Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Veritas Traveller's Doorstop Review

If you've traveled on a budget then you've likely encountered a hotel or motel in which the security has left much to be desired. When it comes to safety, we put a lot of trust in the places that we rest.

When you find yourself in a hotel with shoddy security, you aren't really able to relax because your basic safety is in doubt. What are weary travelers to do when it is too late to find safer accommodations? We adapt.

Setting up some sort of warning device on the door nob is usually an option, but this just gives you a warning of intrusion and doesn't make your environment more secure. Barricading your door with spare furniture is a bit better, but hotels with shoddy door locks are not likely to have a lot of furniture in their rooms that isn't bolted to the floor.

A far better option is to carry your own security device. I used to carry rubber doorstops with me, but I found that these were not useful for security in hotels because they were designed to keep doors open, not keep them closed.

I did some research on this topic and found the Veritas Traveller's Doorstop by Lee Valley Tools, but for various reasons I didn't order it. I recently received it as a gift, and after using it a few times I've realized that it is a tool without which I wouldn't think about traveling.

Lee Valley Tools has redesigned the doorstop with security in mind. With an aluminum wedge and a hardened steel spike to hold the wedge into place, this is one piece of travel gear that is built for serious duty, and it's built to last. Made of high quality components, this doorstop feels substantial in the hand and weighs 7 5/8 ounces (215 grams) with the included case.

The design is pure function so there are no extraneous parts to break or lose while on the road.

To use this doorstop, slip the wedge between the floor and the door, tighten the threaded spike until it holds tight, open the door slightly to test the fit, adjust if needed and you are done. In the event that the door is forced open, the spike drives into the subfloor and holds tight.

It should be noted that the door must have some amount of clearance between the floor and the door for this device to function correctly. Aside from that, I haven't found a flaw in this product.

Carrying a metal wedge and a threaded spike through security did raise a few eyebrows, but after inspection it was allowed to pass through both German and Canadian security. I have yet to take this device through security in the States.

If you travel or care about someone that does, you should consider purchasing one of these door stops. After all, safety is no accident.

If you spend a lot of time frequenting motels that have rooms with a door going into a hallway and another door leading outside, you may consider carrying two of these with you.

If you've used this door stop before, I encourage you to comment with your thoughts.

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

German Vending Machine Roundup

My travels have once again taken me out of the country. Without question, traveling abroad is a great way to meet new people, try new things and find interesting vending machines.

I was pleased to find vending machines nearly everywhere that I went while in Germany: on the streets, in restaurants and even in bathrooms. While Germany doesn't have the same sort of vending machine sophistication as a country like Japan, they have managed to embrace more traditional vending technology to serve their population.

Since there can be a lot of detail involved with vending machine photographs, I've decided to upload the full resolution photos which can be accessed by clicking on the images below.

You can tell a lot about a country by looking at the vending machines which they employ, let's see what the machines of Germany have to tell us…

I saw quite a few vending machines on the street at the eye level of children (pictured at the top of this article). These dispensed various candy and toy items. Since these were out doors in public areas , the machines were subject to environmental wear and tear in addition to vandalism.

Near the vending machines for children, I would often find machines that should never be used by children such as the cigarette machine pictured above. This particular vending machine required a drivers license or ID be swiped in order to verify the age of the person purchasing the cigarettes.

The ID swipe is a good idea, but it's far from foolproof as a resourceful minor could get their hands on an acceptable ID. This system will work much better once we all have ID chips injected into the back of our hands. Once that system is in place then you'll at least need to steal someone's hand in order to buy cigarettes.

This was another machine that I found surprisingly close to several candy machines. I won't go into details of the items being offered, but you can click on the photo below and download the full resolution image if you are so inclined.

For all of the ladies out there that have been wondering what men's hygiene products are, you can take a closer look at this picture. Sadly, you will likely be disappointed but not surprised.

In the Frankfurt airport, I saw a vending machine that sold resealable 1 liter bags for use in the security screening process. I've seen many airports that have provided these for free, but If free bags aren't available I guess that getting to use a vending machine is the next best thing.

This internet kiosk was also found at the Frankfurt airport. It is somehow comforting to know that some things are consistent no matter where you are in the world. Windows will still give you the Blue Screen of Death even in German.

So what do these vending machines tell us about Germany? I'll let you decide that on your own.

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Travel Gear Review: Kehei Traveler Seat Cover

When I think of the travel gadgets that I own, they fit in three categories. The first are the essential gadgets that I always carry with me due to their indispensable utility. This category includes items such as ear plugs and security devices. The second category are things that I occasionally use, but ones that are handy when I need them. This category includes items such as soap leaves and toilet seat covers.

While these first two categories can be labeled essential items and useful items, there is a third category of travel gadgets that are neither essential nor even useful to most people. These are items that no one really needs and it's only by the graces marketing ploys, gimmicks and fear mongering that they ever see the light of day.

If you are not familiar with this type of product, all you have to do is crack open a Skymall catalog on your next flight within the United States. No flight within the States planned? No problem. Skymall has a website in which you can view all kinds of things that nobody needs. I've written about Skymall before (The Wonderful Things That Nobody Needs), so why am I mentioning it again? I'm glad you asked…

Not long ago, I joined a group of Boston area travelers for a Tweetup (track us with #bostontravelers or follow me at @ghtravelblog). To this meeting, I suggested that we bring along unloved travel gadgets for a travel gadget exchange. One of the attendants that works for a local travel company had asked her coworkers for unloved gadgets and brought quite a few things to share. We all put in our contributions into a box and then we got to pick something new to take on our future travels. From this communal box of unloved gadgets, I took a couple items including the Kehei Traveler seat cover.

This device claimed to create an effective barrier between travelers and the germs that are common on airplane seats. While there were other equally useless items in the box, I figured that it would be the most fun to try out.

When I took this "device" I had two goals in mind for my testing of it. Firstly, I wanted to know if this was a practical device to carry during regular travel and does wether or not it worked as advertised? Secondly, I was interested in seeing what kind of response I would receive from my fellow travelers when using such it.

The travel cover, which is made of a durable and washable material, was easy to use. One does have to be mindful of blocking the aisle while boarding, but other than that, there were not any points that the instructions failed to cover. The most surprising thing that I discovered while using this seat cover was how easily it was to repack it provided stuff sack.

The documentation notes that the cover is infused with tea tree oil for its antibacterial properties. I did notice that a 2 ounce tea tree spray is available for those wishing to reinvigorate their seat covers. The availability of such a spray is a nice touch.

Deluxe, children's and disposable versions of this product are also available. I personally think that the disposable version is wasteful, but some people that are seriously considering this product may be more comfortable with a product that they do not need to wash. When it comes down to it, this product works, but you are seriously looking into this product then you should be prepared for the reactions from your fellow travelers.

When using this seat cover, I found that people avoided direct eye contact and made no attempt to talk to me. I did get a few inquisitive stares, but that was about it. It turns out that in addition to being an effective barrier against germs, the Kehei Traveler seat cover is also an effective people repellant. I'll admit that there are times that I don't feel like talking to my seat mates, but I think that a good book is just as effective at warding off unwanted talkers.

For those that are interested in Kehie Travel products, you can find the entire line at with prices ranging from $20-$30.

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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Becoming a "Temporary Regular"

When I travel, I'm usually at a given location for no more that 5 days. Aside from work, one of my primary occupations is trying to find something decent to eat. This situation does not afford me much time, nor margin of error in choosing a place to dine. I've used various techniques to try to narrow down my options, but the results that I have had, as you can imagine, are hit and miss.

If I should happen to find an establishment that is excellent, I become fiercely loyal and take as many of my remaining meals there as is practical. Unfortunately, it isn't often that I get to become a "temporary regular" even though I'd like nothing better. It's basically a numbers problem with the numbers stacked against me. There are so many mediocre restaurants out there that the odds of me finding one on the first couple of days of a trip is pretty slim.

Today I'd like to tell you about my recent stint as a temporary regular in Akron, Ohio. On my second to last day in town, the group I was with went to The Lockview. The place was full and the service was on the slow side, but something told me this was a special place. Maybe it was the multitude of grilled cheese sandwiches on the menu, or maybe it was the chalkboard menu above the bar featuring around 145 different beers. OK, it was mostly the variety of beers that did it for me, but at any rate, I knew that I'd be back.

That night I returned and took a seat at the bar. There, I met Webber, the bartender, who told me all kinds of interesting tidbits about The Lockview. For instance, the service can be a bit slow at lunch time because they make a lot of grilled cheese sandwiches with one grill that measures only three feet wide.

Since The Lockview is, at it's heart, a bar, I shall start there. The list of beers is impressive, they even have 8 different beers (three on tap) from Rogue Breweries way out in Oregon. It is true that the majority of the beer that The Lockview offers is in bottles, but this does not deter from the beer drinking experience as the beer cooler glows with a wonderful radiance that only large quantities of bottled beer can produce.

While it isn't on the menu, you can still order a Bud Light if you really want one. The thinking behind this is that The Lockview is a friendly place and they don't want to turn someone away just because they happen to favor this ubiquitous beer. I did witness one patron order a Bud Light while I was there and while he didn't receive any grief from the staff, he did get gently heckled by some of the other patrons.

The expected array of spirits are available at the Lockview, but most people come here for the beer. One thing should be perfectly clear- The Lockview is not a sports bar! They only have 2 TVs (one bigscreen and one small one) and unless there's a local game on or a special request, they are tuned to the Food Network. I have to say that it was refreshing to go someplace where I didn't have to see 3 different sporting events concurrently in any direction that I looked.

On my second night at The Lockview, Webber greeted by name and with a firm handshake. That the effort was made to learn my name even though it was clear that I couldn't become a regular was very touching. The rest of the staff including server Brandi and cook Pete were equally warm and inviting. I even got to go back into the kitchen to see just how cramped things were back there.
The food here is understandably greasy for a menu that revolves around grilled cheese sandwiches and anything that can easily be deep fried. Thankfully, there are some lighter options, like salads, to balance out the greasy indulgences, like deep fried pepperoni.

It is places like The Lockview that keep me exploring my destinations for interesting food while I travel. For that I am eternally thankful to Webber, Pete, Brandi and everyone else at The Lockview.

The next time you find someplace excellent while traveling, don't let the lure of something better prevent you from becoming a temporary regular because while you might do better, you are more likely to do much worse.

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