Regaining the magic

I have vague recollections of the flights I took as a youngster. The oldest memories are fuzzy fragments – seeing blue lights illuminating the runway at night, receiving a pair of wings just like the pilot’s, wishing I had a jar to catch some clouds…. Somewhere between the bumpy rides on puddle jumpers and adulthood, what was once magic became routine.

Fast forward to 2008 and my cousin’s wedding. We decided to fly to Kansas City as a family. This included my grandparents and aunt who had never flown before. If you asked me then, I might have described the trip as a “production” instead of an adventure. I love my family but that’s a lot of moving parts.

My grandfather was a tall man so we arranged for his seat to be in the aisle but he was far more interested in the view than legroom. We shuffled him into a window seat. I’m not sure Pop talked to us at all during that flight. He was not a quiet man so this is notable. Throughout the flight his gaze rarely left the window. This was clearly someone who was capable of wonder and understood that safely speeding through the air is nothing short of miraculous.  

I have to admit that I remarked on it but it really didn’t change me very much. Flights were to primarily to be endured, not savored. When we flew back to Kansas City for another cousin’s wedding, I remember Pop’s perplexed, and perhaps mildly disgusted, expression as we put on headphones, pulled out magazines, and started all sorts of tasks that took us out of the experience. We could have it our way but he was opting for fascination and exploration.

Somewhere along the way, and it might have been the first flight I took after he passed, that I realized that I was wasting a perfectly good opportunity to experience awe and joy, two emotions that far too many adults are lacking in their lives. Now, I savor the glorious moment when the plane leaves the ground and begins to climb toward the heavens. I find myself peering out the window and counting my blessings. I don’t have a perfect life but it’s full of wonderful people and amazing opportunities. There’s something about lifting off the ground that puts everything into perspective.

These photos were taken on a recent flights between Portland and Seattle. I think he would approve.










Traveling Thursday – Spring Break

It’s spring break season for universities across the US. Many students take the opportunity to head off to Mexico and the Caribbean for some fun in the sun. Unfortunately, they sometimes have a little too much and things aren’t nearly as fun anymore.

The State Department offers great tips for students who plan to enjoy spring break abroad. They also have a whole site dedicated to student travel.

It’s a little late to plan this year’s trip, but Student Universe also offers a lot of useful travel information and guides.

If you are traveling this spring break, be safe and have fun!

Traveling Thursday – How Do I Pay for This?

We saved up for more than a year to go on our Med cruise. For me that meant being very selective about buying new clothes and shoes. It was a little difficult at first. As the trip became more concrete, I compared cute shoes to a day in Italy and it was easy to keep my wallet closed.

This article provides solid advice on calculating travel costs and budgeting for your next trip.

Do you have any tips and tricks for saving for a trip? What destination are you saving for?

Traveling Thursday – Potty Break

The toilets in Sochi are creating quite a buzz on social media. I have to wonder how much traveling these outraged journalists have done. Toilets in the US are different from those that you’ll find in other countries. The twin commodes and loos that trap their users are an anomaly but it isn’t unusual to see signs asking you not to flush toilet paper. In some locations there simply isn’t enough pressure to take away your waste and the paper.  I’ve encountered this in my travels including in a nice restaurant in Rome. It’s not ideal but it’s also not a sign that you’re in a third-world country.

If you’ve never traveled outside the US, there are some potty peculiarities that you should be prepared for.

#1 Don’t be surprised if there is a fee to pee.
Paid toilets are the norm in many countries. Some people are tempted to cheat the system and hold the door for the person behind them. Do this at your own risk. Some of the European toilets are self-cleaning. A cycle starts when the proper change is deposited. After you conduct your business, use the sink and exit, the cleaning cycle begins. The toilet will not accept another “fare” until the cycle is complete. If you cheat the system, the cleaning cycle will still begin when the door shuts only now instead of spraying an empty bathroom, the system will shower  blue bathroom chemicals on the cheapskate who tried to avoid paying.

If you are using the restroom in a restaurant or cafe, you should be prepared to buy something for the privy privilege.

#2 Flummoxing flushers
Toilets flush in all sorts of fun ways. Some will use a foot pedal (the same is true for sinks), others will have a pull-chain, and some will have a button on top of the toilet.

#3 Whatchamacallit Having trouble finding a sign for the restroom? In many countries, you are looking for the WC or water closet.  Here are some tips for asking for the bathroom in other countries.

#4 New experiences
You might encounter a “squat toilet” when traveling. This can be a hole in the floor or some slightly glorified version of the same. If you’ve really got to go, you’ll make it happen. You may also find unisex restrooms. These generally have individual stalls and no urinals. The genders only mingle at the sinks.

#5 Bring your own
I always travel with a pocket pack of tissues. You never know when it will be your only source of TP. When traveling on a group tour in Jordan, we were warned about a lack of paper in public restrooms. We took several rolls of paper from the bathrooms in our hotel and everyone loaded their pockets on the bus before setting out to explore Petra.

#6 Calm down
First, no one is asking you to empty the wastebasket containing the used paper. Does that put things into perspective?

Using the bathroom is a very personal act. We all have certain needs when it comes to comfort and privacy. It’s important to understand that you may have to compromise if you want to see the world.

Want more bathroom talk? Read what Rick Steves has to say on the subject.

Traveling Thursday – UNESCO?

Many travel companies and tourism boards love to highlight their “UNESCO World Heritage” sites but what does that even mean and why should you care?

UNESCO stands for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. This group encourages the preservation of sites considered to be of “outstanding value to humanity.” Yeah, that’s pretty subjective. In addition to having “outstanding universal value,” the sites must meet at least one selection criteria. These sometimes lofty criteria include representing a masterpiece of human creative genius, being a structure or landscape that represents a historically significant period and containing superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty. Like I said, it’s “lofty” and the kind of list that was put together by one committee and tweaked by several others. You can view the full list here.

By now you are getting the idea that these sites are pretty important and they are. There is also controversy about the selection process, that’s not a surprise is it?

So, should you pick trip A over trip B because it includes more UNESCO sites? Honestly, it really depends on what you want to see. The UNESCO sites are fabulous but there are many wonderful sites that don’t meet the selection criteria or simply haven’t been included yet. In the US, there are only 21 UNESCO sites but that doesn’t mean these are the only sites worth seeing here. You should understand that the same is true all around the world.

Curious about the location of these sites? Take a look at the interactive map.



Traveling Thursday – Be a good group member

Being a good traveler on a group tour or excursion means that you have some responsibility to both the others in the group and the guide. We know that you shouldn’t keep people waiting but you should also communicate if you are going to step away from the group.

During our time in Tuscany, one of the ladies in our group continually strayed away from the pack. These towns are relatively small but full of a winding streets and alleys that make it quite easy to get turned around. She had no idea where she was going or where our meeting point would be and yet she felt comfortable taking off on her own. At one point, most of the group was keeping an eye out for her. No one wants to spend their vacation looking out for a complete stranger.

So how can you be a good group member?
– Before signing up for a group tour or excursion, consider the group dynamic and make sure it blends with the way you want to travel.
– Don’t sign up for a strenuous excursion if you have mobility issues.
– Listen.
– Understand the tour itinerary. If you really want to see the inside of a site but it’s not on the itinerary, don’t assume you will be able to make it happen. Ask questions before booking the trip.
– If you need to take a break or step away from the group, talk to the guide. They should be able to make suggestions and at least minor accommodations. It will be far less embarrassing to chat with the guide than to have everyone searching for you.

What tips do you have for being a good group member?




Traveling Thursday – Expanded cell phone use on flights

The FCC is considering action that would give airlines the right to allow passengers to use cell phones during flights. While there is some debate as to what kind of service is available, it appears that calls do not interfere with ground-based networks which is part of the reason they were initially banned.

It might be safe but is it a good idea? I think not. Air travel is already a chore. Why give people another excuse to behave badly?

Some will say there is no difference between these calls and a live conversation between two passengers, I don’t agree. I suspect that service will be spotty at best which means we can look forward to being on flights with people yelling into their phones.

Others will remind us that phones are allowed on trains and ask why they should not be allowed on planes if there are no safety concerns. Many trains have quiet cars where talking is not permitted. Train passengers also have the flexibility to move around. This is not the best comparison.

What do you think of the prospect of cell calls during flight? Whatever your opinion, you can comment on the proposed FCC rule now through Feb. 14, 2014. Simply visit their site and search for proceeding number 13-301. Your comments will be public record.

If passed, airlines would have the right to allow calls but would not be forced to do so. For more on what some of the major carriers are thinking, visit this link. 

Traveling Thursday – Avoiding Winter Travel Woes

Ah winter, you’ve really shown yourself this week. Flying during the winter can be a huge hassle with cancellations and delays. While it is impossible to fully protect yourself from winter weather woes, there are some things that you can do to minimize your headaches.

– Don’t take the last possible flight.
Need to be in town for a business meeting at 8 a.m. on Monday? Try leaving early in the day on Sunday to allow yourself more options and flexibility.

– Constantly monitor the weather and plan accordingly.
When we were in New York last month, we saw a winter storm coming into the area. The forecast changed dramatically between late Thursday night and early Friday morning. We had to be home by Monday morning so that meant leaving early. If we weren’t paying attention, we might have been stranded.

– Ask if the airlines are offering winter waivers.
When foul weather is imminent, airlines will sometimes waive the standard change fees. Ask about that when communicating with the airline.

– Stalk the airline.
Call, try the website, e-mail, use social media…
Thousands of people are trying to get through, you have to get creative. Some airlines have customer service staff responding to tweets and Facebook messages. Try it all.

– How close can you get?
Flying to a city along the East Coast? You might be able to fly into an airport that is reasonably close and take Amtrak to your final destination. Greyhound or rental cars might be other options though please don’t get a rental if you are not used to driving in the snow.

– Be nice!
Winter weather delays are hard on everyone. Be nice to the airline employees. In most cases, they are doing the best they can. The weather is not their fault. Being rude will not help the situation. The same is true with interactions with other passengers.

Do you have any other winter weather air travel tips?

Looking for tips on driving in the winter? Check this out.