Sunday, August 20, 2017

Lighted Travel Mirrors

Hotel vanity lighting is notoriously awful. In most cases, the lights are just too dim to allow a woman to see and put on makeup correctly. While some hotels have recently added swing mirrors with extra lighting, most have not. Worst of all, you never know what the next hotel will offer.
I think I have tried just about every mirror on the market, looking for just the right model. The first one was nice but required four large batteries, which made it too heavy to lug around in a suitcase. The second one magnified everything so much that I couldn’t really see my whole face to ensure that my makeup was applied evenly. The third one was simply too small. The fourth mirror was absolutely adorable but the lights were even more dim than the ones over the hotel vanity. The fifth one distorted my face so badly that it was like looking into a funhouse mirror.
Finally, I found this little beauty.
USB Travel Mirror
This is The One. It’s the perfect size and fits neatly into a medium size cosmetic bag. One side is magnified and one is not. It recharges via a USB cord and it holds a charge for quite a long time. Once charged, you can move it anywhere you want without having to worry about whether the cord will reach from the outlet to where you want to sit.
Finally, it weighs practically nothing, which makes it the ideal travel mirror. I’ve used it for two years and haven’t experienced a single problem with it. I’m hoping that it lasts a long time because it really is perfect for my needs.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Traveling Shoes

Most travel experts will tell you to limit the number of shoes you take to two or three pair, and that’s pretty good advice. Shoes can be heavy and bulky.

The two most important things to consider is where you are going and what you will be doing. If you’re going to a tropical resort for a few days and won’t be doing much other than laying on the beach, just bring your flip-flops and maybe a pair of dressier sandals.

However, if you’re heading off to Europe, you can expect to encounter uneven sidewalks, cobblestone walks and steep stairs. So, for this post, I’m going to focus on those challenges.



Flats

I talked about my favorite flats in a recent post. I like to wear them when flying because they are easy on and off, and quite comfy. They are also non-slip and I can cover a lot of airport ground in these. They also work great as house slippers. They are as sturdy as sneakers but considerably dressier. They are acceptable for all but the dressiest occasions.



Sperry on Amazon


Hiking Boots

I pack my hiking boots if there’s the slightest chance I’ll need them. The day that I found myself walking up a steep, twisty turret to kiss the Blarney Stone, I was glad that I’d worn my hiking boots rather than my cute booties. The steps were crooked and slick with rain. If I’d worn the cute booties, my climb would have been a bit risky. They were worth the weight and the space they took up in the suitcase.

Some writers say that you should wear your heaviest shoes during transit rather than packing them but my personal preference is to throw them in my bag. If my luggage gets lost, I’d rather have my cute, versatile flats with me than my hiking boots. I just can’t see imagine to tea at Harrods wearing hiking boots.

Available in black and brown on Amazon


Heels

High heels are my vanity item. While I could get by without them on most trips, I like to take them for evenings out. I don’t have to take them but they do ramp up an outfit for a special evening out. Plus, sometimes after wearing hiking boots all day, it feels good to slip into something more feminine for the evening.

 


Low Price on Amazon


Bonus Shoes

I break the three pair rule with what I call my bonus shoes, something little and light that can fold up and be toted around in a purse. Folding flip-flops or ballet slippers can get you back from a late-night concert or dinner if your high heels are bothering you. I remember leaving the London theatre district one night only to find that the part of the Tube that we need to take was down. We had to do a considerable amount of unplanned walking. Oh, how I longed for those ballet slippers that night.




Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Are Group Tours Worth the Money?

Bus Group Tour to Chichen Itza
I resisted group tours for years. I envisioned a bus full of boring geriatrics with whom I would have nothing in common with. The other thing I imagined was a huge travel bill.

I first dipped my toe into tour group travel with a day trip out of London. We boarded a bus from central London and headed out with a large group to see Windsor Castle, Stonehenge and Bath. I found that I liked having everything managed for me. We paid the bus company and they took care of the transportation and the admissions. Not only were we dropped right at the door of the attractions (thus no parking hassles), but as a group, we were escorted right in and skipped the queue. 

My second foray into group travel was a day trip in Cancun. We boarded a bus downtown and made two stops along the way for lunch, shopping and swimming in a cenote (which I opted out of). We were dropped at the entrance to Chichen Itza where we were disbursed and explored the area on our own for several hours.

Then we got serious about group travel. When we decided to take our first trip to Ireland, my beloved suggested that we try a group tour. I was hesitant because every multiday group tour that I had looked at online was jaw-droppingly expensive. I could book similar trips on my own at half the price.

However, someone recommended that we try CIE Tours. We checked their reviews on Tripadvisor.com and they had very high ratings. When we looked at the site, we were pleasantly surprised at the cost of the tours they offer. We could not beat the prices by booking on our own.

CIE will make you feel a bit spoiled before you even leave home. They walk you through every step of the booking process and even help you find a discount that will apply toward your trip. You can book your own air travel but if you book it through them, your transportation to and from your destination airport is included in the fee.

I highly suggest that you let them book your air travel. They know the best flights and if anything goes awry, they can be your advocate with the airline.

About two weeks before you depart, you will receive a little present in the mail from CIE. They send you a very nice, very sturdy backpack containing all your trip vouchers. They send a map of your destination, as well as a brochure about the country/countries you will be visiting. They send luggage straps and luggage tags. They even send a VAT refund card that you can register before you leave home, making getting your VAT (Value Added Tax) refund quick and easy at the end of your trip.

When you arrive at your destination, you will see a sign saying, “CIE Tours” posted just outside the arrivals area. If you’re sporting your CIE backpack and have used the bright yellow luggage straps, your greeter will notice you instantly and rush to your side. If not, you can find your neatly dressed greeter by the sign.

He will check your name off the list and instruct you where to wait for the rest of your group. If you have wisely booked your air travel through CIE, you will find that many members of your group came in on the same plane or on one that arrived very close to the time that yours did.

You are then shuffled off to a bus where your hand over your luggage and head off toward your first night’s lodgings. This is the last time you will have to drag your luggage until the end of your trip. At every stop, your bus driver makes sure that your luggage gets to your room at check-in and back on the bus at check-out.
Once aboard the bus, your driver will chat along the way and let you know what to expect for the rest of the day. That night you will meet all your fellow travelers for dinner and your guide will give you all the information you need to know for the duration of your trip.

Every day you be well-fed and shuttled everywhere you go. You are never lost or alone unless you want to be. Your driver/guide is your guardian angel who will answer every question and help you to have as nice a trip as possible.

I have traveled with CIE twice. On the first trip, I went to The Republic of Ireland with my beloved. We traveled during the first week of the travel season. Because of last minute cancellations due to a snowstorm in the States, there were only six of us on a bus designed to hold many more. The small group allowed our guide the freedom to be even more attentive than usual. I felt completely spoiled and pampered by the time we had to fly back home.

My sweetheart did not want to come along when I decided that I wanted to go to Northern Ireland. I’d never done an international trip alone but I knew that if I booked with CIE, I wouldn’t really be alone. On this trip, I traveled in the fall and the bus was nearly full. What a wonderful time I had! I was instantly embraced by the whole group. The only meals I had alone were lunches the first two days and that was because I wanted to go off and do my own thing. Otherwise, every meal was shared with then new and now treasured friends. The other advantage to going on a group tour, especially if you are traveling without a companion, is that you will always be safe.

All dinners were included in the trip fee, except for one. All the breakfasts were included. Lunch was generally on our own except for one day when we made a special lunch stop as a group.

The tour company arranged for visits to several wonderful places, many that I would have never thought of on my own, such as Avoca Woolen Mills, Belleek China, Blarney Castle, Bunratty Castle and more. One our first trip we spent a night in Dromoland Castle and on my second trip I spent a night at Cabra Castle. I would have never have thought to arrange such magnificent accommodations myself. Walking tours with local guides were provided in some cities. They also arranged for memorable welcome night and farewell night dinners. If you go with CIE Tours, you will most certainly come home with many wonderful memories.

The comradery of the group was a favorite part of the trip for me. Far from a group of dull fuddy-duddies, I found myself surrounded by fun-loving people of all ages, from 25 to 85. We got to know each other and became fast friends over countless shared laughs. My only regret is that I did not make a point of getting contact information from more of these dear people than I did.

Would I do it again? In a heartbeat!



Thursday, August 3, 2017

Security Socks

After yesterday’s post on getting through security fast was published, I remembered a little something else that I want to share with you and it’s these black lace footies from Amazon.
When I travel by plane, I wear these black Sperry’s. Not only are they easy to slip on and off, but they are also as comfortable as house slippers. The bonus is that they look nice enough to wear just about anywhere.


However, I don’t like to wear socks with them and not wearing socks when you go through security is just gross. I’m not about to walk across that filthy airport floor in bare feet.
These footies are a nifty little solution to that problem. They provide a nice barrier between my bare feet and that nasty floor. While they are not billed as “disposable”, they are inexpensive enough that I wear them once and throw them away. I put them on before I leave for the airport, peel them off after security and then toss them in the trash. I also pack a second pair for my trip back home.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Speeding Through Airport Security

There is a scene in the movie, Up in the Air, where George Clooney’s character shares his secrets for getting through airport security lines at top speed. His primary piece of advice is to avoid getting in line behind families with strollers and to try to get in line behind businessmen. That’s pretty solid advice but there are more simple tricks that will help you just as much.

A speedy trip through security begins before you even leave home. In fact, it begins before you pack or dress to head out the door.
When you check-in for your flight (presumably on your phone or on-line at home, 24 hours in advance) take a moment to head on over to the TSA site and make sure that you know the security screening rules. They do change occasionally. While you’re checking in, also make sure that the name on your boarding pass matches the one on the ID you will present at the security gate.

While you’re looking at your boarding pass confirming that your name is right, look up in the corner of it and see if you have a green check mark and the words “TSA pre-approved” printed there. Regardless of whether you have enrolled in the program, sometimes you will get that privilege for free and without asking. If that lovely green mark and those precious words appear, you have the right to go through the pre-checked line, meaning that you won’t have to take off your shoes and you won’t have to pull out your Ziploc. You can also enroll in the program for a fee but it must be done well in advance of your trip.

Next let’s talk about packing. Whether you travel strictly carry-on or prefer to check your bags is a matter of personal choice. Just keep in mind that the less you carry through security, the less you will have to have screened. If you are checking a bag¸ put nearly everything except for in-flight essentials, valuables and one change of clothing in your checked bag, leaving your carry-on and personal item (purse, briefcase, etc.) as light as possible.

Next, check your carry-on items for contraband. It’s easy to overlook little things like pocketknives, corkscrews, etc., that might have been left in the bag after your last adventure. Ladies, check your purse for lip gloss, nail polish and pointy nail files that will not be allowed through security.

Now that you have cleaned out the banned items, it is time to pack according to TSA guidelines. Make sure that all of your liquids are in bottles no bigger than 3.4 ounces and then put all of those bottles into one quart-sized Ziploc bag. As you pack, put your bag of liquids near the top of your carry-on or in an outside pocket that is easily accessed. You will be required to take out that bag when you go through security and you won’t want to waste time digging for it while in line. The same goes for your electronics. Some airports want even your phones and Kindles pulled out now, so prepare accordingly.

When it’s time to get dressed to go, think about the things that you will have to take off at the airport. Wear shoes that are easy to slip in and out of. You will be asked to take your watch off so why even put it on before you go? I slip mine in my purse and keep it there until I am past the security line. Belts must come off, too. Try to avoid wearing one, if you can.

Before you walk out the door, take a minute or two to look at the airport terminal map on-line. You may find that some airports have multiple security areas to choose from. For example, my home airport is Indianapolis. There are two terminals, A and B, and they each have their own security areas. However, you do not have to use the security line for the terminal you are departing from. You can go through either one. Just past security, there is a short public walkway that connects the two terminals. If B is backed up, I simply turn and go through A. Taking an alternate route can be a major time saver.

While you’re looking at the terminal maps, review the suggested arrival time. The general guidelines are to arrive two hours before a domestic flight and three hours prior to an international flight. However, some airport sites recommend arriving even earlier depending on how busy the airport may be.

When you reach the first security checkpoint, have your ID and your boarding pass ready to present. Once you get past that first point, if you are wearing a jacket, go ahead and take it off while you wait. Dig out that Ziploc bag and your electronics, too.

One you near the bins and the moving belts, stop chatting with your fellow travelers and listen to what the TSA agents are saying. They will give you helpful instructions and will often direct you to the fastest moving line. If you have a choice of lines, pick a line where the more experienced travelers with less baggage appear to be.

When you finally reach the bins, grab two and start filling them. I like to put my shoes, my Ziploc and my purse into the first bin. In the next bin, I put my coat and electronics. Some locations want your electronics in a bin with nothing else, so your coat may have to go in a separate bin. Don’t forget to check your pockets. Nothing can be in your pockets when you go through the screener.

When it is your turn to put your things on the belt, I suggest putting your carry-on on the belt first. It does not have to go in a bin. I put the bin with my purse on the belt next and then the electronics bin at the end. The agents will ask you to make sure that your last item has gone to the scanner before you step into the metal detector.

Once you’ve been cleared, grab your items as quickly as possible and move to the benches just past security to get yourself pulled back together. Do not block the line behind you by putting things back on while standing in front of the moving belt.

Again, listen carefully to the TSA agents, do what they tell you and do not argue. You absolutely will not win.