to travel / lo & sons hanover deluxe 2 backpack review

I recently changed my travel backpack from the Fjallraven 17″ laptop backpack to the Lo & Sons Hanover Deluxe 2 backpack. While I liked the Fjallraven and its light weight, it lacked a suitcase sleeve. I really wanted a backpack with a suitcase sleeve so that my backpack can sit on top of my carry-on suitcase secured to the suitcase handle. The top handle on one of my carry-ons defaults to one direction and without the suitcase sleeve, the backpack slides right off. And while I could sit the Fjallraven on its side and tighten the straps, it was inconvenient to have to adjust the straps every time I was switching between modes. I had tried looking for alternatives to Lo & Sons, but nothing checked all the boxes as Lo & Sons did.

Pros:

  • The compartments! Within the front pocket, main inner section (it comes with an insert that can be removed), sides (I put a S’well bottle and umbrella on each side), laptop compartment, and my favorite – the top pocket which is perfect for the phone/passport/boarding pass. It makes it easy to find what I’m looking for.
  • The suitcase sleeve.
  • No logo
  • Zippers are easy to use and easy to access items — speaking as someone who doesn’t always zip everything fully while inflight. You can also twist the zippers together so that they deter theft.
  • Unisex. Overall, I prefer function over form. I got the backpack in Onyx black in the 600D Recycled Poly material. It’s a very unisex style so that the mister can use it if he wants to — I normally do not use a backpack for work.
  • Comfortable shoulder straps

Cons

  • The suitcase sleeve is a tight fit with the suitcase handles and requires two hands/some maneuvering. But, I guess a tight fit is better than a loose fit.
  • Not many color options.
  • The retail $188 requires some thought.

The Hanover Deluxe 2 is a perfect size for me. I almost always travel with a laptop, iPad mini and/or Kindle, noise cancelling headphones, some chargers, adapters, skincare (for the dry long-hauls), jewelry, socks, a scarf, a water bottle, etc. Although, I may experiment with traveling without the inner sleeve which does contribute to the ~2 lb weight.

I also got the Lo & Sons Catalina Deluxe Tote but haven’t had a chance to use it yet. It is a weekender and doesn’t have compartments like the backpack does, e.g. no laptop sleeve although it can fit a laptop. In general, I think a backpack is more versatile to travel with since I can distribute the weight across both shoulders when I have to carry it, and it looks smaller than the tote in case they are strict on carry-ons.

Lo & Sons seems to make updates to their designs fairly frequently and addressing customer feedback. If you want a slightly smaller backpack, there is the Hanover 2. The Hanover Deluxe retails for $188 and the Hanover 2 for $168. (Comparison guide here.) They also have more feminine backpacks if that is your preference. Their holiday sale has been going on for a while and 30% is a nice discount (also if you have Chase Freedom for the 5% cashback on PayPal). If you are interested in Lo & Sons, they are still having a 30% off holiday sale!

Images: Lo & Sons

to travel / orly airport & level airlines, paris to new york

I haven’t read much about my specific Level airline experience (booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards, ticketed by Iberia, operated by Level). I hope someone else can benefit from it.

My Paris trip came about very casually when I was texting with a friend on how long we haven’t seen each other. I had plenty of vacation days and was forecasting some downtime. As a collector of points/miles, I had a lot of options to work with. I don’t travel as much as I used to so I have no status. The challenge was finding something that worked around the US Thanksgiving holiday when many others are also traveling, two months out. I used AA miles for the outbound flight. For the inbound flight, I wanted to return on the Saturday evening (not 6am!) or Sunday after Thanksgiving (peak travel time). While in the US, there is often not much of a difference if you book a roundtrip vs two one-ways, it’s not always the case when you’re crossing the Atlantic.

Level Airlines was the best option. They are a budget airline and owned by IAG (which owns British Airways, Iberia, etc.) The flight between Paris and New York was Saturday evening, and it operates out of Orly Airport and Newark Airport (technically not New York).

The plane only has two cabins. We paid for two premium economy seats for 74,000 Ultimate Rewards points in the Chase UR travel portal where points are worth 1.5 cents for Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders. You can transfer points within the same household which is useful for maximizing points earned from other Ultimate Rewards cards. The cost difference between booking premium economy vs economy was minimal (around $100) considering the almost 9 hour flight. If you want to book a seat or check a bag, it’s additional in economy. My coworker had booked a round-trip during their June 2019 sale, and I felt the price I paid was reasonable for a direct, one-way flight. As far as I know, you cannot earn any miles for Level flights, so it felt even better that we paid for the flights with points.

Where it got confusing – the flight was ticketed by Iberia and ‘operated by SUBSIDIARY/FRANCHISE’ and check-in with OpenSkies. I knew enough that the flight was operated by Level – which replaced OpenSkies as a brand in 2018.

Before the Flight

  • Seat assignments: I wasn’t sure if they were included in the price of the premium economy ticket. I don’t like getting seats at the airport and coincidentally this is the 2nd time a coworker happened to be on the same flight in the same small cabin, so I wanted to make sure we weren’t next to each other for the 9 hour flight.
    • Chase couldn’t figure out how to get seats.
    • Iberia refused to touch the reservation since it was booked by an OTA.
    • Level was so much more helpful over the phone. They gave me my Level record locator and reserved great seats for us for free. If they tell you that you can check-in 30 days out and pick seats or that you can reserve your seats online, make sure you can actually do it. Until they actually reserved the seats, they didn’t know that it was free. I also couldn’t access my itinerary on their website until they manually entered my contact information.
    • At some point I had tried pricing the flight out on Level’s site and the seat assignment option required a fee.

Orly Airport

  • Check-in: The online check-in process was seamless. Note that I was never able to view the seat map or change my seats online. I got my boarding passes for my iPhone wallet and got the paper version at the airport.
  • VAT Refund:
    • Orly airport has 4 terminals. Level is in Terminal 3. You can easily walk from Terminal 1 to Terminal 3.
    • Pictured above. The tax refund office is before security is in Terminal 2 and I walked right past it because the lights were so dim. The Pablo machine (for scanning tax refund forms for purchases made in France) did not work for me. Unsurprisingly, there is no queue since Orly doesn’t have many flights outside of the EU. The process was quick and one no longer has to mail in forms for the credit card refund!
  • Baggage:
    • Hand Baggage: On the website, economy is limited to 10kg, no weight stated for premium economy. They did not weigh or check the size of bags. (This has happened to me before with Air France until they heard I was ticketed by Delta.)
    • Checked Baggage: I couldn’t find anything online on whether my premium fare included checked baggage. Answer: Yes. The baggage allowance is 23kg per item and we were around 23.5kg. They didn’t charge us for the extra weight and my coworker had the same experience.
  • Shopping:
    • The biggest downside of Orly is that there is no luxury duty-free shopping, but the emptiness of the airport relative to CDG was so refreshing that I would definitely opt to fly out of here again!
    • Before security, there is Nespresso, Mariage Frères, Laduree, Maison Du Chocolat, and Paul, etc.
      • If you have a Nespresso machine, I highly recommend buying capsules in Europe as it is much cheaper and they are easy to carry. Many capsules are $0.70 in the US and 0.43 euros in France. On top of that, Nespresso France had 20% off capsules in celebration of Black Friday (a weeklong celebration in France).
    • After security, you have the standard cosmetics store, multi-brand store, Relay, and some food shops.

On the Plane

  • Priority Boarding: It was a mad house. I think premium economy boards the same time as those who purchased priority seats in economy. My flight was mostly Americans and they had no shame whatsoever cutting the queue with their entire family. The boarding process also started 15-20 minutes before the stated time.
  • Seat: We sat in the first row of premium economy. We had tons of legroom as seen above. I thought the seats were comfortable.
  • Food and Drinks: One hot meal and one hot snack. Alcohol is included. My expectations for airplane food are pretty low and I thought the food on the plane was not bad! Service was very friendly.
  • Priority Baggage: Does not exist.

Do I recommend Level for Orly to Paris? Yes

Do I recommend Level premium economy for Orly to Paris? Definitely if the price is good!

to travel & shop / taipei, taiwan

Similar to Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Seoul, you can find all the Western brands in Taipei with crazy markups (in comparison with the US), so it’s best to stick to Asian brands. I hang out mostly in the Eastern side of Taipei so this is my point of view. Some places I mention are chains and have locations throughout the city. I shop mostly for beauty and housewares in Taipei and don’t go near the cutesy little things I used to find at the nightmarket that were since thrown out.

  • Tax Refund: With a foreign passport, you can apply for a sales tax refund if you spend over 3000 NTD (~$93) at an authorized retailer (details). Often the refund isn’t worth the trouble of remembering your passport.
  • Pay in local currency: All the places I mention are credit card friendly. If you’re not paying with an Amex or Discover and using Visa or Mastercard, you may be asked if you want to pay in USD or local currency. Always chose local currency and I hope you have a foreign fee free card. More reading: What is dynamic currency conversion, which card to use

Locations

The yellow road running East/West is Zhongxiao E Road. There are many boutiques, cafes, and restaurants in the alleys around this road. I’m using the MRT stations for reference but if you’re pressed for time, take a taxi.

  • Starting with the Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT Station, you can find Japanese department store, Sogo, at the SW and NE corners. The NE corner is the original Sogo and I like to browse/meet people there beyond the It’s a Small World clock. There is also a large Watsons next to it and more boutique shopping and eating in the alleys behind it. The SW corner is the high-end luxury Sogo — with a Din Tai Fung in the basement.
  • Walking East, you get to the Dunhua S Road intersection which has the Zhongxiao Dunhua MRT Station. Look two blocks SE and there is an office building with an Eslite bookstore at the lower and basement levels. This houses the 24/7 bookstore. I also like Eslite for their boutique/stationary — which isn’t 24/7 but still open pretty late. On either side of Zhongxiao E Rd east of Dunhua, you’ll find local Taiwanese department stores and lots of retail stores like Daiso, Zara, Uniqlo, etc. I normally come here for the Innisfree, a Korean skincare brand (more on this below). There is also a Mos burger and Cosmed in the alley.
  • If you go further east on Zhongxiao E Rd, you enter the new Xinyi district (Taipei City Hall MRT Station) which has Taipei 101 and many standalone department stores — Breeze, multiple Mitsukoshis, Uni-Hankyu (check out their food court – Tim Ho Wan, ramen, bakeries, etc.), 101 Mall, Bellavita, and ATT 4 Fun (Totoro). There are walkways that connect these buildings either under or overground, which is helpful if it’s raining outside.

On to the shopping.

Continue reading “to travel & shop / taipei, taiwan”

to travel & eat / taipei, taiwan

Looking West from the Shangri-la Far Eastern Hotel rooftop

Eating is a huge part of Asian culture. Taiwan is known for their “small eats” and Taipei does not disappoint. Asia in general is big on food trends and subject to influences from other countries and cultures. In fact, it’s hard to find a bad meal. It’s up to you how Taiwanese you want to eat. If you want to get deeper into Taiwanese cuisine, check out The Food of Taiwan by Cathy Erway. I personally don’t eat as much street food due to serious family meals, limited time and stomach space when I visit. I also have a list on Yelp that is disorganized and will stay that way!

Fruit. Tropical fruit here is amazing, especially in the steaming summer season. Taiwanese mangos are one of the few things that make up for having to visit Taipei in summer. To find good fruit, it is well worth a walk through a local wet market. (If you visit in the non-summer, mangos can still be found but it is nowhere as good and not as cheap.)

Taiwan mango, red dragonfruit, lychee

Din Tai Fung (鼎泰豐) is a Taiwanese chain that’s known for their soup dumplings. They boast many flavors of soup dumplings. I am also a fan of their veggie dumplings and fried rice. Pro-tip: the truffle dumpling (center) has to be eaten with a clean spoon. If you have a good server, he will proactively offer clean utensils. It’s best to go with a large group so you can try more dishes. If you’ve been to any DTF locations, you know to expect a wait. There is one location in Taipei as of October 2016 that takes reservations Mitsukoshi A4 (新光三越信義新天地A4館). Some people only like to go to the original location, but I am fine for what is subjectively considered subpar food with no wait time. Most of their locations are in shopping districts so the wait is not bad.

Breakfast is easily one of my favorite meals and a reason to wake up early. It is carb heavy though! My favorites are rice burritos (飯糰), variants of dough with scallion and whatever else you want to add (蔥抓餅/蛋餅), and these baked scallion buns (蔥酥餅). Be careful though! If you eat too much you won’t have room for the rest of the day! Coffee is relatively expensive (local chains are must cheaper than Starbucks) and hard to find non-cow milk or skim milk options. Continue reading “to travel & eat / taipei, taiwan”

to travel & shop / portland anthropologie and future glory rockwell bags review

This post is a review of the Anthropologie store in Portland, Oregon and a few Future Glory Rockwell styles that I found there.

I visited Portland, Oregon a few weeks ago for vacation (after visiting numerous times for work). Portland is known for great food and the day trip radius has wine country and scenic views. It just happened that there are two stores that I really wanted to check out. This new Anthropologie store was one of them.

This store reopened in March 2016 as the first of their supersized destination stores. The Newport Beach store has since opened, King of Prussia, Palo Alto, and Walnut Creek are on schedule for later this year. These new stores are great news if you want to check out their home goods (which is so much harder to shop for online and at Anthropologie’s price points). This store is over 25,000 square feet and has two floors. The first floor has most of the ‘showrooms’, design center, beauty area, and sale sections (at least when I visited during the tag sale). The second floor has the fitting rooms, shoe/accessories area, lingerie, activewear, more clothes, more furniture, and a small sale section. The shoe/accessories area has a dedicated salesperson similar to department stores and inventory is kept in the back.

Continue reading “to travel & shop / portland anthropologie and future glory rockwell bags review”