Useful Travel Hacks

Hack: A strategy or technique adopted in order to manage one’s time and activities in a more efficient way. Any method of doing something that either simplifies or makes your life easier.

Our retirement has allowed us to do a fair amount of traveling, for which we are very grateful. Although we enjoy being home and the day-to-day familiarity of our city, neighborhood, and friends, we are always looking forward to our next adventure. In fact, before we put away our luggage after a trip, we make sure that, zipped inside, are items we don’t want to forget when we hit the road again.

Our list of travel hacks has developed over time. As we identify items that are handy to have or we wish we had packed, we add them to the list. Nothing is expensive or unusual (in fact, you probably have most of them already) but they may not be what most people think to pack.

Nightlight
Hotel rooms and other lodging can be very dark at night, especially if they have blackout curtains. Pitch darkness and an unfamiliar room layout can lead to bumped shins, stubbed toes, and maybe even finding yourself in the closet rather than the bathroom. We bring along a nightlight just in case our room is too dark to safely get around.

Binder Clips
If the problem instead is light leakage because the curtains don’t close properly, large binder clips are great for pulling the edges of the curtains together.

Electrical Tape
Have you ever turned off the lights in a hotel room only to find a bunch of bright lights lighting up the room? Not only can clock radios and microwave displays light up a room, TVs and smoke detectors have teeny LED lights that can drill into your eyes, especially if you are light-sensitive. A piece of electrical tape can cover these lights and let you sleep.

Flip Flops
Maybe it’s just us, but we don’t like to walk around barefoot in hotel rooms, so each of us keeps a cheap pair of flip flops by our bedside. We also wear them in the shower. They don’t take up much room in our luggage and they make us more comfortable.

Long Charging Cord
Electrical outlets found on the road are often inconveniently located. Having a long charging cord (ours are 10 feet long) makes it easier to plug in wherever you are.

Pouch of Useful Stuff
On our earlier travels, when we needed items like rubber bands, paper clips, small binder clips, highlighters, scissors, or post-it notes, we would have to take the time to find a store. In addition, we often had to buy a lot more than we wanted (a box of rubber bands instead of the two or three that we needed). Finally, I got smart and put together a small travel-size supply of these items. When we get home, I resupply my yellow pouch of useful stuff and put it back in my suitcase for our next trip.

Personal Business Cards
Soon after we retired, we had personal business cards printed. Now when we meet people we want to keep in touch with, we hand them one of our cards. This avoids the need to scramble for a pen and a piece of paper to write down our contact info (our cards have our names, email addresses, and phone numbers). A card has less chance of getting lost than a scrap of paper and it’s easier to read. There are a lot of companies that print business cards (we used Vistaprint) and most offer a ton of design choices. We picked a two-sided design so we could print a travel quote on the back.

There are many other items to consider as well (an empty envelope to keep receipts in, a thin plastic bag for dirty laundry, tiny flashlight, etc.), all while balancing weight and bulk versus convenience.

So, how about you? Do you have any items that you wouldn’t leave home without? Along with clothing, toiletries, camera, maps, and journals, is there something – or things – you make sure to pack? I’d love for you to share your favorite travel hacks that have helped you enjoy your time away.

Thursday Doors – Port Townsend, Washington

Port Townsend sits at the northeast tip of the Olympic Peninsula. Because of its prime location near the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the site of a safe harbor, it became an important shipping port in the late 1800s. The town grew rapidly on speculation as investors banked on Port Townsend becoming the largest port north of San Francisco. Although that dream never came to fruition, many beautiful Victorian homes and historical buildings still stand as a reminder of its heyday.

Boating and maritime life are still central elements, but now Port Townsend is also well-known as an artists’ community. The tree-lined streets of the waterfront downtown area features multiple galleries, artists’ collectives, unique shops, and tempting restaurants.

And doors. Port Townsend has so many beautiful doors, it was hard to capture them all… which I didn’t… which is why I’m sure that I will return.

Thursday Doors is usually run by Norm 2.0, but is guest-hosted by Joey this week. Please visit her blog to find links to more doors.

Spectacles, testi…

When I travel – especially when it involves airplanes – I try to pack as light as possible. Over the last couple of years, I have slowly put together a travel capsule wardrobe that makes packing easier and gives me a number of mix-and-match outfit choices. My capsule is primarily made up of three colors that work well together and integrate with my clothing at home (most of these clothes are part of my everyday wardrobe, not ones that I only wear when I travel). My chosen travel colors are navy, gray, and purple/raspberry. Others might choose black, white, and red (or some other accent color). Pinterest and certain fashion blogs are a great resource for more information.

One thing I don’t usually carry when I travel is a big purse. I much prefer a small cross-body bag for my cash, a small notebook, and (minimal) personal items. I also carry a smaller cross-body pouch for my iPhone (which I like to keep handy for picture-taking).

Because these “accoutrements” – the two smaller bags in place of one larger purse (plus, whatever else I might have, like a map or my DSLR) – are not what I’m used to carrying, I have to be careful not to misplace anything along the way. After eating a meal in a restaurant or attending an event, I try to be extra-deliberate about gathering everything up before I leave.

I call this mental sweeping process I go through to assure I have everything: “Spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch.

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with this saying, here’s the background (hopefully no one is offended):

A priest and a rabbi are on a plane, when the captain makes an announcement: “We are experiencing engine trouble and have to make an emergency landing. This could be rough.” As they are landing, the turbulence is terrible and the priest notices the rabbi making the sign of the cross.

Fortunately, the plane lands safely and, as they are disembarking, the priest says to the rabbi, “so, when the chips are down, you acknowledge Jesus?” The rabbi looks confused, so the priest says that he saw him making the sign of the cross. “Oh that,” says the rabbi, “I’m just checking my inventory: spectacles, testicles, wallet, and watch.”

Apparently, the line is also found in at least two movies: Nuns on the Run and an Austin Powers film.

Although not anatomically correct for me (nor do I carry a watch), this little ditty runs through my head as I check to make sure I don’t leave any of my items behind.

So far, it has worked every time and has helped to remind me more than once to grab my sunglasses before leaving.

Whatever works.

GratiTuesday: Memories of family vacations

As I was growing up, family vacations usually involved long road trips in our Ford (always a Ford) station wagon, pitching tents, and sitting around camp fires. Even if Disney Cruises existed back in the 50s and 60s, I doubt if our sole-breadwinner father supporting a family of five, could have afforded such an extravagance. So, just about every summer, we went camping.

Looking back, I can’t imagine having any richer memories then the ones I have exploring the wonders of our national parks with my family.  Over the years, the parks we visited included Yosemite, Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Crater Lake, Grand Canyon, Bryce, and Zion. We hiked, fished, rode horses, traded stories around camp fires, and learned about the importance of preserving our natural heritage.

On a recent trip to Northern California to visit family, my husband and I decided to take a “slight” detour through Yosemite National Park. It had been over 30 years since my last visit, and my husband had never been there before. Although we only had about a half a day, it was enough time to take in a few of the “must-see” sights and perhaps plan for a longer stay sometime in the future.

As we drove to Glacier Point – which offers commanding views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and the High Sierra – something about the wall along the road looked very familiar. Deep within my memory was an image of a picture my father had taken many years ago of me looking out over the valley. In hopes of recreating the shot, I positioned myself in what I thought was a similar pose and had my husband take my picture.

Although it turned out that we weren’t in quite the same spot as before (Half Dome was much further in the distance in the old photo), I am pretty pleased with the result.

A little later in the day, while hiking around the valley floor, I took a picture of Half Dome from across a meadow. Home from our trip, I was looking through my old family photo album for the picture of me sitting on the wall and found another picture of my father’s that was quite similar to the one I had taken.

I am so grateful that my parents introduced me to the joys of camping and to appreciate the miracles of nature. I cherish the memories I have of those childhood vacations and the times we spent together as a family.

GratiTuesday: The blogging community

When I first started my blog almost three years ago, I wasn’t sure what to expect beyond having an excuse to write now and then. At the time, I was approaching my retirement and I thought blogging would be a good way to work through the uncertainties I was feeling.

What I didn’t expect was that my blog would become an entrée into a community of interesting, generous, and inspiring fellow bloggers. As I got more and more comfortable with the care and feeding of my blog, I started to meet other bloggers who were on similar journeys. That led me to find still others who, although they might have been on different paths, had interesting stories to tell.

In many ways, I feel as if I can call many of the bloggers I follow – and who follow me – friends. Through our posts and our comments, we celebrate positive events, support each other through challenges, and share simple bits and pieces of our lives. If a blogger I’ve been following stops posting – either unexpectedly or with prior notice – I often feel as if I’ve lost a friend.

I’ve been lucky enough to meet face-to-face with several bloggers I follow. Each time, the transition from blog persona to actual person was easy and the conversation comfortable. The get-togethers have felt like meet ups with friends… because that’s what they were.

My most recent face-to-face meeting was with Joanne of My Life Lived Full. Several months ago, when my husband and I started to plan our road trip back east, I reached out to her to see if she’d be interested in getting together while we were in Toronto. Fortunately, she was and she generously arranged her day so we could meet for lunch.

Joanne meetup

Just as I expected, Joanne was as nice (she is Canadian, after all) and interesting in person as she is on her blog. We talked about her family (which I already felt like I had met), our travels, and a whole host of other topics. After a couple of hours of easy conversation, I was sorry when it was time to go.

I am so grateful for the community of bloggers that I have become a part of. I had no idea when I started my blog that it would provide me not only an opportunity to write, but also the chance to meet new friends from all over the world.

Little me traveling in this big, beautiful world

ChairMy husband and I recently returned from an extended road trip through southeastern Canada and the northeastern U.S.  A week-long car club gathering in Vermont was the inspiration for the trip, but we decided to add some time before and after so we could visit friends and family and explore that part of the world.

The beauty of traveling in retirement is that we can enjoy being away from home for multiple weeks without worrying asking for extra time off, missing work deadlines, or even being concerned that our being gone could jeopardize our very employment. When we return, we don’t have to hit the ground running to get back up to speed; we can ease into our comfortable routine and let our bodies readjust naturally to our native time zone.

Traveling for more than a week or two also encourages a more relaxed pace. Since we aren’t racing from one destination to another, we can take more time to experience where we currently are. This allows for more spontaneous side trips, unstructured explorations, and guiltless relaxation.

I also find that a more leisurely pace helps me to be a better observer of the world around me. Because of my blog, I often find myself filtering unique experiences, interesting sights, and general observations through my internal “I wonder if this would be an interesting post?” lens.

This trip was no exception.

The initial planning, our varied accommodations, multiple opportunities to meet with friends old and new, several “ah ha” moments, and observations about the world outside my bubble, all were noted in my travel journal and I plan to write about them over the next few weeks, beginning with my GratiTuesday post tomorrow.

Another plug for a future post: this one as part of the upcoming Cherished Blogfest which runs Friday, July 29 through Sunday, July 31. Bloggers are invited to join in and share their memories, emotions, and stories of a much-cherished object. Last year, I chose my U.S. Passport. This year’s post will be about another cherished travel-related object. If you are interested in participating in the blogfest, click on this link for more information. Even if you don’t join in, you might want to visit the various blogs and read about the much-cherished objects participants have chosen to share.

Finding my happy place

Last week, Sammy over at Bemuzin, posted a list of ten things she loves and ten things she hates. She had been tagged by a fellow blogger to participate in the Love-Hate Challenge, then she tagged ten different bloggers to pass the baton to, including me.

Fortunately, she didn’t list “procrastinators” as one of the ten things she hates, because I’m a bit tardy submitting my lists to the blogosphere.

Blueberries definitely take me to my happy place!
Blueberries definitely take me to my happy place!

For my lists, I’m going to change it up a bit (Sammy also didn’t include “rule-breakers” on her hated list, so I think I’m in the clear). First, few things rise to the level of “hate” in my life, so I will modify my list titles a bit. Second, I’m not going to tag a new group. But, give some thought to compiling your own lists, it was a lot of fun!

Ten things that take me to my happy place:

  • Beginning the morning lazing about and cuddling with my husband
  • Sitting on my deck and enjoying the sunshine
  • Taking walks with friends for exercise and conversation
  • Starting a new book and, after just a few pages, realizing that it’s REALLY good
  • Our blueberry bushes bursting with berries
  • All the yummies we make with our blueberry harvest
  • Small get-togethers with friends – good conversation, good food, and good wine
  • Road trips
  • National Public Radio
  • Coaxing a contented purr from a kitty by scratching behind its ears

Ten things that harsh my buzz:

  • Guilt-tipping (I talk all about it here)
  • When people post controversial things on Facebook without checking its authenticity
  • Drivers who endanger themselves and others by texting or talking on their cellphones
  • Mean people
  • Cooked carrots
  • When I forget someone’s name and have to fumble around in my brain to retrieve it
  • Missing Stephen Colbert and, soon, Jon Stewart on Comedy Central
  • Gophers
  • Ever-shrinking seats on airplanes
  • People who don’t pick up their dog’s poop