Explore the Apollo 11 Mission on an Out-of-This-World Vacation

July 19, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 20th marks Moon Landing Day, in commemoration of the day in 1969 when the Apollo 11 mission touched down on the Earth’s rocky, luminous neighbor. Moon Landing Day is not yet an official holiday, but there is a concerted effort afoot to make it so. The reason that Americans are so intent to commemorate this event officially is that the landing changed our idea of ourselves—of who we are as Americans and who we are as humans in the universe. We are all familiar with Neil Armstrong’s iconic words: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” These words, both humble and lofty, will live on for a long time to come, along with the words of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and other inspiring public figures, because they express the American spirit—in all of its elevatedness and groundedness.

Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum: Washington, DC

The National Air and Space Museum houses many artifacts from the Apollo missions. By seeing the objects that rocketed into space with the astronauts, you get the feeling of what it was like in that small capsule zooming toward a region of space never before reached by humans. In the museum’s collection of Apollo 11 objects is quite a lot of gear dedicated to documentation. This mission of exploration was quite a bit different from those of the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries undertaken by ship. The space explorers were looking for information, while the earlier explorers were looking for property. In addition to collecting many moon rocks to be studied, the astronauts photographed and filmed the surface of the moon—serving to inform and inspire us back home. The mission continues to inspire. Whenever I visit the Apollo 11 artifacts, I feel like the sky’s not even the limit. I feel like there is no limit to what we can do when we band together and give it a try.

The Cold War Museum: Vint Hill, Virginia

The Cold War Museum has a different, equally informative slant on the Apollo 11 mission. The Cold War Museum looks at the mission in the context of the space race with the Soviet Union, which was sparked when the Soviets successfully launched the first man-made satellite, called Sputnik 1, in 1957. America was ahead in the realm of weaponry. But Sputnik meant that America was behind in the realm of space travel and exploration. There was a mad dash to catch up with the Soviets, which eventually resulted in the manned missions to the moon—the first of which was Apollo 11. When JFK declared early in the ‘60s that we would land a man on the moon by the decade’s close, it was a pep talk for fellow Americans and a challenge to the Soviets. He was saying that the Soviets may have gotten to space first, but Americans would be the first to land on the moon. When Apollo 11 launched from what was appropriately known during the decade 1963-1973 as Cape Kennedy (now known as Cape Canaveral), the United States was trying to be its best, but it was also trying to best an adversary. That is the story told at the Cold War Museum.

After a day exploring space exploration, you’ll probably want to take it easy and just enjoy the simpler things in life—like good food, good company, and good entertainment. That’s why you’ll want to stay at a hotel where every out-of-this-world suite has a fully equipped kitchen, free Wi-Fi and a flat-screen television.

Toys and Tips to Keep You Calm and Relaxed While Flying

December 12, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

You’ve finally gotten your paid time off, and you’ve booked the vacation of a lifetime. There’s nothing keeping you from relishing in your well-deserved, luxurious, relaxing time—except for the flight to get you to your destination and the seemingly eternal wait at the airport.

Nowadays, it doesn’t matter what time of the year you fly, what day of the week you fly or where you fly. Regardless, the plane is usually filled to the brim, and chances are that you will have people smashed next to you on either side. More than likely, you’ll end up more stressed out and aggravated by the end of the flight, leaving you a pile of nerves at your destination.

Luckily, there are certain steps that you can take and things that you can do to keep yourself calm, relaxed and relatively stress free. You can even take items meant to soothe and relax you throughout the flight so that you don’t have any reason to lose your cool and be too aggravated to enjoy your vacation.

1. Fly non-stop, not direct.

There is a difference! Non-stop flights go from Point A to Point B with no touchdowns anywhere, while direct flights touch down at various airports. This can cause delays, which could add hours to your flight if things turn out badly. It’s better to bite the bullet, pay a little more and book a non-stop flight.

2. Buy travel insurance.

With airlines filing for bankruptcy protection after feeling the economic crunch and with turbulent weather conditions, it’s better to be prepared rather than to lose your cash because of something that you couldn’t control. Your travel insurance costs will vary, depending on where you travel, but it will not be more than a small percentage of your entire package. Some websites allow you to purchase just flight insurance or just medical coverage, so you can tailor fit your purchase to your needs.

3. Rock your favorite tunes, watch your favorite movie or play online.

If you carry on a laptop, mp3 player, or DVD player, you’ll instantly have a more enjoyable trip. Airlines have recognized this, and some offer wireless support and headphones for passengers to use. If, for some reason, you forget your computer or other electronic devices, some airlines that offer WiFi also have laptops for use on their planes, and you can take advantage of this for a nominal fee.

4. Pack light.

One of the most aggravating parts of the flying process is waiting for your luggage at the end. There’s always a slight risk that you’ll only end up with the clothes on your back and whatever carryon items you brought with you, but there are ways to minimize that risk. There are several checkpoint friendly luggage pieces that you can purchase to use as carryon luggage, and you’ll be able to skip the wait at the luggage drop-off completely.

Remember: the goal of this trip is to relax, enjoy yourself and have a once in a lifetime experience. Do not let something as simple as a bad flight ruin your chance to enjoy your vacation.

Road Trip Stor-Es

June 16, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

If you’ve joined the travel-light crowd, you’re probably working on building your library of e-reading material. Maybe you’ve already downloaded some favorite authors onto your Kindle or Nook, added an app for The Wall Street Journal to your smartphone or even subscribed to Cosmopolitan or Sports Illustrated on your tablet. Have you, however, built up your road warrior bookshelf? If not, here are some great ones that are available electronically—most through Amazon’s Kindle store and/or Barnes and Noble’s Nook store, as well as a few other sources.

Classic Road Stories

Many of the most famous road trip stories are now available in electronic form, so there is no longer any excuse not to enrich your travel time with old standbys like the following:

  • Blue Highways: A Journey into America by William Least Heat-Moon
  • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thomspon
  • On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  • Even Cowgirls Get the Blues by Tom Robbins
  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig
  • Travels with Charley in Search of America by John Steinbeck
  • Lord of the Rings trilogy (and The Hobbit prequel) by J. R. R. Tolkien

Newer—but destined to be classics—travel books available for your e-reader include the following:

  • All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy (1992 National Book Award winner)
  • American Gods by Neil Gaiman (a fantasy road trip)
  • The Kindness of Strangers: Penniless Across America by Mike McIntyre
  • Roads by Pulitzer winner, Larry McMurty

Getting Historical

In the early 1900s—at the dawn of the road trip era—adventurous young people were quite the craze, and book series promoting such jaunts as The Motor Boys, The Motor Girls and The Motor Maids were wildly popular. You can download some of these free through Project Gutenberg at http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Main_Page. Another fascinating historical road trip book—this one nonfiction—is Barbara Fox’s 1957 Bedpans and Bobby Socks: Five British Nurses on the American Road Trip of a Lifetime.

Laughs and Tears Along the Way

If you enjoyed the movie version, Sideways and its sequel Vertical, both authored by Rex Pickett, are entertaining reads. For out-and-out hilarity (even the titles are a crack-up), check out the following two semi-fiction, semi-memoirs:

  • Queen of the Road: The True Tale of 47 States, 22,000 Miles, 200 Shoes, 2 Cats, 1 Poodle, a Husband, and a Bus with a Will of Its Own by Doreen Orion
  • Cross Country: Fifteen Years and 90,000 Miles on the Roads and Interstates of America with Lewis and Clark, a Lot of Bad Motels, a Moving Van, Emily Post, Jack Kerouac, My Wife, My Mother-in-Law, Two Kids, and Enough Coffee to Kill an Elephant by Robert Sullivan

If you want something to read aloud for whole-family laughs, consider Barfing in the Backseat #12: How I Survived My Family Road Trip by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver.

Information, Hints and Guides

Of course, you can get maps, restaurant guides and sightseeing suggestions through apps. Sometimes, however, it’s fun to actually read live-experience advice or reflections of regions and sights. Three such favorites are:

  • Route 66 Backroads: Your Guide to Scenic Side Trips & Adventures from the Mother Road by Jim Hinckley
  • The Ultimate Baseball Road-Trip: A Fan's Guide to Major League Stadiums by Joshua Pahigian and Kevin O’Connell
  • 101 Amazing things to do in the USA by Harry Warraich (great lists of quirky and fascinating stops)

And, since no road trip is complete without several greasy-spoon stops, be sure to download Diners, Drive-ins and Dives: An All-American Road Trip, based on Guy Fieri’s hit show.

One last note: Remember that many best sellers are also freely available in e-book form from public libraries and library organizations. While Kindle does not have the capability to read these (but will later this year!!), Nooks and most other e-readers do.

Increase Your Comfort en Route

June 10, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

It’s not likely that airlines are going to make wider seats or increase legroom any time soon, and even the nicest car can leave you stiff and achy after hours on the road. While there are no magic tricks to make the getting-there part of a trip totally comfortable, there are a number of strategies and products that can help.

Keep Track of Stuff

The first step in comfort simply may be keeping track of all your stuff so that you can avoid having to squirm around to rescue the earbuds that slid down between your seat and the cabin wall or digging under the seat for the Kindle that slid out of your carryon. A number of companies make convenient caddies that loop over a tray table and have all sorts of pockets and pouches to keep everything corralled and within easy reach. Organizers from Magellan’s (about $35) have flap and zipper closure pockets to keep items in place when the organizer is stashed in your suitcase. Organizers designed for use in the car are available in similar over-the-headrest hanging models, often with specially designed pockets to mount an iPad for backseat travelers’ entertainment. If you are often on the road alone, you’ll find the box-style organizers, which you secure to the passenger seat, handy to keep food, phone, water bottle, maps and everything else tidily within arm’s reach.

Stay Cozy

Many of us suffer from cold feet during travel—and we’re not talking about the metaphoric kind. Sitting still, especially in an over-air-conditioned or under-heated plane or car slows circulation and results in feeling chilled, which then also leads to stiffness and overall aches. Taking breaks to get up and walk and stretch, plus doing in-seat exercises (like toe stretches and ankle rotations), help. You can also make sure to carry along lightweight warmth. There are a variety of travel blankets on the market, in warm fleece or super-light silk or Coolmax, and many are constructed with a foot pouch into which you can tuck those chilled tootsies. If space permits, consider adding to your carryon a pair of down booties. True, they may not make a style statement, but who’s really going to see?

Get a Little Support

Those half-donut neck pillows are pretty popular with air travelers, and for good reason. Without such support, either your neck has to work hard to keep your head upright for all those hours, or if you rest your head against the chair back, your neck curves backward in a crink-creating arch. However, your neck isn’t the only part of your spine to take a beating during long travel, as you’ve probably noticed. Skwoosh makes lightweight travel seat cushions that help eliminate leg numbness by reducing pressure on the spine. Lumbar support pillows can also make a huge difference in travel comfort, in both planes and cars. Ranging from $15 to $65, these cushions are available in inflatable as well as latex foam models. And although you might not think of them, footrests can also dramatically increase your comfort in a plane—especially if you’re not among the tallest of folks—as they raise your legs and take pressure off your knees and lower back. Travelsmith.com carries an inflatable footrest (also by Swoosh and under $20) that’s perfect for tucking into your carryon.

And to maximize your travel comfort, be sure to book a reliably cozy and economical room at an Extended Stay Hotels location. Knowing the comfort awaiting you will help you relax during those long hours spent traveling.

Double-Duty Carry-Ons

May 3, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

As travelers increasingly limit their luggage to carry-ons, it becomes all the more important to choose a bag that not only fits regulation size limitations but that also provides versatility. Manufacturers are meeting this challenge with carry-on pieces that can do double duty by converting to backpacks and having detachable components, like sundries bags, laptop sleeves and briefs. Making one of these your go-to (or go-with) bag can lighten your load and give you more options.


For business travelers, and those who don’t want to be without their laptops even on vacation, a carry-on bag with an integrated laptop bag and removable briefcase is the ultimate in convenience. What’s more, such carry-ons allow you to use the allotted “personal carry-on item” for something else. Such dual-duty carry-ons come in both ballistic nylon for lighter bags and in leather for the ultra-classy look. McKlein’s Chicago model (nylon $200-$300; leather about $300-$400) is a 13” x 11” x 17” bag, to fit regulation limits for almost all airlines. These bags feature the added convenience of detachable padded carry-strap, detachable wheel and handle system and a waterproof cover for storage. The in-luggage laptop compartment is sturdy, suspending the computer in with a honeycomb frame and foam protective layer, and it can accommodate up to a 16.5” laptop.

If you just need the convenience of a removable computer sleeve, consider Samsonite’s Pro 3 Wheeled Business Case. This ballistic nylon case makes getting through security efficient with the easily-detached padded laptop sleeve. The sleeve, which can hold laptops up to 17”, does include a carrying handle, so that it can function as a small briefcase, too. At 17.5” x 13” x 7”, the bag is lightweight enough (7.5 pounds) to be easily wheeled or toted by its padded strap.

Various and Sundry Detachables

Having a carry-on bag with an attached (and removable) sundries bag also adds to both travel and unpacking efficiency. Lots of carry-ons now include removable, TSA-approved plastic bags for your small bottles of shampoo and other liquids (e.g., London Fog’s Oxford 21” Upright Suiter). But most of us carry more sundries than that, and we pack a larger case that we set on the counter or hang on a towel bar in our hotel bathroom. Fortunately, luggage manufacturers have gotten onboard. Wally Bags, known for their “nearly indestructible” aluminum frames, makes the 21" Carry-On 2510 (about $200). This bag not only includes a garment-packing system but also a removable toiletry bag with hanging hook.


If your travel adventure is going to include hiking, what could be handier than a detachable daypack? Eagle Creek’s options range from 19”-22” models, and like all the company’s products, they are sleek and durable. High Sierra has both a regular (around $110) and an extra-lightweight (around $150) 22” carry-on with removable daypack. In both models, the daypacks include organizers, making them useful for business trips, too. If you prefer a duffle-style pack, Athalon’s has a 21” wheeled bag with a molded bottom and a removable top duffle section with hidden backpacking straps, for under $150.

Take a Seat

There you stand, again, in the boarding line for the last leg of your red-eye flight, and they’ve just announced another delay. You watch enviously as some fellow passengers sprawl on the floor. But they’re in sweats; you’re wearing the business suit in which you’ll be making a presentation tomorrow morning. Well, there’s a two-fer carry-on with your name on it: Swany’s Walkin’ Bag. This sturdy 20” (x13” x 10”) piece can support up to 300 pounds yet weighs only nine pounds itself. Its four swivel wheels mean it “takes 1/6 the effort compared to most 2-wheel rolling bags of equal size and weight,” to give your poor, travel-stiff body a welcome break.

7 Simple Tips to Help Beat Travel Insomnia

April 13, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The long day is over. You’re settled into your comfy bed in your convenient hotel room… and you’re lying there, staring at the ceiling, unable to fall sleep. Whether the day has been filled with work or play, whether the trip is for business or pleasure (or both), people often have a hard time falling asleep on trips. Below are some tips to make your dreams as sweet as possible.

Tip #1: Relax a Little

After racing through airports or slogging through traffic, most of us are likely to carry tension both mentally and physically, especially in our necks and shoulders. Relaxation techniques, such as breathing and stretching exercises, can slow down the body’s over-stressed systems, letting them (and you) settle into rhythms more conducive to sleep. The University of Maryland Medical Center’s website details several such exercises, including progressive relaxation and guided imagery, that you can easily do in your hotel room.

Tip #2: Block out the Light

Creating the right setting for sleep is more important than many people realize. Most people sleep best in a room that is fully dark, so even though the sights can be beautiful, pull those drapes to cut out city lights and early morning sun. If you feel safer or more comfortable with just a bit of light, bring along a soft nightlight that you can plug into an outlet in the hall or bathroom, rather than just leaving on an overhead or table light.

Tip #3: Stay Cool

Research also shows that people stay asleep better in a cool room, so even if you’ve been freezing all day scurrying from place to place in Chicago’s brisk winds or Seattle’s rain, turn down the room temperature.

Tip #4: Calm Down with Soothing Sounds

Though you may have scoffed at those soothing music CDs and white noise machines you see in the in-flight magazines, calming background sounds can be very effective. Consider loading your laptop, cell phone, or MP3 player with restful instrumental music or nature sounds. For sleep music, you don’t need a fancy stereo system, so the speakers built into your laptop, tablet, phone, or the MP3-ready alarm clock in your Extended Stay Deluxe hotel room will work just fine. However, if you want a bit of an upgrade, you can find compact docks and speakers for mobile devices at places like Best Buy and Brookstone for under $50. Remember, too, that people relax best when they feel at home, so even if your normal sleep routine doesn’t usually include such music, you might want to start using the same CD before your trip so that your brain learns to associate the sounds with relaxation and sleep.

Tip #5: Wash Away Jet Lag

Consider, too, whether trip- or season-specific factors may be contributing to your travel insomnia. For example, if you’ve flown rather than driven cross-country, the dehydration associated with jet lag can keep you from sleeping. Try to drink plenty of water and non-caffeinated drinks during your travel.

Tip #6: Alleviate Allergies

Allergies can also interfere with sleep, and what makes this tougher is that some decongestants, like pseudoephedrine, can disrupt sleep. If you are prone to allergies, be sure to choose medicines that will not have this effect. You may also want to bring along your own pillow or at least an anti-allergy pillow cover.

Tip #7: Drink Responsibly

Travel should be fun, and that may include partying, but one final note: remember that alcohol—while it may make you feel relaxed and even sleepy—can sometimes interfere with a good night’s sleep. According to current research, alcohol “actually disrupts sleep, even at comparatively low levels. The more we drink, the more tired we end up.” An alternative is to end the evening with a cup of decaffeinated herbal tea.

While there are, of course, sleeping medications available over the counter and by prescription, try troubleshooting with these tips first. You may find one of these solutions to be a dream come true.

Gotta Have ‘Em Travel Safety Gadgets

March 29, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Road Warriors who love gifts probably hate this time of year… big holiday gifting times are months past, and while mom and dad still have Mother’s and Father’s Day, the rest of us have to think up excuses for self-gifting. To help out, we’ve assembled a list of a few affordable gadgets that can be rationalized as totally practical—maybe even necessary—travel accessories.

Car Safety

For actual road trips, we all know the importance of having an emergency kit in the trunk. One of the standard kit items is flares. While conventional flares may not carry expiration dates, their effectiveness can be impaired over time, especially if exposed to water or the kinds of high summer temperatures common in parked cars. The 9-in-1 Safety Flare, however, runs off a CR123A battery that not only has a 60-hour running capacity but also a ten-year storage life. Additionally, it is waterproof and safe to use in temperatures ranging from -40º to over 200º. Available for about $25 from Duluth Trading Company, the Safety Flare’s 16 LED lights flash in a variety of patterns across a distance of 1000 to 3000 feet (day/night).

Another useful upgrade for the car safety kit, especially given this past winter’s extreme conditions, is a travel electric blanket that runs off of the car’s 12-volt charger. Several companies market these in cozy fleece (most are around $25).

Electronics Safety

Who hasn’t dropped a cell phone in the dirt, or sweated all over an MP3 player? That’s exactly why Ringerwraps were designed. These clear plastic, disposable sleeves come in three sizes to fit just about any phone or player. No, maybe not as stylish as some of the jazzy silicone skins and cases we have for everyday use at home (where a ruined device is bad but not disastrous), but the little disposable wraps provide more complete, sealable protection while still leaving your device totally functional. Get these in packages of five ($10-$20, depending on size) online from http://www.cleverwraps.com/RingerWraps/RingerWraps.

Another electronics safety issue has to do with data security.In the past few years, a number of companies like GadgetTrak have developed personal electronics tracking software and services—most require a one-time fee or (especially for laptops) a yearly subscription (around $35.00 at GadgetTrak). Because of the kind of sensitive and professional information commonly stored on laptops, many travelers may be interested in Adeona, another security software program, developed by the University of Washington. Adeona is free—and maintains complete privacy of laptop contents—because it does not make use of a proprietary central service.

Health Safety

Remember those New Year’s resolutions to eat more fruits and veggies, but not thrilled with the idea of biting into a waxy and germy apple from an airport snack cart? Carrying a few Eat Cleaner Grab ‘N’ Go wipes ($10 for 30 individually-wrapped wipes) makes that problem (or excuse) disappear. The wipes are both biodegradable and alcohol-free, so they won’t flavor the food but do eliminate salmonella and E. coli bacteria. Additionally, they can also be used as hand sanitizers.

And speaking of germs, you’ve surely heard all about the bacteria happily raising generations of offspring on your damp toothbrush. Most toothbrush sanitizer devices tend to be expensive (and one more thing to have to squeeze into your bag). But now, Le Travel Store offers a combination toothbrush case and sanitizer (8” by 2” by 1”) that uses that same UV light to kill off bacteria. For under $20, you can toss that still-damp toothbrush into its case and into your bag right before you run to the airport, knowing that you’re not nurturing an invisible science fair project in your sundries kit.

Packing Light

March 1, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

With the high charges for checking bags, not to mention having to hang around the luggage carousel for what seems like hours to retrieve those bags, more air travelers are trying to just take carry-ons. At the same time, however, airlines are also getting stricter about the acceptable size for those carry-ons. Seems like an ever-escalating contest, so it’s time to bring your A-game to the travel-packing challenge.

While most people might not think to start their packing with footwear decisions, shoes are space hogs in a suitcase. The two most basic packing-light strategies to employ here are to wear the big stuff and go for versatility. In-flight, wear those boots you can’t be without or your bulky but vital athletic shoes. If your trip involves professional meetings or dress occasions, try to pick just one pair of shoes in a color and style that’ll go with all your dress clothes. That doesn’t mean that you can’t pack those great Italian loafers or that jazzy new pair of teal pumps—just make several clothing selections that coordinate with them.

In choosing clothing for the packing-light challenge, put together a mix-and-match and layering wardrobe. This doesn’t have to mean you’re doomed to a suitcase full of beige, however. Black is always classic, especially for women, though it does have the disadvantage of showing every little bit of lint. For trousers, skirts, and jackets, consider chocolate brown or grays (from dove to charcoal), which are fashionable and versatile, looking good with shirts and sweaters in almost all shades. Many travel clothing companies like Travelsmith also market reversible tops, skirts, and even light jackets, which can also extend your wardrobe without taking additional space. You can also add variety by taking along ties, scarves, and jewelry of very different styles and colors. The same suit you wore with a white shirt and sober navy tie on day one has a very different look when paired with a burgundy striped tie and light gray shirt the next day.

If you’re traveling in cold weather, you can still bring along warm clothing without bulking up your carry-on bag. First and foremost, choose a warm coat you can wear (and scrunch in your seat) on the plane. Wool tweed is warm and dressy, and travel wrinkles can be steamed out at your hotel by hanging it in the bathroom when you shower. Another good option is women’s microfleece peacoats and capes that look equally appropriate with jeans and with a dress. Wear a warm wool or fleece scarf on the plane, and then roll it up for a neck rest for in-flight comfort. Packing a few low-bulk undershirts, camisoles, and turtlenecks will take up little room, and real silk versions are surprisingly reasonable in cost and easy to wash in a hotel sink and line-dry overnight.

Which brings us to a final packing-light tip: Toss in a few in-room laundering aids. Woolite detergent is formulated for hand-laundering. Gentle enough for those silk turtlenecks and effective enough to get that mustard splotch out of your tie; it’s available in small packets to tuck into your sundries bag. Magellan’s makes inflatable hangers (2 for about $11) that help shirts and trousers dry quickly and without those funky bumps you get with regular hangers. And don’t forget to take along one of those small lint rollers. A quick run over your clothes to catch all the stray hairs, fuzzies, and miscellaneous debris you’ve picked up over the day can make the difference between looking travel-weary and looking sharp.

Gift Giving on the Go

December 17, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

It’s that time of year again—when your packing is complicated by the gifts you’re taking along to give friends and family. Whether you’re traveling with gifts to give an important client or need to bring an entire sleigh-load of presents for a family gathering, there are some ways to make the whole gift-schlepping process easier.

First up is to consider whether it would actually pay—both in terms of convenience and cost—to simply mail gifts to their final destination. When you factor in checking an extra bag on most airlines, sending the gifts via the Post Office or UPS might make sense. The flat rate boxes offered by the U.S. Post Office promise two-day delivery in most cases, and they range from about the size of a paperback novel ($5) to one foot square by 5 ½ inches deep ($14.50), large enough to fit a good bit. The boxes come flat, so you can even tuck a couple into your bag before leaving on that business trip, just in case you do pick up the perfect San Francisco Giants or Manhattan skyline t-shirt to surprise someone with.

Of course the other option is to choose gifts that simply don’t involve any shipping or schlepping on your part. Anything you might want to give, from books to travel gadgets, gourmet food to gift certificates, you can order online and ship, generally with a personalized card included.

But what if that computer-personalized gift card just won’t cut it? Here’s where a bit of preparation can allow you to bring along very individualized gifts without weighing down your luggage or on your wallet.

  1. Wine Gifts: bring along a few elegant fabric wine bags, and buy the wine once you’ve arrived. If you’re flying into a major airport, you can often find good deals at duty-free shops. Incidentally, gift bags of all sorts are easy to make, light to pack, and relatively inexpensive.

  2. Personalized Gift Certificates: easy to make on a home computer, a custom gift certificate is a unique option that can be personalized for the recipient. Visiting grown kids and grandchildren? Young parents will be thrilled with a collection of relaxation certificates they can redeem during your visit: one night’s babysitting, breakfast in bed, that favorite home-cooked dinner. Even something as apparently uninspiring as a coupon for a last-day-of-visit total bathroom cleaning is a welcome gift to the tired hosts.

    Kids on your list? How about making them a gift certificate for a homegrown book-of-the-month or (if they’re teens) app-of-the-month club? Large chain bookstores often ship free, or if you’d rather support your local independent bookstore, you can ship printed material very inexpensively using the USPS’s media rate. Yes, this gift does mean you’ll need to keep up with the child’s interests and select an item each month, but hey—isn’t that exactly what “personal” is all about?

  3. Philanthropic Gifts: this season can also be a good time to introduce philanthropic gifts. Through Heifer International, for example, you can provide an impoverished family with a flock of chickens ($20) or a hive of bees ($30) to help them feed and sustain themselves. Best of all, you can give these gifts in someone else’s honor, and Heifer International will send an e-card or let you print out a card to send the recipient.

Traveling with gifts doesn’t need to be an ordeal. Prepare a strategy using the tips above and you’ll have more time to enjoy gift-giving this holiday season.

Food Packing Tips

December 13, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

All over the Internet you can find advice articles on eating more healthily while traveling, particularly during air travel. But while what to eat and pack is pretty well covered, advice on how to pack and eat is harder to come by. So here are some tips for coping with the major obstacles and minor irritants related to carrying food on the go.

Helping your food travel better
What containers you choose makes a huge difference. When using plastic storage bags, opt for the heavy-duty freezer bags with actual zippers. They are far sturdier and, even more important for all those times you’re juggling a bunch of things, far easier to open, close, and burp (squeeze out the extra air). We suggest always double-bagging, even for dry food. That way you’re almost guaranteed to still have functional plastic bags for your return trip. But sometimes, plastic bags are not the best choice. How many times have you dumped that nice, healthy banana you brought because it’s gotten too bruised? BPA-free plastic containers protect vulnerable fruit like apples and bananas.

Another key issue with bringing food along is keeping it cold. Ebags carries over 200 insulated bags, most in the $15-$50 range, both soft and hard-sided. TSA regulations do prohibit ice pouches (unless frozen totally solid), but what you can do is make your own inexpensive, disposable ice pouches to keep in place until the minute you go through the security checkpoint. And, of course, if you are road-tripping, you’ll be able to re-use them throughout your trip if you stay at hotels that have refrigerators with actual freezers. Make disposable ice pouches by filling a freezer bag ¾ full with liquid dish soap (or with 3 parts water, 1 part rubbing alcohol). Burp out air before closing, double-bag and freeze. Voila!

With the food itself, be sure to avoid bringing things that spoil more rapidly. If you’re bringing sandwiches, consider peanut butter, cheeses and smoked meats that keep longer. Instead of adding condiments, which can easily spoil and also make a sandwich soggy, carry along some of those small packets you get at fast-food restaurants. And consider choosing bagels or other dense, chewy bread that freezes well. Slice and freeze the bread the night before, then make your sandwich on the frozen bread, which will serve as an ice pack (though it thaws much more quickly).

Making your on-the-road food more palatable
Dry seasonings like a flavorful salt substitute (ie: Mrs. Dash’s Caribbean Citrus blend) can help even that iceberg lettuce salad you grabbed on the way to your gate. And let’s face it, airline coffee tends to leave something (or a lot of somethings) to be desired. But by bringing along a small bottle of cinnamon, flavored creamer or just vanilla extract (be sure to place this bottle in your quart zip bag for going through security) you can make that mediocre cup of joe a bit tastier.

Easing the eating process
How often have you broken one of those thin plastic knives trying to spread your cream cheese or peanut butter? Invest in a box of heavy-duty plastic cutlery, tuck a few in your bag (it’s TSA acceptable for carryon), and no more cursing. To ensure you don’t arrive at your destination looking like you’ve not yet mastered the art of feeding yourself, take a damp microfiber washcloth (in a plastic bag) to mop up dribbles on your tie without leaving behind the white flakes you get with paper towels and babywipes. And last but not least, carry a few floss picks. After all, who wants to realize at the end of the day that they’ve been greeting clients and colleagues with a shred of romaine trailing across two front teeth?