Podcast #141 — When You Think the TSA is Bad…; Expired Money

Effects of Extended Exposure to TSA Scan

A last-minute trip to Pune, India provided more than enough material for this episode — a visa dash, very hands-on airport security, worthless rupee notes, flight disruptions…. We also read the obits for a couple of smart bag companies and hear why MSP’s T2 isn’t so ghetto after all. All this and more at the direct link to the podcast file or listening to it right here by clicking on the arrow below.

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Podcast #140 — Travel Tech Gets Physical; Pay Attention to the Safety Briefing

The Look of Augmented Reality?

Broke out the mobile unit to record this episode in the Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta; much warmer than getting caught in a spring snow storm in Milwaukee. When much of the travel tech news is about the latest phone apps, we talk about physical travel technology that we can touch and carry. And when flying during the past two weeks, flight attendants’ safety demonstrations have become a bit more strident. All this and more at the direct link to the podcast file or listening to it right here by clicking on the arrow below.

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Podcast #139 — Brewing Best Hotel Room Coffee; Notes from Spain

Returning to the mic after 10 days of food, wine, wind, rain, and snow in the north of Spain. I talk about traveling in Spain, and with my guest Coleman Collins about how to make the best coffee in your hotel room.  All this and more at the direct link to the podcast file or listening to it right here by clicking on the arrow below.

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Podcast #138 — Travel Turning Me Hipster; Every Delay Has a Story

TSA! Look at What You’ve Done to Me!

February is a tough time to be in the Midwest, so when my travel took me south, to New Orleans and then to Florida, there was no bitch tweeting about the TSA lines or flight delays. In this episode, I walk through how each change in airport security has pushed me to be more hipster and how we all want to understand the real cause of the flight delays that inconvenience us. Also a good bit of listener feedback extending the on-going luggage discussion. All this and more at the direct link to the podcast file or listening to it right here by clicking on the arrow below.

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Tips for Buying A Suitcase

Rejected and Retired Suitcases

I’ve been putting off shopping for a new bag for a long time, as in years. Up until a few months ago, I was using a vintage Swiss Army black roller that still sported the Vietnamese and Hong Kong customs stickers it picked up in 2008. A few years ago, I’d retired it in favor of a grey Samsonite bag, but had to force the old vet back into service when the Samsonite’s rollers got wonky — the rubber wore off and the wheels splayed out after 2½ years of trundling across New Orleans sidewalks.

But then, right before Thanksgiving, the old Swiss guy resigned, rendering itself unusable when its retractable handle stuck in the extended position. I was still able to avoid luggage shopping, though. I  pulled out the Bluesmart smart bag I’d bought from their Indiegogo fundraising campaign. I recharged the battery, updated its iPhone app, and put it back into service — only to read the next week that it was about to be banned by airlines because its lithium battery isn’t removable.

With nothing left in the attic, I was finally forced to shop for a new suitcase. But what to buy? I started with a survey of fellow travelers. Actually, it was more like stalking; I eyeballed every piece of luggage that passed by me for two weeks. Then I wandered through the basement luggage departments of a couple of Macy’s, opening bags and waving off clerks. After all that, I gave into my OCD and built this prioritized list of suitcase shopping evaluation criteria:

  1. The bag has to be a carry-on. Now that may seem a bit of a “duh”, but there is some ambiguity; the approved height of a carry-on bag varies by airline between 19 and 22-inches. If I want to play it safe, I’d go for a 20-inch bag, but then I also want to maximize my carry-on space. Most US carriers accept a 22-inch bag and that’s mostly what I fly, and even when I’m on European carriers I usually have enough alliance status to glide past the baggage sizer. So I tilt the balance in favor of maximum packing volume and go for a 22-inch bag.
  2. It needs to be black. As I said in my Ruthless Packing Tips post, black not only makes you look thinner, it makes your bag look thinner to gate agents scanning for bag-sizer bait. Black also doesn’t show stains. My grey Samsonite bag, after 3-4 months of my travel schedule, started to look a lot less non-black. Smudges from grease on overhead bin hinges, muck from taxi trunks, muddy water from New Orleans gutters, spilled coffee…. It’s why I can’t have nice luggage.
  3. Two wheels, not four. This is more of a personal preference. My Bluesmart is a 4-wheel spinner and my wife swears by hers, but because the 4 wheels have to extend from the bottom of the bag, spinners sacrifice packing space for agility. Also, I find 4-wheelers have a tendency to wander off — rolling away down ramps or on uneven floors. I go for the 2-wheeler, and with the biggest wheels I can find to make it an easier, smoother pull. I was surprised how much this limited my selection. Spinners definitely rule.
  4. The inside of the suitcase has to be plain and empty. No clever collection of zipped compartments, or built-in suit hangers, or ratcheting clothes dividers; just a wide open box that I’m free to structure how I want for each trip. I was surprised how this also limited my selection. Indeed, in the end, I couldn’t find just a plain box, and settled for a bag where I could detach the suit hanger and clothes divider and stash that stuff up in Luggage Retirement Home next to the Bluesmart.
  5. Buy on-line. A recent study of 32,672 luggage price showed that you can save an average of $110/39% buying on-line. Walmart and Target’s on-line stores had the highest discounts. And while Amazon was in 10th place for average discount (in the 40% range), it was tops with the greatest variety — over 12,000 luggage items.

Podcast #137 — New Year’s Travel Status Tips; How to Shop for a Suitcase

How many nights to get Leopard Print status?

So we’re four weeks into the new year and 30-50% of us have already ditched our New Year’s resolutions, but we still have time to get our 2018 travel status lined up. Over the holiday break, I bought a non-smart carry-on to replace my now-banned Bluesmart; I walk through my shopping criteria. All this and more at the direct link to the podcast file or listening to it right here by clicking on the arrow below.

Thanks to TravelPerk for sponsoring this episode. » Read more…

Looking Back at 2017 — The Highs and The Lows

After clearing the mists of last night’s New Year’s Eve party, I thought about some of the highlights and lowlights of my travels in 2017

Highlights

  • Uber/Lyft Driver Stories — Not only are Uber and Lyft rides easier to get than most taxis, the stories the drivers tell are a lot more entertaining. A Lyft driver in Charlottesville gave me a local’s view on the Robert E. Lee statue controversy while a Uber driver told me why driving full-time in Chicago traffic was less stressful than being a hotel manager.
  • Continued Craft Beer Explosion — Regular podcast listeners know that I have a craft beer obsession. The hunt for new beers and microbrewery taprooms helps me break out of the usual travel rut — places like a light industrial area in Richmond, Virginia and a North African neighborhood on the west side of Paris.
  • Hertz’s Presidents Circle Aisle — My experience with Hertz has completely turned around — from enduring a steady stream of beat-up high-mileage cars to picking out a new Jag. Three years ago, I paid no attention to Hertz’s loyalty program. Two months ago, I made sure I had enough rentals to re-up my Presidents Club status for this year.
  • Hotel Flat-Screen TVs with Open HDMI Ports — When I started traveling, hotel TVs were locked down tight because in-room movie rentals was a major revenue stream. While that stream dried up years before LodgeNet went bankrupt in 2013, hotels kept their TVs locked down and we resigned ourselves to watching Netflix on 14-inch laptop screens. But now that the latest generation of flat-screen TVs have open HDMI ports, I’ve added an HDMI cable to my standard travel kit so I can plug my laptop in and watch movies on a 40-inch screen again.
  • Google Translate — Thinking through my international travel this year (Paris, Vienna, Budapest), Google Translate has evolved to being pretty close to magic. The Word Lens feature lets you point your phone camera at, say, a menu and see English words replacing the French in real time. Saves you from mistakenly ordering chicken when you mix up poulet and poisson after a couple of cocktails.
  • Top 3 Airports — SFO’s new Terminal 2 which I think is better than perennial list toppers Singapore and Hong Kong, and then two pleasant surprises in May at Vienna and Budapest airports.

Lowlights

  • Passenger-Airline Personnel Conflicts Become Physical — The worst thing that used to happen was raised voices between a gate agent and a bumped passenger. That now seems very quaint after United Airlines had ORD Security Police drag a passenger off a plane to make room for one of their employees.
  • Overtourism — The #TouristGoHome campaign gaining traction in places like Barcelona and Venice recasts  the travel industry as a resource-consuming zero-sum game that crowds out and prices out locals from the historic centers of their cities. Iceland is the poster child for overtourism with an estimated 2.3 million tourists in 2017 visiting a country with 340,000 residents. It’s a wider threat, though; the dark side of the growth of Airbnb and budget airlines like WOW Air.
  • Smart Luggage Ban — After two years of carrying GPS-enabled bags from start-ups like Bluesmart without incident, US airlines decided just before Christmas that the batteries powering those location trackers are a fire hazard and will be banned as of January 15. A lot of frequent travelers are going to need to find closet space for their expensive but now-obsolete luggage.
  • Full Planes with Tight Seats — Airlines are flying fuller planes — reducing the number of empty seats, and adding more rows. The tighter confines of the coach cabin make it difficult to do much more than sit up straight and listen to podcasts. I’ve given up on trying to work on airplanes. It seems almost anti-social to try to open a laptop.
  • Lobbying for High Review Ratings — More and more hotels, restaurants, and other travel businesses see anything other than a 5-star rating as an insult.
  • Bottom 3 Airports — New York-LaGuardia (construction disruptions reinforce its bottom spot), Munich, and Atlanta (60-90 minutes of heavy traffic between the airport and most of Atlanta’s business destinations)

Podcast #136 — Is Cash A Waning King; Don’t Make It Hard to Cash in on Loyalty

A C-Note for you, and you, and you…

After traveling with younger colleagues who pay for everything with cards, I wonder if I’m the last generation of cash payers. I also talk about the upcoming smart luggage ban on US airlines and a long Saturday afternoon trying to redeem some British Airways Avios points. All this, a new Uber driver story, and a few Christmas carols at the direct link to the podcast file or listening to it right here by clicking on the arrow below.
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