There’s the saying “sometimes you have to spend money to save money.” In my experience as a consumer travel strategist, I also believe sometimes you have to spend money to ultimately save money. Here are my three favorite must-haves that are worth the initial investment.
Lite Gear Rolling Mobile Pro
Now that some low-cost airlines such as Frontier and Spirit charge not only for checked bags, but for carry-on bags, travelers have to carefully weigh their options. Currently (and we can only hope no airline gets extra greedy), passengers are allowed at least one “personal” item that must fit underneath the seat without charge.
Odds are you can’t pack everything into a small enough bag. That’s why I love the Rolling Mobile Pro by Lite Gear. When I spotted it at the 2016 Travel Goods Association trade show, I knew it was a must-have. So much so, that my Dad, who travels extensively, got one too.
Basically it is a wheeled suitcase and a backpack in one – what the industry calls a hybrid. Lite Gear is owned by Magi Rable, who used to work for Kiva (which manufactured practical, versatile travel gear and goods until the line was absorbed by Baggalini). She knows her stuff when it comes to what works for today’s traveler.
The bag is 17” x 10” x 8.5” and weighs just over three pounds. Magi found a supplier to custom manufacture a 17” telescoping handle that pulls up out of a hidden pouch so you can roll the bag wherever you go. And the wheels are exceptionally durable.
More important, it fits under any airline seat as your personal item, not something that has to go into the overhead bin. So, just before you board the aircraft, you retract the handle, carry it on like a backpack and then stuff it under the seat in front of you.
The Mobile Pro features a ton of pockets for laptop, smartphone, tablet, and a water bottles. Dad recently spent four days visiting me and, even filled with all the essentials, there was extra space in his bag for more stuff! At $99.99 to $129.99, it also ships with a cord manager, plastic document holder, thermal food container (carry your own meal and it stays hot or cold), accessory pouch, and mini flashlight.
When you figure airlines such as Frontier charge $35+ for a carry-on bag, you can see why this little dynamo is a great deal. And even if you do need a carry-on, at least you don’t have to pay to check an extra piece of luggage (checked bag fees start at $30), plus wait at the baggage carousel.
You can buy it here on Amazon.
Though airport security lines are easing up in terms of wait times, one of the best deals around remains TSA Pre✓ especially if in your world time is money. At airport security, travelers with TSA Pre✓ enter designated lanes, walk through a metal detector and are not required to remove shoes, belts, 3-1-1 compliant bag, light jackets or laptops from bag. Average time to get through: 5 minutes or less.
Besides the obvious appeal of breezing past long security lines, TSA Pre✓ has a relatively easy application process. TSA Pre✓ applicants can enroll online, then visit one of more than 330 application centers nationwide, no appointment necessary, to submit fingerprints and provide identification.
Only 40 are at airports. The others are at IdentiGo Centers (operated by MorphoTrust USA), the same company that produces 80 percent of drivers licenses and IDs and is used by truck drivers who need to be licensed to haul hazardous materials.
Once an applicant has visited an enrollment center, the fingerprints and biographical information are checked for citizenship, criminal history and any ties to terrorism. If nothing disqualifies you, likely you’ll be cleared and issued a Known Traveler Number in 30 days or less. The fee is $85 for five years. You can do the math on this one and it is definitely in your favor.
Currently more than 150 airports have TSA Pre✓ lanes, with 13 airlines signed on including Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, Allegiant Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, OneJet, Southwest Airlines, Sun Country Airlines, United Airlines, Virgin America and WestJet. TSA is negotiating with additional airlines (Frontier and Spirit are in talks to come on board soon) who have to invest in their ticketing software and technology to participate).
If you travel internationally, you may want to read my full-length article on speeding through airport security. It includes valuable information on Global Entry, a program through U.S. Customs and Border Protection designed for expedited re-entry to the United States through immigration and customs.
You can find more information here on TSA Pre✓, including an online application form.
Mobile Hot Spot
I constantly communicate with family and friends (and update my website) throughout my international travels. And my phone calls, emails and web surfing don’t cost hundreds of dollars a day. How? I lease a mobile hotspot (Mi-Fi).
San Diego-based XCom Global delivers a palm-size device just before every trip. Following the instructions, I connect my laptop and smartphone in every city (or port if I am on a cruise) with a cellular network. That means unlimited 24/7 connectivity in Spain, Portugal, Bulgaria, Romania, you-name-it, with no need to seek out public Wi-Fi, a haven for cyber-criminals.
Not only is the connection super-secure, but in countries that block certain websites, I can still access them. Case in point, I was in the Ukraine a few years ago when riots broke out between residents and Russian sympathizers. I got the inside skinny via CNN on my laptop long before we saw or heard anything on my cruise ship.
XCom Global rental runs at $7.77 per day for two countries, plus a $30 surcharge per country thereafter.
One tip: If you are a bit techno-challenged, read the Mi-Fi User Guide before departure and call XCom’s tech support with questions. Because the Mi-Fi connects to cell towers that change from city to city, it can get fussy and you may have to troubleshoot to re-secure a strong 3G connection.