Video – Chicago MDW Layover Taproom Tour

With a bit of forethought, a 4-5 hour layover allows you to do a quick flyby of a new city’s highlights, or get deep into some part of a city. In this video, we’re laying over at Midway, Chicago’s older, less-known airport and one of Southwest’s busiest stations, skipping the usual tourist spots and instead for what can only be described as the “post-industrial” landscape of Chicago’s near South Side for a tour of 4 craft beer taprooms — Lagunitas Brewing, Lo Rez Brewing, Marz Community Brewing, and Whiner Beer

Podcast #142 — Sleeping in Business Class; Changes from Chinese Tourists

What’s the Chinese character for “wurst”?

Yet another last-minute long-distance trip, this time to Frankfurt, Germany, lets me check out United Airlines’ new business class service, and think again about the value for those expensive lie-flat seats. Seeing a new Chinese menu at a favorite wurst stand in the old part of Frankfurt reminds me of the changes driven by the new wave of Chinese tourists. I also read recent PR pitches for a new smart bag and a business traveler’s biohack. 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 #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…