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7 Must-Have Affordable Travel Accessories

26 Feb

If you’re like me, you always see articles proclaiming the things every traveler MUST have. And then you click on the link and find that it contains a $300 carry-on, a $70 neck pillow, $250 noise-canceling headphones, and probably an $800 portable white noise machine (“for silencing the obnoxious noises of warmed nut bowls clanking against the porcelain china when you’re sitting in first class!”).

But never fear – you can find affordable travel accessories that will make your life infinitely easier, whether on the ground or in the air. These are some of my favorites:

1. eBags Packing Cubes: $23-36

packing-cubes

These things are amazing. A former boss and excellent friend of mine got them for me when I was packing to spend six months in Israel and expounded on their virtues to an unbelieving Past Allie, just like Current Allie is doing to a likely unbelieving Current Reader. But seriously, they make my life so much easier when I’m traveling. I have the set of three large cubes, but you can buy them in any size combination or color choice.

The brightly-colored part is super durable and super thin nylon, and the darker part on top is mesh – so you’ll never have to force your underwear into a 2-gallon Ziploc bag and squeeze all the air out as hard as you can before zipping it ever again. These squish down when there’s room to squish down, but stay intact when you want them to stay intact. Since two of these fit comfortably in your average suitcase, my brilliant strategy is that I fill one with shirts and the other with socks, bras, and underwear. Then, when I’m going home at the end of the trip, I reorganize to fill one with clean laundry and the other with dirty. It makes my life so stupidly simple, both while traveling and when I get home.

2. A good water bottle: $13-18

water-bottle

You know what they say: a good water bottle is hard to find. Or something along those lines, anyway. I always bring an empty reusable water bottle with me to the airport, because once I’m through security I can fill it for free, potentially saving myself several dollars per year! …And it helps the environment. At O’Hare, they have those automatic water bottle refill stations that count how many plastic bottles have been saved by using them, so I always feel good about myself.

Anyway, a good water bottle for air travel has to fulfill several requirements. It has to be leak-proof or spill-proof (why, oh why, do airlines not provide cupholders?). It can’t be the kind with a straw that you bite to access (because, as I discovered once, the change in pressure will send water shooting into your mouth as soon as you bite and thus drown you or drench your face and shirt). It probably shouldn’t be one without a cap (considering the number of things your water bottle will be rubbing against in various bags and seat pockets, you really don’t want to put your mouth directly on something unprotected). I’ve had excellent luck so far with the Camelbak Chute, but you can play around with whatever fits your needs best.

3. Travel jewelry wallet: $8-35

jewelry-wallet

I once read that to pack necklaces and prevent them from tangling, you should wrap them around a pencil. After attempting this several times, I concluded that the suggester has never experienced gravity, as necklaces would just slide right off. Taping them seemed silly (and bad for the necklace), and then they usually fell off anyway (what? I tried it!).

So many, many moons ago, my mom got me a jewelry wallet, at the time from The Container Store. After I lost it due to intense flea-related cleaning (a lot of our stuff accidentally ended up in the garbage that week), we searched high and low for a new one, but it always evaded capture. Somehow, my mom found it again a few years ago – but I am unable to track down a good link to provide you with myself. But if you search “travel jewelry wallet”, you can find many excellent options.

Anyway, this is a must-have if you’re bringing multiple necklaces and/or earrings. Individual slots let you clasp necklaces through them so that they can’t tangle in transit, and a strip of leather with holes poked through makes for a perfect earring holder. Mine also has a zip pouch in the middle, which is great for bracelets and other items that are too big for the other sections. Plus, when you close it, it looks like a large wallet (hence the name) and slides easily into a backpack for travel.

4. Drawstring bag: $5-20

drawstring-bag

I love traveling with these for lots of reasons. They fit the entire contents of my purse as well as a water bottle, travel guide, and any other required accessories. They’re much more thief-proof than a backpack, as the bag’s own weight keeps it closed when it’s slung over your shoulders. And, the best part – I can make my boyfriend take turns carrying it, instead of just me carrying everything in my purse for everyone.

To be honest, I’ve never paid for one of these in my entire life – I always get them as swag, thanks to college, a job, and a sporting team. But you can find an entire category of them on Amazon with every logo and color and price you can imagine.

5. Organizer: $12-25

organizer

These are a requirement for any traveler who has basic hygiene needs. I use one of these for my toothbrush, toothpaste, contacts, glasses, medicines, deodorant, comb, etc. I highly recommend getting one that is squishable (so it doesn’t take up unnecessary room in your carry-on), has a flat bottom and a zip around the top (this is personal preference, but I like having the top stay open when needed), and is made of a material that can get wet and not be destroyed (since it’s probably going to hang out next to the sink a lot). You can find these at any drugstore or beauty store. The one pictured above is from Ulta.

I love having all of the necessities in one small bag with a handle, so I can just yank it out as needed. Easy to find and easy to use!

6. Earplugs and sleep mask: $5-20

Plane travel. Screaming children. Loud passengers. Drink carts. Need I say more?

7. Seat back pocket protector: $20-30

seat-back-pocket.png

Full disclosure: I haven’t actually used one of these, but my boyfriend got one as a present for my aunt and uncle and it seems awesome. This thing goes in the seat back pocket in front of you on the plane, and you can put all your stuff in it instead of in the pocket itself. Not only does this seem more hygienic (I always feel gross holding my phone up to my face after it’s spent a few hours in that pocket), but it seems like you’re less likely to forget your stuff. If you’re like my mom who left a portable charger, or my boyfriend who left a water bottle, or my dad who left an iPad and a book, or my grandma who left a Kindle, you might want to invest in one of these.

We found this one at Macy’s for $28, but I’m sure you can shop around and find other options as well. Think bright colors so you won’t forget the entire thing!


If you have other suggestions, let me know in the comments!

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Travel Tip: Making a Custom Map

2 Feb

Every time I’m mid-planning for a big trip, I reach a point where, after my head has been buried in a Fodor’s guide and my subsequent notes for hours, I suddenly look up, remember to inhale, and mutter, “How am I ever going to remember all this??”

Because despite my best attempts, other than a couple of main sights to see and food to eat, I feel like I forget most of what I’m planning, or I don’t know where things are in relation to each other. I write everything down, but I don’t want to spend vacation time poring over notes. Perhaps I’m missing the best restaurant in the city because I didn’t realize it was between the museum in the morning and the tour in the afternoon! It’s SO STRESSFUL.

I always put sticky flags all over the guide books, but then I’m stuck carrying the heavy travel book (along with all of the other crap I end up carrying for myself and everyone else). And I can’t easily flip to exactly the page of restaurants that I want. Besides, restaurants are usually arranged in the books by price and general area, not Exactly Where Allie Is At This Moment sections. (But Fodor’s, seriously, that would be really helpful.)

Elad and I found a site one time that aimed to help you plan your route when traveling, and it was so close to being helpful. It ended up being extraordinarily cumbersome and difficult to work with, and caused us more headaches than it was worth.

So as I’ve been planning our upcoming trip to Spain, I’ve been shaking my fist at the Internet for want of the exactly perfect travel planning app/website that does everything I want. But today I realized… I haven’t exactly searched for one. Oops. So I searched for the phrase “map lets you mark points of interest”. Not one of my finest search queries, but it got the job done. Because I discovered… Google’s My Maps.

madrid-map

It’s beautiful!

(I know I’m late to the game on this. In fact, I used a custom Google map for years when working at Chicago-Kent because an excellent librarian made a custom of nearby restaurants. But it never occurred to me to make one myself – until today!)

The essence of the site is that you can create pins on a Google map pointing to places of interest. You can color-code them, you can give them different symbols, you can add notes and photos to them, and you can make them in layers to be turned on or off at will.

This was EXACTLY what I was looking for. Instead of getting stressed about trying to remember which tapas restaurants are recommended near which museums, I have it all laid out for me. Everything I’m interested in is highlighted, it’s on a trustworthy map, it’s color-coded, it’s got my notes, and it’s PERFECT.

To give you an idea of what I mean, check out my map for Madrid. (And if you have suggestions for my trip, let me know!)

I decided to have different layers for activities, my hotel, and restaurants – so if we want to see just one or two of the sets of pins at a time, it’s easy to turn off the others. I color-coded them by type (red for restaurants, blue for activities) and by priority (the darker color means we HAVE to go, the lighter color means it’s on the list). I added notes, and now that I’ve played with the photos function, I’m considering taking photos of the relevant pages from my travel guide to attach to more complex pins.

If you’d like an excellent step-by-step tutorial, you should check out this one. You can skip the “how to access it” part at the end, though. You can share the link (to edit or to view) just like you would with any Google Drive document, and send it to yourself to have on your phone.

For the organized traveler who likes to plan ahead, I cannot recommend this strategy enough. The only potential downside I see is making sure we have data when we’re out and about. But even that can be sidestepped through screenshots, regular wifi access throughout the day, and planning at the hotel in the mornings or evenings.

I’m so excited to use this! Any other amazing travel apps/sites I need to know about? Tell me in the comments!

V for Very Little Legroom

24 Oct

I consider myself an easygoing and friendly person. I enjoy making small talk with cashiers, I hold the door open for strangers, and I like hearing about the days of my friends and family.

But for some reason, I have a specific situation that turns me into a passive-aggressive monster.

I’m a relative expert on how I conduct myself in air travel. When I’m in my seat on the plane, I have my things arranged in a space-saving and legroom-friendly way. The plane takes off and I lean as close as I can toward the window, chewing gum (the package conveniently being in the seat pocket, the wrapper waiting in my pocket so I can spit it out before the drink cart comes). I read my book for a bit and flex my toes.

And then.

The seatbelt light is turned off; they announce we can move about the plane freely. And inevitably, the person sitting in front of me leans their seat all the way back.

I want to give them an impassioned speech. “Excuse me. I couldn’t help but notice that you decided to lean your seat back all the way, as it is now currently crushing my knees. Look, you have a really tiny amount of space here. I get it, because I have literally the exact same amount of space. It’s hard to be comfortable. But can we find a middle ground? A way to make your seat comfortable without ruining mine? Please, let us build a community of friendly passengers! We’re all on this plane together! We support each other and love our neighbors! Don’t you want to support the common good? Then for the love of America, or whatever country we’re flying to, please… don’t… shrink… my… space!” (Followed by what I can only assume will be cheering and applause, as well as flags waving in the background Les Mis-style.)

But since I can’t do that, mainly because there are no guaranteed flags/patriotic music, I turn to the only option I have left: WAR.

…in an incredibly non-confrontational way. (I can’t just lean my seat back in response – not only would that crush the person behind me in the same way I’m being crushed, it also doesn’t help my knees.)

I won’t go into detail as to my combat techniques, as I don’t want my modern warfare to spread across the skies. Although I will say that a personal favorite was leaving my reading light on while I went to the bathroom. If she didn’t want it shining in her face for no reason, SHE SHOULD HAVE SAT UP.

Instead, I want to know – what’s that one situation that turns you into an unrecognizable demon with a vendetta for justice? Is it getting cut off in traffic? Dealing with the cable company? Seeing another table who came in after you getting their food first? Being a test subject for a disease that leads to the overthrow of the British government and the rise of an oppressive dictatorship?

Oops, that last one might be fictional.

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“Passengers should not be afraid of their seats. Seats should be afraid of their passengers.”

Anyway, leave a comment and let me know!

Pros and Cons

21 Oct

Things I will be glad to return to in Chicago:

  • My shelves of unread books (much though I love my Kindle, I have a teeny handful options waiting for me at home)
  • Having a dryer
  • Receiving ice water at restaurants, unasked
  • Being more naturally conversational with cashiers
  • Starbucks
  • BOOTS AND SWEATSHIRTS
  • Watching the Bears lose (and hopefully the Cubs win)
  • Wearing more shirts than the dozen or so that I brought
  • Tacos
  • My nicely-scented hand lotions (coconut in nightstand, peach in bathroom)
  • Standing in orderly lines
  • Halloween
  • Stores being open on Saturdays
  • Netflix’s American catalogue

Things I will miss about being in Israel:

  • Ordering “cold coffee” just about anywhere and getting an iced latte (because who would dream of ordering just plain coffee?)
  • Not needing to check the weather in September/October because the answer will always be “warm and sunny”
  • Bakeries full of burekas, rugelach, and more just waiting for you to put them in a bag and weigh them for purchasing
  • Visiting the beach and going into water of a pleasant temperature
  • Hummus restaurants
  • Quiet mornings due to America being asleep
  • Not being in the midst of the 2016 election coverage
  • Being the person who can handle the coldest temperatures
  • My religious holidays being the norm, not the exception
  • Enjoying 15 GB of data (15!) for one-fourth of what I pay for 2 GB at home
  • Required relaxation on Saturdays because so few places are open
  • Netflix’s Israel catalogue

And of course, the people I love in both locations. That goes without saying.

See you soon, America. And miss you already, Israel.

miriam-adeney

Ode to a Pair of Flip-Flops

29 Sep

ERE ’twas the dawn of fall in 2012,

And my feet would soon fly ‘cross the country.

“Say,” thought I, “I shalt need some new flippy-floppies for mine feet. I goeth to the Newest of Orleans to supervise teenage voluntourists and I hear the sun doth shine there, even in the midst of November, which is strange to a Chicagoan, but o well.”

I research’d thoroughly, for my feet would not be subject to flat bottoms. Nay, my intrepid travelers shalt always have support, through my mind, and through my arches. Plus I lack’d a significant chunk of change, as I worked one part-time job and one internship of the unpaid variety. So mine shoes must needs have balance between supporting my feet and also my bank account.

For a reasonable price, I found Ye Olde Mallory of Reef. With solid reviews and a reasonable amount of ducats, I order’d them from Zappos and sent a prayer hea’enwards for their safe deliverance.

Lo, in approximately 7-10 business days, my package arriv’d. The guarantees of free return shipping and of a one-year trial yielded unnecessary, as I found myself in the very throes of true love.

reefshoe

Were they not the most beautiful of creatures? Not only were my arches in full support, but the thingy that goeth betwixt mine toes was soft and malleable, much like my heart then. Also the strap was quite soft and did not unpleasantly tug at the top of my foot.

The trip to the Newest of Orleans did then occur, and ’twas a success. Perhaps ’twas more due to the efforts of dozens of teenagers than to my feet, but my feet ’twere shining proudly in their new garb.

With this comfort so closely at hand – or perhaps at foot? – the Reefs carried me ’round the world. ‘Cross Chicago did we go, aye, but onwards to Maui, to Florida, to Israel, to Toronto, back to Israel, to Denver, to Seattle, to New York, to D.C., and back to Israel again.

And thus the good times didst roll. But alas, e’en the truest of love can hardly last without wear, tear, or deflation. I realiz’d that perhaps mine Reefs hain’t the form or the fortitude to continue on, but soldier on they did.

For this very selfsame week, I didst travel to the southern city of Eilat with my non-apparel true love. Upon arrival, I was told, I would find flip-flops beyond counting, more numerous than the stars, available for a reasonable sum ‘cross the entire tax-free city.

And find them I did! I scour’d the markets, the kiosks, and the blatant tourist traps, to find a pair that could match the brilliance of mine own Reefs. I found a pair purely for mine own entertainment, not for comfort, that I couldnae leave behind. But no, my search was fruitless – even in a shoppe that sold only Reefs – until the very last day in the very last shop. There, didst I find Reefs with the title Cushion. And a cushion they were, along with a bargain!

But I found it difficult to celebrate my discov’ry, as my old faithful flip-flops, holding with their truest dignity and grace, had endur’d a hole. A hole, right under my biggest of toes on my rightest of foots, which would not do for long. Nay, we visited the rocky shores of Eilat one last time that e’ening, and my trusted servants found themselves covered in tiny stones.

Thus, when I depart’d Eilat, I depart’d without my old faithful Reefs. They gave themselves in servitude to me, and for that I shall e’er be grateful. I shan’t shed a tear, though I mayhaps did sing a few bars of “I Will Always Love You” at the time of their burial.

Go in peace, Reefs. And your mem’ry shall always be with me, e’en as I try to break in my new pair with doubtful luck. Parting is such sweet sorrow.

I’m back!

10 Sep

I made it a point when I started this blog to never apologize for time away from writing. Life gets in the way, said I, and I shall live my life without worrying if it is properly recorded!

…And now it’s been three and a half years since my last post.

In fairness, I did spend half a year writing in my wildly popular blog Dag B’Tel Aviv (hailed by critics as “Allie’s blog”). But that still leaves three years of excuses. Which I shall now provide!

  • Working as the Social Media Strategist & Manager for Chicago-Kent College of Law at Illinois Tech (one and a half years)
  • Making lots of big life changes and working abroad (chronicled in the aforementioned Dag B’Tel Aviv over the aforementioned six months)
  • Working as the Communications & Development Specialist for Oyez (one and a half years)

And throughout these years, please add in travel, time spent being social, moving several times, networking, reading, and a lot of Netflix.

But now, with my job at Oyez over (thanks to both the end of a grant and the organization moving to Cornell), my schedule is remarkably open again. So it’s back to blogging and job hunting.

In fact, I’m writing this from a coffee shop in Israel. Since both my job and apartment lease ended, I figured I’d take the time in which my boyfriend and I are free to follow him back to his home country. As long as I’ve got wifi, I can job hunt from anywhere, right?

So, with thoughts of hummus and smoothies and challah and halloumi and pita, I’ll bid you adieu and bring you stories again soon. (Yes, all I think about is food.)

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Told you.