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The Ridge Commuter Backpack Is Solid But Standard

Ridge the company most known for its line of slim wallets has more recently ventured into luggage. They’ve got their durable but pricey Ridge Carry On and as part of the line, the Commuter Backpack. It’s sits between this world of travel bag and office bag and depending on where you’re going, the Commuter Backpack may or may not be the best fit for you.

Size And Specs

The Commuter Backpack is on the smaller side at around 20 liters and measures 46 x 31 x 18 centimeters. It’s available in four distinct colors ranging from black, matte olive, base camp orange, and alpine blue with all of the colors bright but not overstated or tacky. As Ridge tend to do, they’ve opted for durability but the use of 900 denier ballistic nylon makes the Ridge Commuter Backpack heavier than average at 1.43 kilos (3.15 pounds).

Quality YKK zippers are used and the combined with the other materials in use, the Commuter Backpack is weatherproof. You can’t submerge this backpack (unless you want to get everything inside wet) but it will keep its contents dry in even a strong downpour.

Inside The Bag

There are two side pockets for small water bottles, a flat front pocket that goes down about a quarter of the bag length you can use a a quick grab pocket or for smaller items like chargers or cables. (Since this pocket is more exposed, I wouldn’t store anything of high value like a passport.) The main compartment is a big open pocket with a halfway zip although a three quarters or sided access would make getting your stuff in and out a bit easier. Ridge have also squeezed in a separate laptop compartment as well with a soft microfiber suede lining and big enough to hold a 16 inch laptop.

ridge commuter backpack

Inside 210 denier nylon is used and made to be  anti-microbial. As an added bonus Ridge have sneaked in a hidden Airtag pocket. Overall the Commuter Backpack has a straightforward design when it comes to the pockets – not too different than many other similarly sized backpacks – but the materials used are more durable than most.

Cost Considerations

You will pay for those premium materials though – this is not an inexpensive backpack. As Ridge says, the Commuter Backpack is built to last and given the liberal use of nylon I would tend to say they’re right. At only 20 liters though this isn’t going to be a one bag travel backpack but more of an office, school, or business trip bag.

At 20 liters it may be a bit overkill and heavy for everyday use but if you want a rugged yet stylish backpack to carry a laptop, some books, or light clothes in, the Ridge Commuter Backpack should last you for years of short trips.

How To Avoid Airbnb’s Latest Fee

A few days ago Airbnb changed their Terms of Service to introduce a new fee that will come into effect on April 1st 2024. That fee will add 2% to you next booking but there’s an easy way to avoid it and actually save even more money.

Conversion Fee

The new guest service fee of 2%, before taxes, will be added on the total rate if a booking is made where the local currency differs from the currency set in your Airbnb account. That means if your Airbnb account has a currency set in US dollars but the villa in Spain you’re booking is listed in Euros, there will be an additional 2% fee added at check out.

airbnb settings

Airbnb hasn’t made it clear if this fee will be shown separately or just added under the generic “fees” you see at checkout, but know that it will be in there where there’s a currency conversion.

Avoiding The Fee

To get around the new 2% fee, all you have to do is change the default currency your Airbnb account is set to so that it matches the local currency of your next destination. Log into Airbnb, click the globe icon, then currency, and then change the currency. For example, if you’re looking for an Airbnb in Bulgaria you would change the currency into Bulgarian lev and if the place is in Spain, that would be Euros. Airbnb doesn’t make it clear what currency the host listing is in so you just have to look up the local currency in a given country if you’re not familiar and adjust it accordingly.

airbnb currency setting

Why This Saves More Than 2%

After April 1, 2024 this trick will save you 2% in fees but changing the currency to match the local money will save you double or more because of another clause in the Airbnb terms – one that’s been there for a long time. When you book an Airbnb in a currency that differs from the currency a host as set, Airbnb converts the listing price from local to your currency, using rates they determine. In many cases this rate is not in your favor and hardly the best conversion and can add 3% or more to a booking where the currencies differ.

You should always change your Airbnb account currency to the local one when booking internationally to save at the 2% conversion fee and then another 2-4% in conversion rates. While you’re at it, make sure you keep an eye on Airbnb cleaning fees as well.

An Upgraded Hotel Experience: Sonder Apartments Review

Sonder is a short term apartment rental service for people who want amenities most hotels don’t have but want the consistency in experience Airbnb lacks. I recently rented a Sonder apartment in New York City and found they take some of the best from Airbnb and hotels but the end results aren’t as good as they could be. You can watch my full review in the video above or read on.

Sonder Rising

Sonder was founded in 2014 and now operates in 40 cities around the world with the aim to be a the homestay of hotels. They basically buy up apartments in cities where Sonder operates, then registers them as hotels. Most Sonder listings look a lot like traditional temporary accommodation from the outside but when you walk in you find mailboxes for individual units, like you would an apartment while there are services like complimentary toilet paper and housekeeping, hotel style.

sonder apartment

Many Sonder rentals have kitchens, refrigerators, and laundry machines but that’s not always the case, so you’ll want to review the specific rental amenities before booking.

Online Experience Excels

One thing that Sonder does well is the booking experience. You can search for apartments on their site or mobile app and rentals can be booked for days, weeks, or months. Trying to figure out what’s available isn’t always clear though as Sonder likes to show you a lot of choices in a given location without automatically removing options that are already booked.

Once you do find a place though Sonder lists out the total price you’ll end up paying, including taxes, fees, and any discounts. Having the final price listed makes for a much better experience when booking with Sonder. In contrast, Airbnb tacks on cleaning fees can be as much as the rental rate and hotels too can throw some hidden fees at you in the last minute. With Sonder you know how much things cost throughout the apartment search.

Checking In Sonder Style

Check in and check out times are similar to hotels and you can adjust them by a few hours for a small fee if you’re arriving early or need a late check out. Once you’ve booked the Sonder app is the best way to manage your stay. You’ll get the access code to the building and your room, as well as the option to use your phone as a mobile key to get inside. The address is listed as are requests for services like cleaning or to report any issues. You can also get in touch with support who are quick to respond and everything else you need like wifi passwords are all in the app as well. (The wifi is also very fast, around 350 Mbps download.)

sonder new york city

Sonder isn’t like The Blueground, a premium long term apartment rental service I’ve previously reviewed, where the furniture, kitchen, and appliances are all better quality and the shortest rental term is one month. So although you can rent a Sonder for over 30 days and you get discounts the longer your stay – especially past 45 days, I’m not sure in every location Sonder has a presence it’s the best long term accommodation option for travelers.

When To Sonder

Sonder is a good option for more expensive cities, like New York City, where you’re going to be staying for more than a few days. If you’re staying for a day or two, having a kitchen and fridge you can stock up probably won’t save you much money versus eating out, you should do some pricing comparisons with nearby hotels and and Airbnb.

But for stays of a few days or a week or two, where a trip to the grocery store is going to save you money on food over time, particularly if you want to cook or save money on laundry fees, than a Sonder might be a better choice in those circumstances. Their rates are pretty competitive with hotels and they’re usually in or very close to popular touristic parts of the cities they operate in.

Sonder is an option to check out if you want the hotel experience plus the perks that might save you money where it’s available. For longer stays though, especially over a few weeks, you might want to expand your search to some other booking sites.

This Free App Is The Fastest Way To Get Through U.S. Immigration

dulles airport

After a long flight there’s nothing less fun than waiting in a long immigration line at passport control. There is however a way to speed up the entire process using an app provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Here’s how to use Mobile Passport Control (MPC) to skip the long lines.

How MPC Works

MPC is a free app available for iOS and Android created by the U.S. government. The MPC app lets you digitally fill out a customs declaration form, upload a picture of your passport, and your photo of yourself as you would with a passport agent. In this case though the MPC app lets you bypass the manual process of having your passport looked over by an agent.

MPC users have their own separate line and is available for use at over 33 airports and some seaports of entry. (A current total of 48 sites.)

Who Is Eligible?

The MPC app can be used by U.S. citizens, legal residents, Canadian B1/B2 citizen visitors and returning Visa Waiver Program travelers with approved ESTA. This includes most of the European Union citizens, Australian, and Japanese citizens, among several others who are eligible to use MPC after their initial U.S. visit.

Set Up Before You Fly

A lot of people realize there’s a faster way through immigration using the MPC app when the airline staff announce it’s an option. By that time though uploading everything and getting your account created might be too tight, assuming you have an Internet connection at the airport at all. Therefore it’s best to set up the MPC app before you take off on your trip and it only takes a few minutes to get everything ready.

Then once you land, find the MPC line, scan the QR code on your phone shown in the app, and enjoy waiting for your luggage. But hey, at least you didn’t spend any unnecessary time looking at people’s back in immigration lines.

The Problem With Boeing Planes

You’ve probably seen the images from Alaska Airlines flight 1282 where a section of the plane was blown out in mid-flight. Fortunately, the plane was able to make an emergency landing and aside from 3 minor injuries nobody else was hurt or killed. Still, this was a brand new Boeing 737 Max 9 – only in service for 3 months before this incident – but since the Max line of planes was introduced, there have been two fatal crashes.

What is going on with Boeing and should you be worried about flying in their planes?

Safe But Less Safe

Previous generations of Boeing 737s have a fatal accident rate of .2 per million flights while the 737 MAX have a 4 in million fatal accident rate, still safe, but twenty times more accident prone. The Boeing 737 line is the most popular passenger plane ever – beginning production in 1968 through the latest generation called MAX which began in 2017. Throughout much of that history Boeing was the dominant jetliner manufacturer. Boeing’s main rival Airbus wasn’t a serious rival to Boeing until the 1990s.

alaska airlines

In the 2000s Airbus overtook Boeing in the narrow body aircraft market and today Airbus has 62% of the share of airliner backlog. Their main advantage: fuel economy.

Savings In The Sky

In the 2010s Airbus starting using a new engine design using with what’s known as high-bypass. Technical details aside, these are engines that are bigger than what was previously being used but 25% more fuel efficient. (And 35% quieter, a nice bonus.) Before this jetliner engines were made to be narrower thinking it would reduce wind resistance.

Over time airlines began gravitating toward these narrower, smaller capacity planes because they saved money on fuel. Those cost savings meant that airlines could run more flights versus the larger Boeing planes which burn more fuel. It’s easier to fill up smaller planes resulting in fewer empty seats. Again, economic benefits.

Boeing Plays Catch Up

Boeing isn’t able to put those newer more fuel efficient engines on their existing larger planes because the wings are too low for them to fit. This leads to the decision to make the Boeing MAX, their version of a narrow body jetliner to compete with Airbus. Building planes takes experience and Boeing didn’t redesign the 737 Max from scratch. The larger more powerful engines being placed on modified existing designs have lead to issues. Boeing had to put the new engines further forward on the wings of the MAX but combined with more thrust they have a tendency to pull the plane up more – in other words give it more lift.

jetliner engine

To compensate, the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) was implemented. That’s basically a computer than detects when the nose of the plane might be going up too high and then forces the plane to pitch downward. Boeing engineers allowed the MCAS to be fed information from a single sensor with no redundancy because “they calculated the probability of a “hazardous” MCAS malfunction to be virtually inconceivable.”

The Federal Aviation Administration also agreed and did not adequately inform pilots about the MCAS in their manuals. Unfortunately in the case of Lion Air Flight 620 in 2018 and Ethiopian Airlines 302 in 2019 that lead to two fatal crashes, killing 346 people. Boeing was later charged with fraud and ordered to pay compensation of 2.5 billion dollars for concealing information from the FAA.

Failures For Dollars

There were failures on the part of Boeing and the FAA, who overruled their own engineers in the regarding the 737 MAX 8 and there have been well documented quality control issues with the MAX 9 (the plane involved in the Alaska Airlines incident). A U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure report also pointed to the FAA’s practice of delegating some of its inspection functions to Boeing’s own engineers, noting that this structure “creates inherent conflicts of interest that have jeopardized the safety of the flying public.”

The grounding of the MAX 8 cost Boeing 21 billion dollars. Still, the 737 MAX 8 and 9 still have 4500 orders combined so far but it seems like Boeing’s push to make a profit – which that haven’t done since 2019 – has lead to cutting corners in their race to compete with Airbus. Travelers can only hope there are no more accidents before oversight of Boeing, investigations, and changes both to personnel and production are implemented.

Why I Travel (A Personal Story)

suriname amsterdam

I wasn’t sure I would ever write about this but after a few decades I realized that’s the point of the story.

When I was 15, I received a phone call that would change how I viewed being alive. On a beautifully monotonous sunny summer day, I was outside with friends doing nothing worth a mention. Not a care in the world. Some of the best moments of life are those so dully blissful you would never remember them otherwise.

We would pop in and out of our apartments like feral badgers to get water, food, and cool off for a moment before heading back into the wild. On one such water trip, a family member casually mentioned getting a phone call. A friend of a parent had died, there might be a funeral, and maybe I would want to go. Details at this point were murky. I vividly remember an internal monologue about why should I care about some old people? Old people died. Who cares? I had no interest in going to a funeral. There were more important things on my schedule like sitting outside and doing nothing. Life was for me or any perception of it, casually predictable.

When the next phone call came in, it was for me. Again, old people died. Not close friends barely in their 20s at least I thought, until that call. For most of us, death is something distant – a future event that happens at the “end”. End of how we roughly sketch our lives to look like from an early age. I went to the funeral confused as I slowly came to the realization that our existence begins and ends randomly.

This death was not a grand assassination like in the Godfather or some heroic sacrifice to save people from a burning building. Hey, we all draw our stories differently. Maybe yours is in a rocking chair surrounded by loved ones or running through a tomato garden chasing grand kids. But I’m afraid to tell you we don’t get to write the final chapter.

An accident. The details are unimportant but that’s the mundane of it. People cried at the funeral. In Islamic tradition you’re placed in a white sheet and buried. You can see the outline of the body under the cloth as people carry you to a hole in the ground. It is not glamorous or spiritual nor is it special. I wish it were but that day I learned it won’t be when I die. Or when you die. It happens and then you become a series of biological processes until eventually, there’s nothing left to decay. The end.

You don’t get to control that part of the story but if you’re one of the lucky ones – you have some control over the middle parts. Since that day, I have told myself I might die today, every morning. Because dying is not something we’re guaranteed at age 80 or 90 and I’m sure even then, I’ll want a few more years. Ceasing to exist can happen at any moment and for any number of stupid reasons.

skiing

Some people are so scared of dying that it prevents them from living. Any day could be our last and I try to remember that as much as I can. There have been stretches I’ve forgotten that fact and it’s often when I’m least happy. So, I try to live and do and see as much as I can while I’m here and capable. (Make no mistake though, I’m quite apt at focusing on self-indulgence at the expense of more important things like people – hey, we’re all a work in progress.)

Speaking of people, be kind to them and understand where they come from. Don’t be mean, bring people up, don’t put them down. Make a small positive impact on someone they might pass along to someone else. It’s how I honor my friend – by doing all the things she didn’t get to do and living the lessons I didn’t know I was learning. I never got to say how much of a big sister she was to me. I was shy and nerdy (not much change there) but learned to be bolder and make little adventures where you can. Enjoy life. Like I said, small positive impacts.

When I die, nobody should come to the funeral and be able to say he didn’t have a good life. Feel free to use my skull as a soccer ball for all I care. There should be a party for me and I hope for you too. A party to say that you, despite all the bullshit the world throws at you – and there is a heaping galactic ton of it – were able to make the most of existence.

Your life may stop at 22, 43, or who knows when. It’s kind of funny when you think about it, just how absurd this all is. You are here and then you are not. An infinite amount of time passed before you were born and much longer will pass after you die. So if you are fortunate enough to be here for a while with the rest of us, have fun when possible. Make little adventures where you can. If all of history can pass and every atom since then bumping into one another can lead you to reading this, if that infinitesimally small collection of events got you here? Well, then you shouldn’t think anything you can dream up is impossible.

I once read about a culture who believes you don’t die as long as you’re remembered in the memories of other people. So strive to have a long existence. Life is contagious. Live it and it shares itself with others.

About Anil Polat

foxnomad aboutHi, I'm Anil. foXnoMad is where I combine travel and tech to help you travel smarter. I'm on a journey to every country in the world and you're invited to join the adventure! Read More

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