Traveling Thursday – Time to breathe

While I can occasionally be satisfied with a relaxing vacation spent hanging out on the beach or by the pool, I’m usually cramming a lot more activity into my vacation days. There are times when I wake up with ten hours of carefully scheduled activities in front of me. I must admit, my body doesn’t always appreciate being pushed to the brink when it’s been looking forward to a break.

I know I’m not the only one who travels like this. With the rising cost of transportation and hotel stays, we push all we can onto the schedule. It makes sense, especially if you are traveling a great distance but it might also be robbing us of some of the joy we should feel on vacation.

Here are a few tactics to add some relaxation back to your next trip.

Buy good shoes, even if they’re expensive. Foot pain will make you feel tired and grouchy. Invest in a good pair of shoes, and break them in before traveling.

Prioritize the things you want to see and do and then draft an itinerary. Plan for the “musts” and pencil in the rest.

Ge organized before you go. Write down the hours for all the attractions that interest you. Print out directions to these places. Think about what you’re going to wear. Planning all of this before you leave adds to the anticipation and helps save you time on the trip.

Give yourself at least one late wake-up during the trip. Whether it’s the first day or the last, treat yourself to a little extra snooze.

Do something to treat yourself whether it is a massage, spa treatment, performance, or something sweet.

Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t see everything. It’s OK. You can go back. What’s really important is that you thoroughly enjoyed everything you were able to see.

Wasted time, Amish and the Georgia Aquarium

Yes, it’s a blog post and no, it’s not Thursday. I know I need to get into a routine, especially because I have things to write about but it’s not always easy. When my husband is home, I want to spend time with him. When he’s away, I seem to find ways to fill my time whether it’s working on projects, reading, cleaning or watching TV.

Take yesterday…I planned to write a post and then I wound up watching an Amish: Out of Order marathon on NatGeo. Before you start rolling your eyes, this series isn’t the trashy. It’s an honest and often heartbreaking look at what Amish face when they decide to come to the English world. As I watched it, I couldn’t help but feel grateful for the family I was born into and the life I have. I can’t imagine that there’s anything I could do to make my parents reject me and yet these ex-Amish men and women are literally shunned by those who are supposed to life, guide, and care for them. By time the last episode aired and poor Cephas died in that horrible car accident, I knew I wasn’t going to write.

Tonight, there is no TV or reading until blog posts are written. So please journey back to early June with me as I write about our trip to the Georgia Aquarium.

I’ll share just a few thoughts and then some photos from the trip. First, admission to the aquarium is expensive but it’s worth it. The whale sharks are just amazing. If the aquarium was nothing more than four whale sharks, it would be worth the cost of admission, just watch a feeding and you’ll agree.

Second, food in the dining area is expensive and worth it only because you can’t bring in outside food and you’ll need some kind of fuel to keep you going through the aquarium because it is a lot more than just whale sharks. I suggest getting a few sides and sharing. The food isn’t that great so you’re just looking for something to keep you going.

Here’s a random list of do’s and don’ts…some of which McB and I learned the hard way.

  • Avoid the aquarium on Saturday if possible. Arrive early if you are going on Saturday. My guess is Sunday is pretty nuts too.
  • Buy your ticket in advance.
  • Be prepared for crowds and general rudeness.
  • Know how to turn the flash off on your camera. McB wrote a nice little post about becoming a zenmaster and shooting gorgeous pictures in a crowded aquarium.
  • Get a schedule and go to a feeding in the Ocean Voyager area.
  • Experience at least one touch tank but don’t terrorize the animals. Yes, kids are always bad about this but on our visit we saw some misbehaving adults as well.
  • Don’t expect the dolphin show to be educational. It’s high production value, singing and light-up costumes but it is not educational. I was disappointed in what I saw so if you need to cut something from your schedule, cut this.
  • Bring some hand sanitizer.
  • Be sure to see the Beluga whales. They’re really neat creatures and it’s great fun to see them blow bubble rings. (not my video, not the GA aquarium) We learned that they have to put some effort into blowing these rings and seem to just do it for fun.
On the conveyor belt

Looking up from the people mover in Ocean Voyager

Diver at the Georgia Aquarium

Scrub-a-dub-dub This diver has to clean a giant “tub.”

Diver and whale shark (right) in the Ocean Voyager tank

Shark  Unlike the whale sharks, he has large teeth.

Colorful fish

More from Ocean Voyager

Traveling Thursday – Grocery store souvenirs

Last summer while traveling in Switzerland, I was appalled at the prices of…well, nearly everything. I wanted to bring home some souvenirs but I was not willing to spend a small fortune on meaningless nick-knacks.

Thankfully, I was able to solve my problem with just a little trip to the grocery store. Instead of picking up items that would simply collect dust, I bought a variety of cookies, jams, and chocolate that were uniquely Swiss for a fraction of the cost. I did a little research and also picked up a few small bottles of Rivella, a soft drink that is made with byproducts of the cheese-making process. None of my friends and family were disappointed with their gifts, in fact most were eager to try something new and “exotic.”

Next time you’re visiting a new place, even in the states, take a trip to the supermarket when looking for a low-cost souvenir. Ask around to find out if there’s a special item that’s popular with the locals and then bring it home for the special people in your life. This type of gift allows them to experience your travels more than a t-shirt or snow globe. It will also prove to be much easier on your pocketbook.

Traveling Thursday – Fit in with the frequent fliers

Seeing a frequent flier glide through the security line at the airport is a thing of beauty. They know what to expect and plan accordingly. It’s true that many of them learned the ropes through experience and repetition but even infrequent fliers can fit in by just doing a little homework.

First, familiarize yourself with the 3-1-1 rule. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this rule, travelers are allowed to carry-on just one, one-quart zippered baggie with liquids, aerosols, and gels that are 3.4 oz or less. I have no doubt that  3-1-1 violations are the biggest reason for delays in security. When packing, if you aren’t sure whether something is considered to be a liquid or gel, just assume that it is. I know of instances where peanut butter and peaches packed in syrup were considered to be liquid/gels. Also, don’t try to get through security by freezing a bottle of water. It may be in a solid form when you go through security but that’s not how the TSA will see it. My husband, not the culprit,  has a humorous story to go along with this last bit. As you would expect, the fiasco and resulting debates held up the security line quite a bit.

It’s also a good idea to review the list of items not allowed on a plane. Most of us know that a meat cleaver is not allowed but maybe you didn’t realize that you can’t carry-on a baseball bat. If in doubt, check the list.

Remember that unless you’re under 12 or over 74, you are going to have to take your shoes off to go through security. Make smart choices about your footwear.
Similarly, if you are wearing a coat, zippered sweatshirt, or sweater be prepared to take this off to go through security.

If you have a laptop, ipad, or kindle, be prepared to take these items out and place them in a separate bin. For more on these policies and checkpoint friendly laptop bags, visit this section of the TSA’s site.

Take off your belt and watch and really empty those pockets before going through the metal detector. I know this seems elementary but I’ve seen people swear their pockets are empty only to later produce a handful of change. If you’re this person, don’t be surprised when the growing crowd of travelers gets a bit testy while waiting for you to pass through the scanner repeatedly.

After taking these steps to get prepared, just pay attention to what the TSA agents are asking you to do. Certain security procedures (shoes – in a bin or on the belt, shoes- on top of the bin or anywhere, ID – on your person or in the bin…) vary from airport to airport but by paying attention to the directions you’re given, you can look like a world traveler.

Traveling Thursday – Theme Parks

Schools start here in just a couple of weeks. It’s amazing that the long, lazy days of summer will soon give way to fall. Where has time gone?

Even as summer fades away, I know a number of families who are planning a trip to an amusement park before school begins. I’ve compiled a list of a few tips and ideas to help you get the most from your theme park trip.

  • Check into discounted tickets. You may be able to get these through AAA or using a coupon found online, through a fast food restaurant or even on a soda can. Do a little research to find savings.
  • Look for stay-and-play packages at hotels near the park.
  • Find out if you are allowed to take snacks or drinks into the park with you. This is another way to save money and make sure you’re properly hydrated.
  • Wear sunscreen. It’s amazing how quickly you can burn.
  • Look at the park map before visiting. Decide which rides you really want to do and make those a priority. Arrive early to get a jump on the crowds.
  • Scope out indoor, air-conditioned attractions and take a break during the midday sun.
  • Wear tennis shoes instead of flip-flops. Your feet will be more comfortable and better supported. You also don’t want to take the chance of losing your shoe on a ride.
  • Stay hydrated. I can’t say it often enough. Remember that water is a better choice than soda.
  • Grab maps and designate a meeting point and time if your family decides to split up to enjoy separate attractions.
  • If you have an emergency or start to feel ill, visit the first-aid station. Let the trained staff assess your situation and help as needed. It’s much less embarrassing to visit the first-aid station on your own steam than to be pulled from the park on a stretcher.
  • Pack cheap plastic ponchos. They’re great for water rides or sudden downpours.
  • Bring along a great attitude. There will be annoyances but instead of allowing yourself to get upset, try to laugh off your frustrations. The whole point of the day is for you to have a good time. Do your best to make it happen.

Not bad, just different

I’ve been at my new job for just over three months now. Thankfully, I feel more settled with each passing day but there are still moments of sheer terror or regret. Anytime that I feel confident that I’ve wrapped my head around the tasks that lay before me, something changes drastically. There have been tears and curses but those are starting to give way to contented sighs and a feeling of accomplishment.

After a little reflection I realize that I’m no longer defined by my job. I hesitate to put that into words because part of me still thinks that means I don’t care about my job. That’s not true. It’s just that now I can talk about who I am and what I like without even referencing the work that I do.

In the past, I’ve viewed my job as an extension of who I am. I’m now starting to see that it doesn’t have to be that way. I can care about my job and work hard without letting my profession dominate every facet of my life. I think this is that whole “work-life balance” that people talk about. It’s a strange feeling and I still sometimes spend the evening checking e-mail and freaking out about the next day, but it happens less than before and I’m starting to like that a lot.

Traveling Thursday – Passport copies

Having a passport lost or stolen happens more than anyone would care to admit.

Even if you’re sure there is no way you could possibly lose your passport, do me a favor and make several high quality copies of the photo page. These copies can make your life much easier in case an emergency arises.

Now, find two trusted family members or friends and give them each a copy. Ask them to place them wherever they keep their own vital documents. Let them know that while you hope to never have to ask, there may come a time when your passport is lost or stolen and you’ll need them to fax this copy to an American consulate or embassy.

You should also travel with at least one, if not two, copies of the photo page. I generally keep one copy folded in a ziploc baggie inside my toiletry case. It’s always there. I never have to think to add it when I pack. I keep another copy with my daily planner along with copies of my other travel documents. While the actual passport goes into the hotel safe, I usually keep this copy with me at all times.

So now that you’ve taken my advice, you don’t have to go into an absolute panic if something happens to your passport while you’re traveling. You simply get yourself to the nearest U.S. consulate or embassy and show them a copy of your photo page. There will still be loads of paperwork to fill out, but now you’ve got the information you’ll need to complete the forms.

If you realize that your copies are lost, stolen, or ruined, you just need to get in touch with your trusted loved one and ask him or her to fax a copy to the embassy.

For more information on what to do if your passport is lost or stolen while traveling abroad, visit the State Department’s site.