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April 23, 2008

Wi-Fi Woes Worldwide . . . and the Fixes I've Found

That's my laptop, with wireless USB modem attached, on the roof of the house I rented in Andalusia, Spain, in February. The roof was the only place where I could get a signal and thus get online. Too bad it was always raining.

by Wendy Perrin

If you've read my Perrin Report column in Conde Nast Traveler's May issue, you're well aware of the migraines I've had on the road trying to access the Internet from my laptop so that I can blog at you everywhere from China to Algeria to Russia to Jost Van Dyke to the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. You also know that I've found zero relation between a hotel room's rate and the presence of user-friendly wireless. You also know that some of the tech solutions I've discovered came from readers of this blog: Tim Ferriss of The 4-Hour Workweek fame, for instance, suggested JiWire's Wi-Fi Hotspot Finder (for scoping out hotspots at your destination before leaving home) and the GoldLantern WiFinder (for locating wireless signals within 300 feet of wherever you are). You also know that my life improved big-time after I got a Sierra Wireless AirCard 875U USB Modem (thanks for the tip, Gizmodo) that is compatible with my Apple MacBook (thank you, David Pogue).   

What you may not know--because I didn't know it myself until I read it on Chris Elliott's blog--is that now, instead of buying a wireless aircard, you can RENT one by the day from a company called RovAir (apparently for as little as $5.95/day). I was thrilled to learn about this . . . until I found out that the cards don't work overseas. And now, it turns out, the 875U is being discontinued. Which brings me to my question: Does anyone know of a way to rent aircards for international use???

As for my article about renting a house in Andalusia, it'll be in Conde Nast Traveler's June issue.

March 07, 2008

Great Gear: Combination Laptop Case/Pocketbooks

It may not be a fashion statement, but I still love my LowePro Factor Tote.

by Wendy Perrin

Attention, women who are trying to figure out how to get three carry-on items onboard the plane (wheelie, laptop case, and pocketbook) when we're allowed only two:  Some nifty combination laptop case/pocketbooks have crossed my desk lately. 

Solo_signature_portfolio_6 As a mom who must travel with tech gear on one arm and tots on the other, I'll never give up my LowePro Factor Tote (pictured at top), a lightweight bag -- with perfect-length, nonslip straps -- into which I can fit my MacBook, digital camera, Palm Treo, other tech paraphernalia, newspaper, T.S.A.-friendly zip-top bag holding my liquids and gels in three-ounce containers, and everything else from my purse.

But my tote now has some pretty stiff competition: bags that are similar in design -- they each have an interior zippered laptop compartment in the center, with more interior compartments on either side -- but are far more stylish.Signature_portfolio_interior_1

Since two of these "business totes" have been eliciting oohs and aahs from my female coworkers who've spotted me comparing bags in my office and have stopped in to add their two cents (note the SOLO Signature Portfolio, for instance, pictured immediately above and at right), I figure I ought to share my findings with all you female business travelers out there (or your husbands who are seeking the right gift for your birthday):

Continue reading "Great Gear: Combination Laptop Case/Pocketbooks" »

December 31, 2007

Bests And Worsts Of 2007

Hard to believe, I know, but my favorite hotel night this year was at The Great Wolf Lodge in Scotrun, PA. Hey, when the kids are happy, I'm happy.

by Wendy Perrin

It's time to wrap up 2007 by sharing my best and worst travel experiences of the year. Perhaps you can benefit by learning from both my good fortune and my worst mistakes.

The Great Wolf Lodge, Pocono Mountains, PA.
Before kids, I wouldn't have come within ten feet of an indoor waterpark resort. For an exhausted mother of two inexhaustible young boys, however, it's what the doctor ordered. (That's Doug in the pic below.)  Greatwolf3_4 There are ten Great Wolf Lodges around the country; we chose the one closest. I could list the many child friendly touches such as the abundance of conscientious lifeguards, the bedtime stories in the lobby, the kids' buffet, and the childproof room design, but here's what really made it parent friendly: By day's end the boys were so worn out that they were asleep in bed by 8:00.  Now that's what I call vacation.

The Pudi Boutique Hotel, Shanghai, China

At a brand-new five star property in a futuristic city where business is so booming it's practically on steroids, there is no excuse for rooms lacking WiFi.  Imagine my frustration when I arrived at 11:30 pm desperately needing to email a document from my laptop to my office, I plugged my universal plug adapter into the electrical outlet (the same adapter that worked in every other hotel room in China), and it blew out the power in my room, leaving me in total darkness with no electricity (meaning, no phone with which to call for help).  I walked down to the front desk, got the hotel engineer to come . . . and he managed to blow the fuse twice again. He eventually brought a different plug adapter, but that didn't solve the no-WiFi problem.  When I tried connecting by wire and still couldn't get on the Internet, the engineer wanted to go into my computer and change the IP address (if you're in Conde Nast's Tech Support Dept. you know what a disaster that would have been). I switched hotels the next morning ... to a little three-star inn nearby where my laptop connected just fine.

Palm Treo with AT&T service

I could not have survived 2007 without wireless email in the palm of my hand.  I had it 24/7 -- whether I was on a train in China, at an ancient ruin in Algeria, on a ship hugging the coastline of Spain, or in the mountains of St. Lucia --  thanks to my Treo 650.  The 650 is a dinosaur, I know, but it fits like an old glove.  True, I could gripe about the phone sound -- which is often weak and unclear -- and the Internet access -- which is slow and incomplete. But that's why I also carry a SYNC by Samsung phone, also with AT&T service. I use it not for email but when I need strong, clear sound quality or need to get on the Web.  For some reason, even though the service provider for both is AT&T, there are a few spots around the world where the Treo works but the SYNC doesn't, or the SYNC works but the Treo doesn't. Between the two of them, though, I can always reach my kids to sing them their bedtime songs, no matter what time zone I'm in.

When our Dream Trip winner's ship sank

Remember that ship that sank in Antarctica over Thanksgiving? That's the ship that Gene Pembroke, the winner of Conde Nast Traveler's Dream Trip Contest, was supposed to board this coming Friday for his Antarctic cruise. Since it's my job to make sure his $20,000 dream trip does indeed turn out to be a dream and not a nightmare, I had to scramble to get Gene and his girlfriend Arlene booked onto another ship sailing out of the same port around the same time -- no easy feat, considering that Antarctic cruises sell out a year in advance and that everyone else who was booked on the sunken ship was also looking for a replacement. Well, I got Gene and Arlene onto a great ship that sails out of Ushaia, Argentina, on Wednesday (yes, the day after tomorrow). Then the latest potential snag hit:  Argentina decided, at the last minute, to introduce daylight savings time starting yesterday. There have been a slew of international flight changes with little advance notice, including Gene's flight tomorrow from Rio to Buenos Aires. It's now leaving an hour early.  If he misses it, he'll miss the cruise!  So at this moment he's in Rio, celebrating New Year's Eve on Copacabana Beach, while I'm home spending New Year's Eve trying to reach him on his cell phone. Correction: MY cell phone. I leant him my SYNC for his trip, in case of emergencies like this one. God, I hope he gets my messages.
Update on Jan 1 at 12:30 pm: The SYNC saved the day!  Gene got my messages, and he and Arlene are happily en route from Rio to Buenos Aires on Aerolineas Argentinas. What a relief!  Starting next week, Gene will be guest blogging here, by the way, as he continues his dream trip traveling the length of South America from tip to toe.

More bests and worsts, after the jump.

Continue reading "Bests And Worsts Of 2007" »

July 31, 2007

In Need Of New Luggage

Tumi's Vista collection of bags.

by Wendy Perrin

Question from reader Eileenhms:

"I need to purchase new luggage, both to check with the airline and to carry onboard. I have used Tumi in the past and it wore well. However, weight has become an issue. What luggage would you recommend for durability, layout, and lightness?"

The size, style, and combo of bags a traveler needs vary drastically depending on the type of trip.  International or domestic?  Long or short?  Business trip requiring wrinkle-free suits and a laptop?  Beach vacation with the kids requiring a stroller and diaper bag?

Eileenhms, since I answered your question How To Pack Lightly For A Cruise? several weeks ago, I know you're headed on a 10-day cruise from Venice to Istanbul, so I'm going to assume that the luggage you need is for that trip and, generally speaking, for international leisure trips requiring a bit of formalwear but no electronic gear:

Continue reading "In Need Of New Luggage" »

July 30, 2007

Power Hungry?

At airports I often find electrical outlets inside Starbucks outlets, such as this one in J.F.K.'s Terminal 9.

by Wendy Perrin

Remember last week I shared three suggestions for locating power outlets in airport concourses and gate areas?   Perrin Post readers who travel frequently for business wrote in with more good tips that everyone should note (everyone who does not belong to an expensive airport lounge club, of course, since those clubs have power sources galore):

From Foglemam
Check behind an empty gate counter. I was stranded in Orlando recently. There were abandoned gates in the terminal. I found two unlocked closet doors and on the floor inside were outlets beneath an access panel.

From The GlobalTraveller, who co-writes the FlyerTalk blog The Gate (under the name Kiwi Flyer):
There is a rudimentary listing at Airport Power Wiki.  Otherwise I just look near unused gate desks and concessionary stands.  At some airports the plugs are in the floor, with a not-always-obvious covering.  By the way, airport lounge access need not be expensive:  If you have middle- or upper-tier elite status in a foreign airline's frequent-flier program, that will usually get you into the lounges of that airline's U.S. alliance partner  . . . as long as you're flying within the alliance that day.  Most foreign-airline frequent-flier programs provide lounge access for their members with middle- and upper-tier elite status. Say you have Star Alliance Gold status with Air Canada: You can use United's lounges.

Continue reading "Power Hungry?" »

May 12, 2007

Wendy's New Favorite Laptop Bag

The inside of my new Lowepro Factor Tote laptop case, May 12, 2007.

by Wendy Perrin

Attention, all you women who have wrestled for years with the predicament of how to fly with three carry-on items when you're allowed only two.  At long last I've found a nifty solution. Yesterday, on my flight to Chicago, I tried out my new combination laptop case/pocketbook from Lowepro. (Full disclosure: My husband has known the Riley brothers who run Lowepro since 1972, when they all worked together at the same newspaper.)

This bag is gonna change my life. In one lightweight bag, with lots of organizational pockets and compartments (some zippered, some velcroed, some open), I can fit my laptop, small digital camera, TREO, work documents, newspaper, extra business cards, wallet, sunglasses, hairbrush, and small lipstick/makeup bag.

Here's what the bag's exterior looks like, as shot at 7:00 a.m. today in my Chicago hotel room:

Continue reading "Wendy's New Favorite Laptop Bag" »

April 23, 2007


Wendys_tip_of_week Flying with a spouse or friend?  Pack a couple of changes of clothing in each other's suitcases. That way, if the airline loses one of them -- and these days an unprecedented amount of luggage is getting lost -- you each avoid the worst-case scenario of arriving at your destination with no clothes.

April 20, 2007

More Comfort On Overnight Flights

Comfort aids for overnight airline travel in (yikes!) coach.

by Wendy Perrin

Question from reader John Held:

"We read with interest your April Perrin Report, as my wife and I are flying to South Africa via London in May.  Do you suggest that we use the Self-Inflating Seat Cushion with the First Class Sleeper on our two overnight flight segments?  The sketch in your April issue seems to show both products being used.  The Magellan's web site also shows an Inflatable Leg Rest.  Is this product usable with the other two products?  Thank you."

I'm so glad you asked, and I'm sorry if the illustration (shown above) was confusing. First of all, you would not want to use the Self-Inflating Seat Cushion and the First Class Sleeper simulaneously!  Second, the only way I'm comfortable using the First Class Sleeper, I've found, is if my legs are propped up, BUT it's not clear that the leg rest you've found will work well with it. The extent to which each of these pillows will work for you, and work well in combination with the other pillows, depends on the shape/length of your body and legs, as well as the shape/design of the airplane seat you'll be sitting in, and, most unfortunately, it's very hard to predict until you're actually sitting on the plane.

Continue reading "More Comfort On Overnight Flights" »

April 01, 2007

Comfort Aids For Coach Airline Travel

Magellan's Travel Komfort Kollar
The Travel Komfort Kollar, from Magellan's.

by Wendy Perrin

Question from reader CarmelD1 regarding my post The Best Travel Pillow I Know:

"I've hated having to drag bulky pillows around with me on planes, so I'm wondering about the inflatability factor: How much effort (i.e., how many minutes of blowing) is required to inflate the thing? How much space does it take in your carry-on when deflated?"

Inflating it takes about 20 seconds, and it requires about as much space in my carry-on as a silk scarf.  Since my April Perrin Report about how to maximize your comfort in coach is now online, you can read more about the Komfort Kollar and my other favorite comfort aids for airline travel--such as the Self-Inflating Seat Cushion, the Sightseeing Eye Mask, the Cocoon Coolmax Blanket, and Mack's Earplugs -- by clicking here.

February 06, 2007

New Airline Rule Re: Lost Luggage

Illustration_of_airline_travel_1By Wendy Perrin

The good news: Starting Feb. 28, if an airline loses your luggage on a flight within the U.S., its liability limit (the max it has to pay you) will increase to $3,000 in compensation (up $200 from before). According to The Consumerist, "it is estimated that the new rule will cost airlines  an additional $2.6 million per year in payouts to passengers."

The bad news: If an airline loses your luggage on an international flight--including U.S. portions of international flights--you're still owed only a fraction of that: either approx. $450 per bag or approx. $1,500 per passenger.  (Depends on which countries you're flying to or from [whether they are still governed by an international treaty called the Warsaw Convention or have ratified the 1999 Montreal Convention] and also depends on exchange rates at the time [the Montreal Convention puts the amount at 1,000 SDRs, which currently translates to U.S. $1,494]). Anyone want to try estimating how many millions of dollars per year this rule costs passengers?

February 05, 2007

Storing Luggage At The Airport

A motorcycle in front of the Coliseum in Rome 
Flying past the Colosseum in Rome
Photo: Rob Kavanagh, Alamy

By Wendy Perrin

"I'm flying from New York to Rome for three weeks, then from Rome to Sicily, then back to the U.S. via the Rome airport," writes reader Jedesiree (whom we already know is seeking a rental apartment for her Roman holiday). "Do you think before flying from Rome to Sicily I could store some of my luggage at the airport? One used to be able to leave luggage in airport lockers, and I've been told this system still exists at Fiumicino. Is this true? Where is it? Would it be safe to leave my bags there for a week?"

The Aeroporti di Roma site says that at Fiumicino there's a "left luggage" room in Terminal C on the ground floor--which is International Arrivals--and it's open every day (7 am - 11 pm). But God only knows if this info is up-to-date or if the room is safe. As someone who's been burned both by strikes in Italy and by inaccuracies on the Internet, I'd take this info with a grain of parmigianno regianno.

Continue reading "Storing Luggage At The Airport" »

February 02, 2007

The Best Travel Pillow I Know

The Most Comfortable Neck Pillow

The Travel Komfort Kollar from Magellan's

By Wendy Perrin

To admit that I get, and read, TalkMail--a biweekly newsletter that singles out the current best threads in FlyerTalk, my favorite online forum--is to admit just what a travel geek I am. (I wonder if Geeky Traveller gets TalkMail too?) Anyway, from this week's edition:

Hey you. Yeah, you with the drooping eyelids, stiff neck, and mussed up hair. Uncrumple your light jacket, pick your head up off your seatmate's shoulder, and get yourself a decent travel pillow. Don't just do it for yourself, do it for all of us ;)

As someone who's used MANY a travel pillow and believes she's found the best, of course I had to click . . . .

Continue reading "The Best Travel Pillow I Know" »

January 29, 2007

More Seat Comfort In Coach

Self-inflating seat cushion by Magellan's
Sitting on this "tush cush" in my cramped coach seat made me feel like I was suspended on a cloud.

By Wendy Perrin

The carry-on item that singlehandedly kept me from the brink of insanity on my cross-country flight from Los Angeles two days ago was the self-inflating seat cushion that I recently ordered from travel-supply store Magellans. My legs and butt weren't cramped or sore the way they normally are after five hours in coach on a 737 . . . .

Continue reading "More Seat Comfort In Coach" »

November 16, 2006

Shipping Luggage Ahead

By Wendy Perrin

Question from a reader:

"We are scheduled for two concurrent trips, first to Las Vegas, and then to Orlando, FL, for a cruise. We are interested in a way to pre-ship our luggage from Seattle for the cruise in Orlando, so that we aren't lugging both suitcases to Vegas.  Any suggestions?  Thanks!"

Continue reading "Shipping Luggage Ahead" »

November 14, 2006

Good Walking Shoes, Part 2

By Wendy Perrin

A couple of weeks ago I answered a reader's query re: the best shoes for traipsing around foreign cities.  I avoid U.S.-branded sneakers and any other flashy, non-earth-colored footwear that screams "I'm American," so I suggested either Mephisto or Dansko shoes. They are French and Danish, respectively, and are the most supportive, protective, and comfy footwear I've managed to find.

Well, I was just grabbing some mid-morning coffee in the Conde Nast Traveler kitchen and ran into a colleague who travels as often as I but is far more fashion-conscious. He swears by Geox -- Italian shoes that keep your feet dry and cool.  Just thought I should pass along the tip.