I’ve been looking for a travel wallet lately. I’d like something that will hold a passport, a couple of different transit cards, money, maybe a spare SIM, a couple of business cards, and still fit in a back pocket. Over the past year or two I’ve started traveling with my passport tucked behind my wallet in my back pocket, so I know a wallet sized for the passport would fit my use cases. What I didn’t know was how well, or where to get one. Money too has been a problem, as most US-made wallets don’t gracefully hold larger bills. As someone who spends a lot of time in China, where the 100 RMB notes are large, this is an annoyance that grates. So I was looking for a wallet that fit a passport, fit in a back pocket, held Chinese currency, and possibly had a SIM slot.
While there are plenty of blogs devoted to frequent fliers, milage points, hotel reviews, two week camping trips, and non-tent sleeping options, the parts of travel that matter to me are surprisingly lightly covered. Traveling light but not backpacking, carrying as little as possible, carrying it in a way that allows for inconvenient travel methods and locations, and yet still being presentable for business meetings seems to be an under-served market. Or just a small one.
The only wallet I found that seemed designed around my needs was Bellroy’s Travel Wallet. At $120, it’s still on my shopping list, or Christmas list. The video though perfectly encapsulated my use cases. I don’t particularly care about the pen, as I have a favorite cheap pen on hand at all times, but the rest? It’s got a SIM slot, a passport slot, spare card slots for transit cards, and is big enough to hold boarding passes! If that doesn’t sound exciting, I’ve proven how specific the use case is.
For the last two years I’ve carried a Yasutomo 2020 wa-ben cuben fiber wallet. Like so many people, this was inspired by William Gibson’s interview. As someone who spends a lot of time looking at outdoor gear, fibers, bags, and clothing, I have been talking to and watching Jason’s company, now Picharpak Workshop, ever since. He’s been building a broader product base, and during a conversation one night in Hong Kong, I offered to test new products. For Christmas I bought my fiancée one of his limited edition hybrid wallets. To my my surprise an early sample of a travel wallet showed up in the package!
Built on the same idea as Bellroy’s, Picharpak’s travel wallet features a couple of extra card slots in the back and two spare SIM slots on the passport sleeve. It also has an extra slot for a touch pay transit card behind the normal card slots. Otherwise it resembles the wa-ben, with the same two slots for bills or receipts and the same cuben fiber construction. Like my original wa-ben, the travel wallet prototype is made of CT9.5, and so won’t offer good abrasion resistance. Jason’s newer hybrid wallets have different outermost layers and offer much better abrasion resistance. From the turfed-up photos of my 2 year old wallet it’s clear this is a serious design improvement. Along with the limited hybrid, I ordered one of the newer woven fiber cuben hybrids, to possibly replace my old wa-ben and to check whether the transparent options had been improved as well. They have, and the new woven cuben hybrid retains the old look while offering a smother and more durable outer shell. I’m all for it.
Testing has taken some time. A couple of day trips to Mexico in January provided the first opportunity. The wallet was a relief from carrying passport and wallet in the same pocket, l as I’d supposed, convenient and simple. Swapping wallets prior to travel was the only obstacle. After the second trip I considered carrying the travel wallet as my regular wallet. However on the second trip I learned that the slick CT9.5 slips out of pants with stretch. Not ideal, but I’d expect a full version to feature the hybrid construction. At this point I also switched full time to the hybrid wallet, and now can’t see myself returning to the CT9.5 construction full time. One of the early concerns, that the SIM card would slip out its holder, proved unfounded. My China Unicom SIM, seen in the photos, has been secure for the past three months.
Travel wallets like this may be a small market, but they’re an excellent idea. For those of us who travel lightly, frequently, and yet for work, the simplification is worth the wallet-swapping. I can’t wait for a finished version.
In so many ways 2013 was an excessive year. This list, at 35 separate zip codes, reflects that excess. An average of one new zip code slept in every 10.7 days. More than 2012, 2011, 2010, and 2009. And many of these multiple times, on multiple trips. 4 different beds in Shanghai alone that are here listed as one location. 2 different beds in Santa Monica. Twice to the same hotel in Tokyo, the same apartments in New York and La Quinta in El Paso. For the first time ever, Las Vegas, Fukuoka, Idabashi, Shenzhen, Malibu, and Kagoshima, a city I’ve wanted to visit since first reading Number9dream in 2002
And yet more and more this list is a reflection of exhaustion and a nebulous toll on our environment. 2013 also marked the first year I considered giving up flying.
The GR1 was a Christmas present last year, 2012. As the number of day trips I make to factories increases, I was looking for a single backpack to cary clothes, samples, and a laptop into strange environments. I needed a backpack because of the walking, and a single bag because of the flights, cars, busses, and hassle of travel. Because these trips are usually only for a couple of days, I didn’t need that much space. The last two years of repeated packing have made me a more economical traveler, and I started as a minimalist with regards to things.
I did about thirtyhours of reading before putting the GR1 on my Christmas list. I already have a couple of really wonderful bags, including a custom-built R.E.Load Civilian messenger, a Tom Bihn ID briefcase, and a Timbuk2 Q backpack. For work I’d been using the Q, as carrying a laptop, samples, and notebook on one shoulder had gotten painful. Backpacks and dress clothes will never meld perfectly, but for frequent travel they’re far superior. The Q has wonderful pockets and access points, and remains one of my favorite bags, but it was stretched to capacity with clothing, and simply couldn’t handle a spare pair of shoes. In many ways the GR1 was simply a step up from the Q, with similar intentions and a larger carrying capacity.
As an operations and manufacturing person, the US-made nature of all of these bags is important. While the Q is imported, many of Timbuk2’s bags are made in the US and the R.E.Load, Tom Bihn, and Goruck bags are entirely US-made. Manufacturing will only come back to the US if the end customers care, and I do. Money before words.
How then has the last year been, traveling with the GR1? How has it weathered Mexicanfactories, Chinese ferries, Japanese business meetings and dozensupondozens of airports, sports fields, and shopping trips? Are the straps really better for their width, and the laptop slot better for the curved zipper? Is the ability to pack it flat really better than a top-loading style bag, and is the minimal aesthetic in terms of pockets really more customizable with additional smaller pockets or pack-it cubes? These were some of my questions, especially given the price, and some of the things I wanted to answer publicly, to help those doing similar research.
First, a sketch from months ago outlining some of my thoughts at the time:
The notes from 8 months in hold true at 12, with a few changes.
Best parts of the GR1:
It rarely looks dirty, and cleans easily.
It’s always big enough for one more thing, which is usually my hat or jacket when the sun comes out.
It’s sturdy enough that I can pick it up from any reachable part, even fully loaded.
It stows cleanly because there are few dangling pieces to catch in doors and overhead bins, or on branches and other people, like in a crowded bus or subway.
There’s no side handle, which the Q has, so sometimes it’s hard to get a grip on.
Because the zipper on the laptop slot wraps from side to top, it hampers me in two ways:
The zipper dangles down into my back, rather than off the side of the bag
It’s very hard to take the laptop out without taking the bag off, a useful ability in airport security lines. The Q backpack laptop compartment is incredibly easy to access one handed while wearing the bag. The curved zipper design on the laptop/hydration pocket is the biggest drawback of the GR1, and something I’d really like to see changed. Maybe it’s different with a hydration bladder, which I never use. It’s hard for me to see how, given that the zipper would still hang down into the wearer’s back even if the access isn’t an issue.
The straps are set a little wide for a 5’9” guy, especially when first purchased, as they’re very stiff to begin with. 12 months later this bothers me less than it did at 8 months.
What then are my thoughts on this bag, three hundred dollars and three hundred and sixty five days later? It’s a very good backpack, built in the US for people who move and travel in much the same way I do. In the same year I’ve owned it, Jorve has also carried one every day, and Seth has purchased a GR2 and dragged it to Myanmar and back a few times, as well as around Asia and up through the New England coast to Maine. The Goruck bags are good bags. If the money makes sense, and the use that’s outlined above, in other reviews, and on their site sounds like yours, then yes, the gear’s good.
There’s an amazing feature on eBay, something probably well known by frequent users but a new find for me: saved searches. After finding the name of the shoe, a lengthy process outlined here, I set one up for the Marun.
Amazingly, it works. I get about two hits a year, for pairs of Marun in varying sizes and conditions.
Luckily I’m a very central size, being able to wear both adidas 9 and 9.5, so the searches come up relevant more often than they might for someone else.
Two years later, the results are good. My first pair is lightly used, size 9:
Another week has gone by, and I’ve been forced to install Flash. For work. Our primary freight company’s online shipment request form is entirely Flash.
There’s an iPhone and iOS app to do the exact same thing, but the web version is Flash-based. Strange decisions there.
Along with Flash I installed the useful but horribly spelled Safari extension ClickToFlash, to stop auto-play video/ad sites. Highly recommended, especially because it forces sites to serve HTML5 videos instead of Flash if possible (useful on Youtube and assorted other sites like the Daily Show, etc, that use Flash on the desktop but support HTML5 video players for iPad and other mobile browsers).
16. Skype (yes, owned by Microsoft, no, doesn’t interoperate with Lync, yes, necessary for business in Asia)
Also, I’ve been asked about 1Password and Fantastical and the upcoming OS X Mavericks. I always hope the next OS will obsolete a few of my “productivity” apps. Growl left with Notifications. LaunchBar is tested by Spotlight. Messages replaced Adium, and before those there were others. Developers have great ideas, and those that should be adopted are. I’m all for it.
Two weeks ago I switched back to a Mac (MacBook Air 2013 13 inch) at work. I tweeted as much and was asked for my install checklist for a new Mac. As the IT support for my office (and home), documenting my steps and thinking is a good idea.
First, I am firmly of the “lighter is better” category in terms of software installs, preference tweaks, and other edits. My feeling is the less tweaking I do, the fewer conflicts I’ll introduce, and more importantly the less I’ll have to remember. Also, although it’s not an every day scenario, the faster I can get a new machine up and running the better. So each new install is an opportunity to test how much I really need any single piece of software. As I don’t get new computers (at home) that often, this is also my chance to evaluate whether OS updates have made 3rd party software redundant.
As a result of this type of testing I don’t change the OS X defaults for scroll direction, button colors, or menu bar transparency. I’ve gotten used to them all in previous updates, making for fewer settings to flip. The only customization I do is to Safari tabs, using Keyboard Preferences to set Command-Option-Right and Command-Option-Left to Next Tab and Previous Tab respectively. The defaults don’t work for my fingers. I also use the text line selection shortcuts (Command-Shift-L/R) all the time, and the two integrate well.
To start with I have two accounts logged in with System Preferences: Exchange (work) and Gmail (personal). Everything else can wait. To avoid one extra install I’m trying to use Mail, Calendar, and Reminders instead of Outlook. One less app to manage, and Outlook’s crashing was one of the big reasons I ditched the PC at work (having always had a Mac at home).
As a result of the above, my day one install list was incredibly minimal:
1. Dropbox - gets installed first because it holds my 1Password backup
And that was it. I used the computer for two days this way, at work and at home, trying to see what else I needed for work to integrate with the all-Windows environment there. On the personal end, I was holding off on everything as this is a work-first machine. At this point I had neither Flash nor Java installed, and hadn’t launched iTunes.
So here’s my added install for work, with Office already on the machine:
5. Windows Server Launchpad - to connect with Small Business Server Essentials 2011, works flawlessly on OS X
6. Microsoft Lync - Hopefully Microsoft continues to unify products and Skype becomes the default MS messaging client soon
Two more days and it was weekend time. I’d gotten into a pretty good routine at work, using two monitors, Mail, Lync, Excel, Safari, and Calendar relentlessly. So far the Mac transition has been all upside, with faster boot in the morning and less time relaunching Outlook.
For personal use what did I miss? Surprisingly little. But after four days, I was done testing Spotlight. It’s better than the last time I’d tried (Lion) but I want something that remembers my search terms and allows me to Google from the keyboard.
Final personal use installs:
9. Amazon MP3 Downloader - I buy almost all my music from Amazon and then match it into iTunes with iTunes Match for cloud sync
10. LaunchBar - This is usually the first Mac app I install, and it still should be. Spotlight can’t really compete, and I use only a handful of the abilities. Amazing that two of my top ten apps come from the same small German company.
That’s it. I’ve got all my work data and my music on this computer. I’ve got Office, search, meetings, server connections, and my own passwords and essential data. The computer’s good to go.
After another 2 days I added two apps from the App store (that I already owned) to make my personal use better:
11. Ulysses III - This is my main writing app, and I love it.
12. Tweetbot - I like Twitter, but without this app only use it on my phone.
Another day at work and I added one more thing, specifically to handle the display of tasks from Exchange. I could use Microsoft’s My Day app, which comes with Office, but then it launches Outlook, which I’m trying not to use. Task display will probably determine my success with avoiding Outlook on the Mac.
13. Fantastical - A menu bar calendar, task list, and quick input method. Available from the App Store though I already had a license. I had hoped to avoid installing this, just to reduce clutter, but it’s a great app.
Two weeks later I still haven’t installed Java or Flash player, outside of Chrome.
The amazing thing about this list is both how much has changed and how little. In 2006 I got the first Intel-based Mac, the 15” MacBook Pro. Hot as hell and bigger than I need in a computer, but a great step up from my 2000 (Pismo) PowerBook.
In February of 2006 Twitter, Dropbox, Amazon MP3, and Chrome didn’t exist. 1Password would come out a few months later. But Little Snitch, LaunchBar, and Ulysses were among the first apps I installed.
When I think of that, installing LaunchBar on 10.4 Tiger on that brand new Intel Mac in 2006, it makes me smile. I wish I had a list of my set up steps for that machine.
Monday’s Apple keynote will reveal iOS 7. Many are hoping for big fixes, a total Ives-led overhaul. Not me. Sure, I’d like a much better sharing system, a looser grasp on default apps, and a faster update speed to the cloud-based Maps/Siri. But those are wishes, and I like to ask for specifics.
I’d like to see 3 annoyances fixed. That’s all. Here’s the first:
Open Messages in airplane mode but with Wifi on, and this alert appears. Not only is it annoying, it’s not true. Messages works on wifi, like so:
And it gets worse. Lock the phone, unlock, and re-open Messages:
Same alert. Not only is it not true, but it appears every time Messages is opened after locking the phone. And, of course, Messages still works over wifi:
All I’d really like from Apple in iOS 7 is an improved attention to detail. Strange to say, for a company famous for it.