Monthly Archives: August 2014

Quick Observations from our Trip

Finally, I’ve made it to an internet cafe where I can jot down for you a few observations on our trip.

When we left the United States for South Africa via London Heathrow, we knew we had a 15 hour layover which we planned to take full advantage of.  After all, all we would have would be our carry-on that we could handle quite well.  Not so fast.  As we were checking in our luggage at our first airport and photographing our luggage and tags I noticed that the tag said LHR and not JNB (Johannesburg).  The agent told me that you have to claim your luggage when you have a greater than 13 hour layover.  The best laid plans weren’t so great however since I had done so much research prior to this (obviously I missed the part about claiming your bags) I was aware of Baggage Express in Terminal One (where our next flight would depart from) where we could store our bags for 24 hours for 10 pounds each.  Lesson 1:  know the requirements of hen your bags will go straight through  or when you have to claim them.

We flew United’s 767 from IAD to LHR.  We were in the Business Class facing backward – a little strange at first but no problem other than the magazine that were between us went flying on the floor as we took off.  I noticed how friendly our crew was, which was not ike many United flights I had been on.  Turned out they were a British crew.  They had a jolly good time.  Unfortunately for us, we were the last row, facing into the galley, where we heard and saw all of their fun happenings.  Lesson 2: don’t sit in  front of or behind the galley

Along with the noise from the galley, the flight attendants overhead bins (two of them) were directly over us and they were getting into them all, let me repeat, ALL night long.  Lesson 3:  don’t sit in the first row or in the row in front of the galley

Last lesson on this leg of the flight. If you are flying business or First Class, your luggage is tagged Priority.  What they did in LHR as well as in JNB, was to pull our luggage off the conveyor belt and put them in a special spot.  I know that sounds strange but truly we, and others, could not find our bags.  I was glad that I had taken a photo of our b bags and our luggage tags since Blogger Hubby couldn’t find the receipts they gave us.  Baggage Claim knew that they had been checked in and thought they were on a stuck belt.  They restarted the belt and no luggage came out.   Finally we walked around and saw them sitting in a pile.  Lesson 4:  if you can’t find your bag look around and around – they may be in a secret spot.

 

Thank you all for your patience in the lapse of blog writing.  I hope you h ave been enjoying some of the guest blogs that have been written by friends.  I didn’t bring a computer with me and honestly, we have been so busy that I’m not sure how many blogs I would have written.  When I write about our safari trips you’ll understand.

Alternative Lodging Options – B&B’s

While I am still in South Africa on vacation and my friend Vivian (Mtnbound) has graciously offered to write a guest post. Mtnbound and husband never take the same vacation twice. They just returned from a two week trip to Italy. You an read about their adventures on her blog, From the Mountains to the Sea and the Cities In-Between
When you hear that a traveler stayed in a “bed and breakfast,” do you imagine a Victorian mansion filled with antiques and a full breakfast cooked by an elderly woman? We’ve stayed in lots of bed and breakfast inns over the past 25 years and only one or two of them have fit this description!

When we travel as a couple, my husband and I prefer to stay in B&Bs for several reasons:
1. B&Bs are an authentic way to experience the culture you are visiting. Bed and Breakfast inns are usually in a typical residence, decorated in the fashion of the people living there. It is much easier to understand the culture when you are living in it, rather than in a hotel room that looks the same if it is in New York City or Sedona, Arizona.

2. B&Bs provide personal customer service and show pride of ownership. Most Bed and Breakfast inns are run by the owner of the inn, who has a vested interest in providing great customer service. Innkeepers are in the business because they want to be. No rude reception staff!

3. B&B owners are happy to share inside information about places to go. Bed and Breakfast innkeepers are experts on the activities, restaurants, and sites in their area. They can provide tips about how to access that off-the-beaten track hiking trail or where the locals go to eat the specialty of the region.

4. B&Bs offer an opportunity to interact with other travelers. Breakfast is often shared at tables where you are seated with other guests with whom you can swap stories and ideas about your travel experiences.

5. B&Bs are quiet. There will be no girl soccer players staying in a B&B, kicking a ball down the hall at 11:00 PM. (True story of a hotel stay)

What is a Bed and Breakfast? The simple definition is that the lodging is provided in a private home or building similar to a residence. Breakfast can be served in a variety of ways, from being delivered to your bedroom to sharing a table in the dining room to being given a voucher to the restaurant down the street. Most B&B rooms have en suite bathrooms. However, we recently stayed in one where our private bathroom was across the hall from our bedroom.
Selecting a Bed and Breakfast I usually locate Bed and Breakfast lodging through websites such as TripAdvisor, Hotels.com, Booking.com, and AirBnB. We read through the reviews carefully to look for the recommendations and warnings from other travelers.

Wikitravel offers these considerations for choosing a Bed and Breakfast:

 Is the location convenient to attractions and your transportation plans?
 Do the hosts have pets? Are guests able to bring pets? Important if you are allergic to animals or will have a pet with you.
 Are children welcome? If you are planning to bring your children, you may need additional rooms.
 Is the building or designated rooms non-smoking?
 Is the lodging compatible with your expectations for level of luxury? Facilities can range from basic to spa-like. Some accommodations are only a bedroom, others are suites or studio apartments with a kitchen.
 What are the amenities in the room? Bed size, bathroom availability, toiletries, hair dryer?
 What are the breakfast details? Is there an extra fee for breakfast? Times served? Can special dietary requirements be accommodated?
 What are the check-in and check-out times? The innkeeper may not want to stay up past his/her bedtime for your arrival!

Of course, B&Bs are the not the solution for everyone. They are not practical for families because most rooms only accommodate two people. People who like to have amenities such as a fitness center or business center also will prefer hotel facilities. Some travelers may like to have the security and familiarity of a hotel chain that they know and trust.
Notable Bed and Breakfast Inns

Here are a few of our favorite B&Bs, near and far:

Virginia: Cedar Post Inn, Big Island, VA – The owners built this cedar log home as a bed and breakfast lodge and their residence. There are beautiful mountain views and the breakfast is outstanding. Sally and Kevin were so warm and welcoming that we left there feeling as if we had just spent the weekend with friends.

 

North Carolina: Augustus Zevely Inn, Old Salem, NC – We stay at this inn when we visit our daughter in college. The inn is located in historic Old Salem, a lovely Moravian settlement. This house is filled with antiques, but is not stuffy or formal. Breakfast is very nice.

 

Hawaii: Poipu Plantation, Poipu, Kauai – We had a spacious suite in the main building. Breakfast was always delicious and included Hawaiian fruits. The host spent time with us every morning to provide advice for our day’s plans and to explain Hawaiian customs.

 

Italy: Ca’ San Vio, Venice, Italy – This B&B is in a great location away from the tourist spots, but close to one of the bridges that cross the Grand Canal. The bathroom for our room was across the hall. Other bedrooms had en suite bathrooms. Breakfast was delivered to our room when we let the host know that we were ready. Our only complaint was that the wifi did not work in our room. But, hey, we were in Venice! Who needs the Internet?

Italy: 50 sm Studio in the Historic Centre, Bologna, Italy – We loved this unique studio apartment. The walls were from Roman times and the owner has preserved a well and wine container that were found when they renovated the basement space. The kitchen was handy for us to prepare simple meals. This accommodation does not include breakfast as there is a wonderful pastry shop across the street. The apartment is walking distance to the main town square and very convenient.

5 Reasons Competitours is Better Than “The Amazing Race”

While Jane is adventuring in Europe and Africa, Becky of The Girl and Globe is happy to share my experiences with Competitours!

In the fall of 2010, my husband and I were  fresh off our honeymoon to Mexico and then a second, even-better vacation to Alaska.  We had also been on half a dozen summer camping trips, a “local” getaway to Assateague Island and Ocean City, whitewater rafting in West Virginia, and a dip down into North Carolina.  In short, we had been bitten by the travel bug…or more accurately, the adventure bug.  With no known antidote, we gave in to the infection and sent in a video audition for The Amazing Race.  Unfortunately, we never got a call back.

For the next few years, we planned our own adventures in short spurts, enjoying travel, outdoor activities, and creating great memories.  Then, this past spring, we signed up for the “next best thing” to the official Amazing Race.  With nine other pairs, we met in Ghent, Belgium for the start of a travel competition known as Competitours.  For ten days, we’d race around Europe — destinations unknown — and complete a series of challenges.  At the time, we had no idea that the “next best thing” would be even better than the Amazing Race itself.

1. With Competitours, the Race Won’t Kill You
Just watching the Amazing Race makes me tired.  Continent-hopping, sleeping outside of train stations, and skipping meals to be first in line is part of the game.  I won’t say Competitours was leisurely and relaxing, but the pace was reasonable.  We comfortable visited Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Italy, which gave us the chance to experience a variety of cultures without continuously suffering from jet lag.  Plus, someone else takes care of the logistics like buying flights and checking train schedules so you don’t stress over the details!

2. There’s Just Enough Crazy
Does your idea of a great adventure include bungee jumping off skyscrapers or eating live insects?  No?  Mine either.  Sure, on Competitours we climbed vertical rock walls in the Alps and shot crossbows in the Netherlands, but nothing we did was outrageously daring and if something truly made you nervous or sounded downright awful to you, you could always bow out of an activity.  We stretched our comfort zone and tried new things without pushing ourselves to tears.

3. There’s Some Semblance of Privacy
The biggest downside, in my opinion, to being on The Amazing Race would be cameramen following you around 24 hours a day.  I’m an introvert and I think the constant hovering would be far too much for me to handle.  On Competitours, there were a few times we needed video proof that we completed a challenge, but we were always in control of when the camera was on or off.  Better yet, we had a little free time every day to head off without the full group for a quiet dinner, minor sightseeing, or the chance to relax in a way that worked for you.

4. You Can Savor the Experience
Just because our trip was based on the premise of completing challenges to win an overall competition didn’t mean we had to rush through things just to get them done and move on.  Instead, we had plenty of time to enjoy our activities, take photos, and generally have fun on vacation.  The only problem with “savoring” our experience was perhaps consuming far too many calories on our delicious challenges like chocolate molding, gelato making, and tiramisu judging.  Yes, we ate a lot of good food with Competitours.

5. There’s No Hard Feelings
At the end of the trip, the team in first place took home $3,000 in cash, and second and third place teams also went home with cash prizes.  However, the competitive spirit did not impact group dynamics at all.  Instead, our fellow travelers were friendly, encouraging, and a pleasure to travel with.  We started the trip without knowing anyone else and came home with 19 new friends who we’ve kept in contact with via Facebook, email, and even personal invitations to visit them at their homes in the US and Canada.

We went to Europe expecting to have a grand adventure  and a bit of travel mystery, but our tour ended up far exceeding all expectations.  The Amazing Race is far better known, but Competitours is the better option for an adventure vacation.

Becky is the author of The Girl and Globe and a frequent traveler always looking for new adventures and experiences!

My Secret Weapon for Cheap Hotel Rooms

While Jane is away, she invited me to submit a guest post.  I blog over at Fishing4Deals, about how to travel cheap, save money, and have fun.  My focus is on budget, domestic travel, and I fancy myself as the Priceline Queen.

Priceline is my workhorse for finding cheap hotel rooms.  I usually have pretty good luck booking rooms at half the going rate.  I love the thrill of the chase, and the suspense of wondering if my low bid will be accepted.

There are some times though, when my best efforts on Priceline have failed, and I need to find a room for the night.

Last Minute Rooms with HotelCoupons.com

If you like to do road trips, you’ve probably seen those hotel coupon magazines they give away at highway rest stops, gas stations and fast food joints.  They used to be called RoomSaver, but they have rebranded as Hotel Coupons, and they are online at HotelCoupons.com.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking:  those coupons are just for one star hotels like Rodeway Inn, Days Inn, or Econolodge.   Not so.

Not Just One Star Motels

To be sure, you will find many offers for roadside motels that cluster near the exits on the Interstate, but you can also find coupons for last minute stays with solid mid-range chains like Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Hampton Inn, or Fairfield Inn.

You can also find coupons in some markets for upper-mid-range hotels like Crowne Plaza, Embassy Suites, or Homewood Suites.

But what may surprise you is that you can sometimes find coupons for independent hotels, at rates far below the regular walk-in rate.  When we were exploring the Oregon Coast, for example, we found lovely beachfront hotels in Seaside and Newport through the  coupon guide.  These were not cookie-cutter chain hotels, but nice places with real local flavor.

Would you believe that one of the most vaunted hotels in Washington, DC, the historic  Willard Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, is also listed on HotelCoupons.com?  The Willard is a five star hotel!

Needless to say, you should always shop around to make sure you are getting the best possible rate.

Be aware, also, that the hotel will not always honor the coupon rate.

Earn IHG Points on the Coupon Rate

If you book rooms with most online travel agencies like Hotwire or Priceline, you will not earn loyalty points for your stay.  HotelCoupons.com has an arrangement with IHG properties:  you will receive the IHG Best Rate Guarantee and IHG Rewards Club points for rooms booked via HotelCoupons.com.  The IHG family of hotels includes Staybridge Suites, Holiday Inns, Crown Plazas, and Intercontinental Hotels, among others.

Have you scored any deals with roadside coupons?

If you enjoyed this article, you can find more stories like this on my blog, at Fishing4Deals.com.

Visiting Iceland in November

While I am away on my trip, I have several readers who are contributing their adventure travels. Today’s post is written by Krissy and it is about her and her husband’s adventure last November in Iceland.  Most people don’t think about traveling to Iceland in the winter but Icelandic Air often runs great specials.  Read about her adventure and see if this is something you want to do this fall/winter.

 

Visiting Iceland in November

While many choose to escape the chilly fall/winter weather by heading south for a warm getaway, we decided to do the opposite and headed to Iceland to embrace frigid temperatures and shorter days. And it was definitely a worthwhile experience.

First of all, our direct Iceland Air flight was an easy 6 hours from Washington, DC. The tickets were very reasonable at $500/pp and based on conversation with other North American travelers many paid a similar price point. The land of fire and ice is becoming increasingly known for attractive flights to Europe with layovers in Reykjavik at no additional cost. The airport itself is actually located about 45 minutes outside of Reykjavik in the city of Keflavik and per usual there are several transport options including car rentals, taxis or public transit. We elected to pre-arrange a car rental since we planned to explore Iceland without the aid of any organized tour groups. Three things to be aware of when deciding whether or not to rent a car in Iceland – first, gas is expensive; second, car rentals are also expensive due to the high car tax; and third,  you need to make sure you get studded tires if you are traveling in the winter months (trust me it’s for your own good!).

We arrived in Iceland before dawn, picked up our rental car and not wanting to waste any time quickly jumped on Route 1 heading south east towards Skaftafell National Park. The four+ hour drive took us over windy roads, past lava fields and around mountain passes finally arriving at the information center near the park entrance. This is where you book tours and set out on your hiking and glacier trekking adventures. Since we visited Iceland during a less touristy month, we didn’t need to pre-book any tours so we had the luxury of being very flexible with our itinerary. However, in warmer, more popular months (i.e. June through September) booking in advance is highly recommended.

Our Blue Ice glacier walk with Iceland Mountain Guides was fantastic. The cool factor was driving up the “Batman” access road, named for director Christopher Nolan and his crew who filmed scenes from Batman Begins on the Svinafellsjokull section of glacier. Since it was just the two of us, we were able to get a more personalized experience than the standard tour. With the aid of our skilled guide and our crampons we had the opportunity to climb into and explore a crystal blue ice cave. This was hands-down the highlight of our trip. If you don’t get an opportunity to explore an ice cave (they come and go and thus are hard to predict), you still have picturesque Joksular Lagoon located 45 minutes down the road from Skaftafell. In terms of nearby lodging, we stayed at Svinafell Homestay in a dorm-like house and had a good experience. The area is somewhat remote, so your choices are limited to camping (in warmer months), homestays or two small hotels.

ICE CAVE 1

Driving back to Reykjavik turned into a six+ hour adventure as we navigated stormy weather and icy roads. At times the wind was so powerful we thought it was going to knock us right off the road. Nonetheless, we persevered (all the credit really goes to my husband who was driving) and arrived safely in Reykjavik. Due to continued snow storms over the next couple of days, we cancelled a two day trip up north and hunkered down in the capitol region to explore all of the activities it had to offer.

ICEY ROAD 2

Our arrival in Iceland coincided with holiday merrymaking and Christmas decorating. Walking along the streets of downtown Reykjavik felt magical as the snow fell, lights glistened and splashes of green and red beamed from just about every doorway and lamppost. One of our favorite souvenirs was a yule lad ornament depicting Icelandic holiday folklore to always remind us of trip.

yule lad

We also arrived during the qualifying rounds for the 2014 World Cup and had a great time mingling with locals at a downtown bar cheering on Iceland in the tiebreaking match against Croatia. Other highlights from our time in downtown Reykjavik include checking out the big Sunday flea market (across from the old harbor area), Harpa Opera House, Hallgrimskirkja Church for a great view of the city, disc golf a city park, archery and Laugardalur swimming pool for an outdoor hot pot experience. Several nights we optimistically hunted for the Northern Lights, but unfortunately the weather conditions were just not in our favor.

 

REYK VIEW 3HARPA HOUSE 4

Within a short time of being in Reykjavik we quickly had two favorite coffee shops. First was Café Haiti on the old harbor, which offered good live music in the evening and is in close proximity to the Sea Baron which has the best lobster soup bisque. Second is the Laudromat Café. It was a hipster hangout, with a very chill vibe, good coffee, tasty food and you really can do your laundry in the basement. Our favorite late night food spot quickly became the Bæjarins beztu hot dog stand in central Reykjavik. We did decide to be a little adventurous and try horse steak, which was pretty good, but not as good as a real steak. In general the food was expensive and very so-so. We didn’t go to Iceland for a culinary experience so we weren’t surprised as all. We did find ourselves popping into the easily accessible grocery stores in the downtown area and taking advantage of lunch time specials at restaurants. In terms of lodging we stayed at the Hotel Metropolitan, which was very centrally located, basic accommodations.

CAFE 6

A must-do day trip from Reykjavik is the Golden Circle. There are lots of bus options, but since we still had a rental car we were able to set our own schedule. Our trip included stops at Geysir, Gulfoss and the Laugarvatn Geothermal Spa. Neither of us had ever seen a geyser so it was fun to cheer along with the crowd as the water and steam shot out of the ground every couple of minutes. Gulfoss was an unexpected majestic series of waterfalls that attracted a lot of professional looking photographers. And the Laugarvatn Geothermal Spa was the perfect way to end our day. We got to relax in the outdoor geothermal pools long after the last tour bus left.

GEO POOL 7

A few final notes on traveling in Iceland:

  • There is no good way of predicting the Northern Lights. However, Iceland has established an aurora forecast online here: http://en.vedur.is/weather/forecasts/aurora/.
  • The people are super friendly and helpful. Chat it up with the locals when you go visit!
  • While Iceland is part of the European Union, they still use Iceland Krona. The conversion is about $1 USD = 118 ISK or if you look at in the reverse is 1,000 ISK = 8.45 USD.
  • Drinks are really expensive at the bar. On our first night out we paid the equivalent of $22 USD for a small whiskey ginger (!). We recommend checking out the local liquor stores for more reasonably priced beer and wine.

While the stormy weather limited some of our travel plans, we would definitely still plug visiting Iceland in colder months for a more authentic experience and less competition with other tourists for tours and hotel space.

Delta Airlines – a Miss and a Save with Luggage

Blogger Daughter and her 14 month old baby have been visiting us for the past two weeks at our Lake home.  Last week it was their time to return home.  Since we are in northern Michigan, there is only one airlines that operates in most of these small airports and that is Delta.  I’ve always internally cursed that there is no competition and that the tickets are incredibly expensive.  This is Blogger Daughter’s story about her return flight.


 Background:

When Blogger Daughter flew up flew up from her home in Virginia, the baby’s car seat was wrapped in plastic by the gate agent and there was no fee to check it  (also true of baby strollers).  It arrived nice and clean and ready to put the baby in.  The return trip was a different story.  The gate agent (and there is only one gate) refused to bag it saying he didn’t have time.  She was upset, not knowing what condition the car seat might be in since they do have a connection in Detroit.

Here is her story:

Our plane landed and I turned my phone on. It beeped with a voicemail…the dreaded voicemail. It was Delta airlines calling and saying one piece of my baggage did not make to it Richmond. Ugh.

My 14 month old son and I were flying back home (Richmond, VA) from Lisa Nolan AirportNorthern Michigan after spending a relaxing two weeks visiting my parents. We flew home from Pellston with a connection in Detroit to go on to Richmond. Even though we had an hour layover in Detroit…I still got that voicemail.

Okay so I listen to the voicemail and groaned.  I had checked two items – my suitcase and the carseat. They referenced the number on the phone of what item it was but I had no way of knowing if it was my suitcase or the carseat. What on earth do I do if it’s the carseat? My husband was already on his way to pick us up and we obviously need to have a carseat to go home. So one happy reunion later, we’re down at baggage claim.  I was very impressed that Delta had alerted me so quickly about this problem. That way we weren’t stuck waiting at the baggage claim for the missing piece of luggage, we already knew one was going to come out. The bags came out quickly and we soon realized it was indeed the carseat that was missing.

We head into the Delta baggage office and are greeted by a nice Delta lady who quickly offers us a snack from their snack basket and some water. One bottle of water and Fruit Roll-up later (what can I say, I’m still a kid) we were learning that the carseat was already on the next flight to Richmond and would land in about 45 minutes. We quickly learned that my biggest fear of having no way to get Nolan home was not an issue — they had loaner carseats! We just wanted to get home so we opted to take a loaner instead of waiting for our carseat. She told us how our carseat would be delivered to our house that evening (it was already 4pm) and they would also take the loaner carseat with us so a return trip to the airport was not necessary. I was pretty happy with how all of this was handled.

We confirmed our address and was quickly sent an email confirming the situation and that we would receive email updates.  And we sure did. About an hour later we received another one that our carseat was loaded up and on it’s way. It also introduced the driver to us over the email so you can see his picture and what type of car he drives. We hung a small sign up on our door that the Delta employee gave us and signed it to give the driver permission to leave the carseat on our front porch if we weren’t home. When we were on a family walk around the neighborhood when the driver called and said he would be at our house within 30 minutes. About two minutes later he arrived at our door with our carseat and took the loaner back with him. Shortly after I received an email confirming the exact time of delivery and suggesting I contact them if I had not received it.

Overall I was very happy with how Delta handled this situation. Despite the frustrations of having lost my luggage, they have a good system in the works for making up for it.

 

 

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Actually, we drive down tomorrow to spend the night near the airport that we are departing from Tuesday morning.  We have our check list out because honestly there is no memory left in my head.

jet plane

I try to make it easier on myself when I land in a foreign country by bringing with me some foreign currency.  I know – there are ATM machines in the airport but what if there was a problem.  Well, one time there was.  When we were in Mexico last year, I couldn’t get the ATM to work since all the instructions were in Spanish and there was no English option.  What I do is to go to our big bank that is an hour away from us and order foreign currency.  None of the smaller banks near us do that.

The South African rand are beautiful.  So many exotic animals on their currency.  They also have Nelson Mandela on their currency as well.  What do you think of these bills?

rand3rand4rand2 We also got some Danish Krone.  When we arrive in Copenhagen it will be late and we would have been traveling for over 24 hours.  I imagine we’ll just want to go to the hotel and crash.  Having the money will allow us to immediately get on the train to go to the hotel.

Today I scanned our passport and sent an email with them as an attachment to myself, my husband and our children.  If we should lose our passports, at least we’ll have the information with our passport number, issuing office, date of issue and expiration date.  By doing this, nothing will ever happen – the reverse of Murphy’s Law.

I called our Schwab Bank so when I use our ATM debit card (and there are no ATM or foreign transaction fees with Schwab) there will be no problem.  I also called the credit card companies that we will be using to alert them to foreign charges particularly important with the new security breach by the Russians.

I emailed our kids a copy of our flight details and itinerary including hotel.

I reconfirmed all of our hotels.

Got prescriptions filled.

I checked the weather to where we are going to make sure I have the right clothing.  When we land in London, we’ll leave the airport and tour and I don’t want to have too much clothing and get hot or too little and be cold.

I do have a few guest bloggers lined up while I am away.  Please forgive me if I am out of contact for a little while.  Might not get good service in Kruger.

Now, can someone get me a cup of hot tea to help me relax?

Our Trip Notebook – How We Stay Organized

I’m sure that there are some seniors and others out there who are like me – a little technology challenged.  I have an IPhone but leave it off when traveling abroad fearing that somehow I’ll end up with thousands of dollars of charges.  I don’t have an IPod either and I’m leaving behind my laptop (too heavy) for this big trip of ours.  I needed to find another way to stay organized while traveling.

We have come up with a system that works for us when we travel whether it is domestically or internationally.  It helps us stay organized and keeps all of our paperwork, tips, confirmations and maps together.

We travel with a flexible three ring notebook.  Ours has a clear pocket cover so we slip in our itinerary so we can glance at it quickly.  Inside we have our flight information.

j1

We then have dividers for each of the cities we are visiting with maps, public transportation maps

J2

as well as a list of places that we want to visit rated by Trip Advisor and from other sites.  There is nothing worse than going to a city and forgetting to see a site that you wanted to see.

J3I also have copies of emails from friends and forums that list things that I should see or do.  Everyone usually is so helpful with sharing information and I don’t want to leave that information behind.  We also put in our notebook all confirmation that we have for excursions, hotel rooms, etc.  As we travel, we have the option of getting rid of the pages we no longer need

We found this method to be invaluable a few years ago.  We had made reservations at a small B&B in Switzerland.  What it actually turned out to be was renting a room in someone’s home – more like an AirBnB than what I think of as a B&B.  We showed up late afternoon and no one was there.  So Blogger Hubby and I drove around and had dinner out.  We went back to this complex where there are our version of townhouses/condo with a multi car shared garage.  I saw a car pull in and I asked the couple if they knew Mr and Mrs “X”.  They looked a little wide eyed at me and it dawned on me that it was them.  I told them we had a reservation for the night.  They denied having any reservations; that’s why they went away for the weekend.  I whipped out my email confirmation out of my notebook and they seemed surprised.  They asked if we had reconfirmed it.  That was a new concept for me.  I said no, we had the written confirmation.  Nevertheless, they quickly brought us into the home, charged us half price and made up the room.  I was really glad that we had the written email to show.  IF it was on my IPhone, I probably would have had to go through many messages to find it but doing it our way, it is at our fingertips.

I’ve just heard about Evernote.  I haven’t tried it but it may work for you.  My son uses TripIt but I found that it culled all the emails of mine when friends would send their flight info and it would think that it was mine.  I haven’t tried it in awhile so it may be fixed.  Let me know if you use either of these sites.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Long Haul Flights – Compression Socks and Exercise

I recently spoke with Dr. Bailey, my physical therapist, about my upcoming long haul flight since I have varicose veins despite them being surgically treated  twice.  Additionally, as many people my age realize, our ankles/feet swell.  I asked her what I should  do to minimize DVT and to help my swollen ankles/feet.  She wrote this article for the readers of Air, Land and Sea.

Travel related Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) occurs due to a slowing of blood flow through the veins.   Blood can pool and a clot can form.   This typically occurs in the lower leg due to gravity and a dependent (hanging) position. Vascular flow is maintained by muscle activity. On long haul flights (longer than 4 hours) muscle activity can be diminished. Combine that with limited space and mild dehydration and certain consumers can be at risk for a DVT. Symptoms don’t generally happen immediately which makes it difficult to spot.

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Things can be done to help prevent the development of DVTs. The following are some tips on how to reduce the risk of developing a DVT on a long haul flight.

    • Hydrate the day before the flight and during the flight
    • Wear compression stockings to keep your legs from swelling
    • Avoid alcohol the night before or during the flight because it will dehydrate you. The same goes for coffee, soft drinks, and chocolate.
    • Try to get an aisle seat so you can easily walk around the plane.
    • Do exercises in your seat or during your flight to improve muscle activity

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Compression stockings and travel socks can be a good tool to help manage swelling and prevent DVTs for both men and women. Stockings with a pressure of 15-20mm Hg are adequate to prevent swelling and DVTs. Travel socks/compression stockings can be purchased online and at several travel websites. For Your Legs is a site that has free shipping and quick service. Be sure to take good measurements according to the brand that you are ordering. Some stockings can also be purchased at medical equipment supply stores. Be careful with sizing as most stockings cannot be returned once they have been opened.

 

Walking and standing during a flight can be helpful in keeping blood flow in your lower extremities. Also make sure to wear clothing that won’t cause any constriction behind your knees when sitting for a long time.

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Exercises can be done in your seat during a flight to encourage blood flow in the lower legs.

  1. ABCs – lift your feet off of the floor and “draw” the ABCs (capital letters) once every ½ hour.
  2. Heel lift/Toe lift –keep your feet on the floor and lift your toes off the floor (hold for 10 seconds) then lift your heels off the floor (hold for 10 seconds) Alternate 10 times every ½ hour
  3. Squeeze your buttocks muscles together as if lifting yourself up in your seat (hold for 10 seconds) and repeat 10 times every hour.
  4. Tighten and squeeze your thighs together as if you are squeezing a ball between your knees (hold for 10 seconds) and repeat 10 times every hour.

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You can also perform some simple exercises while standing waiting for a restroom. Be careful not to disturb those around you and practice good etiquette. Avoid pulling at the seat in front of you or bumping into others as your try and stretch.

  1. Heel lift – Lift yourself up onto your toes and repeat 20 times.
  2. Balance on one foot and bring the opposite leg up toward your chest- hold 10 seconds and repeat 2-3 times each.
  3. Bend your knee and bring your heel up behind you near your buttock-hold 10 seconds and repeat 2-3 times
  4. High Marching while standing in line.

 

Risks associated with developing a DVT for most people are very small but taking a few simple precautions can help you arrive at your destination ready for an adventure.

Thank you for your information.  I’m sure this will help many of my readers including me.

My favorite Hotel Chain – Rezidor Hotels

As I have mentioned before, I’m not really a Hyatt kind of gal…well maybe I am but I am not willing to spend all those hard earned dollars or points staying at the more expensive Hyatts unless they are the free nights that you can get when you open a Hylatt credit card.

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Instead,  I’ve come to appreciate all the benefits of Club Carlson and the Rezidor brand which is Radisson hotels,  Country Inn and Suites and Park Inn and a few more.  I find that they are moderately priced hotels, generally in good locations.  There is nothing pretentious about them.  I like the homey feel of the Country Inn and Suites with their fireplace in the lobby, plenty of warm,  just baked chocolate chip or oatmeal cookies awaiting you.

I began staying in this chain when Club Carlson ran their huge promotion back in the spring of 2012.  We accumulated lots of points during this promotion and were going to use them in Sydney.  After we received the points and before we went to Sydney I became aware of the Club Carlson credit card.  Most of you know the main benefit but for those who don’t let me explain – on your award stay of two nights or longer, your last night is free!  Yes, free.  That has made it, for me, very valuable.  I try to stay in that brand as often as I can so I can extend my points.

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Although award status doesn’t mean too much to me, for those who it does, your award nights go toward Club Carlson elite status.  With the card you are automatically a gold elite and that generally gets me a goodie box in my room free wifi as well as late check-out.

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With our upcoming trip all of our hotel stays are with the Rezidor brand.  They have a strong presence in Europe which I am thankful for.  In Cape Town, we are staying at Park Inn.  In Denmark we have three separate reservations to include our travels at various Radisson hotels.  In total we will be receiving four free nights which equate to over $680  not including the free wifi.   This credit card and this hotel chain are right up my alley.  With 20 points per dollar when I use it at any of their hotels and ten points per dollar anywhere else, it’s easy to rack up points.

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I have stayed at the Radisson Hotel on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls and the staff could not have been more helpful – and that was before I even had their credit card!  It was a great location though to be quite honest, the Marriott was partially in front of the Radisson so if I had to do it over again, I’d do the Marriott unless we got a great view, like we did, of the Horseshoe Falls.  I’ve had mixed reviews at  Park Inn and I’ll say not to stay at the one by the Montreal Airport.  We’re anxious to see the one in Cape Town but I am confident since they were rated highly by Trip Advisor.

Do you stay at this chain or have the Club Carlson credit card?  If you do, what is your favorite perk of the credit card.  If you don’t have the card, what do you like about this chain?

My Luggage Tips

As I mentioned in my previous post, I recently purchased new luggage at TJ MAXX.  Unfortunately one of the pieces is black like so many other bags.  It’s difficult enough finding your suitcase on the airline carousel but imagine finding your luggage in a warehouse like structure when you are ending a cruise.  Literally there are thousands of suitcases!

A friend of mine told me how he had accidentally taken someone else’s bag thinking it was his till he opened it up and found “girly things” in it.  I would absolutely hate for that to happen to me.  Plenty of people think they have the solution.  I know that some tie on ribbons and I did try that but ribbons can become untied.  Others do pom poms but those can get caught on machinery and get pulled off your suitcase.  I believe that I have found THE solution.  A solution that shows that this piece of luggage is mine and no one would confuse my suitcase for theirs.

Here are the Before pictures:

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and the After pictures:

luggage 3

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That’s right, I used a roll of decorative duct tape.  I marked the top, sides, back and bottom so no matter which direction my suitcase comes out on the carousel, I’ll find it!  My husband prefers a plain color stripe on his suitcase.  Me, I like something a little more lively, as you can see.  There are such fun rolls of tape out there.  I even have a roll of pigs flying.  When we went to Australia and New Zealand last year, I knew that we would be going to a penguin preserve so that dictated my tape choice – I had penguins.  There is no way someone would think that this is their luggage, is there?

Last luggage tip – At the airport, when I am checking in my luggage I always take a picture with my cellphone of the luggage tag making sure that the bags destination is the same as mine.  This actually happened to me a few months ago when we left Puerto Rico.  The bag tag showed that it was only going to Philadelphia and not continuing on with me to Richmond, VA.  Luckily I caught the error and the ticketing agent quickly fixed it.  Crisis averted.  Additionally, I take a photo of my bag so if it should get lost I can show them a picture of what it looks like rather than just describing it.

Now that I have given you my favorite luggage tips, what are yours (other than not checking luggage)?

 

WINNER of the $50 gift card – comment #35 chosen at random by Random.org

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Beatriz A. is the winner of the $50 VISA gift card for her comment: I think I’m going to like your blog in the future.  I like your style and I’m also a senior. …not that young.  I like traveling by air to visit grandkids in USA or or overseas for some continual learning about other cultures and having fun at the same time.  Now I need some luck for that $50 gift card.

Well Beatriz you apparently did have some luck.  I have sent an email to you that you need to respond to within three days.  Once I have your address, I’ll mail the gift card out to you.     Congratulations – Jane

 

What Luggage Do You Use?

I get asked quite often which luggage I use.  Time to fess up… I don’t use the high end luggage brands.  Yes, I know that many love the TU MI or the Briggs and Riley, etc but I just can’t see spending that kind of money.  But was it because I was cheap or did it really make a difference?

When we began looking at luggage a few years ago I went to the site that I feel gives an honest evaluation – Consumer Reports.  Yes, I’m geeky enough to love CR.  I always check them before any large purchase and again before many appliance purchases.

When we looked in CR a few years ago one of their top rated brands for luggage was Delsey.  I had never heard of Delsey.  Sure, I knew American Tourister, Samsonite but Delsey?  Blogger Hubby and I went to a large department store near us and they had some.  I was on the right track but I would  prefer it to be a little less expensive than what they were selling it for.  I decided to wait for a sale.  That same day, we went to TJ MAXX for something else and decided to look in their luggage corner.  What did we find?  You’re right if you said Delsey.  We bought two 25 inch bags.  I believe they were about $70 0r $80 each.

We are the owners of the rolling duffel like that in the picture
We are the owners of the rolling duffel like that in the picture

My philosophy is that they will probably last about 10 years or so and when they begin to rip or fray, then I’ll purchase more luggage.  If it is only $70 or $80 per bag, then I feel that I’ve come out ahead.

A month or so later I went back and found the Delsey rolling duffle for only $49 which I promptly put into my shopping cart.

The luggage we purchased was black (like everyone else), royal blue (a little different) and bright red for the rolling duffel.  Find out in my next post how I made my luggage stand out so that I always knew which was my luggage and how others knew that it wasn’t theirs, and no, I didn’t use ribbons!

I have this suitcase in this shade of blue
I have this suitcase in this shade of blue

Thank you to all my new readers from Million Mile Secrets and all the nice comments you left for me from my last post.  It really did warm my heart and I felt like many of us were in the same situation with either being young seniors looking out for our budget.  Of course, being somewhat budget minded would apply to any age group.

Welcome to Air, Land and Sea

Welcome Readers of Million Mile Secrets.  I’m delighted that Darius asked to interview me and to introduce you to my blog “Air, Land and Sea”.

Let me begin by introducing myself.  My name is Jane, I’ve been married for 37P1020079 years to Blogger Hubby and we have three adult children who all have the travel bug.  They were the ones who inspired me to get out and see the world.

I don’t fly first class and usually don’t stay in Hyatts except for that one time in Hawaii where we got two free nights. I tend to be more of a Radisson/Club Carlson or Holiday Inn/IHG patron. I like average rooms when we are traveling because honestly, we don’t spend much time in our rooms.

As a senior on a fixed income, I’m cautious about trying the newest and latest ways to do Manufactured Spending (MS) for meeting spends on credit cards as well as points.  Instead I wait for reports from others to see how it has gone for them.  I don’t want to get stuck with a lot of gift cards or product that I can’t sell on Amazon.  I also live in a rural area and don’t have all the opportunities that others have for MS.

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I focus on all types of travel as my blog name implies.  Readers will read about my plans for a river cruise for next year, my two springs break trips (Puerto Rico with the family and a road trip to Charleston and Savannah with a close friend) as well as renting a home from Home Away Rental for a family holiday weekend. last month.  I focus on many areas of our country to visit as well as spots overseas.  We have so much in our country to see that I like to try and balance our travel.

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Blogger Hubby and I are proud grandparents and we think forward to the time when we can take our grandchildren on a vacation.  Not knowing if we can keep them entertained or if we’ll have enough energy, we were interested to learn of the Intergenerational Trips sponsored by Road Scholar (formerly Elderhostel).

I’m a big fan of cruising and my articles on cruising – how to pick a cruise line, doing your own excursions, how to choose who to book a cruise with and travel insurance – are all part of my cruising series (part one begins here).  We have cruised Australia, New Zealand and the Eastern Med as well as the Caribbean and the Panama Canal.  We have also cruised the Rhine River and will be cruising on the Danube next year.

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If you think my blog is what you would be interested in reading, please consider following me and receiving notification every time a post is made.

To mark the date that I was interviewed by Darius of Million Mile Secrets, I am offering a $50 VISA gift card.  All you have to do is leave a comment and tell me what type of traveling you enjoy doing.  You can only enter once.  Contest will close on Sunday night, August 3rd at 9 EDT.  Random.org will choose the lucky winner and I’ll notify you by email.  You’ll have three days to respond back and if there is no response, random.org will choose the next winner.  Good luck.