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“O” is for On Your Feet

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“O” my goodness, I’m more than halfway through the A to Z Challenge. I will finish, I will, I will. Thanks for sticking with me!

We’ve talked about hats to hit the road in, now let’s talk about shoes. Of all the things you pack, regardless of where you’re off to next, shoes are oh so important. Sore, blistered, aching feet can ruin your mood, and leave you with memories of your trip you’d rather not have. “Oh, yes, Rome…no, we skipped the Trevi Fountain because I just couldn’t take one more step without screaming in agony.”

If you are going to be doing any kind of sightseeing on your trip, you MUST wear shoes that are going to feel just as good at the end of the day as they do at the beginning. Most of us are not accustomed to prolonged walking in our daily lives; after an hour or so on your feet, your feet are going to swell, and probably sweat too. Wearing an elevated heel changes the way you carry your entire body. The shoes you travel in should fit well, not pinch or shift, and offer the proper support to your foot and the rest of your body. Socks will absorb moisture and help your shoes fit properly. Your shoes should also offer the right amount of protection for the kind of terrain you’re covering, be it concrete, asphalt, cobblestones, gravel paths or sand.

It always amazes me the shoes that people, particularly women, will wear to theme parks, museums and historical sites. In fact, a couple of years ago, we turned it into a game, and started snapping secret pictures of people’s feet at Disney World. To point out our sightings to one another, we use the code word “Parcheesi.” I’ve seen women hobbling along in 4-inch heels struggling to navigate ramps, stairs and uneven ground. 

I’ve seen children whiny and miserable simply because the sandals they’re wearing, while adorable, have caused the Mother of all Heel Blisters. For children who spend much of the day in strollers, shoes are still important. If they’re not used to walking too far, stubbed toes can happen frequently with a sandal or open-toed shoe. And even in the stroller, a shoe that covers the foot will prevent sunburned tootsies!

We’ve found that the running shoes we wear on a daily basis are almost always the best shoes to wear away from home too. We tend to pack a pair of flip-flops to wear around resort pools or on the beach; and ugly though they may be, a Croc-type shoe is remarkably comfortable and versatile. When the kids were little, we always insisted they wear socks and running shoes on vacation, and tried to lead by example. Another benefit to opting out of the foot fashion parade is that only bringing one or two pairs of shoes leaves lots of room in your suitcase for other things.

You need to keep your eyes on your feet too; check them often throughout the day for “hot spots” that may turn into blisters. Also watch for skin changes that may indicate Athlete’s foot or another problem is developing. Don’t be afraid to change your socks a couple of times in a day, depending on how much you’re walking, to make sure your feet stay clean and dry. And check the kids feet too – often, they won’t say anything about a blister developing until it’s too late.

Check out this cute clip of an upcoming Modern Family episode on The Disney Blog that really sums things up, and made me smile – I couldn’t get the video to embed here!

What kind of shoes do you wear when you travel?

“M” is for Maps

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Moving right along…I may not finish the A to Z Challenge today, but I will finish!

I love maps, particularly road maps. I love unfolding them on the living room floor, or the hood of the car, or a picnic table at a rest stop, and discovering not only how to get from Point A to Point B, but also what else I might see along the way.

I credit my mother for my love of maps. During a family trip when I was about 10, I was given the task of navigating from the passenger seat. I had to figure out how to get that little Chevette from Windsor,Ontario to Emo, Ontario. Was it quicker to go through Michigan to the Soo, or cut across the UP and come back into Ontario north of Duluth. How many days would it take? Where were the rest stops and interesting little towns located?

Putting me in charge of the map sure cut down on the “When are we gonna get there?” All I had to do was look at the map!

No one uses maps anymore. Most people plug an address into a GPS, and follow the computerized directions. Or they “Google map” something, and only ever see that tiny little portion of the terrain that immediately surrounds them. And yet, when I think about the things that can be discovered using a map! Some of the most interesting side trips might only be 40 miles out of your way, but you’ll never know it because the GPS just gets you where you’re going. I worry about an entire generation growing up with very little concept of where they are in relation to anything else, like, say, Lake Huron.

We’ve never had GPS, so that’s one of the reasons we still use a map. And a Google map you printed at home won’t do you much good if you need to take a sudden detour, or missed your turn and want to get back on track without backtracking. So we always make sure we’ve got a good map along with us. And I’ve tried to make sure the kids grow up knowing how to use a map too!

I also like things like attractions maps, etc. You can’t always rely on staff to give you accurate directions (though you mostly can!) I remember one time at DisneyWorld, a fellow traveller regaling us with the story of a Cast Member giving him directions to the Pirates of the Carribean attraction. The CM had a map laid out before her – she gave verbal directions, and placed her finger on the map to show the visitor where he should go. The visitor gently pointed out that that was Space Mountain. (WDW lovers will know that Space Mountain is on the opposite side of the Magic Kingdom from Pirates) Good thing one of them could read the map!

Do you still use paper maps, or do you rely on GPS?

“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?


“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!

“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?

It’s not all downhill from here

Was reading a friend’s blog today, wherein she chronicled some of her experiences with skiing. Although we’ve no snow yet here in the Banana Belt of the Great White North, our thoughts are definitely turning toward the winter recreation season. Her blog reminded me of a great deal that I don’t think gets nearly enough publicity.

Here in Canada we’ve got what they call the Snowpass. Essentially, it’s a program offered by the Canadian Ski Council that gives kids in Grade 4 and 5 the chance to ski for FREE. Be sure to check the website for participating locations – they’re all over Canada.

My earliest ski adventure happened when I was eight; here in Southwestern Ontario, our downhill ski venues are few and far between, so many of us look to Southeast Michigan for quick day trips. I can still count on both hands the number of times I’ve skied since then, but I can tell you this: I love it! There’s just a feeling of freedom and an incredible rush of adrenaline when you’re hurtling down the side of a hill, picking up speed the further you go. And yet, if you’re me, you never feel out of control. Yes, I’ve had my share of bumps and bruises, and I’m a long way from being any kind of an expert, but it’s fantastic!

So, when my own kids were little, I didn’t hesitate to take them over to Mt. Brighton and let them give it a try. They seemed to enjoy it too; I even have a video here somewhere, I’ll dig and see if I can find it.

It should be noted that skiing the so-called “garbage dumps” in Lower Michigan in no way prepares you for, say, Searchmont, in Northern Ontario. I was 13 when I encountered that lovely resort on a school trip; as I stood at the top of the hill, I was shocked to see, you know, trees, right there in middle of the hill. There’s a world of difference between a natural hill/mountain and something man-made.

Nonetheless, get the Snowpass, find a ski hill near you, and let your kids give it a try – and you try it too! It’s one of those things that everyone should do at least once. I’ll make you a deal – apply for the Snowpass, and I’ll post the video of me trying out the baby jumps, and maybe even some photos.