CategoriesGear

Recycled Airplane Stuff – Why So Expensive?

recycled aviation
There are staggering amounts of recycled aviation materials there for the taking – so why are goods made from them so expensive?

I believe 100 percent that, as a global society, we can’t afford not to recycle. But I also wonder why it’s so hard to afford recycled goods, especially those made from recycled airplane surplus. For travel enthusiasts like me, there are all sorts of aviation bits that are being recycled into everything from handbags to home furnishings. But they are not priced for the budget-minded.

The High Price of Recycled Airplane Goods

recycled airplane
Bags made from recycled airline seats are pretty hip – and a bit rough on the wallet. (photo courtesy of Looptworks)

Exhibit A: There’s a company in Portland, Ore., called Looptworks. It somehow got a hold of acres upon acres of leather from seats out of Southwest Airlines aircraft. They turned all those recycled leather into some cool-looking handbags and backpacks. But if you want one of said backpacks, I hope you have a spare $250. The cheapest item is $150. I love the idea of these goods recycled from aircraft seats. But they leave me scratching my head how they can acquire the raw material for free, and yet charge a hefty premium. I can’t even speak to the quality or features since I haven’t seen one. Looptworks isn’t alone. As early as 2008, Worn Again was recycling Virgin Atlantic leather seats to create handbags. Right now, the Atlas Collection is offering bags made from recycled Alaska Airlines seats. Minimum price? $159. Not too terribly bad for a designer purse, I suppose. I’ve overheard conversations about purse prices that boggle my mind (and those same people would be shocked at the cost of my bike). But I don’t see a backpack in the collections, and I don’t see a price I’d be willing to pay. I love the idea of sustainability. But I often wonder why it has to be so hard on the wallet. There seems to be a disconnect between getting lower-cost recycled materials and selling them as fairly high-priced items. Maybe I’m missing something, but something tells me that we can’t encourage sustainability without making it attractive for the masses.

recycled airplane
Why aren’t there more recycled airplane houses? I’d bet price is a barrier for many.

Recycled Airplane Decor – Just for the Upper Crust?

And let’s take a look at the market for surplus recycled airline hardware. MotoArt offers stuff from old 747s and 707s that is just obscenely expensive. They don’t even list prices on the website. Plane Pieces is also eye-wateringly pricey. Why does a propeller that will never again take to the air hit my wallet to the tune of $4,500? You’ll pay about the same for a surplus ejection seat turned into an office chair.

recycled airplane
From ejection seats to fuselages to propellers, you can’t tell me this one single boneyard doesn’t contain enough raw materials to make recycled airplane goods to be cost-effective.

Just look at the aircraft boneyard in Tucson: The AMARG, as it’s called, is square miles worth of planes that will never fly again. They could easily be recycled into furniture, decor, even homes and hotels! And the raw material is just sitting there! I find this all a bit crazy. So much hardware, so much material, so much of it already bought and paid for. And don’t even get me started on surplus military gear. I found the cockpit of an F-4 Phantom mounted on a trailer for $55,000. By contrast, you can buy an entire, fully functional Soviet surplus supersonic (how’s that for alliteration?) MiG-21 for $20,000 more – a massive bargain next to the chopped-up Phantom.

So, here are the conclusions I can draw – people getting a hold of aviation surplus from Western sources are making a good profit on recycled airplane materials. And rather than passing the raw material savings onto the customers, they’re pricing it beyond the threshold of many customers. This reduces the positive effects of recycling. That seems a bit off. If eco-minded companies want to make the world better, it seems to me that they must, absolutely must, price their goods to be affordable to the masses – especially younger people like students who believe in the benefits of recycled goods. I could be wrong. Convince me.

CategoriesGear

Sol Republic Tracks Air Headphones Review

Tracks Air Headphones
Make a long flight better with wireless Tracks Air headphones.

After too many miles of travel and too many good, hard hits, my old JVC headphones broke. Not too surprising – they’d traveled from New Zealand to Norway with me. With their demise, I was stuck in that limbo of indecision that comes from being under-equipped in audio gear knowledge. Then Sol Republic offered me a chance to review their Tracks Air headphones.

These Bluetooth-equipped headphones sounded like a good bet – no wires to tangle me up when I fly, a 100-day, money-back guarantee -- Sol Republic seemed confident in their product, so I said "sure!"

First Look at the Tracks Air Headphones

And then they arrived in a classy looking box. This was my first time using anything via Bluetooth, and I worried it would give me problems. But four minutes after slicing the box open,  the Pandora app on my Android phone piped some Tarot tracks into the Sol Republic headphones. I wandered all over the house, leaving the phone in my secluded, top-secret computer room – and the music kept coming until I walked outside. Impressive range! I also used my Amazon cloud player, and everything worked perfectly. Sound quality? I’m not an audiophile, just a guy who played guitar in a loud heavy metal band for a long time. And I can appreciate the difference between MP3 and WAV files in a second. With that out of the way, the Sol Republic Tracks Air sound quality pleased my ear.

Tracks Air Headphones
Yes, this is Alex – the guy I turn to for advice whenever I need consumer electronics advice. Don’t let the bunny ears fool you.

I should also note that my wife – who usually doesn’t care about headphones – nearly conked me on the head to steal the Tracks Air headphones.

Second and Third Opinions on the Tracks Air Headphones

The next day, I took the Tracks Air headphones to work for a master’s evaluation. My work buddy, Alex, is a hardcore, trade show-attending, audio nerd. I turned the Tracks Air headphones over to him with no instructions manual and just said "This is the power button, this is the volume button – let me know what you think."

Fifteen minutes later, he was at my desk with a few thoughts. First off, the Tracks Air headphones synced easily to his Windows phone. He called up a playlist he specifically uses for evaluating headphones, and here’s how Alex summed up the audio quality:

"This is better than Beats by Dr. Dre. I rate this 9 out of 10 chicken wings! I’d be happy to pay for these."

He wouldn’t mind a touch more bass response -- but only the barest amount. He also loved the Bluetooth feature.

"When you’re in the kitchen deep-frying up a bunch of chicken, you don’t want wires dipping into that," he said (and yes, everything is all about food with him). "You think I’m joking?"

Another co-worker slipped them on, listened for a bit and then ordered a pair of Sol Republic headphones as a Christmas present for her boyfriend.

But hey, this is my review! I can’t wait to travel with these – they sound great, they’re easy to use and I love the idea of not being wrapped in a cord while in my airline seat. Here’s something else – it uses the same Type B micro USB plug as nearly every electronic item I own – Android phone, Kindle, Android phone, chargers -- really, everything but my Pentax K-50 DSLR camera. This is huge for me. Using my phone’s Bluetooth doesn’t seem to drain the battery at an absurd rate. Speaking of battery life, charging the Tracks Air headphones via the USB cable gives a charge it says is good for 13 hours of listening.

The Tracks Air headphones also have controls on the right earpiece. There’s a power button, a volume button and a multi-function button. With these, you can so all the obvious stuff, plus skip songs and take phone calls. There are mics built into the headphones, which makes the phone calls easy to deal with. The buttons are large enough and placed well – even I didn’t get irritated at them (unlike the weird buttons and layout on my Sansa MP3 player). They also seem much more solid than my old JVC headphones – they don’t fold up, so the Tracks Air headphones take up a bit more space. For the fit and durability, though, that’s a fine trade-off.

If you’re thinking about new headphones, give the Tracks Air a shot. If you don’t like ‘em? Well, take advantage of the 100-day money-back guarantee and find other headphones that work for you. But I’m betting you’ll keep a hold of them.

Sol Republic provided the Tracks Air headphones or review. All opinions are the product are my own.

CategoriesAccommodationsAdventures

Find an Australian Island Getaway

Australian island getaways
English: Aerial view of Ball’s Pyramid, Lord Howe Island Group, NSW, Australia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m still diving further into my research for a future return to Australia. I’m learning something unexpected – there are some great Australian island getaway destinations. Some were already familiar to me, like Tasmania. Others, like Lord Howe Island, have caught me by surprise. And they are all worth considering for your itinerary. Let’s check out a few Australian island destinations and see where you might end up!

On South to Tasmania

I was lucky enough to meet an interesting character online who happens to live in Tasmania. He tells me two things about the island: It has great hiking trails, and beer in Australia gets better the further south you go. He knows what appeals to me!

Australian island getaways
Mount Ossa – highest mountain in Tasmania, at 1,614 metres (5,295 ft) en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Ossa_(Tasmania) Day 4 of Overland Track Australia oz2009 298 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Overland Track is the hiking route I’ve heard about in more than a few blogs. The official route can take about six days and has a number of huts where hikers can sleep. But bring a tent, just in case, too. The scenery has some glacier-formed terrain. Aside from the Overland Track, there’s also mountain biking and -- caving! I can’t resist a good cave. Oh, and about those Tasmanian brews – how does a smoked molasses porter at Devils Brewery sound to you?

Australian Island Getaway on Lord Howe Island

Australian island getaways
Photo by David Morgan-Mar. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

There are a few easy ways to get me hooked on Lord Howe Island – tell me that it’s the remains of a volcano, and mention the SCUBA diving. My friends at PADI have been trying to get me strapped onto a tank for a long time, and Lord Howe Island and its neighboring islands could get me hooked – we’re talking about sub-surface caves, trenches and drop-offs, plus coral and 490 species of fish. And the Pinetrees Lodge has Lord Howe Island packages available, including wilderness, adventure, wellness and photography experiences. Speaking of adventure, there’s a crazy island nearby called Ball’s Pyramid, and it’s home a huge stick insect called the tree lobster. Awesome!

Now let’s talk about relaxation – you won’t find TV or Internet service on Lord Howe Island. And bicycles are the most-common way to get around.

http://gty.im/148917248

Adventures on Moreton Island

Here’s another destination that’s new to me -- and probably to many non-Australians. What’s the big deal with Moreton Island? Well, for me, it’s shipwrecks. Hand me a snorkel and mask, or teach me to SCUBA dive, and I’m headed belows the waves to the Tangalooma Wrecks. They’re shallow enough for novices to get in on the action. But there’s more than 100 wrecks around Moreton Bay, including some for more experienced divers. Oh, and the water is super-clear.

Back onshore, there’s also sandboarding – there’s no way I can resist that. And you can go from high-end resorts to just grabbing a camping permit and popping your tent up.

What are your favorite Australian island getaways?

This post was brought to you by Pinetrees Lodge.This blog accepts forms of cash advertising, sponsorship or other forms of compensation. All information reflects the opinions, experience and research of WanderingJustin.com

CategoriesAdventuresTravel

Vietnamese Motorbikes Carrying Unbelievable Sh1t

From the moment I arrived to the day I left, I couldn’t stop oggling all the Vietnamese motorbikes carrying unbelievable shit. And you know how I am – I rarely use any sort of profanity in this blog. But I need some word that encompasses barnyard critters, propane tanks, bowls of pho, four people and – yes, I’m serious – a grandfather clock!

I unfortunately did not get a shot of the grandfather clock being toted on a motorbike. It was like a shooting star – flashing across my field of view in a brilliant vision, then disappearing before I could so much as touch my camera. Fear not, though. I have plenty of other photos of Vietnamese motorbikes carrying unbelievable shit.

Vietnamese motorbikes
Four? Not bad. But the real pros can get five on that ride.

First up, we have this lovely family of four. These are somewhat rare. You’ll see trios on scooters all over the place. You really level up, though, if you snap a photo of a family of five on a motorbike. Good luck!

Vietnamese motorbikes

OK, this photo doesn’t have anything crazy being carted about on a motorbike. I just love all the riders and passengers being jovial and flashing me peace signs when they notice my lens pointing at them.

Vietnamese motorbikes
“One day, this will be MINE!”

My older brother, JD, is obsessed with cars. Before he was old enough to drive, he yammered about cars and driving – nonstop. Today, he still takes photos of his rental cars and loves to show them to people (I still wonder if he’s just pranking us all). I wonder if this little girl is his spiritual sister. Because clearly, she can’t wait to be old enough to take the handlebar. And to take a photo of every motorbike she rides …

Vietnamese motorbikeThis is one of the first shots I took when I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City. I was like “HFS, a mom and two kids on a motorobike!” Within hours, I learned that this is kind of a light load.

Vietnamese motorbikeI don’t even know what this guy is carrying, but I know The Three Stooges would approve. I can just see Larry, Moe and Curly wiping people out with this horizontal load of … what? Sugarcane? Bamboo? Doesn’t matter. It’s awesome.

Vietnamese motorbike
Pho delivery, Ho Chi Minh City style!

OK, this guy is rolling against traffic carrying a tray with a bowl of pho on it! And he’s not leaned up against the curb: He’s actually in motion. And he’s not spilling a drop! He’s killin’ it.

Vietnamese motorbikeCheck out that load of bananas! I seriously know people who carry less in their SUVs.

Vietnamese motorbikeCan someone please explain what’s going on here? I have no idea what this rider is carrying. Not that it matters. When the load obscures the driver, you have attained Motorscooter Master Jedi status.

Vietnamese motorbikeThese are eggs. Lots and lots and lots of eggs. On a motorscooter. Good grief, this is awesome!

Vietnamese motorbikeA guy carrying three cylinders of propane in the motorbike maelstrom of Vietnam is a Darwin Award waiting to happen. This rider is either crazy and soon to die, or he’s a brilliant daredevil who helps keep the country running.

vietnamese motorbikes
These two party animals were having the time of their lives.

I’ve saved the best for last. I may have missed shots of chicken, pigs and grandfather clocks being toted on Vietnamese motorbikes. But I DID NOT miss the headless, gyrating animatronic Santa Claus. The two dudes on this motorbike had Hanoi in stitches with their antics. The Santa would not have been as cool if he’d been fully intact. Seeing this made my trip to Vietnam much, much better. Thank you, Vietnamese Elves!

OK, have any of you been to a country where motorbikes are the backbone of transit? Where they haul as much as a typical American SUV? Tell me about it, and post some photos in the comments!

CategoriesAdventures

Three Australian Adventure Destinations I Missed

Australian adventure destinations
Coober Pedy – inside a home hewn from rock. Awesome! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some people think you shouldn’t travel until you can do your destination "justice." That usually  means spending at least a month there, sinking yourself into the surroundings and leaving as few stones unturned as possible.

I understand the sentiment. But if I waited until I had a month to spare, I’d never go anywhere! I usually make do with 16 days or so. That’s barely enough for a small country, and it’s totally inadequate for Australia. I left so Australian destinations unseen that I have a huge craving to return.

Australian adventure destinations
You’re not in Sydney anymore. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, where would I go when I return? Here are just a few of my Australian adventure destinations for my second visit.

Coober Pedy – An Odd Slice of Desert

Why would I want to go to a dry, treeless, hot place in the desert? Well, if you’ve been reading awhile, you know that I love anything that’s underground. And most of Coober Pedy’s people live in caves bored in the sand- and siltstone. Most of the residents are here to mine in an area known as the world’s opal capital. Visitors can try their hand at mining, so there’s another good reason for me to visit.

You probably also know that I ordinarily don’t care about golf. But I’d play nine holes in Coober Pedy because local golfers tee off at night with glowing golf balls to avoid the scorching daytime temperatures. I’m in!

australian adventure destinations
Experience Fraser Island, from red rocks to salt-water crocs.

Fraser Island Tours on My List

I’m really into wildlife, so my next Australian destinations will be a smörgÃ¥sbord of opportunities to take photos of fauna. During my first visit, I missed Fraser Island. There’s where I’d go to look for dingoes, swamp wallabies, sugar gliders and other creatures. Out in the water, I’d watch for humpback whales and all sorts of sharks – including whale sharks. You have some odd geology there, too, which is always a plus.

Australian adventure destinations
“Remarkable Rocks” on Kangaroo Island, one of the best Australian adventure destinations. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I usually lean toward DIY adventures where I handle everything myself. But in Australia, a good guide can make the difference. And so can the other people on the tour. Multi-day tours from Sunset Safaris can turn Fraser Island tours into a chance to meet other people and swap travel ideas while you enjoy the sites.

A Hop to Kangaroo Island

We’ve established that I can’t get enough wildlife, right? So that’s why I need to visit Kangaroo Island. But there’s even more going on here than just kangaroos: Add platypus, seals, penguins and bats to the wildlife I’ll find flapping and finning around the island

And I’ll also find shipwrecks, caves, lighthouses and dunes. Another plus: I can fly one leg of the journey from Melbourne, and rely on a 45-minute ferry cruise for the other. Let’s not forget that I’m kind of obsessed with seafood. I wonder if I’m allowed to go running around trying to catch my own rock lobster …

This post is brought to you by Sunset Safaris. This blog accepts forms of cash advertising, sponsorship or other forms of compensation. All information reflects the opinions, experience and research of WanderingJustin.com

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CategoriesAdventures

Random Mekong Delta Photos

I know some of the people who see me often are probably tired of hearing stories about Vietnam. I packed a huge amount of fun and culture into my time there (and more than my fair share of delicious food). Even though it’s been a year since I was there, I still haven’t full gotten through all my thoughts and observations.

Yep, I’m far from done yapping about Vietnam. Today, I’ll let the photos do the talking. These are a few random Mekong Delta photos that capture the essence of the place in all its variety. Enjoy!

random Mekong Delta photos
Paddling in small boats is a super way to get around the edges of the Mekong Delta.
random Mekong Delta photos
Kitties on the Mekong!
random Mekong Delta photos
Quite a few people still live aboard their boats. It was a pleasant time of year, and I would’ve spent a few nights on one of these boats!
random Mekong Delta photos
I guess this is some weird abandoned amusement park on the Mekong Delta. It’s the sort of place I would’ve tried to learn more about if I had more time.
random Mekong Delta photos
If you want to be virile and manly, take a swig of rice wine that’s had a cobra marinating in it. Libido and potency guaranteed!
random Mekong Delta photos
One of the many boats trawling about. Notice the eyes on the bow? We saw those on a good number of similar boats.
random Mekong Delta photos
Sarah can’t resist touristy shenanigans if they involve holding a huge snake.

If you want to experience the Mekong Delta, there are plenty of tours from Ho Chi Minh City. Have fun!

CategoriesGear

Test a HolidayPhone Prepaid SIM Card

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English: A mini SIM card next to its electrica...
HolidayPhone can have a prepaid SIM card loaded into your phone before you leave for an international trip. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m willing to answer nearly any travel question – unless it’s about SIM cards and smartphones. I’m reasonably tech-savvy, but I’ve yet to unravel the mystery of having a fully functional smartphone no matter where in the world I go. My typical method is to use Wifi calling, which leaves me at the mercy of wireless networks. And no data service means no handy GPS to bail me out when I get lost.

But I have good news: HolidayPhone just might be my answer. The company offers prepaid SIM cards that will allow you to make calls and use the Web in 30 countries (see the list below). And you can buy one and have it mailed to your home before you leave. That is way better than getting to your destination and negotiating for a data plan in a language you don’t understand -- but I probably speak Portuguese better than I speak Smartphone!

I’d love to put a HolidayPhone prepaid SIM card to the test. The problem is, I have no international travel plans at the moment.

That’s why I need someone like you to test a HolidayPhone prepaid SIM card.

All I ask is that you use the HolidayPhone SIM card and write a guest post for WanderingJustin.com about your experience with it within a few weeks of your return. If it’s an extended trip, it would be great to get your review while you’re on the road.

If you have an upcoming trip to one of the destinations below, contact me – email, a comment on this post, a tweet (be sure to include HolidayPhone’s handle, which is @holidayphone). Tell me where you’re going, when you leave and what you’ll do to have your chance at testing out a HolidayPhone prepaid SIM card.

I know some of you out there – many! – work better under a deadline. Let’s say I need your response by Dec. 15. And it takes about two days to get your HolidayPhone SIM card via UPS, so the timing of your trip is essential. Good luck!

And now, the countries:

Australia
Austria
Canada
China
Croatia
Denmark
Finland
France
Germany
Great Britain
Greece
Hong Kong
India
Ireland
Italy
Japan
Kenya
Malaysia
Mexico
Netherlands
Philippines
South Africa
South Korea
Spain
Sweden
Thailand
Turkey
United Arab Emirates
USA
Vietnam
CategoriesGearTravel

Best Passenger Planes Flying Today

best passenger planes
The 747 … the Queen of the Skies. Flying everywhere you want to go for a little longer. (Taken at Seoul Gimpo Airport)

Some people will tell you that an airliner is an airliner. Don’t believe them. When I book an intercontinental flight, I base my purchase on price, schedule, airline/alliance and – you’d better believe it – aircraft type. Once you read a bit about my observations about the best passenger planes, I dare you to stick by any notions that airliners are all the same.

best passenger planes
Sky Harbor sees only one 747 a day.

The Boeing Family

747

Avgeeks call the 747 the Queen of the Skies. From the outside, this is one graceful, iconic machine -- especially in its -400 and new 8 incarnations. My only recent 747 flights have been on Qantas (LA to Sydney, LA to Auckland), and it’s a comfortable experience even in the cheap coach seats.

The thing is, this is a wide airplane. Three seats, an aisle, four seats, an aisle and three seats. So there’s a good chance of getting wedged in a middle seat. That kind of stinks. But you’ll be able to get up and walk around without banging your head.

Your experience will vary by airline. Not all of them will have on-demand entertainment like Qantas. That makes a difference when your flight spans continents.

By the way, the 747 is kind of headed for extinction. Fly one while you still can (my ideal would be the Lufthansa 747-8). It’s a piece of history. And damn, it’s just beautiful.

Grade – B

best passenger planes
Hawaiian Airlines has solid 767s still flying. But they’re making way for Airbus A330s.

767

Here’s what every avgeek loves about the 767 – only one true middle row seat because of the plane’s 2-3-2 configuration. The odds will be ever in your favor for a chance to get up and stroll around (the perfect plane for Mr. Trololo?).

The problem is, most 767s are obnoxiously old. Few will have on-demand entertainment; my Kindle saved me during a flight from Tokyo to Ho Chi Minh City, and I needed some good books on my Qantas flight from Sydney to Darwin. Both examples of the type were getting stained and rough around the edges. The Asiana 767 I flew from Incheon to Tokyo and back, though, was closer to showroom condition.

Beware: United Airlines and American Airlines still fly 767s on long routes, especially to South America. Do your homework before booking because this is not one of the best passenger planes.

Grade – C

best passenger planes
The Boeing 777 is one of the best passenger planes, inside and out.

777

This big, efficient twinjet is the reason that the 747 is on its way out. And another thing: Depending on your airline of choice, this could be the best passenger plane aloft. My LA to Seoul flight on Asiana was a thing of beauty -- a quiet airliner that barely bucked through a bunch of Pacific storm clouds. Oh, and the water fountains! Rather than relying on a flight attendant to stay hydrated, I could walk to the nearest water fountain with my Vapur bottle and fill up. Why not every widebody has this, I cannot fathom. Love!

Now, Asiana’s 777s are shiny-spotless. I can’t say the same for United Airlines (Dulles-Sao Paolo, Rio to Houston). No water fountains, a bit dingy -- but still workable on-demand entertainment. At its best, one of the best passenger planes.

Grade – B+

best passenger planes
A United Dreamliner preps for a flight from Houston to Chicago.

787

It was years late in taking to the skies. It’s had a few hiccups. But right now, the 787 is one of the best passenger planes. I went out of my way to take a United Airlines Dreamliner from Houston to Chicago just because I’m a ridiculous idiot. The LED-equipped cabin was nice, as was the on-demand entertainment. But it was tough to tell if it was really the "moonshot" it was supposed to be.

best passenger planes
The 787 has the sleekest, most-modern cabin of any plane I’ve flown.

Until I took one from San Jose to Tokyo on All Nippon Airlines. Holy cow. Now, my wife is no avgeek. But she asked what was up with this cool plane after a few hours aloft. Was it the higher humidity, the higher cabin pressure, the big windows or the quiet cabin that she noticed? Probably a magic combination of the above. No water fountain, though. ANA also has footrests that are pretty great for shorter passengers, but tall guys like me will probably find that they get in the way.

Do watch out for the wild toilet contraptions in the ANA 787 lavatories. Take some video – it’s worth the fun! The Dreamliner’s electronics suite supposedly helps it avoid turbulence. But the route to Tokyo was pretty bumpy. This poor 787 got absolutely rocked most of the way.

There’s one thing I don’t like very much about the 787 – the dimmable windows. They don’t completely block the light as a window shade would. So your window can get hot – not good for leaning your head against it to catch some sleep.

Also, beware the not all airlines configure their 787 the same. ANA had a 2-4-2 layout versus the United Airlines 3-3-3. So United’s seats are a little skinnier, and you have a good chance of landing a middle seat. ANA does a nice job in its four-across portion, separating the two pairs of seats with a generous armrest.

Grade – A

best passenger planes
This SAS Airbus A330 didn’t convince me that it’s one of the best passenger

The Airbus Lineup

A330

My first A330 flight was on SAS from Chicago O’Hare to Stockholm Arlanda. The plane had been sitting in the sun for hours, and I have to guess the APU was off because the cabin was hot. Not a problem on most planes – you just aim the little air nozzle at your head and let it rip. Well, the SAS A330 doesn’t have the nozzles. Neither does the Vietnam Airlines A330 (HCMC to Hanoi). The SAS flight needed nearly two hours of flight to cool down.

best passenger planes
This Iberia A340 is headed for the scrap heap.

That’s my only quibble with the A330. The SAS flight had top-notch on-demand entertainment. The Vietnam flight didn’t, but it was configured for dense short-haul flights. So no big deal.

I have to say though, that the air nozzle situation means the Airbus is not one of the best passenger planes. Though I’ll give it points for looking like a muscle car of the skies. Beautiful plane.

Grade – D

Still Need a Ride On --

A340

Not very different from the A330 – just a few more engines for those extra-long flights. Some people think it’s even better-looking than the A330. I wonder if it has air nozzles …

best passenger planes
The A380 – one of many widebodies nesting at any given Asian airport. Taken at Incheon.

A380

Patrick Smith is right. This humongous aircraft is ugly as sin. Bigger than the Boeing 747, but it just looks … irradiated. Well, I hear the experience on the inside is great – smooth and quiet. I’d hate to be at the baggage carousel when one of these monsters rumbles in, though.

CategoriesAdventuresGear

2014 Holiday Gifts for Adventurers

Holiday gifts for adventurers
Not the MiG-21 for sale, but still incredible. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have a rule – I won’t even start talking about holiday gifts until after Thanksgiving. Well, we’ve passed that milestones, and now I present one of my very few gift lists. This one is my Holiday Gifts for Adventurers list. I’m going to break it out by price, from the high-budget items to the stocking stuffers. And I’m avoiding the obvious, like helmet cams. Come on, we all know about that stuff already!

Let’s start by going big -- no, actually huge!

Strictly for Supersonic Bank Accounts

A decently equipped Chevrolet Corvette runs about $70,000. Color me unimpressed. With the same amount, you can get your loved one a surplus MiG-21 supersonic fighter with only about 2,000 hours of flight time on it -- like this one I found on Global Air. That’s far more impressive than any Corvette in history – and so are the skills needed to fly it, and the bank account to fuel that bad boy. But still, if you have the means and the person you’re shopping for has the skills, you will not do any better than this. Ever. And imagine the Corvette driver’s face when he’s going on about his 0 to 60 acceleration and the lucky recipient of your MiG gift is like "aw, that’s sooooo cute." And I’ll straight-up admit that Chevy has never produced a less-than-stellar looking ‘Vette (unlike some of the awful Mustangs that litter Ford’s history) … but none possess the Cold War, shiver-down-the-spine menace of a MiG-21.

Holiday gifts for adventurers
What you’ll see on the LaplandX Extreme Lapland Northern Lights tour.

A Cool Big Budget Holiday Gift for Adventurers

On Feb. 16, the LaplandX Extreme Lapland tour heads out in search of the best views of the Northern Lights. The 7-day journey starts gets underway aboard an icebreaker. From there, you’ll ride sleighs and snowmobiles on a Northern Lights tour that takes you to the ultimate storybook landscape. When you’re not zipping through the awesome Lapland scenery, you’ll be digging into gourmet Nordic dishes and lounging in saunas (let me tell you, sauna is a great thing any season of the year). You can get this for your favorite adventurer for $3,990. Space is limited, so sign ‘em up now!

Awesome Adventure Stuff for Less-Awesome Budgets


If you know someone who loves camping and hiking, look into a course at the Aboriginal Living Skills School in Arizona. From overnight survival classes to 12-day aboriginal living skills courses, you’ll find something to suit your favorite adventurer. My wife signed me up for The Provident Primitive course, and it was by far the best birthday gift ever. With Cody Lundin and Mark Dorsten as your instructors, you are sure to learn a ton. If you pick up what they’re putting down, your future hiking and camping will never be the same. Prices vary, but the lower end of the spectrum is around $700 for a course.

Holiday Gifts for Adventurers
A misty day at the Gaia Riverlodge.

There’s a lot of adventure to be had in Belize – especially if you like SCUBA diving and caving. If there are cavers in your life who are headed to Belize, chances are their plans will include the Cayo District and its epic limestone caverns. Your perfect gift to them – a few nights at the GAÏA Riverlodge, a hydroelectric-powered eco resort. It was just named one of the Top 10 eco resorts by the Smith Hotel Awards.

holiday gifts for adventurers
Make a log flight better with wireless Tracks Air headphones. (Photo courtesy of Sol Republic)

We stayed there in 2007 and used it as a base to visit the Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave and the Caracol ruins. If you’re lucky, you’ll get some nighttime drizzle that bounces off your cabana’s thatched roof and lulls you to sleep … and you’ll wake up to a misty morning like the one in the photo. Current rates are around $165 a night, but that will vary by season. A few nights there will be a memorable holiday gift.

And chances are, your adventures start with a long flight. For me, that means it’s time to listen to some tunes. The Sol Republic Tracks Air headphones deliver high-quality sound … and they’re wireless, so that puts an end to getting tangled up with every escape to the lavatory. They also have a 100-day money-back guarantee. If you have $199.99 to spend on your favorite adventure seeker, the Tracks Air is worth a close look.

Holiday gifts for adventurers
Good knives make great holiday gifts for adventurers in your life.

Stuffing the Stocking with Holiday Gifts for Adventurers

Anyone who loves some adventure needs a good knife. And not a Swiss Army knife or any other folding knife – a fixed-blade, full-tang knife that can hold up to all the abuse of a routine camping trip or a life-or-death survival situation. There are a ton of great knives out there, but my favorites right now are ESEE knives; I have an Izula and an ESEE-4 that hold their edge and fit my hand very well. Both are super-useful, but a bit more tactically-oriented than I’d prefer (the blades on both are on the thick side, which is makes them less effective at tasks like batoning). But once ESEE releases its CAMP-LORE series, look out! My Izula with a sheath was about $70 online. ESEE knives go up from there – not bad at all for U.S. made knife.

Holiday gifts for adventurers
Just like mine – a bunch of Metolius locking carabiners make great gifts.

OK, this won’t fit in a Christmas stocking. But it’s definitely a lower-budget holiday gift for adventurers – a food dehydrator. I picked up a low-end NESCO four-tray model for about $65; I’ve been working overtime for last few months. I’ve been making my own jerky, trail snacks and pemmican. It’s weaned me from store-bought food bars, and I’m lovin’ it.

I know this will make me sound like Ron Swanson, but everyone – adventurous or not – should have on their person at all times at least one locking carabiner. You won’t believe how often they’ll be handy. At $10 each for this excellent Metolius carabiner, you can grab a bunch of these to drop into the stockings of everyone you know who doesn’t think "If the outdoors are so great, why did we invent the indoors?".

A good daypack is also a helpful but affordable gift. And it’s hard to beat the REI Flash 18. It has room for a hydration bladder, plus all the gear you need for a medium-length hike or a day strolling around Seoul or Reykjavik. Easy to find for about $30.

I know there are all sorts of other great holiday gifts for adventurers out there. What would you like to receive as a gift for your next big trip?