Air Boss or Sky Train?

This last weekend we went to visit some family for a long weekend. I took the Air Boss, after a bit of deliberation.

The Air Boss is best suited for trips where you can use the bundle packing method. Folding works only so so, and living out of the bag quickly has it bulging in the middle because when it’s standing up and you’re pulling things out and stuffing them back in things gravitate toward the center. Usually if I’m visiting family it’s a living out of the bag situation, and the Air Boss isn’t the best choice.

But since I’m visiting my father, who has a lot of space and I know I’ll be able to unpack, I decided to take the Air Boss and it worked out fine.

Still love the bag for business travel – It once again proved itself during a speaking gig a few weeks ago. But a recent trip to Las Vegas where I took a different bag (it was two nights, and I had to wear a specific shirt for both days so there was little clothing) and that got me thinking about luggage again. I ended up looking at Tom Bihn’s stuff, and oogled a Western Flyer for a bit, and then I ended up back on Doug’s site and reading about bundle packing again. I’d used one of those packing folders to Vegas, and it was a pain.

Re-reading Doug’s site, I noticed he seemed to be talking about making a bundle tightly around a core, outside the bag, and then putting it inside the bag. When I was packing the Boss I noticed that the compartments are all pretty flat relative to the other dimensions. The bag is 21″ long by 13″, and the outside compartments that I use to hold clothes are only 2″ thick. That makes for a floppy bundle. I’ve never tried to bundle the clothes outside the bag and then fit the bundle inside, but I don’t think it would work very well. I’ve never been able to make a bundle very tight. When I try to pull clothes tightly around it tends to crumple the inner layers. There isn’t much space for a thick core. Regardless it works better than my old rolling bag, but when you’re a bag junkie, well, the pursuit of perfection and this kind of bagsturbation is it’s own reward.

That got me thinking about the Sky Train, which has two compartments instead of three and a different aspect ratio. One of them is 6.5″ thick, and the other 2.5″. The bag is an inch shorter, which doesn’t seem like much on paper but on a travel bag an inch is a lot. This makes the main compartment an obvious choice for a bundle, but now a bundle that could be thicker and more stable. I might not need the whole 6.5″, but things like sweaters or jackets, which are often needed while traveling, could be folded and put on top of the bundle. The other compartment could be used for either a smaller bundle or maybe the briefcase stuff. The thicker compartment might work better for live-out-of-the-bag situations as well.

There are a couple things that make me hesitate though. First, the bag is an inch shorter and the Air Boss is already on the edge of being too small for some shirts – with a 17.5″ neck, the body of the shirt is a bit over 21″ wide and the Sky Train is 20″. Second, the center compartment of the Air Boss is such a perfect place for lots of things that don’t really have another place, like shoes, computer, etc. They’re in the center of the bag so they don’t rub against me while walking. They’re protected. And, if I really need to thin the bag to fit it into an overhead (this happened only once, BTW) I can quickly yank out the computer and voila! The bag is thinner. I have this thing about symmetry as well.

I have a few more trips coming up, and I think I might try putting clothes in the center Air Boss compartment and the computer on the outside, and see how that goes.

Hotels offering luggage service?

With the recent news that Spirit airlines will start charging for carryon bags, it seems clear that the entire charging-for-luggage theme is really just the airline industry trying to make itself profitable again. It was obvious to anyone that charging for carry-ons first would have resulted in no revenue, so they started where the money was – in the bigger bags. Charging for carry-ons is more offensive, but with cheapskates avoiding the checked-bag fees crowding the bins providing a nice scape goat…

The airlines will be happy when the day comes when no one thinks it unusual that you can’t bring your stuff for free. But are airlines really the best custodian’s of our stuff? One has to keep in mind that shipping people and shipping goods are two entirely different businesses.

Suppose that hotels offered a luggage service. It would look like this:

  • You book a room, and the hotel asks where to pick up your bags.
  • They pick up your bags the day before you leave – maybe just the morning of that day. They drop off a complimentary ‘personal items’ bag, with some coupons in it for your destination (ad space the hotel sold, by the way) and room for personal items.
  • You fly to your destination, maybe multiple hops, but “you don’t care because your bags will be there”.
  • You get to your room and your bags are waiting when you get there.
  • You enjoy your stay, having lived in fresh clothes sans washing miracle fabrics in the bathroom sink, or laundry charges that would buy a German luxury car.
  • When your trip is over either the next hotel is coming to get it, or it will be shipped back home.

They have a lot of incentive to get it right because your stay with them depends on your luggage being there. You will pay for this because of this, and because hotels, unlike airlines, have not established themselves as professional losers of luggage.

I don’t think it will happen because hotels have refused any responsibility for their customer’s belongings for too long to be able to see the opportunity. They also make a lot of money on laundry, I’m guessing.

If someone created the business that did the picking up & shipping, and provided the inter-hotel transportation (we do travel on multi-hop trips after all) they could make this happen.

The advantages for the customer:

  • No more hauling heavy bags – no more need to live in a carry-on world either.
  • No airline fees.
  • Less hassle with security.
  • You could have a separate bag for each hop, providing more flexibility and choice.
  • Now when you check out in the morning, you not only don’t have to take your bag with you on your site-seeing, you don’t have to come back for it either.
  • If your travel plans are disrupted, you can change flights without fear of losing your bags.
  • For an extra fee you buy insurance in the form of a pre-paid credit card, which gets dropped off with your bags, to be remotely activated in the event your luggage is lost or delayed.

Yes, it would be a tough business to implement, but far from impossible.

A better luggage tag

Over at One Bag One World there’s a mention of a novel luggage tag idea. Red Oxx announced something similar, but I got one from them as a comp (they forgot to send me a plastic one I ordered) some time ago. It’s your basic dog tag with a nice threaded cable loop for attaching it to your luggage.

It’s a little annoying because it jingles a bit when I walk so I replaced with a non-metalic tag on my Air Boss carry-on, but I got what I thought was a clever idea when I got the tag.

Jim Markel asked me what I wanted engraved on my tag. My first choice was:

DO NOT MOVE BAG
DHS TEST LUGGAGE
CONTACT LOCAL
AUTHORITIES
AFTER 48 HOURS

But I figured with civil rights being what they were under the Bush administration it was a bad idea.

Instead I opted for my name, my email address, cell #, my website URL, and a password. My thinking was that if I end up on the kind of long trip where it’s good for the luggage finder to have my itinerary, I could just put a password protected page on my site, with a notice that anyone finding my bag could log in with the password to see my itinerary or leave me a message.

My travel died down, and I never implemented the idea, but I think it’s a good one.

I would also mention that the metal tag is a good idea because a) it’s hard to read from far away (think nosy stranger) but easy to read when it’s in your hand and b) the writing ain’t coming off and neither is the tag. If I check a bag, I’m using it.

Looking for travel size stuff?

Have you ever wondered where you could buy those single-dose packets of medicines, or those single-serving sized packages of cookies or condiments? Check out www.minimus.biz. Their prices aren’t exactly rock bottom, but given that you can order single packets it’s pretty nice and they offer just about any travel or single use sized product you’ve ever seen, including things like laundry detergent.

I’ve long used www.mfasco.com to order medicines in single use packets – they offer generics at pretty good prices – because the packets are easier to open and easier to carry. It’s also a bit safer for the kids because we might leave a single packet laying around, but the box stays on a high shelf. MFASCO really works best for things like ibuprofen that we know we’ll use in large quantities because their main market is companies refilling first aid kits and they sell mainly in bulk quantities. I don’t need 25 doses of, say, Dramamine, but it’s nice to have a few in the first aid kit just in case, and that’s where Minimus works well. I could pick up a few doses of several medicines I don’t need often but desperately need once in a while on the road.

Shaving oil

I just got back from a 3-week long vacation. After leaving QuadTech in May, and enjoying a bit of the summer, Susan and I decided to visit her family in Florida, and spend a little time at the beach, Disney and Sea World.

I like to travel and of course I like playing with travel gear. When traveling by car, there doesn’t seem to be much gear to play with. Space isn’t a concern, nor is weight. That’s what I’d thought but I can tell you it’s not really true. About the third time we unloaded the car I started thinking that traveling light is the way to go no matter how you get there. It’s not fun to haul three bags per person (yes, I got carried away!) in and out of the car each time you reach a new destination.

I digress. My electric shaver doesn’t take up an entire bag, but it does weigh a lot more that 3 disposable razors. Add a can of shaving cream, and it’s a wash. Besides, I’ve become an electric shaver over the years. Leaving the charging cord for my shaver at home changed the balance of power. While reading onebag.com, I ran across King of Shaves shaving oil, and decided to give it a try. One bottle of oil supposedly lasts 100 shaves, and is very small.

KOS products are not very easy to find, but CVS does carry a few kinds of their oil and I bought the Alpha mentholated. I also picked up a pack of Gillette Good News disposable razors. I know, I know, they only have two blades and new razors have 3, 4 or even 5 blades. I decided to stick to what I’d used before.

First try: I had about 3-days of beard, and I knew I was in for some pain, but it actually wasn’t too bad. We were in a hotel and the light above the mirror was very dim, but I made do. I came away from it feeling like the oil was very subtle, if it was doing anything. After I rubbed the oil on, it was hard to tell I’d done anything. No smell to speak of, no slippery or greasy feeling. Good News razor have a lubrication strip that leaves a trail of very slippery stuff on your skin, so it was very hard to tell if it was the razor or the oil that was doing the lubricating. The menthol was also very subtle – I did not feel cool nor did I even smell it. However, I did not nick myself, which is remarkable considering how many years it had been since my last shave with a blade. One of the selling points of the oil is that without the foam it’s easier to see where you’re going, and there’s also a lot less to clean up. Not having to rinse a bunch of foam off is definitely worth it. Just pat dry, and I was done.

Second try: It was the next day, and the oil still seems very subtle. Two drops (the amount the instructions recommend) just isn’t very much, but I had the same results as the last time albeit with much less pain due to shorter whiskers. Overall, it was really quite pleasant.

Third try: Time to see what the oil really is doing. I started to shave without oil, just the razor. I even ran the razor backward over my skin to get the lubrication going. Ouch. The oil really was making it comfortable to shave. I could have kept going, but I decided to use the oil. I didn’t nick myself at all or even feel any irritation until I started going back over areas against the grain (something the shaving experts do not recommend) trying to get a closer shave.

So, will I ditch my electric shaver for blades? I dunno. I’ve ordered a few King of Shaves products to try out, but it’s just so much faster to go electric. For travel, however, I will take blades and KOS oil. Much less space, and no charging required.

[UPDATE] I tried going back to Edge Advanced Sensitive Skin. It was slipperier, but I felt irritation. After trying the Edge again, I went back to the oil during the same shave, and it was much more comfortable. I’m a bit confused, as I always thought slippery = good when it came to shaving cream, but the oil is less slippery-feeling but seems to make things work better. A single test is not exactly conclusive, however.

Another Reason To Love The Air Boss

So I’m in the line to board a Bombardier CRJ900 regional jet out of Atlanta on my way home from the Primir winter meeting. Every single roll-aboard in front of me had been stopped and tagged with one of those pink gate-check tags. While gate-checking is a lot more reliable than regular through-checking, I still prefer to have my stuff with me and tossed about by annoyed baggage handlers. I did a quick mental scan of what was in the bag. My computer was in my Metro briefcase. The only breakable thing in the Air Boss was the coffee mug I’d bought for my wife and it was pretty sturdy. Ok, if they ask to gate check it I won’t object.

My pulse quickened a bit as I got to the head of the line, but Mr pink tag just waved me through.

Of course, I was carrying the air boss properly loaded and not bulging at the seams, so it didn’t look much bigger than the Metro briefcase I had on my shoulder. Either that, or perhaps that both are saffron made me look just weird enough not to triffle with.

Once on the plane, one that has overhead bins substantially shorter (in the vertical dimension) than the other planes I’d been on, the Air Boss slid neatly into place without any shoving, the metro under the seat. Two people nearby had those newer wheeled briefcases that must have held several versions of the tax code plus an 90’s vintage laptop. One fit in the overhead with two people persuading it. The other didn’t.

I’ve been toying with getting a Sky Train, but I think I’m going to stick with the Air Boss.

Air Boss still the boss

I just got back from the Primir meeting in Portland, Oregon. Portland is a great city, with a nice transportation, reasonable prices, and the weather was even nice. The Primir meeting was enlightening as always, and it was nice to see everyone again. The travel to and from the meeting was less enjoyable, but I’m alive and these days that’s about the limit of what we expect. It was also a nice chance to play with luggage. 😉

The trip got me thinking about bags again.

A long time ago I stopped carrying a briefcase at all. I had realized that I was mostly hauling a bunch of stuff to work that didn’t need to be there, and stuff back home that didn’t need to be their either. So I just stopped. Then after a while I missed having a few things with me, more than would fit in my pockets. So I started carrying a man-purse. I’ve owned many of these, and the last was a small messenger bag called the Timbuk2 Mini Metro. Then my job changed again, I started missing some paperwork at home, and I bought a Chrome small messenger bag as my Timbuk2 Mini Metro was too small for files. I like the Chrome, but it is really best suited to its intended purpose rather than an impromptu brief case. The metal seatbelt buckle in the front is probably very handy for messengers, but I just keep banging it into things. The size and shape are good, but I miss the small pockets in the Timbuk2.

So I’ve been thinking about getting a briefcase. Yes, I have a few but nothing mid-sized. I used to have a Land’s End canvas briefcase, but tossed it after it got ratty looking. I was not stiff enough anyway.

Then I went to Portland and took my Red Oxx Air Boss & Tom Bihn Brain Cell combination which worked as well as last time. Both did what I expected, and everything went fine. I’m finding that the more I use the Air Boss, the more I like it. Things fit well and the more I use the bag the more I realize the thought that went into not only the design but the precision of the dimensions. For example, if you find the cinch straps in the outer compartments aren’t long enough, you’ve got too much stuff in that compartment and it will bulge when you zip it. When the bag is over stuffed it’s hard to snap the handles together – another signal that the bag is too full, and you may have trouble sticking it in the overhead. You can stuff the bag past these warnings, and I’ve yet to be unable to get it to go where it needed to, but it’s an easier carry when it’s properly loaded. Also, if you’re going carry-on, it’s always good to be asking if you really need to be carrying this or that extra item.

But the fun of luggage is in the pursuit of the perfect solution, and so every time I travel I always thinking about how things could be done better. On this trip I identified the following:

  • I missed having various things with me while in flight, because everything was in the Air Boss, in the overhead. When I have my preferred aisle seat, and I’ve been fortunate enough to get space near my seat it’s no big deal to get up and get something, but I was in the middle on this trip. Note to self – book earlier!
  • I missed having some workout clothes which I couldn’t fit into
    the Air Boss because of the space taken by the computer.
  • The Air Boss gets heavy when my computer is in it. Add some paper, and it gets to be pretty uncomfortable. The Claw strap keeps it on the shoulder, but it’s not a happy shoulder.

So three more votes for a briefcase. I’ve looked at the Tumi Essential Brief, but at $300+ it’s pretty expensive. I’ve looked at Tom Bihn, but they don’t make a slim briefcase, only 6″ or wider. The shoulder straps attach on either side of the body, which tends to make a bag hard to open when it’s on my shoulder as it does with my Travel Pro case. I’ve checked out a few other bags at the local luggage store, but they’re all very fixated on things I just don’t want. Dedicated computer pockets, expandability, special snap-in accessory pouches all add cost without adding real usefulness or flexibility.

So I’m looking at Red Oxx’s “Slim-Line Padded Brief” – with other bags named “Air Boss”, “Gator” or “Benos”, it’s an oddly functional name – and I’ve all but decided to order it pending a few questions from Red Oxx. It looks like the right size, although it may be a bit full when my computer’s in it. Without the computer, how I’d carry it to work, it should be the right size. Not crazy about water bottle pockets, but I can live with them.

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