Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Travel Essentials

Good travel gear can make a big difference between a difficult journey and a pleasant one.  I have four tried-and-true favorites that go on every trip with me:
  1. American Tourister Atmosphera luggage;
  2. Lands’ End driving moccasins;
  3. A Michael Kors trench coat; and
  4. A black pashmina.
I bought my Atmosphera at Walmart; proof that smart doesn’t have to be expensive.  Atmosphera is, by far, the best luggage I’ve ever owned.  The smallest bag, pictured here, is a tiny wonder. 

It measures just 14.0 x 8.5 x 15.0, which is smaller than a standard carry-on, but it's roomy enough for everything I need for a casual five day trip.  Because of the size and shape, this tote slides perfectly under an airplane seat, a real bonus when the overhead bins are full. The bag itself weighs practically nothing. 
You can buy this luggage by the piece, which allows you to pick and choose the pieces that suit your needs.  I started with the tote and the largest bag but bought the standard size carry-on bag after using the rolling tote a couple of times.  The tote and the carry-on are all I need even for a long trip.   Prices, range from $39 to $69, depending on the size of the bag. 
These bags are available in rose and black. I bought mine in black and then realized that most people carry black bags.   To set mine apart on the luggage carousel, I put bright pink duct tape across the bottom of each bag.   Since it is on the bottom, the tape doesn’t ruin the appearance of my bags as they roll along but it makes it easier to pick mine out in a sea of similar bags at the airport.  I also put bright pink luggage tags for the handles.   
Lands’ End driving moccasins are another essential item for me.  My black suede mocs have carried me over countless miles through the streets of New York, London and Rome.  I find them more comfortable and a bit more stylish than sneakers.   They are also lighter than sneakers and take up less space in my suitcase.  I use them as slippers, too, because they are so soft and comfortable.  The style that I bought a couple of years ago is no longer available but they still offer a similar version at
The latest addition to my travel essentials is a Michael Kors trench coat that I ordered from Macys, on $99.   It is wonderfully comfortable and durable.  

The liner does not zip out but the coat is so lightweight that you wouldn’t want to remove it anyway. The hood provides good coverage when the rains come.  The pockets don’t zip as the store website says they do but they are big and deep.  You can stash your gloves in the pockets without worrying that they will fall out and be lost. 
Alone, this trench is good for slightly cool temps. Top it with a wool pashmina and you will stay warm even if the temperature drops several degrees.
My fourth travel essential is a nice wool pashmina. They roll up small enough to stash in a purse, so my pashminas always go with me. I’ve bought some while traveling but mostly order them from Amazon.  They come in a wide range of colors and prices.   I have at least a dozen, but my favorite is a plain black one.   Pashminas keep me warm during cold flights, add an elegant to touch to casual outfits and have even covered up an unfortunate coffee stain on white blouse.   A pashmina can also be used a head scarf or lap robe. There are as many uses for pashminas as there are pashminas.
None of these essentials was expensive but each one has proved to be truly priceless no matter where I have traveled.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Stuck at the San Francisco Airport

My brother dropped me off at the San Francisco airport around 8:00 a.m. on a lovely Monday morning. The security line was the longest I have ever seen but it moved quickly. I passed through security in a reasonable amount of time and was even able grab a cup of coffee before I boarded my flight. Once on board, I settled into my seat and thought about how well things were going. Jinx!

We waited. And waited. Everyone began shifting impatiently in their seats and looking to the flight attendants for some explanation as to why we weren’t backing away from the gate.

Finally, the pilot announced that we were waiting for the FAA to make a determination as to whether the flight should take off because there were mechanical difficulties. I will spare you the rest of the details of eventually deplaning and then enduring a grouchy gate attendant (who refused to help anyone because, as he so charmingly announced, his shift was ending). He directed everyone with a connecting flight to the United Airlines customer service desk.

After a nice long walk to customer service and an hour-long wait in line there, I was given the good news that they could put me on a different flight that day. I was given this news at approximately 3:00 p.m. The first available flight they could get me a seat on was due to depart just before midnight. I was given two vouchers for food and sent on my way.

Nine hours. How the heck do you kill nine hours in an airport? I thought about going into the city but decided that it wouldn’t be worth the effort. Surely I could fill the time without having to leave the building.

So there I stood, with a rolling suitcase at my feet and food vouchers in my hand. What to do, what to do?

I turned and it beckoned to me like a ray of light from heaven – the Xpres Spa. I think I actually heard the angels sing. Suddenly, being stuck in Terminal F at SFO didn’t seem so awful.

Xpres Spa offers a full range of services at very affordable prices. The technicians are as well-trained and professional as in any spa that I have visited and the products are excellent. I indulged in a full spa manicure and a shoulder massage. That certainly took the edge off of having too much time on my hands. I explained to the staff that I had several hours to spare, so they invited me to relax in one of their lounge chairs while my nails dried. I was a happy camper.

Once I was completely pampered and relaxed, I wandered off in search of some decent airport food. I didn’t have to search for long. Just across the hall from Xpres was the Firewood CafĂ©. As I recall, I had a yummy slice of pizza and a very nice little glass of wine, using the vouchers I’d been given. Once again, being stuck in the airport wasn’t all that bad.

After dinner, I took a stroll through an interesting exhibit of antique sewing machines, before going off in search of my gate. Once there, in addition to standard airport seating, I found desks with electrical outlets where I could recharge my phone, laptop and Kindle. I was able to set up my computer and write comfortably. SFO also offers free Wi-Fi and I took full advantage of that amenity, reading my email and researching my family history on

I made a few phone calls and then took another walk to stretch my legs. There are some nice, reasonably priced stores in the terminal and they offer just about anything you might want, so I shopped for a while. I played with and nearly bought a new tablet but thought that perhaps the manicure and massage were self-indulgence enough for one day. I took another spin through the sewing machine exhibit just to see if I’d missed anything interesting on the first trip through.

Around 9:00 that evening, I went into the nearest restroom to wash my face, redo my make-up and comb my hair. After that, I went back to the desks and checked my email one last time. Before long, it was time to board my flight home.

All-in-all, if you have to be stuck in an airport, SFO is not a bad place to be.