A professional traveler’s commentary on items useful, useless or otherwise noted as you prepare to head out the door on your own adventure. These posts are excerpted from Rowan Tree Travel & Fibercraft’s quarterly newsletter. However, it’s nice to have them here as well, for other folks to peruse. Let me know if you have questions, suggestions or specific experience with travel-related products you think I might want to test. Everything mentioned below is paid for by ME, so you know I’m giving you honest opinions and am not influenced by the fact that I’ve gotten something for free. Nope. I’ve paid cold, hard cash out of my own pocket. And if you, like me, have limited pockets, it’s important to know when and where to spend your money. Hope this helps.
Winter 2023: Bags are Your Friends – Audio Gear – Barefoot Shoes
Suzie’s Gear Corner Because gear is almost as addictive as yarn.
This quarter, I’ve got just a few Q & As that I hope will make travel — and packing for it — a bit easier. Let’s get right to ’em.
Q: I’ve got a lot of small items to bring along. How can I keep them from disappearing into the vast sea of stuff in my luggage?
A: Based on what I pack for travel, I’m guessing you’ve got an array of items like adapters, backup toiletries, various cords and chargers, a laundry line, medicines, feminine products, a sewing kit, your crafting tools, reading material, etc. I’ve got two recommendations for organizing and keeping track of this stuff.
Top: Organizational pockets offered in my Samsonite carryon and Cotopaxi Alpa 42 travel backpack. If you got it, use it! Bottom: If you don’t, an assortment of cubes, pouches and bags will work just as well. Sometimes even better.
First, think about grouping and storing similar items together. You can utilize luggage pockets if you have good, built in organizational options. If not, get yourself packing cubes and/or small bags in different sizes. I’m a huge proponent of compressible packing cubes. My personal faves are from Eagle Creek In my luggage, packing cubes are for clothing though, and everything else gets stored in zip pouches. Don’t have bags like that? Grab some ziplock bags. Use them to pack and bring a few extras along in various sizes. They are waterproof, see-through and inexpensive. (Hooray! Spend that money on tea & scones instead!) Ziplocks are perfect for holding things purchased along the way, like yarn and small gifts. I’ve even been known to wash underwear in them when a sink won’t properly hold water. Last, but not least, keep your eye out for small, useful containers to scour and repurpose for really tiny items. Pro tip: don’t use tin containers for small items. The scanners at airport security cannot see into them. Your carry-on luggage will ALWAYS get pulled for the extra, inside-and-out hand inspection. Frustrating and time consuming.
I’m unreasonably proud of this sewing kit made from a repurposed single-use Krazy Glue package. It’s about the size of a business card and includes a seam ripper! Toothpick boxes make great storage for office supplies, repair items and knitting notions.
Second, and this might be even more important, use the same containers and storage locations OVER AND OVER to cement their role in your subconscious brain. Also, everything taken out and used should go RIGHT BACK INTO THE PLACE FROM WHENCE IT CAME. Why do I say this? Because it’s easy to be excited and distracted when you’re traveling. You’re taking photos of some lovely buildings. Whoops! Got to jump off the bus! You follow everyone into a museum. You run to the bathroom. You go to store your bag and coat in a locker but decide to keep your phone with you. Where the heck is it??? And then you spend 15 minutes trying to find where you put it when things got hurried and jumbled earlier. Always, always, always put that phone back in the same pocket. Always put your passport in the same place. Always put your miscellaneous travel gear in the same blue pouch. That way you’ll know where it is from trip to trip. Trust me. This approach works. And if you get a new bag or backpack or jacket before you travel, use it for a few weeks prior to the trip and establish those habits. You may have a sea of stuff with you when traveling, but you’ll always know where things should go and where they can be found.
Q: What kind of headphones should I bring with me?
Suzie’s audio equipment stash.
A: There are pros and cons to every type of audio equipment. Think carefully about how you might use headphones, then choose accordingly. Wired headphones are small, inexpensive, don’t need charging, can be used to watch movies on long flights and are great to keep with you for personal use on guided tours. Over the ear headsets, though bulky, work best if noise-cancelling properties and comfort are of paramount importance to you. Headsets also make it visually clear to other people that you are not listening — which can save you or someone else from frustrating repetition of requests and queries. (Ask me how I know…) Bluetooth ear buds offer noise-cancelling properties and great sound, in a tiny package. They are, however, easy to misplace. (Yes, that’s right. Put them IMMEDIATELY BACK IN THEIR CASE AFTER USING even if you think you’ll remember to do it later. And put that case back in its regular storage spot.) Traveling with a friend or family? Try sharing audio equipment. You’ll have the type you need but will carry half as much. And a reminder: you won’t be able to connect your spiffy bluetooth audio equipment to in-flight movies without an adapter. If you’re a movie buff, it’s well worth getting one for those long international flights. During the endless Dallas/Ft. Worth to London flight, I’ve been known to get in as many as four movies! No matter what you decide upon, check and doublecheck that you’ve packed the necessary auxiliary gear — protective case, charging cords, adapters (jack to iphone, USB to charger, etc). But if you happen to forget something , don’t despair. Most tech items can be procured last minute, and quite expensively, in the airport.
Q: What are these “barefoot shoes” of which you speak? And why should I consider them for use during travel?
You can find barefoot shoes in all kinds of styles — casual, dressy, sporty, waterproof, etc. But all are lightweight and super flexible. Even my hiking shoes, Softstar Switchbacks, squish into a tiny ball!
A: Barefoot, or minimalist, shoes are defined as shoes that let your feet move naturally. If you travel often, or just want some options for lightweight, easily packable shoes, I recommend checking them out. These are the general characteristics:
- foot shaped (i.e. design and/or style are secondary to the actual shape of feet)
- flat, flexible soles (no arch support, no high heel, no lifted toes)
You’ll see them described as zero-drop (no height in the heels), wide toe box (so you have the ability to actually use your toes for traction) and with thin soles. Barefoot shoes are great for some folks who experience back or foot pain. For a lot of great information, I recommend heading over to Anya’s Reviews. Her website is an encyclopedic resource of barefoot shoe basics, shape guidelines, shoe reviews, styling tips and evaluations by category (dress shoes, hiking shoes, winter or summer wear, etc.) Super helpful!
I recommend barefoot shoes to travelers because they are light and squishable — perfect for stuffing into your luggage. Before switching to them, shoes took up to a third of my carryon suitcase, depending on whether I needed to bring hiking boots. I had to limit myself to two pairs even if I had weeks of travel involved. Now I can travel with up to four pairs and still take only carryon luggage. I travel with a pair of hiking boots, a pair of tennis shoes, a pair of dressy shoes (well, dressy-ish) and either an alternate pair of warm shoes or a pair of sandals, depending on destination.
Here’s a warning, though: barefoot shoes take some getting used to, especially if you’re currently using orthotics. Traditionally-designed footwear is very structured and supportive. Barefoot shoes are not. They are meant to strengthen the musculature in your feet and allow you to move as naturally as possible. If not used to them, you won’t be able to walk distances without some practice. My recommendation is to get an inexpensive pair 6 months before you plan to travel. Try them out. Walk in them a bit every day. Then decide how they feel and whether they are comfortable for you. Oh, and before buying, definitely review Anya’s information on foot types and which manufacturers make the best shoe for your specific type. I sent back a few pairs and thought I wasn’t comfortable in barefoot shoes before I realized that I was buying from brands that specialize in low volume, narrow or regular width feet. Not me at all! (I have little hobbit feet — wide, short and with a high arch.) Now I buy brands that I know will fit me and wear them almost exclusively. Barefoot shoes have helped me recover from difficulties with foot and calf pain.
Got a question (or even an answer!) you’d like me to include in Suzie’s Gear Corner? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t be shy. If you’re wondering about the topic, it’s likely others are as well. Let’s problem solve.
Fall 2022: Warm Hotel Rooms – A Good Raincoat
Suzie’s Gear Corner Because gear is almost as addictive as yarn.
Well, hello everyone! I’m back with a few more tips and tried-and-true gear recommendations.
First, if you’re traveling in the spring, summer and fall, you might be facing warm temperatures at night. Your hotel rooms, though… well they’re mostly made up with a duvet, right? Talk about overheating. Here are some techniques for keeping cool when your hotel room thinks you need warmth (but you don’t).
- When you’re walking through the halls of the hotel, look for the housekeeping cart. It’s usually unmanned while the staff is cleaning in a nearby room. Snag a clean, folded duvet cover from the cart. Run back and throw it in your room. Keep it with your luggage while you’re at the hotel and they won’t pick it up as laundry. (This technique is also useful for snagging extra coffee Kcup pods, water bottles and pens if you know you’ll need them.)
- If you don’t happen to see the housekeeping cart, simply remove your bed’s duvet from inside its cover. Fold and place the duvet far away from the bed. Just use the cover. Better already, right?
- Travel with a garment that’s both large and light. Use it in lieu of a sheet. I have an Indian-print, rectangular cotton shawl that I use at home sometimes when nights are extra warm. Sometimes I bring it on my travels. It takes up almost no space in luggage and makes a lovely, light cover for sleeping. Plus I put it on when I want to look dashing. You can do the same with a rayon sarong or one of your larger, lightweight knitted, crocheted or woven pieces.
Raincoat Recommendation: Cloud Cap Stretch 2.0 Parka by Eddie Bauer
I’ve been looking for a fully waterproof, lightweight rain shell that I can wear over short-sleeved shirts or layers of long-sleeved shirt plus wool sweater. I also wanted something longer than waist, or even hip, length. Soggy thighs are not a pleasant thing when you’re traveling. Voila! Bought one of these last summer and tested it out in very wet conditions this fall. It’s the bomb. Stretchy, quiet (no swish-swish sound), truly waterproof. Nice hood. Folds down to almost nothing in a daypack so you can have it with you all the time. A good thing, because the only thing more changeable than weather in Scotland is weather in Iceland! Oh my, it’s on sale right now. Also, big time kudos to Eddie Bauer for offering outdoor wear in a wide of range of sizes. They’ve been working closely with Jenny Bruso of Unlikely Hikers fame to do so. Good on ’em.
That’s all for now. Yes, there’s more gear to tell you about. But I’ve got to get back to finalizing our fall 2023 trips. I know you’d rather have me working on that than anything else. I’ll tell you about barefoot shoes for travel next time. I’ve got a bunch of recommendations! Cheers!
Spring 2022: Lighting Your Way – Face Cloths – Merino Wool Dresses for Travel
Suzie’s Gear Corner Because gear is almost as addictive as yarn.
As we gear up for spring travel, I’ve got a few gear items on my mind.
Portable Night Lights
In a previous Gear Corner, I posted about tiny light cubes you could throw in your suitcase and use as a nightlight. Though I still love them, I’ve discovered they have a strange characteristic: when left on for several hours, they default to the red or green color and cannot be changed. Now, this is not an earth-shattering problem. But I’m a white or blue-ish sorta girl. The Christmas colors just don’t cut it for me. Instead, I’ve switched to throwing a couple of these tiny, battery-operated tea lights into my luggage. Also easily available and inexpensive. You can find them at stores like Target, online at Amazon, or wherever candles are sold (MIchael’s, Hobby Lobby, Joann’s). White light (thank goodness) and subtle enough to place in a bathroom or on the table by your bed. You might even be able to knit by its light if your roommate is sleeping — and you’re doing a simple stitch.
Make Your Own Face/Wash Cloth
We’ve heard it while on the road: There’s no washcloth in these overseas rooms!!! Well, sometimes there is and sometimes there isn’t. But if you’re a washcloth, face cloth or scrunchy user, it’s best to bring one along. What? Could this be another opportunity to make something? Yippee! Go ahead. Splurge on a really nice skein of cotton, linen, hemp or even chenille (cotton, not synthetic, or it won’t absorb water). Then rustle up a pattern that makes you happy. Remember to add on a loop for hanging it to dry. Here are a few patterns I think would work well.
For the knitters among us
- Grandmother’s Favorite Dishcloth (But we’ll call it a “wash cloth”, thank you very much. )
- For those who want to go all-out for complexity in a tiny item, we recommend the Optical Illusion Cloth
- Little Tuffys Just the right size.
- An oldie but goodie, the Knitted Flower Washcloth. Pattern recommends working it up in a cotton chenille. Ooh la la!
- Lace Face Cloths by Black Cat Designs (available as a free ravelry download)
- Spa Day Facecloth by Anne Mancine (this one’s a little large, so I recommend downsizing)
And for the crocheters
- Something tiny, for traveling… Little Washies by Brenda K. B. Anderson (available as a free Ravelry download)
- Something lacey… Open Ridge Cloth
- Something flowery… Sakura Face Scrubbies by K.A.M.E. Crochet (available as a free Ravelry download)
- And something fancy… Jazz Age Crochet Washcloth
Sorry, weavers. I’ve got no patterns to recommend for you. However, I hardly think you need my ideas. Chances are you’ve already got some length of wonderful cloth lying around just begging to become a fantastic face cloth.
If you don’t have anything on hand, Audrey recommends picking up or ordering Brooklyn Tweed’s Dapple (60% American Merino, 40% organic cotton). She says “Definitely absorbent, soft, scrubby and quick drying!” Here are a few of her sample cloths. And her spokesmodel cat, Forest.
Wool&’s Merino Dresses
I’m a big fan of merino garments for travel. They are tough, naturally resist odors so you can wear them multiple times in between washing, work well in heat or cold and provide a livelihood for my favorite animals on the planet, sheep. (Don’t tell my dog I said that, please.) There’s been a lot of buzz lately about the merino wool dresses offered by a company called Wool&. Lots of people are jumping on their campaign to wear the same dress for 100 days, called the #100daydresschallenge. You can scroll Instagram or other social media by searching that tag and see what it’s all about.
The three of us here at Rowan Tree Travel & Fibercraft have been trying them out. I want to share our thoughts with you so you can decide for yourself whether its worth the hefty investment into one of these dresses ($128 – $158, depending on style chosen).
Audrey picked the longer-length Willow Swing Dress in Vintage Blue. She’s been wearing hers for several weeks already, participating in the 100 Day Dress Challenge. You can follow her posts about the challenge on Instagram at @mekafarm. Audrey gives the dress big kudos for the following reasons:
- It’s soft
- It’s wearable in both warm and cool temperatures, so a multi-season garment
- Easy to spot clean
- She loves not thinking about what to wear each day and is comfortable putting it on each day
- It’s making her reflect on multiple issues around clothing: how unnecessarily self-conscious we are, how lucky she is to have the funds to invest in a quality garment, that it’s a privilege to attempt to reduce your textile footprint and that, in sum, she has too many clothes in her closet taking up space that could be used for yarn.
- A potential con: the dress is made of a pretty lightweight material, so she wondered if it would show some transparency in the fabric but so far, all good!
Heather has two Rowena Swing Dresses — one in (color) and one in (color). She couldn’t send me a picture on such short notice, so I snagged these from the internet.
“I love the pockets, (yay pockets!), the flow of the fabric, and the fact that it’s a good base layer – not too hot on it’s own and wearable in a wide variety of temperatures, great base for layering. (Greece in May will be really testing this – I will likely not be wearing it all day long.) At it’s most simple I wear it on it’s own with leggings, I put another skirt underneath if I want it to be longer, I wear it with capris or bike shorts in warm weather, or as a base layer in cold weather. It can be dressed up for date night, thrown on over jeans or worn to bed on a cold night. I am more likely to wear shawls when I am wearing a Wool& dress, especially my black one, so I love that it encourages me to highlight projects that otherwise tend to languish. I have two lengths – I prefer the longer one at the moment, because I have been wearing more wool leggings this winter, but I do like the shorter one with jeans and capris.” By the way, Heather is involved in her own 100 Day Dress Challenge right now. You can follow her adventures wearing her black Rowena Swing Dress on Instagram and Facebook at @rowantreetravel.
And now, me. I have purchased two different Wool& dresses, but only kept one (the Sierra Tank Dress, long). Which did I rehome? I’ll get to that. First, the Sierra review. Again, pics randomly snagged from the internet.
I have mixed feelings about this dress. But in general, the Sierra tips to the positive. Pros: all that Audrey and Heather said, plus GREAT POCKETS and a thicker fabric that hangs well and feels very comfortable, sizing according to their website worked perfectly for a relaxed but not overly loose garment. Cons: boring colors (At the time, there were only three on offer. I ordered gray and then dyed mine!), the longer length adds only 2″ to the dress so there are no options for a dress that falls below the knee.
And the one I didn’t keep? The Willow Swing dress. I ordered the longer length, in Moss Green, size XXL. This, along with several others of their offerings, are now available in all kinds of fun colors. But the lengths are still short. I don’t wear dresses above the knees in general because I’m over 50 and feel like a teeny-bopper when I do. (Unless it’s really hot, and then I don’t care what I look like.) I ordered some merino fabric on Etsy with the intent to sew on a band of contrasting color for additional length. After three weeks, I still hadn’t gotten ’round to it and realized I probably never would. But the clincher for me on this dress is the fabric. It’s thinner than the Sierra Tank. That might work for some people, but I found it too clingy. The skirt part clung to every type of legging I tried with it — cotton, wool, synthetic. It also, and this may be a size issue as it wasn’t offered in plus sizes, stuck to my butt and looked less than flattering. On the website, the dress appears generously A-line in profile. It should swing freely from the body. In reality, that absolutely did not happen for me. Sizing? Material? I don’t know. But at that price, it has to be RIGHT for me to keep it. I would have returned it, but knew Audrey would enjoy wearing it, so sent it to her.
There are a nice array of dress styles offered on the Wool& site. I encourage you to peruse them. Check out the #100daydresschallenge to see how the offerings look and wear on REAL PEOPLE rather than models. Then, if you like one and are willing to spend the money, place an order. Try it out. Their return policy is generous, so if you don’t really like it, you can always send it back. Chances are good that you’ll keep it.
Fall 2021: Salve – Room Spray – Psyllium Seed
Suzie’s Gear Corner Because gear is almost as addictive as yarn.
Small things can make your life so much better, especially when traveling. Here are a few of my favorite things. (Yes, I heard you sing that in your head. Heh heh.) I’ve never seen anyone else mention them in a packing list. Each is physically small. They won’t contribute much weight to your luggage. However, they’ll make a BIG difference at just the right time. I know, I know. Technically, these items are not gear. However, they’re important, helpful and worthy of consideration. So I hope you’ll appreciate these offerings from Suzie’s Corner of Useful Tidbits.
Salve is a funny substance. It’s not lotion. It’s not oil. In fact, it’s a combination of medicinal oil melted together with beeswax. It’s semi-solid. Spread it on your skin and the properties of the medicinal oil are absorbed right in. You’ll most often find salve made from a base of olive oil. The oil becomes medicinal by infusing it with herbs like calendula, comfrey, goldenseal, arnica, and St. John’s wort. Each herb contributes its individual properties: astringent, emollient, anti-fungal, antiseptic, etc. By carrying a tin of salve, I can do away with other containers of stuff like lotion, lip balm, antiseptic spray and ointment, talc or baby powder. I use it for all kinds of things. Dry lips or hands? Use some salve. Heat rash or sunburn? Ahhhhh, cooling. Someone cut themselves or brushed up against nettles or poison ivy? Apply salve. Protects, keeps clean, helps heal. Give it a try. It’s a one-stop-medicine-shop in a tin.
As pictured above. I carry one of these tiny, LED cubes in my toiletries bag. Mine is about 1 inch x 1 inch x 1 inch. A push-button at the bottom means it’s easy on and easy off. I love having a tiny light with me and find I use it in all kinds of unexpected ways. Leave on a bedside table so you can to the bathroom without tripping over your suitcase and waking your roommate. Or, leave on in the bathroom if there’s no night light provided. Everyone appreciates that one! Grab your bedside lite cube and push the button to locate your glasses in a dark room. Also helps in a pinch if the light at your airplane seat isn’t sufficient for hand work. And because there are so many color settings, it’s often a conversation starter. You can find them in novelty shops or order from Amazon.
I’m mystified by the fact that very few hotel rooms in Europe have bathroom fans. Okay, I’ll admit that Rowan Tree Travel does like those old fashioned, authentic-type inns that were built before anyone invented bathroom fans. (Or built before anyone invented INDOOR BATHROOMS, as Audrey pointed out to me.) Still, one likes to consider one’s roommate… I take along a small spray bottle in which I’ve mixed up something nice to help with this lack of bathroom fans overseas. Actually, it’s not just for the bathroom. Sometimes I just want to smell something bright and fresh. I spray it around the room when I first arrive, before the open window has dispelled any stuffiness. I spray it on my pillow or clothes just to add a little nice scent. But first and foremost, it’s for the bathroom. Fill a travel spray bottle with 1/2 distilled water and 1/2 witch hazel or vodka. Add 15 -20 drops of your favorite essential oil. Lavender is always a nice choice. I also like rosemary and mint or vanilla and mint together. Or if I’m feeling extra adventurous, neroli (orange blossom). Shake. Spray. It’s not perfume. It’s just… an air freshener. Yes, there are commercial versions of air freshener. But they are rarely small enough to take on travels and frankly, I’m not that fond of their artificial fragrances. DIY room spray is so much nicer.
Psyllium Seed or Husk
Did you know that psyllium seed or husks, by adding fiber to your diet, will help mitigate both diarrhea and constipation? I always carry some with me when I travel. A simple change in eating schedule, cooking oils or basic ingredients can upset my stomach. But as a preventive measure, and to keep my (excuse me) bowel movements healthy and regular, I take small doses of psyllium until I’m sure my stomach is used to the new environment and schedule. You can carry it in powder form, then mix a heaping spoonful into about 8 oz of liquid each day. I find the texture of that mix unpleasant, so prefer to take it in capsule form. Purchase psyllium in capsules at any grocery or health food store. Or, order in bulk and cap ’em yourself. It’s very cost effective that way. If psyllium isn’t something you’ve used before, do a little reading up on it. I think of it as digestive travel insurance. It’s widely available, even overseas, and can help you feel good every day while on the road.
Summer 2021: How to Choose Luggage
|Suzie’s Gear Corner Because gear is almost as addictive as yarn.|
For most people, choosing luggage for their upcoming trip is a no-brainer
Question: What should I take on my trip?
Answer: Whatever’s in the closet (or garage, or under the bed, or in the storage shed).
But if you’re me – because I’m a gear junkie and have a lot of different types of bags, packs and cases – or you’re in the market for luggage, consider carefully what might work best for the trip you’re about to take. There are pros and cons to every type of luggage. Here are a few thoughts that might be of help.
First, the ubiquitous rolling suitcase. Choose one with four wheels (often called “spinners”) if you can, for ease of movement. You don’t have to drag four-wheelers, but can roll them in front, alongside or behind you as the situation requires. Rolling suitcases revolutionized travel – no more aching backs and arms – and rolling bags with spinners are even more slick. I like a carry-on size best. For domestic flights, that means 22″ tall and for international flights just 19″ tall. Of course, you can get them in any size, from under-the-seat tiny things to veritable steamer trunks. However, remember that you are not always going to be rolling this thing. You’ll have to lift it. Sometimes that’s just into the trunk of a car. But sometimes it’s up and down stairs – no easy feat if the suitcase is large. Look for a top loader, with a panel that lifts to provide access to a single chamber. Clamshell style suitcases are everywhere. And they do look cool. But they need to be opened completely and laid flat in order to access the contents. In a small hotel room (like overseas), that means you’re often having to heft the thing up onto your bed or you’re trying to make floor space to open it completely.Yuck. And here’s a traveler’s tip from me: Use the time in between flights – most especially at airport layovers – to elevate your feet on that rolling bag. Any time I’ve got a flight longer than 5 hours, my feet and ankles get swollen from gravity and non-use. Getting them up, even for a half hour, can be a huge relief. Rolling bags are perfect for the job.
Next up, hands-free carry ons. You’ll want to have something easily accessible, that holds all your necessaries (i.d., wallet, glasses, book, phone, snack, knitting project, water bottle) and goes with you right to your airplane seat. It should be the same bag you use during the day for out-and-about adventures. I’ve extolled the virtues of carrying something hands-free in a previous newsletter. (Go here and scroll down to the article.) That means ditch the purse for a daypack or cross-body bag.
Are you the type of person who doesn’t need to carry much? A cross-body bag will do. Here are mine (pictured below: Ameribags Classic Healthy Backpack and Hempmania’s Hemp Travel Bag). But there are zillions, each with different capacity, pockets, style.
Or, if you’re like me when I travel overseas, you want to have A BUNCHA STUFF with you at all times. Take that list for your carry on and add rain jacket, notebook/organizer, hat and mitts, sketchbook and occasionally required items like trekking poles, extra water and laptop. You’re going to want a travel daypack. I’ve got two. For hiking and lighter loads, the 18L Osprey Daylite is perfect. It weighs next to nothing, has good organization and can be attached to other luggage via straps when needed. For guiding (when I need to have all things with me, all the time), I carry the 19 – 26L Samsonite Hexapack. Also super light, has great organization and offers an expandable bottom section. It’s the bomb. Plus it’s orange. My merry band of travelers can see me in a crowd. I love this thing. There’s room in it for stuff I haven’t even THOUGHT of including. In the picture, they look about the same size. It’s in their width and carry capacity that they truly differ.
Then there’s luggage for true travel beasts: the travel backpack. Take your rolling suitcase, cut off the wheels, attach shoulder and waist straps and voila! All that stuff is now on your back. Up and down stairs, gravel roads, running to the train – no problem. Your stuff is ON you. And depending on the size of your travel backpack, you might just be able to get away with a single piece of luggage during your trip. Yes, really! Again, you have your choice between carry on size (must meet the same dimensions as mentioned above) or checkable. Carry on travel packs range from 35 – 45L. Checkable versions go all the way to 80L, though most are in the range of 50-65L.
A few notes on travel backpacks: They are extremely well designed, often by people who travel A LOT. Using one can keep your bother while moving from one place to another at a bare minimum.Know your own capacity. You might think you can carry all your clothes, gear, etc on your back. But test it out. Try a smaller pack first. Be sure it has a waist/hip strap to transfer the load from your shoulders to your hips. In fact, don’t even think of purchasing a travel backpack with only shoulder straps. That’s just asking for pain.Don’t use a backpacking pack for travel. They are typically top-loading and shaped for a different set of gear.Check waterproofing. If it’s not waterproof, be sure the thing comes with a raincover. If all your stuff is in one bag, you need it to be protected.Consider strap storage. I am greatly enamored of travel backpacks that allow you to hide, stow or disconnect and store the shoulder and waist straps. You don’t always want all that stuff hanging around, especially if you’re checking your backpack as luggage. Take a look at the clever designs on the Osprey Farpoint or their women’s version, the Fairview, Tortuga Setout and Cotopaxi Allpa. I’ve mentioned a few here that are of good quality and won’t cost you an arm and a leg. But there are many more, including stellar (and expensive) versions by Peak Design, Minaal and Aer.You can have the best of both worlds. Many of the travel backpacks include a detachable daypack. So you can have your cake and eat it too. Or… have your backpack and eat it too. Or… whatever. It’s a win/win option.So, there’s some food for thought. Have I tempted you down the rabbit hole of searching for just the right piece of luggage? Bwaaahahahaha! That was my aim all along!
In other gear related notes, I had a question recently about a previous post. “Suzie, if Wearpact cotton leggings are NOT for those of us in larger sizes and/or with curves, what is your alternative recommendation?” Well, allow me to introduce leggings by Torrid. They’re my go-to leggings for everything but the coldest weather. I have them in bike shorts, capri and full length versions. Sizes 10 and up. Curvy ones, go forth in cotton comfort and goodness!
Summer 2021: Hempmania – Ripskirt
Suzie’s Gear Corner Because gear is almost as addictive as yarn.
Recently I did something to soothe my housebound, lethargic self. I went for a wander downtown. Yes, it was cold and windy. Early spring weather in Santa Fe is highly variable. But it was nice to get out – and not for an errand or must-do task. And I bought myself a bag that I absolutely did not need. But wow, was it fun to buy something in real life rather than online! And you know what? It turned out to be a FANTASTIC bag for travel. So it was probably fate that this bag and I met up in the way we did. That’s my rationale and I’m stickin’ to it.
Hempmania Hemp Travel Bag
If you’re tired of travel gear made from 100% synthetic materials, take a look at Hempania. They make extremely useful products, all in (you guessed it) hemp. As stated on their website, “Hemp is one of the most environmentally sound, versatile plants in the world. It is known to have a multitude of uses, including textiles, paper products, building materials, industrial products, food and body care.” Good to know. But I happen to think the material made from hemp is beautiful. So I was drawn to pick up their bags when I came across them in a shop downtown. I rifled through a number of offerings – backpack, sling, mini-daypack, etc. Each had excellent storage options, flexible carry straps and beautiful colors. I chose their Hemp Travel Bag . Good choice, me! Once home, I filled it with all kinds of essential items (see pictures below) and STILL could have added in a sizeable knitting project. After a couple weeks of use, I’m finding it excellent for everyday use. I’m even contemplating bringing it along on trips. (What? In place of the ever-present Suzie backpack? Is that for real or are you just messing with us?!?!?!) I give this bag a resounding RECOMMEND.
My new travel bag can be worn on the shoulder, cross-body style or made into a backpack. I love you already, flexible bag.
I put all this stuff in my bag. No problem. Could have added a lot more.
Interior organization is great.
Main pocket actually holds a LOT. I added a water bottle and could have included a much bigger knitting project than the sock project I tucked in there.
And, of course, our Felicita pin looks fah-bulous right on the front.
Someone from our Merry Band of Travelers sent me a recommendation about RipSkirt, citing it as her go-to choice for summer travel wear. (Who was it? I’m so sorry not to mention your name!) Almost a year later, I’ve finally gotten around to ordering and trying out this item. Wowza. What a great garment! Ripskirt makes a lightweight, wrap-style skirt in four lengths and tons of print choices. I purchased one in Length 2 , as something to wear over leggings during hikes and afternoon dog walks. I prefer leggings to hiking pants. They provide free movement, anti-chafe fit and come in materials I like to wear (cotton or wool). However, I don’t like that leggings are so very form fitting. Voila! Add Ripskirt and head out the door, well covered. I suspect I’ll like this skirt for use in warmer months, but can’t vouch for it in that way just yet. Things I like a lot: I like the shape of the skirt. I like the wrap fit, which means you can wear it in comfort when you’re feeling lighter or heavier. I like the length. I even like the prints. The skirt rolls down into a tiny thing for packing. It’s pricey but I think well worth the investment. Crafty sewing types could order one then reproduce endlessly. Wish I was a sewer. I’ll just resort to purchasing another before summer arrives.
Ripskirt, showing velcro attachments and tiny pocket. I keep emergency toilet tissue in there.
Ripskirt Length 2 on a real person (me). Just enough coverage.
Winter 2021: The Little Black Dress – Footwear – Leggings
Suzie’s Gear Corner Because gear is almost as addictive as yarn.
Okay, it’s true. We’re home. But that’s no excuse for ignoring the topic of travel gear. Why’s that? Because now is the BEST time to try out, test and certify the items you’ll be taking along on your travels.
It’s one of my cardinal rules: never take anything on a trip that I haven’t already used, worn, tested out and love without reservation. I’ve learned the hard way (oh so many times) that it’s a real bummer discovering a new outfit you picked up for your trip is uncomfortable. Or too hot. Or ill fitting. Or whatever. Same for that backpack, organizing bag, phone charger, etc. Are you sure you’ll really use it the way you think you will? Test it out well before you have to rely on it – and only it – to get you through a trip.
I’ll add one caveat to the test-ahead-of-time rule: you can’t pre-test luggage. You can only learn if it really works for you while on a trip. If I thought I could, I’d test out my new Osprey Farview travel backpack. As it is… it’s been sitting in the closet for 18 months. Torture. Absolute torture for a gear junkie.) So, choose luggage carefully. And if it’s too heavy, too disorganized, too big or too small, get rid of it before your next adventure. You’ll face enough challenges while traveling. You don’t need the added aggravation of things that don’t work for you.
So, what can you find & test out right now, while waiting for your vaccinations? How about…
The Little Black Dress
It doesn’t have to be black. It doesn’t have to be little. What it DOES have to do is offer you increased formality while remaining simple, easy and utterly flexible in its use. Black is good though. Black looks sharp, hides stains well and matches everything. Regarding material, I ‘m a big fan of rayon. Wool works great as well, for reasons I’ve written about in previous newsletters. Here are a few dress suggestions. Check them out. Venture farther afield for other options. Sew one up yourself. Wear, wash in the sink, try in different weather conditions — test that dress HARD. Once it passes muster, you can rely on it in every situation while you’re on the road. Travel. Gear. Gold.
In RAYON, I love Pyramid’s Ebony Maxi Dress. 3/4 sleeves, comfortable silhouette, easy to wash and a modest, mid-calf length. For something more fun, scroll through their dress options. You can occasionally catch one on sale at a very decent price. In the same category, I can also recommend Mexicali Blues. You won’t find plain black, but you will find several styles of loose & comfy dresses. Warning: addictive. If the boho style isn’t your thing, check out the dresses offered by Universal Standard. Again, expensive but occasionally on sale. Sized for all kinds of bodies. Or, because you’re a maker, choose your own style and dye it yourself. What a great idea!!! Check out the options at Dharma Trading Co. Pick a dress. Pick a dye. Have at it.
In WOOL, I’m a fan of Wool&’s Rowena. They now offer this dress in a v-neck and a longer-length version. I’ve home-tested Wool&’s no-sleeve Sierra dress, wondering whether I’d be able to wear it for warm weather travel. I could. I will. The quality is amazing. Wool&’s clothes are expensive but thoughtfully designed and well made. Here’s a very thorough review of the Rowena by one of my go-to travel gear sources, PackHacker.com. If you can swing the bucks, highly recommended.
Dresses pictured (first to last) are from Pyramid, Mexicali Blues, Universal Standard, Dharma Trading Co , Wool&.
Are you planning to travel in the summer? Spring? Winter? Autumn? Will you be walking city streets or hiking the Highlands of Scotland? Will it be wet, cold, muddy? Find that best pair of walking shoes now. Pull out the contenders. Spend a lot of time in the ones you think might work NOW. Find some? Good. Now buy a second pair and tuck them away for future travel. Companies often discontinue designs in order to keep consumer engagement high. Make sure you have these ones for when you’re ready to travel again. I can’t say it enough: buy now, test thoroughly, rule-out the losers and secure your the magic pair of ruby slippers while you’re spending time at home. You’ll be glad you did.
Remember wearing panty hose with dresses? Me neither. It’s such an old and unpleasant memory, I’ve buried it alongside vague recollections of 8 track tapes and 80s parachute pants. If I’m wearing a skirt or dress and my legs are cold, I’m all about leggings. Better than pants. Better than tights. (I know. Them is fightin’ words! Some people love tights. I’m not one of them.) The way leggings fit is entirely personal – based on your preferred material, manufacturer and style. But it’s so hard to go out and try things on right now. In the age of pandemia, here are thoughts regarding online ordering options.
Wool leggings from Woolx.com are the bomb. I love them. I had Heather try some. She loves them. I bought a second, different type. I loved those too. Then I bought a zip jacket because I’ve been wanting to divest from poly fleece in my wardrobe. Danger, Will Robinson! This company makes great stuff. Luckily, once you buy your first garment, you can get on their list to receive special pricing offers. (Whew!) Comfy, tough, machine washable, in varying weights from heavy to light and WOOL. Try their Stella or Avery (base layer) leggings. The best. Note: If you’re ordering Avery leggings and are in between sizes, make a choice to go smaller. They are generously sized, which I love, but could end up just a tad too big.
You can pick up cotton leggings all over the place. I often grab them at thrift stores or big box stores like Target and TJMaxx. But I’m not shopping in public settings these days like I used to. Instead, I recently ordered some Starfish leggings from Lands End. Know what? I like them. Made well, with generous sizing and a decent (but not outrageously cool) range of colors and patterns. Utilitarian as hell.
Big time thumbs down: Pact . I purchased a pair of their cotton leggings at Whole Foods. I tried them on at home, excited because the cotton material looked and felt great. Whoops. Those XL were too small. “Okay”, I thought, “I can order the next size up.” I gave my sister my too-small pair and ordered the XXL on their website. I waited. I received them. Tried them on, very excited. Still didn’t fit. Okay at the waist but ickily tight at calves and thighs. Ummmm… do they think that larger just means taller? Do they not have anyone on staff with real booty? Seriously, people! I gave the second pair to my sister, who weighs less than I do but still has booty. They fit in the butt and thighs but were falling down at the waist. Her comment: “How would these ever fit anyone???” I think Pact might work for you if your are very slender. Or super tall and slender. And certainly the material is nice. But if you’ve got any meat on your bones, they’re a definite NO. Too bad, Pact. Women with booty are a big market.
So, get out there and test out your travel wear and ware. Now’s the time to insure they’re all going to work for you when it counts the most: later, on the road. Travel on, Merry Band!
Winter 2020: Packing Tips
Suzie’s Gear Corner Because gear is almost as addictive as yarn.
Since this newsletter is so jam-packed with info, I’m offering up just a couple of packing tips. Hope they are helpful!
1. Even during cold weather, you don’t have to carry a great big coat with you when traveling. Instead, take a warm sweater or fleece layer or compressible puffer travel jacket (great review of the possibilities here). Then, tuck a light but strong rain jacket into your luggage as well. Use all your pieces interchangeably as needed. Warm layers + a wind/rain proof shell will keep you VERY warm. Plus, no big coat to lug around.
2. Hate buying a zillion single-use plastic water bottles to guarantee you’re drinking enough? Me too. Bring along a water bottle. It’s worth carrying the weight. I like a Nalgene or Kleen Kanteen (my favorite is the wide-mouth, insulated version for hot and cold drinks). If you’re traveling to destinations where you aren’t sure of the water supply, try taking along a LifeStraw or Sport Berkey water bottle, with integrated filters. For hiking or travel to really exotic locations, try the much-lauded Grayl. And no matter what you carry, drink water. LOTS of water. It helps you recover from jet lag, keeps your body’s systems working properly and is the least expensive drinking option. Spend that extra money on a few wee drams!
Fall 2019: A Good Yoga Mat – Xero Shoes
Suzie’s Gear Corner
Because travel gear is almost as addictive as yarn.
Don’t even think about it.
Probably a waste of money. Definitely a waste of space.
Meh. Might be useful, might not.
As Martha Stewart used to say… “It’s a good thing.”
Get it. Now.
Jade Yoga Voyager Travel Mat
Wish I could say that I’m an enthusiastic yoga practitioner. Instead, I could best be described as “the reluctant stretcher”. Here’s my mantra: I do yoga as often as I can get myself to do it. The practice keeps my body flexible and pain-free. I also like how I feel AFTER doing yoga. With that admission, I’ll also say I try to attend a class at least once a week and have a mini-session at home every other day.
But what does this mean if I’m traveling? For most of our travelers, a ten day trip away from home without their regular exercise regimen is no problem. But since Heather and I are gone for weeks — even months — at a time, I’ve had to figure out how to get in some stretching while leading tours and scouting. I tried those little socks and gloves with sticky pads on them. Ick. I’ve tried doing yoga without a mat, just on carpet in hotels. I can’t do it. I need the sticky!!! I also tried out two other offerings of items touted as “travel” yoga mats. Neither was sticky and both took up more room in my luggage than I’m willing to sacrifice to the need for stretching.
Enter the Jade Yoga Voyager. This thing is fantastic. It’s made from real rubber, not petroleum. Rubber is renewable. I like that. The Voyager is exactly what you want in a travel mat: thin, flexible, foldable and (hooray!) sticky. If you want to stretch, do yoga, or have a way to be on the ground surface without touching it (the thought has crossed my mind to roll it out right there in the airport and take a nap on it) then this is the mat for you. I’ll warn you: it’s not very squishy. But what you give up in squish is worth the weight and bulk you save when it comes time to put it in your suitcase. Need to rest weight on your knees? Grab a nearby pillow or handknit sweater for extra cushioning.
Now that you’ve got a great exercise mat, your only challenge will be moving the furniture around in your hotel room so you have sufficient free space to put it to use!
Xero Shoes Multiple styles, worth checking out.
Shoes are a hard one. You want a pair that works with every kind of outfit AND provides walking comfort to last all day. I’m not sure such a thing exists. That means no matter how hard I try, I end up having to pack multiple pairs of shoes. One pair is for long walking and protection, one is for just knocking around, and one is for dress up. I’m always on the lookout for the lightest, most comfortable offerings that will meet my needs in each category. Here’s a company that makes a darned good pair of shoes for that second category, and possibly the first.
Xero Shoes is based out of Boulder, Colorado. (So of course, they are exceedingly hip.) Their shoes are light, flexible, washable and great for traveling. To compare a pair of their shoes, even their hiking boots, with the weight and size of my go-to walking shoes (Danskos) — well, it’s a David and Goliath kind of comparison. Last spring/summer, I purchased a pair of canvas, closed-toe shoes called Lena. I loved them. Their canvas upper provided light, breathable protection around the upper part of my feet. The minimalist sole allowed each foot to move, bend, flex and grip almost as if I was walking barefoot. They were great for warm days when I didn’t want to have on my hiking boots and had on casual clothes. In fact, my typical outfit for the day quickly became tunic/short dress, leggings and Lenas. If you look now on their website (https://xeroshoes.com/), you’ll see they’ve discontinued the Lena in favor of the Hana, which has a bit heavier canvas and is more structured. As soon as they come up with a few more colors, I’ll be ordering a pair. (I left my Lenas in a hotel room by mistake. Darn it.) I’m also keen to try Xero’s hiking boots. I’m absolutely sold on the barefoot-but-protected model of shoeware.
I’ve given Xero shoes four skeins instead of five for a rating. They may not provide an adequate level of comfort and support for everyone. To someone who is used to walking on the softness of Crocs, Tevas or Chacos — or with the structure found in more traditional shoes from Dansko, Ecco or Clarks — they may not work. You’ll have to purchase a pair to find out if they’re comfortable for you. And though Xero shoes aren’t outrageously expensive (hint, hint, Wolky), they aren’t cheap either. I recommend walking in them for a few weeks to test prior to travel. One of my cardinal packing rules is always and only take gear and clothing along that you KNOW works well for you.
Even if Xero’s shoes don’t work for travel or for spending a great deal of time in, I think they are fantastically fun. Sometimes a heavy shoe is just that: heavy, and therefore a bit of a drag. With these shoes, you can be on an almost-barefoot walkabout.
Summer 2019: Compression Packing Cubes
Suzie’s Gear Corner
Because travel gear is almost as addictive as yarn.
1 skein Don’t even think about it.
2 skeins Probably a waste of money. Definitely a waste of space.
3 skeins Meh. Might be useful, might not.
4 skeins As Martha Stewart used to say… “It’s a good thing.”
5 skeins Get one. Now.
Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter™ Compression Cube Set
Rating: 4 1/2 skeins
I can’t say enough good things about these contraptions. I’m a big fan of packing cubes. They really do help you stay organized during travel. But these Eagle Creek compression cubes take organization to the next level. They take your rolled, organized clothes and make them even smaller.
Here’s my approach for minimalist packing: a few things, well chosen, well organized, and interchangeable in a suitcase as small as you can stand. Now I’ve learned there’s more you can do! Fill compression packing cube with rolled shirts, leggings and whatnot. Zip closed. Then, zip the additional, outer zipper to compress items further.
Here’s a video, if you’d like to see how it works:
Despite shrinking the clothes down into a smaller space, the cubes don’t cause an increase in wrinkles. That’s some kind of crazy travel gear magic. Two drawbacks to mention, which resulted in my removing a half skein from their perfect 5 skein score. First, the Eagle Creek compression cubes only come in a medium and small size. I’d love to see a larger one. Jeans, jackets and sweaters deserve equal access to compression. Second, the cubes do result in a dense, heavy hunk of clothes. So while your rolling suitcase or backpack can remain small, it will be heavy. I think the trade off is worth it. But especially for one-bag travelers, it might make your load harder to move around and/or hoist onto your back. Pack up a test run and see how you do. Aside from those small setbacks, these cubes are a traveler’s new best friend.