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“L” is for luggage

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I got my first set of my very own luggage when I was about 8 or 9; I was so excited! Owning my own suitcases, ones that were mine and mine alone, just seemed like such a grown-up kind of thing. Never mind that the only place I was really going “on my own” was summer camp. It was a two-piece, turquoise blue set, one large case and one smaller – and “overnighter” I think you’d probably call it.

Although I obtained several new sets of luggage over the next few years, that little overnight case just seemed to hang around. I can’t even say it got much use; but it travelled with me through several moves for years until I finally set it out for a garage sale a few years ago.

As I mentioned, there’ve been several sets of luggage since then. And we always tried to make sure the girls had their own suitcases too – initially, a tiny pink “Going to Grandma’s” suitcase that didn’t hold much more than a pair of pajamas, moving gradually to larger pieces. At one point, we bought a purple set and broke it up among the girls – the largest suitcase was big enough to hold the five-year-old and her clothes for a week, besides. In fact, that behemoth is still in service, as the Ottawa girl hauls it back and forth every time she comes home for a visit. It’s big enough for  her clothes, her laundry, anything she’s bringing home to store, and the hedgehog wheel.

One of the luggage lessons I’ve learned is that cheap luggage is cheap for a reason. It usually can’t stand up to the rigors of even light travel. Any strain on the zippers or fabric, and you may find yourself hastily repacking your underwear in the middle of an airport concourse. Now, I’ve rarely seen luggage actually being loaded on or off a plane – I’d like to imagine they handle everything with kid gloves. I doubt it though – you’ll want your suitcase to be able to stand up to a few tosses, and having other luggage land on top of it.

Wheels are another consideration. Almost all luggage has wheels these days, which is a good thing. It makes it easier for people to manage their own luggage. However, wheels break – most suitcase wheels aren’t going to withstand being rolled up and down stairs or curbs, or on and off of escalators for long. Be kind to your wheels! And for the average person, it’s never a good idea to pack more than you can lift – sooner or later, you’re going to encounter a situation where you actually have to carry your suitcase.

The newest luggage is coming in lots of cool patterns and colours. I like it, because it’s distinctive, and might even reflect your personality. I’m also seeing a return of “hard-sided” luggage; I haven’t tried any out yet, but I’m curious as to how these suitcases are standing up to the demands of travel. Are they easily scratched? Broken/crushed? Are the closures/zippers holding up to repeated use?

Of course, most of us only think about our luggage when we’re actually using it. But there’s more to good suitcase ownership than hitting the road, and remembering what to pack. I found this short list of luggage care tips. Feel free to add your own in the comments. And do tell me about your experiences with the newer hard-shell luggage!

“K” is for Killing Time

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Yes, the A-Z in April Challenge is over. But I’m going to try to finish it; I kind of got stuck on “K” but I shall power through!

Killing time. Waiting. Depending on your travel habits, it’s one of those things you could find yourself doing frequently.

Waiting in line. Waiting for a flight to depart. Waiting for a bus to come. Waiting for a show to start. Vacations can have lots of waiting, lots of time where you aren’t doing anything but killing time, waiting for whatever happens next. And if you’re like me, you get…bored.

So it’s important to come up with some tricks and tactics to make your waiting time interesting, at least. And you never know, these little pockets of time where you weren’t doing anything could end up being the times you remember the most. Here’s a fe ideas.

  • Read – a book, a Kindle, a newspaper, heck, even the brochure or guidemap of the place you’re waiting to enter.
  • Write -keep a pen handy and jot a few lines in your travel journal, or compose a postcard to a friend. Send a tweet, or even a quick “wish you were here” via text message.
  • Photograph – take a shot or two of the area you’re in. If you’re stuck in a queue, it’s a really good chance to absorb some of the detail or scenery that surrounds you.
  • Talk – strike up a conversation with other people who are also waiting. “Have you seen this show before, is this your first time in Paris, do you know how often this bus runs?” are all good opening lines. You don’t have to get up close and personal, just chit chat politely. Who knows, this might be one of those conversations that sticks with you forever.
  • Play – if you have a group with you, especially kids, try “I Spy” or an alphabet game. If you’re alone, play Angry Birds on your phone, or see how many world capitals you can name in your head.

What are some of your tricks for killing time?

 

“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!