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Monthly Archives: April 2012

“J” is for Journalling

I’m blogging A to Z in April! Check back often while I catch up!

One of the things I keep intending to start is a travel journal; I haven’t quite got there yet. I’ve got a bad habit of relying on a handful of digital photos and my own memory, but I think I’d appreciate, at some point, having some kind of a written record of the places I’ve seen and experienced. Plus, it would be nice to have a place to actually keep those admission stubs, tickets, site brochures and other minutae that I tend to bring home from any trip.

I think keeping a travel journal is important; it’s a way to recall a time and a place that had some significance to you, and a way to share your adventures with others in the future. It doesn’t have to be a full-length novel – and Amazon has some interesting-looking journals to get you started.

Here’s a cool list of ideas at traveljournaling.com I like a lot of the things they list here, especially the one about “people journalling.” I’ve met an awful lot of people in my travels, and some of them have been quite memorable. There was Dana Starkell, the guy who paddled from Winnipeg to Brazil – I sat next to him on a Greyhound. There was the family we waited in line with once at Disneyworld – the whole family, except for the son-in-law, worked at Disney, while he himself worked at Seaworld. While visiting Colorado, I got to connect with a group of women I’d met online, and meeting them in person was awesome!

The key seems to be journalling WHILE you’re travelling, and I think that’s where my problem is. I always “save” the journalling for later, and then never get around to it. So the next time you’re off on an adventure, no matter how large or small, jot down a few thoughts in the moment. Even if all there is to hand is a napkin; you can always transfer your musings into your regular journal later.

Do you keep a travel journal? Is it online or off? Tell me about it in the comments!

“I” is for Immunizations and Vaccines

I’m blogging A to Z in April! Check back frequently while I catch up!

One  of the things you need to think about before you travel are any health concerns pertaining to your destination in general, or to your own health specifically. A good place to start is by thinking about whether you are up-to-date on your immunization schedule, both “required” and “recommended.”

Think about it. Many of the places we go – beaches, museums, theme parks, resorts, historic sites – feature large crowds of visitors from all over the world. People touch things, cough, sneeze, hang about in queues, eat and drink things that may be different than what they’re used to, etc. Don’t you want to make sure you’re as protected as you can be?

Luckily, the Canadian government has a wealth of information available online; one of the things they recommend is visiting your usual doctor or a travel medical clinic 6 to 8 weeks before your trip. This will give you time to find out what additional immunizations you may want to consider, or what may be required to enter the country you are visiting. Many vaccines may need a certain period of time before you are protected; some may need to be administered in two doses. Likewise, bloodwork to determine if you are already immune to some diseases may need a few weeks to be processed. And tetanus shots in particular seem to be something adults often forget about (I think they’re good for ten years now) Luckily, I have stepped on a piece of glass, a rusty nail and been bitten by a dog at convenient nine or ten year intervals, so I’m always up to date.

This isn’t only relevant to travelling outside of North America either. In fact, the only time I’ve needed an additional vaccine was for a trip to Iowa, of all places. There’d been several outbreaks of measles on college campuses that year, and the organization sponsoring our trip decided that we couldn’t go without the recommended booster. My doctor started by giving me a blood test to determine if I needed the shot. I was 30-something at the time, and hadn’t had one since I was a child. I needed the shot. In fact, although all the teenagers we were taking were adequately vaccinated for school attendance, 4 of them needed the booster for the trip.

If you’re travelling with very small children who may not have received all the doses of the usual vaccines, you’ll want to speak with the doctor about that too. And there are also things like the flu shot – not required, but not a bad idea either.

You can also look up current concerns in the countries you are visiting. Diseases that we may think of as almost non-existent do pop up from time to time – polio, cholera, measles, whooping cough. Forewarned is forearmed!

Have you ever had to get a shot to go somewhere?

“H” is for Hats

I’m blogging A to Z in April! Check back often while I’m catching up!

What is it about hats? I’m of the impression that they’ve long fallen out of fashion for both men and women (feel free to correct me). Every once in a while, there’ll be a resurgence in the popularity of hats as fashion accessory, but for the most part, people don’t generally wear hats, unless there’s a special occasion.

In our family, not a one of us wears hats, usually. That changes when we go on vacation. Seriously, you should see our pictures – we’re all wearing hats.

It started when the children were very small – no trip to the beach, theme park, campground or zoo could take place without a hat to protect the darlings from harmful UV rays. And, consumed by the desire to lead by example, it usually meant we’d don some headwear as well. This has left us with a collection of hats that sits idle in the closet until it’s time to pack our bags. The collection includes, of course, those hats purchased WHILE on vacation, because we’d forgotten one at home. The compulsion to wear a hat while sightseeing has really become ingrained in my consciousness, to the point where, when I saw the picture of my daughter with a monkey on Gibraltar, my first thought was, “where’s her hat?”

I have my theme park DisneyWorld touring hat – it’s a light blue Tinkerbell baseball cap. The children don’t find it half as disturbing as their dad’s orange tye-dyed bucket hat that he wears while cruising DisneyWorld. When the girls were little, they often wore adorable matching bucket hats in various patterns and colours. I remember one particular trip to Niagara Falls; my daughter wore a denim hat with a large flower on the front. At Marineland, she was attacked by a deer twice her size who was determined to taste that flower! And oddly enough, I don’t feel it necessary to wear my Tinkerbell hat anywhere other DisneyWorld – for zoo trips, or beach ventures, I have other hats.

Now that they’re older, the girls typically stick with baseball-style caps or visors that do absolutely nothing to keep the sun off their heads. They’ll often get adventurous with hats, sporty jaunty little fashion numbers that make them look very cosmopolitan. On last year’s trip to the cottage, they bought me a cute floppy hat with a wide brim to wear while I relaxed in the great outdoors.

Do you wear hats? Do you have specific hats for specific travel adventures? Do tell!

“G” is for Gifts and Souvenirs

I’m blogging A to Z in April! No, really. Check back daily, because you’re an optimist! And I am NOT so far behind that I won’t catch up.

“What did you bring me?” It follows on the heels of “Welcome Home!” more often than you’d think. But it’s not a sign of your loved ones’ greed; it’s simply their way of travelling the world vicariously through you. They want to know that the postcard message “wish you were here” was sincere – that you thought of your mother, kids, neighbours, etc, while you were away. And really, you did, right? At least once, for half a second?

Gifts from your travels are a way to share your discoveries and adventures with those around you. No matter where I’ve gotten to, it’s second nature to want to bring something home for the kids -and sometimes my mom, etc. I don’t spend a lot, but I do enjoy searching for things that they’ll like/use/appreciate. Even if it’s just a “My mom went to the Andes, and all I got was this lousy t-shirt” kind of thing. It doesn’t even have to be something place specific – I’ll often see something cute or different that you could probably get just about anywhere but I haven’t seen before. My last travel gift was actually an IKEA purchase (we don’t have an IKEA at home) I hauled home a tabletop greenhouse from Ottawa for my urban farmer husband so that he could start his herbs inside in February.

I think of gifts as the things I bring other people, and souvenirs as the things I buy for myself to commemorate my trip. Again, sometimes it’s just a keychain, but I do keep my eyes open for something different. The ceramic pig in my living room came from a darling little store called The Back Door in Kimberley B.C.  I loved that store, visiting several times during my visit out west, and the memory it provides always brings a smile to my face. And you should have seen the look on airport security’s face when they realized I had a “pig” in my carry-on.

The best, most different souvenir I have is technically contraband from the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. The year was 1985, and I was standing in line for It’s a Small World. The decorative ball atop the queue stanchion came off in my hand – so I put it in my camera bag. Yep, I’ve got a ball of lead from WDW. Can you imagine bringing that through security these days?

I encourage my kids to souvenir shop too, and offer them tips -don’t buy what you can buy at home, try for something a little different. They’ve gotten into the habit of bringing things home as gifts- I have a lovely scarf from Paris, and some funky jewellery from Cuba. Of course, as airline regulations change, and baggage charges climb, the gifts change a little. It’s always a good idea to think first – ok, you want to buy it, but do you want to carry it?

What are your favourite gifts and souvenirs from the places you’ve been?

“F” is for Food

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I’m blogging A to Z in April! Check back every day (except Sundays) for a new post!

Mea culpa. I missed two days and am now playing catch-up – maybe that’s why Sundays aren’t included? They give you a chance to make up for the rest of the week? Regardless…back on track we go.

Food is a HUGE part of travelling anywhere. From the snacks you pack for the car or plane, to the sustenance you require when you get where you’re going, food’s a big deal. For some people, food is one of THE highlights of travelling; new and exotic dishes, local flavours, restaurants that ooze ambience…eating is part of the trip.

Sadly, I am not one of those people. I’m not a particularly adventurous eater, and I usually don’t have a very big appetite. Very often, when forced to choose between eating and doing, I’d rather do – I can always grab a snack later.  When my daughter confessed to frequenting McDonalds while visiting Italy, France and England, I understood completely – I’m always reluctant to spend the time and money that eating well usually takes too.

I do understand that for most travellers, this is not the case. Part of the adventure is sampling local cuisine, enjoying the  dining experience, and, of course, taking pictures of the unique and creative ways that food can be presented in various places. This is know, in Internet terms, as food pRon. (unscramble the letters, it makes sense)

Admittedly, it was on a cruise that I first tasted lobster. Likewise, a chilled banana soup that sticks in my mind 20 years later. And Mexican food in Cozumel was a darn sight better than Taco Bell. And there’s a little place called the Sugar Shack on Highway 11 in Northern Ontario that makes THE best pancakes with maple syrup ever.

What’s the best dish you’ve tasted in your travels? Favourite restaurant? Share your recommendations!

“E” is for Electronics

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I’m blogging A to Z in April! Check back daily (except Sundays) for a new post!

I hinted at this with the “D” post yesterday, but have you noticed how our attraction to electronics has changed the traveling experience? The TV commercials make it all look so easy – just whip out your phone and snap a pic of the two of you in front of the Trevi Fountain. Edit and email this great video clip of you (or someone) whitewater rafting on the Colorado before your hair’s even dried.  Skype your conference call and no one will ever know you’re in a Tokyo hotel room instead of in your office in Duluth.

iPads, phones, laptops, cameras and even Kindles – yes, even Gameboys and portable DVD players –  are awesome tools and toys to have along with you for the trip. But it also translates into more stuff to carry and keep track of -and eventually it’s all going to have to be plugged in to something and recharged.

Is it any coincidence that the airlines started to charge for baggage right about the time our concept of travel neccessities started to change? In 1999, I could have done just fine with a carry-on only; now the gadgets and cords and chargers take up valuable space. On a recent overnight trip to Toronto, I realized that the number of cords in my bag outnumbered the pairs of clean socks! When we travel by car, we’ve even taken to designating a bag as the “electronics” bag, keeping all the cords and chargers in one place. MInd you, as someone who once shared the task of carrying a JVC Super 8 movie camera up Dunn’s River Falls in Jamaica, the toys themselves have gotten a lot lighter. It just seems like there’s so much more of them!

Hotel rooms aren’t exactly keeping up with progress either. Whereas we used to check in, dump our bags and reach for the remote, we now spend the first half hour locating all the outlets, so everything can be plugged in to recharge. And there are never enough outlets, or they’re in wildly inconvenient places.

What are your electronic must-brings when you travel? How do you deal with the plethora of cords and batteries while on the road?

“D” is for digital cameras

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I’m blogging A to Z! Check back every day in April (except Sundays) for a new post!

When I was a kid, making sure the Instamatic had a full roll of film and fresh batteries for the flash were a part of every vacation. (or flashbulbs- remember the flipflash?) With only 12 or 24 exposures available, I had to choose carefully which of those travelling moments I was going to record for posterity. And I remember one time, showing off my Florida pictures to a relative, he complained, “there’s no people in your pictures. There should be people.” My view was that the people I was traveling with were typically people I saw all the time; far better to expend my film on once-in-a-lifetime views.

Digital photography changed all that. With a digital camera in my bag, I could record people, places and scenery with abandon – and if the shot didn’t come out right, well, it could be deleted with the touch of a button. There’s no question that digital photography has changed everyone’s travel experience -you only need to look at the hundreds, or thousands of pictures downloaded after every trip.

But digital cameras have brought their own nuisance factor to travelling. First of all, almost everyone along for the trip usually has a camera, and they’re not afraid to use it.  So now you end up with 100s of photos times four or five – everyone wants their own shot of that monument or museum display. Waiting for everyone to take their picture of that fabulous statue before we can move on just about wears out my patience. Not to mention the room that multiple cameras, battery packs, chargers and cords takes up in the carry-on luggage.

And then there’s the photos themselves. Yes, it’s nice to be able to show off pictures on Facebook and email vacation adventures to faraway friends, but all the viewing requires a computer or digital frame. One of the things I remember as a child is repeatedly sitting down with the family albums in a quiet spot and looking over this pictorial record with my mom or my brother. That hardly ever happens now. Sure, you can print the photos – or some of them (seriously, how many of those hundreds end up being worth printing?) But mostly, people don’t. And  sitting side-by-side in front of a screen just isn’t the same as cuddling up on the couch and turning the pages.

And what happens to those photos eventually? Well, I try, every now and then, to burn a few CDs or DVDs, but then the CD just gets filed away and rarely looked at anymore.

I suspect this is why, even though it’s easier than ever to take your own pictures, souvenir photos have skyrocketed in popularity. Your family enters a venue or restaurant and someone else takes your picture. An hour later, you have a nice hard copy that you’ll take home and frame. You might have three versions of the same shot on your memory card, but you buy the photo anyway, because you kow in your heart of hearts it’s likely to end up as the only printed record of the moment.

Do you print your digital photos?