Travel gear and gadets

It came in the mail: Travel gear that’s fun and may be of use.

The team at BuzzBox sent Stuck at the Airport a box filled with travel gadgets and gear.

We’re still unpacking, but take a look at some of these products and leave a comment to let us know if you’d use any of them in your travels. You may end up getting one of them in the mail.

PackLite Max 2-in-1 Phone Charger

LuminAID’s PackLite Max 2-in-1 Phone Charger is a solar inflatable lantern & phone charger that packs flat for easy carrying and charging on-the-go. The lantern provides over 150 lumens of bright LED light on Turbo mode and can run for up to 50 hours on Low mode. The cube recharges via solar power (a full charge in 14 hours of sunlight) or by USB input in 1-2 hours and the 5V USB output port will recharge a phone in 2-4 hours depending on your type of phone. ($49.99)

Pocket Palette

If you’re truly packing light, that includes scaling down your cosmetics too. The Pocket Palette may be helpful in going extreme in that area. It’s is a single-use, full face makeup kit for on-the-go. Each pouch includes Black Mascara (with wand), Pink dual-purpose lip/cheek color, and BB Cream or Foundation. Available in a 3 pack ($11.99) or 10 pack ($34.99).

ZizzyBee Bags

Cubes, plastic bags, sacks of all sizes can help keep your travel bag organized – and so will these eco-friendly mesh ZizzyBee Bags that have a hook, let you see inside and come in a variety of bright, bold and fun designs. (3 bags for $19.99)

Would you use any of these?

Updated: Black Friday/Cyber Monday/Travel Tuesday deals

Updated on November 23, 2018 with fresh Black Friday/Cyber Monday travel deals.

Have enough stuff? You can still take advantage of travel-related deals during this holiday shopping season.

Here’s the list I put together recently for CNBC.

Walt Disney World Resort guests get to race and dive around a track that stretches across Toy Story Land. (Matt Stroshane, photographer)


Black Friday and its cousins Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday, Travel Deal Tuesday and Super Saturday are all projected to be shopping blockbusters this year.

But if you and everyone on your gift list already has enough stuff, rest assured there will be plenty of great deals for travelers.

Some offers have already been posted. Others will go live later. But once Black Friday rolls in,  get ready to wade through oodles of discounts on flights, hotel stays, tours, travel gear and gadgets.

To avoid getting overwhelmed by the options, do some research ahead of time on hotel prices and airfares to places you know you want to visit. That way you’ll be confident about snagging a deal when it flies by. Just be sure to read the small print; many Black Friday/Cyber Monday offers come with blackout dates and restrictions.

Here’s a sampling of what will be offered.

Get there

Amtrak confirms it will bring back its Black Friday sale again this year, offering significant discounts of up to 30 percent on train trips nationwide.

Look for airlines such as JetBlue and Cathay Pacific to bring back their Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals as well. Cathay Pacific will offer 60 percent off flights to Asia. Fare sale begins 11/19.

NewEmirates has both Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals from all 12 US gateways.

New: Use promo code “Friday” to get up to $750 off flights at Qatar Airways

New: Spirit Airlines:  Use romo code 85PCT  to get 85% off  the base fee on Friday, Nov. 23 until 11:59 p.m. EST. Check the exclusions at

*New: WOW air is offering $69 and $99 sales to Iceland and Europe and a 40% off promo code on WOWCYBERMONDAY.  “Purple Friday” discounted fares are on sale now through November 25, 2018 for travel through April 2019.  On Cyber Monday, November 26, WOW use the code “WOWCYBERMONDAY” for 40% off flights to all WOW destinations.

 New: Turkish Airlines Friday Flyday will offer special discounted rates for travel travel from November 23, 2018 to May 15, 2019, with a maximum stay of four months.

 *New: Eurostar, the high-speed rail service linking the UK and mainland Europe, is offering savings of up to 30% during Cyber Week (November 23 to 30) for travel between January 8 and April 18 2019.

 Stay there

Hotels from Maine to Hawaii, and beyond, will be tantalizing travelers with room deals. Some offers may be offered to loyalty program members first, so this is a good time to sign up.

New: Travelocity and Orbitz: Save 50% off hotels by shopping on Travelocity and Orbitz mobile app and use the code FRIDAYAPP18 in Travelocity and THANKFUL in Orbitz to save an extra 18% off.

New: Hotwire:  In app-only:

Black Friday: $10 off $100 hotel bookings

  • $40 off $300 hotel bookings

  • $75 off $500 hotel bookings

Cyber Monday: An extra 11% off Hot Rate Hotels sitewide with promo code: TREATYOURSELF from 11/25 at 8pm PST to 11/26 at 11pm PST.  

Archer Hotel, with properties in Austin, Napa, New York City, Burlington, MA, and Florham Park, NJ (adjacent to the Jets training camp) plans a Cyber Monday deal of 25 percent off the best available rates plus direct-book perks of drinks or breakfast for two. Sale runs November 26 to December 3 at this booking link.

Arlo Hotels will offer 50 percent off stays (with no blackout dates) at the Arlo Solo and the Arlo NoMad in New York City with a portion of proceeds going to the Rainforest Alliance. Valid: Black Friday (11/23) to Tuesday, 11/27 for stays through Labor Day 2019.

On Cyber Monday, Aqua-Aston Hospitality, will be offering 25 percent off all 40 of its properties across the Hawaii islands, along with a number of mainland and Costa Rica resorts.

RetailMeNot and have teamed to offer some “Mystery Bookings” on Black Friday that offer 99 percent off.

All 5,300 IHG properties around the globe will be part of a Cyber Week Sale with discounts starting at 25 percent off the best available rate. IHG Rewards Club members get additional discounts starting at 3 percent. Book November 23 through November 30 (“Cyber Weeks Sale” rate) for stays November 26, 2018 through March 31, 2019.

The Kennebunkport Resort Collection (KRC), with 9 hotels and six restaurants in Kennebunkport, Maine will offer gift card bonuses on Cyber Monday. Buy a $500 gift card and receive a $100 resort credit; buy a $200 gift card and receive a $25 resort credit.

 Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants is offering 25 percent off its Best Flexible Rates to IHG Reward Club member (free sign-up) from November 19 through November 30 for stays November 19 through March 31, 2019. Kimpton will also be donating $5/night to charity (The Trevor Project and No Kid Hungry)

Millennium Hotels and Resorts will offer 25 percent off flexible rates at its 13 hotels across the United States. My Millennium loyalty club members will get an extra 5 percent off. Book November 21 to 27, 2018 for stays November 21, 2018 – March 31, 2019.

Between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, more than 30 Myrtle beach-area properties will be offering deep discounts of up to 55 percent on stays that stretch through spring and summer 2019. Offers will be posted here.

From November 22 through November 27, Provenance Hotels, with properties in Portland, Seattle/Tacoma, New Orleans, Nashville and Stillwater, MN, will be offering discounts of 40-50 percent off stays through February 2019.

*New: Red Roof Inn: Up to 30% off during the Cyber Monday 72-hour sale (Nov. 26 until Nov. 28). Good for stays through Feb. 28, 2019. Use code VP625099.

Between November 22 and November 26, Viceroy Hotel Group, with 12 properties in cities ranging from Beverly Hills to New York City and Chicago, will offer discounts of up to 45 percent, as well as additional perks such as complimentary upgrades and resort credits.

And from November 23 through Monday, November 26, Pacifica Hotels will offer 40 percent off room rates at 34 beachside properties in California.

Keep an eye out for deals at individual hotels as well.

Walt Disney World adventure-seekers can nab 50 percent off the best available rates on two and three-bedroom suites at The Grove Resort & Spa Orlando. (Use code Cyber to book from Black Friday through Cyber Monday). And from Black Friday through Cyber Monday, the Hard Rock Hotel San Diego will offer rates starting at $99 for stays through January 15 and add $100 drinking and dining credit to the first five reservations booked with the BF2018 code on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. One guest will also win a complimentary two-day stay, redeemable in 2019 including breakfast, parking and VIP check-in.

Tours, tickets, gear and adventures

Companies offering tours, packages and expeditions, including Intrepid Travel, Friendly Planet Travel and Liberty Travel, all have Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals on tap. Glamping Hub, an online booking platform for unusual accommodations such as tree house, tiny homes, yurts and airstreams, will add 20 percent in value to gift cards purchased on Cyber Monday

From November 20 to 29, Visit Orlando will offer an extra 10 percent off purchases at on top of the deals and discounts offered to more than 40 theme parks, attractions, activities and dinner shows. Most are valid one year from purchase, Use code “GIFT.”

Sea Bags, which recycles sail cloth into travel gear, will offer a 20 percent discount storewide online and at its retail locations from Black Friday through Sunday, November 25. The company’s Portland and Freeport, Maine locations will be selling select for up to 60 percent off. On Cyber Monday, the online discount will be 25 percent, with free shipping.

Don’t shop; do

For those who would rather skip the shopping ritual altogether, there are plenty of other options.

On Friday, November 23, the Harley Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, WI will be holding its 7th annual Black Friday Beerfest.

And in solidarity with outdoor gear store REI, which closes all 153 stores, processes no online payments and pays its employees to spend Thanksgiving and Black Friday outdoors, state parks and recreation areas in Minnesota, Georgia and other states around the country will host Free Park Friday as part of the #OptOutside movement.

New gear and gadgets for the road

For a piece on CNBC, I spent much of last week looking at the gear and gadgets companies are bringing with them to the Las Vegas this week for the annual trade event known as the International Travel Goods show – and at a few items that are new on the market but will not be featured at the show.

Here are a few of my favorites:

I usually leave a few lights on in my hotel room so I can figure out where I am in the middle of the night.  Talus has this handy Nightlight Charging Station ($19.99) that will work as a nightlight and as a place to charge my gadgets.

Icky restrooms are a hazard of traveling.  The Restroom Kit is a one-use portable packet that comes with an oversize toilet seat cover, 1 yard of 3 ply toilet paper, 1 hand wipe and 1 tush wipe.

Travel pillows come in all shapes and sizes and each year more models come to market. Two new products promising to solve the pesky bobbing-head problem on airplanes are Cabeau’s Evolution S3 pillow (above) which has a strap that attaches to the airplane seat headrest to keep your head from falling forward, and the nod2.0  from zdoze, which has cord clips that do the same.

Not at the show, but new on the market, is a travel-sized version of the Water Pik.

My dad was an early fan of the Water Pik flosser when the gadget was first introduced (sometime in the 1960s) and we always had one in the house when I was growing up.

The company recently introduced the 5X7 inch, travel-sized Water Pik Sidekick, so it is now possible (and, I’m sure my dad would say, advisable) to take this useful gadget on the road.


Travel tools I’ve been using

During my travels in London and Amsterdam this week, my adventures have been made a bit smoother by two tools: HotelTonight and T-Mobile.

The last-minute booking app, HotelTonight, was already on my phone, but until this trip I hadn’t had much need or incentive to use it.

But I turned to the app (and some banked credit) when faced with a shifting itinerary and out-of-my-budget prices for a long list of  familiar and recommened-by-friends hotels.

The app’s curated selection of available bookings – leaning to boutique and indepentent properties – came through for me in Amsterdam, especially, where I found a good last-minute rate and friendly folks at The Albus, a  hip, centrally-located hotel I would have been unlikely to find on my own.

Until now, the HotelTonight booking window was day-of and up to seven nights out, but the booking window has just been expanded in 14 major cities, including San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, London and Las Vegas, and should be expanded in around 30 national and international markets by the end of this year

Most all my travel buddies already use – and highly recommend – the T-Mobile ONE plan that includes  unlimited international data and low-cost phone international calls, but I’d been stubbornly clinging to an old ATT plan.

I’ve got a loaner T-Mobile sim card in my phone for this trip and have been able delighted at how it makes it easier to get around, download maps, check out attractions, read email, stay in touch and deal with some less-than-ideal wireless situations in hotels.

Note to self: switch mobile phone service when you get home.


Jetpac City Guides parse photos, not user-reviews

There are zillion apps trying to make their mark in the world of travel. Here’s one of them:

Souvenirs: Tokens of Travel, January 2013?June 2013

Jetpac City Guides, a free, new iPhone app, skips user reviews to analyze data from billions of publicly shared Instagram photos to offer tips on everything from hip bars and hot coffee shops to cool music venues and popular museums.

“We learned that people love browsing their friend’s travel photos, but their friends hadn’t been everywhere,” said Jetpac co-founder and CEO Julian Green.

The company mined Instagram photos for clues about where people went and what they liked to do.

“Think of a photo as saying, “I’m here and I’m taking a photo,’ ” Green said. “That’s a strong recommendation for the fact that someone is having a good time. It’s like check-in or a review, a very data-rich review.”

Jetpac worked through the Instagram developer program and created an image analysis that uses an algorithm to parse each photo down to the pixel. It looks for patterns and assigns value to details such as the amount of blue sky, the evidence of coffee cups, lipstick, or mustaches, and the presence of beaches or wine glasses.

From these and thousands of other data points, Jetpac puts together lists such as “Hipster Hangouts in San Francisco” and “Bars Women Love in Moscow,” Green said. It has also figured out popular “go to” places in 5,000 cities. They include bars where business travelers gather, places where dog people hang out, restaurants with the best views, and favorite places for outdoorsy types, parents (with and without their kids) and sports fans.

“Other polls ask people how happy they are,” Green said. “Our study reveals what people show.”

Showing is good, because when people take leisure trips they use photos to help them decide where to go, stay and eat, and what to do, said PhoCusWright research analyst Maggie Rauch.

But research shows that people also use photos less frequently than some other tools, such as interactive maps, traveler reviews, and professional ratings and photos.

“What seems important to me is if [Jetpac] integrates with helpful reviews and can get people to use the app in their own city,” Rauch said. “But they would be up against some pretty strong established players,” she added, including TripAdvisor, which bought photo-heavy site WanderFly last year, and Yelp.

One thing Jetpac has figured out is where people look the happiest. By studying the average size of people’s smiles in more than 100 million Instagram photos, it has come up with a list of the 50 happiest U.S. cities

The five cities with the highest “smile scores” were, in descending order, St. Louis, Mo.; Kansas City, Mo.; Columbus, Ohio; Indianapolis; and Pittsburgh.

That’s useful information for a travel app to offer, said Green “because people like to go where other people are happy.”

(My story about Jetpac City Guides first appeared on CNBC Road Warrior)