Where You Stay & What You Carry; A Gift of Travel Tips for the Holidays

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 in the morning.

Assuming many home-share guests really do want to mingle with the occupants, Homestay tries to discourage the real estate professionals by requiring hosts to live in the property they list and provide breakfast to their guests in the morning.

Even so, in Berlin, our host informed us he was not going to be in residence on the days my husband and I were booked into his apartment. He did meet us with maps, travel tips and a thorough orientation to his home, which I might add was beautiful. By 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 a 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; a spacious and modern apartment near Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin and our 3rd floor antiques-filled suite tucked into the eves of a castle 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, threatens TMI (too much information) The story begins in Australia during a three-day bike trip through the countryside of Victoria, north of Melbourne.

As I reported for The New York Times, more experienced long-range riders know 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 ride.

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 them with me and instead of wearing bike shorts, I put the boxers on under a summer skirt.

Off the bike, I didn’t have to feel I was strutting my stuff in spandex. Now I don’t leave home without them because they’re good pajama pants too. Men’s undies are my new travel essential.

What you carry

I may be shy about wearing clingy workout clothes, but I’m clearly out of step with the times. The increasing popularity of athleisure fashion and improvements in wrinkle resistant dresses, means few women need to travel with a garment bag. Nevertheless, 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 that are well worth their hefty price tag. They are smartly designed, well-made and capacious.

The Sparrow II sacrifices some of that space with its second chamber for hanging garments. In each corner is zippered storage for belts, ties and socks. Presumably, you don’t even need to open this side of the bag until its time to get to work. 

The second side of the bag 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 doesn’t even have to be removed at the TSA checkpoint. A 5volt portable battery in a net pouch comes with each bag.

The Sparrow II is good gift for a certain kind of traveler; one who needs formal suits on the road because only that kind of clothing needs such space-consuming coddling.

As for me, I’d rather have room in my suitcase for shoes. 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.

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