The Only Portable Batteries You’ll Need For Any Trip: A Review Of The PowerStick+ PowerTrip

September 1, 2015 by  
Filed under Green, Tech

powerstick+ powertrip

I’m sent a lot of electronics to test, play with, and give feedback on, but while many don’t make it for a full review here; others so seamlessly blend in with the tech gear and gadgets I travel with, I almost forget how useful they are for a traveler. That is the case with two Powerstick chargers I was sent by the company in late 2013: the PowerStick+ and the PowerTrip.

Over the past 2 years the PowerStick portable batteries have become an integral part of keeping my gadgets charged on the road in a way that’s reliable, quick, as well as efficient with or without a wall outlet.

What Are They?

Two portable batteries that can charge up most of your gadgets, save for a laptop. (Too much juice required for most portable battery packs.) The PowerStick+, about the length of an iPhone 5s, roughly twice as thick, weighs approximately 80 grams (2.82 ounces).

powerstick+

The PowerTrip is a bulkier, slightly wider than a credit card, 2.54 centimeters (1 inch) thick, weighing about 198 grams (7 ounces). It carries more power and has a solar panel on one side allowing you to recharge without the use of a wall outlet if needed.

powerstick powertrip

How Much Can They Recharge?

The PowerStick+ is a 2300 mAh battery, meaning most smartphones can be charged from nothing to 80%. (Apple iPhones, whose batteries are anorexic can be charged from zero to full easily.) The PowerTrip is a 6000 mAh battery that can bring nearly two iPads back from the electrical dead.

You charge the PowerStick+ by USB and in my experience it takes about two hours to get a full charge. (For faster charge times you’re better off getting a USB-to-outlet adapter rather than using your laptop.) A great feature of both the PowerStick+ and PowerTrip is that they retain charges for around a year – meaning you don’t have to charge up and use either relatively soon for fear of losing the stored power.

usb to wall adapterSpark Wireless 5pcs USB AC Universal Power Home Wall Travel Charger Adapter

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The PowerTrip has both a USB outlet for charging as well as a built-in flip out prongs for direct wall charging. (Currently AC only so for international travel be sure to pack this Swiss Word Travel Adapter.)

The Small Things I Don’t Like

The PowerStick+ is straightforward and charges quickly but the small gripe I have with the PowerTrip is that is can take a little long to charge up. Around 7-8 hours if it’s plugged in to a wall outlet isn’t too bad for a battery this size but if you’re like me and often forget to charge it the night before a train ride across England it can be disappointing. Also, the solar charging is hit or miss, despite my best efforts to toast it under the Egyptian sun in Hurghada, for example.

powerstick+

Save On GB Before You Charge Up

Although I would like faster recharge times for the PowerTrip specifically, I highly recommend both the PowerStick+ and PowerTrip. They’ve become absolutely essential for me personally, finding I rarely worry about not having an outlet around on a long journey because both batteries can power my devices for over 12 hours. Remember though it’s still worth taking care of all your batteries when traveling to get more life out of any charge.

The PowerStick+ starts at $65 and PowerTrip is $99 with more expensive models available that give you some data storage space as well. You’re better off saving your money and getting the least expensive PowerStick+ / PowerTrip models; splurging on a decent-sized USB thumb drive if you’re really crammed for space. Both batteries come with cases plus, for some flair, the option to print any custom design you want when ordering directly through their website, PowerStick.com.

Why You Don’t (Ever) Need To Show Up To The Airport 3 Hours Before A Flight

August 25, 2015 by  
Filed under Air, Luggage

waiting airport 3 hours

There are two types of flyers in the world – those that leave for the airport at a reasonable time before a flight and everyone else who thinks those kind of people are risk-taking-maniacs who want nothing more than the thrill of almost missing a flight. For many, the notion of arriving at the airport 3 hours before an international flight is one airline commandment that can’t be broken – except that even most airlines don’t recommend you get to the airport that early.

Where Does The 3 Hour Rule Come From Anyway?

There are two factors the airlines use to determine their recommendations on how early you should show up at the airport before any flight: the time it takes for a checked bag to get to the plane from the counter and how long it takes a passenger to get to the gate from the counter. (The airlines see a lot of passengers giving them a huge data set with which to base these times.) It turns out the total time between the two have varied over time, they have remained equal to one another over time.

  • So, the time it takes for you to get from the counter to your gate – passing through security, walking, etc. – is roughly equal to the time it takes your checked bag to get on the airplane.

clock melting

Despite what it feels like to us, getting through security now is a lot quicker than it was 20 years ago and our bags also get to the planes faster too. (As most experienced ramp agents will tell you.) The 3 hour rule may have been practical for most flights in a time when all bags were routinely opened for searches, passports couldn’t be scanned electronically, ticket records weren’t computerized; but not so much now.

Save Yourself An Hour

The sweet spot for getting to the airport before an international flight is actually two hours before scheduled take off. Two hours isn’t an arbitrary time I’m just making up, it’s based on how the airlines calculate the time you’re recommended to show up. (For some, it’s even as little as 90 minutes.) Again, the airlines base their recommendations according to the amount of time it takes for a checked bag to get from the check-in counter to the gate – which is roughly equal to the amount of time it takes the passenger to get to the gate.

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For most airports this time is calculated as 45 minutes – the minimum amount of time it takes for your checked bag to get to the gate. For those of you who traveling with checked bags, this is the absolute latest you can get to the check-in counter. Otherwise, you won’t be allowed to check bags which might be a deal breaker for your flight depending on your backpack or suitcase.

Add in 30 minutes in line to get to the counter (as the airlines do), totaling 120 minutes. Remember, this time varies by airline, airport, and destination so be sure to check on the airline’s site for last check-in times.

More Time If You Don’t Have Checked Luggage

Traveling without checked bags not only saves you a lot of time upon arrival since you can skip baggage claim, it also generally means you can get to the airline 30 minutes later (around 90 minutes) before an international flight. Again, this isn’t an arbitrary time – it’s what the majority of airlines recommend. Not having checked luggage often means you don’t need to see an agent at the check-in counter and pick up your tickets directly from a kiosk.

Also, some destinations with strict visa or security controls (e.g. Israel) often mean you need to get to the airport earlier than 2 hours before your flight.

Cut It Efficiently Close

Some airports are small enough where you can show up even an hour before a scheduled flight but unless you know it well enough it’s best not to get carried away with procrastination. Inside the United States you can check security wait times with the TSA, use What’s Busy for future flights, plus see how long a walk to your gate will take with Gate Guru.

Despite all of your best efforts, in case you do show up too late you can try missing your flight for free without paying for re-booking.

Why You Shouldn’t Unclog Your Ears By Holding Your Nose And Blowing

August 18, 2015 by  
Filed under Advice, Health and Fitness

orange wind flag

One sensation most of us who have flown are familiar with is having our ears pop upon takeoff, leading to discomfort when we return to the ground. A common way to “unclog” your ears is to hold your nose closed then breath hard. Although it’s often an effective way of equalizing the air pressure in your ears with the surrounding environment, there’s a very good reason why you should avoid doing it altogether.

middle earWhy Your Ears Pop In The First Place

Inside your middle ear down toward your throat is the Eustachian (or pharyngotympanic) tube. The Eustachian tube is normally closed off but it has a little pocket of air inside, which is usually equal to the surrounding pressure. Even though airplane cabins are pressurized, on most commercial aircraft the pressure is equivalent to roughly 2,100 meters (~6,900 feet) above sea level.

The higher up you are the lower the air pressure and as you increase in altitude, the Eustachian tubes open slightly, letting out air. When this happens you hear the familiar “pop” in your ears, allowing you to hear optimally in different pressure zones. You’ll notice right after landing your hearing feels muffled, and it will, until your Eustachian tubes upon up again to equalize pressure.

Blowing Too Hard Can Perforate Your Eardrum

Generally speaking your Eustachian tubes will balance things out on their own after a few days. You can however encourage them along in a few ways. For example, taking a hot shower, exercise strenuous enough to cause heavy breathing, and decongestant medicine work well since the Eustachian tubes also regulate mucus drainage. (Dry air conditions on airplanes can cause sinus congestion blocking your Eustachian tubes.)

punching drum

Most doctors don’t recommend the hold-your-nose-and-breath technique to force air through your Eustachian tubes because too much pressure can tear your eardrum. The key is to be gentile – there’s only so much air that can go through your Eustachian tubes – and give up if things don’t feel better after a soft try or two.

What To Do If You Tear Your Eardrum

You’ll know you have if you experience intense pain with hearing loss. A bit of blood or discharge might also drip from your ear, all symptoms that mean it’s time to visit a doctor as soon as possible. Most perforated eardrums are partial tears that heal on their own within two months but it’s important you have a doctor take a look to ensure surgery isn’t required. You’ll also be prescribed antibiotics to prevent infections which can delay healing or eventually lead to a minor (but inconvenient) surgical fix.

You might want to seek medical advice as well if you still feel bouncy a week after flying, a visit to the doctor that shouldn’t cost much if you’ve done the wise thing and purchased travel insurance.

Here’s What Craiova, The Best Romanian City You Probably Haven’t Heard Of Looks Like

August 11, 2015 by  
Filed under Advice, Contests, Pictures and Video

The first reaction I get when I tell people traveling to eastern Europe that they must visit Craiova, Romania, is a genuinely interested “huh?” Craiova, the 6th largest city in Romania, has a remarkably enthusiastic population of 270,000 working diligently on social media to promote it as a tourist destination. Although I met the reasons you voted Craiova the Best City to Visit of 2014, here’s what that city (which is in rapid travel destination transformation) looks like under the summer sun.

Looking around the Craiova Art Museum, once the active Constantin Mihail Palace, now gearing up to host a number of pieces of artwork from Romanian sculptors and painters.

Big square.

Big meal, with polenta, of course.

Inside the Madona Dudu Church, whose structure was partially rebuilt in 1844 to repair earthquake damage sustained a decade prior.

Walking around the Parcul Nicolae Romanescu (Romanescu Park) which has small monuments, cafes, and street food stalls scattered throughout. There’s enough organization so you don’t feel lost but at the same time are exploring, as there’s a lot to be discovered (and eaten) inside.

A look into Craiova’s City Hall, open to the public when there aren’t any active sessions or debates taking place.

Nearby, along the Danube River about a 40 minute drive away is Europe’s tallest rock sculpture. This depiction honors Decebalus, (87-106 A.D.), who was able to preserve Dacia’s (the precursor to modern Romania) independence against Roman rule through three wars.

A streak of independence still flows through the blood of most Craiovans, who are proud of a heritage they want to share in the most modern ways. At least once a month many of the city’s bloggers gather at Club Q, essentially turning into a large meet and greet open to everyone. In the time since I took these photos, a large pedestrian area has been opened, lined with a number of virgin bars, restaurants, and cafes all anticipating new business. (Facebar in particular has really grown into one of the best places to eat, drink, and party in town.)

Craiova is easy to reach by train from Bucharest (about 4 hours and $15) or backward nodding Sofia, and Wizz Air recently began flights a number of cities including London, Rome, and Barcelona. You’ll find that Craiova is right in the middle of a special zone for travelers – a place you should add to your plans if you’re looking for an inexpensive but unique experience in Europe.