Travel Gearology Update
Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

Jannell Howell kicked off her first around-the-world journey in January and has already explored Thailand and a bit of Cambodia. She is now in India with plans to see Jordan, Europe, and Morocco before coming back to the U.S. In 2010, Jannell started Traveljunkie’s World Tour to blog about her trip preparations and in the process became a self-confessed travel gearologist.  This post is in follow-up to a few gear & service items she highlighted prior to beginning her trip.

In January, I explained how my passion for gearology came about and shared a few items I was sure would make my around-the-world trip better.  I’ve had a few months to test them out on the road and want to provide some results.  Additionally, I’ve discovered several items that I have not used and am trying to decide if I they should stay in my suitcase.

Still loving my PacSafe Venture Safe backpack and its anti-theft powerhouse features.  I haven’t noticed any thwarted pickpocket attempts, but I do feel much better knowing I can lock down the zippers and that the bag is durable – no frayed seams, no broken components and no worn zippers.  The Venture Safe 25L backpack is my new ‘wubby’ as I always have it with me.  

As I’ve been staying in hotels/hostels with wi-fi, I haven’t used the Alfa long-range wi-fi antenna much.  Given that I used it recently at a bus station in Thailand to gain access to a remote wi-fi signal, I can honestly say that the antenna works as described.  I was even successful in using it to increase the wi-fi signal strength at a hostel I was staying in; unfortunately, I learned that a stronger signal does not increase the internet connection speed (drat!).  If I continue to stay in hotels, hostels, or apartments with decent wi-fi, I doubt I will need to use the antenna on a regular basis.

Now that I am traveling, my focus is no longer on accruing frequent flyer miles; luckily, the Travel Hacking Cartel offers videos and other tutorials to help me USE miles to my advantage. I will continue to look at the mileage accrual deals conveniently emailed to me for good opportunities, as my next goal is use frequent flyer miles to stay in a five-star resort.  Perhaps I should change my membership to start learning ways to obtain upgrades? 

The Mobal global sim card won’t really be used until an emergency, but I have tested it twice so far. There were no problems calling the US from Thailand and I had no difficulty receiving a call while in Cambodia. I can confirm (and as advised), that the GSM sim card does not work in Japan.  To coordinate with other travelers in Thailand, I purchased a local sim card for $12 US, but I didn’t use it to call home.  I have been relying on a combination of email, Skype, and Google Voice to keep in touch back home.  I will continue to test the Mobal sim card as I make my way through Nepal, India, Europe, and Morocco.

After lengthy research, I purchased and brought a few items that I have yet to use:

— Headlamp (guess I am not staying in remote places)

— 65L waterproof bag (this was a “what if” purchase)

— Sink plug (I tend to wash clothes in the shower with me – rinse and hang up right away). Plus, having laundry done in Southeast Asia has been extremely inexpensive.

— I have yet to use my sleep sheet. Either I am a gross person or I just haven’t stayed anywhere icky yet?

In the next month or so, I’ll decide if I should purge a few items from my suitcase. I have a nagging suspicion that as soon as I send home something – THAT is when I’m going to need it!  As I am meeting and talking to other travelers on the road, I am adding to my list of travel gear and services to research.  I’ve come to understand that there is a wide range of travel styles and traveler types. For the moment I’m in the ‘flashpacker’ (backpacker with a bigger budget) category. Gear is not static – one size doesn’t necessarily fit all.

What items have you found most useful when you travel? What have you discovered you can do without?


Travel Gear Tips from a ‘Gearologist’
Monday, January 9th, 2012

Jannell HowellJannell Howell is about to embark on an around-the-world journey that will take her through many countries including Thailand, India, Jordan, and Europe before coming back to the U.S. 15 months ago, she began blogging about her preparations on her site Traveljunkie’s World Tour.

Jannell has discovered a love of researching travel-related gear and services and shares some of her favorite finds with us.

While going through Meet, Plan, Go!’s Career Break Basic Training, I was introduced to some pretty incredible services and gear that I didn’t know existed. In the process of learning more about these newfound products, I found that I REALLY enjoyed the research. I have since completed the Basic Training course, but have continued to explore new items and I look forward to further study which, I admit, borders on obsession . . . perhaps I’ve become a travel gear-ologist?


VentureSafeThe PacSafe VentureSafe 25L backpack is my favorite piece of gear so far. The VentureSafe has a deceivingly large amount of space, a padded 13″ laptop pocket and is surprisingly comfortable.

It’s also an anti-theft powerhouse with slash-proof metal ‘exomesh’ within the fabric, zippers that hook and hide closed and extra durable slash-proof straps. I think the VentureSafe is the ultimate traveler’s daypack and am so pleased I got one.

Wifi Antenna

One piece of gear that I can’t wait to see in action is an Alfa 802.11g/n wifi antenna. I got this tip from Anil Polat of FoxNomad (Thanks, Anil!). This palm-size antenna plugs into my laptop via USB port and is said to increase the wireless Internet range so I can search and find more (hopefully unlocked) networks. The Alfa wifi antenna can be used with either PC or Mac operating systems and boasts a strong signal, high speed data transfer rate, and keeps my wireless data secure. I love that the antenna is only 2 ounces and measures 3.5 x 2.5 inches (8.5 x 6.3cm) so it can be packed easily.

Airline Miles

Travel Hacking CartelHands down, the best service I’ve used this last year is the Travel Hacking Cartel by Chris Guillebeau. Per the Cartel website, Chris ‘teaches members about glitch fares, round-the-world tickets, padding mileage accounts, earning elite status and much more’. Members get video tutorials on what travel hacking is all about and deal alerts emailed to them on airline mileage promotions, hotel points, car rental offers – even frequent dining programs!

Chris offers a guarantee of at least four free plane tickets a year and monthly memberships start as low as $15 (well worth the information you get) with a 14-day trial period for just a dollar. With the information I learned in the Cartel, combined with some ‘strategic spending’, I’ve earned 94,000 frequent flyer miles in one year – without getting on a flight!

Sim Card

global sim cardOnce I am outside the U.S., I’ll explore Mobal’s global sim card service. I wanted the option to make/receive a regular phone call when I don’t have access to wifi/Skype. Since I will be traveling to more than 15 countries, I wanted to avoid the hassle of getting a new sim card for every country. Additionally, it is much easier to give my family one international phone number to reach me instead of 15+. By using the Mobal sim card in my unlocked GSM phone, I only have to pay for activation once ($9), the card works in over 190 countries without monthly service fees or minimum usage and never expires. Unlike other sim card providers, Mobal charges for calls after I’ve made them.

The best attribute about using Mobal’s sim card is the high quality call signal. The service will automatically connect to the strongest cell phone signal wherever I am. The only downer I could find about Mobal was the expensive call rates (from $1.50 to $3.95 per minute), but I don’t intend on using it often. Aside from testing it (in one minute spurts!), I’ll use the sim card in case of emergency when call quality is the most important.

Jannell HowellThese are just a few of my favorite items. I am already so confident about these products that I signed up as an affiliate, but will thoroughly ‘test-drive’ them in the coming months and will share my experience with Meet, Plan, Go! – So ‘stay tuned’.

You can read about other travel-related products I’ve studied and I will continue to research MANY more items. I’d love to hear from other travelers about their favorite gear and/or services (I gotta feed my obsession).

– Your friendly travel ‘gearologist’

Career Break T-Shirt
Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

“I Prefer Real Views to Screensavers” – a statement that every career breaker can embrace. And now you can now proudly show off your career break love with our very own Briefcase to Backpack t-shirt!

T-shirt Closeup

Thanks to the design-talent of Garrett Schemmel of Hostel Dog, this t-shirt was inspired by a post we wrote for BootsnAll: “Top 10 Reasons to Take a Career Break and Travel”.

2. View Your Screensavers in Real Life
Do you feel like your cubicle walls are shrinking in around you? Has carpel tunnel set in to your thumbs from too much Blackberry-ing? Do you find your eyesight decreasing from staring at your computer screen too long? Sounds like a great time to take a break longer than a cup of coffee!

Think about all those times you’ve come back from another long meeting and found yourself mesmerized by the serene images coming across your screen. Now think about how much more mesmerizing those cascading waterfalls, coastal sunsets, and sky-scraping mountains could be in person.

For those of you who have made the career break leap or those who are now planning, this shirt is for you!

Womens TMens T

Favorite Gear: Knopf MapGuides
Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

[singlepic=1844,250,,,right]I’ve always been great at directions. During road trips, I always loved playing shotgun while flipping through road maps. But that was before GPS took that job away from me.

And even though I was won over by the iPhone for the map feature alone, I’m still a big fan of old school printed maps when exploring a new city. Even before leaving on a trip, I will carefully study maps of the destinations I’m going to – including locating places I’m staying and sites I like to see. This is unbelievably helpful for making me feel acclimated that much faster upon arrival.

I recently discussed how when traveling with a partner, it is best to recognize each others strengths. And for me, that is map reader and director. I love this role because if someone else is leading, I often don’t pay attention to our path. And being dependent on another person to get around fills me with a sense of helplessness, especially if we separate.

Of course I don’t like sticking out like a tourist by standing on the street corner with a giant unfolded map. That’s when studying a map before hand helps. But recently I found a more discreet, and extremely helpful map, that includes destination highlights – so you can even leave the guidebook at home!

During a recent trip to London, I picked up the Knopf MapGuide: London (Knopf Mapguides).

It is extremely compact and easily fit into my purse, so I could always have it with me. The sections are broken up by neighborhoods/districts, and in addition to the easy fold-out maps (which are inconspicuous), each section includes highlights like restaurants, bars, museums and other essential places to see. It also includes a map of the Underground, so taking public transportation was easy to navigate.

So on this trip I was definitely happy to put down the iPhone (with the roaming charges) and rely on my Knopf MapGuide. I’ll be certain to use these more on future trips!

[singlepic=1845,175,,,left] [singlepic=1846,175,,,left] [singlepic=1847,175,,,left]

Travel Swag Contest!
Friday, June 25th, 2010

WIN a Camenae Travel Clutch!

Wednesday I wrote about how you can make career connections while you are traveling on your career break; it just takes a little networking and you may be able to line up your next job after your career break travels are finished!

I was able to do this when I was in Sinagpore and met the women who own/run CAMENAE – a luxury Italian handbag company.

Jill and Brittany, my part time employers, have always supported the work Michaela and I do on Briefcase to Backpack. They are avid travelers and both have been living overseas as expats for years. They were nice enough to offer one of their classy CAMENAE travel clutches for free to one of our lucky Briefcase to Backpack readers!

Whether you are traveling for a career break or for business – you still have to comply by all of the airport regulations. In most countries this means you can’t have any liquids loosely hanging out in your carry on bag – they must be contained.

What better way to contain those liquids than with the CAMENAE Travel Clutch!

It’s time to throw away those ugly zip lock bags and travel in style with the CAMENAE travel clutch!

Designed to FAA/TSA flight carry-on
security regulations (*3-1-1)

it can be used as a travel case, clutch, make-up case, or ipod case for the beach; you’ll be traveling in style and saving the environment from those plastic bags!

To win you very own CAMENAE travel clutch you simply need to do TWO simple things…but you have to do both…else you won’t be eligible to win!

1. Become a fan of CAMENAE on Facebook where you’ll get some behind the scenes information about their designs, photo shoots, and new collections.
2. Leave a comment on this post (below) describing why you’d like to win the CAMENAE Travel Clutch!

Simple right?!  Do both before July 5th, 2010 and you’ll be eligible to win!

Favorite Gear: Stocking Stuffers
Thursday, December 17th, 2009

When traveling for long periods of time, it’s essential to pack as light as possible. Here is some of our favorite travel gear that we feel is essential to add to your packing list. And as a bonus, they take up little space and make great stocking stuffers for the holidays!

And by purchasing these items for you or your favorite traveler, you will be spreading glad tidings of income for us here at Briefcase to Backpack.

[singlepic=1607,100,,,left]Knirps X1 Compact Umbrella – heavy duty, but tiny for travel. Comes with hard case that’s the size of an eyeglass case!

[singlepic=1605,100,,,left]Humangear GoToob Travel Bottle – the soft squeezable tubes for bathroom products.


Favorite Gear: Silk Sleep Sheets
Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

[singlepic=1465,175,,,right]One thing I don’t leave home without when traveling is a silk sleep sheet (also known as a mummy liner or sleeping bag liner). It’s lightweight and will be your savior when you check into a seedy hostel* in Greece, find yourself sleeping on an overnight train in Vietnam, or staying in a village in the hills of Thailand.

A sleep sheet is a lightweight sleeping bag minus the zipper. It’s made of silk and simply provides a barrier between you and any questionable beds, sheets, or bugs. (The silk versions are more expensive than cotton but much lighter and compact – worth the price difference.)


Favorite Gear: Eagle Creek Switchback
Monday, April 20th, 2009

[singlepic=1438,200,,,right]Suitcase or Backpack…why not both?

One of my favorite and yet to be retired travel items is my suitcase…I mean backpack…I mean suitcase; yes, it’s actually both.

When I started planning my around the world trip I had the typical dilemma of how I should carry my stuff. I knew I wasn’t a hard-core backpacker and I knew I wasn’t a luxury traveler either; my itinerary included both experiences. I was going to be backpacking through Africa, but staying in moderate places in Europe.

I knew that most of the time it would actually be possible to roll my luggage, but there would be some times when it was not an option and I would need to strap my possessions onto my back. I wanted functionality, yet a bit of sophistication. What a dilemma!


Favorite Gear: Headlamps
Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

Before I discovered the wonders of a headlamp, I never went on a trip without my small Maglite flashlight. It was small, light, useful and extremely handy – or so I thought. When I nearly lost it down the squat toilet late at night while trying to keep a cow from entering the tent, I became very envious of the other trekkers and their headlamps. And it would have proved useful on that same trip in Nepal as we began our ascent of Thorung La Pass at 2am in the morning. After that trip I was sold on the headlamp and haven’t traveled without one since.


Career Break Guide Table of Contents

Meet Plan Go