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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!

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“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?

No self-respecting Canadian waits for a warmer day…

There’s a rumor going around that we Canucks love us some cold weather.  And while I’m sure that may be true in many cases, I think it’s more likely that we Canadians love us some winter recreation -hockey, skiing, skating. Or maybe it’s just a matter of playing the hand we’ve been dealt. In most of the country, most of the winter months are…well, cold. And snowy. And what, you expect us to stay inside ’til spring?

As a Southern Ontarian, I can’t say I enjoy the winter. And luckily, in Southern Ontario, especially this year, the winters aren’t awful. So far this winter, I think we’ve maybe had three days with snow on the ground. And that’s how I got to the ripe old age of 40 without ever having skated on ice that’s a body of water at other times of the year.

But that’s not true anymore! As of this past week, I can now say I skated on the longest rink in the world – the Rideau Canal. Which also means I can cross one more of Canada’s World Heritage sites off my to-do list.

While the folks at home were enjoying mild temperatures and ditching the gloves, I spent a few days visiting my daughter in our nation’s capital, where people actually walk around the mall in snowpants.  We packed up our skates on Friday and bundled up and set out for downtown – when in Rome, etc etc.

What a cool experience! The first thing you want to consider, of course, is how you’re going to haul your skates to the Canal, (especially if you’re not driving), what you’re going to do with your boots while you’re skating, and then how you’re going to drag your skates around when you’ve had enough and just want to go shopping indoors. Luckily, my daughter’s an old hand at this, and packed up the backpack. The only thing we forgot was a plastic bag to put our wet boots into before we put them in the backpack.

You can also rent skates right there at Marker 0.0. If you have little skaters that might tire sooner than you, you can also rent nifty sleds that go right on the ice (I noticed many families using their sleds to haul their stuff instead of their kids). I think there may be a limited number of rental lockers available in the skate changing shack, but I’m not clear on that. And I suppose you could leave your boots tucked under a picnic table, especially if you’ll be returning to your point of origin (a lot of people don’t), but I wouldn’t recommend it. Take a backpack and carry on!

At or near Marker 0.0. (and possibly elsewhere), they have washrooms, a skate changing shack, the skate rental booth and several food booths selling goodies like hot chocolate, french fries, maple sugar candy and of course, Beaver Tails. I’ll get to those in a minute.

If you’ve never skated on “real” ice before, you should know that it’s not necessarily all shiny and smooth like an artificially created rink. There are bumps and ridges and grooves, so you’ll want to watch for those. Every little bit there are stairs that allow you to leave the rink if you’ve had enough. We skated from 0.0 to the 1.0 km mark, and then back again. I saw everything from senior citizens to tiny kids, and countless teenagers. I didn’t think to wonder why so many weren’t in school on a Friday afternoon. (though I’m wondering now) There were skaters who had clearly never been on skates before and speed demons that whizzed by in a blur.

It was wonderful! After we arrived back at 0.0 I had my next new experience – I ate a Beaver Tail!

Beaver Tails are heavenly handfuls of deep-fried doughy goodness sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. I now know why so many people were upset when the Canada Pavillion at Epcot stopped selling them. You can also get them with toppings- everything from syrup to Reese’s Pieces, but I stuck with plain to start with. Frankly, after skating 2 km, I could have eaten three, but we had sights to see and kept moving.

So, if life happens to take you through Ottawa one winter day, be sure to try skating on the Canal. It’s a neat experience, and because you braved the cold, and didn’t wait for a warmer day, you’ll have earned that Beaver Tail. Have fun!

Words to Go

Well, I’m still not quite ready with that conference report; for one thing, I have a Destinations test tomorrow that I’m studying for, and you would not believe how difficult it is to keep all of these attractions straight – the Scandinavian countries just might be my downfall.

I did want to report in on a travel aid that I brought with me for the first time, though. Anyone who knows me, knows – I’m a reader. At any given time, we’re housing hundreds of books. So just think about what a challenge that presents when it’s time to hit the road! I mean, what’s a road trip, flight, train ride or stay-away without reading material?

So this time, I brought the Kindle. It’s borrowed, but oh, what a lovely little treat it has turned out to be! It fit neatly in the side pocket of my briefcase/bag and weighs almost nothing. On the subway and bus, I could just pop it out, read for a while, and pop it back into the bag without even worrying about turning it off, thanks to the automatic sleep mode. No losing my page, no trying to turn pages with my mittens on, I could even read one-handed!

So, instead of choosing my travel reads by weight, as I’ve been known to do, I was able to get a third of the way through Stephen King’s new novel – 840 pages in hardback, light as a feather on Kindle.

Two of the daughters have Kindles (who did you think I borrowed from?) and they’ve both used them while travelling. Middle daughter said it was especially nice to have access to her travel guides while moving around Europe. And Older daughter even figured out how to email from hers.

I’d never suggest that ereaders should replace books entirely. But if you’re on the move a lot, and also read a lot, they may just be the perfect way to mesh those two past-times.

Do you use an eReader? How has it changed your travel experience?

Homeward bound

Interesting day at the Students in Travel conference – lots to think about and consider. Now I’m enjoying the wifi on the train and the fact that I’m off my feet after  long day with lots of walking and standing. Via Rail is having a special this month on their travel mug – buy it for $8 and get free refills all of November. So that’s what I did on the way up yesterday.

Promise to expound on the conference once I’ve processed it all. For now, it’s just nice to be going home.

Travelling light

When I was a little girl, I used to spend two weeks at camp every summer. My mother would let me pack my own suitcase; then, the night before departure, I’d have to drag it out into the dining room for inspection. Whereupon, my mother would add all the things I hadn’t thought of, and any extras she believed I would need. (she was usually right) The end result was that my suitcase always seemed to contain far more than I would need for 13 nights away, and it was full full full.

You would think that after years of cramming a family of five – and their luggage – into a minivan for vacations, that I’d be an expert reducing my luggage to its essentials.

You would think, but you’d be wrong. All those folks that were so upset about airlines charging for checked bags? Yeah, I was one of them. This, in spite of the fact that I usually get where I’m going, use only half of what I brought, and always swear that NEXT TIME it’ll be different.

I’m off to Toronto for the Students in Travel Conference tomorrow; I’ll be away from home a total of 39 hours. Theoretically, I need what I’m wearing tomorrow, something to sleep in, what I’m wearing for the conference on Tuesday, and that’s about it. Sounds easy, right?

Ha!

First, what am I wearing on the train? The train is often cold; I’ll need layers. Plus, things to entertain me, like the laptop, Kindle, etc. And train snacks. At the other end, I’ll be staying with a friend, but I need to use the TTC to get there; hence, I will need my coat, mittens, and possibly a hat. And my umbrella.

I have to decide now what I’m wearing to the conference on Tuesday. Not too big a deal, but what if I change my mind? What if I spill something on my shirt, or something rips? Will the convention centre be blazing hot, or freezing cold? And then there’s the fact that everything I’m not wearing will have to go to the conference with me – on the bus – because I’m leaving on the train again right after. Plus, I’ll want to make sure that whatever I’m wearing will also be comfortable train attire. And the train is often cold, etc.

The inability to travel light isn’t the only thing that’s stopped me from being a world traveller yet, but I have the feeling it’s something I’m going to need to get a handle on.

What are your favourite tips for travelling light?