Product Reviews

Carry-On Travel: How To Choose The Right Bag +Rise Gear Giveaway

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rise gearAfter over half a decade of full-time travel, I am ready to put my backpack to rest for a while and go on shorter trips instead of globetrotting nonstop. I started a trial for that last summer with a five-week trip around Europe: Berlin, Iceland, Amsterdam, London, Italy and Oktoberfest were on my itinerary, and one thing I realized quickly was that I was in desperate need of a decent carry-on bag. I’ve been traveling with a giant 65 liter backpack for years now, which is great for a notorious overpacker like me but impractical for shorter trips. The duffel bag I chose for my Euro trip last year, which spanned Iceland’s cold glaciers and Italy’s glorious summer temperatures, meaning I had to pack for summer and winter, turned out to be absolutely impractical. That’s when the search for an adequate carry-on bag began.

Luckily the search didn’t last long because soon after I was introduced to Rise Gear, a Canadian luggage company that focuses on efficient packing. More on that in a minute – let’s talk first about the factors you should consider when you’re in the market for a new piece of carry-on luggage, because there are so many different kinds and brands now that choosing one can be overwhelming. Here are the things you should pay attention to:

Price vs quality

You pay what you get for – and that definitely holds true for luggage. I have three (!) suitcases where the handle broke off, and had to throw out several cheapie rolling suitcases where the wheels or the handle broke after only a few times of using it. Now I am more interested in a piece of luggage that lasts for a decade or longer, rather than going for the cheapest one.

Type & Style

Are you looking for a backpack or a trolley suitcase? Are two wheels enough or are you looking for four wheels? Hard case or soft case? Duffel bag or a stylish flight briefcase? There are hundreds of variations. You’ll have to find out what works best for you – I for example dislike always having to pull a trolley and prefer a backpack or a duffel bag that has wheels.


There are some stylish pieces of luggage out there these days, but when I observe other travelers in airports, I sometimes wonder how practical their luggage is. More important than optics should be things like: storage capability, durance, the stability and length of the handle, the durability and performance of the wheels. If you are looking to buy a convertible bag, try out how easy it is to convert the bag. Extra features such as internal and external compartments and organizer pockets, an expansion system and integrated locks are also important.rise transformWeight & dimensions

With airline restrictions becoming stricter and stricter when it comes to carry-ons, especially on low budget carriers, you have to make sure that the dimensions of your luggage match these restrictions. If you are like me traveling with lots of electronics, I say: the lighter the better! To check carry-on restrictions (by weight and dimensions) for every airline, I highly recommend this practical luggage size chart.

How to travel with carry-on only, even on long trips

As I said before, I am not very good at restricting myself when it comes to what I bring on a trip, especially a long one. I think I could fill up a carry-on with shoes alone (but I’ve learned to downsize!), and I like having choices. The only reason why I am finally able to travel with carry-on only is the book The Carry-On Traveller: The Ultimate Guide to Packing Light by Erin McNeaney which I read earlier this year. I highly recommend it to anyone who also struggles to travel with carry-on only – the book is filled with invaluable on how to pack for trips spanning different climate zones and even long-term trips (the author has been traveling with carry-on only for over six years now), it taught me how to deal with airline restrictions such as liquids, and has plenty of tips from long-term travelers on how to pack practically – from families to make-up fanatics to photographers who travel with lots of gear. And not only that – for less than $5, you also get advice on things like travel insurance, bank accounts that are suitable for overseas travel, super useful travel apps and sample packing lists. Erin’s advice on how to find the right carry-on for you has also been indispensable for me.
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Introducing the Rise Glider

When I was introduced to Rise Gear, I found the RISE Glider carry-on bag in their range, which I thought was perfect for me since it wasn’t only a rolling suitcase but it also came with backpack straps so that I could use it as a backpack. And since my number one recommendation for most places usually is to travel with a backpack instead of rolling suitcases, I thought this combination of backpack and suitcase couldn’t get any better. I could pull the luggage in places like airports, but strap it on my bag in places where it’s inconvenient to have luggage on rolls, such as train or subway stations where I find myself running up and down stairs all the time. Or cobble stones – especially in Europe it’s just hugely inconvenient to drag around a rolling suitcase, so having the option to wear it on my back seemed ideal.
rise gear gliderBut that’s not what makes the Rise Glider special – what makes it stand out of the ever-growing range of practical luggage is its collapsible shelving system. When I tried it, I had to ask myself why nobody else has come up with it. Check out the video below to see how exactly the shelves work:

You basically pack everything in the compartment you assign for it – there are compartments for clothes, but also for shoes and toiletries, laundry and a padded 15″ laptop compartment. And when you arrive, you simply pull out the shelving system and hang it in your hotel room or in the apartment you’re staying. The shelves are detachable, by the way, so you can store your suitcase in a different place, but you could also just leave it hanging underneath the shelves. I really don’t think you could pack in a more efficient way – during a Europe trip like the one I did last year, with lots of moving around and several stops, this packing system is perfect.
rise glider shelf systemYou always find your stuff right away. And also: with lots of cobble-stone streets everywhere in Europe, I love that I can unpack the straps (they can be stowed away in a pocket on the outside of the bag) within seconds and carry the suitcase on my back. I always prefer a backpack over a rolling suitcase and I have found it to be very comfortable when I carry it on my back since the front side of the Glider, to which the straps are attached, is padded. And because the suitcase is carry-on sized, it can’t get too heavy either – so far, I haven’t been missing the extra waist support that comes with a proper backpack.

I have also used the trolley function of the Glider, I am able to easily pull it with its solid metal telescoping extension handle, and find the rolling wheels to be sturdy and robust.
rise gear rollingThe only downsides of the luggage – or let’s say room for improvement: I like having a large outside pocket on my bag for travel documents and a magazine, but because of the backpack straps, there are only two small outside compartments on each side. The suitcase is also pretty heavy, so I am not sure if I’d get into trouble boarding a plane with it, which I have yet to try.

rise gear shelf systemPractical information

The luggage I am using is the Rise Glider rolling carry-on with a blue shelving system and detachable backpack straps. You can buy it via, and if you sign up for the Rise newsletter, you’ll get 10 % off!

  • Dimensions: 22″ x 14″ x 9″ inches (56cm – 36cm – 23cm); the hooks of the shelving system fit comfortably around 1.5″diameter bars
  • Weight: 11 lbs (5kg)
  • Materials: Polyester, nylon, metal, and rubberized strength steel hooks
  • Volume: 45l
  • Price: $323.00 (free shipping in the U.S. and Canada)

Note: If you are looking for a smaller bag, check out Rise Gear’s overnight jumper ($99) and Weekender ($139) duffel bags. Both come with the collapsible shelving system that makes Rise Gear so unique.
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Rise Gear Giveaway

I love the concept of the collapsible shelving system which is I am giving away one Riser, which fits in a carry-on. The system has shelves for clothes, a shoes and toiletries compartment, a laundry compartment, and each shelf holds up to 20lbs.

You can enter the giveaway via the pop-up window in this article!

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Packing made easy with the TUO, the ultimate Travel Undergarment Organizer

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If you’ve been following me for a while, you know that I am obsessed with packing cubes. I have four packing cubes packing cubesin different sizes which I use to separate my clothes – and since I’ve been using them, packing has become so much easier. Not only packing: finding stuff is what the packing cubes are really facilitating, and having them saves me so much time. No more rummaging around in my luggage in search of my running clothes – I know exactly which cube they’re in. T-shirts, pants, dresses – everything is rolled up neatly and stored in their respective cubes.

But there is always one that’s disorganized: my underwear cube. In this one, I just throw everything together: my socks, my panties, my bras. I admit, it’s a mess.
underwear packing cube messSo when I saw this video of the ultimate travel undergarment organizer (short: TUO) by Origami Unicorn, I was sure that they must have gotten wind of my underwear mess. See for yourself:

TUO, The Ultimate travel undergarment organizer by Origami Unicorn. Short packing presentation. Signature White. from ORIGAMI UNICORN on Vimeo.

This was exactly what I needed! When the TUO arrived in the mail a few days later, I was impressed with the sleek design of the product. It comes in a sturdy plastic sleeve (which I totally reused for something else), and is made of water resistant nylon fabric. The organizer comes in four different colors: black, white, hibiscus black and hibiscus white – I opted for black, figuring it doesn’t get dirty as fast as a white one would.

origami underwear organizerWhen you open the snap buttons and unfold it, you see that the TUO has three different compartments. All three are see-through and close with a zipper, and the top two compartments have three separate elastic pockets each inside.origami underwear organizer

For me it made sense to put my bras in the bottom compartment since they wouldn’t fit in the little pockets, and use the other two compartments for socks and panties/thongs. I love the little pockets – that way I could not only separate my socks from my thongs for example, but also divide my workout socks from my regular socks (which I stuffed into the pockets) and my thongs from my panties. The see-threw compartments make it easy to see where you put everything, but once you have a system in place like I do now, you will know in which compartment you stored which items.

origami underwear organizer

Once you’ve filled the organizer, you simply fold the thirds together, close it with the snap buttons and it is ready to go into your suitcase or backpack. I love the efficient and compact design, and how light it is. Of course you are not limited to using it for underwear – I find the little pockets useful for all sorts of stuff – jewelry for example, a belt, or other accessories.

The practical function of the TUO doesn’t stop at the easy packing and optimizing luggage space, however: it also serves as a hanging organizer, replacing your underwear dresser.origami underwear organizer

When I am staying longer in a place and unpack my backpack, I usually just dump my underwear and socks into one dresser compartment, similar to the mess in my packing cube – but with the TUO, I can hang it, keeping things neat and tidy and easily accessible while I am at my destination. It came in super handy in my room in a shared apartment in Mexico City where there wasn’t much storage space for anything, and I will also be using it in Arizona, where I’ll be staying for a few weeks, making it worthwhile to unpack my backpack.

The TUO has one more well thought out feature: it comes with a small bag for dirty laundry. Since I have a big laundry bag though (which I love!), I decided to use it in a different way, and put my bikinis inside of it. They used to be together with my underwear in my packing cube, but I’ve found it much more practical to keep them in this separate little bag – No more searching through my cube for the top and the bottom.

origami underwear organizerOf course you could also use it for something different (I have so many little items in my backpack that could go in there), or use it as a dirty laundry bag just for your underwear. I can imagine that some of my fellow nomads who travel with carry-on luggage only hand wash their underwear occasionally, and then it would make sense to keep them separate from other dirty clothes.

The organizer is designed for 7 days of undergarments, but I was able to fit more inside – this might be because women’s underwear and socks are smaller than men’s, and I prefer thongs to panties.origami underwear organizer

Where to get the TUO

If you love the concept of this organizer as much as I do, you can order your own for US$49.90 here. (Tip: Sign up for the Origami Unicorn newsletter to get 10% off!). For more details, visit

Origami Unicorn TUOGiveaway: Win your own TUOorigami underwear organizer dani

Because I love this travel undergarment organizer so much, I am excited to give away one TUO to one lucky reader! All you have to do is enter the giveaway via the Rafflecopter box below: leave a comment and tell me which color you’d like the TUO in if you win the giveaway! (You can see all available models here)

Good luck!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

The giveaway will close on 30 April 2016.
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Our new Donner daypack is just what the doctor ordered | Product Review

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I don’t like to think of myself as lazy, but there is one thing that had really been bothering me. Way back when we started traveling, Dani took initiative and became the one who brought a backpack everywhere we went. She’s the one with the camera, and the extra lens, so naturally she would always bring a bag. I would throw in my iPhone, my bottle of water, then there are things like wallets, gum, little snacks and suddenly Dani is carrying around this heavy pack every day, while I stand around with empty pockets. The thing is, she didn’t even really mind. She has no problem carrying a full pack all day, whereas on the occasions I would offer to give her shoulders a break, mine would start bothering me within a half an hour or so. I’ve been feeling pretty guilty about it lately, too.

That’s why when we were put in touch with Overland Equipment, I was ecstatic about testing out my own bag and their Donner bag looked like the right one for me.

overland equipment bagI liked this bag from the start and not only because it would assuage my non-carrier guilt. I’ve also been on a big organization kick this year, trying to keep things in the best order possible. I want to have my own wallet, pens, maps and phone on me, right where I know where they are. This bag seemed just right to avoid as much stress as possible. Think I am being dramatic? Perhaps. But some of you may remember reading about our big Lisbon freak-out? I need to make sure I know where everything is at all times.

The Donner is sturdy but slim, with one main compartment and then a separate front section with different size pockets for notes, pens, and even a padded slot for my iPhone. There are deep outside pockets on either side, which are the each fit a small water bottle, too. Plus, I really dig the colors. Because we’ll be using it for traveling, I like the inconspicuous coffee brown color on the outside, but really love the extra pizazz of the yellow interior when you lift the flap or look inside.

Well, I had the bag for all of a few days before one of the two outside pockets became the perfect pocket for Dani’s long lens. Honestly, it fits surprisingly well and I had no qualms about carrying it…

dani with overland equipment bagPretty soon though, Dani started bringing the bag on her long walks with Millie, the dog we were caring for. The bag really carries weight well, so between her camera, the lenses and the dog water bottle, the bag worked great. Over the next few days, I quietly noticed how the bag was always on Dani’s shoulders, not mine.

She loves the Donner bag as much as I do, and says she doesn’t mind carrying this one either. One good thing is that it is smaller than the other day-pack, which means at least it won’t be as heavy or filled with extra ‘stuff’ we don’t need. The only downside to that is it doesn’t hold a laptop for the days we go to work in a cafe. In addition to all the front pockets, and side pockets, there is also an easy-access large pocket in the back that getting to our plane tickets and passports much easier through the boarding on our way down to Cancun the other day, and it will work for holding a small notebook, pens and a map when we’re roaming around cities in the future.

overland equipment donner bagThe only complaint about the bag is the Velcro on the outside front pocket. It makes that typical ripping sound every time she opens the bag, which is loud, but the bigger concern is that the Velcro is less secure than a zipper would be. This means that when we are in a city like Buenos Aires, Dani – I mean we – might not use all those great organizational pockets that attracted me to the bag in the first place.

For now though, it would seem that *we* have found ourselves the perfect new day-pack…

overland equipment donner bag

Full disclosure: We would like to thank Overland Equipment for providing a complimentary bag for us to test. As always, the opinions in this review and all other product reviews are entirely our own. 

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Product review: Vasque Mindbender Trail Running Shoes

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For the last two years, I have been lugging around both a pair of hiking shoes and multi-purpose tennis shoes for long city strolls and travel days. With just one backpack, size really matters, so I wanted to find one pair of shoes that could replace both, especially the heavy duty hiking shoes. But while not adventure travelers, we tend to do some big hikes, like the day we went volcano boardingthe day we became cave explorers and the day we became mountaineers.

Just before staring a massive shoe search, we were put in touch with Vasque, who offered to send me out a pair of their Vasque Mindbender trail running shoes to test. I had never heard of the Vasque brand before and was not sure about the offer, but when a few minutes of research online revealed some hard core brand fans, I was convinced to test out whether these were the replacement shoes for me.

vasque velocity trail running shoesFrom the minute I tried on the Mindbenders, I was in love. They felt comfortable on my feet from the start, which is a relief for me as I have wide feet and don’t always find shoes I can say are the perfect fit. The shoes are lightweight but durable, and the tread is perfect for the trail running I was doing in the Arizona desert. The shoes should be even better for our upcoming adventure on the Mexican Yucatan peninsula.

We have a habit of traveling to places in their hottest season and one major problem for me is how hot and sweaty my feet get. The Vasque Mindbender has a nylon mesh material that lets in just enough air to keep my feet dry, and so far I have yet to have sweaty feet in these shoes!

vasque velocity trail running shoe green like a cactusThough these shoes are intended for gripping mud or sprinting through sand, I tried them on solid concrete and was happy when even after hours of walking around my feet did not hurt. For the limited time I spend not wearing sandals on hot city streets, these will work perfectly. What’s even better is that I am now confident I have found the perfect shoes for our 4-day trek on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru, which has been a lifelong dream.

These shoes were provided on a complimentary basis, but as always, all opinions are entirely our own.

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Why mother is a four-letter word in Spanish | Madre, a book review

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When Liza got in touch with us to review ‘Madre’, we were more than happy to comply. After over 9 months in Latin America last year we fell head over heels for Latin culture and couldn’t wait to follow along on Liza’s own journey. Enjoy!

Ranging from ‘b*itch’ to ‘untalented’ to ‘I don’t give a sh*t, the word Madre (Mother) is used in everyday Spanish in hundreds, if not thousands, of negative expressions. From her days living in Mexico and after her return to the U.S.,  author and linguistic anthropologist Liza Bakewell, held countless conversations over the years with a truly eclectic set of friends and academics in attempt to uncover how the word mother became a four letter word.  Witnessing Bakewell’s passion to understand specific aspects of the Spanish language woven in with stories of her time spent in Mexico create an entertaining travelogue, as well as creating a blueprint for anyone who is serious about successfully learning a language. She creates a window into Latino, specifically Mexican, culture by posing questions to various friends and acquaintances that result in heated cultural debate, sharp intellectual discourse and rowdy laughter.

As Bakewell begins a spell in Mexico City, she notes graffiti on a wall which shouts ‘A toda madre o un desmadre’. Although she felt she was fairly fluent, she can only decode the phrase literally as ‘to everything mother or an un-mother,’ which makes no sense. As she spends more time in Mexico,  she discovers that these sayings using the word ‘madre’ make less and less sense to her. Why does ‘des-madre’ (un-mother) describe someone who is a waste of space, and why does ‘me vale madre’ (literally: it is worth mother to me) translate to ‘I don’t give a damn’?

Madre by Liza Bakewell

Bakewell is further incensed when she discovers that the use of ‘padre’, meaning father, is as positive as mother is negative in Mexican slang. Whereas ‘madre’ is used in countless shades of derogatory expressions, the use of Padre is simple: ‘Qué padre’ means ‘how cool’, ‘padre, no?’ means ‘good, right?’, and the superlative ‘padrisimo’ means fabulous.

Readers follow ready and willing along on this journey, which, for such an intellectual travelogue, is jam-packed with a spicy mix of four-letter words as we learn the translations for the plethora of disrespectful terms. The writing is entertaining, the tone is cheeky and yet her anthropological and linguistic research is clearly very serious and logical.

While Madre delves in a very specific aspect of the Spanish language, even non Spanish speakers can be entertained. However one, perhaps unintentional, benefit of reading Madre is that this book holds the key to successful language learning within its pages. There is not one lesson, and that is not the book’s intent. With Madre, Bakewell subtly yet effectively highlights key learning habits for anyone serious about learning a foreign language. Becoming both bilingual and bicultural is made possible not from parroting back words or phrases from the teacher, but from taking an active part in understanding the culture in which each language is spoken. As a (former) English teacher, one of the most difficult hurdles was that while language learners may eagerly come to class with their dictionaries and sharpened pencils at the ready, the key to success is that tenacious mindset to understand the interwoven intricacies of language and culture. Only when you accept that you must learn both can you ever truly master a language.

As we fly off to Thailand next week, I will be taking my own advice to do the best I can to pick up as much Thai as possible from the locals. As Liza Bakewell puts it, language learning truly takes place in ethnographic laboratories – kitchen tables, bars, real life conversations and the subtitle of Madre says it all: You must dive in and take a journey with the language if you truly want to master it.

Pick up your copy of Madre: Perilous Journeys with a Spanish Noun
on Amazon as a hardback copy or the Kindle version of Madre

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