesome activity or event you won’t know about in time. While it’s easy to get consumed by analysis paralysis, in the end your journey can’t start until you commit to packing your bag.

Take that leap of faith that you have chosen exactly where you must go and why you must go, and that the right time is right now.

Caroline and Clark’s Family Travel Tips

Caroline and Clark's Family Travel Tips | TOM BIHN Blog

Caroline and Clark took their 8-month-old on a family trip to Italy in late 2016. They shared a few photos from the trip with us and a few travel tips, too.

~ Don’t lose your sense of humor! Traveling with an infant can add its own set of challenges, so it’s important to be able to laugh, and most importantly, laugh together.

~ Stay flexible. This is true any time you travel, but is especially true when traveling abroad with a baby!

~ Set realistic expectations. For us, it was unrealistic to think we could be sight-seeing late into the night. We were on the same page about this going in to the trip, which was great.

~ Staying organized was so important for us! Our bags allowed for easy access to things we needed on the go. Each bag is well thought and will last a lifetime. We carried an Aeronaut 45, Daylight Backpack, and various accessories.

Caroline is a Creative Stylist & Designer who tells stories by creating beautiful environments; Clark is a professional photographer who captures stories with his lens. Their home base is Nashville, Tennessee. Main photo by Cody Myers. Photos below are by Clark Brewer.

Caroline and Clark's Family Travel Tips | TOM BIHN Blog

Caroline and Clark's Family Travel Tips | TOM BIHN Blog

Caroline and Clark's Family Travel Tips | TOM BIHN Blog

Caroline and Clark's Family Travel Tips | TOM BIHN Blog

Caroline and Clark's Family Travel Tips | TOM BIHN Blog

Caroline and Clark's Family Travel Tips | TOM BIHN Blog

“Basic Economy” Airfare and Carry-on Bags

Just a few days ago, American Airlines announced that it is joining United Airlines and Delta (the largest airline carriers in the U.S.) in offering a fare class called “Basic Economy.” The concept behind Basic Economy airfares is simple: passengers get a seat at a discount, but the lower price means restrictions are in place: Basic Economy passengers don’t get to select their seat when they book, aren’t eligible for fare upgrades, and can’t make changes to their itinerary.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because budget airlines like Spirit, Frontier, and Allegiant operate with similar restrictions. On these airlines, passengers can pay to upgrade their in-flight amenities. On the legacy carriers, Basic Economy passengers usually get the same access to beverages, snacks, and in-flight entertainment as those in regular Economy; however, they typically board the plane last and cannot purchase priority boarding privileges.

Each airline has its own restrictions and exceptions regarding carry-on luggage, but in general, Basic Economy passengers are not allowed to use overhead bin space or purchase extra in-cabin baggage allowances, and are limited to one bag that fits under the seat in front of them. Delta does not restrict carry-ons, but because Basic Economy passengers board last, they are unlikely to find any bin space available. Passengers who have more than one bag or whose bag does not fit in the sizer will be required to gate check and must pay a gate-checking fee in addition to the checked bag fee.

It’s important to emphasize that Basic Economy passengers can check a too-large bag voluntarily. Additionally, all three airlines have retained their regular Economy class, which allows one carry-on and one personal item. To put it another way, most Economy travelers have the option to select the fare that they want.

Those who will be most affected by Basic Economy are travelers on a tight budget (who likely don’t want to pay to check a bag), and business travelers who are required to travel in the lowest fare class available and who may not have time to wait at baggage claim for a checked bag. Those folks will want to make sure their bag fits the size requirements.

A “personal item” is usually defined as a briefcase, purse, backpack, or other small bag that can fit underneath the seat. In general, bags whose external dimensions are no larger than 36 linear inches qualify as personal item sized. In a blog post we published nearly three years ago, we listed our bags that fit United Airlines’ definition of a personal item.

We’ve updated the list to include new designs, and divided them into two categories: bags that can be used either as a personal item or a hold-all for clothing plus gear, and those that work best as a traditional personal item. Your mileage may vary depending on what you need to carry and your clothing size.

Note: Some of the bags we mention have external dimensions that are slightly greater than 36 linear inches, but as we explained in our previous post, if the bags aren’t over-packed they can easily be pressed down to fit in the sizer.

Under-the-Seat-Friendly Bags For Clothes and Gear

Western Flyer

Daylight Backpack 

Synapse 19Synapse 25

Smart Alec

Yeoman Duffel, Sizes Mini and Small 

Night Flight Travel Duffel 

Pilot

Swift

Parental Unit

Large Cafe Bag

The Maker’s Bag

Empire Builder

Founder’s Briefcase

 

Under-the-Seat-Friendly Personal Item Bags

Co-Pilot

Small Cafe BagMedium Cafe Bag

Daylight Briefcase

Cadet

Brain Cell

Ristretto

 

If you have questions about specific bags, don’t hesitate to email or call us, or join the discussion about Basic Economy airfare on the Forum.

Games for the Road

Travel Games For The Road | TOM BIHN

Travel can be fun, but in some instances it can be long and monotonous, whether we’re talking about a 45-hour cross-country train ride, a 10-hour international plane ride, a 5-hour bus trip, or a 3-hour Shinkansen. When it’s one of those times, it pays to keep yourself occupied. Other times, playing games can be a great icebreaker with new acquaintances or a familiar past-time for old friends.

There are a few criteria for what makes a good travel game:

Portability

Portability is a given: you don’t want to haul more weight than you have to, especially since you’ll want it on your person so you can play it at your leisure, and it needs to be easy to take out of your bags in tight spaces.

Few Moving Pieces

Few moving pieces means less pieces to chase after or replace on the game board when the plane hits a patch of turbulence or you accidentally roll off the table/tray. You want to play the game you brought, not the game of corralling pieces and trying to remember where they were supposed to be before the board got bumped.

Small Footprint

A small footprint is a must for games you plan to play on a train or in a bus where you likely only have personal trays to use as a play space – balancing boards between trays and hoping it doesn’t collapse in the middle is simply no fun.

Specific Recommendations and Types of Games

Lying games – games that use deception and calling out apparent lies as a risk-reward mechanism to drive gameplay – and hidden-role games tend to be pretty good for trips because many games in this category are just a deck of cards that you deal out and some don’t require any table space at all and just have the players hold a card that explains their role.

love-letter-1024

A few of the greats in the hidden-role genre are Love Letter, The Resistance: Avalon, and Werewolf. Love Letter is good for 2 – 4 people, with the premise of getting your love letter as close to the princess as possible without getting found out. The Resistance: Avalon is great hidden-role game for 5 – 10, with the premise that one person is Merlin trying to get the virtuous knights (most of the other players) to stop Mordred’s minions (2 – 4 of the players) from sabotaging their missions without giving himself away. In Werewolf, you are townspeople trying to kill the werewolf (or werewolves), but many of the townspeople have ulterior motives.

dice-1024

I prefer to personally stay away from dice games as travel games because it’s so easy to lose dice but I tend to always have dice and end up playing some anyway. Zombie Dice is my favorite exception to that rule: it’s quick, tons of fun, and it’s container is a dice cup to help keep it contained. Speaking of dice games, if you have a little bit of room Liars’ Dice is a great, simple game that only requires a few sets of same-sided dice and being a better liar than your opponent – I suggest bringing dice-cups, though.

phones-1024

If you’re somewhere that has consistent, affordable access to WiFi, a lot of the larger game makers are making digital versions of their smash-hits that you can play with friends online. Ticket to Ride, Settlers of Catan, and Ascension are all now available as digital versions for under $10 (although that’s a per-device fee in most cases, so everyone who wants to play will need to have it bought and downloaded), but those three are just the tip of the iceberg! There’s little better than having a full board game with none of the pieces to lose or boxes to pack when on a trip.

codenames-1024

I’ve mentioned a few team games already thus far, but I think that the best team game that also happens to have a fairly small footprint is Codenames. This is a game that requires at least 4 people and a little bit of tablespace to put out the codenames and color map for the codemasters but man is it worth it. You and your friends will get into a “one more game” cycle pretty easily with this one!

Remember that these games are just starting points – the guidelines above will help you find your own new classics and travel musts. Games come in many shapes and sizes with all sorts of time and space requirements, so with enough time you will find the game that fits you if none of these do. You’ll do well if you remember the two rules of gaming: the best game is the one that everyone wants to play and the point of every game is to have fun!

Matthew is the Fulfillment Web & Documentation Lead at TOM BIHN. When he isn’t writing, helping people post on the forums or sipping coffee from a unicorn-themed mug, his wife Bea, tuxedo cat Agatha, and him are taking silly pictures or playing board games.

News Briefs

We posted a very early heads-up on our March 1st, 2019 (roughly 6%) price increase in the Forums along with news of Shop Bags in 210d ballistic nylon.

Ben Brooks has published a review of Nik’s Minimalist Wallets and @everydaycommentary posted about his every day carry step up (hint: it includes a Minimalist Wallet!)

Our 2018 Holiday Schedule is up. Check it out for important shipping deadlines and our holiday hours. P.S. Our Seattle Factory Showroom will be open the rare Saturday on December 8th from 10:00am until 2:00pm Pacific Time.

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