[contextly_main_module]

Top Travel Gear of the Year 2015

This post is part 4 of 4 in the series Best of 2015

We’re still using (and loving) the travel gear we’ve told you about in previous Travel Gear of the Year posts and Product Reviews, including our Hydro Flask insulated stainless steel water bottles, Karen’s Dell laptop and, of course, One Drop. Now it’s time to present our travel gear of the year 2015 including our hardcore coffee savior, Eric’s favorite pants, and our Phantom 3 Pro drone. All road tested. All road approved.

Here’s what earned the right to be called…

Travel Gear of the Year 2015

Top travel clothing of 2015

 prAna Stretch Zion pants

 

Karen has to practically pry Eric out of his prAna Stretch Zion pants. They’re good looking, tough, comfortable and easily transition from trail to town. Eric loves the slight stretch and his only complaint is that the front pockets are a bit small. Also, we have no idea what the crotch vents are all about…
– Buy them on Amazon

 

 

Colombia Sun Goddess II Long Sleeve shirt

After having a melanoma removed in 2015, Karen got even MORE serious about sun protection. A new tool in her no-more-melanoma tool box is a Columbia Sun Goddess II Long Sleeve shirt with SPF 40 protection. It’s cool (in both senses of the word) and easy to put on alone or over a tee for an instant boost in UV protection.
– Buy it on Amazon

 

 

Lowa Tempest Hiking shoesEric has been wearing New Balance sneakers for years. In 2015, lured by a seemingly endless stream of glowing reviews, he got his first pair of Lowa Tempest low hikers. He’s never looked back. These shoes bridge the gap between trail running sneakers and hiking boots, look good enough for city wear and they last way longer than his New Balance sneakers ever did (which makes the heftier price tag worth it).
– Buy them on Amazon

 

Kaikuna Hoodie

Hoodies have become a ubiquitous wardrobe staple and that includes your travel wardrobe. There are hundreds of hoodies on the market but only one that’s made from sustainable fabrics and designed by experienced travelers (we know because we traveled with founders Alan and Julie years ago in Nepal – that’s Karen and Julie, above, reuniting in their hoodies in California recently). That would be Kaikuna. The Kaikuna hoodie for women (sorry guys, you’re gonna have to wait for yours) fits slim but doesn’t ride up on your hips, has cool thumb loops to keep sleeves in place no matter how active you are and plenty of hidden pockets and other features to accommodate cell phones and audio gear right in the jacket. The bamboo/cotton mix fabric is way kinder to the planet than cotton or poly and it’s so soft that you’ll want to use your hoodie as a pillow on long bus rides.

 

Mahabis fireplace

What do you think of when you think of slippers? Forget all that. Our wool Mahabis slippers keep our feet warm without making us feel like we’re shuffling around a nursing home. Plus they can be squished into our luggage without doing any permanent damage. Find out more in our full review of our Mahabis slippers.
– Shop the Mahabis collection and get 10% off if you sign up for their newsletter.

 

We don’t advocate packing jeans on a normal backpacking trip. They’re too heavy and they take too long to dry. But we’re not on a normal backpacking trip and jeans play an important part in our road trip wardrobe. When Eric’s not wearing his prAna Zion pants (see above), he’s probably in his Cool Vantage Wranglers. They fit just like his regular cowboy cut Wranglers (slim and comfy), but these jeans are made with a combination of cotton and polyester that allows them to breathe which keeps Eric cool and dry in warmer climates.
Buy them on Amazon

 

Costa del Mar sunglassesWe’ve worn Costa del Mar sunglasses from day one of our Trans-Americas Journey because they’re well-made and have lenses with 100% polarization that protect our eyes from the full spectrum of UV rays. Also, Eric’s Costas now have prescription lenses (which made our list of top travel gear in 2014). However, we don’t always want to look like we’re about to head out into the jungle so Karen was delighted when Costa del Mar added a line of more fashionable frames for women. Same great construction, same protective and scratch resistant lenses and same great warranty, just a lot cuter.

 

Top travel gear of 2015

 InCase ICON laptop BackpackOur Trans-Americas Journey is a working road trip which means that along with the usual clothing and toiletries we also lug laptops, power cords, external drives and research materials with us into and out of hotel rooms. Finding a computer bag that’s roomy, protective and easy to carry is a challenge. Karen’s new InCase ICON Backpack is all of that plus the construction of the bag means it stays compact and trim, not bulgey and sloppy, even when fully loaded. It also has a fleece pocket for my Dell XPS 13 Touch laptop and lots of doo-dad pockets for pens, files, etc and the straps are very comfortable. Karen also loves the bright red color.
Buy the InCase ICON laptop backpack on Amazon

 

BonJour insulated French Press We felt a little ridiculous packing our Bonjour Insulated French Press coffee maker (right) when we left New York City and embarked on our Trans-Americas Journey back in 2006, but, well, coffee.  It’s turned out to be a prized possession. The non-glass construction is very durable and it’s served us well in campsites and during house sits or rentals where no coffee maker (or a crappy coffee maker) is provided. The model we have is not in production anymore and for some reason, the Bonjour website only shows glass models. However, Bonjour does still make a fancy stainless steel insulated French Press  and you can buy it here.

 

 Renee Rouleau Daily Protection Moisturizer SPF 30 with zincWe’ve been wearing KINeSYS SPF 30 sunscreen products for years and we will continue to do so. But after Karen’s melanoma removal in 2015 we decided to add some heavier hitters to our arsenal to use when we’re at altitude (and, hence, closer to the sun and more prone to damage), on the water or in any other high UV situation. Lucky for us, KINeSYS recently debuted a new SPF 50 spray and it’s fantastic: non-greasy, fast-absorbing, non-stinging, water-resistant and long-lasting. Zinc is one of the best ingredients for ultimate sun protection but it can be goopey to use and can leave a weird white patina on your skin. Not so with our Renee Rouleau Daily Protection Moisturizer SPF 30 with zinc. It’s a bit thick, but it does fully absorb and does not leave a white film behind. Plus, Colombian actress Sofia Vergara swears by it…

 

Top travel tech of 2015

Steiner binoculars at Cotopaxi National Park Ecuador

What’s the point of traveling to wildlife rich areas of the world if you don’t have the gear to see what’s out there? In 2015 we upgraded to Steiner Optics Navigator Pro 7X30 binoculars and, so far, these waterproof, high-powered babies have helped us see all sorts of creatures in places like the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador and the Amazon in Peru. To get smart about getting your own quality binoculars check out our post about how to buy the best binoculars for travel.
Buy them on Amazon

 


2015 was the year that the Trans-Americas Journey got airborne with the addition of a DJI Phantom 3 Pro. So far, Eric’s flown 56 flights totaling more than nine hours of flying time covering a distance of more than 52 miles (84 km). He’s captured aerial footage of gorgeous locations including Guatape in Colombia, the massive San Rafael Waterfall in Ecuador (watch that drone footage, above) and the Ceiba Tops Canopy Walkway. Coming soon: a full post about all the tips and tricks we’ve learned about traveling and filming with a drone.
Buy your Phantom from the DJI store
Buy this from Amazon

Uber logoDuring our recent extended stay in Bogotá, Colombia we finally got hooked on Uber like the rest of the world. We used Uber to get around the city (it’s impossible to park our big truck in big cities like Bogota) and the service was convenient, prompt and often cheaper than regular taxis. The Uber cars were always cleaner than taxis and though crime is down and safety is up across Colombia, it’s still a good idea to avoid flagging down a random taxi and hopping inside. Using Uber was reliable and provided the extra security of a verified driver and a record of our ride at a great price. Rides varied in price from around US$1.50 to a whopping US$3.75 for a 7.5 mile (12km) 30 minute ride that took us clear across the city. If you’re the last person on earth without an Uber account, sign up. You’ll get a bonus and we’ll get a bonus for referring you

 

Support us on Patreon


3 Comments - Join the conversation »


Check In Checklist: How to Choose the Best Budget Hotels

One of the beautiful things about traveling in Latin America is that travel expenses like accommodation can be very, very affordable. However, budget hotels can also be fraught with hidden disappointments from toilets that don’t flush to grungy, ill-fitting sheets to missing shower heads. Hotel bargains are certainly out there, but no matter where you’re traveling, it pays to run through this handy check in checklist to make sure you choose the best budget hotels before you settle in.

Economy Inn Motel

 

17 point budget hotel checklist

Besides basic cleanliness and security issues, we mentally run through this checklist before we check in.

  • Is there a seat on the toilet and does the toilet flush? If you’re a dude, or you’re traveling with a dude, also ensure that the toilet seat will stay up on its own and doesn’t just flop down.
  • Do the faucets work?
  • Is the bathroom light bright enough to shave by?
  • Is there a shower head or just a bare pipe?
  • Is the mattress really just an amateurishly-disguised torture device? Go ahead. Sit on it.
  • Exactly how lumpy and stained are the pillows? Go ahead. Take off the pillow cases to see for yourself.
  • Are the sheets clean and at least partly cotton? Ever since we moved into a room that turned out to have curly black hairs in the bed we are not above throwing back the covers to get a better look at the bedding.
  • Does the fitted sheet or base sheet actually stay on or are you going to wake up with your body directly against that mystery mattress?

motel-room

  • If there’s a mosquito net, check it for holes. Are they patchable? PACKING TIP: We always travel with plenty of white thread and a sewing needle. Why white? Because most nets are white and if you darn them with colored thread each colored repair will look like an insect against the white net.
  • Are the light bulbs bright enough to read by or just a tease?
  • Does the fan work and is it quiet enough to sleep with when it’s on? If the hotel runs on generator power, be sure to confirm that the generator runs all night or you’ll lose the fan just when you need it most.
  • Are the ceiling fan blades above the light source? If the blades are below the light you’ll get a crazy-making mild-strobe effect when you turn them both on at the same time.
  • Do the curtains close well enough to provide privacy? Do they blow open when the fan is on? PACKING TIP: We travel with a metal clamp like the sort used to keep papers together in an office and this works like a charm to secure unruly or ill-fitting curtains.
  • Do the windows have screens on them and are they (relatively) free of holes?
  • Is the TV (if there is one) in a position where it’s actually viewable from bed? We’ve been in a disturbing number of budget rooms in which the TV is placed in a corner behind any form of seating.
  • Are there any electrical outlets and are they in locations that are actually accessible?
  • Does the Wi-Fi signal (if there is one) reach the room? The pat answer you’ll get to this question is always “yes” so we find it’s also helpful to locate the actual router to make sure your room is within range.

Relax Inn motel

Check out our tried and tested list of 9 Best Budget Hotels in Central America to make your travel budget go further in Costa Rica, Belize, Guatemala, Panama, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras.

A version of this story was originally published on the Travel+Escape website which we’ve contributed to frequently.

 

Support us on Patreon


1 Comment - Join the conversation


How to Buy the Best Binoculars for Travel

If you’re like us, seeing wildlife is a big part of the thrill of travel and we’ve had plenty of exciting wild animal encounters throughout the Americas including an amazing array of birds in Belize, penguins in Antarctica and these guys in the Galapagos Islands. It helps that Karen inherited eagle eyes from her dad. It also helps to have a good pair of binoculars, like our new Steiner Optics Navigator Pro 7X30 binos (buy on Amazon or B&H), made by the only company in the world that focuses solely on binoculars. Of course, price matters. However, no matter what your bino budget is here are the basics about how to buy the best binoculars for adventure travel.

lizard on Steiner binoculars

Our Steiner binoculars made friends with the locals at Anaconda Lodge in the Amazon in Ecuador.

How to buy binoculars: key terms

All binoculars come with a confounding set of numbers, such as 8X42. Once and for all, here’s what those numbers mean.

The first number refers to the power of magnification. In the case of 8X42, those binoculars have the power to make things look eight times bigger than they would with the naked eye. So, if you’re looking at something that’s 800 feet away it will look like it’s only 100 feet away.

The number that appears after the X refers to the size of the objective lens in millimeters. The larger the number, the larger the objective lens. Why does that matter? Because larger objective lenses let in more light which means you see brighter images. This is especially important in low light situations like dense forests, cloudy days or at dusk or dawn.

Steiner binoculars - Cotopaxi volcano, Ecuador

Karen and her Steiners in Cotopaxi National Park in Ecuador.

How to buy binoculars: lens coatings

Like cameras, binoculars are only as good as the lenses and one of the key elements of the lenses is the coating on the outside. This coating controls how you see wave lengths of light which affects how you see color when using the binoculars. Low end binoculars often have lens coatings which drop some wave lengths which can result in color distortion.

Higher end binoculars, like Steiners, apply multiple coatings to ensure all wave lengths reach your eye ensuring that you see all colors true to life. Steiner actually created a new lens coating process for its binoculars.

Steiner binoculars - Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Karen and her Steiners in the Galapagos Islands.

How to buy binoculars: focus

It’s true that different binoculars are suited to different needs because seeing a small close object in low light conditions, like spotting a bird in dense jungle, requires different performance than seeing a large object far away in bright light, like a whale in the ocean at distance. For most people, it’s not practical to buy binoculars for each and every situation. That’s where a little something called Sports Auto Focus, offered on many Steiner binoculars models, comes in.

Our Steiner binoculars have Sport Auto Focus and it’s terrific. Karen set the focus of the binoculars one time and the Sport Auto Focus now maintains her settings between 60 feet (20 meters) and infinity. This means she can be looking at a blue footed boobie on the shore of a nearby island one second, then whip around and look out to sea at a pod of dolphins in the far distance without the need to change the focus at all. It’s honestly our favorite thing about our Steiners.

Steiner-binoculars-searching-for-whales

Karen and her Steiners in the Galapagos Islands.

How to buy binoculars: durability

In recent years it’s become easier to find lighter binoculars that are still high quality, which is good news for travelers. But the truth is that quality lenses and a durable body add weight. Our Steiners, for example, weigh 18.5 ounces, in part because they are housed in tough rubber which guards against damage from drops and bumps and provides a comfy, grippy surface in your hands.

For us, a bit of extra weight was worth it for better lenses and better body protection and carrying our Steiners has never been an issue thanks, in part, to the nifty strap we talk about in the next section.

Besides dropping, the other big travel threat to binoculars is moisture inside the binoculars. We’ve taken our Steiners into many super humid situations with confidence because most Steiner models have a nitrogen pressure system which uses dry nitrogen inside the binoculars to reduce the internal oxygen content (and, therefore, any humidity in the oxygen) to a minimum.

How to buy binoculars: worthy accessories

Since Eric almost always has a camera to his face, Karen is the one most often using the binoculars and she’s been carrying binoculars around her neck for decades but she never went for the cross-chest strap accessory because, well, they just scream “bird geek!”. However, we got a cross-chest strap for our Steiners and it makes a world of difference.

First, the weight of the binoculars is evenly distributed, so neck ache is eliminated. The chest straps also means that Karen can walk quickly, run or even gallop on horseback without having a pair of binocular banging against her chest because the cross strap holds them in place. Yes, she looks like a bird geek, but the benefits are worth it.

Another smart accessory to consider is a small, detachable external floatation device that will keep your binoculars afloat if they fall into the water.

There are many more math-intensive things to consider–like field of vision,  zoom configurations and prisms–when buying binoculars, but these binoculars basics should get you started. This hyper-detailed binoculars buying guide from B&H is a great resource if you feel like studying up even more.

Steiner binoculars - TatacoaDesert, Colombia

Karen and her Steiners in the Tatacoa Desert in Colombia.

Steiner Optics supplied a pair of binoculars for us to use and review out here on the road.

Buy on Amazon or B&H

            

Get Our Favorite Sunscreen for FREE

We’ve used KINeSYS sunscreen since day one of our little road trip (that’s nearly eight years and counting) and except for a handful of times when we’ve neglected to apply it, this sunscreen has kept us sunburn free as we’ve traveled through and explored the (very sunny) Americas. Now you can get our favorite sunscreen for free in our latest tried and true travel product giveaway, just in time for winter escapes and daydreaming about summer.

We’re a tough crowd when it comes to sunscreen

The thing about sunscreen is that it only works if you use it and you’ll only use it if you want to use it. For us, that rules out goopy, oily, globby creams that sting our eyes or cake up on our skin or stay sticky all day long. Ick. It also rules out anything that’s got harmful stuff in it or dumps harmful stuff into the environment.

Kinesys sunscreens

 

When we discovered KINeSYS, the company with the funny name and the serious sunscreen, we were sold.

  • PABA free (PABA can cause allergic reactions and may increase cellular UV damage)
  • paraben free (some studies have shown that paraben can irritate skin, raise the risk of breast cancer, wreak havoc on estrogen levels and maybe even increase skin aging due to sun exposure)
  • oil free and totally non-greasy
  • preservative free
  • alcohol free
  • super water-and-sweat-resistant
  • fast-absorbing
  • super even coverage, even on hairy skin, thanks to the micro-mist pump spray
  • some are fragrance free so Eric doesn’t end up smelling like a Hawaiian Tropic girl
  • the non-aerosol pump spray doesn’t harm the environment with fluorocarbons or waste a lot of product in an aerosol mega mist or explode in your checked luggage
  • ergonomically designed bottles are easy to hold and allow you to use the bottle upside down in order to cover hard-to-reach areas like the backs of your knees
  • the gentle formula doesn’t sting Karen’s sensitive eyes
  • the company’s Earth Kind policies include bottles that are totally recyclable, no ingredients that accumulate in the body or the environment, vegetable-based ink used for printed materials and they get 100% of their electricity from wind power
  • their products are not tested on animals

We’ve relied on our KINeSYS sunscreen to keep us safe in the sun every single day but especially when we’re doing stuff like snorkeling with whale sharks in Mexico, hiking through the jungle to El Mirador archaeological site in Guatemala, diving in Belize or exploring the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador where we’re returning in December, armed to the teeth with KINeSYS.

Asing Kinesys sunscreen ion the Galapagos Islands

During our first Galapagos trip we were the only people on the boat who actually liked their sunscreen (that’s Karen, above, re-applying in the Galapagos next to some new friends who were cooling off in a tidal pool). Not surprisingly, we were also among the few people on the boat who didn’t get sunburned during island hikes and snorkeling trips.

Enter to win our favorite sunscreen for FREE

We’re giving away 12 four-ounce bottles of KINeSYS fragrance-free SPF 30 sunscreen spray (a US$18.99 value each). To get yours, input your email in the entry form below so we can notify you if you win.

Start by liking the Trans-Americas Journey Facebook page and the KINeSYS Facebook page, then earn a separate entry for each of the following actions done through the entry form below:

  • Send out a pre-written Tweet about the giveaway
  • Follow the Trans-Americas Journey on Twitter
  • Follow KINeSYS on Twitter
  • Share and like this travel blog post

Some entries can be repeated once every day, so come back for more chances to win.

The contest ends on December 26, 2014 at 5:00 pm eastern time and winners will be chosen at random. Winners will be notified via email shortly after that. Entries of each winner will be confirmed before prizes are awarded.
NOTE: Anyone can enter, but bottles can ONLY be shipped to winners with addresses within the continental USA (sorry Alaska and Hawaii).

 

If the entry form is not loading properly you can also ENTER HERE.

Support us on Patreon


2 Comments - Join the conversation »


Travel Gear Review: Hydro Flask Insulated Water Bottles & FREE Giveaway

As loyal readers know, we do everything in our power to avoid buying bottled water as we travel through the Americas. Since the beginning of our little road trip we’ve poured water into re-useable plastic vessels (CamelBak bottles or Nalgene bottles) and used our SteriPEN to purify the contents. This saves us money and has meant we’ve avoided leaving tens of thousands of empty plastic bottles in our wake as we travel. But as the health news about plastic bottles goes from bad to worse we’ve finally ditched the plastic and shifted to stainless steel Hydro Flask insulated bottles – and we’ve got 10 of their new 32 oz. bottles to give away to you too.

Hydro Flask

The growing line up of BPA and BPS free stainless steel Hydro Flask insulated water bottles. Want one? Keep reading for details about our exclusive Hydro Flask water bottle giveaway.

Ditching our reusable plastic water bottles (finally)

A few years ago warnings emerged about bisphenol A (aka BPA) which is a chemical that’s been used to manufacture all sorts of plastic products since the 1960s. New research showed that BPA can seep into food or beverages stored in containers made with BPA. Once in your body, some studies have shown that BPA can lead to cancer, miscarriages and other medical problems.

The plastic-making industry, including makers of water bottles like the type we’ve used for years, shifted to a new formula with no BPA. However, the chemical that replaced the BPA, something confusingly called BPS, has been shown to disrupt hormones and wreak health havoc as well.

We drink out of our water bottles every day so, yeah, clearly it was time for us to ditch our reusable plastic water bottles once and for all. Plenty of stainless steel and glass water bottles are now on the market, in part as a response to fears about BPA and BPS. We chose Hydro Flask after reading this piece from Outside magazine which convinced us that these things were tough enough for our Journey.

Hydro Flask in the truck

Our Hydro Flask 18 ounce wide mouth stainless steel insulated bottles with sipping tops keep us hydrated while driving and they don’t spill no matter how rough the road is.

But we need our water bottles to be more than just tough. We need to be able to drink out of them in the truck while we’re driving without ending up with water spilled all over us.  They need to be portable and leak proof so we can take them on the trail. And they need to accommodate our beloved SteriPEN.

We chose two different sizes of wide mouth Hydro Flask stainless steel water bottles so our SteriPEN would fit inside them. Here’s how they’ve stacked up.

Hydro Flask stainless steel insulated water bottle PROS

No BPA or BPS. Duh. And, incredibly, that includes the plastic lids and straws. That’s because BPAs and BPSs are used in polycarbonates and epoxy resins, neither of which are used in the manufacture of Hydro Flask lids or straws.

The lids are dishwasher safe on the top shelf, but the bottles must be hand washed.

Because stainless steel doesn’t get dinged up allowing germs and gunk to grow inside the bottle our Hydro Flasks always seems perfectly clean.

The wide mouth bottles are large enough to take in regular-size ice cubes.

Three lid styles are available which turn each bottle into a regular screw-top bottle, a straw-style sipper (which is what we use in the truck) or a slide-top hot beverage sipper and anything that does triple duty is a great thing when traveling.

Hydro Flask’s happy guy water droplet splash logo makes us smile.Hydro Flask Happy Guy water droplet splash logo

The double-walled, vacuum-insulated construction really keeps contents cold or hot which means we can fill our Hydro Flasks with cold water and it’s still cool even after leaving the full bottles inside our hot truck for days. No more forcing down hot water from a funky plastic bottle left inside the sauna-like cab.

Hydro-Flask-Insulated-Bottle-Hot-Cold

Hot or cold, Hydro Flask insulated bottles can take it and keep it that way for hours.

We love the matte, tactile look and feel of the bottles and the old-school, canteen-like clanking sound they make.

It was super easy to cut the straw for the cold beverage sipper top to fit our bottles perfectly.

The bottles do not sweat so there are no more puddles in the cup holders in our truck.

The ring which holds the standard Hydro Flask lid onto the bottle is secure, but easy to remove if you want to switch to one of the two other lid types.

The straw-style sipping top and straw is super easy to drink from without the need to bite down on a mouth piece.

The lids are totally leak proof except for the slide-top hot beverage sipper top.

Dirinking from Hydro Flask

Working on our truck is dirty, sweaty work and it’s important to stay hydrated.

Every Hydro Flask bottle comes with a lifetime warranty.

Five percent of the purchase price of every Hydro Flask bottle goes to your choice from a long list of charities including the Surfrider Foundation, WWF, Special Olympics and many more.

Hydro Flask stainless steel insulated water bottle CONS

The 32 ounce bottle was too fat for the cup holders in our truck because the insulated construction adds girth. As of this writing there is no 24 or 21 ounce wide mouth Hydro Flask bottle so that left us with 18 ounce wide mouth bottles to use while we’re driving. These bottles are a bit too small for the cup holders so they wobble around a bit as we drive. Also, 18 ounces isn’t a lot of water.

Hydro Flask bottles are a bit pricey. For example, a 32 ounce Hydro Flask bottle (like the ones we are giving away – details are below) is US$31.99 while a 32 ounce plastic Nalgene bottle is US$10.99.

Hydro Flask bottles are a bit heavier than the plastic bottles we’d been using.

The bottles are not dishwasher safe or freezer safe, but that’s not much of a con since we don’t have a dishwasher or a freezer anyway.

Hydro Flask water bottle giveaway

We’re giving away 10 – 32 oz. Hydro Flask stainless steel insulated wide mouth bottles (a US$31.99 value each). This bottle is the latest addition to the Hydro Flask lineup and we’re using one on our Journey. Want one? Input your email in the entry form below so we can notify you if you win. To get earn multiple entries, like our Facebook page, like Hydro Flask and send a Tweet about the giveaway with a just a few clicks in the entry form. Some entries can be repeated every day, so come back for more.

One entry option is a special favor for us: vote for us as in the USA Today 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards as your Favorite Couples Travel Bloggers. Simply follow the link in the entry form and select us ( “Trans-Americas Journey – Karen & Eric”) from the list of bloggers, then click VOTE. You’re allowed to vote once per day.

The contest ends on Friday August 8, 2014 at 5:00 pm eastern time and 10 winners will be chosen at random. Winners will be notified via email shortly after that. The entries of winners (liking pages, tweets, etc.)  will be confirmed before prizes are awarded.

NOTE: Anyone can enter, but bottles can ONLY be shipped to addresses within the continental USA (sorry Alaska and Hawaii).

 

 

Hydro Flask supplied us with water bottles to use and review on the road.

 

Support us on Patreon


10 Comments - Join the conversation »


How a Continental Airlines Employee Can Steal Our Shock Absorbers (and there’s nothing we can do about it) UPDATED

You may remember a little problem we had back in December of 2010 when, during a rare plane trip, a set of brand new Bilstein shock absorbers were taken from our luggage. After months of hassle and frustration we have finally been reimbursed for the value of our stolen property. This does not mean, however, that all is well.

After the shocks disappeared from our luggage we spent almost eight months making phone calls and sending emails trying to figure out who took our shocks and how we could get them back. We were universally ignored or caught in the middle of a he-said/she-said blame game with agents from the Transportatin Safety Administration swearing that the TSA does not take items out of luggage and Continental Airlines swearing that the TSA is the agency which removes restricted items, like shock absorbers.

Ultimately, we had no choice but to send an email to the media relations department at Continental. As legitimate members of the media, this got immediate action in the form of phone call from Gary Meckel a very cordial Continental Airlines “Senior Staff Representative.” Mr. Meckel told us that while Continental had no record of taking our shock absorbers and insisted that the TSA must have taken them, the airline was willing to offer us 16,000 frequent flier miles (worth roughly the $600 value of the shock absorbers) as a gesture of “good will.”

We told him we’d have to think about it, which we did for about 45 seconds. Then we sent Mr. Meckel an email we’d received from a TSA agent who adamantly stated that the TSA doesn’t take items like shock absorbers, the airlines do. In the email the TSA agent even advised “You should persist with the airline to rectify your claim.”

Meanwhile, the TSA assigned an investigator to our case and that investigator told us that paperwork had been found showing that a Continental Airline employee had signed for our shock absorbers. More precisely, someone had put his or her (potentially fake and nearly illegible) initials on the form.

Despite our request to Continental’s Mr. Meckel for a clarification of his airline’s policy regarding the removal of restricted items and a rebuttal (if any) to the TSA’s claims we got neither. We did, however, get a check for the value of our shock absorbers.

This is a hollow victory, however, since the underlying problem we discuss in our original post (see below) remains: airline policies allow employees to remove restricted items without any requirement to account for or log the item taken or be held responsible for the removal in any way. We still believe there’s a Continental Airlines employee out there with some very, very good shock absorbers on his or her truck.

 

HERE’S OUR ORIGINAL POST ABOUT THE LOSS OF OUR SHOCK ABSORBERS DURING A CONTINENTAL FLIGHT FROM APRIL, 2011:

There are many reasons that the Trans-Americas Journey is a road trip. Now we can add: “In order to avoid being robbed blind by airline staff” to the list.

Skyway robbery

As some of you know, we recently got on an airplane for the first time in years, leaving our trusty truck behind in Guatemala City while we traveled back to the US briefly then on to Argentina to embark on our Antarctic Adventure. Most of our flights were on LAN Airlines but some legs (between Guatemala and the US) were on Continental Airlines.

Knowing that we were going to need to bring some personal supplies back from the US, we booked First/International Business class seats on Continental (using reward miles) because this class gets you a higher baggage allowence plus big bright orange bagage tags that read “Priority Handling”.

On our Continental flight out of the US we had a set of brand new top-of-the-line Bilstein shock absorbers in one of our duffel bags. After more than 75,000 hard miles over rough roads and countelss speed bumps carrying a maxed out load, the shocks on our truck were feeling the pain.

To remedy the situation, our partners at Bilstein kindly upgraded us to a set of shocks best suited to the reality of the road conditions in Central and South America and we were excited to bring the shocks (which are not readily available in Latin America) back with us and have them installed so we could stop worrying over every bump in the road.

However, when we landed and collected our bags it was immediately clear that one of our duffels was half empty. We opened it up and found a notice from the TSA that the bag had been inspected–and the shock absorbers were gone.

Shock absorber shocker

The orignal cardboard shipping box containing the shocks (and clearly labeled with both our US address and Bilstein’s address) had simply been taken out of our bag. Other items in the duffel, some valuable, were left untouched.

Since the note we found where our shock absorbers used to be was from the TSA we immediately began emailing and calling them. It took more than a month to get a response from anyone and the TSA ultimately told us that they do not remove such items and insisted that it was our airline (Continental) that took them.  

Prior to flying we had reviewed the Continental Airlines web site to see if there were any restrictions on carrying auto parts. The sometimes-cryptic list did not specifically name anything that indicated to us that our shocks would be a problem since they were not oil lubricated (which was listed as a no-no).

The Continental Airlines  dangerous goods page did list “compressed gasses” as a restricted item, which we took to mean a cylinder of oxygen or something like that. What didn’t occur to us is that our  shock absorbers operate using a small amount of compressed gas.

Fair enough. Our bad. We figured we’d have to file a tedious claim with Continental  Airlines then we’d get the shocks back and have them shipped down to us. Inconvinient? Yes. More costly? Yes. But at least there was a solution. Wrong.

It took another series of phone calls and emails to reach Continental Airlines and get our hands on the right claim form which we filled out and returned to the airline as instructed along with a receipt for the shocks and many other supporting documents.

 

 

Flyer beware

Now, more than two months after filing our Continental paperwork, we have received a letter from Continental Airlines Claims Analyst Curtis Richmond informing us that his “analysis” has failed to locate the shocks and, anyway, CONTINENTAL AIRLINES IS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR RETURNING RESTRICTED GOODS and because we were busy barking up the TSA tree and getting the run-around from Continental employees for so long we were not able file our documents within the prescribed time period which is 24 hours after landing so, according to Curtis Richmond, Continental Airlines is also not responsible for reimbursing us for the value of the goods that were taken from our luggage.

What’s eating us up (besides the loss of expensive and essential belongings) is the impunity the Continental Airlines policy seems to foster. By saying that the airline is not responsible for the fate of restricted items Continental Airlines is, essentially, issuing a license to steal to any employee who sees something that falls into this category.

As long as you know the item is restricted feel free to “forget” to log it and  go ahead and take it home. Right now some smug Continental employee is probably driving around on OUR $600 shock absorbers.

We’re pissed and we’re powerless. We’re also without a set of very expensive and very essential truck parts.

And we’re sure that other airlines have similar loopholes in their baggage search and confiscation guidelines. Sadly, a simple Google search turns up many other people with similar stories.

Flyer beware, indeed.

As we await any semblance of a reasonable response from Continental Airlines regarding our stolen shock absorbers we thought we’d share this musical take on Airline angst (this time with United Airlines which recently merged with Continental). Though there’s nothing funny about having major baggage issues with an airline and then getting no compensation or assistance whatsoever, this video had us smiling between the tears.

 

We are heartened to learn that a Tiger Air passenger recently won reimbursement from the airline for the value of his lost luggage and the excess baggage he paid–but only after he made his own musical stink.

Pathetic but true: it now requires a Hollywood production to get what we used to call Customer Service from an airline. So be it.

 

 

Support us on Patreon


12 Comments - Join the conversation »


Page 1 of 212