American Nomad Blog
About this blog
American Nomad covers the best of U.S. travel—from vacation deals to festivals, weekend getaways, travel tips, and more. A seasoned traveler and Moon author, Laura is the perfect guide to help discover new gems when traveling domestically.
- A Southern Girl's Wintertime Adventure in Yellowstone
- One Novelist's Odyssey Across America
- Gearing up for a Family Camping Trip
- Mint Juleps and More at Oak Alley Plantation
- Avoiding Identity Theft While on Vacation
- Money-Saving Travel Tips from Nomadic Matt
- Fashion, Fun, and Convenience for the Modern Traveler
- In Search of Irish Museums Across America
- The Inspiring Journey of a Solo Kayaker
- Getting Fit for Treks in Yosemite and Elsewhere, Part 2
- Getting Fit for Treks in Yosemite and Elsewhere, Part 1
- Experiencing Yosemite with YExplore
- Two Travel Contests Worth Mentioning
- A Word About the TSA's No-No List
- A Reader's Advice About Airport Security
Holiday Gifts for Your Favorite Traveler: Preparation
As I wrote in the first part of my holiday travel gift guide, it's not too late to find an ideal present for the number-one traveler in your life. In fact, even if you've already finished with your Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa shopping this year, you might discover a few ideas here that would work for another special occasion.
That's why I've spent the last few months road-testing sample products, perusing review copies of various books, and assembling my top picks for a five-part holiday travel gift guide that's suitable for any season. As with Jetpac's list of 50 travel gadget gifts, Jamie Jensen's list of 10 top gifts for road-trippers, and Rand McNally's RV holiday gift guide, my own gift guide features a wide array of inspirational and practical ideas, such as the books that I mentioned in the first part.
So, without further ado, here's the second category – gifts that will help travelers prepare for their next adventure:
Rosetta Stone TOTALe PRO (prices vary) – If your favorite traveler is planning to venture to a foreign country (or even to certain communities in America), you can pleasantly surprise him or her with the TOTALe PRO program from Rosetta Stone, which CNN calls “the gold standard of computer-based language learning.” After all, not only can learning to speak another language make it easier to travel somewhere new; apparently, it can also increase the size of a traveler's brain – which certainly isn't a bad thing! Offered in more than 30 languages (from Italian to Arabic), TOTALe PRO is, not surprisingly, the best-selling language learning solution from Rosetta Stone – ideal for not only travel lovers but also students planning to study abroad, recent college graduates and business professionals trying to enhance their job-related skills, and retirees hoping to explore the world. The popular system of “dynamic immersion,” which allows users to learn at their own pace and perfect their pronunciation with Rosetta Stone's proprietary speech-recognition technology, provides an award-winning medley of basic coursework, live interactive practice sessions with native-speaking tutors, and an online community featuring language games and other resources. In addition, TOTALe PRO users can reinforce their language skills with the Audio Companion CD-ROMs and take advantage of a free supplemental iPhone or iPad app that, with WiFi access or 3G service, enables them to participate in live tutorial sessions wherever and whenever they want.
As with many educational programs, the actual cost depends on the specific level purchased. The basic Level 1 kit, for instance, costs $179, while all five levels are currently available for $349. Meanwhile, the online-only subscription service – which allows users access to the complete set of levels (1-5) without the need for CD-ROMs, downloads, or installations – currently costs $239. Just be advised that this particular online subscription has a time limit of 12 months, whereas the CD-ROMs have an admittedly longer shelf life (though it should be pointed out that, after activating the product, you must begin the online features within six months). In addition, users must have a broadband Internet connection and be 13 years or older to utilize the online services.
Regardless of which program or language you choose, however, Rosetta Stone is very user-friendly. After opting to test Level 1 of the Spanish (Latin America) course, for instance, I was able to get started right away; all I had to do was connect the headset (with its specially designed microphone), install the application software and specific language program, activate the software, and create my account. With any luck, I'll be at Level 5 in no time!
SimpliciKey ($249.99) – Learning a new language isn't the only task that a traveler needs to embrace before a big trip. Depending on how long your favorite traveler plans to be away, he or she might need a trusted friend or neighbor (like you!) to keep an eye on his or her house, apartment, condominium, or vacation home. That often requires a lot of prep work, such as making extra keys, hiding said keys, distributing garage door openers, and the like. SimpliciKey, however, offers an alternative that can streamline a person's travel preparations without sacrificing his or her security and peace of mind. Meant to replace a standard deadbolt, SimpliciKey – essentially, a remote-control electronic deadbolt – is fairly easy to install with just a screwdriver and offers a wireless, backlit keypad that can hold up to 16 unique keycodes at once.
Concealed behind a sturdy strike plate that is intended to withstand the ill effects of heat, rain, and snow, the keypad is also alphanumeric, which means that users can program word-based codes that are easy to remember. Although SimpliciKey will lock with the touch of one button, the codes can actually be changed at any time, meaning that a person's home is only accessible when he or she wants it to be. Of course, SimpliciKey also offers users the option of locking or unlocking their domiciles with a traditional key or remote-control keyfob (which has a 50-foot range). In fact, each deadbolt comes with two of each.
The SimpliciKey electronic deadbolt requires no hard wiring, just four AA batteries, though it promises an efficient battery life performance. The deadbolt is made of heavy-duty metal construction and fashioned in three different finishes: polished brass, satin nickel, and aged bronze. No matter which you choose, though, each deadbolt features a bump-resistant six-pin keyway, high-intensity blue LED illumination for confirmation of the locking/unlocking action, an orange low-battery indicator LED, and a thumbturn knob with a 1-inch brass deadbolt extension for maximum security. In addition, SimpliciKey offers a reversible lock system to fit both right- and left-hand doors. Just note that, although SimpliciKey promises a lifetime mechanical warranty, it only offers a two-year electronic warranty.
Admittedly, it's a rather pricey system – there are certainly cheaper models out there – but many users feel the extra money is worth it. After all, it's well constructed, relatively easy to use, and handsomely designed to boot. Of course, in the interest of full disclosure, I was only able to examine the product before returning it to the manufacturer – so I have yet to use one on my own apartment. At some point, though, I sure would love to try it out!
GPS for the Soul Cube ($42.95) – Before leaving on a big trip, it's also not a bad idea to pack a few healthy snacks for the journey. While my favorites typically range from mixed nuts to dried apricots, I recently discovered another option for avid travelers. Just in time for the holiday season, The Huffington Post has joined a limited-edition gifting campaign, courtesy of KIND Healthy Snacks, called “Snack and Give Back,” which encourages globetrotters to regain balance by taking the time to nourish their minds and bodies. The resulting “GPS for the Soul Cube” contains 20 snack bars, five each of Arianna Huffington's four favorite KIND varieties: dark chocolate cherry cashew, dark chocolate nuts and sea salt, almonds and apricots in yogurt, and pomegranate blueberry pistachio. Although I should point out that you'll definitely find cheaper, lower-calorie granola bars in most major grocery store chains (such as those produced by Kashi), this is certainly a unique option for your favorite traveler, especially since a portion of the proceeds from each cube will support the Committee to Protect Journalists, a nonprofit organization that promotes press freedom worldwide. I have to admit, too, that all four of these bars are pretty tasty – even my kitty, Ruby, seemed intrigued (as evidenced by the photo above) – and they're definitely full of protein, fiber, and, in some cases, antioxidants.
Beyond featuring nearly two dozen KIND snack bars and benefiting journalists around the world, though, the “GPS for the Soul” campaign also offers helpful lifestyle advice (particularly about stress, relaxation, and meditation) via the website and a free iPhone app. As Arianna has said, “Our 24/7 connection to the digital world often disconnects us from the real world around us – from our physical surroundings, from our loved ones, and especially from ourselves. GPS for the Soul helps you identify when you have veered away from your place of wisdom, harmony, and balance, providing real-time feedback and course-correcting techniques to help you regain that centered place.” Goodness knows, every traveler (including me!) could use such advice from time to time.
End-of-the-Year Guide Giveaway
In celebration of the holidays, I'm presenting an end-of-the-year guide giveaway, featuring a prize package that includes signed copies of all four of my Moon travel guides (Moon New Orleans, Moon Michigan, Moon Florida Keys, and Moon Baja RV Camping), a self-guided audio ghost tour of the French Quarter (produced by Audio Ambler, a subsidiary of my travel company, Wandering Soles), and one of 12 different eBooks or hardcover versions published by Patagonia Books. To enter the contest, simply answer the following question: “What's the best holiday gift you've ever received?” Let me know, too, which Patagonia title you'd most like to read. You can do this by leaving a comment below this post or emailing me at laura [at] wanderingsoles [dot] com by 11:59 p.m. PST on December 31, 2012. The winner will be chosen at random from all entries received – and announced on this blog in early January.
In the meantime, stay tuned for the next installment of my holiday travel gift guide – and naturally, I hope you're having a wonderful holiday season – wherever you happen to be!
As always, I’m open to ideas for future posts. If you have any suggestions, burning questions, or destinations that you’d like me to explore in greater detail, please comment below, contact me via laura [at] wanderingsoles [dot] com, or connect with me on Facebook and Twitter.
Disclosure: While I occasionally accept free or discounted travel assistance when it coincides with my editorial goals, my opinion is never for sale, which means that everything written in my American Nomad blog and Moon travel guides is my unbiased reflection of the things that I see, do, and experience while traveling across the United States.
Photo / Text © 2012 Laura Martone