Thursday, October 26, 2017

Makeup on the Move


Travelling with cosmetics is a pain. They can take up a lot of space, there’s that whole Ziploc issue when you fly and there’s always a risk of something popping open in transit and ruining other stuff in your bag.
Yes, I know I could be brave and just leave it all at home. However, I do not want to scare small children I may encounter, so I never travel without my cosmetics and I never will.
Packing cosmetics does present some challenges: 1) You want to keep them secure so that they don’t leak; 2) You’re only allowed to take so much in that little Ziploc; and 3) Organizing your brushes, pencils and compacts can be difficult with some bags.
Using your stuff once you arrive can present some real problems, too. So many guest baths lack the counter space you might need to spread things out.
The best solution is a sturdy makeup bag that can hang on a towel rack near the bathroom sink. I’ve tried many versions and while all have been decent enough, my all-time favorite is this version from Lyceem.

Click here to purchase for $18.99 on Amazon
This bag has so many divided pockets that it is super easy to be super organized. It can sit or lay on a counter. If there is no counter space, it can hang on a towel bar for easy access. The mesh pockets allow you to see exactly what is in every pocket, so you’ll never have to dig around to find what you want.
When you fly, only liquids, pastes and gels need go into your quart-size Ziploc bag. Powdered and solid cosmetics can go directly into your Lyceem. Once you’ve cleared security and don’t need to have the liquids bag out, it slips neatly into the main pocket of the Lyceem.
I have used this bag on several trips and have been quite pleased with it. At just $18.99, I was quite pleased with the price, too.




Saturday, October 21, 2017

Should you buy trip insurance?


Travel can be awfully expensive. When you’re planning a trip, the costs add up quickly. So, should you add another $25-$150 for trip insurance to that already large travel bill? A few years ago, I would have said a firm no. However, I have seen and experienced enough that I’ve changed my stance on that.

So many things can affect travel plans. I’ve seen countless friends cancel travel plans at the last minute due to illness in the family or their own illness. I myself nearly had to cancel a trip because of a surprise, late season snowstorm.

Travel insurance often covers many things in addition to last-minute cancellation. I plunked down $125 for insurance on my last trip. It not only covered me if the trip was cancelled but it also provided extra protection for lost luggage, medical expenses, emergency evacuation and extra life insurance. That $125 investment brought me great peace of mind.

Just like with many other travel options, buying insurance is subjective. Consider the following factors:
  • How much is this trip costing you? If something goes wrong, can you afford to lose the money you’ve already invested?
  • How is your health? Is there any potential that you might encounter health problems when traveling far from home? Does your health insurance cover you once you leave your homeland? Some do not.
  • Do you have loved ones whose health could cause you to cancel or interrupt a trip?
  • How dangerous is your trip? Will you be enjoying quiet days in museums or will you be skiing in the Alps?
  • Are any of your deposits non-refundable?
  • Do you want the peace of mind that insurance can bring? 
I have to admit to making a somewhat costly mistake recently. We were supposed to travel to the U.K. in early October and spend two weeks driving about England, Wales and Scotland. The cost was relatively low. The risk was low. I thought about insuring at least my airline ticket but just never got around to doing it.
Two days before departure, I go the devastating call that my son was diagnosed with a brain tumor and would be having surgery to remove it in just a few days. Of course, the trip was instantly cancelled.
The airline charged a change fee and said that we could use the tickets later if we booked by January and travelled by March. That’s just not going to work for me. My son has brain cancer. I’m not going anywhere for a while. I will be by his side as much as possible.
What did we lose? The cost of the airline tickets, airport transfers and deposits on hotels. I lost about $1500 out of pocket. I should have at least insured the plane ticket. It definitely would have been to my financial benefit to do that. I could have given that recouped money to my son to help with his expenses.
While the loss of $1500 is the least of my concerns right now, I do consider it a lesson learned. From now on, I will always buy the insurance.
On a side note, there is a Go Fund Me page set up to help my son and his wife with their overwhelming expenses as they go through this tough time. If you would like to help (and every dollar does help) you can do so by going to: https://www.gofundme.com/nik-schreiner-vs-brain-tumor.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Save Money by Changing Airports

I live less than 30 minutes away from a perfectly good airport. However, when I travel I often drive to airports in neighboring states. Why? Because departing from an airport just two to three hours away from home can save me as much as $600 on an international flight and $300 on a domestic flight.

When researching flights online, I always mark the box that gives the option of checking multiple airports. Many major cities have more than one. For example, if you fly into or out of Chicago, you can choose between Midway and O’Hare.

As lovely and convenient as our Indianapolis airport is, I rarely fly out of it. I usually find better rates out of Cincinnati but research is key. Sometimes the Cincinnati rates are only about $50 cheaper than Indy, so I’ll pass on those. It’s not worth the cost of gas to drive two hours for that slight difference.

Airfare shouldn’t be the only consideration. Ground transportation can be a principal factor. If someone can drop you off at your home airport and you don’t have to pay for long-term parking, it might be better to do that than drive two hours and then pay for parking.

Convenience can be important, too. When flying to D.C. for a conference a few years ago, I had the choice of landing at Dulles or Reagan. The Dulles flights were cheaper but Reagan was closer to the conference. I could take the subway straight from Reagan to my hotel. That saved me both time and money after landing, so I was willing to pay a slightly higher airfare in that instance.

When you’re booking your flights, a little flexibility can save you a lot of money. Just be sure to weigh all the factors (length of drive, cost of gas, cost of parking and convenience) to make sure that the money you save on airfare is more than any additional costs you might incur on the ground.


Thursday, September 21, 2017

Overcoming Airport Anxiety


A dear friend of mine hates to travel. I once asked her why and it boiled down to the stress of navigating the maze that she perceived airports to be. Having to take connecting flights left her particularly nervous. She hates getting off a plane in a strange city, reading the connecting flight screens and trying to find her next gate. She is not the only person I know who finds all of that to be stressful. I’d say that roughly half of my friends and acquaintances hate airports.
Personally, I find airports to be fun and exciting. I love people watching, sampling different restaurants, checking out art displays and shopping. Once upon a time, though, I also found airports to be intimidating. Like my friend, I really hated changing planes.
How did I make the switch from being a timid flyer to a calm, confident one? The answer is simple: Preparation. The more you know before you go, the more relaxed and confidant you will be while traveling. Preparation eliminates that unsettling feeling that being in an unfamiliar place can bring.
Before you leave, check out the web page for your home airport and any airports that you will be in during your trip. Airport maps can be a wealth of information. If you’re going to be changing planes and your gates are far apart, there might be a short-cut tunnel or a train/bus that will get you to your departure gate faster than walking the length of both terminals. Those maps also show you where the restaurants, shops and restrooms are.
There are some free phone apps that help you navigate your way through the airport. I love Ifly, both the web and the app. You can plug in your flight info and get very specific directions to your next gate. I hear GateGuru is good, although I haven’t tried that one yet.
The most useful app to download to your phone is the one that your airline provides. I am currently a Delta devotee and their app is wonderful. Before you even book a flight, download the airline app to your phone and create a personal profile. You can book flights through the app but if you booked your flight using another tool or even an agency, you can add your flight information using your reservation number. Be sure that your reservation is in the app because the tools provided will come in handy before and during your flight.
Delta’s app allows me to:
  • See how many days are left until I can check in.
  • Check in by phone and keep my boarding pass on my screen, eliminating the need for a paper boarding pass.
  • Check my flight status and receive notifications regarding last minute delays or changes.
  • Pull down up those handy airport maps. The app knows what flights I have coming up and it has those maps in queue for me.
  • Track my checked bags.
  • Record a parking reminder for help in finding my car when I return.
  • See what movies are currently playing in-flight and download an app that provides free entertainment while in the air.
There is a lot of comfort in having all of that information at my fingertips. I am able to travel calm and confident knowing that I can find my gate, my luggage and my car simply by looking at my phone.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Finding Your Bag in a Sea of Black

Have you ever stood in front of the luggage carousel, waiting for your stuff and accidentally picked up one that looks identical to yours? Have you ever seen someone accidentally pick up your bag? Have you ever had a bag stolen at the airport?

The problem is that most of us gravitate to either black, navy or gray luggage. There are only so many suitcase manufacturers out there so it only makes sense that a lot of us carry identical bags.

You may have read on other blogs to tie a ribbon or a scarf on your luggage to set it apart. That’s not a bad idea except that ribbons and scarves are too easily removed, whether by intentional means (by a thief) or unintentional (excessive bumping around while being handled).

There are several affordable and effective ways to set your bag apart from the look-alikes at the airport. My favorite method is two-fold. First, I bought a set of big pink luggage tags. Luggage tags are easy to remove, so as a back-up, I bought pink Duck Tape and put a strip on the bottom of each of my bags. I put it on several years ago and it’s still hanging tight. With my bright tag on the top of the bag (if it has survived the flight) and the pink tape on the bottom of the bag, I can spot my bag quickly no matter which end comes off the conveyor first.

Big, bright luggage tags

Bright strip of tape

Duck Tape

Two other options are handle grips and luggage straps. It’s a matter of personal choice but I say the brighter the better.

Handle Wraps

Luggage Straps

If your luggage is uniquely marked, not only will it help you find it in baggage claim faster but it will help the airline find it faster should it be misdirected. It also deters thieves. Most thieves will avoid uniquely marked bags because they are too easily spotted by their rightful owners.



Thursday, August 31, 2017

My Favorite Travel Accessory

You’ve probably heard the theoretical question, “If you could only take one thing with you to a deserted island, what would it be?” For me, the answer is Huggies baby wipes.

Why? Baby wipes, in my opinion, are darn-near magical. Here’s what I use them for:
  • Makeup remover. They work great on all kinds of makeup. 
  • Shoe polisher. One quick swipe and your shoes will be clean and shiny again.
  • Hand cleaning. I like them better than hand sanitizer to get gooey things off my hands.
  • Stain removal. Be sure to test one out on a hidden area of your clothing first to make sure that it doesn't fade the color. I've never had that happen but that seems to be the standard disclosure.
  • ATM button cleaner - or any questionable surface, really. Keep them handy to wipe down the hotel room TV remote, door knobs or anything else that you suspect might not be sanitary.
  • Spill absorber. Wipes are damp but not too wet when they come out of the package, which means they can be pushed into service to clean up spills. 
  • Quick freshen-up on long flights. Wash your face, cool your neck, wipe down any part of you that needs a quick clean-up.
I’ve tried several brands but the Huggies brand works best for me. They have just the tiniest bit of texture to each wipe, making them more effective than other brands.
Huggies Simply Clean
Now, before you go into doubt mode about what baby wipes can do, think about what substances they are designed to clean and what surfaces they are intended to be used on. ‘Nough said.



Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Travel Flat Iron

On my last CIE trip to Ireland, one of my fellow travelers came to breakfast one morning and confided that she’d just burned off a lock of her hair with her flat iron. She said that it happened in the blink of an eye. She’s not the first or the last woman to experience that.
When you travel to another country, the haircare appliances that you use at home might not act the same, thanks to varying electrical systems. The “medium” setting that you use at home might translate to “super hot” in another country.
I looked around and finally found the international travel iron shown here.
Worldwide Dual Voltage Flat Iron
It comes complete with adapters for the most commonly traveled countries, as well as a thermal carrying case that allows you to pack it in your bag while it is still warm.
The best feature of this model is that the heat settings are not a mystery. Rather than guessing whether you need to set it at low or medium, you can set the exact temp that you want. I asked my stylist what setting I should use. He advised 375 degrees and that seemed to work out well. It was hot enough to style my hair but not hot enough to damage it. If you decide to try it out, ask your stylist what temp you should use for your own hair.
I’ve tried it out in several locations and it hasn’t let me down yet.

Friday, August 25, 2017

When Do You Pack?

Knowing when to pack can be tricky. Some people (mostly men) can pack the hour before they leave for the airport and not miss one little detail. Others start making lists and setting things aside weeks or even months in advance. I fall into the latter group.

I pack early for several reasons, the primary one being that I just can’t help myself. Even though I travel frequently, I still get very excited about each and every trip. I also want each and every trip to go as smoothly as possible. Making lists and packing early helps to facilitate that.

In addition to any personality quirks that you might have, when you pack depends on where you are going and what your personal needs are.

For example, when I visit my mother’s house in Florida, I can pack in one hour. We have a washer and dryer there, so that limits the amount of clothing I must take. We only do beaches and amusement parks, so even haircare, makeup and shoe needs are minimal. Packing for that trip truly is as simple as can be.

However, when we go to Europe, it’s a different story. In addition to clothes and makeup, I take umbrellas, power converters, snacks, electronics, a universal flat iron, maps and much, much more. My next trip across the pond is several weeks away but I’m already making a list and checking it twice.

Oh, let’s get real here – I am already half packed. It’s ridiculous, I know. Why in the world would anyone pack their bags so far in advance of a trip? The simple fact is that I do it because I enjoy it.
I’ve heard that the total enjoyment of any positive experience is 1/3 anticipation, 1/3 experiencing it and 1/3 recalling it when all is said and done. I wholeheartedly agree. Taking my time packing makes it a fun, enjoyable experience rather than a stressful one and it adds to the overall enjoyment of the trip.

My granddaughter recently convinced me of the joys of using packing cubes, so I ordered this set from Amazon. 
$15.99 Packing Cube Set

Actually, I started with the bra barrel and liked it so well that I ordered the whole matching set.
$6.66 Bra Barrel

During last year’s long road trip to Canada, I found myself digging around in frustration for clean underwear that had shifted around with other things in the suitcase. I used the barrel on a short trip not long ago and congratulated myself for spending $6.66 so wisely.


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?

CIE Tours in Northern Ireland
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.