The first thing I do when booking a flight is turn to airfare aggregator
Hipmunk. Hipmunk is a site that, like other fare aggregators, uses your starting destination, final destination, and a range of dates to determine the lowest available fare amongst competing airlines.
Though Hipmunk is the newcomer to the fare aggregating scene, it has quickly become my favorite (I still rely on and recommend Kayak as it is useful for making comparisons). Specifically, Hipmunk’s site designers have perfected the art of limiting the information on screen to the essentials: flight times, length of layovers, number of connecting flights, and, of course, price, and presenting it in a way that is easy to make sense of and read.
The UI is built so that you can quickly organize and deduce not only the cheapest flight, but also a happy balance between cost and ease of travel (for example, they rank flights by “agony”). Their site, unlike Kayak, sees fairly frequent updates and it was recently improved with the incorporation of built-in tabs; a subtle killer feature that allows you to compare a wide range of dates and airports without having to overwhelm your browser.
Unfortunately for us consumers, the airlines quickly realized that the transparency of their pricing system wasn’t necessarily helping their bottom line. What that means is that you won’t find all the airlines on either Hipmunk or Kayak (Jetblue, Southwest, Virgin, and Spirit are a few airlines that require the use of a proprietary site).
Furthermore, there is a limit to what sites like this can do. They haven’t been all that effective during peak travel times, or for last minute flights. I find that it’s also good to remind myself that spending hours and hours looking for cheaper fares quickly passes the point of diminishing returns.
Looking for cheap airfares is never going to be a particularly pleasant experience, but Hipmunk has, for me at least, made it bearable.
[Note: Both Hipmunk and Kayak now have iOS apps that are good, but not quite as flexible as the website. In a pinch they are highly recommended.--OH]
What’s so cool about a power cord splitter? Sure, it turns one plug into two, but so what? The genius of this short adaptor is that you can pack it in your travel bag. So when you come upon the lone outlet in an airport, cafe, or hotel lobby that is already occupied, all you need to do is to politely ask to insert this spitter. Now you can add your line without disrupting theirs. And of course, at times you may use its doubling yourself. These little ambassadors should cost less than $3.
I’ve been using the Fenix Headband for about 6 months now and I’ve found it superior to just about any other headlamp system out there.
It’s much more versatile since it allows me to rotate the light 360-degrees, instead of just forward and down. And because it is on the side of my head instead of on my forehead, light doesn’t hit my eyes. It’s designed to fit Fenix lights (most AA and CR123 models), and works with countless others including the outstanding 4Sevens Quark line.
Having a “real” light means actually getting “throw” with a headlamp which is something sadly missing from the older LED technology commonly used on caving/jogging lights on the market. Along the same lines, newer LEDs are more efficient, having a much higher lumen to power consumption ratio, in effect giving me a brighter light for much longer. The plastic light mount is super durable and has a metal hinge, screw and threads so there’s no chance of plastic wear on moving parts.
It’s unique design means I can have all of the benefits of the latest light technology and the versatility to choose which flashlight features I want, for every type of use I can throw at it. I can choose the batteries, bulbs, and modes I want or need in a light and secure one or TWO to my head leaving my hands free to start a camp fire, steer a bicycle, work on electronics, hold a map, or write a note while standing. I can investigate a noise over 100 feet away while unscrewing my water bottle (a simple task but impossible with an average headlamp) and can point it upward then set my light to SOS mode and signal a rescue team while administering first aid.
Locking yourself out of your vehicle is nigh inevitable. Whether your keys are lost, misplaced or dangling tauntingly from the ignition of your locked rig, you’ve got yourself in a pickle. A recent review of a trailer-hitch key vault proposed a nifty, albeit pricey method to ensure you’re not stranded.
But for those too frugal to spend $65 on a solution, there’s a cheap and effective solution that has saved my bacon on a number of occasions, including out in the middle of nowhere after losing my keys in a trout stream.
The Velcro key hider is a pouch which can be affixed to your vehicle discreetly. Unlike the magnetic key hiders, it won’t jiggle off on rough roads. I still have the original key pouch I purchased a dozen years ago, tucked safely away but readily accessible. I use it often by design, not wanting to carry my keys with me if I’m engaged in sporting events or hikes or such.
They can be purchased for a tiny fraction of the aforementioned trailer hitch (and don’t have to be removed if you intend to be pulling a trailer, either.) This one on Amazon’s site retails for around $3, but I found mine at my local key shop for a similar price.
If you’ve ever picked a seat on an airplane only to find yourself with half the leg room as the rest of the row, you’ll appreciate this website. I found this site about 2 years ago after sitting in a cramped seat for 7 hours.
Since I have long legs, this site has been a lifesaver. It gives you a visual breakdown of most major airlines seat configurations by model of airplane, color coding the iffy seats yellow and the really bad ones in red. If you’re really lucky, you might find one of the green seats available on your flight, giving you the best seat in the house.
This is a very handy little light that is small enough to carry around in your pocket on a keychain. It weighs only 4.8-grams and the LED “bulb” is very bright for its size, more than adequate for finding your way around in a dark spot, reading a map, finding key holes, etc, with a simple thumb press on the button. It has a small switch that will lock the light in the “on” position for those times when you need some extended light.
I highly recommend this Micro Light II model over the more expensive Micro Light III. While the Micro III has more features they aren’t that useful and mine used up the batteries in just a few weeks. So I bought a Micro II and have been very happy with it, and the current battery has lasted several months so far.
– Paul Dubuc
As one keen-eyed reader noticed, the review of this item which CT published originally appeared on Amazon but under a different user. The premise of Cool Tools is that reviews are written by users who have used the product and are genuinely enthusiastic about the product. We do our best to filter out shills for companies, or reviewers being paid to recommend something.
Were we being gamed here? We take our credibility seriously so we wrote to the person who had submitted the tool to find out what was going on. As best as we can figure here is what happened. The Cool Tool reviewer Brad Reynolds wrote back:
I have for years been a fan of kk.org and the Cool Tools email and would look forward to and enjoyed receiving it every week. Last year I was somehow (I am sure inadvertently) taken off the Cool Tools email list and I wanted back in. I took the path of least resistance, by submitting an Amazon review of a tool I really use. I had no idea the Proton Micro Light II review would be published, with 23 comments!
I am sorry.
Can I amend in my own words the review I should have submitted?
This flashlight has served me, my friends and family flawlessly for several years. Proton Micro Light II has, for its size, a very bright LED bulb, and includes two long lasting, easily replaceable lithium batteries which the company says the battery life is about 10 hours.
This handy, durable, light weight and powerful little flashlight is always attached to my keychain and is close at hand when needed. I have owned and given several Proton Micro Light II as gifts and have recommended it highly to other people.
[Though other keychain LED lights may appear similar in size/shape/design, in my experience Photon Microlights have been significantly brighter, and sturdier. --OH ]
This is a genuine recommendation of the tool, but in the meantime we wrote to the author of the original Amazon review to let him know what happened and asked him if it was okay if we kept his review. So his name now appears on the original review and we've added Brad's review below it.
I’ve been using this simple but well designed electronics case for 5 months now. I travel a lot, usually 2 – 3 weeks a month. I also work in IT, so you can imagine all the gadgets I have to carry with me. This case makes the hassle of travelling with electronics a dream!
In the rigid plastic case I safely store my ipod, cellular modem, portable router, backup Lithium Polymer charger, voice recorder, and all of the cables for them and other devices I have on me. They all stay together in a nice neat package. So I never lose them, or forget one when I go on the road.
To be honest, I had never used anything even remotely like this before I found the one from AmazonBasics. None of my other packing solutions come close, and after looking around for a month I still can’t find anything that compares to it. Normally all of my devices have a case of their own, which I’ve tried to use, but that means there are 5 separate cases with cables, etc and I always end up misplacing something. This case allows me to keep everything I need in one neat little case, and for $14, a better tool is hard to come by!
[Note: This was the first time I had heard of AmazonBasics, but it appears to be Amazon's in-house brand of electronics accessories. The reviews are overwhelmingly positive, and prices seem affordable compared to the competition. Keep them in mind next time you need a case! --OH]
I find a comfortable travel pillow essential for long train commutes. Unlike regular neck-pillows, the Eagle Creek travel pillow is easy and unobtrusive to carry with you. It’s inflatable and folds flat to slips into a jacket or hip pocket, though I keep mine in the briefcase. To inflate, pop open the wide cap, and breath into the valve; a clever rubber flap allows you to empty your lungs comfortably into a wide circular opening without straining.
Three breaths is all it takes, and the flap and cap keep it solidly sealed the whole trip – deflation is nearly instantaneous once arrived. It has a soft microfiber cover, removable and washable, that offers a surprising amount of comfort. It masks the inflatable nature of the pillow admirably, though not completely. It’s still going to be a little warmer than a regular “u” pillow, and the cushion won’t be as nestle-in soft, but it beats the heck out of “microbead” pillows and the like, and definitely beats a sore neck and shoulders.
After a year of daily service, it developed a small leak, which was easily fixed with a little dab of the previously reviewed shoe-goo cement, and has been going strong for another year.
I first experienced significant ear pain when flying when I was in college in 1985. The pain usually occurred on takeoffs and landings. However, around 1998 I discovered these little ear plugs that prevent rapid pressure changes within my ears. Since using them I have never again experienced the extreme pain from depressurization, and I can fly free from pain.
Earplanes are slightly different than normal earplugs, and include a ceramic pressure regulator that slows the pressure changes between the inner ear cavity and the airplane cabin. They are a little more expensive than normal ear plugs, but they have made flying tolerable.
I do a lot of outdoor stuff like fishing, hunting, diving, etc and when I leave my car I am always trying to figure out what to do with my keys. In the past I had three places I hid the keys but I never felt really comfortable about it. I never liked taking keys with me because I worried too much that I might lose them. I used to be able to take them diving, but now that most keys have electronics attached, it has made it impossible.
I recently discovered the HitchSafe, an attachment that slides into my tow hitch that has a compartment that can hold credit cards, drivers licenses, keys, etc. The hitch has four dials on the drawer allowing you to create a custom unlock combination. And it comes with a cover that conceals the HitchSafe.
I recently bought a second for my wife as she is always getting locked out of her car and so she now keeps her spare key in there. In the past she has tried those magnetic boxes that stick to the underside of the car, but they kept falling off and it was hard for her to find it, let alone reach underneath and grab it.
This is exactly the kind of tool I wish I had thought of.