Sunday, July 23, 2017

Timing Your Travels

A great many people travel to Europe in the summer but I prefer the spring and fall, commonly known as the shoulder seasons. Why? For one, thing it is much cheaper. If you want to know how much cheaper, just take a look at the tour schedules and prices on the CIE Tours site or the Avalon Waterways site. You will instantly see the difference between the peak and the non-peak seasons. You will enjoy the same savings whether you are traveling with a professional tour group or out on your own.

There are many other advantages to traveling off-season:
  • The outdoor temps are more comfortable. I’d rather wear a light jacket and be comfortable than be sweltering on the hot pavement when sightseeing.
  • The crowds at airports, restaurants and attractions are smaller. You can avoid standing in long lines at the museums and historical sites. When we toured the Roman Forum one fall, we didn’t ask for the private tour but there was only one other couple in our little group, so it felt very much like a private tour. When we took a CIE tour early one spring, there were only 6 of us on a bus designed to hold about 30 people.
  • The service level increases because tour guides and service people aren’t as stressed as they might be during peak travel season. 
  • I like my fall clothes better for travel. It’s easier for me to pull together a polished look by layering fall clothes than it is to pull together a outfit that I won’t melt in during summer.
  • Most people and places smell better in cooler months. Many Europeans, while very clean, do not use deodorant as we Americans do. For that reason, I’d rather enjoy their company during the cooler months. The same goes for enjoying the streets of Europe. Trash cans don’t emit the same aroma in March or December that they do in July or August.
  • There are fewer weather related travel problems. Going in the spring and fall helps you to avoid the flight delays that frequently occur in peak hurricane and/or snowstorm season.
  • The availability of hotel and B&B rooms increases, while the price goes down.
  • The scenery is usually much prettier. Just to prove my point, here are a few off-season travel shots. 

Ireland in March

Pompeii, Italy in Autumn

Rome in Autumn

Westport, Ireland in October

I’d make a list of the disadvantages of off-season travel but I can’t think of a single one. I know that some people have work schedules that get in the way or they can only travel when the kids are on summer break, but if you can go during the shoulder seasons, I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Getting Comfy in Economy

Is getting comfortable at all possible on a long-haul flight in economy class? I think it depends on your attitude and your definition of comfort. It also heavily depends on how well you prepare. Everything from the seat you pick to how you pack can affect your in-flight comfort.

Many travel experts say to avoid seats near the toilets because of noise and traffic but I find that area to be my favorite place to sit. If you do have to get up during flight, your walk to the facilities is shorter, plus the noise isn’t any more noticeable than the roar of the jet engines.
I prefer an aisle seat because it is easier to get in and out of, plus I can stretch my legs out for a few seconds whenever the aisle is clear. My travel companion prefers the window seat because he likes to lean against the wall to sleep but I find the window seats to be much colder on long flights, so I avoid that option.
The row behind the emergency exit row is good. On some airlines, the exit row seats don’t recline so you won’t have the seat in front of you too close to your face. In addition, some planes now only have two seats in the emergency exit row so if you sit in the window seat just behind it, you might have some glorious extra legroom.
Here are a few things that I like to keep handy in-flight. All of these items are available through Amazon. If you want to learn more about each item, click on the links provided.

I love this set because the mask is molded in a way that doesn't rub against my eyes and ruin my make up but also because it also comes in a neat drawstring bag that keeps it clean and easy to find in my purse.
Take an empty water bottle and fill it up after you pass through security. You'll want sips of water throughout the flight and it is nice to have your own bottle in hand.
Three little puffs of air are all it takes to blow up this magnificent pillow. What the picture doesn't show is that it rolls up to the size of a burrito and can be attached to a purse or luggage strap. It also has built in wrist supports so that your arms don't go flip-flopping about while you sleep.
Load your Kindle up with books, movies and games before you leave home and you need never be bored. I used to take magazines and books along but they add unnecessary weight to your load.
On long flights, brushing your teeth with a Wisp before and after you sleep will help you feel refreshed.
Travel can be dirty and gross. See the "Settling In" section below.
Ok, I am old. If I'm going to read or watch a movie on that tiny little entertainment screen, I'm going to want my readers close at hand.
I don't know why but take-offs and landings make my sinuses go nuts. I can go through an entire travel pack of tissues on a single flight.
You never know when the dry cabin air will give you a killer headache. It's better to have Ibuprofen and not need it than to need it and not have it.
Put these things in a bag small enough to stash under the seat in front of you because you will definitely want easy access to them in-flight.
One of the most effective ways to ensure your in-flight comfort is to dress for it. Thank goodness that the short-lived trend of wearing pajamas to the airport has passed, along with the equally unattractive wearing of obvious yoga pants.
You can dressy comfortably and still be reasonably stylish.  Opt for soft knits with no zippers or fussy fastenings. Leave the belt at home or in your suitcase, if possible. I have a Wearever suit from J. Jill that is as comfy as PJs but that can be dressed up or down to suit almost any occasion. No matter what I wear, I always top my outfit with a black pashmina for extra layer of warmth.
Footwear can make big difference in your comfort before and during your flight. Don flat, easy slip-off shoes, such as Sperrys or Lands End driving mocs.
I sit on my coat to provide easy access should I need it and also to save space in the overhead bins. Just don’t drape your coat or any part of it over the headrest.  You don’t want to block access to the tray or the in-flight screen for the person sitting directly behind you.
Once I am seated and waiting for everyone else to board, I clean the seatbelt buckle, the armrests and the fold-down tray with sanitizing wipes. Seatmates often snicker until they see how black the wipe is when I’m done cleaning. At that point, they often ask if I can give them one so that they can wipe down their own area.
I take the airline pillow and place it behind the small of my back. It’s usually way too small to serve as a decent head pillow but tucking it behind your back provides welcome extra cushioning. I’ll generally put the blanket the seat back pocket for later use.
Reclining your seat is never a question on international flights because everyone does it. Just avoid doing so during mealtime. You’ll be less likely to spill if you are fully-upright while eating. Plus, you don’t want to cramp the dining space of the person sitting behind you. Once the meal is over and the trays have been collected, feel free to recline.
After dinner is a good time to make a trip to the restroom. I brush my teeth with a Wisp and freshen up in general. If you like, you can use a baby wipe to clean your face. I prefer to travel wearing Estee Lauder Double Wear makeup and I leave it on until we land. It still looks fine when I deplane and I can always freshen up when I arrive at my hotel.
Once back in my seat, I cover my legs and feet with the airline blanket and cover my upper half with my pashmina. I blow up my pillow and settle in to watch a movie until I fall asleep. I’ll keep my sleep kit handy and put it to good use just before I drift off.
What works for you might differ but this routine works for me. I’ve been able to sleep this way on every long-haul flight that I’ve been on.
Above all, watch your attitude and your manners along the way. Getting into a petty disagreement with a fellow traveler will only make everyone angry and uncomfortable for the duration of the flight.
If you’d like a few laughs and some examples of how not to get too overly comfy on a flight, I suggest you visit Passenger Shaming on Instagram.
Most important, try to keep your sense of humor. After all, even the most uncomfortable flight in the world consumes only a few hours of your life. This too shall pass.
Happy travels!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Travel Tips: Fact vs. Fiction

It’s been a long time since I last updated this blog.  Over the past three years there have been a lot of changes in my life that have kept me quite busy. I have been blessed with a third grandchild, started a new day job and gone back to school. I also took some time to write and publish my second novel, Uncle Imblay’s Fortune.

Now, however, the baby has become a toddler, I have settled quite happily into my job, I have graduated from school and the book is on the market. I once again have the time to do regular blog posts.

I have been reading travel stories on the web in stolen moments here and there, and I am bothered by the amount of bad information that some of these stories contain. Some seem to be written by people who write but apparently who do not actually travel. Some of the information they post is inaccurate and some of it is just plain wrong. Their ideas get picked up and reused by other writers who likely don’t travel either but have decided to write travel stories anyway.

So, in my return to blogging, I am going to expose some of these erroneous tidbits and speak the truth as I have learned it from my own travel experiences.

If you freeze your bottle of water, you can get it through security because it is now a solid and not a liquid.
No, no, no. Even though it sounds logical, it does not work. I have seen that trick attempted at least four times and each time it has failed.
Buy a reusable water bottle and fill it after you pass through security. I bought this one from Amazon:  Water Bottle.
It rolls up quite neatly and clips onto a purse or luggage strap. Many U.S. terminals have water bottle filling stations available and if the terminal you are in does not provide them, many of the terminal restaurants/bars will gladly fill your bottle for you.

Dressing up improves you chances of a getting an upgrade to a better seat.
Dressing up has absolutely zero effect on the chance of getting an upgrade.
Check the availability of upgrades 24 hours prior to departure when you check in online. If your flight isn’t completely booked, you might be able to fork over a little bit of cash and move to a better seat. In fact, sometimes if you check back just a few hours before your departure, you might find that your airline offers last minute upgrades at a steep discount.

Bring the flight attendants a box of candy and you might score free drinks or other preferential treatment.
Flight attendants must abide by strict rules regarding the services that they can provide. They cannot provide first class amenities to economy passengers. Asking for or expecting amenities that you have not paid for puts them in the uncomfortable position of having to refuse your request for special treatment.
When you board, look your attendant in the eye and return their friendly greeting with a friendly greeting of your own. Treat each one with as much respect and consideration as you would like to be treated with and they will treat you in the same manner.

Reserving the middle seat in a row of three may get you the entire row because people traveling together won’t book the other seats on either side, leaving you an entire row to yourself.
I almost fell over laughing when I read that one. For one thing, a great many people travel solo these days. Reserving the middle seat will only guarantee that you get the worst seat imaginable.
Book the seat that you truly want. I prefer the aisle because I can sometimes stretch my legs out in the aisle briefly and because I find that it makes getting in and out of my seat a bit easier. My boyfriend prefers the window seat because he likes to lean against the wall when he sleeps and he enjoys looking out the window.

Take a picture of your passport with your phone because if it is lost or stolen, you might be allowed to board the plane with the screenshot.
Nope. That is not going to work. Ever.
Do take that picture but don’t expect to use it as a substitute for a lost/stolen passport. If your passport goes missing, take that picture to the nearest U.S. embassy to apply for an emergency replacement. They can process your request using just your vital information, but having a picture of your current passport will help expedite the process.

Save money by taking your own liquor aboard in toiletry sized bottles.
You can take it aboard but you cannot drink it during your flight. It is against regulations. Some flight attendants may look the other way if you drink your own hooch but others may not. Why risk it?
If you really can’t endure a four or five hour flight without an alcoholic beverage, just fork over the $9.00 or $10.00 for the cocktail of your choice. If you’re flying internationally, many airlines, such as Delta, provide a free cocktail with the main meal.

It is cheaper to fill small bottles with the toiletries you need rather than buying expensive travel sizes.
It can be cheaper to fill small bottles from your shampoo stash at home but travel sizes aren’t expensive.
Visit the travel aisle in Target or Walmart. Travel sizes of shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, cleanser, etc., cost about $1.00 each. Your local dollar store can also be a good source for affordable travel toiletries. For the low cost of $5.00, you should be able to get most of the lotions and potions that you need for your trip.

Reading travel tip articles can be fun, just don’t believe everything that you read. Before you go on any trip, take just a few minutes to review the TSA Travel Guidelines as well as the travel tip section of the site for the airline(s) you are flying with.

Happy travels!