Friday, April 6, 2007

Travel Tips 2

International travel
In addition to the information in Travel Tips 1, here are some of the things I've discovered about international travel. Most of my experience is with European travel so keep that in mind. I can't comment on Asia or South America having never had the opportunity to go there, yet. In order as they occur to me:
1)Pack a snack in your carry-on. While airline food has gotten better it still isn't very good, portions are small, and usually there is at least one item in the meal that is totally gross. Plus, if you don't eat the snack on the flight you can have a nosh sometime later during your trip.
2)Research your destination. Inevitably there isn't time to do everything you would like to do on a trip. Researching will enable you to make your top five or top ten list of must dos and sees and by focusing on those you will feel less rushed and also will get more out of the trip. I loathe the types of tours that drive you past everything but don't allow you to explore. Hello? I may never get back here!
3)Photograph the unexpected or unusual. Everyone always wants to photograph the big things, like the Effiel Tower, and by all means snap away. But save time and either film or card space for the small things. You can always buy postcards of the big landmarks (and more often than not the pictures on those are way better than anything the average tourist can achieve-face it the pros have better equipment, better access, and more talent) but they aren't going to have postcards of that funny sign or that cute dog or any of the other myriad other things you will see on your trip. And even more importantly, remember to photograph the people you are traveling with and make sure they take a few of you too.
4)In order to use your cell phone overseas you must have an international plan as well as having it activated before you leave. If you don't have the international plan take your phone with you anyway. The new ones all have alarm clocks on them which can really come in handy, even if you only use it to serve as a reminder to finish up and meet your tour bus. Don't forget your charger!
5) Buy an adaptor. Pack it in your carry-on. A lot of people will tell you that they aren't necessary, but in the age of cell phones, digital cameras and other tech devices you are going to want to plug something in at somepoint. Trust me. I was the only person in my group this past summer to bring an adaptor and I became seriously popular when everyone needed to charge their cameras.
6)Get a travel hair dryer. Virtually every hotel and motel in the US has one of these, but this is not the case around the world. This is especially true if you aren't staying in a big name hotel. If you can do without for whatever reason don't pack one. But don't say I didn't warn you.
7)It's the Americans with Disabilities Act, not the world wide people with disabilities act. Older hotels, B&Bs, and other picturesque lodgings don't always have elevators, ramps, wide stairs, hand rails, or any of the other aids of access that we have here in the states. They also may not have A/C either, but that's neither here nor there. Keep that in mind when you are packing your bag and picking your lodging. Make sure you can lift your bags or that someone in your party is willing to help you out. If you know you have trouble with stairs request that your room be on the ground floor. If you are going to go the route of big name hotels and/or resorts you probably don't have to worry. You'll also be missing out on a lot of the fun and charm of traveling though.
8)If you are staying in one hotel for the duration of your stay or at least for a number of days ask if they have a safe and lock up your passport. Make sure you have another form of ID on you when you go out but put that passport away, as well as part of your money. You don't want to be spending your entire trip at the US embassy filling out paperwork because your bag was stolen with everything in it.
9)Find out if you are expected to leave your room key at the desk each day. This was the case with all of the hotels we stayed in in France and after we got over the initial trepidation it gave us quiet a thrill to breeze up to the desk and say "Chambre Vingt et Une s'il vous plait."
10)Learn some basic phrases in the language of the country you are visiting. In this day and age English is incredibly common but everyone seems to appreciate the effort, even if all you can say is "pardon me" "where is?" and "slower please, I don't speak." At the bare minimum you should learn please, thank you, how much, bathroom, and help me.
11)Be a tourist. That sounds silly doesn't it? But a lot of people I know either think it is beneath them to do the "touristy" things or don't want to take pictures because then everyone will know they are a tourist. Big deal! You are a tourist. Enjoy yourself! Take a picture with the red phone box in England. Sit in a cafe and eat a croissant. Go on a gondala ride.
12)At the same time, don't be obnoxious. Make an effort to speak the language. Try the local cuisine, particularily if they are known for a certain dish. Ask at the hotel for recommendations of local restaurants. I'm still getting a lot of mileage out of the story of these two girls from my high school whose first meal in Paris was at a McDonalds. They felt sick the rest of the afternoon. Guess what folks! You aren't in the states and things are different. Instead of whining about it, enjoy it. Look at it as an adventure. If all you are going to do is whine about "it's not like this at home" then you should stay home.

Thursday, April 5, 2007


My overall impression of Baltimore is that it is a strange mixture of really cool architecture with great public places that will be even nicer when the fountains are running and some hideously ugly buildings. The area I stayed in was near the inner harbor and I found the city to be pretty pedestrian friendly, and not too difficult to navigate in a car provided you had a good map. If you happen to be allergic to seafood or to just not enjoy it pick another destination. Even the places where we dined in Little Italy had seafood throughout their menus. I would love to go back and see more of the historic sites that I missed on this trip (I was at a conference after all and couldn't play tourist all day), as well as some of the more quirky parts of the city. If anyone has any suggestions on where to go and what to see I'd love to hear about them. (I was supposed to go on a tour for Edgar Allan Poe that wound up at his grave, but it got canceled because of lack of interest. Can you imagine? Librarians not wanting to go visit the Master of Macabre's tomb? Shocking.)

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Travel Tips 1

Having recently returned from a conference in Baltimore I've decided that travel would make a good topic for this month. Now, I'm not a jet-setter by any means, nor am I nearly as well traveled as some of my friends, but I've been quite a few places and here are some of my travel tips for continental airline travel. (International will be saved for another day).
1) Print your boarding passes off before you leave for the airport. This will save you time at check in.
2)Wear sandals, flip-flops or other easy to remove shoes. Basically anything that slips on will work. Yes, this means you may have to walk ten feet or so in bare feet, but it saves you time and won't annoy the people in line behind you at the security check point.
3)For God's sake, go to the airport's website and get the list of what you can and cannot put in your carry-on bag.
4)Invest in travel sized items for toiletries. 1) they weigh less, 2)they take up less room in your bags, and 3)if they are under three ounces in size you can put them in your carry-on bag, provided they are all in a sealed quart sized zipper bag. You'd be surprised out how big 3 ounces actually is, and how much you can fit in that bag. I know I was.
5)Pack your phone charger in your purse or carry-on bag.
6)Small wheeled suitcases are a pain. They take up a ton of room in the overhead bins, even though they are allowed, and if you check a bag as well you have two rollies to mess with. If you are checking a bag use a backpack for your carry-on. They have lots of pockets for organization, they fit under the seat in front of you, and they keep your hands free. If all you are taking is your carry-on, by all means use the small rolling bags, just be prepared to get dirty looks from your fellow passengers when two bags take up the bin that's designed for four.
7)Pack your toiletries, something to sleep in, a second shirt, and at least one change of underwear in your carry-on, particularily if you are making a connecting flight. That way you, if they misplace your luggage, you can at least be comfortable that first night, clean yourself up and avoid having to go commando the next day. Oh, and pack your undies in a gallon sized zipper bag. This is in the event you get pulled for the random bag check. Clear bag means they can see everything but the guards won't be pawing your delicates.
8)Invest in a digital camera. Undeveloped film can be damaged by the security scanners. Plus, you won't have to worry about running out of film, and you can check to see if anyone closed their eyes and retake the pictures. Make sure you have either your charger or spare battery in, you guessed it, your carry-on.
9)A company called Flents makes ear plugs for airline travel that are designed to regulate the air pressure in your ears. You can still hear, but it muffles a lot of the sound from the plane itself as well as from your fellow passengers which is great. They really work too, and don't hurt, especially on short flights. I've used them on my trip to England last summer and my recent trip to Baltimore. I won't fly without them.
10)If you or anyone you are traveling with is a first time flyer, take Dramamine, especially if you have a tendancy to get motion sick. Trust me, from personal experience, you do not want to throw up on an airplane and the people sitting near you don't want you to either. Have you seen the size of the airsick bags? Impossible. Plus, it's not like you can roll down a window or take a walk to get fresh air.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Giving it a whirl

Well, here it is. I have no idea if I am going to enjoy this or if anyone else is going to enjoy this for that matter, but I'm giving it a shot. My only intent here is to share things I think are fun or important. That's all. I'm actually in a class right now and I better pay attention.