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9 things you should pack on every trip

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment
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As a frequent traveller, I have picked up some tricks that make travelling a lot easier. I wanted to share some of those with you and hopefully make your life a little easier.

Global WIFI Hotspot

I wrote my first review of the (gen 1) Skyroam Global hotspot in 2015 and it became one of my most used travel items. When they released (gen 2) a new LTE capable model, the Skyroam Solis, I bought one and reviewed it as well.

TL;DR: I have tested dozens of global roaming services (hotspots and global SIMs) and the product I carry in my bag every day is the Skyroam Solis.

Some readers have asked if my Skyroam tests were promotional and the answer is no. I have not received any compensation from Skyroam to test and review any of their products. When I find something that works well and is priced competitively, I recommend it.

I recommend you read my full review, but the summary is that the Skyroam Solis is a pre-paid global 4G (LTE) capable hotspot that works in 100+ countries. They offer an "unlimited" data package sold in chunks of 24 hours (day passes) for about $9 a day (or a monthly pass for $99).

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Most companies offering this type of service label their offering as "unlimited data" but this doesn't mean you can stream Netflix while cruising the french riviera. Every company I have reviewed imposes some type of "fair use policy". Skyroam's Solis day pass never cut-off your data access but does slow it down to a painful (and barely usable) 2G after you consumer about 500MB per 24-hour period. This period resets during each day pass.  This means that you shouldn't be streaming music or videos (Spotify, Google Music, Apple Music, Youtube, Netflix, HULU, Amazon Video, etc).

As an example, the GeefiGlobal WIFI hotspot fair use policy says "GeeFi will begin limiting the download speed after you exceed 500 MB (megabytes) of data in most countries".

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Frequent travellers can buy a Skyroam Solis WIFI hotspot for $149.99 (includes one day pass worth $9). Infrequent travellers can rent a Skyroam Solis with the appropriate number of day passes for $9.95 a day (basically $1 per day to rent the unit plus shipping costs back and forth).

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Collapsible water bottle

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I wrote about the Nomander collapsible water bottle in 2016 and still recommend it for travel.

TL;DR: The Nomander water bottle is a light flexible easy to pack piece of kit you can store easily and use when needed. It avoids having to pay $5 for a 500ml bottle of water that would otherwise cost $0.50 anywhere in the "real world".

The Nomanderis made from food grade silicone so it doesn't retain smell.  It is leakproof. Where my older recommendation (the Vapur) becomes giggly when less than 3/4 full, the Nomander retains its shape fairly well for a foldable bottle. 

With the plastic sleeve in the middle, the bottle is sturdy enough to stand on its own.  The Nomander is (top rack) dishwasher safe, You can also freshen it up, like most other water bottles by soaking a mixture of filtered water and fresh cut lemons for 24-hours.

The water filter

Browse the aisles of any camping goods store and prepare to be amazed at the dozens of water filters available for your immediate purchase. I have been camping most of my life and have travelled to many locations known for terrible horribly diseased water.

I have tried over a hundred filters, tablets and sterilizers. The one I keep coming back to over and over is the Grayl. I first wrote about the Grayl water filter in 2016 and have been recommending it since. It beats every other filter I had tried before or that I have tested since.

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TL;DR: The Grayl water filter is the easy to use, easy to carry, low maintenance and high-reliability water filter you want when in the backcountry or when travelling to locations with questionable water sanitation practices.

When using the orange travel filter, you purify and sanitize the water with one (strong) push. This means I no longer carry a UV sterilizer (Steripen) in addition to a filter (Lifestraw or Sawyer mini).

The Grayl Orange Travel filter removes:

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Each cartridge lasts about 300 uses (with 3 full uses a day, a single filter would last 100 days). The filtering process requires a bit of brute strengh but you never have to worry about batteries and there is no need to backwash the filter. 

Portable laundry machine

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Everyone starts travelling with lots of extra clothes and big check-in pieces of luggage. Eventually, you learn that one-bag travel is the only way to go. One-bag travel does mean you are travelling with the minimum and thus may need a way to clean your clothes while on the move. 5 years ago I bought a Scrubba wash bag and have brought it with me on almost every trip (longer than a week).

TL;DR: The Srubba is a waterproof bag with scrubbing "teeth" you can use to clean your clothes anywhere in about 10 minutes.

Scrubba has become a trusted travel item for business trips and family adventures (vacations with kids, camping, road trips, etc). I use this with either  Woolite Travel Laundry Soap individually packaged travel packets or Dr. Bronner organic Castille soap. Both of these detergents are gentle, work with all types of materials and wash out easily without leaving a soapie residue.

Airborne and NoJetlag

I started taking both of these products 6-7 years ago and believe they help keep me healthy when travelling (particularly the long North America to Asia flights).

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I am not a doctor and the effect could be nothing more than placebo but since I started taking Airborne on longer flights, I find I get sick a lot less Worst case scenario, it is a vitamin C supplement but my experience has been very positive. I have managed to stay healthy even with colleagues have gotten sick.

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When travelling to faraway destinations, I started using No-Jet-Lag. While consulting for Cathay Pacific Airlines (based in Hong Kong), a flight attendant recommended it and I have used it ever since (when travelling through more than 4-5 time zones).

The simple rule of thumb is to chew on one tablet, every time your plane takes off and every time it lands.  Then chew on one tablet every 2 hours while in flight. I normally follow the manufacturer instructions and take it an hour before or 2 hours after a meal.

I'm the first person to admit the questionable medical value of homeopathic products and my results may be nothing more than a placebo effect but it has worked for me and has been recommended to me by about a dozen different flight crew members.

Tom Bihn Synapse 25 backpack

Talking about backpacks is almost akin to talking about religion. It seems people are easily offended when you recommend something different than their preferred bag.  Unlike the average traveller, I have 1M+ miles under my belt and have recently tested about 25 different (well rated) backpacks before I recommended the Tom Bihn Synapse 25 backpack February 2018.

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TL;DR: If you can only buy one backpack (EDC, work and travel), I recommend the USA designed and manufactured Tom Bihn Synapse 25 backpack.

I recommend you read my full review here. This bag is light, durable and has carefully designed features that will make travel much easier. Plus it is built like a tank and will not break on your mid-trip.

Best carry on luggage

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I first recommended the RedOxx AirBoss in March 2012 and it has been my favourite carry-on luggage since. I have tried 50-60 different products since and always come back to this thing. It is designed to last and comes with a no questions lifetime warranty. Along with Tom Bihn, RedOxx offers the best warranty in the business. 

The RedOxx AirBoss is a 100% USA designed and manufactured bag. It is made from incredibly resilient materials. The bag you see above has travelled 1,000,000 + miles since 2012 and it looks almost brand new.

  • Since does not have wheels, I am rarely asked to check its size.
  • It has a flexible shell which means I can push and shove it into even the smallest overhead compartments.
  • It doesn't waste any room on wheels and a pull handle which maximizes available space
  • It can be used with or without packing cubes

If you could buy only 1 luggage that will have to last 10+years, this is the one.

Pacsafe anti-theft packs

There are times when you will be travelling to riskier destinations where theft is a real constant concern (Shanghai, Delhi, Mumbai, Barcelona, etc). Then travelling to these "special" locations, you may have to take specialized gear to stay safe and no one offers a wider selection of anti-theft backpacks, packs and bags than Pacsafe.

I own both a Pacsafe backpack and a shoulder pack. Both of my products are no longer offered but you can easily find something that would meet your needs. During "normal" trips, I would choose the lighter and more functional Tom Bihn Synapse 25 every time but when I need extra security, the Pacsafe products are a must.  The bags are lined with a metal mesh to prevent theft by slashing. Even the shoulder straps are reinforced with metal mesh to prevent a slash and go incident. Best of all, the Pacsafe bags look like normal everyday products.

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I own an older version of the Metrosafe and found an everyday use for it you may find interesting. In addition to keeping my valuables safe while I travel, I use it when at the beach or public pool.  I lock it to a bench or medium tall tree and know my valuables (glasses, wallet, cell phone, etc) will be there when I get back. When at the beach, I can go swimming without worrying that someone will steal my wallet. All you have to do it pair it with a travel cable based lock. 

Best collapsible water bottle

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment

The right gear makes travelling so much better.In 2014, I wrote an article about (my then) favourite foldable water bottle. At the time, it was the best foldable (small form factor) bottle money could buy but recently I discovered a new collapsible water bottle that puts the Vapur to shame. 

Why?

With tighter and tighter airport security screenings, bringing your own water became a taboo. Most people just fork over the $5-7 a bottle and buy it at the airport convenience store but no more. 

What is it?

The Nomader Collapsible water bottle is small, lightweight and easy to carry. Once you pass through all the security checkpoints, you unfold it, fill it and relish the thought that you just saved $5.

The Nomader is a leakproof bottle made of food grade silicone (BPA free) that holds 22 ounces. When fully extended and filled, it feels as close to a solid bottle as a collapsible bottle can.  The Vapur became giggly and you often ended up splashing water on yourself. This was a major complaint I had with the Vapur. 

The other issue with the Vapur is that after 12 months of use, my bottle sometimes leaked water from the top cap. Not so with the Nomader.

Water Filter

If you follow my blog, you have undoubtedly read my undying love for the Grayl water filter and purifier. If not, you should immediately read my post about it here, You can carry both (if going to an area with clean water concerns), and fill the Nomader once you filter the water with The Grayl. These 2 make a wonderful combo for travel.

Review of The Grayl Ultralight water filter & purifier

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment

Over the last 25 years, I have logged close to 1 million air miles and I have traveled to all four corners of the world. Much of my time has been spent in locations where water quality is questionable and improper handling can make you very very very very very sick. 

My traditional solution has been to use a particulate filtering system (like the Sawyer Mini water filter) and then sterilizing the product using a Steripen UV Sterilizer. In locations were I wanted to be doubly sure or my Steripen ran out of batteries, I also used Aquamira water purification tablets. 

Welcome The Grayl water purifier

July 2016, I discovered and tested my stainless steel The Grayl water purifier & filter. I wrote a review about it here.  Since discovering it, it has been part of my Everyday Carry Kit (EDC kit) and is always with me (normally with the tap water filter). 

It met every single one of my requirements. It is self contained, easy to use and doesn't require batteries. I asked a university researcher friend to test 2 water samples (one from a pond and pond water filtered through the Grayl Water Purifier with the travel filter) and his conclusion was that the purified water coming from The grayl was clean and drinkable without any concerns. 

He then compared it to the pond water filtered through the Sawyer mini then sanitized with the Steripen and found them of equivalent quality and safety (giving a slight edge to The Grayl).

So for all intents and purposes, this one simple to carry item did everything I needed it to do. But it had one negative, it was heavy. It was smaller (in volume) to the Steripen+Sawyer mini but weighed more. Weight is critically important when travelling.

Discover The Grayl Ultralight lightweight water purifier & filter

The Grayl reached out to me after my last review and asked if I wanted to test their Ultralight. I already loved my stainless steel Legend and didn't know why they would move to plastic. Isn't plastic bad? 

Plastic is more porous thus has more surface area that can eventually get mouldy. It has more surface area that can capture smells. The Grayl has a nice trick up its sleeve. Unlike other water containers, when you completely disassemble any The Grayl water filter, you have a center tube (the clean water container) open on both sides therefore cleaning it is super simple.

I tried The Grayl Ultralight and I became a believer. I went from 588 grams to 309 grams. It may not sound like a major difference but is important when you are carefully planning every gram (whether for travel, hiking or as part of a survival kit).

The Legend also has a sealable mouth hole that sometimes restricts water flow too much, whereas the Ultralight has a large twist off top. 

Beyond the pond

Everyone I show this too ends up buying one. 2 friends recently went on a 1 month Asian business trip, touching countries such as India, Vietnam, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, Hong Kong, China and a couple more.

They used the travel filter and didn't get sick once. They didn't have to drink from disposable water bottles and they didn't have to pay for exorbitant hotel water (between $US5-12 a bottle).

There are certain unscrupulous vendors that will replace the clean water in a single-use water bottle with dirty tap water (keeping the clean water for themselves). They do this by making a small hole in the bottom of the bottle (the injection moulding point) and then once they refill it with tap water. They seal the bottom hole with glue the bottom. When you buy this tainted product, you crack open the cap and assume it is clean, fresh, safe water when it isn't. Filtering your own water means you aren't dependent on anyone else. 

Recommendation

Whether you are a traveler, a camping enthusiast or a prepper (preparing for a disaster), this is something that you need in your kit. The Grayl Ultralight is now part of my Everyday Carry Kit. I don't leave home without it and I actually bought a couple as gifts.

This has become one of my most recommended items (travel and EDC). 

In Canada, you can buy :

  • Ultralight for $64.99 at Altitude Sport comes with the travel filter here
  • hybrid (stainless steel cup and plastic outer shell) from MEC for $58 here, comes with the tap filter

In the USA, you should buy it directly from The Grayl $59 here

Review of The Grayl water purifier and filter

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment

The problem

As a "light prepper", lover of camping and traveler, I have been looking for the ultimate water filter/canteen/bottle for years.  I have tried over 50 different solutions over the last 10 years and although some did better than others, most left me wanting more. 

Most of my readers are young professionals so here is the scenario for you. You just finished a long day while travelling and finally came back to your hotel room. All the shops nearby are closed and you want some fresh clean water. Do you drink tap water (which often tastes bad) or do you pop open one of those $8 bottles the hotel strategically places in your room?

Now until recently, my solution was to use the Sawyer Mini in straw mode, that way I didnt have to trust the (likely dirty glass in the room) or the bad tasting water. It did a decent job but wasn't practical and didn't improve the taste of the water, 

Now imagine the situation when  you are travelling overseas. The water quality is often questionable. This meant I had to filter the water with the Sawyer mini first then zap it using Ultraviolet light (UV Sterilization) with my Steripen. Taste didn't improve, the solution didn't remove contaminants but at least I was unlikely to get sick. But my onebag travel (carryon only) means I sacrificed other comforts to make room for these 2 devices.

The Solution

Following the recommendation of a trusted acquaintance, I picked one up during one of my trips to the USA (I picked up the Quest model but all of them filter exactly the same way). The Grayl promised to filter and purify the water easily and in a compact package.

  • Filtration: Filtration means the water is cleaned from contaminants
  • Purification: Purification means the water is safe to drink

This one product is performing the same task as my Sawyer Mini and Steripen. All without any pumping, batteries or extra containers. They claim (and have independent lab tests to prove it):

  •  Removes 99.9999% of viruses (e.g. Rotavirus, Hepatitis A)
  • Removes 99.9999% of bacteria (e.g. E coli, Salmonella)
  • Removes 99.999% of protozoan cysts (e.g. Giardia, Cryptosporidium)
  • Filters particulates (e.g. sediment, dirt), many chemicals (e.g. chlorine, benzene) and heavy metals (e.g. lead, arsenic)

Now the level of filtration depends on which filter you attach, so let's talk about those...

The Grayl Filters

The Grayl water filter and purifier offers 3 very different filters (all filters will work will all models). The filters are Tap (blue), Trail (green) and Travel (orange).

I use the Tap (blue) $15US filter when in locations with known clean tap water to remove  some chemicals (e.g. chlorine, iodine) and heavy metals (e.g. lead, arsenic). Anywhere else, (Camping or travel), I use the orange $25US Travel filter that provides the maximum filtration. Using the tap filter costs about $0,10US/L while the Travel costs $0.17/L. Each filter is good for 150L. 

The Trail filter cost's $20 but is being discontinued.

I tried the Travel filter in a local lake and it worked like a charm. I tried it with very strong smelling well water (caused by Hydrogen sulfide) and the resulting water, using the Travel filter, was clean no smell fresh tasting water.

The Process

The process is simple and straight forward. No sucking, squeezing, or zapping. You fill the outer container with your tainted water, insert the middle section and press down. The Tap filter is easier to push and takes about 7 seconds. The Travel filter provides more resistance, more filtration and therefore takes a full 30 seconds.

You don't have to count, the resistance from the filter will guide you. You just press down with a reasonable amount of force and let it do its job. You can then drink directly from the top of the bottle or pour it into a canteen (which I don't do).

Important additional notes

You fill the outer shell with the "dirty" water then press the inner-core filter section down like a french press. It is important to make sure dirty water from your hands doesn't contaminate the inter tube (where the fresh clean water is stored).

If using water with lots of sediment, I recommend using a handkerchief or bandana as a pre-filter, to prolong the life of the filter. 

My version is the Grayl quest with a plastic outer shell and a stainless steel inner shell (weighs about 16 oz). The full stainless steel version ,the Legend, weighs in at 20oz. The new Ultralight is all plastic and weighs only 10oz. If you are an ultralight camper or traveller then go with the Ultralight but I prefer to store my water in a stainless steel vessel and am fine with a little extra weight,

The Grayl fits in a standard car cup holder or the bottle holder of most bags I have tried it with, so no worries for day to say use. 

Complaints

It was hard to find anything negative to say about the Grayl. It has become my everyday carry water bottle. 

There is no automatic reminder to change your filter. They say it is about 3 months of use when used 3 times a day but it will be easy to lose count in the field. I don't know how they can add a counter but it is something to keep in mind.

Because of the design, it holds less water than you would expect at first glance. It carries 473ML. This is in no way a show stopper but something to keep in mind if using it in areas with limited water, You may need to carry additional untreated water in another water bag.

 

 

Sawyer Mini water filter review

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment

We assume most North Americans just drink the clean municipal tap water available freely everywhere. Then you learn that 50 billion water bottles were consumed last year in the US alone. So obviously some people have concerns about the quality of their water, You add to this travellers, campers and preppers. 

Regardless of why you want clean water, there are hundreds of options. Over the last 10 years, I have tested several dozen and have spoken to scientists & survival experts about their preferences. Thats when I learned about the Sawyer water filters.

The Sawyer mini weighs in at a paltry 1.4 ounces and can filter 100,000 gallons (from any freshwater source). This is an unheard price-usage ratio. 

Reliability

Reliability is critical when you are talking about water filters. A single drop of contaminated water can ruin a vacation and make you horribly sick. With a 0.1 micron hollow fiber membrane, this little wonder filter removes 99.99999% of all bacteria, such as salmonella, cholera and E.coli; removes 99.9999% of all protozoa, such as giardia and cryptosporidium. All of this without any moving parts, no batteries, and no chemicals.

I recently spoke to a water quality engineer for a major US city and he confirmed that during his tests, the Sawyer water filters (the mini and its older bigger brother) performed exactly as advertised. Who am I to argue with science.

It's important to note that the Sawyer mini does not remove chemicals, heavy metals or virus. Virus' aren't a concern in North America but can be if traveling to countries with bad sanitation. If virus' are an issue where you are going, you will need a different type of filter (like the sawyer SP-194 0.02 micron filter or a Steripen UV Sanitizer).

For multi-day use, the only maintenance you have to perform is to periodically back-flush the filter (using the provided syringe) with clean water. 

Use

The other important fact about the Sawyer mini is it's ease of use. You can attach the straw extension and drink from a stream (like you would on a LifeStraw). 

The mini's input side has a standard water bottle threaded screw which means you can use it with most commercial plastic water bottles.

The filter comes with a foldable flexible plastic flexible roll-up water (16 oz) bottle. You can use this to carry water with you and you can then squeeze water from the bottle to a canteen or you can drink straight from the clean end of the filter.

The third option is to use the Sawyer mini inline with a backpack water bladder. To use this technique, you cut the drinking hose of the bladder and insert the mini between the drinking sout and the cut hose. Using this technique means you are in survival mode because you are introducing contaminated water into the bladder which means you are always committing to use it with the Sawyer mini (not the best choice but options are good).

Some filters introduce a delay between wanting water and being able to drink. You have to either pump until your arm falls off. You have to chemically treat your water with tablets. Or you have to use one of the larger gravity feed systems. With the Sawyer mini, you simply attach and drink. No waiting, which is great while sweating. Plus typically water from a moving stream is cool so drinking it immediately mean it is also refreshing.

Conclusion

After everything is said an done, I now carry a Sawyer mini and Steripen anytime I travel and the Sawyer actually stays in my Everyday Carry bag. It is cheap ($25), effective 99.9999% against bacteria, fast, easy and reliable. When travelling to questionable locales, I'll fill a canteen up from the Sawyer then zap it with my Steripen for added piece of mind (to ensure there are no virus').

The only filter I want to test but haven't yet is the Grayl Water filter. The Sawyer mini get's 2 thumbs up.