August 2010

ready to go!

As promised in my last blog, here are some of my tips and tricks of packing for that upcoming trip, whether it is a long weekend away or a multi-week international adventure. Many of these tips you may already know. Some may sound silly, but this is what I have learned works for me.  I am going to use my upcoming trip to Norway as an example, since I’ll need to bring a variety of clothing for questionable weather conditions. (And because Norway is notoriously expensive, and I DO NOT want to have to purchase anything that I already own).

First and foremost, get everything into a carry-on sized piece of luggage or backpack.  With all of the airlines charging new fees for checking bags (and some even charging for carry-ons), you’ll be doing yourself a big favor to keep your belongings with you.

I use a medium-sized compression sack for my bulky items. For this trip, I have my Gortex rain parka, breathable lightweight sporting jacket (for cooler temps), and wool socks compressed into a neat 7″ x 3″ package.  Since I won’t be wearing those items immediately, they are crammed into the bottom of my daypack.

My 3 pairs of pants are tightly rolled. I have one pair of zip-offs, 1 pair of long hiking pants and 1 pair of comfy lightweight cargos. 2  wick-dri shirts and a cute lightweight button-down, plus a silk turtleneck are the tops I’ve rolled up, and in the empty spaces I have crammed my undies and a pair of LL Bean Mary Janes that are great light-hikers/street shoes.  I will wear my bulkier hiking boots on the plane, then change out of them and put them in overhead once we’re in the air.

compression sack, booze, shoes, Willy. Unfortunately, the dog can't go

I bought a tiny travel umbrellla at Target (my favorite store) on sale for $3.00 in prep for the rain I expect. I also have a waterproof sun hat, along with a cute little cap for bad-hair days. A large scarf that can double as a blanket on the plane will protect me from the cooties on the plane-issued blankets,  plus the fact that some airlines are now charging for them. An inflatable neck pillow will come in handy on the plane as well as long bus trips. An now that TSA only allows a quart-sized baggie to hold all your liquids (in no larger than 3-oz bottles), I went to the package store and purchased 2 little bottles of vodka, thus saving another $7.00 a pop. I’ll put those in w/ my little shampoo and Castile soap, which doubles as body wash and laundry soap.

Last but certainly not least, I have packed Willy and the Boyz, my trusted travel mascot that we purchased from an artisan shop in New Zealand about 15 years ago. Willy has traveled with us on every trip we have taken, and I consider him my ambassador of good will. (He is featured in an anthology that will be coming out later this year!)

Willy & the Boyz in the Alps

All of that , plus a few extra’s  (gum, coughdrops, book, trail mix…)  fits neatly in my daypack, adhering to the USAir size limitations of 14″ x 9″ x 22″. Pretty good, if I may say so myself!

So pack light, pack smart, and Happy Travels, everybody! I’ll report back on my Norway trip upon my return.

The Lofoten Islands

In a matter of days, HK and I will be on a flight headed to Norway. This is our first trip to Scandinavia, so we’re excited to see a different part of the world. We chose Norway as a result of my research for an article on my European Travel site at BellaOnline.  The Norway websites (Fjordnorway and visitnorway)  wowed us with stunning scenery of turquoise blue fjords surrounded by craggy cliffs and majestic mountains. As physically active travelers, we were impressed with the opportunities Norway offers-kayaking, glacier walks, white water rafting and hiking galore. Perfect! Add to that the fact that getting around is easy; the country’s bus, train, air and ferry systems can get you anywhere your heart desires.

HK also made it clear that he did not wish to travel to another 3rd world country this year. Last year’s 3-week trip to Bhutan was enough for a couple more years.

Knowing back in the spring that Norway was our destination, I scoured my favorite discounted airlines websites;  Kayak, Sidestep, Cheapoair and TripAdvisor.  I placed Atlanta-Norway on their watch lists, and within about a month, Cheapoair alerted me that there was a $535  fare. For Norway, that is a DEAL, so I grabbed it!  Now the fun part, deciding on our itinerary and booking rooms. ( I prefer to know where I’ll be staying beforehand, as history has shown us that just showing up, especially in rural areas where accommodations are limited, is risky business.)

Back in the day, I was a travel agent. I even co-owned a travel agency for awhile, but I made both a lousy boss and worse employee, so I quit. No, wait, maybe I fired myself. Whatever…After that gig, I went to work for an adventure travel company and was a trip consultant/tour escort.  Fun job, I got to travel all over Latin America, and HK got to go on several trips with me. Anyway, after learning how to put trips together, and realizing that I do not like group travel, HK and I began orchestrating our own trips, much more to our liking.

It was only after booking our airfare that I discovered that Norway is the most expensive country in the world. Hmmmm…I thought Japan had that title in the bag.  Yep, turns out even staying in a youth hostel can set you back a C-note.  (Compare that to our 50-cents a night tea houses in Nepal-YIKES!) Anyway, after comparing lots of suggested itineraries on travel-oriented websites such as Virtualtourist, Tripadvisor and Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree, I combined all the elements that I thought would suit HK and me best.  The forums on all of those sites are excellent places to gather information and ask questions.  Fellow travelers are typically willing and eager to help.

Even though I was trying to book reservations 3 months in advance, nearly all of the hostels were full, so we will be staying in some camping cabins; small, simple inns; a big hotel on the water that I scored a deal on through, and in the far north, above the Arctic Circle on the Lofoten Islands, we are booked into a fishermen’s cabin for 3 days.

My dilemma has been how to pack for this trip, since the weather will be questionable, at best. My main objective in packing is that we can both carry-on all of our baggage. I have dealt with lost luggage before, and we won’t be in any one place long enough to hassle with that. I also refuse to pay the new rip-off “checked baggage” fees. It’s simply a matter of principle.  If I am dishing out the moo-la to contort my body in an agonizing position for hours on end and eat the shit they serve on those flights, I refuse to give them even more money to lose my stuff!

So, how does one pack for a 2-week trip abroad where some bulky clothes and hiking boots are a necessity? Check back later this week, because I am going to share my “packing-diva’s do’s and don’ts” for overhead-compartment mastery!

When I first learned that the book “Eat, Pray, Love” was being made into a movie, I was soooo not interested. However, my reasons for actually dishing out $7.50 for the matinee price to see it were threefold:

1. I wanted some “girl time” w/ my friend, and it was the only movie we could both agree on.

2. As the European travel editor over at, I wanted to do a movie review.

3. It’s hot as shit outside–movie theaters are nice and chilly!

Let me preface this by letting you in on the fact that I did not like the book. I liked the premise of soul-searching after a life crisis, especially one involving exotic travel, but I felt Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of the book, was totally self-absorbed and turned what could have been a beautiful adventure of self-realization into a whiny, rich-girl spa vacation. Wallowing in self-pity (divorce, failed love affair–whaaa.…) Liz decides to take 1 year sabbatical  divided neatly into 3 parts, beginning in Italy, where she will experience pleasure (read: self indulgence).  Julia Roberts plays the lead character, and I find it hard to feel pity for the dazzling beauty. Had she been rode hard and hung up wet, it may have stirred more emotion.

Next up is an ashram in India, where she devotes herself to finding spirituality. She befriends a crusty Texan and a reluctant Indian bride, both of whom have lessons to share, although you get the feeling that Liz wasn’t paying attention.  When she leaves, she has supposedly become enlightened, but it isn’t clear how that came to be. Was it the henna tattooed elephant?  Her duty to play a bubbly tour guide to an incoming group of devotees?

Ultimately, Liz ends up in Indonesia where she believes the perfect balance will magically illuminate her life.  Instead of allowing life to unfold as it may, Liz continues to control not only her experiences, but to “allow” the audience to see inside her over- indulgent mind. It seemed to me that any time the possibility of an “ah-ha” moment was afforded her, she turned it back to herself and made it, once again, all about her. UGH!  It’s  as if she expects her personal insights to become the universal truth, which, frankly, comes across as a bit patronizing.

Personally (and this comes from the social-worker inside me), I would rather have heard the gritty, real, fucked-up parts of herself that she keeps hidden well below the surface. The movie (and book) focus more on Liz’s magical year of exotic travel, never scratching the surface of human suffering.  Depressed? Looking for answers? Life not unfolding  quite as you hoped it would?  Run way for a year and gorge yourself on spaghetti and sexy men, and life will turn out fine. Just fine.

Hell, give me a nice advance to write a memoir while I take a year for self indulgence, and I’ll come up with a book, as well. And I guarantee it’ll have more substance than E,P,L.

In 2 short weeks HK and I will be on our way to Norway, and I’m telling you, it can’t come soon enough!  Here in Atlanta it has been in the 90’s for months already, and frankly, I am totally over the heat!  Last summer we spent 2 months in Vancouver, BC, and were grateful to escape the oven that we call home in the summertime. And although we had the 2 days of the hottest temps ever recorded in Vancouver (96F), we were at least able to cool ourselves in the refreshing waters of the Pacific.

Anyway, while gathering some essentials that I know we’ll need for our upcoming trip (rain gear and warm clothes–we’ll be traveling north of the Arctic Circle), I came across a crayon, partially melted, stuck in the deep recesses of my backpack. It was a reminder of a long-ago trip that HK and I took to Laos and Thailand several years ago. We had decided to “think outside the box” for our 10-year wedding anniversary, and eventually agreed on an independent kayak/backpack trip down the Mekong River, staying in local villages with none of the creature comforts we take for granted at home. We slept under mosquito netting on the floors of local villager’s homes, ate on the ground off of banana leaves and spoke none of the local language except to ask where the bathroom was (bathroom=hole in ground). The only running water we encountered in the villages was the cappuccino-colored water of the river, so you can imagine how we smelled after nearly a week.

Before we left on the trip, I tried to think of some little something that I could take that might endear me to the locals. (Yes, I like to feel endeared—imagine that). I knew we would encounter lots of children, so i decided that paper and crayons may be just the ticket.  I was right. During the course of our trip, the local kids would curiously poke their heads out of the windows of come just within 10 feet to get a better look at these blonde-haired, fair skinned foreigners. As soon as I got the crayons out and started coloring on my pad, they would gather around and want to draw a picture for me.  The icing was taking digital photos of them and letting them see themselves instantly in he viewfinder.

It was a tough journey, we both got stomach parasites and were exhausted at the end, but in hindsight, iIt really was a trip of a lifetime. I thought I’d share some of my memories from this adventure with you.  What are some of your favorite travel memories? I’d love to hear them!

note the Osama Bin Laden t-shirt.

"happy hour" enjoying rice wine

dinner smorgasbord

Christmas eve, 2002

checking us out from the safety of their hut

group shot!

Mother or Grandmother-not sure

public restroom

karaoke night