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Since I was thirteen years old, I’ve been 4’11’’. Whether this is the gift of scoliosis, gymnastics, genetics, or pure luck, I have no idea – but that’s my height. I’m happy being shy of 5 feet. As a public high school teacher I heard the best gossip in the halls because no one saw me coming. As a shopper, I benefit from being able to wear kids’ size clothing and shoes. And as a frequent traveler, I have plenty of room when placed in a middle seat on a flight. The trouble I come up against, however, is finding a grown up style backpack that fits little ol’ me.

Finding backpacks for small torsos isn’t easy. When researching options, you find many articles geared to petite and small women. Then upon opening them, there are comments about being 5’1’’ or 5’3’’ and although I know they’re helpful to many – for me, this is still a struggle.

In 1996, I backpacked Europe after university. At the time, there were few sturdy backpacks that even came close to fitting me and nothing in the realm of women specific sizing. Comparing that giant, heavy, duffel bag that was constantly strapped to my back, pulling on my shoulders and wreaking havoc on my already crooked hips to today’s options is like comparing elephants to apples.

Today’s versions have women specific sizing, sturdy straps, lightweight frames, pockets upon pockets, removable hip belts and can be adjusted by each wearer.

I remember that first backpacking journey well. It was my first venture to Europe, my first venture with a guidebook and no net, and my first true foray into traveling on my own terms. But when I think about the actual pack (if you can even call it that), I wind up wondering how different that schlepping might have been had I had the technology of today.

Two decades later, I’m in the market again.

After a few visits to REI, online research, and conversations with friends who have similar issues, here are a few tips in searching for backpacks for petite women with small torsos. Click to continue…

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T-Mobile’s Simple Choice International phone plan is amazing. For $50 you get unlimited texting, unlimited data, and 20 cent/minute calls in 140+ countries. What’s even cooler is that you don’t have to sign up for anything or update your account—it just works.

When you land, your phone pings the local provider, authenticates your plan, and you hit the ground running. No buying confusing (expensive) preloaded SIM cards with unfamiliar country codes, restrictive plans, and a new number for each destination. No shocking triple digit overage charges. Just unlimited, if a little sluggish, data and texting.

But things at T-Mobile are changing. Gone is the Simple Choice International plan (unless you’re grandfathered into the plan). Instead, they’ve added a new, more expensive, option that covers everything. But does it really? T-Mobile is the digital nomad’s cell provider of choice, but it’s not always awesome, and it might not be the best in town for long.

Let’s take a look at what to expect from T-Mobile’s new three-tiered international roaming plan, and a few alternatives for when things go wrong, the data is too slow, your country isn’t covered, or you’re just looking for a better way.

Disclaimer: This is not a paid endorsement of T-Mobile, Sprint, or any cell phone company listed below. Any positive—or negative—review is my own opinion.

T-Mobile One Plan: The New International Roaming Plan

Single line plans under the new T-Mobile One plan start at $70—taxes included. Bundling all the fees, surcharges, and taxes into a flat price is pretty cool, but there is a noticeable price increase over the previous basic international plan.

If you’re traveling with the whole family, you get a discount on multiple lines, down to $40/line for four phone plans but, for the solo traveler, it’s still a price increase, so we’ll stick with the $70/month single plan for this review.

Here’s what you get with T-Mobile One ($70/month):

  • Unlimited international texting
  • Unlimited international data—up to 3G speeds (which is actually pretty danged fast)
  • 1 Free Hour of GoGo wifi on Domestic (American) flights + free texting
  • Unlimited video and audio streaming with from Netflix, YouTube, and Pandora with BingeOn and MusicFreedom
  • International calls from Europe (landlines and mobile) at 20 cents/minute
  • Full domestic coverage in Mexico, Canada, and the U.S.

Upgrades to the T-Mobile One Plan

Business travelers or digital nomads might want to consider upgrading to the T-Mobile One+ plan and the International One+ plan (there’s always a “+”).

Here’s what you get with T-Mobile One+ ($85/month):

  • All of the above plus…
  • Free GoGo unlimited inflight wifi (domestic flights)
  • Free unlimited HD day passes for top quality streaming service

Here’s what you get with T-Mobile One+ International ($95/month):

  • All of the above plus…
  • Unlimited cell phone wifi hotspot data
  • Unlimited free international calling to international landlines in 70+ countries and mobile numbers in 30+ countries

The Verdict:

T-Mobile is good but might not be the cheapest (or fastest) anymore.

T-mobile’s international plans aren’t quite as “simple” as they used to be, but they’re still one of the most reliable international cell phone plans around. The new price of $70/month is a significant jump up from the original $50/month Simple Choice International Plan that users have known (and loved!) for years, but it comes with increased service and speeds.

You won’t always have 3G data speeds but,  when you do, it’s almost like what you’re used to. Allow for extra time to do the little things you take for granted—10 seconds to load Instagram, 5 seconds to refresh a page—but you shouldn’t want to be checking all that stuff on your phone anyway. You’re traveling! Get back out there and do something cool in real life.

T-Mobile also provides “data kickback” that refunds you $10/month if you use less than 2GB of data, so that’s something. It’s kind of like rollover minutes (remember those?!), but let’s be honest—you’re never going to be under 2GB of data in a month. Still, it’s a nice thought.

T-Mobile is usually great, but what happens when it isn’t? Click to continue…

For places that I frequently visit (which isn’t many) it’s nice to have a stash of essentials waiting for me when I land. Usually, it isn’t much — just some clothes, basic toiletries, and maybe a book — but it allows me to travel without luggage.

Like a lot of people, I currently keep a stash of warm clothes at my parents house in Washington D.C. and typically just bring some underwear, a toothbrush, phone charger, and a spare outfit when I visit them.

Similarly, when I lived in Costa Rica and then later Madagascar, I had stashes of clothes and toiletries in each of their respective capitals. Since I was living in rural areas but visited the capitals often, it made sense to keep my “city clothes” in the city, rather than schlepping them back and forth — especially in Madagascar. Since I could only bring what would fit on my lap or between my legs in a cramped Malagasy bus seat, I preferred to use that space to bring back hard-to-find food (like bread and powdered milk), not clothes.

I never realized that what I was doing had a name: Travel caching.

Travel Caching: A Spin-off of Urban Caching

The concept of urban caching is perhaps best known among survivalists who want to prepare for such worst-case-scenarios as nuclear bombs, major natural disasters, and — obviously — zombies. Urban cachers will put boxes of survival items (e.g. food, knife, clothes, blanket) at strategic points between work/home and a safety point so that in the case of an emergency they can drop everything and go.

I personally hadn’t heard of it until a friend brought up a blog post by Tim Ferriss about packing light. He had repurposed the idea, named it travel caching, and now uses it as a way to avoid carrying luggage to places he visits frequently. Similar to urban caching, travel caching is the practice of stashing a bag or trunk of items in a place you visit frequently so that you can travel without luggage every time you visit.
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