Two trends are on our mind as we share our top holiday gift picks for travelers and wine lovers. First are the new airline-imposed bans on smart luggage -- suitcases featuring non-removable batteries, plugs, GPS tracking, bluetooth, or motors (yes, there is actually a motorized suitcase you can ride) -- that have us thinking "Wow, we're happy we never jumped on that bandwagon". We'll not be recommending any of those. The second is more philosophical: Travel makes me a minimalist. If I don't need it on the road, I probably don't need it at all. Everything on our list this year is aimed at either helping your gift recipients downsize, or get more out of what they already have. Enjoy!
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I spent much of 2017 on an obsessive quest to find the perfect duffel bag for those short trips when a rolling suitcase + laptop bag or backpack are just too much. I reviewed three options in April, but all were blown away when Tumi released its brand new Buckner Duffel from the Alpha Bravo collection, which unites all the best features in all the alternatives I've investigated. First and foremost, it features a dedicated laptop compartment (a rarity among duffels) that truly eliminates the need for a separate work bag on short trips. Its two side pockets easily store my travel wallet, sunglasses, spare battery, business cards, headphones, and more, while Tumi's signature hidden magnetic pocket is great for dropping my phone while passing through airport security. I also love the dedicated waterproof compartment for shoes, slippers (yes, I am an old man), or dirty laundry. It has been my go to weekend bag from the moment I got over the pain of being a Red Sox fan carrying around a duffel named "Buckner".
In a similar theme, a lifelong friend and I spent ten days living out of backpacks while exploring the wine scenes in Prague and Budapest (and others). Though I fondly love my wheeled carry-on, I have to concede that backpacks are well suited for Europe's predilection with cobblestone sidewalks, where the rat-a-tat-tat of suitcases bound for their next Airbnb has become the defining urban soundtrack of the 21st century. Enter the Pacsafe Venturesafe 45 liter backpack. It's small enough to qualify as a carry-on, opens like a suitcase for easy packing of 45 liters of stuff, features a dedicated laptop compartment, and is protected by an ingenious locking mechanism and hidden stainless steel mesh that makes it virtually slash proof. I'd still go with a rolling bag when my travels call for a suit or blazer (the straps don't work well with the jacket), but the backpack is otherwise a great call. My only complaint is that the bag's focus on security precludes the possibility of much in the way of outside pockets. I'd rather be safe, though.
Those willing the trade Pacsafe's security features for a better overall pocket situation should consider the similarly sized Osprey Farpoint 40 liter travel backpack. In comparisons, we found that the Osprey bests the Pacsafe with a superior laptop compartment, outside mesh pockets for quick storage, and overall carrying comfort, while those who value security and sleekness should favor the Pacsafe. It's a judgement call driven by personal preference.
We're going back to the well here, but over a year later and there's no way around it: Tumi's Alpha 2 International Expandable 4-Wheel Carry-on is the best rolling suitcase we've ever encountered. This thing is both an excellent and stylish performer whose expense you'll make up in reliability and the money you'll save not paying for to check your luggage. The whole thing is put together with excellent quality and precision, everything feeling smooth and high end. Though I've been highly judgmental of 4-wheel rolling suitcases in the past, I must say that rolling around with this thing was a real pleasure. The wheels are smooth enough to make you think you're rolling on a track, and the ability to roll around upright is both easier on the back and much more maneuverable (particularly down a narrow airplane aisle).
I've fallen in love with the Bellroy Leather Travel Wallet: Hands down the best wallet and passport cover combination on the market because it almost magically combines both into a single elegant leather object, and manages to fit everything I need into one folio smaller than any similar product I've ever put my hands on. It has helped me become infinitely more organized keeping my business together at the airport and everywhere I roam on either side of my flight, and has become truly indispensable to my travel routine. My wife, who abhors the acquisition of stuff, wants one now. That's the best review I can possibly imagine.
The creators of this product are unadulterated geniuses, for they have created a single device small enough to fit in a shirt pocket (don't, you'll look like a weirdo), yet full featured enough to serve as an adapter plugging into almost any electrical outlet in the world. It also happens to serve up two USB jacks, one standard U.S. jack, and four universal jacks into which you can plug almost any device in the world. I take it everywhere, having combined international electrical adapter, power strip, extension cord, and USB charging brick into but one device. The Mogics Power Bagel is a game changer.
Apologies for recommending something so inconveniently not available on Amazon, but the Manta Sleep Mask is well worth it. Soft, light, and creatively designed to neither put pressure on your closed eyes nor to let in any errant outside light, it has replaced every lesser sleep mask in our bags en route with us to Hungary, Spain, Sweden, the Czech Republic, New York, and North Carolina in a few short weeks. You'll sleep infinitely better.
It's pricey ($299 the day of this review), we get it. But... Using pressurized inert gas and a needle to extract wine from the bottle without ever pulling the cork, Coravin is the answer to every time you've wanted to sample a bottle of wine without committing to opening the whole thing or drink just one glass. It has made possible a great number of tasting notes on Wine:Thirty Flight, and will likely change the way you drink wine from your own collection.
Anyone who doesn't want wine running down the bottle and all over their house needs wine pourers. We tried a great many of them until we found ones we liked. These are those. Go stuff a stocking.
Someone gave us this, and now I feel like the most sophisticated guy at the party when I show up leather-case-containing-two-delicious-bottles-of-wine in hand. A zipper closure binds together two bottles that are wrapped tightly in padding. Elegant and functional, almost everyone who sees ours wants their own.
Happy shopping, and happy holidays!
*All images sourced from / courtesy of the manufacturer.