Palo Alto Weekly

- December 23, 2011

Gifts for the travel-minded

A few gadgets can assure a stress-free vacation

by Anna Li

The holiday season is stressful. We often nullify the joys of abundant food and blissful company by fretting over holiday gifts, tension between relatives and colossal stacks of dishes balanced precariously in the sink.

Unfortunately, travel is no longer a viable option to reduce stress. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and airlines regulations coupled with over-packing and too many gadgets have created environments hectic enough to beat Christmas Eve shopping.

Here are some thoughts on travel accessories to rejuvenate your next vacation or business trip — or perhaps make ideal holiday gifts for the traveler.

First of all, the tricks to smooth travel are preparation and multipurpose items. Never underestimate the power of a flamboyantly colored suitcase with an inbuilt TSA-approved lock.

Edwards Luggage, located in the Stanford Shopping Center, stocks Rimowa suitcases in a range of colors that will allow you to quickly identify your luggage on the conveyor belt and reduce chances that others will mistake your bag for theirs.

"Rimowa's polycarbonate suitcases are lightweight yet tough," says Leslie Ebert, the owner of Edwards Luggage.

A three-tumbler combination lock saves you from having to remember where you put your keys. Coupled with a handheld digital scale from Going In Style, another travel store in the Stanford Shopping Center, guarantees you full control of your bags.

You'll also be happy to know that both stores carry the Scottevest Essential Travel jacket, a unisex jacket with 22 pockets, whose Teflon coating repels water and stains.

The jacket's pockets hold IDs, passports, an iPad, headphones and more. There is even a cleaning cloth for glasses attached to the jacket's seam. With strict weight requirements for carry-on bags, "it's like wearing your luggage," says Marilyn Ashby, the owner of Going In Style.

For those fearful of pickpockets, both stores carry PacSafe's handbags and wallets. PacSafe's bags contain two steel wires threaded through the strap and hidden mesh wires to protect the sides of the bags from slashing. The zippers clasp onto the strap to make it near impossible for pickpockets to unzip bags.

Precautions, however, are still necessary including carrying photocopies of your passport and leaving extra money, passports and valuables such as jewelry in secure places like the hotel safe.

Be aware that high-tech crooks carry reading devices to scan the electronic tags on the latest passports and credit-card chips, which contain all of your personal information.

Crowded places like airports serve as nesting grounds for these technological pickpockets. Travelers may consider bringing a wallet or passport holder that blocks radio-frequency identification (RFID) to reduce the risk of identity theft.

GoToobs are refillable bottles that help travelers organize fluids in their carry-on bags. Edwards Luggage sells them in five different colors to allow easy identification and three sizes for different liquids.

The back of each GoToob bottle has a suction cup to adhere to shower walls. The dispenser's "no-drip mouth" tightly seals to avoid spills and its rubber tip squirts out small drops of liquids.

"GoToobs prevent the jet of liquids that often explode out of pressurized bottles," says Ebert.

Edwards Luggage also sells various sizes of packing folders from Eagle Creek to help disorganized travelers compartmentalize their clothing.

Flight attendants swear by rolling up clothes to fit more items in suitcases. But rolled clothing often crumbles into an undistinguishable mess.

Ebert demonstrates how to fold dress pants, shirts and skirts by wrapping them in the folders to stay wrinkle-free. She says the folders are great for business trips, especially when travelers need to keep their clothes looking fresh.

"They're good for laying clothes flat and leaves room for bulkier items like your hairdryer and boots," says Ebert.

The ultimate strategy to keep clothes fresh is bringing wrinkle-free clothing.

Boutique 4, a women's clothing store in Mountain View, sells clothes for travelers who plan to attend any event from business meetings, to fancy dinners, to evening parties.

"Eighty percent of what we carry will travel really well," says Tamara Michel, the co-owner of Boutique 4.

Michel suggests that travelers pick clothes from a color palate to ensure that everything they bring mixes and matches.

"Layering is key for travel," she says.

"The ultimate multipurpose item is the Butter dress," says Michel.

The Butter dress is a one-size-fits-all garment that has a circular-cut skirt that drapes gently over any waist and two extremely long straps to be tied in various designs.

The Butter dress comes in more than 20 different colors. The charm of the dress comes from its the flexibility. The material is very stretchy, yet durable and the straps can be tied to flatter any figure and occasion.

Michel says finding imaginative ways to tie the dress guarantees that you never wear the same dress twice. She suggests bringing it on holidays like cruises where buffets and food-pampering adventures may leave travelers needing more accommodating clothing.

Ebert agrees that multipurpose clothing makes packing easy and stress-free.

She recommends bringing fewer clothes in favor of more accessories.

"Accessories help make outfits look different. Any way to reduce the amount you have to carry is good," she says.

Her favorite scarf is the Chilly Jilly Pashmina. She wrapped the scarf around her waist like a skirt when a guard would not let her wear shorts into a church in Italy. "You can wear the Pashmina like a shawl, a headscarf, on the beach with your bikini or around your neck," she says.

Vacation and business trips would not be complete without entertainment.

To ensure many hours of comfortable use, try the tyPad, an iPad 2 case, sold at Edwards Luggage. It holds the tablet in an upright position and contains a built-in Bluetooth keyboard.

Edwards Luggage also carries an iPhone charger from Mobius. This unique charger runs on solar power. It is a great gift for hikers and travelers who will be far from electric sources to charge their iPhone.

"The charger acts like a second fully charged battery," says Ebert. "We've already sold out and are waiting for new stock."

Consider nontraditional travel items that may alleviate your stress levels.

Boutique 4 carries small sponges that sweep up stains like deodorant and toothpaste marks on dark clothing. They will keep your outfit looking refreshed when bathrooms and washing machines are inaccessible.

Boutique 4 also carries Shower Steamers — small balls to use in the shower that release aromatherapy oils to relax your body and mind. It is a great substitute for a bath.

Lastly, the best selling item in Going In Style and Edwards Luggage is jetlag tablets to alleviate fatigue and sleeplessness.

In light of stringent travel regulations, the travel industry evolved impressively to meet your travel needs. Ironically, keeping the myriad of innovative gadgets to a minimum may actually keep you calmer.

Focusing on unwinding, turning off electronics and enjoying your well-deserved break will help you recharge your batteries for 2012.

"Be patient and have a good attitude. Go with the flow," recommends Ashby.

Editorial Intern Anna Li can be emailed at ali@mv-voice.com.

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