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Hurricane Season Travel

rainy season mudslide in Costa Rica
Traveling during the off season can cost a lot less than peak, but it does come with its risks. Off season in most places means a risk (or certainty) of inclement weather: snow, rain, extreme temperature, etc.  In the northern Atlantic, this equals hurricanes.

Mum and I travel during hurricane season all the time. Fall temperatures that are still warm without being too hot and fewer tourists due to families working within the confines of school schedules are extremely enticing. In all the times we’ve been traveling together, weather has not derailed our plans. In fact, NOAA has calculated the the probability of a hurricane eye hitting Miami in any given year as 4%. With a risk that low, why not?

hurricane damage on abandoned hotel in the Dominican Republic
2017 is abnormal, to say the least, with a record number of category 3 or higher storms in the Atlantic.  We have been planning an October trip to Puerto Rico since May and are watching all of the activity closely. The eye of category 3 Hurricane Irma passed off shore, but the impact of the winds caused damage. With Hurricane Maria’s category 4 eye passing right over the island (the strongest to hit in nearly a century), the extent is currently unknown but certainly significant. Like much of the Caribbean, tourism is integral to the economy of Puerto Rico. After Irma, our plan was to still visit the island bringing both our tourism dollars and some supplies for local residents that may assist with everyday life. Maria has changed that. Of utmost importance is the lives of the people who call Puerto Rico home. Necessities of everyday life and infrastructure repairs must be the focus for residents; tourism cannot distract from that.

With all of this in mind, Mum and I are currently considering changing our plans. Is it better to continue on and bring our tourism dollars and donations to the island, or are we more of a hinderance than a help? What’s the best course of action as a potential visitor to an area that had a recent weather disaster?

All we can do is keep watching the storms and hoping that those who call these beautiful islands home are safe and well.

Sunset in the Exumas
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Experience Eclipse 2017 in Charleston, SC

Planning to live in the “Dark Side of the Moon” for a couple of minutes? Interested in the “Moonshadow” live?

If you’re planning on taking a trip to a U.S. city, to take part in the once-in-a-lifetime total solar eclipse experience, consider communities surrounding larger cities. Charleston is awesome. But, several communities surrounding Charleston, SC may be an easier bet to reach, to hunker in, and to explore. Among the sweetest is the Town of Summerville.

It’s estimated that, conservatively, the greater Charleston area will host between 60,000-80,000 visitors. Yet there have been several reports estimating over a million. According to College of Charleston Physics Professor, Dr. Chris Fragile, “This will be the most viewed eclipse in human history.” The South Carolina coast is the final place to view the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse before it heads out to cast the moon’s shadow onto the Atlantic Ocean.

The last coast-to-coast total eclipse to traverse North America was 99 years ago, in 1918. The next time the phenomonen of a total eclipse crossing our continent will occur is 35 years from now, in 2052. Why so seldom? The moon orbits at a five degree tilt. The earth and sun each spin on a separate axis. And, let’s face it; 70% of the earth is ocean, so our waters are much more likely to experience a total eclipse than we are.

HOW TO PREPARE:

Get Special Eye Protection

One cannot look directly into the sun on any occasion, and partial blockage of the sun does not affect its intensity, nor affect the ability to prevent eye damage. Sunglasses with UV protection will simply not cut it this time. Unless you have a welder’s shield collecting dust in your garage, you’ll need to invest a buck or two in a pair of eclipse glasses. When you wear a pair of eclipse glasses in a lit room, they will block out all light. Put them on to watch the sun and moon converge. Wear them, looking directly at the sun safely, to view the eclipse until totality. Only then, will you be able to remove the glasses briefly, to see the outer glow. Once the sun begins to once again emerge, you’ll need to don the glasses until you’re ready to, again, view the rest of the world around you.

You may also be fortunate enough to see “shadow bands,” explains Dr. Fragile. “They’re similar to the funny, squiggly shadows that appear at the bottom of the swimming pool,” he says. He suggests laying a white bedsheet on the ground to best view shadow bands.

Defer to your iPhone Camera

The amount of heat entering the lens and body of your 35mm SLR camera may be damaging. But iPhone cameras are designed to adjust to the amount of ambient light, making it safe to use. It may be time to purchase an iPhone tripod, or determine how to securely attach your selfie stick to your tripod.

Even through a telescope, a dense mylar filer is a necessity.

Plan for Chilly Weather

Yes, on August 21st, you are heading directly into the scorching summer heat of South Carolina. But you will need to pack a few items to keep you warm. During a total eclipse, the temperature will drop and the winds may pick up. Charleston Southern University Professor of math and physics, Dr. Fred Worthy, says that he experienced a partial eclipse during which the temperature plummeted by 30 degrees.

Escape the Crowded Interstate by Checking Out a Surrounding Community

I’m biased, because I lived in Summerville, S.C. for 12 years, and it remains my “home,” whether or not I live there. Totality  in Summerville will be experienced for between one minute and 40 seconds to two minutes. For additional eclipse stats, check out this link.  Summerville Dream has a great microsite highlighting the Eclipse happenings around Summerville. And, Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site will host events throught the weekend preceding the Eclipse. Check out the lineup at… http://southcarolinaparks.com/products/10004632

Summerville, S.C., The Birthplace of Sweet Tea, may be easier to access, because of its proximity to I-26, the main conduit into Charleston. One you’re settled in Summerville, check out the many things to do in the area both before and after the eclipse. Go to VisitSummerville.com to research and pre-plan your extra time. Visit private merchants in and around the quaint town square reminiscent of small southern towns, indulge in a game of golf, or take a walking tour of the town’s permanent sculpture collection – plus find Sculpture in the South’s more than twenty life-sized bronzes of birds perched on balconies, windowsills, shop signs and rooftops.

Also check out Summerville DREAM, the Summerville Visitor’s Center and Greater Summerville/Dorchester County Chamber of Commerce at 402 N. Main Street for recommendations on events, restaurants, or even that emergency auto mechanic you are not pre-planning to meet.

Buy the T-Shirt! The Greater Summerville/Dorchester Chamber of Commerce is selling a “totality awesome” glow-in-the dark T-Shirt. And a portion of the proceeds benefit the organization’s scholarship fund. You can pre-order your shirt and pick up at the Chamber – or stop in to purchase in person.

Need more information on visiting South Carolina? Check out  http://discoversouthcarolina.com/products/52.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Send Letters to the Universe

Consider something like this….

Dear Mother Nature,
Please do not send cloud cover on August 21, 2017!
With all due respect,
Mum

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Long-Haul Flight Survival Tips

Nobody enjoys the dreaded long haul flight. They’re uncomfortable, awkward, and the bane of many a traveler. I’m used to 5 to 7 hour flights, but my 35+ hour economy class odyssey from Atlanta to Phnom Penh was an entirely different adventure. Below are a few tips for making your next long-haul flight as smooth as possible

Seat Selection – can make all the difference. As I planned on sleeping for at least half of the trans-pacific leg I picked a window seat on the side of the airplane that mirrored my preferred side of the bed so that I could lean into  the wall. This also meant that the other passengers in the row didn’t have to wake me when they needed to move.

Entertainment – is key. Check the airline rules carefully, because your US domestic preparations might not work. The electronics ban on flights from some countries to the US means that you can’t rely on your tablet or laptop for distraction. Additionally, Chinese regulations do not allow the use of “airplane mode” on your smart device, so all phones must by powered off for the entire flight. Two women were jailed recently for failure to comply, so no sneaking around. Many airplanes do have touch screen entertainment centers for each seat, like my Chinese Eastern Airlines flight, fully loaded with movies, music, and games. Your old mp3 player may be allowed, as long as it doesn’t have a cellular data option. I’m a knitter so I always bring some yarn and a pair of needles. Right now, most airlines allow knitting needles, but I’d recommend sticking to a wooden option.  Also, never underestimate the power of a good book. A few cheap paperbacks from a second-hand store are my weapon of choice, as they can be easily left behind for others to read and enjoy.

Snacks – can be a lifesaver. Even if your flight includes a meal service you can never be sure of what you might get. This is doubly true if you have allergies or any diet restrictions. Pre-packaged snacks are a safe option which insures that you’ll always have something to eat when you need it. I do like fruit when I travel, but you’re not always allowed to bring fresh produce with you when you travel internationally – even in your carry-on. I opt for granola or protein bars, nuts, and raisins.

Sleep – is a necessity for changing time zones. I don’t sleep easily on flights, but even a short nap is invaluable for a clear head with international layovers and flight changes. This past trip was my first time using melatonin and now I’m a believer. This in combination with my eye mask and earplugs were a necessity. Travel pillows or neck style pillows aren’t just for heads. I like to place mine in my lower back area for comfort and mum enjoys hers under her knees for bit of an angle. There’s also a lot to be said for having a blanket or scarf you can use as a cover. I like to pull mind up over my head to help block out light and its a visual cue to the cabin crew not to bother me (just make sure the seatbelt is on the outside).

Cleaning Up – can make all the difference. Face wipes, lotion, and tooth-brush and toothpaste in my carry on gave me the option to impersonate my normal evening and morning routines.  Just being able to wipe the re-circulated air off my face and bush my teeth was more relaxing than I could have imagined. A post-nap cleaning was refreshing and I arrived at my destination feeling less dirty than I typically do.

Easy Carry-On List for a Smoother Long-Haul Flight

  • head phones/ear buds
  • paper books/magazines
  • snacks
  • melatonin
  • travel pillow/neck pillow
  • eye mask
  • blanket/pashmina/large scarf
  • tooth-brush & toothpaste
  • pre-moistened face wipes
  • lotion for face & hands

Do you have any tips for long flights? Share it with us!

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My Top 10 Must Pack Items

On my quest to become a perfect packer (more at PackRat Will Travel), I have learned a few tricks. Below are the top ten items I will no longer travel without…

  1. Pitchable Ponchos
    I pack a few disposable rain ponchos for travel during rainy season, or to locations like the amazing city of London, where rain seems to be a year-round ordeal.  Visitors also underestimate the need for ponchos when vacationing in sunny Central Florida, where brief afternoon thundershowers are a daily occurrence. I typically find ponchos in the drug store for a couple of bucks each. They’re light, take up no room at all, and will prevent you from having to choose between overspending or modeling an unflattering-at-best plastic garbage bag. If your’re preparing to travel with a group, you can also order clear, disposable ponchos by the dozen for $19 at Uline.com.
    *Tip – if you hike into the Costa Rican rainforest, do not leave your rain ponchos in your rental car. http://www.meetuatgate.com/2016/04/30/thats-why-its-called-a-rain-forest/
  2. Techie Tool Kit
    A camera charger, a back-up battery, an extra SD chip, a cell phone charging cord, a Fitbit charging cord, a USB wall port and a USB car converter are my personal top tech needs. All tuck neatly in a transparent sandwich sized Ziplock. With three camera batteries and a cell phone to charge, I easily could employ three converters on an international trip. This summer, mistakenly packed only the converter I would need in Uruguay, South America. I neglected to research whether the same converter would work in Argentina. The answer was NO.
    *Tip – Save yourself some angst. Pack the complete kit, and be done with it.
  3. Pre-Packed Toiletries
    Since traveling intermittently for business in the ’80s, I have kept a grab-and-go toiletry bag packed at all times. When I return home, I refill what’s needed (like a fresh mosquito repellent bracelet) or add an item to my shopping list while it’s fresh on my mind. Among other necessities, I always have antibacterial wipes, my mini sewing kit, a magnifying mirror, a personal heating pad to fend off chills or sore muscles, and a small rubber door stop to wedge under my door for added security while in my room. My fully-packed catch-all bag resides in my small rolling carry on, providing a speedy way to skip town!
    *Tip – Hang a few safety pins from the bag’s zipper pull.
  4. Pretty Pill Box
    Ditch the bulky bottles. I photograph each bottle label with one easily identifiable pill, to ensure I have accurate documentation for two purposes; to verify my prescription while traveling, and to assist in case of a medical emergency. I take a full week in a pretty little pill sorter, with a few extras of my most important medications in case of a delay.
    *Tip – If you are prone to motion sickness, be sure to have your doctor prescribe Transderm patches for behind your ear.  Each works for three days – but the protection WILL wear off if you do not replace it by the end of day three. They fit right in the bottom of my pill case.
  5. Bubble Wrap
    I somehow gravitate towards bringing home “breakables.” So I pack a small roll of bubble wrap. I’ve carried home a vintage vase and a set of beautiful stoneware plates from England. I lugged a treasured pitcher from Paris, wrapped in a layer of bubble wrap, and padded with soft clothing. And I recently transported glass jars of goodies from South America. Yet, due to bubble wrap, I have yet to discover a broken artifact in my bags upon my return.
    *Tip – Consider shipping when you can; you’ll already have the bubble wrap!
  6. A Reusable Tote
    My favorite bags easily cover all bases, transforming between shopping bag, beach bag and “technology undercover bag” to deter thieves. I have very different preferences, depending upon mode of travel and destination. For international travel this inexpensive IKEA pocket-pouch converts into a generous sized backpack. For domestic air travel, I prefer a “personal item” that zips closed, like the duffel style bag available in our MeetUatGate online store. When driving, I prefer an open beach tote  stuffed with easy-to-reach road trip snacks.
    *Tip – The  IKEA pocket bags come in two sizes/styles and make great thank you gifts for travel hosts or new friends who you connect with during your travels. Take a few extra!
  7. Empty Ziplock Bags
    Ziplock bags ensure liquids like local sauces, liqueurs and perfumes do not leak onto your belongings. These also protect your fabrics from absorbing the scents of culinary herbs and seasonings you may want to take to or from your own home kitchen. I collect shells from each beach I visit, and the shells stay divided until I can display them. They also keep the tekkie tools listed above in one place. Quart and gallon sized ziplocks have a perpetual home in my rolling carry-on.
    *Tip – Pack a sharpie and clearly label your bubble wrapped and bagged items. I have this bag of beautiful, unlabeled stones…
  8. Wine Protectors 
    I must admit that I own both versions of these padded wine bags, and use them on nearly every trip. I carry wine, liquor or even olive oils to and fro in these great bags. My brief review: The WineSkin Wine Bag is more durable and a bit more attractive, but I like the heavy cotton absorbent padding in the Jetbag. I once carried a bottle of vino that sprung a slight leak  – and the potential mess was absorbed in my Jetbag, shielding  my clothing and new treasures from red wine..
    *Tip – The Jetbag accommodates BOTH a bottle of wine and a small bottle of sauce or olive oil (upside down and adorned in bubble wrap, of course. )
  9. Camera and Journal: With watercolor pencils and a waterbrush
    A few years ago I started creating a journal page depicting each trip.  I often have to finish them when I arrive home, but I have photos that spark vivid memories, allowing me to re-live sights, sounds and experiences. I write random things like names of kind waiters and foreign language snafus, sketch odd things like road signs and objects, and write descriptive entries about what I hear, see, and feel. The proportions of my scribbles are most times off, but my pages make me smile nonetheless. A waterbrush pen is a great tool for quick sketching on the move. The body of the pen is a water receptacle, so it stays moist without a cup of water nearby.
    *Tip – If you are unsure of your sketching skills, a small pad of tracing paper is your friend. Take rubbings of signs, portions of historic markers, foliage or textures and hand write your notes around them. Photograph or scan your “travel art” once home.
  10. Packing Cubes
    Last but not least, this year I became a packing cube convert! There are more expensive options, but the IKEA four-pack is an easy, inexpensive favorite as a start. For Li, packing cubes are about organization. For me it’s all about compression. When I traveled to South America for three weeks during their winter, I packed heavy sweaters, a sweatshirt, jeans and boots  – and could not believe how much could be rolled and stuffed into a single packing cube. The mesh allows the air to escape while you compress (sit on?) and zip the cube.
    This spring, I traveled to Cabo San Lucas with just a rolling carry-on and my clothing in just the three cubes pictured. The small cube contained five pairs of panties (hidden from view, thanks) and two swim suits, because what sane woman  could go to Mexico with only one? The mid-size cube contains a knit sundress, a pair of leggings, a casual knit dress that doubles as a beach cover-up, and a long sleeved tee. The largest cube is double-sided, with one side containing long cotton pants, a long knit skirt, two tanks,  a men’s white linen shirt, a cotton pashmina, and a strapless bra. The reverse side contained non-clothing items listed above like tech items, rain ponchos and journaling supplies. When I travel internationally, I pack clothing that I plan to leave behind. I plan for for the bubble wrapped treasures and of course, the wine bags full of goodies!
    Serial travelers may want to check out http://bestreviews.com/best-packing-cubes.
    *Tip – A clothing-packed cube doubles as a nice, firm travel pillow. Just pack it into a pillow case. I’ve even carried mine on my flight, as pillows count as neither a personal item nor a piece of luggage.

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New York City Conquers the Well Heeled

The first time I visited New York City for a grad school city session, I mistakenly presumed I was entering an unfriendly urban playground.  I was intimidated by the streets, the cars, the people and the night. People who know me likely can’t picture me as the puppy dog dutifully following a master of the city; my roommate Andrea, a New Jersey girl. That first morning, as Andrea led me from our hostel-ish abode to embark on our 15-block walk to our classroom at the Type Director’s Club, we agreed to pump some coffee into our system.

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Coffee on every corner.

In a blink, that coffee experience changed my perspective of New York City. Picture this. It’s November. I’m masquerading as a stylish city girl, sporting cute spike-heeled boots and a leather coat. I have a small point-and-shoot Cannon in my pocket, so I can quickly pull it out and sneak quick photos of the interesting and amazing sights. Andrea speed-walks a couple of yards ahead of me. The aroma of liquid caffeine beckons Andrea, and I follow her into the door of a corner cafe. In what seems like a blink, we’re back out on the sidewalk.  I’m balancing hot coffee in one hand, my mini-camera in the other,  and I’m racing against the blinking orange Don’t Walk sign. Then it happens.

In a nano-second, my heel sinks deeply into the manhole cover grid, and boom – I’m face first in the street, with two hands in the air; one holding my hot coffee high and dry, and the other holding my unscathed camera. Andrea is frozen, initially mortified. Immediately I am surrounded by concerned New Yorkers. Men and women, young and old, pull me from the street crammed with cars wildly honking horns to the safety of the sidewalk of 6th Avenue. I taste blood.

cimg0161smI look at Andrea, and it’s clear that she and I are on the same “this is worth a REALLY good laugh” page. (As long as I still have teeth.) I smile, close my eyes, and shake my head. She sheepishly asks if it’s OK if she takes a photo of me holding coffee napkins to my bloodied face. Hearty laughter fills the air, and I realize there will clearly be no opportunity to keep this story from my new classmates. My chin and lower lip are as decimated as a third grader’s skinned knee from a bad fall off a bicycle.

Within 20 minutes, my first impression as I walk into class is certainly not the polished, well-heeled professional one I’d planned. I appeared to have been mugged and was in serious need of a first aid kit. Type Director’s Club executive Carol came to the rescue, and I was further on my way to appreciating the kindness of those who live or work in the Big Apple.  During that initial trip, I grew to feel energized by the hustle-bustle of New York City, yet tamed by the lesson the manhole cover had taught me.

In the first round of Cute Heels vs. New York, the city had won hands down. Or face down? The following day I invested in a pair of really great new boots. Flat boots.

 

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Traveler’s Tips to Outsmart Thieves

In Boston,  a man next to me abruptly hollered with frustration, “Where is my bag? It was here – right here!” As he proceeded to spin panicked circles, I stood wide-eyed, just a few feet away in an uncrowded gate area beyond the security checkpoint, extremely relieved that my hand still rested on the handle of my rolling bag. But I was equally alarmed that I had neither seen nor heard the thief who nabbed this guy’s bag from right under our collective noses. That lesson, at his expense, caused me to behave differently when I travel. Over the years, Li and I have embraced safety measures both en-route and upon arrival. Read on to glean at least a few of our traveler’s tips.

RED may be the new BLACK.

Black bags are easiest for airlines to lose, and thieves to nab. I check a red Samsonite roller, and over 10 years have yet to see one like it.  Albeit, it’s now a bit worse for wear, so nobody would guess there would be anything of value inside. If you check a black bag, a bright colored ribbon on the handle helps to identify your luggage, but a ribbon can easily be removed. A bright solid color or print luggage strap around the body of your bag is a better identifier and serves double-duty as a detractor for thieves.

When en-route…

  1. Secure carry-on items. My rolling carry-on remains in front of me while standing; It’s only behind me when in tow. A briefcase or backpack serving as my “personal item” is tethered to my rolling carry-on bag. Briefcase straps slip over the top of the extended handle, securing it to the rolling bag and holding the handles or flap closed. My backpack straps buckle together, secure around the handle extension. If yours do not buckle, consider securing your backpack straps to your rolling bag with a simple bungee cable. With your hand on the handle, your backpack or briefcase becomes a risky target for a thief.

Immediately after enduring your dreaded body scan, be sure to take the time to secure everything back the way it was, or you risk leaving something behind. I can speak to this. I need not explain why.

My rest room pit-stop post-security, before I board a flight is a helpful habit. I make it next to impossible for anyone to reach under or over the stall to grab and run with any of my belongings. I choose an end stall, roll my bag against the wall and wedge it to the door. Because it’s a major struggle for me to get it out of the stall, I’m confident that nobody else is likely to succeed. I never use the purse hooks on the back of the bathroom door. My cross-body purse stays on,  or I quickly tie it to the handle of my rolling bag.

If you are delayed and sleeping in an airport, consider resting  your head on your briefcase or backpack with an arm through a handle or strap. My rolling bag is the right height and thickness to place directly in front of my seat so that I can drape my legs right over  it. Topped with my travel pillow, it adds comfort for the extended wait. Rest assured, I do not have an unflattering photo of this unique sleeping position.

Protect your purse – and your cash. For travel, I keep  a handbag with a cross-body strap, imageeven if they go out of style. Metal or thick leather straps work best. Thin corded leather or fabric straps may tempt a snip-and-run purse-snatcher. I keep very little cash in my purse and no identification or credit cards unless I absolutely have to. Lipstick, an inexpensive point-and-shoot camera, a road or city map, toilet seat covers, and under $30 typically reside in my handbag. In each of two hidden travel accessories, I have cash (US and/or International), credit cards, my ATM card and my driver’s license or passport. One hangs invisibly around my neck, under my clothes. The other is flat around my waist, under my clothes, with the bulk in the small of my back. It doesn’t bother me on the plane and it goes with me when I leave my seat. Continue reading “Traveler’s Tips to Outsmart Thieves”