2008 – A Cocoon of Comfort

The destination is usually the best part of travel; the journey, however, can be frustrating, inconvenient and uncomfortable. Being prepared can ease the challenge, so here are some suggestions.

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My favorite domestic airline is Southwest. OK, I can imagine some groans but let me present my case. Southwest usually features the lowest rates on the routes I fly. The website is first rate; it’s easy to navigate and there is a new search procedure, “Shortcut to Low Fares,” that allows you to see which flights have the cheap seats available. You can also set up your regular flights as part of the Rapid Rewards program. That means that you don’t have to enter arrival and departure cities each time you log on. The cancellation policy is unique and customer friendly; you can cancel a flight without paying a penalty and the value you paid for the ticket remains as a credit for future use. In contrast, a major airline recently charged me $200 when I canceled a trip I had booked using frequent flyer miles. Yes, $200 just to redeposit the miles into my account. At Southwest, canceling is easy and fair. Have you tried to book a frequent flyer reward ticket recently? It is often impossible to get a flight on your preferred dates. At Southwest no seats are held back. Their motto is “pick a seat, any seat.” As long as the flight is not sold out or during their blackout dates (there are only 16 in 2005), you can book your Rapid Reward ticket on any flight. It is simple and easy. More good news: now, you can log on and print out boarding passes for your entire trip not just the first segment; no need to stand in line, check in multiple times or board at the end of the line.

My next suggestions are about packing. My favorite suitcase, made by Andiamo, is a 22 inch roll on with an ergonomically designed handle. It is the workhorse of my travels. Andiamo makes high end quality luggage. I recently added their new “Executive Backpack.” It is a convertible briefcase with a built-in computer sleeve that can be carried like a backpack. There is plenty of room for business files, paperwork, journals, magazines, etc. It is good looking with a terrific design and solid construction.

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Eagle Creek is the leading manufacturer of travel gear and has been around for 27 years. I was recently introduced to their patented “Pack-It System” which includes zippered cubes and sacks of various sizes. The “Folder 18” is particularly effective for shirts, blouses and pants. The entire patented system works by minimizing wrinkles and maximizing packing space. It even comes with instructions on how to pack efficiently.

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TravelSmith is a candy store for travelers. My wife loves her “ultra organized” small red roll-on suitcase with matching tote. She recently added their new hanging toiletry kit which was rated “best overall” by the Wall Street Journal. She swears by their “Hands Off Handbag.” It is cleverly designed to lay flat while being worn diagonally across the body for better comfort and security. Another plus: it is a sophisticated good looking leather purse.

Now, what to wear? I am absolutely committed to packing everything I need into one carry-on and a backpack. That means my wardrobe must be specific for travel. A compelling reason to pack lightly: you are always in control of your belongings. A top spot to shop for travel wear is TravelSmith. Most of my clothes are from their quick dry and wrinkle free collections. Another place to search for good quality travel clothes and gear is Orvis. It is the oldest continuously operating catalog company in the country and has been around since 1856. They recently introduced a line of insect-repellent apparel for men, women, and children called BUZZ OFF; timely, considering the West Nile virus outbreaks around the country.

On the plane, I try to build a cocoon of comfort and quiet in what can be a cacophonous, uncomfortable environment including noisy passengers, roaring engines and a cranky lower back. Consider this about noise. The decibel (dB) is a logarithmic unit used to measure sound. A soft whisper is 30 dB and most speaking voices 60dB. Sound levels above 85 dB, e.g., heavy traffic, will damage your hearing over a prolonged period of time. In-cabin jet noise levels range from 75 – 85 dB and commuter turboprops are even noisier with levels near 90 dB. Shure’s sound isolating earphones were originally developed for musicians trying to monitor their performance in loud on stage environments. Now, more and more units are being sold to travelers and people who simply want top sound quality and quiet. Shure’s E3C, with its clever in-ear buds, when used with the soft foam sleeves, delivers the goods.

Sensaphonics offers the ultimate in sound isolation devices. The Sensaphonics Soft 2X earphones are available only by special order (an audiologist must make a mold of your ear). The custom dual driver in-ear monitor is actually a high fidelity headset. Originally designed for professional musicians, it is designed to reduce outside sounds. This is a high end product that the Dave Matthews Band, Janet Jackson, Alison Krauss and Union Station, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Riverdance and a multitude of other performers rely on. It is made from silicone and tailored to the shape of your ear; it is soft and comfortable to wear for long periods. Because it is worn in-ear, it does a exceptional job blocking out ambient noise (such as an aircraft engine). It is also much smaller and easier to pack than bulky noise-canceling headsets. The end result is terrific; listen to music and watch DVDs, on the plane or in the terminal, with unprecedented clarity and solitude. Popular Science Magazine recently reviewed the product and stated “The Sensaphonics have the best sound reproduction I’ve ever heard.”

To complete my cocoon of comfort, I use two more products from Eagle Creek: the comfort travel pillow and lumbar support pillow. Both items are convenient to pack and have a unique air flow valve that makes inflating and deflating them simple. From head to toe, I’m the most comfortable person on the flight.

To make the journey productive, as well as pleasant, it’s nice to get some work done. I am hooked on AlphaSmart’s Dana. I use this compact, two pound, word processor with its full sized keyboard to write, edit, and print my travel articles while on the road. Most exciting is that it now has extended capabilities that include Wi-Fi connectivity. It is a user friendly alternative to expensive laptop computers and the profusion of hand-held devices being sold today. It uses three AA batteries for up to 25 hours of work. Its highly efficient operating system with 16MB of memory stores thousands of addresses, years of appointments, hundreds of to-do items, memos, documents and more than 100 applications including software applications for accessing the Internet powered by Palm OS. And, the price is right.

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While on the road, I rely on Shure’s QuietSpot earphone with my cell phone. It features an in-ear design that blocks ambient noise and its noise canceling microphone delivers vocal clarity that is tops in the market.

Reminder: Don’t forget to pick up a city specific copy of the Entertainment Book when traveling. There are discount coupons for hotels, car rentals, restaurants, entertainment, etc. It’s a smart way to save money.

Here’s essential information for all flyers from a story by the Associated Press’ Leslie Miller. She reports, “Nearly one of every eight passenger airliners tested by the Environmental Protection Agency carried drinking water that fails agency standards because it contains coliform bacteria, the agency said yesterday. Of the planes checked, 20 tested positive for total coliform bacteria, which could signal the presence of other harmful bacteria. Two planes tested positive for E. coli bacteria, which in a severe form can cause gastrointestinal illness.” Final tip: Bring or ask for bottled water when you fly.

Thanks to the various manufacturers and their websites for information regarding the products. For further information contact the following.

Southwest Airlines: Sign up for their weekly specials and look online at www.southwest.com for their new Taking the Kids, a series of suggestions for family oriented trips and also Kids Corner, a monthly column with hints for stress free travel with your children. Call -800-IFLYSWA for reservations.

Andiamo: Call 1-800-759-9738 for a store near you or do a Goggle search. Their website is www.andiamoluggage.com.

Eagle Creek: Their motto “Your Journey. Our Gear.” is taken seriously by them. Call the Customer Service Department at 1-800-874-9925 for the names of retailers near you, a brochure or use their website at www.eaglecreek.com.

TravelSmith: Check online for bargains and Overstocks at www.TravelSmith.com. Call 1-800-950-1600 for information and a catalog.

Orvis: Browse online at www.orvis.com and look for the Orvis Tent Sale for great bargains. Call 1-800-541-3541 for information and a catalog.

Shure: A leader in microphones and audio electronics for over 78 years, their motto is “You sing it. You say it. You play it. We’ll help you amplify or record it.” The website is www.shure.com or call 1-888-88-SHURE for information..

Sensaphonics: An innovator in the design, development, and manufacturing of professional hearing technology in a variety of applications. Clients such as NASA astronauts, US Secret Service Agents, Indy race car teams, and many others all depend on their technology and expertise. Call 1-877-848-1714 toll-free or go to their website at www.sensaphonics.com for information and prices.

AlphaSmart: The Dana sells for $379 and the Wi-Fi model sells for $429. For more information, go to the website www.alphasmart.com or call direct at 1-888-274-0680.

Entertainment Book: The pioneer of the “2-for-1” discount; shop smart and save on dining, travel and attractions. Contact them online at www.entertainment.com or call at 1-888-231-SAVE.

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