SwissGear Scansmart 1900 Backpack Review: Lots Of Pockets For Little Gadgets

The SwissGear Scansmart 1900 is a durable backpack with a lot of benefits for most travelers that leads to one big drawback for everyone else. One of the most popular travel backpacks, especially for people who carry a lot of electronics, the Scansmart 1900 has pockets for just about everything.

scansmart 1900  SwissGear Travel Gear ScanSmart Backpack 1900

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Plentiful pockets is not surprising for a brand associated with functionality, but the Scansmart’s dividers rob it of a large main storage compartment, meaning it’s a great backpack if you only use 75% of it.

Durable Unlike Most Others

The SwissGear line of backpacks are designed to last – I used the Synergy for over 10 years – and have been using the 1900 as my primary electronics backpack for the past 18 months or so. (I switched because I needed a larger bag to carry this stuff.) The 1900 has held up very well over the extreme amount of travel I’ve done, though there are small indications of imperfection I never noticed on the Synergy.

swissgear scansmart 1900

A slightly loose plastic logo on the handle and a few errant strings in the stitching are things I wouldn’t even mention for other backpacks but SwissGear have set their own bar very high. Still, the Scansmart will last, despite my constant over-stuffing of this bag, the seams have held strong and survived where many other backpacks I’ve reviewed wouldn’t.

Divided On Pockets

Originally I moved to the Scansmart 1900 when I picked up a Mavic Pro drone. I organized the drone, as well as my Panasonic Lumix G85, in two SwissGear toiletry kits. They fit perfectly into the front main compartment of the 1900 but two additional dividers in that compartment steal space if they’re not used. In other words, a notebook, cable organizer, and some other small items would fit well; it’s when you stuff the main compartment those dividers force the bag into an awkward, uncomfortable shape. Sure, the Scansmart 1900 can handle it, though your back might be slightly sore after a long journey.

swissgear scansmart 1900

Then, there’s the biggest complaint I have about the 1900: the thick dividers between the laptop compartment, tablet compartment, and main compartments. Those dividers take up space, again, which is fine if you’re not going to really fill the main compartment. Using the laptop and tablet compartments push those bulky dividers forward into the main compartment and if you try to fill it up too much your backpack will look like a water balloon ready to burst.

The Size Of Your Stuff

Alternatively, the North Face Recon I’ve previously reviewed, has roughly the same internal capacity though allocates much more space to the main compartment. It’s got one roomy laptop pocket in the main compartment without cutting it up into smaller sections. For travelers with a lot of small items, the Scansmart 1900 might be a better backpack, because it’s designed not to be filled anywhere near capacity.

The Recon on the other hand, has a large main compartment that can easily fit a DSLR, small drone, or otherwise be jammed with clothes when you don’t feel like packing properly. The Scansmart 1900 is a large backpack designed for small things, best compared to the Dell Premier backpack, if you’re not planning on pushing your bags limits.

Kayak Explore Lets You See How Much It Costs To Fly From Home To Anywhere

kayak explore

Most airfare search engines work around the assumption that you know where you want to go and are looking for the best price to fly there. Kayak Explore let’s you do something much more fun: see how much it costs to fly to cities around the world from where you are.

Pick A Destination Based On Price

Several years ago airfare aggregator Kayak quietly rolled out Kayak Explore, one of the best travel search engines that’s useful for travel planning, particularly if you aren’t quite sure where you want your next trip to be. The concept is pretty simple, you enter in a home city and time frame for a trip, then see a world map of prices for airfare to cities worldwide.

Kayak Explore also has several options for refining the airfare shown, like season (e.g. fall 2018) or exact dates, maximum price, as well as duration. You can also specify whether or not you want prices for direct flights only.

Find New Hubs

Zooming in or scrolling around let’s you see airfare to essentially everywhere, giving you an idea of the costs to travel to places you may not have considered. Another big benefit of Kayak Explore – if you’re willing to put in the time – is it reveals new hubs and connecting cities you can use to get cheap multi-city flights.

amman stadium

Say, for example, you want to visit the ancient city of Petra and find a flight from Washington DC to Amman, Jordan for $800. The DC to Amman flight connects through Frankfurt. However, booking a flight to Frankfurt separately, then to Amman (no need to leave the airport) might actually cost less. Alternatively, Kayak Explore could show a $250 flight to Copenhagen from Washington DC. Afterward, you plug in Copenhagen as your home city, then notice a flight to Amman from there is $250. Now you can fly to Jordan for $500, rather than the original $800 price.

The reason the example above works is because airlines often don’t show you all of the connecting city possibilities and use the framing effect to trick you. They tend to offer up efficient, well-flown routes that aren’t necessarily the least expensive. Airlines only cross over with partner airlines as well; booking multi-city flights on your own gets you around such limitations.

What You Might Not Be Looking For

Even if you don’t intend to do any in-depth travel planning, Kayak Explore can give you ideas. Cheap airfare could entice you to take a closer look at a country or city you wouldn’t have considered otherwise. Kayak Explore is a tool I use often, particularly for multi-city trips but one so simple, I nearly neglected to write a dedicated post about it.

It’s one of the best ways to search for cheap flights and get from your desk to all the places you want to travel. Remember though, even if Kayak Explore isn’t helping, you can stop chasing cheap flights to really save money on your next vacation.

What It’s Like To Get High On Khat

khat market yemen

2013: Somewhere in the middle of nowhere Yemen, my toothless driver turns around to ask if I want to chew as we make our way across mountain roads. It’s become an important ritual by now; every day around 2 in the afternoon, he and most every other Yemeni, jam wads of khat leaves into their mouth to chew on for hours. Entire cities shut down after midday around khat time, not fully starting up again until the next morning.

It took me a few days but eventually friend and fellow blogger Derek and I gave in, here’s what it’s like to get high on khat.

What Is Khat?

Khat or qat refers to the leaves of a tree sold in countless markets around Yemen and east Africa. Khat is illegal in many countries and considered a performance enhancing drug by some athletic bodies, mostly because it’s a stimulant. Research on khat is limited but given that everyone I saw in Yemen was chewing it on a daily basis, it’s probably highly addictive. Khat’s also terrible for your teeth – toothless smiles reveal which side of the mouth people tend to keep their khat on.

Khat Effects

Khat is a big part of the culture in Yemen and east Africa where The Pirates Of Somalia repeats a common local joke: khat will either make you talk a lot or sex crazy. I’m sorry to disappoint you if you’re looking for a fantastic way to get high or an herbal aphrodisiac but khat’s effects are more like drinking one cup of coffee too many.

khat leaves

The khat process though is a cumbersome one. First, you begin by shopping for the khat leaves. Khat’s only good for about a day so you’ll need to buy fresh. Then, you begin to chew the leaves without swallowing. You want to get a buzz and then constipated, eating the leaves only gives you the constipated side effect. As you eagerly or fearfully wait to become a talkative sex maniac, you keep chewing, making sure to keep a large ball of khat clearly visible from your cheeks.

For hours.

khat

Khat takes about 2-4 hours to kick in, so you’ll need to chew diligently. The leaves taste like you might imagine the grass in a field does, bitter and earthy, one of the random things you’ll be very focused on contemplating after an hour of chomping.

Focus On This

Khat gives you a fuzzy focus as amphetamines tend to. Very mild though, after the second or third hour your mouth will start running. Imagine a kid who’s eaten too many cupcakes or your friend who can’t handle a large Starbucks. That’s khat. I’m not sure where the sex crazy rumor comes from, it’s probably a way to make khat seem much more mind-altering than it is.

Khat seemed to me to be much on par with coffee, though with bad side effects. Aside from the long-term dental effects, khat might also cause cancer and depression. Due to limited scientific studies of the plant, nothing conclusive has been determined but it’s probably pretty bad for you. Especially daily consumption.

khat farm

The other side effect is water. Prior to Yemen’s civil war, one local farmer told me the country was selling itself into drought. Yemeni coffee should be world famous (the drink originated in nearby Ethiopia) but corruption, war, and turmoil hurt exports. Khat however, is locally very popular. Unfortunately, khat trees use many more times the amount of water than coffee plants and because khat can’t be (legally) exported to most places that don’t already grow it, ultimately it’s become a major economic burden.

Khat, in Yemen, is a social network nothing digital comes close to. Hours long conversations, daily khat shopping, and open discussions create friendships on the spot, leading to a lifelong side effect of close bonds with individuals who have all since been displaced, or worse, due to the ongoing conflict there – although good Yemeni coffee might have done the same, without the tooth decay.

The Pirates Of Somalia Is A Great Travel Book, Lackluster Movie

pirates of somalia

Imagine working in an office at age 24 and wanting to become a journalist, but instead of going the traditional route of a formal education, you book yourself a ticket to Somalia to interview pirates… as they’re actively hijacking cargo ships. In 2011, that’s exactly what writer Jay Bahadur did, and his book The Pirates Of Somalia is one of the best travel books I’ve ever read.

Earlier this year a movie by the same name was released and despite good acting, the original story gets muddled with what is clearly Hollywood executive meddling. It’s often the case that the book a movie is based on is better but Bahadur’s story is so compelling, the movie should have stuck much closer to the true story.

Adventure In Journalism

I’m not going to compare The Pirates Of Somalia movie with the book as much as tell you to read the book, despite what you may have thought of the film. In both cases, The Pirates Of Somalia starts with Bahadur’s wild idea to get a story others can’t by going to its troublesome source. The book however, covers in depth the scattershot planning it took to make this trip to Somalia plus interview pirates leaders, possible. No journalist prior had gotten such interviews and I’m sure more than a few intelligence agencies wish they had such access.

the pirates of somaliaThe Pirates of Somalia: Inside Their Hidden World

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Ultimately, the planning is fascinating because it starts with Bahadur making calls and pulling connections on his own – you can imagine yourself reading this right now – following the same steps; next thing you know you’re on a 1970s Soviet-era Atonov plane headed for Puntland. (Puntland, the center of Somali piracy, is an unrecognized autonomous region in Somalia.) The movie doesn’t go into this section enough but travel enthusiasts would especially enjoy seeing the calculated chaos Bahadur’s route to Somalia took, dramatized on-screen.

Nerves Across The Pages

Bahadur does a really good job of transmitting his cool but logically anxious mind after he arrives in Somalia. There’s a naivety in the writing without straying far from the reality that things could go horribly wrong. Insulting a pirate, running into the wrong group of armed criminals, jihadists, other pirates, or a hundred other ways to get killed at worse, kidnapped at best.

In the movie, the most captivating parts (aside from anytime Al Pacino is on-screen) are the moments of complete unpredictability in what’s to come for Bahadur. Where the movie doesn’t make time to go in-depth enough into each character’s arch, the book’s writing is very personal. The Pirates Of Somalia is written almost like a journal, but structured to give you a deeper look at the people who are pirates, at all levels in the organization. Pirates are humanized, criminal motivations dissected, and a love of Land Rovers plus addiction to khat, exposed.

No To Romance

The story of piracy in Somalia has been romanticized. Although there is a very tragic element to it, the widely circulated narrative of fisherman looking for justice isn’t the reality. I won’t spoil the book but Bahadur’s adventure leads to a deep insights about Somalia any reader will benefit from. (Bahadur is now an investigator for the United Nations in Somalia.)

In the film, there’s a weak subplot about an old girlfriend that could have been discarded in favor of more scenes with the pirates, demonstrating the exploitation and modern mythos within the gangs. But The Pirates Of Somalia movie, like these 8 motorcycle books, should give you an anxious enough glimpse of the full story you’ll really want to read on your next flight.

Should You Pay For Mileage Boosters When Buying Airplane Tickets?

airport lufthansa

You’ve probably noticed during self-check-in or when booking tickets, some airlines offer an option to purchase an extra 1,000 or more frequent flyer miles to add to your flight. These mileage “boosters” are supposed to give you a few extra frequent flyer miles at a discount, making you wonder if the cost is worth the reward.

Those of you who collect frequent flyer miles know that they’re a good way to get free flights and other perks but mileage boosting in most cases isn’t money well spent.

What Are Mileage Boosters?

More common in the United States, the trend is spreading to other airlines around the world. Basically, mileage boosters are discounted miles, made available only as an add-on purchase to an existing flight. The idea is that you’ll be able to earn extra frequent flyer miles for a given flight without paying full price for them.

Unfortunately, discounted or not, buying miles is almost never a good deal because the equivalent monetary value in airfare is going to be cheaper.

Adding Up The Numbers

Frequent flyer programs are intentionally vague since airlines want you to disassociate miles with money. Let’s use United as an example (here’s why you should sign up for their mileage program even if you don’t fly United.) They frequently offer 1,000 mile boosters for $35.

A free round-trip flight from, say, North America to Europe, is around 50,000 miles with United on Star Alliance. At $35 per 1000 miles, to get a free flight would cost $2,100 in boosters. Going to United’s website and purchasing 50,000 miles directly costs $1750 – chances are in either case you’ll find airfare for a North America to Europe round trip flight to be half as much.

Additionally, mileage boosters don’t count toward the premier or status miles on United, Delta, and other airlines. In other words, frequent flyer programs have status levels (more miles more status) that give you lounge access (here are the wifi passwords), free upgrades, or other perks but not all miles are counted equally. Some are “special” miles that add to your total status, others like the “boosters” don’t count.

Stick To Flights

Frequent flyer hackers will tell you, if you’re going to buy miles, it’s best to go through some third-party promotion. Otherwise, accumulate your miles in one place like this, wisely use reward cards, or earn frequent flyer miles without getting any credit cards.

In general, refrain from buying miles and earn them the best way – by traveling more – and keep this habit every time you fly so you’re credited the miles you’re due. The airlines have a tendency not to be incredibly diligent in adding miles after a flight and not getting miles you’ve earned is an even bigger waste than a mileage booster.

The Jordan Pass Is A Great Way To Save Money In The Country (And Petra)

amman jordan flag

The Jordan Pass is one of the best discount tourist packages offered in the world but it’s not well advertised. Unfortunately, many travelers learn about the Jordan Pass after they’ve arrived in Jordan or spent $70 entrance to Petra, missing out on a lot of money and time savings.

The Jordan Pass is one of the best tourist discount packages, like Spain’s Granada Card, but in order to take full advantage of it, you’ll need to purchase it before you enter the country.

Includes Visa Entry

There’s one good reason, especially if you’re going to visit Petra, to get a Jordan Pass. But let me start with the obvious bonus all three of the Jordan Pass varieties come with: visa entry fee and shortened entry line at the airport. For Americans and Europeans, plus most other nationals aside from a few neighboring countries, a typical tourist visa costs around $50. The Jordan Pass starts at $99 (70 Jordanian dinar).

jordan pass

Additionally, you’ll get into a shorter line at the airport with a Jordan Pass (for those who already have valid visas) plus save at least 30 minutes from having to go through the process at an immigration desk. You can even save on paper (Jordan is refreshingly good at being green) by simply scanning your Jordan Pass at passport control.

Advantages Even If You’re Petra Only

A single-day entry ticket to Petra is 50JD ($70 USD). So, even if you just use a Jordan Pass to visit the country and see Petra only, it’s saved you $20 already (otherwise it’s around $50 for the tourist visa and $70 for Petra). In fact, the three different Jordan Pass offerings vary only by Petra entry days:

  • Jordan Wanderer ($99): 1 day visit to Petra, 40 other popular sites, tourist visa, digital brochures
  • Jordan Explorer ($106): Same, except has a 2 day Petra entrance ticket
  • Jordan Expert ($113): Same as above, except is a 3 day Petra entrance

Keep in mind to be eligible for the tourist visa entry fee, your trip to Jordan must be at least 3 nights (4 days).

Now you might be wondering who would want to visit Petra 2 or 3 times but it might surprise you that Petra is a lot bigger than most people expect. It’s an entire ancient town spread over dozens of square kilometers. Many travelers stay in town for a few days to explore Petra a section at a time due its size. Others, who only get a day ticket, arrive the night before so they can get in at 6am before the vast majority of the crowds. (It’s not too bad if you’re running late though, here’s how crowded Petra gets at peak hour.)

Plan For The Pass

A Jordan Pass is an instant money saver if you’re only going to visit Petra. You’ll cut costs on Petra and a tourist visa, but even those who are visa exempt or not planning on seeing Petra will likely save because the Jordan Pass includes 40 other sites as well. The Jordan Pass covers places like Wadi Rum you’ll probably want to see – just remember to keep the pass on your phone and ask any site you enter if you’re unsure.

Discount cards, like the JR Rail Pass for Japan, can be a great for your travel budget but Jordan Pass included, often have to be purchased in advance of your trip to make use of the full benefits.

About Anil Polat

foxnomad aboutI'm the blogger and computer security engineer who writes foXnoMad while on a journey to visit every country in the world. I'll show you the tips, tricks, and tech you can use to travel smarter. Read More


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