The holidays mean different things to different people but north or south, east or west, this is the season for gifts and travel. Below some products I sampled and tips I collected wandering the globe this year. It is my gift and my pleasure to share them with you.
Where you stay
When I travel, I often stay with locals by booking myself into someone’s home through Airbnb. When I learned about its Dublin-based competitor, Homestay, this summer I decided to give it a try on my Eurail trip through Eastern Europe.
With both companies you are booking yourself into someone’s private home. Due to Airbnb’s success, however, these days you have as good a chance of renting someone’s investment property as you do finding the family dog at the foot of your bed.
Assuming many home-share guests really do want to mingle with the occupants, Homestay discourages the real estate professionals by requiring hosts to live in the property and provide breakfast to their guests as well.
Nevertheless, when we arrived in Berlin, our host informed us he was not going to be in residence while my husband and I were in his apartment. He did give us maps, travel tips and a thorough orientation to his home, which I might add was beautiful and conveniently located.
At our next next stop in Prague, I was starting to ask, “Is it me?” because that owner wasn’t there for my stay either.
The owners of the gorgeous castle in the shadow of the 17th century Wallenstein Palace had arranged for a friend, Marketa Schrockova, to be our hostess and guide. And in way the world sometimes tells you it is very small indeed, Marketa turned out to be just two degrees of separation from a dear friend of mine in Connecticut.
Our accommodations in both cities; a spacious and modern apartment near Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin and our 3rd floor antiques-filled suite tucked into the eves were phenomenal, the kind of places that made us feel we’d not only visited these cities, we’d lived in them. Hotels rarely deliver that experience.
What you wear
My best travel find this year, borders on TMI (too much information). The story begins in Australia during a three-day bike trip on the Great Victorian Rail Trail north of Melbourne.
As I reported for The New York Times, more experienced long-range riders knew what I did not; travel with your own bike seat.
In my ignorance, I set out on day one, with 35 miles of pavement ahead of me, and a too-soft seat below. By the end of my first day I had painful blisters, less than than half the ride completed and two days more to go.
My solution was to buy tight men’s cotton boxers which worked like compression shorts and made the rest of my trip, if not pain-free, at least endurable.
Later that year, on a five day ride around on the Bodensee Trail in Germany, I brought those boxers with me and instead of wearing bike shorts, I wore them under a summer skirt. Walking around town, I didn’t have to feel I was strutting my stuff in spandex. Now I don’t leave home without those boxers because they’re good pajama pants too. Men’s undies are my new travel essential.
What you carry
I’m clearly out of step with the times being shy about wearing clingy workout clothes. But with the increasing popularity of athleisure fashion and improvements in wrinkle resistant dresses, few women need to travel with a garment bag, me included. Still, I accepted the opportunity to test drive a new ECBC rolling carry-on suit bag on recent work trip to Dayton.
I’ve written previously about ECBC luggage. These are quality suitcases and backpacks, worth their hefty price tag. They are smartly designed, well-made and capacious.
The Sparrow II sacrifices some of that space with a second chamber for hanging garments. Each corner has zippered storage for belts, ties and socks. Presumably, you don’t even need to open this side until its time to get ready for work.
The second side is for everything else. As with all ECBC bags, there’s an outer pocket for electronic devices that unzips on all three sides so your laptop stays put even going through the TSA checkpoint. A 5 volt portable battery comes with each bag.
The Sparrow II is good gift for a certain kind of traveler; one who needs formal suits on the road. Only that kind of clothing needs such space-consuming coddling.
As for me, I’d rather have room in my suitcase for shoes because no matter how I pare things down, I still need, heels, flats, athletic shoes and slippers when I travel. Find me the solution to that space-eating dilemma and you’ll be giving me a most useful gift.