Archives for posts with tag: travel

Vacation season isn’t over yet. You still have time to pack for a trip. Remember, packing is an art, a skill, a challenge. The challenge, of course, is to arrive at your destination with underwear.

To meet that challenge, here are a number of packing tips developed by experienced travelers who have never been stuck in the middle seat between two crying 1-year-olds.

First, choose your suitcase carefully. (We assume here that you’d rather not check your bag since that would mean an increased possibility of it ending up in Beijing when you are going to Grand Rapids.)

Understand that the bigger your suitcase, the likelier you can’t get someone else to lift it for you into the overhead bins. Also, if it’s too large, you will feel required to fill up all the extra hidden pockets, thus bringing scuba diving equipment with you to the mountains.

The choice between hard-sided or soft-sided, wheelie or non-wheelie, is, of course, a deeply personal one, dependent on your religious background and whether you believe hard-sided, non-wheelie is truly the work of the devil.

Once you have chosen a suitcase, remember the goal is to fill every inch of available space. That means putting socks inside shoes, then putting toothpaste inside the socks. Jam that rain jacket into the sleeve of those pajamas. Fold your flip-flops and stuff them into your dental floss dispenser.

Limit what you pack. First, take everything out of the closet that you are considering taking with you and lay the items on the bed. If you can’t see the bed, you need to pare down a little. If you can’t see the floor, you need to re-schedule the trip.

Put heavy, bulky items in first, at the bottom of the suitcase. If you only have heavy, bulky items, you can ignore this tip, but why are you traveling with cannonballs?

Try rolling your items. This will maximize space and minimize wrinkles but can be difficult to do with the handmade Guatemalan pottery flower vase you are bringing as a birthday gift for Aunt Sophie.

If rolling doesn’t work, try the bundling technique. Carefully wrap each article of clothing around a central core, with underwear and T-shirts at the center, and large tailored items like blazers and dresses as the outer layer. While this technique is utterly useless, unraveling the bundle does make a fun getting-to-know-you game if you meet anybody interesting at the hotel.

You also could use packing cubes. These are smaller bags that you put inside larger bags that you put inside enormous bags that you try to fit into your suitcase, just as soon as you have taken out several of the cannonballs.

Then there’s my method: Take anything you want. Jam it all into the suitcase until it screams for mercy. Don’t worry about wrinkles because where you’re going, no one knows you. Sit on the bag until you can close it. Pull the zipper tight until you can lock it or it breaks.

Hope that the airline loses your bag.


It’s summertime, it’s vacation time. But before you can actually take a vacation and luxuriate in the fact that you’re on vacation and don’t have to plan taking a vacation, there are several things you need to do.

  • Put a vacation stop on your mail.

We are assuming here that posting to Instagram is not your only method of communication and that you still use the U.S. Postal Service on occasion. By putting on a vacation stop, when you return home your mailbox won’t be filled with 17 credit card solicitations, 14 mountain foreclosure sale advertisements, seven clothing catalogues, three cards telling you you’ve won a free trip to Cancun (if you will just call this number) and many coupons for Arby’s.

  • Tell your credit card companies that you are going on vacation and will be out of town and to keep an eye out for odd transactions from odd places.

This way, when the credit card company gets a transaction for thousands of dollars of jewelry bought in La Paz, Bolivia, you will realize you should have gone to La Paz where there are good buys on jewelry

  • Decide where you want to go.

For instance, I like the mountains. My wife likes the beach. So of course, we’ll be going to Poughkeepsie, which has neither, but is a great spelling bee word.

  • Decide how you’re going to get there.

Yes, you could fly. First, you’ll have to make your reservations before the price goes up.

Oops — the price just went up. But if you are willing to travel from a different airport on a different day to a different place and don’t mind that you’ll be sharing a seat with crying triplets, it’s a deal.

However, you also could spend three and a half hours in the airport before your delayed flight is canceled. Fortunately, the airline says they can get you there on Wednesday if you don’t mind standing during the flight, probably between seats 14A and B. And they definitely will ultimately get your bag to you, probably no later than Friday.

Instead, you could drive. This would allow you to take as much stuff as you want, and not pay for your first bag or take off your shoes in the security line when you are wearing very old socks.

But there could be traffic. There could be drivers in the left lane who are going 10 miles below the speed limit even though you are screaming at them to go faster. There could be drivers in the right lane that have had their turn signal on since Indiana. The only place on the road to stop for a bite will be Arby’s, and you left all the coupons at home.

  • Decide what you want to do when you get to your vacation spot.

Some people like to just relax on their vacations while others like to explore and discover. Still others like to argue with the airline about where their suitcases are.

Your flight is on time.

This includes the extra 47 minutes we’ve added to your 52-minute flight time so if we only arrive 26 minutes late we can say we were early.

We do not include in this estimation the 32 minutes it will take to move the plane to the gate, the nine minutes to open the gate door, the six minutes to wrench your carry-on out of the overhead bin, the two minutes to apologize to the woman you just hit with the carry-on as it was falling down and the five minutes to actually get off the plane without having to say “b’bye” to all members of the crew.

This also does not include the 48-minute walk from the gate (last one on the left) to the exit and the one-hour wait for a taxi.

Please continue to monitor your flight status to see if we’re going to stick with this absurd claim of being on time even though we have no idea if the flight that’s coming in, which will eventually become your flight going out, has even taken off from wherever or been built by Boeing.

Your flight has been delayed.

We’re telling you this now because we know you’ve already left the house and are heading to the airport and it really isn’t worth turning around at this point. Right now, we’re saying your flight’s delayed 15 minutes. But c’mon, even we don’t believe that.

In 15 minutes, we will say that your flight is delayed 25 minutes. At 25 minutes, we will say your flight is delayed 30 minutes. At 30 minutes, we will say 45 minutes. Then at 45 minutes, we will say that your flight is getting ready to leave from someplace else, where there has been a volcanic eruption, and you might as well go get some food or try to take a nap or finish your beach read.

At one hour and 30 minutes, we will say your flight never existed and you are at the wrong airport.

Your flight has been canceled.

This is because of anticipated bad weather. Or maybe it’s because of potential mechanical issues. It could be that the air traffic controllers need to go out to lunch. Or perhaps because it’s Tuesday. As we say in the airline business, whatever.

The next available flight to your destination is Thursday. At 5 a.m. Via Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. We recommend that you book immediately, since this is high season in Bishkek.

If you wish to cancel your trip as a result of a flight cancellation or significant delay (17 hours or more in the terminal or at least three crying babies sitting immediately next to you), you are entitled to a refund for the unused portion of your ticket. However, you will have to pay the difference between the cost of your ticket and Warren Buffett’s after-tax income.

If you wish to reschedule your flight, your rescheduled travel must occur after Wednesday and before we merge with another airline. Additional fees may apply if the stockholders reject the takeover bid and we have to sweeten the pot.

Also, your rescheduled travel must be completed before the end of the year or our introduction of a new level of economy fare, to be called “Stockyard.” Additional fees may apply if you try to sit down.

If you want to know how much the additional fees will be, additional fees may apply.

Now that you’ve finally jammed your 75-pound carry-on into the overhead bin and kept this flight’s other 132 passengers waiting in the aisle for 17 minutes while you were whacking that elderly lady in 14C in the face, please turn your attention to the front of the airplane for this safety briefing.

When the seat belt sign is on, you must fasten your seat belt. Otherwise we will use rope and glue to attach you directly to the seat and will not be able to guarantee that you will come unstuck after landing.

To fasten your seat belt, just in case you’ve never been in an automobile before and don’t know how to do it, take this piece here and stick it into this piece there. Wait for the click. Then pull the strap to tighten until you can barely breathe and you’ve left stretch marks on your hips.

We suggest you keep your seat belt fastened throughout the flight, as we might encounter rough air, which is the term we now use instead of turbulence, which is the term we used to use to indicate we’re about to plunge into the ocean.

There are several emergency exits on this aircraft. Please take a few moments now to locate them. If you find them all, you will receive 20 percent off your drink order on your next flight.

In the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, a book of appropriate prayers will automatically drop down and appear in front of you. To begin rhythmically chanting, pull the prayers toward you, place them firmly over your nose and mouth and scream as loud as you can. The screams will be muffled and thus not alarm your seatmates.

If you are traveling with a child or someone who requires assistance, say your prayers first, and then apologize directly to the child for your refusal to ever get her a pet.

A life vest is located under your seat or between the armrests. Or maybe it’s in the bins, squashed by your 75-pound carry-on. When instructed to do so, open the plastic pouch and remove the vest. Slip it over your head. No, not the plastic pouch, you ninny. Pass the straps around your waist and adjust at the front.

If it still doesn’t fit, perhaps you’re not a size medium after all.

To inflate the vest, pull firmly on the red cord. If there is no red cord, pull firmly on anything you can find until something works. This would include your seatmate’s ears or the flight attendant’s bow tie.

Your seat bottom cushion also can be used as a flotation device, particularly since it’s not very good as a seat cushion, especially if you are seated in regular economy.

At this time, all your portable electronic devices — including your mobile phone, your laptop, your iPad, your Kindle, your Apple watch and your Tickle Me Elmo must be set to airplane mode until further notice.

Please remember that this is a non-smoking flight. If you smell smoke, therefore, it’s probably one of our engines.

You will find all other safety information in the card located in the seat pocket in front of you. It’s the one with the chewing gum stuck to it.

To me — or rather, to my body, with whom I’m in semi-regular contact — it’s still yesterday evening at 9:41. On the other hand, it may actually be 4:31 a.m. tomorrow. That’s if today is Monday. Or maybe it’s Wednesday.

Actually, I’m not quite sure what day it is. That’s because I’m still suffering from jet lag.

I recently returned from a long-distance trip across a dozen time zones, which forced me to change my watch 12 separate times and eat breakfast again and again since it continued to be morning somewhere. While the Cheerios were OK and the turkey bacon was fine, though it doesn’t get as crisp as you would like, the jet lag isn’t.

Technically speaking, jet lag is desynchronosis or, among friends, circadian dysrhythmia. That is, it’s a condition with many syllables that no one really understands or can do anything about. It causes fatigue, difficulty concentrating and irritability. It also has some negative impacts.

You go to bed at the wrong time. You wake up at the wrong time. You do your laundry when you still have some clean pants left. You sometimes think you’re in Cincinnati. And worst of all, you can’t find your sunglasses even though they are on top of your head.

In other words, jet lag is pretty much like regular life, just someplace else and at a different time.

Despite wide-ranging research that didn’t harm any animals during testing and didn’t actually come up with any results, there are no real cures for jet lag. There are, however, many suggestions on how to avoid or best deal with it. I have tried them all.

You are supposed to set your watch to the time at your destination in an attempt to re-orient your circadian rhythms even if you couldn’t find your circadian rhythms and had probably left them at the office.

This worked, sort of. My watch wasn’t tired at all by the time I got to my destination. In fact, the minutes kept challenging the seconds to a game of beach volleyball. I, on the other hand, who has never had much rhythm and can’t clap to the beat, even if it’s a slow song, was exhausted.

You are supposed to change your sleep routine in advance of travel.

I did this. Instead of falling asleep late and getting up too early, I fell asleep too early and got up even earlier. I also alternated pillows.

Still exhausted.

It is suggested that you take melatonin, which is a natural supplement that is so natural it is gluten-free and doesn’t include even a smidgen of kale. It is made of air and a little bit of light. It is supposed to naturally help adjust the body’s natural clock, mainly by pressing the natural hour button four times and then hitting, naturally, defrost.

I took two pills yesterday evening. Or maybe that was today. On the other hand, it could have been tomorrow.



Fact-checking my family’s recent trip to the beach:

“As promised, we got off to an early start, hopped in the car and headed out right after breakfast.”

Our analysis: We did head out after breakfast, but we had gotten in a little late the night before and decided to leave all our packing to the morning, so breakfast wasn’t until 10:30, and really, it was only a handful of Cheerios that we grabbed as we were running out the door because we were so late.

We rate this statement Half True.

“It only took three hours to get to the beach because you can’t get lost on the way since it’s such an easy route and you don’t even need the GPS.”

Our analysis: We needed the GPS. We got off the highway too soon (the signs are confusing, and should be written in much larger letters, and in English, and have longer explanations), had to drive through the city (and hit every light on the way), then get back on the highway.

But we got back on the highway past the point where we should have gotten off the highway, thus not noticing the correct exit from the highway that would have actually taken us directly to the beach.

We then had to drive through four small towns, none of them with bathrooms, then over two railroad crossings, take a ferry and zig-zag across three counties before we got back to where we should have been. While we did, finally, have to use the GPS to find our way out of a tobacco field, once we saw the beach and the ocean, we felt confident enough to shut it off.

We rate this statement Mostly True.

“When we finally reached the beach, we had everything we needed.”

Our analysis: This would have been completely true if beach towels were somehow determined, on judicial review, not to be one of those things that we needed. Lower-court rulings, though, have unanimously endorsed the need for beach towels if you intend to lie down on the sand.

We rate this statement Mostly False.

“Before going out onto the beach, we made sure to copiously apply sun block — minimum SPF of 50, or the centigrade equivalent — all over any exposed parts of our bodies.”

Our analysis: Some members of the family, eager to finally step onto the sand and wade into the water, made perfunctory attempts at slathering a little sun block on their arms, mainly because their parents were watching.

Other family members did do their arms and faces, but paid little attention to their backs because it’s really difficult to reach those areas unless you’re double-jointed.

Still other family members forgot to do their legs because, you know, legs are much lower down and thus further from the sun and not really in danger.

We rate this statement Pants on Fire. Also, backs on fire and legs on fire.

In my family, we celebrate all the major holidays — Thanksgiving, New Year’s Day, Festival of Sleep Day (always Jan. 3) and, of course, National Ice Cream Day (the third Saturday in July, which means you just missed it but fortunately have a lot of time to start planning for next year’s festivities and harvesting waffle cones).

But most of all, in my family, we celebrate narrowly avoiding disaster. We embrace the joy that comes with knowing that some catastrophe — generally of our own making and of course totally unnecessary— was just barely averted.  Then we rejoice in the absence of a disaster that never should have remotely happened in the first place.

I think there’s a term for this in German. It may be wiener schnitzel.

But in case you’re not exactly following what I mean by this, let me explain with an example.

The first time my wife and were heading off to Europe for a vacation, we had an early flight to catch. So we set the alarm clock for 7. Unfortunately, we set the clock for 7 p.m., not 7 a.m., a perfectly normal blunder if you’re a total idiot. We got up late and would have missed our flight and our vacation completely if not for the taxi driver who almost killed us and everyone else on the highway on the way to the airport.

When we raced onto the plane at the very last moment, out of breath and without a suitcase that we had forgotten in the crazy rush, we nevertheless felt much better than we would have if we had just gotten there at a normal time, with all our suitcases. We had averted disaster and my wife started cheering during the safety briefing.

We had another one of these kinds of celebrations this past week.

As is usual, our celebration began with a simple task: We were trying to book lodgings to attend a wedding next summer in Portland, Maine. We went through the usual protocols, including making sure the place we were staying had adequate wi-fi and a bed.

We reserved the room, paid with a credit card and committed to not stealing the guest soap in the bathroom.

Normally, we wait until the night before to make this kind of reservation, figuring that a better rate would be available seven hours before arrival. But no, this time we would be responsible.

We were, then, so pleased with ourselves until we received the confirmation email that congratulated us on having booked our lodgings in Portland, Oregon. Apparently, that’s nowhere near Portland, Maine. We might have to miss the rehearsal dinner.

So now we had to cancel the reservation even though there was an iron-clad no-cancellation policy. It took us several emails, a couple of phone calls, lots of pleading and promising to return a number of guest soaps before being told the reservation was officially cancelled.

We celebrated by setting the alarm clock.

Some people, apparently, have an ear for language. I have a club foot.

There was the time, a number of years ago, when I tried to impress the Parisian concierge with my command of her language after she asked if we speak French. I confidently replied, I thought, that we try.

Instead, I apparently said, we wipe.

Then there was the time I helped an older French woman with her grocery bags and she thanked me profusely. I responded perfectly in kind, telling her, apparently, that I didn’t give a damn.

In Venice, once, I tried to buy a ticket on a vaporetto, the bus-like boats that go around the canals. The ticket-taker began shouting at me. I repeated, two tickets, please. He shouted some more. He shouted louder. A crowd gathered. More shouting. I considered taking the subway.

I finally got on the vaporetto. I reached for a handkerchief to wipe the sweat off my face. I looked at my hands. They were completely white.

It was at that moment, finally, that I realized the ticket-taker was shouting, “American idiot, take your hands off the rails — it’s wet paint.”

Well, how was I supposed to know? He was speaking Italian.

Or it could have been Serbo-Croat. I have no idea.

I tried ordering ice cream one time from a vendor in Bulgaria. I tried in Italian. I tried in French. I tried in German. The vendor looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language.

Finally, I pointed to someone holding a cone.

“Ah, ice cream,” the vendor said.

So with my pronounced facility for learning languages, to prepare for a recent trip to Spain I made a point of carefully studying the language there, which I believe is Spanish. I took out DVDs and phrase books from the library. I renewed the DVDs and phrasebooks several times, excellently using my command of English, my native tongue, which after several decades of intense practice I speak almost perfectly except for confusing adverbs and adjectives.

I downloaded “learn Spanish” apps to my phone. I practiced pronouncing the important phrase, “Is there wet paint anywhere in your country?”

None of it helped.

After arrival in Spain, my worst fears were realized: people spoke Spanish. They spoke it all the time, even among themselves. They spoke it, for the most part, as if I understood what they were saying.

They spoke it quickly. They spoke it without subtitles. They spoke it as if they had actually looked at all the DVDs and phrasebooks they had taken out of the library.

Their insistence on using their own language created some problems.

In the Spanish restaurant, the waiter gave us directions back to our hotel. Or, it’s possible, he was telling us his recipe for paella. In the supermarket, the cashier asked if we wanted a bag for the groceries we had bought. It turned out she was asking us if we liked chocolate.

At least she didn’t shout.

So we’re going to take a trip. The trip will take 17 days. For certain people in my family — I’m not naming names here, but it’s my wife — packing for the trip will take a little longer.

I’m already packed, of course. I don’t like to brag, but as I regularly point out to my wife, I actually have a doctorate in packing. I earned it after studying with the noted scholar Gregor Samsonite, who explained to me the importance of first choosing a suitcase. Then you find some stuff that will fit into the suitcase, then you sit on the suitcase to close it, then you pull hard on the zipper to make sure it’s closed and you’re done.

(The key, of course, is to never open the suitcase while traveling because stuff will tend to immediately pop out, and that could be embarrassing while you go through airport security, particularly if you have packed your manually pressurized super-soaker.)

My wife does not have the same skills. This is how she packs:

First, she makes a list. This is a list of everything she doesn’t want to take. This is a very short list. It only includes dark chocolate Dove Bars.

Then she discovers that the red top she was planning on taking doesn’t go with the blue pants, which requires that she bring the blue top as well.

But if she’s bringing the blue top, well, then, she might as well bring the black scarf, as well as the green bag, the white jacket, the turquoise jewelry, the gray oven-proof casserole and another red top so the first one won’t be lonely.

She figures out that the white sandals aren’t appropriate with the pink dress, so she decides after all that she might need the dark chocolate Dove Bars.

She plans on taking a few sweaters in case it’s too cold. But just in case it’s too warm, she decides she’d better pack a pair of shorts, some extra T-shirts and an air-conditioning unit.

Since she can’t make up her mind whether to bring the slim paperback book or the three-volume hardback to read on the trip, she compromises by taking both of them.

After careful consideration, she adds a Turkish-language guidebook just in case we decide at the last minute to drive to Turkey instead of New England.

She chooses a suitcase then determines that it is too small.

She chooses another suitcase and determines that it doesn’t go with the red top.

In my wife’s defense, however, she is trying to do all this packing while I am continually nagging her about her packing skills and reading out loud sections of my packing dissertation, including all the footnotes (ibid, Green Bay Packers, 1972).

It throws her off her game while she is laying out everything on the bed to see if she has missed anything that she needs to take. By accident, she packs two pillows and a quilt.

Booking made easy.

Please key in the airport from which you want to depart. If you don’t know or can’t figure out the code letters for the airport, we will assign you three letters at random and you may have to leave from Bogota, Columbia.

Now key in your destination airport, which also could be Bogota, meaning you will go nowhere but we will still charge you $25 for your first checked bag.

Next, choose your departure date. This is generally the date you will depart unless we cancel your flight just after you have spent three hours going through security.

Choose your arrival date. It can’t be a Tuesday.

Are these your exact dates or are they flexible? Instead of returning on April 15, how would you feel about coming back on Sept. 9?

Are you a child, adult, senior or an insurance salesman? Do you prefer morning, afternoon, evening or spending the entire day at the airport trying to get your smartphone to work?

Coach class, business class, first class or do you have no class at all? Will you be traveling with a monkey? What’s your body mass index? Will you be able to fit in one of our seats?

We are now searching for your flights. We are trying to find the flights with the most difficult departure times and most inappropriate schedules. This may take some time. It’s not easy.

Here are your possible flights. First select your outbound trip.

5:15 a.m. This flight makes two stops, one in Atlanta and the other in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. Arrival time is next Thursday.

11:53 p.m. This is a direct, non-stop flight but you have to take the middle seat between a crying infant and someone else’s monkey.

Now select your return trip.

3:33 a.m.

3:34 a.m.

The earlier flight will arrive at your destination 23 minutes later than the later flight but will provide slightly larger bags of pretzels with appreciably lower sodium content.

Total cost of the flights you have selected: $1,287, plus tax, fees and tips minus your co-pay if you have met your deductible.

If you want a seat where the person in front of you doesn’t recline all the way back: $1,316.

If you want a seat where the armrests work: $1,392.

If you want a seat near the toilet: $1,401.

If you don’t want to be the passenger whose checked bag is the last one off the baggage carousel: $1,415.

If you want your checked bag not to go to Lisbon when you are going to Newark: $1,600.

If you don’t understand why airline fares continue to go up even though fuel prices continue to go down: $1,616.

Please arrive at the airport three hours in advance of departure so we can delay departure at the very last minute.