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: Vancouver Island

I’m not sure the full blame rests on Norm’s* shoulders, but it has become extremely difficult to travel to a new area and not look for interesting doors to photograph. On our recent trip to Vancouver Island, Canada, I was concerned at first that I may not have any doors to show for our efforts. Afterall, is a vacation without any pictures of eye-catching doors really a success? I think not.

Fortunately, the dearth of interesting doors that we first experienced was remedied when we drove to the northeastern end of the Island. The small communities of Port Hardy and Port Rupert are infused with the rich history and proud traditions of the Kwakiuti First Nation. There, we found beautiful art, traditional crafts, intricately carved totem poles, and yes, doors worthy of a Thursday Doors post.

Big House door in Fort Rupert.

I think this building was a school. 

A very different array of doors were waiting for us at the southern tip of the Island in Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia. We have visited Victoria before and – being July – the main waterfront area was overrun by tourists. So, we decided to head in the opposite direction to see what we could find

Our first stop was Fisherman’s Wharf where we found a flotilla of color and whimsy. Although still touristy (but less crowded), Fisherman’s Wharf is an eclectic collection of shops and restaurants, and floating private residences. Although we were careful to respect the privacy of the people living there, who could resist admiring the brightly painted homes and, of course, taking door pictures? Not me.

Floating homes on Fisherman’s Wharf.
I love this color… sort of a pinky-red.
Lovely door… but the sign in the window (under the plant) caught my eye… beware!
Someone had some extra wood.
Wouldn’t this be a great door to come home to?
Aren’t these water taxis adorable? And, look! They have doors!
If you pass this sign, you’ve gone too far.

The rest of our walk included admiring the World’s Tallest Totem Pole (127 feet, 7 inches), discovering Mile ‘0’ of the Trans-Canada Highway (which spans the entire length of Canada – over 8,000 km), and visiting an old cemetery (which, I’ll admit, was the whole reason I suggested the walk in the first place). No doors, but indulge me in a few tourist pictures:

One very tall totem pole (that’s me at the base).
The beginning (or end, if you start in Newfoundland) of a very long highway.
I understand that cemeteries are not considered “must sees” for most tourists, but that just means they aren’t crowded… by the living, anyway.

And finally, I have to share this last door that we saw just around the corner from the Parliament Building.

It is a terribly boring door, I’ll admit… but look who works inside: The Conflict of Interest Commissioner! According to a Canadian government website, the “Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner is an independent officer of the House of Commons responsible for helping appointed and elected officials prevent and avoid conflicts between their public duties and private interests.” Imagine that! A government that believes so strongly that conflicts of interest should be avoided, they have created a dedicated office to help prevent them.

I think I just fell in love with Canada a little bit more.

* Thursday Doors is a weekly celebration of doors hosted by Norm Frampton (Norm 2.0). Head on over to see his beautiful collection of doors from Kingston, Ontario and to see what others have shared from around the world.

Thursday Doors: Not Doors

When is a door not a door? When it is ajar.

Many of us learned this little riddle as children, right? Well, there’s another time when a door is not a door: when Norm, the host of Thursday Doors, is away on vacation.

Over that last several Thursdays, I’ve been sharing doors from my recent stay in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. San Miguel is rich in unique and beautiful doors, but it also has lovely windows, intricate iron gates, and exquisite stonework. With Norm safely off the continent (and, hopefully taking lots of pictures of the doors he finds in Italy), I thought that I would take advantage of his absence and share a few openings I found in San Miguel that aren’t really doors.

This sounds so much better in Spanish… basically it says Gated Community of the Sun.
We saw ribbons tied above windows all over San Miguel.
More ribbons… and a wooden bicycle.
Rusted iron gate.
Not the most beautiful window, but how cute is that dog?

Now, head on over to Manja’s blog to see her beautiful collection of doors. Since she is guest hosting Thursday Doors in Norm’s absence this week, you will find that cute little blue frog at the end of her post that will take you to links to see other doors… and maybe even share a few of your own.

Thursday Doors: Chapel Doors

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about an amazing experience we had while visiting San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. In that post, I shared photos of the riotous colors and fantastic mosaics we found all over Casa de las Ranas and the Chapel of Jimmy Ray, the property owned by artist Anado McLauchlin and his husband Richard Schultz.

As anyone who read that post can imagine, Anado’s creativity didn’t end with his fantastical wall mosaics and fanciful art assemblages; the doors, gates, and portals on their property were just as enchanting, playful, and full of whimsy.

Although these may not look like doors normally found on chapels, they are rich with a joyful spirit and offer a salvation from boring.

The front gate leading to their courtyard and Casa de las Ranas.
The interior side of the gate.
Anado and Richard’s art studio door.
One of the colorful gates on the walls surrounding their property.
Gate assembled from reclaimed wood.
Whimsical collection of weathered wood and whatever.
This colorful archway led into a small meditation room.
There were a lot of symbols from eastern religions incorporated in Anado’s art.
Yikes… not sure what’s behind this door.
A happy skeleton wearing a skull necklace.
Anado was as colorful as his doors.

Don’t forget to head on over to Norm’s blog to view more of his beautiful collection of doors from Nova Scotia, then click on the blue frog at the end of his post to see what others have shared.

Thursday Doors: Open Doors

We saw so many unique and beautiful doors in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and I often wondered what was on the other side. Was the interior as colorful, whimsical, weathered, or artistic as the door would suggest? Although we didn’t get to see inside of many private residences (darn!) the open doors we did see always encouraged us to glance inside.

Most of the doors in this group could have been included in one – or more – of my other Thursday Doors collections (carved, rounded, weathered, adorned), but that each of these were open gave them a unique character.

Don Taco Tequila… pretty sure this was named with tourists in mind.
The door’s weathered teal paint and aged lace curtain made a charming combination.
I loved the drape of this fabric.
This was one of several beautiful doors we saw in an artists’ colony.
A door within a door.
This door was weathered, rounded, and adorned… but it was open, offering a peek inside.

Don’t forget to head on over to Norm’s blog to view his beautiful collection of doors from Nova Scotia, then click on the blue frog at the end of his post to see what others have shared.

Thursday Doors: Adorned Doors

When we returned from our trip to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and I started to look through all my pictures of the beautiful doors we encountered, I decided to separate them into bite-sized Thursday Door post chunks. This week’s group of doors stood out because of their unique hardware. Some of the hardware has a practical purpose (door knockers, hinges, etc.) and others are purely decorative. Some – like the traditional hand knockers – were found all over the city (including for sale in shops) whereas some looked custom designed and fabricated.

The faces on this door seemed part human, part demon, and part animal.
The knocker was traditional but the teal painted hardware gave the door an artist’s touch.
Look closely and you will see multi-legged lizards guarding the entrance.
A close-up of the lizard-shaped door lock with the sun peeking out underneath.
This hand on this traditional knocker is holding what appears to be a small apple.
The intricate design of the metal frame, stone surround, and terra cotta paint made this door a stunner.
The homeowner must be a dog-lover.
A knocker made out of bicycle parts. This picture was taken by my husband and hasn’t been edited… the door was really this gorgeous color.

Don’t forget to head on over to Norm’s blog to view his collection of doors, then click on the blue frog at the end of his post to see what others have shared.

Thursday Doors: Weathered Doors

Continuing the Tour of Doors through San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, this week I’m featuring a collection of weathered doors. I loved how the patina of age and the result of exposure to sun and rain has worked their magic over the years. Just like last week’s rounded doors, and the carved doors the week before, these doors exemplify the unique beauty to be found in colonial Mexico.

Even though we walked by these doors often, they never offered us a peek inside.
Teal blue and terra cotta seemed to be a favorite color combination.
So many of the doors we encountered made us want to see what was inside.
Often the door’s beauty was enhanced by its surroundings.
Teal and terra cotta again… embraced by the bright blossoms of the bougainvillea.
Interesting translations: the sign over the door reads something like Bar of the Female Dog (or “Bitch”, which has the same negative meaning as in English). The sign to the side indicates that no women, people in uniforms, or anyone underaged are allowed. This was not an establishment in operation… I think the painted signs were just for fun. 
It looked like there were several layers of colors on this door.

Don’t forget to head on over to Norm’s blog to view his collection of doors from his trip to Nova Scotia, then click on the blue frog at the end of his post to see what others have shared.

GratiTuesday: Delightful Discoveries

When planning a trip, especially one where we will spend a decent amount of time in one location, I often do a search on Instagram. Although guidebooks and general internet sources are fine, Instagram can be a great tool to scout unique and interesting locations. That is how I discovered Casa de las Ranas and the Chapel of Jimmy Ray, and decided we had to go.

Located a few miles outside of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, the house and gallery (which is really the entire property) is a fanciful, whimsical, and joyful celebration of color and creativity. The house, outbuildings, and grounds provide a canvas on which the fantastic mosaic and sculptural creations of owner/artist Anado McLauchlin are assembled and displayed.

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To call Anado’s and his husband Richard’s home merely colorful doesn’t do it justice. It really was more of an explosion of creativity, artistic talent, celebratory color, and love. From the moment Anado greeted us just inside his gate to when the tour ended inside their home (where we had the pleasure of meeting Richard, an art historian and professor) we were embraced by their kindness, welcoming spirit, and their joy of sharing this magical place.

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The property wasn’t easy to get to, but the trip was well worth the effort. Tours are by appointment only (anado@madebyanado.com) and not all cab drivers were aware of its existence. Once there, we arranged for the driver to come back after the tour (which lasted about two hours) since it would have been impossible to find another cab where they lived.

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During are stay in San Miguel we visited many of the locations that our Moon guidebook recommended and we very much enjoyed all that the beautiful colonial town has to offer. Sometimes, though, it was nice to get off the beaten path and be delighted by the unusual and unexpected. Casa de las Ranas and the Chapel of Jimmy Ray were a highlight of our trip and I am grateful to Anado and Richard for fully embracing their playful natures and for allowing us to explore their fantastical home.

Casa de las Ranas (House of the Frogs).
Richard welcoming us into his home.

Thursday Doors: Rounded Doors

This week, I’m sharing more of the beautiful doors we found in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Over our seven-week stay, I took so many door pictures that I decided to break them into groups. Last week, I shared pictures of Carved Doors, and this week all the doors are rounded at the top.
Some doors are set off with rich paint colors and some have intricate stonework as their frames, but all are indicative of the stunning architectural details found all over this colonial Mexican town.

We walked by this stunning building almost daily during our housesit. Since it fronted a narrow walkway, it was difficult to get the whole building in a single frame.

I love everything about this door – the color, the ironwork, and the beautiful stone surrounding it.
I really like the contrast of the modern door and the aged stonework.
Another residential door that I would love to open and see inside.
The muted color of the door and the warmly painted building made a lovely scene.
Bougainvillea vines frame this door, the red blossoms a striking contrast with the wall color.

 

Don’t forget to head on over to Norm’s blog to view his collection of doors, then click on the blue frog at the end of his post to see what others have shared.

GratiTuesday: Sharing the Joy

One of the many things my husband and I love about Mexico are the public celebrations. Religious celebrations, wedding celebrations, birthday celebrations, and who-the-heck-knows-why celebrations are often at least partially held where onlookers are welcome to share in the festivities.

Every weekend during our stay in San Miguel de Allende, a wedding (or three, or four) was held in the stunning Parroquia church. Once the wedding mass was over, the bridal party and guests would spill out into the courtyard and onto the street in front of the church. A fancy car or horse and carriage would often be waiting to take the newlyweds to their reception, but not before the invited guests – and anyone in the area at the time – were swept up in the joyful celebration.

The bride and groom waving goodbye before leaving for their reception.

On our way to dinner one evening, we stopped to watch an expat’s 70th birthday celebration. Along with her and her partner’s guests, lucky onlookers enjoyed the revelry, which included a mariachi band, dancing in the street, and the antics of the giant mojigangas (pronounced mo-he-gan-gas) that were decorated to look a bit like the couple.

Betty, celebrating her 70th birthday.
Dancing in the street with the giant mojigangas to the music of the mariachi band.

One event that is unique to San Miguel is Dia de Los Locos (day of the crazies), which is an annual celebration that takes place in June. Los Locos has deep religious roots but much of the festivities appear to be completely secular. Although the day begins with a mass at the San Antonio church (which was just a few blocks from our housesit), once the participants head out to the streets where the crowds are waiting, all vestiges of religion fall away.

As the flamboyant procession moves along the main avenue, onlookers are treated to wild (and often delightfully politically incorrect) costumes, loud music, dancing, and hard candy projectiles being tossed their way. Over 10,000 participants join in the parade costumed as cartoon characters, politicians, clowns (both friendly and scary), and fantasy figures, while an even larger crowd watches from the sidewalks that line the route.

Celebrations and festivals are an integral part of Mexican life. In San Miguel, barely a day goes by that does not commemorate a patron saint, a beloved chapel, or a revolutionary hero. And then, of course, are the personal celebrations like weddings, anniversaries, or birthdays. We were very grateful to not only be there when many of these celebrations occurred, but also grateful to be able to join in and share the joy.