JOANNE'S TRAVEL TIPS: STAYING CONNECTED & TRIPPING THE LIGHT FANTASTIC

A TRAVELER’S BEST FRIEND

Having a reliable internet connection while on the road is important to any traveler, especially for journalists. While many tech pundits claim that free WiFi is available all over Europe, we had just the opposite experience during our recent cruise down the Rhine river and subsequent week-long trip through Switzerland and Italy.

That is why, this time around, we decided to give VisionGlobal WiFi, an international, pocket-sized portable WiFi hotspot that works without SIM cards or cables, a try.

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It became our best friend as we traveled from Amsterdam to Basel on our cruise. While we did have complimentary WiFi on board, it was often inaccessible as the ship meandered through gorges and remote areas down the river.  Thank you, VisionGlobal WiFi, for giving us access during all those dead spots we encountered!

The device also became our salvation while we traveled by train through the formidable mountains of Switzerland, which otherwise often blocked out any cell phone reception.  But we happily were able to access Google, as well as our social media accounts, thanks to this amazing device.

VisionGlobal WiFi offers a variety of plans to service your needs, depending on your length of stay and internet plan. Feel free to call them at 1-424-219-9224 for live help in designing the best plan for your travel itinerary.

As working journalists, it was such a pleasure to be able to effortlessly access the internet to download maps, research visitor information, keep up with email, and post our travels on social media in any situation. Whether we were on a bus, train, or walking along Europe’s city streets, we certainly appreciated our effortless internet access along the way!

WALKING ON AIR

I’m always on the lookout for lightweight shoes I can pack in my carry on, which is the only way we travel. The Boulder-based Lems shoe company knows exactly what I mean. Their minimalist footwear mimics the natural shape of the human foot and is designed using the bare minimum, which makes for the perfect shoe to stuff into your luggage.

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I trekked through Europe with Primal 2, a fantastically comfortable hiking shoe which, despite its light weight, stood up to all the rigors of travel….from walking over endless cobblestone streets in Italy to hiking the trails of the Swiss and Bavarian Alps. It’s made of microfiber and air mesh and features a full length rubber outsole. Another great feature for weary feet is its innovative design, which naturally spreads the toes to avoid many common foot ailments.

Another great feature, which I learned when I accidently slipped into the Rhine River as we were hiking along the shore, is that these shoes dry super-fast!

Oh, and did I mention they are vegan-friendly? So if you’re ready to hit the trails or the city sidewalks in comfort and style, these shoes are, indeed, a perfect fit!

 

Disclaimer:  Please note that the opinions expressed in this review are strictly my own and will not receive any future compensation based on sales arising from my recommendations. My goal is to share my favorite travel tips with my followers, in an effort to improve the travel experience for us all.

 

JOANNE'S DECEMBER TRAVEL & HOME PICKS, FROM TRAVEL SUITS TO HOLIDAY SMART LIGHTS

All suited up

It’s not easy to be a travel journalist when your goal is to travel light. My husband Tony and I share the pain. He carries our heavy camera equipment in a backpack and packs his wallet, cell phone, and our passports, etc. in his beloved ScotteVest.

My backpack carries my 15” laptop, wallet, printed itineraries I may need (you can’t always ensure that you will have internet connection) and my cosmetics. That leaves two small carry-on bags in which we need to stuff a variety of clothing options. This includes some “dress up” items for cruises, special events, and those press trip itineraries that require somewhat more than jeans and T-shirts.

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For any man on the road needing a suit, we can highly recommend the affordable Haggar “Active Series” line. This suit is super light-weight (so important if you are carry-on only travelers) and features an amazing stretch fabric designed to move with you all day, no matter what your activity. This includes a waistband that flexes 2 inches, perfect after a multi-course meal.

The fabric is wrinkle-free, so important for us folk who live out of suitcases, and boasts a state-of-the-art ventilation and moisture-wicking system. Bottom line is, this amazing suit will stretch with you from the airline seat to the board room and to activities beyond.

For a suit that moves with you all day, is lightweight, and looks sharp, this is definitely our recommendation.

Better safe than sorry

As frequent travelers, we know the importance of protecting our home while we are touring the world. As such, we are always on the lookout for innovative products to enhance our home security system.

If you have a notion to improve your home security, the NOTION is for you!

The Notion is a small, Oreo-sized sensor that you can place around your home to monitor various activities. Notion can tell you when someone enters the door, opens the garage, tries to access a liquor cabinet or opens a window while you are away. But most importantly, Notion sensors can quickly recognize water leaks almost immediately, temperature changes and smoke alarms going off, sending alerts to users via a mobile app, helping to prevent severe water and fire damage before it’s too late. 

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Set up was simple. The instructions lead you through a simple calibration mode, using your smart phone, for each component as it is installed. The first application was on our garage door, a prime spot since we often forget to lower the door especially when we’re in a hurry. If we aren’t sure if we closed it, all we need to do is refer to the app to check the status.

We also placed one on the floor next to the water heater. In the event of a leak (this happened to us a few years back and we came home to a flooded kitchen), we would be immediately notified via our phone.

Check it out. Better safe than sorry, as the old adage goes.

 

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Home for the holidays

Since cooking is my passion and the holidays are coming up, I couldn’t resist telling you my latest and greatest find, the Cuisinart Air Fryer Toaster Oven.  For years, we’ve used a deep-fat fryer to make a few favorites such as fried calamari (a favorite in our Italian American family over the holidays), shrimp, and French fries. We were, however, careful not to use it too often because of the fat content that inevitably comes with the process.

When I discovered this Cuisinart product, I knew I hit the culinary jackpot. Not only does this attractive stainless steel appliance bake, broil and toast, it also lets you air fry right inside the oven! This means I could toss my aging toaster oven and greasy fat fryer (which needed constant cleanup and a new gallon of oil after just a few uses) and place this kitchen workhorse on my counter to satisfy a wide variety of culinary applications.

Our delicious coconut shrimp, right out of our Cuisinart air frying oven!

Our delicious coconut shrimp, right out of our Cuisinart air frying oven!

The true test came when my husband made his favorite recipe—coconut shrimp. I must admit, he was skeptical that he could get delicious results just by spraying a light layer of olive oil over his breaded shrimp and popping it in the air fryer for ten minutes. But he was sold when he saw, and tasted, the outcome.

Air fying is the way to go for a healthier diet, and this oven does it all in one attractive stainless steel unit. Bon appetit!



Twinkly Lights for the Smart Home

You know you are in a brave new digital world when holiday lights go high tech!  Gone are the days of buying those cheap strings of lights that are so frustrating to unravel and inevitably crash after one season of use-- if you get even that.

We decorated our outdoor tree with two boxes of Twinkly 56 LED lights in less than 20 minutes! I can change the colors at a whim with my smart phone. Too cool!

We decorated our outdoor tree with two boxes of Twinkly 56 LED lights in less than 20 minutes! I can change the colors at a whim with my smart phone. Too cool!

In comes the Twinkly series of products, a new generation of LED string lights that work with your smart phone to display an infinite and customizable number of effects on your tree, wall, or window. You can even create your very own animations in the app. They are designed for use indoors or out. Each light is designed to produce an intense light effect, resulting in super-vivid colors.

It took us all of 20-minutes to string the lights on our outdoor tree and program them in all sorts of cool effects we can change with a tap on our smart phones.

Thanks to Twinkly lights, we are the talk of the neighborhood this holiday season!


A Place for Everything

I came across a new product that just might be a solution for those of you who don’t want to wear a travel vest, but still want an efficient, and hands-free, way to carry all your essentials while on the road. The iBand Sling is worn across your chest and has several pockets that hold your ID, smart phone, business cards, sunglasses, passport and cash. There’s also a spot for your water bottle and a secret passport pocket, as well as a carabiner for keys.

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It’s great for a wide variety of activities, from hiking to theme park adventures to dog walking, to name a few. But it’s really useful if you are a frequent flyer, as it makes going through security so much easier. Just toss it on the conveyer and avoid the hassle of removing everything from your pockets before you pass through screening. Just make sure your water bottle is empty!

Source: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/55b...

For a travel in"VEST"ment you won't regret, consider a ScotteVest

My fascination with the ScotteVest began after one of those travel horror moments you like to think would never happen to you.

My husband and I were touring Paris in early May, on a national holiday. We boarded a packed bus that brought us to the Louvre, but our “magical” afternoon took a turn for the worst when, in the middle of the square, my husband realized his wallet and passport had been “magically” stolen by quite an accomplished thief during our transit!

We spent the next four hours in a Parisian police station, filing a report which actually yielded us no benefit, even with our trip insurance in place. Much of our trip to Paris was ruined because of this incident, as you can imagine.

Bottom line is, it is YOUR job to protect those precious belongings, so upon our return home, I made it my mission to thoroughly research all the travel vests out there to ensure this would never happen again.

Hands down, the ScotteVest won out over all the competition!

My husband doesn’t like heavy vests (and we often travel in warm climates), so we opted for the featherweight vest for men. Since he waxed poetic about the vest during our recent trip through Switzerland, I am quoting his remarks directly:

"On my recent travel to Switzerland, there’s no doubt the ScotteVest, with its 14 convenient pockets, played a huge role in making my entire travel experience worry-free.

The benefits were instant when we went through security at our home airport in San Diego. The items I normally carried in my trousers and jacket pocket were transferred into assigned pockets in my vest. This included my wallet and passport (which were placed in the RFID pockets for security) and several miscellaneous items such as phone, keys, pens, eyeglasses, and wristwatch.

It is so convenient to have all your items safely nestled in your vest, with no need to use  those TSA item trays and worrying about whether you will walk away and forget them in the stress of the moment.

Everything is packed right there, in the vest. There’s even room for an IPad or tablet. The zippered pockets and special RFID area bring a secure aspect to this vest. Nothing will fall out, plus you will be protected from scammers with the RFID feature.

As a photographer and a writer on the go I had a convenient pocket for my journal and pen and pencils that I use to chronicle my travel adventures. Other items such as camera SD cards and batteries all tuck away in the vest within easy reach when needed.

Tony wore his vest every day during a recent Swiss press trip. It served him well as a photographer's vest when it wasn't protecting his belongings in crowded cities.                                                                                                                       © Joanne DiBona

Tony wore his vest every day during a recent Swiss press trip. It served him well as a photographer's vest when it wasn't protecting his belongings in crowded cities.                                                                                                                       © Joanne DiBona

If you love listening to music on the road, there is a convenient internal route through specially designed channels for headphones/bud wiring. The feature eliminates the clutter of wires often experienced when operating player devices externally.

The vest was extremely comfortable in all weather conditions we encountered. It took me through unseasonable, scorching heat one day as we hiked through the mountains, and protected me from a chilly wind another day, when the zipped front of the vest served as a windbreaker.

The ScotteVest has become my constant traveling companion and there’s no way I would ever leave home without it."

 

 

Disclaimer:  Please note that the opinions expressed in this review are strictly my own and will not receive any future compensation based on sales arising from my recommendation. My goal is to share my favorite travel tips with my followers, in an effort to improve the travel experience for all.

 

 

 

 

Joanne's Travel Accessory Tips: How to Make Life Easier, Safer, and Healthier On the Road

The Smartest Piece of Luggage You Will Ever Know

My quest for the perfect airline carry-on bag for traveling seems to be never-ending.  Since my husband and I travel with only carry-on bags in tow, regardless of how long our trip is, finding the perfect bag can be a challenge.

When I discovered the Genius Pack 22”, I knew I had found the ultimate in carry-on spinners.

I tested it out on a recent 10-day trip, and it emphatically earned 5-Stars in my book. Made of quality materials meant to hold up well on the road, this spinner looks as good as it performs. What sets it apart from other carry-on bags is a long list of bells and whistles that can make living out of a suitcase more of a pleasure than a curse, especially on longer trips.

One of the coolest features is a removable laundry bag with a built-in compression system that neatly compacts your dirty clothes by expelling unwanted air through an integrated air valve. Your dirty laundry is stored away from your clean clothes. When your trip is done, just unzip the laundry bag and take it straight to the laundromat or cleaners. This is certainly a welcome convenience for the traveler on the go. 

Other ingenious organizing conveniences are the built-in underwear, socks and electric chargers compartments, which eliminate the need for packing cubes for these items. These are located in the top cover, leaving ample room in the body of the spinner for your bulkier clothing items.

In all, the bag comes with 17 “genius” features, which include a zippered expander that adds up to 25% more packing space; an external jacket wrap (I used it to carry my bulky raincoat as I rushed through the airport); convenient external compartments to store your water bottle, umbrella, and magazines/portfolios; and a built in add-a-bag strap, which I used to cart my camera gear.

As if the above weren’t enough, the bag also has a portable battery pack integrated in the luggage so you can recharge your device wherever your trip takes you. The ability to juice up your phone from your carry on is an amazing convenience, especially in busy airports where finding a charging station not shared by the masses is a rarity.

For those travelers who can’t live without music in their ears, another feature integrated into the luggage is a compact mini speaker so you can listen to music while you unpack, or just about anywhere your journey takes you. Both the battery pack and speaker system are sold separately.

All this smartness is contained in a bag that measures 22” x 14” x 9”, so it is compatible with current size restrictions for most airlines.

www.geniuspack.com

A UPF 50+ Protection Hat That Makes a Fashion Statement

In preparation for a recent trip to Hawaii, I knew I needed a packable hat with major UPF protection. My dilemma was to find a hat that would take me from hiking through the trails to sipping a Mai Tai on a luxury hotel veranda. I knew I had to replace my tried-and-true khaki hat which, while it did the trick to block out the rays, was hardly a fashion statement.

My online search for a stylish, packable, large-brimmed hat with maximum UPF protection led me to the Wallaroo Hat Company website, where I found my dream hat: the Savannah. I am a lover of large brimmed hats because they offer the most protection from the hot rays of the sun and, in my opinion, are also very fashionable and flattering.

This hat has lots of features I love, including the fact that it fits my larger-sized head perfectly (an internal drawstring makes it adjustable, so it is a true one size fits all). It also rolls up nicely in my carry-on and immediately pops back into shape.

It was a good feeling to know that I was receiving UPF 50+ protection, as Wallaroo hat fabrics are tested by the Australian Radiation Protection Agency and block 97.5% of the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

My only recommendation for improving the hat would be to add an adjustable drawstring to keep the hat from blowing away. I almost lost mine walking on the windy trails of Kauai and it was a challenge to keep it on my head. I would have been very distressed to have lost it!

www.wallaroohats.com

Wow--a Waterproof Daypack That Fits In Your Pocket

As photo journalists, my husband and I are always on the lookout for a super lightweight daypack to serve us during our travels around the world.

We were happy to discover Matador’s Freerain 24 backpack, as we realized we would need such a product on our recent 25-day, carry on only, adventure through Europe.

It was hard to believe that such a road horse packs away into a 6 X 3 inch travel bag, but it does. It actually took less room in my carry on than my travel umbrella, and weighed less, too (an unbelievable 5.5 oz).

The day bag itself is water resistant (with comfortable, breathable straps) and it protected our equipment and contents during a few light rainfalls. It has a 24-litre capacity, which means you can pack quite a bit into its folds. It is superbly constructed and its sleek grey exterior is quite classy, and serves the traveler well under any circumstance.

Together with a base layer photo protector bag, which Matador also offers, I felt confident bundling up my extra camera in the well-padded pouch on our day trips through Europe’s cities.  Filled with protective down and sturdily constructed, the camera base layer fits most DSLR cameras with common lenses. It can be used in a variety of ways to protect your equipment while on the road.

We’ll be using this bag again and again not only on our travels, but also on our local hiking excursions. You can’t beat its versatility, and it is as light as a feather and stores away in your pocket!

Check out Matador's entire line of products.

Tech Tip for the Traveler: Find Your Stuff While on the Road

Here's my tech tip for the traveler, especially if one is forgetful and misplaces everything from car keys to cell phones and even a “lost” rental car in a parking lot.

The Nonda compact triangular shaped tracker is a mere 1.5 inches per side and .25 inches thick Once you download the free app to your Android or iPhone, it performs several handy operations.

Finding your keys in a hotel room: With the device attached to your key chain a tone will emit when you are near the location.

Finding your phone: This happens to all of us, especially while traveling. It actually calls your phone. The ringtone will lead you there.

Finding your rental car: This feature is linked to Google Maps and will display a location map and arrow to direct you to your lost car.

You can also take cell phone photos with the “Camera Shutter” feature to remotely control the phone’s camera. It’s been fun running through the various features of this tiny giant. I can think of other applications (child, pet and lost luggage locator) when it would come in handy.

5 Stars to NONDA for a clever and useful travel tool. And the price is right!

Learn more about this device HERE

Protect Your Valuables While On Travel....In Your Scarf or Around Your Tummy!

Protecting your valuables, especially in big city crowds, is something you may not think about until it’s too late. During our recent trip to Europe, my husband was robbed of his wallet (carelessly placed in his zippered pant pocket) on a super crowded Parisian bus.  While he lost some cash and his credit cards, we were relieved that we did not have our passports stolen.

Why? I was carrying them (as well as my wallet, phone and Euros) in an ingenious product called Sholdit. It can be best described as a scarf that serves as a hidden purse. It has a generous zippered compartment that will keep your valuables safe, especially in heavily crowded areas, since no one (even a thief) would guess that your scarf is actually a sort of money belt.

I wore it double wrapped around my neck, so that my valuables sat in front on my chest (the safest place on your body) but were indiscernible to the casual observer. The scarf can be worn a variety of ways and can even transform into a clutch bag, if desired.

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Alas, it was too late to retrieve our losses from the theft, but I did put quite a bit of research after our trip in finding a money belt my husband would wear on our next adventure to parts unknown. He gave a total thumbs up to the TravelGenixx money belt, available for $14.95 on Amazon.com. It is extremely well made, especially considering its reasonable price, and boasts a sturdy, and adaptable, belt system. With his valuables safely on his tummy, no thief will get the best of him again!

There's a smaller version available for ladies, too.

 

Flip Out Over the Flip Belt

Speaking of keeping your items secure, especially during a hike or run, the Flip Belt is a must-have for those of you who embrace an active lifestyle.

I chose the larger, Zipper Edition of the belt. The belt fits snugly but quite comfortably around your waist or upper hip. A front zippered pocket holds your phone or passport. There are three other access points built within the belt, one of which has an internally secured key hook.

It’s a great feeling when I am walking or hiking to know that my personal items will not inadvertently fall out of my pocket onto the trail. The belt is available in a variety of sizes, depending on how you wish to wear it. 

My only suggestion would be to make the front zipper pocket an inch or so wider to accommodate the super large cell phones that are popular today. I have a Samsung Note 5 in a protective case, and while it fits (very snugly) in the zippered pocket, it is difficult to remove to answer a call. Otherwise, this product gets my thumbs up!

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Give Your Legs A Break While Traveling: Fashionable Compression Socks

I’ve written about them before, but I also wanted to mention yet again how much I depend upon RejuvaHealth stylish line of compression socks. I wore my fashionable pair of black dot knee highs on the long flight to Europe, and again realized what a difference they made in my comfort as I sat for hours in my cramped airline seat.

I also wore them on our long city walking tours. I’m convinced they made a significant difference in that I didn’t get any soreness in my calves after trekking for miles on Europe’s cobblestone streets.

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A Refillable Water Bottle That Fits In Your Pocket

Finding the perfect water bottle for travel is not as easy as you might think. I’ve carted all sorts of shapes, sizes and configurations on my travels but never really came up with one I thought might be a winner---until now.

The Hydaway Collapsible bottle is an ingenious device which folds down easily to fit in your bag, carry-on, or even in your pocket. It's perfect if you are traveling light. The 21 oz. bottle carries around the same amount of liquid as your standard plastic water bottle.  I’d love to see an even larger version of this versatile and convenient carrier.

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Disclaimer: Please note that the opinions expressed regarding these travel products are strictly my own. I was not compensated by the companies represented in my reviews, nor will I receive any future compensation based on sales arising from my recommendations. 

My goal is to share regular, unbiased reviews with my readers for products that make travel more comfortable and efficient.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Springtime Trek Through Old Japan: The Kiso Road

There is no better way to discover the beauty of Japan than by seeing it on foot. 

Walk Japan a pioneer of off-the-beaten-path walking tours of the country, offers a wide variety of excursions for every fitness level in key locations throughout Japan. Check out my photo essay, recently published on 

USA TODAY TRAVEL/10Best

which details a magical Walk Japan trip that took us from the modern city of Nagoya to the historic old city of Matsumoto via the ancient Kiso Road and Nakasendo Way.

IF YOU GO: TRAVEL ESSENTIAL TIPS FOR A TRIP TO JAPAN

Staying Connected

Everyone worries about staying connected while traveling abroad—and about racking up hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in roaming charges with your local provider if you aren’t careful.

One solution many opt for is to purchase a roaming data bundle from your U.S. provider. But I found a less expensive and extremely effective solution through CellHire. The company offers super fast 4G-LTE coverage with unlimited data (and that is the key here, as you will need it to access maps, information, Skype and your favorite social networks) for $14.95 a day-$79 a week-$159 a month. They also allow five users to connect to the MIFI, so this is a no brainer for families or people traveling in groups.

The connectivity was flawless. Whether I was in a train speeding through the Japanese Alps, overnighting in a remote mountain inn, or walking through city streets, this device was a lifesaver. Very simple to use, it also boasts hours of battery life. Sweet!

Cellhire also offers a variety of other connectivity options, so check them out before your next trip abroad.

Powering Up

My internet connectivity issue being solved, my next worry was how to power my phone and laptop while I was traveling on foot over hiking trails and by train from town to town.  This is when my Apelpi external battery charger came to my rescue.

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In addition to packing a hefty 6400 mAh capacity via two USB ports (and robust enough to charge multiple devices throughout the day), this charger doubles as a fashion statement. Who can resist a red (or pink or green) apple doing its thing next to your phone or tablet?  Light-weight and extremely durable (it was dropped by mistake a few times and survived the abuse), this will definitely be my favorite tech accessory on my future trips.

Keeping Healthy

Sure, keeping connected on international trips is important…..but so is keeping healthy.

I had heard about the importance of wearing compression socks on lengthy international flights for people with deep vein thrombosis and other circulatory disorders, but I never considered them for myself—until I ran across the stylish RejuvaHealth line!

The company features a series of slimming, shaping and supportive stockings, leggings and socks that utilize graduated compression to relieve soreness, pain, and reduce the swelling that often occurs on long flights.

Figuring it was worth a try, I opted for a pair of Rejuva Knee High Coolmax compression socks for the flight as well as a pair of black footless compression leggings for the walking trails. I selected the 15-20 compression level, which was perfect for me.

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To be honest, I didn’t expect much. But now I am convinced I will never fly again without a pair of compression socks nurturing my restricted circulation! I can’t believe what a difference they made in my comfort during that long flight, especially when I couldn’t move my legs except for under the seat for hours on end.

The leggings also made a significant difference on our trek--when we hiked more than 7 miles daily—in that I didn’t get the soreness in my calves as I expected. I’ll soon add more RejuvaHealth items to my travel wardrobe, to be sure.

Getting the Best Shot? Here are My Favorite Travel Photography Tips...

I am honored to be designated as USA Today/10 Best's "Travel Photography Expert." I only had 10 words to describe each tip in this list, and I hope these succinct tips can help budding travel photographers get the best shot.. I still use them myself on every shoot.

Getting the Best Shot---USA TODAY/10Best

Photographers Getting Their Best Shot, Galapagos Islands            ©Joanne DiBona

Photographers Getting Their Best Shot, Galapagos Islands            ©Joanne DiBona