And now for something totally un-related to travel

Note: In case the title was not clear, the following has nothing what-so-ever to do with travel. But don’t stop reading! This was a fun exercise in creative writing that I decided to publish because it makes me happy. Consider it a brief antidote for holiday stress. Enjoy!

The Elf Express Breaking News (“So Hot Off the Press, it Kringles!)

Santa Suffers Season-Ending Setback In Meteor Collision: Christmas Deliveries Now In Question

Santa’s Work Shop, North Pole: In an early morning press briefing today, recent suspicions and rumors in social media about a suspected mid-space collision between a stray meteor and Santa’s Sled were confirmed. Santa Klaus, aka “Kris Kringle,” sustained a life-threatening injury during a “major incident” eight days ago during the Geminid Meteor shower, as Santa’s Sleigh re-entered earth’s atmosphere during a training exercise.

Details as to the extent of Mr. Klaus’ injuries were not available at the time of this posting. In follow up conversations with a House Elf wishing to remain anonymous, we learned that Santa’s injuries were serious enough to result in a medically-induced coma.

“We’re cautiously optimistic Santa will recover,” said an unidentified spokes elf as part of a brief statement to media.  “It was not a large object by the time of the strike. Unfortunately it is also clear that the severity of Santa’s injuries will prevent him from participating in the Christmas 2014 season.”

The spokes-elf’s confirmed Santa’s Sleigh sustained a direct hit by a melting object, which also struck Santa’s left side at a significant speed. Additionally, Santa likely benefited by still carrying added pounds from his summer weight, approximated to be about double his winter working weight.

“Kris is a fighter,” said Mrs. Klaus in a prepared statement. “We spoke briefly today—I get two minutes—and can confirm that his spirits remain high and as always, his outlook is positive. He’s weak, and visibly distraught about missing the 2014 Christmas pull. Please continue to be nice, and rest assured that we are doing our best to find a replacement to deliver presents this year.”

The spokes elf says an aggressive search for a Santa replacement is ongoing. However, finding a suitable replacement will not be easy. In addition to considerations of ballast and sheer strength, the replacement requires an excellent sense of direction and acute attention to detail.

“It’s as much art as brawn,” says one of Santa’s helpers who also requested to remain anonymous. “Add to that the necessary little bit of crazy involved in this high-pressure night, and the list of available option dwindles to a handful.”

Among the list of potential replacements currently in discussion with Santa’s Team 2014 Christmas are The Easter Bunny, Old Man Winter, and Saint Valentine. Once considered a favorite, Jack Frost’s spokespeople explained an ongoing back issue related to climate change prevents him from participating. Saint Patrick was disregarded early on in because of alcohol-related concerns as deliveries go later into the night.

In addition to Santa’s injury, two unnamed reindeer suffered minor shrapnel injuries, but were spared from more serious injury thanks in part to a buffer of 20,000 tons of “test-run presents” padding impact. The faux present load is twice an average load and used in physical conditioning of Santa and his eight tiny reindeer™.

The Spokes Elf ended the briefing by expressing his collective’s great sense of relief that Santa was able to maintain control of the damaged sleigh and guide it safely back to the North Pole. Still, others are criticizing Santa for what they suggest is not-so-saintly behavior.

“It was completely irresponsible to do a run the night after a meteor shower,” said reindeer 208 of the Reindeer Sled Pullers Union (RSPU). “It shows a complete disregard to safety and the go-go-go Christmas rush we believe is directly related to the commercialization of the holiday.”

Continued 208; “if that meteor hit one of our pull teams instead of a fortified, reinforced sled the outcome would have been catastrophic and likely include multiple deaths.” It takes a full eight reindeer to control the kind of tonnage Santa requires.” RSPU has long lobbied for a standard twelve, Santa remains steadfast. “He’s locked in at eight because of Moore’s damned 1823 poem. Even after negotiations to include Rudolph on cloudy nights it’s important to point out that his roll is to light the way. Everyone knows he can’t pull worth a damn.”

In a follow up statement by Reindeer 208, RSPU stated that had the stray meteor killed any of his tiny brethren, the conversation would be “decidedly different.”

“It would have been the end of Christmas as we know it. This accident illustrates the ongoing dangers we encounter on a yearly basis. We have long been calling for changes but moving forward we will be demanding changes. We are in the process of gathering comments from our members right now. These will no doubt address a number of extended issues that must addressed by the Klaus family and their holding company.”

Ongoing points of contention between Santa and the RLSP boiled over in the late 1940s after pullers had sustained numerous injuries while sledding over combat zones. Among outlier issues expected for inclusion are female sleigh representation, non-GMO feed, meeting actor Billy Bob Thornton (famous for his accurate depiction of Santa in the summer months), and heated holding pens.

“Regardless, next year at this time things will be different,” the statement concluded. “They have to be, for reindeer to continue participating in Christmas.”

Elf Express News is part of Noel’s Silent Nightly News Network™

Amsterdam: You Should Go. But Please Do More Than Just Smoke

I was sad to read in the September issue of Departures magazine that Amsterdam is becoming passé for American travelers. Do people really only visit this great city to smoke weed? As a non-smoker I can’t wrap my head around visiting a place only to spend the entire time inside, tokin’ it up. (I’m not judging. When I travel, the last thing I want to do is sit in one place. There is too much to do and see.)

If you plan to visit Amsterdam, read below or online. This is a great primer on what to expect in this contradictory city. It’s fully of art, history and culture. Which is why this city should stay on your bucket list. If you have never been here, make sure to read “Amsterdam By Bike.” Consider yourself warned: the article doesn’t even begin to underscore how AGGRESSIVE cyclists are. And, since I saw the Rikjsmuseum during its renovation, I think visitors would like this short piece on the newly renovated museum.

A word to the wise… don’t travel to museum with pepper spray.

Amsterdam Smoked Out

The Dutch capital is a city of contradictions, none more notorious than its official-unofficial tolerance of cannabis. Why is marijuana such a resilient touristic cliché even though the locals hardly smoke anymore and Amsterdam has so much else to offer?

The Dutch historian Ruth Oldenziel lingers over a cup of coffee on a rainy Saturday morning in Amsterdam at De Ysbreeker, a café and restaurant in the Weesperzijde neighborhood with roots that stretch back to 1702. She is discussing the arc of the city’s status as a liberal bastion and a pot smoker’s destination through the years. “I think a lot of tourists come for the image of the 1970s that’s really not here,” she says.

A native Amsterdammer and a Yale-educated professor at the Eindhoven University of Technology, Oldenziel remembers the ’60s and ’70s, when John Lennon and Yoko Ono staged their week-long “Bed-In” against the Vietnam War at the Amsterdam Hilton. She remembers when the “flower-power bus,” full of free spirits in colorful garments, made runs from the city’s Museumplein to Afghanistan. She remembers when marijuana was a cultural token for many of the city’s intellectuals and not just a tourist attraction.

In recent decades, though, many artists have been priced out of Amsterdam, the government continues to slash cultural funding and the city’s squatter movement has run its course. And yet in the air above this tony, cobblestoned city of posh bike riders (see “Amsterdam by Bike,” following page), the ’60s and ’70s still hang around like ghosts wafting in the clouds of OG Kush smoke blown from tourists’ lips. Of the six million travelers who pass through each year, 35 percent visit a “coffeeshop,” where the sale of cannabis is tolerated, according to a survey published in 2012 by the Amsterdam Tourism and Convention Board. “It’s unbelievable,” says Oldenziel, whose partner owns a bed-and-breakfast. “You have totally bourgeois middle-class people who come for the weekend. And they’re not doing just the museums but also getting drugs. We look at it and find it a little passé, really.”

But as legal grass becomes increasingly normal in America, the idea of traveling to Amsterdam to smoke dope is quickly becoming passé for the American traveler, too. Less than a year after Washington and Colorado legalized marijuana, some form of legislation to decriminalize or legalize it for recreational or medical use may be on the table in more than half of the 50 states. And the American offering is often better than what you get in the Netherlands: The United States has better farmland and a more honest, service-oriented approach to selling cannabis and the experience around smoking it.

Forget the diminutive Amsterdam storefront crowded with hostel itinerants, droopy-eyed from taking one bong hit after another. Bring on the chauffeured stretch limo making a round of the best weed shops in the Mile High City. (It exists. It’s called “Colorado Rocky Mountain High Tours.”)

That said, Amsterdam has been a destination for centuries, and so it will remain for centuries hence. And as America follows in Holland’s footsteps, getting hip to Dutch culture is more profitable than ever—fodder for a deeper kind of travel that sends us home with a more complete understanding of ourselves and not just sticky ash at the bottom of our coat pockets. The Rijksmuseum, Stedelijk Museum and Van Gogh Museum, all of which have been renovated in the last two years, have long been an unreplicable triple threat at the heart of the city. And given the far-flung mercantile history of the Dutch, nobody eats, drinks or stages a market quite like them. With the increasing banality of smoking marijuana in public, the city of Amsterdam is, in itself, at last the best reason for a visit.

Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City (Doubleday), published last fall by the American author Russell Shorto, frames Amsterdam as a place that has always operated in the space between contradictions. The city would scarcely exist, Shorto argues, if northern­ European farmers hadn’t been determined centuries ago to find the gray area between land and water. Much of Holland and most of Amsterdam are reclaimed from the sea. This alchemy took backbreaking work and a community ethic. From the beginning, there was a bias in Amsterdam toward collectivism, because keeping the water at bay required all hands. A precondition for the city’s existence, this emphasis on community shaped Amsterdam, starting in the Middle Ages, into one of the most progressive places on earth.

But for those who follow Dutch politics, tagging Amsterdam as the most liberal city in the world today is a harder sell. Recent years have seen the ascendance of the anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders and new rules that increasingly restrict the sale of pot, like the Weed Pass, a short-lived membership card system that kept foreigners out of shops in the southern provinces. These measures haven’t kept tourists out of Amsterdam’s coffeeshops, but new ordinances in the city prohibiting the sale of marijuana within a 250-meter radius of schoolhouses have closed a couple of shops. The “most liberal city” is becoming more conservative.

“The liberalism we associate with market capitalism is very much in the DNA of this city,” Oldenziel says. “You can see it in religion, you can see it in prostitution, you can see it in drugs. The word ‘gedogen’ is very important.” Gedogen is one of those European terms that natives boast can’t be translated. It comes from the Dutch legal lexicon and lands somewhere between the English “condone” and “tolerate,” without the positive undertones of the former or the negative implications of the latter. That’s to say, selling weed in the city isn’t legal, but it’s unofficially permitted and heavily regulated—just like prostitution before it was legalized and the schuilkerken, hidden churches of Catholics and other religious minorities that were peppered throughout the city in the 16th and 17th centuries. It’s a legal gymnastics designed to satisfy the maximum number of people.

Bob Vink, a criminal defense attorney with many clients connected to the coffee shop world and the Dutch drug trade, appreciates his country’s liberal stance on marijuana as a father with five sons but sees its major shortcomings as a lawyer. His firm occupies a thousand square feet next to his home, an old workshop and warehouse near Amsterdam’s Jewish Quarter. “As a participant in this society, I think the fact that we skip the taboo of marijuana makes it quite easy to speak about it with our kids,” Vink says. But coffee shop owners, he explains, “can only buy from the black market, so they have to deal with obscure sources and dangerous situations, which makes people very, very, very nervous. That’s one of the most outrageous situations in this policy.”

The irony is that Amsterdammers don’t really smoke. The availability of weed in Holland is less a statement about the position of drugs in society and more a symptom of an attitude that favors free but regulated trade. Sitting in his office just off Kalverstraat, the city’s old shopping boulevard downtown, Amsterdam Museum director Paul Spies tells a story about the time he set up a business meeting at a coffee shop on Herengracht. “I said, ‘I’d like to have two coffees,’ and they looked at me like, ‘Where are you from? This is a coffee shop,’” he remembers. “This happened to me, a born Amsterdammer.”

Spies makes a point about how unimportant coffee shops and the soft drug trade are to the city and the locals living there. “The mainstream is people working hard to make themselves a living for their family life, and all around them is this very colorful, very open-minded fringe,” he says. “And the fringe is what is mostly seen by people from outside.” You could draw an analogy to American gun enthusiasts, who make a more exciting impression on any foreigner than do Americans who are enthusiastic about something less violent.

Another morning in Amsterdam, Tahira Lmon, a spokeswoman for the city, is sitting in a café—nothing to do with weed, just a place that sells coffee—on Waterlooplein. Out on the street, vendors offering carpets and antiques are setting up their stands for the daily flea market. “Sometimes outsiders see the idea of liberalism in Amsterdam and think that anything goes,” she says. “That’s not the case.”

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Passport Renewal Time

My passport expires this month. As you might imagine, based on the name of my little blog, my passport’s a special thing.

I can remember when I first got this passport. And I remember thinking what a long time away August 2014 seemed to be, and suddenly it’s here.

Generally, I am on top of these things and would already have a new one. Except it struck me, I’d be facing blank pages. It would no longer be my old friend, filled with my favorite memories.

The pure horror of getting my passport renewed; the crisp, untraveled and inkless paper, no stamps to document my adventures? What the hell was that about? I was crushed. But that was so 2004. The only thing constant is change. And so it goes.

Apparently, though, at some point in the past ten years U.S. citizens could add 24-pages to existing passports. This was, assuming a passport hadn’t already expired. I wondered, was this just a cruel urban myth?

Not that my passport is full. Compared to some friends it’s relatively empty, (although, it sure would help if customs agents would put the stamps where I asked them to, not wherever they flipped it open to, because nothing drives me crazy like a stamp that is placed in front of older trips).

Still, the one thing I decided was that I wasn’t going to surrender my hard-earned stamps. Call me a nerd, but I get such joy flipping through my passport looking at the stamps and remember something different from each trip. I lost my old passport, and stamps to France, Switzerland, Scotland, Germany and a half-dozen other wonderful spots. And I never quite got over it.

Enough tripping down memory lane. Back to the actual passport renewal … I was fascinated by the possibility of someone adding to my existing passport by sewing more pages into it. If it was real, I wanted to confirm it, and blog about the process. And, I was able to confirm online that it was, in fact, possible.

But there were a few necessary steps to initiate the process. I started by calling the passport office in January to make arrangements. I got a response directing me to the state department’s legal office. I never got a return call or email. Disappointing, but unfortunately, predictable.

Since I live in the District of Colombia, I am in walking distance to the passport office to have my photo taken and get the proper form. The information is online but sometimes confirming these details with an actual human is important when dealing with government agencies. It’s kind of like that old carpenter’s saying, “measure twice, cut once.” Especially important when you have to temporarily surrender your passport.

I got all my forms filled out, made copies of my passport, and proceeded to the passport office. I was ready to rock.

Except that I didn’t bring my checkbook with me. Doesn’t it just figure that credit cards aren’t accepted? Our Government will only take a check, or money order to renew a passport. Measure three times, when it’s the government.

Anyway, my little blue book is off getting a “facelift” of sorts. I feel almost naked without it, and look forward to its return.

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A Special Trip

Today Mr. Os. went on a special trip. It was just him, and our still healthy, 18-year old husky, Crash. It happened in the middle of our living room.

I rescued Crash when he was about three, which later was pinpointed to “close to four…or so.” He’s the oldest dog at our vet clinic. He almost didn’t make it past 14, but Dr. Teisch helped guide us through rehabbing a slipped disc. Four years later, he’s only now…over the past few months…begun to show his age.

Suddenly, people on the street comment, “he’s older, isn’t he?” They never used to. Everyone was so surprised. “Seventeen! Really? I’d have thought seven.”

But now, his age is just something that impresses. It no longer surprises.

And, DC summers being what they are, Mr. Os. is right. For him, winter probably is not coming.

That’s why, at the moment, I’m about to flip my noodle. You see, I recently started my own business. And it’s been going great. But, I mostly work from home. As does Mr. Os. That part is great.

But never leaving a dachshund or husky is a lot of work. I had no idea. It never ends. Think, two of the neediest kids you know, now make them old. Now make one a bully (dachshund), and the other a pushover softy (husky).

The "Dynamic Duo" on guard to greet anyone bold enough to come over.
The “Dynamic Duo” on guard to greet anyone bold enough to come over.

Add one enabler who’s completely spoiled the pushover (husky), and indulged him, that he and the dog have daily conversations. These are distinct, and unique. I’ve heard it enough times. “Pay attention.” “Treat?” “…Treat!”

Then there’s my favorite. “She’s picking on me, she’s picking on me.” And with the dachshund, she’s always doing that. It’s what dachshunds do. They assert.

And so my work environment is not dissimilar to being in the middle of an oil drilling operation. Constant motion. Perpetual noise.

Lately, it’s gotten worse. It’s because our dachshund, Sophie, has also seen it. Seen our husky (Crash) begin to show his age. His frailty. And she’s become more dominant. It’s been difficult. Crash is my baby, and she’s such a bully.

How Mr. Os. sees Sophie.
How Mr. Os. sees Sophie.

That’s just nature doing its thing. We try to offset it, and stop it as quickly as it starts. But the dachshund is a stubborn breed, and Sophie’s listed in the dictionary under “stubborn.”

How Sophie really is.
How Sophie really is.

But, back to the trip. Mr. Os. decided today that as DC hit summer, and summer hit DC—always harsh, but even more so for huskies, because of the humidity—Crash would more than likely not make it to fall.

It’s a harsh truth. Now, let me just say that this dog still looks “amazing for his age.” And he’s still mostly all there. Aside from the occasional faux pas, he’s been great. There were a few times, once almost peeing on the palm, another time being zonked on Xanax (first and last attempt to help him sleep through the night) and peeing across the living room and into the dining room, but aside from those few memorable moments he’s been healthy.

We’ve already had our “worst time,” event. It was the day we were off to Spain. That morning, Mr. Os. and Crash peeled off to go to our vet, for Crash’s daily treat. I was wrapping up a client hand-off and heading back.

I didn’t expect to hear “Crash was walking and he just…he had a stroke.” An hour later, I met them at the vet. Long story short, that was last October. Since then, he’s happy and healthy, knock on wood. He’s been with it.

He’s only on one prescription that helps his back. He can do the stairs on his own still. These days he can only make it to the first floor, and needs to be carried up the second flight. We’ve started to keep his harness on, and helping him walk up the dreaded second set of stairs.

He used to hate it. Holding Crash by his harness was similar to wiggly luggage. But now he knows, and let’s us lift him, and help him. He enjoys the attention.

Crash, waiting to be helped up the stairs.
Crash, waiting to be helped up the stairs.

But all this goes back to the trip. And I will not digress again. The trip, was Mr. Os. holding Crash’s head, both of them lying on the floor. One hand under Crash’s neck, close enough to softly speak to Crash in a reassuring tone. Repeating a chant that he and Crash seem to have worked out. Sometimes, it kinda freaks me out, I’m not gonna lie.

But it works with Crash. He melts like butter. This time, Mr. Os. did it for about a solid hour. He wants to make sure Crash has as many happy, and special memories as possible. Every day, every night, every morning, every afternoon.

And that kind of attention…it’s just not healthy. That’s how you get those Idi Amin types. Which is the constant balancing we’re doing, walking a tightrope. I call it indulging. Mr. Os. calls it “making it special,” and at times it makes me crazy.

But, I can’t argue Crash is happy. And so, today, Mr. Os. used an hour to formally say “just in case, I wanted you to know….”

Of course, the dachshund broke it up before the hour was up. Because, Sophie. But, I’m sure he’ll do it again. And, I might have an extra 15 minutes I could spare.


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The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men Often Go Astray


Vacation is all about relaxing. But sometimes, just trying to de-stress can be distressing. Why?

One main reason is that traveling involves planning. Unless you’re travel details are being planned by others, or you’re on a cruise.

And, as the saying goes, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.” No matter how loose vacation plans are, every day is made up of us moving through a series of objectives—from when and what to eat, to where to go and how to get there.

Sure, part of every plan is to be prepared. And the more we plan and prepare for vacation, the greater the chances of a smoother vacation, more like what we envisioned. Unfortunately, the more plans there are, the more opportunities one might encounter hiccups and stress along your travels.

I don’t think that’s an argument for not planning and preparing. I like a well-organized vacation. But the thing is, even minor bumps in the road that would be easy enough to manage life’s curveballs when you are home. If traffic is bad, you know what side streets are best to get you home. If the Metro is delayed, you know the best place to grab a cab and still get to happy hour.

But, those same little hiccups are much different away from home. When the airline ticketing agent in Peru says a “surprise airline strike” cancelled all flights out of Cusco, which would result in missing a return flight home…well…that can derail the peaceful, easy feeling attained at Machu Picchu. It’s disruptive to a vacation when one of the major highlights of a holiday is visiting India’s Taj Mahal, and while on the way, the driver tells you the highway is closing because of violent deaths and beheadings.  (Yes, both of those personally happened to me, along with a dozen other bumps and barriers.)

My approach to handling those stressful times is simple. I address the stress in five steps. First, I recognize it. This involves the initial bit of internal freaking out, and colorful language. Then, consciously and exercising extreme self-control, I make four things happen.

1) I put the stress into perspective.
2) I roll with it.
3) I figure out options (current and future), and then—most important—
4) I get right with it.

That might sound simplistic, or written off as obvious and easy. But wait until you’re facing stress on vacation, and then move through the above.

Traveling stress free is hard, you’ve put a ton of energy, time and money into details just to get to a particularly country. On our recent trip to Spain, I admit I was initially really disappointed with our hotel arrangements. In fact, I did more prep and planning for Spain, than any other trip.

I did everything experienced travel bloggers recommend: check the hotel website, check the online reviews (especially TripAdvisor—a MUST, in my book), called to confirm specific details like a hotel shuttle to City Center were correct, etc. To this day, there are no words to describe how angry I was when the receptionist informed me that I was, in fact, misinformed about the “free” shuttle timing and cost. She got a got taste of Irish temper on that one. But, I’ll tell you now, that didn’t help the situation. Never lose it. Allow a mistake to be “recovered” and believe in the power of the social network. Again, I flag TripAdvisor.

With that in mind, I do have some additional tips that have worked for me to get me through the little curve balls and bumps in the road that happen on vacation travel.

The fact is, even when a trip is planned “by the book” things can and do go wrong. Here are my personal Six Travel Tips to “keep calm and carry on.” They are obvious, but in the heat of the moment, trust me, they are easily forgotten and can get you through to the sunnier, fun parts of enjoying your vacation.

  • Read. ReRead and Read Again. Read all the details about your travel arrangements be it airline, train or rental car. Know what happens, and more importantly, be ready to accept it if your flight is canceled or if your car gets returned a day late.
  • Be kind. Most of the time, the person you want to scream at is not responsible for the problem at hand. Be compassionate because it’s not their fault and they could be the person to get you out of your current predicament. (Confession, I am guilty of violating this rule more than I want to admit. But, I’m learning and getting better each time I travel)
  • Cash is King. In this current age of debit and credit cards, we rarely carry actual currency. When I travel, I always make sure I, and anyone else with me, carries $50 of local currency. Not every store, or restaurant in developing countries takes plastic. More importantly, sometimes when you’re super lost and the smartest thing to do is get a taxi. Period.
  • Keep in touch with the home front. Being the owner of two dogs, we obviously can’t take them oversees with us. Unfortunately, we don’t have DropCam, but we do make sure our friend and pet sitting hero posts TONS of pictures of the fur babies to Instagram. (Let’s face it if you can’t DropCam, Instagram is the next best thing).
  • Don’t open your wallet in the middle of a street. Seriously, you wouldn’t just whip out your wallet while walking down 5th Avenue so why on earth would you do that in Piccadilly Circus?
  • Mind the carry on. If you are heading to the airport or getting on a train, your carry on bag should always have: money, passport, credit cards, hand sanitizer, a clean t-shirt and underwear, toothbrush and toothpaste, journal, and a good book because you just never know. The rest is up to you.
  • Be a copycat. If you travel alone, make copies of your itinerary and travel documents (passport, visa, etc.) and leave it with a reliable (and accessible) friend, or family member. If you know the phone numbers and email addresses where you are staying, include them in the itinerary. I did this when I went to Nepal and it was a huge help concerning a family emergency. (Of course there is always Facebook and email, but consider it an “added level” of security).

Did you know that April is Stress Free Month? Am I the only one who considers that ironic, since it’s also the month taxes are due. What is your worst travel nightmare? Did you handle it successfully? What was your lesson? Have a tip of your own to share?

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Packing for Spain: Don’t Overthink It

Even the most experienced traveler can get packing anxiety. You know: that moment the night before leaving, when everything is laid out on the bed next to your suitcase, and you realize it can’t possibly ALL fit. Or, even worse, you come this realization when only half of your clothes are laid out with the other half in the laundry.

Before Spain, my last big trip was to Peru and the Inca Trail. Packing for that trip was relatively easy because the trail strictly enforces the amount of weight porters can carry. Sure, it’s still possible to get carried away with gear (or “crap” depending on your point of view) you want to take, but it is kept in check by what you are willing to carry in the pack on your back. Thankfully this wasn’t an issue with our trip to Spain. But in a way, the “sky’s the limit” (along with airline weight limits) actually increased my anxiety.

When it comes to travel, my packing philosophy is simple: take what you truly think you will need, and always leave a little room for what you might pick up along the way. Now, there are a thousand and one blogs about the art, theories and strategies of packing. And it really is an art. Plus, it appeals to the OCD side of me. But I digress. What I’ll share are two over-arching, “umbrella” thoughts that are a good approach.

With that in mind, my first umbrella recommendation is straightforward. Pack minimally and wisely. Instead of packing to fill space, focus on the least possible number of things. If you ask “what can I take away,” then by default you are packing wisely.

In the checked bag: one sweater, one cozy, one cardigan, five t-shirts, two lightweight long-sleeve shirts, two fancy shirts, one pair of cords, one pair of khaki's, one pair of trouser jeans. Not pictured: three pairs of shoes: one pair of ballet flats, one pair of loafers and one pair of wedges.
In the checked bag: one sweater, one cozy, one cardigan, five t-shirts, two lightweight long-sleeve shirts, two fancy shirts, one pair of cords, one pair of khaki’s, one pair of trouser jeans. Not pictured: three pairs of shoes: one pair of ballet flats, one pair of loafers and one pair of wedges.

Wisely, for me, also means think “weather” first. I am always cold when I travel. So I bring scarves and usually a sweater even when the forecasts suggest high 80s, or above.

My second umbrella recommendation is to know what you want. By that, I mean identify those one or two critical, must have, go-to items that you need and use on travel. For me, it’s my bazillion year old Gap trench coat that almost always folds into my suitcase. The (mostly) wrinkle-free coat is a black, classic style that blocks the rain and wind in case temperatures plummet, voila, my dress up/dress down extra layer!

I have read other bloggers interpretations of “minimal” as packing five things, hoping on a plane, and buying whatever else they need in country. That is minimal but it doesn’t appeal to my environmental (why buy more clothes if you have what you need at home?) or financial (hello, it’s expensive to buy new clothes) sensibilities. If it works for you, go with it.

Spain was forecast to be in the high 70s with sun the entire duration of our trip. Unfortunately, that changed when we arrived. I made do with the above but would have preferred more sweaters than t-shirts. But yet again, that Gap trench was a lifesaver when it rained most of the time we were in Barcelona. Rule: Read more than the guidebook’s summation of weather over the past decade. Pull up weather reports online. For that matter, check out the local news. (ah, my travels to India. Sigh. A future blog.)

For overseas travel, I always use this massive L.L.Bean tote bag as my carry-on. It’s got a zipper so items won’t fall out in transit, and you’re not an easy mark for pickpockets. It’s large enough for souvenirs that I pick up along the way. Inside the tote there’s also my camera bag (doubles as a backpack, and my travel around town tourist “bag.” I rarely bother with a handbag when travelling for pleasure), my journal, guide-book, tissue, hand sanitizer and my sleep kit.

The trusty L.L.Bean "carry on" tote. Never leave home without mine!
The trusty L.L.Bean “carry on” tote. I never leave home without mine!
Wondering what a "sleep kit" is? Wonder no more! It's my own blanket, socks, eye mask and tooth brush.
Wondering what a “sleep kit” is? Wonder no more! It’s my own blanket, socks, eye mask and tooth brush.

Been to Spain? How did you pack?

(Editors note: any brand names in this post are my personal favorites—Especially L.L. Bean—and none represent paid endorsement).


My all purpose camera/travel bag.
My all purpose camera/travel bag.

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It’s Never To Early (or late) for Traveler Tuesday

You know those ‘Get Rid of Cable’ DirecTV commercials? The ones where something bad happens resulting from the frustration of waiting forever for the cable guy to show up? Those ads feel like a good reference for what’s been happening in my life recently.

Except in MY commercial, the voiceover would say: “when you get pneumonia, you feel terrible and tried. You watch a lot of bad television and end up neglecting your blog. Don’t get pneumonia. Keep paying attention to your blog.”

I’m on the mend and (a little belatedly) happy to share that I was recently featured on a favorite blogger of mine’s site Misadventures with Andi’s Traveler Tuesday series. You can check out my Q&A here. Thanks very much to Andi for featuring me, it was a lot of fun to work with her.

And, I announce that I’m back on track to regular blogging!

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