Thursday, October 31, 2013

Are You a Travel Hacker? (It's a Good Thing)

Travel Hacker--one who travels by searching for deals, coupons, frequent flyer miles, etc.  to maximize travel opportunities, packing in the most adventure possible for the least amount of cost.

I was a travel hacker long before there was a name for someone like me.  My sailing career started by sending in a boxtop from a carton of cigarettes (a vice discarded 40 years ago) & $88 dollars for an 11 foot sailboat.  Ok, so it was styrofoam & the green & white sail had "Kool" emblazoned on it, but after Rocket Man took over the living room for a few weeks fiberglassing & painting it green to match the sail, the LSB Leakey was quite a fun vessel for two at a time.  Ever after, when I walk into a boat factory it smells like home to me, & over the years, from a very small beginning I've racked up thousands of sea miles under my keel.

One of the best things about travel hacking is that with an open mind you never know how far your sleuthing will take you. 

Back a few decades ago, before Eastern Airlines went defunct (alas), they had a special go-anywhere fare deal for $800.  That was a lot of money back then, but ticket was good for three weeks, & in those days that was about the same price for a refundable airline ticket across country & back.  On a single ticket you could go to any destination once, including internationally, any place Eastern Airlines flew.

Back then I worked in downtown Los Angeles & spent a great deal of my time traveling back & forth across the U.S.  Instead of booking 3 different round-trip tickets to three different cities, returning home each weekend, I would book a single go-anywhere ticket for my meetings, then use the weekends for personal travel on the same ticket.  No, my employer didn't care where I traveled on my own time, & I actually saved him a great deal of expense money by traveling all on a single ticket.

So the deal was that if I had a conference in Northern California, then a meeting the following week in New Orleans, & another one the next week in Washington, D.C., I had some glorious weekends traveling on my own before I had to be back at my Los Angeles desk.  If I took a day or two of personal time somewhere in that time period, all the more adventure was possible.  All I had to do was choose my in-between destinations.  Miami?  Freeport, Grand Bahama?  San Juan, Puerto Rico?  I'd have to decide on a family visit to the Midwest or quick trip to Guatemala.  Though I did make some guilt-induced family visits, suffice it to say that I also got in lots of sun & some amazing diving on my own time for merely the cost of weekend hotels & meals.

After my retirement, when the go-anywhere tickets were still available, Rocket Man & I devised a unique 3-week itinerary.  Prior to departure we shipped tropical attire & scuba gear to a family member in Rhode Island.  We packed woolies & flew to New England to enjoy a fall week aboard a 19th century schooner sailing coastal Maine.  After a week of coastal cruising we rented a car & drove from Maine to East Providence where we had a lovely visit & shipped our longjohns & sweaters home to California.  We re-packed our earlier shipment of island gear & wear in our suitcases, then flew to the Bahamas to scuba dive & eat great food in out-of-the-way spots.  It was the first time we had dived together & that was a real thrill.

From Freeport we flew (still the same tickets) to New Orleans, where I introduced my man to the cable cars, the sounds of Bourbon street & the street food of the French Quarter.  Our next leg took us to Florida, where we spent a single night before again taking off for the airport, this time going to Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, where we boarded another windjammer for a cruise of the Islands.  This was a totally different type of cruise than we'd experienced in Maine, though also a casual one.  We didn't have to help out in the galley this time, but in the mornings we did have to step over the sleeping bodies on deck (the result of the free rum punch).  A week later, three weeks after our departure, we finally flew home to California, where much to our surprise, we later discovered that we had been awarded enough frequent flyer miles for our trip to each make a free round-trip cross-country.  Our $800 per person tickets turned out to be a super bargain, & the memories have lasted three decades.

This particular deal is no longer available, but great ones pop up all the time.  Travel Hacker "Nomadic Matt" gives a good example how to use online searching & booking to land great airfares.  I didn't have plans to visit London a few years ago until I discovered a deal for $89 each way from New York.  OK, we were in North Carolina at the time, but quickly organized a trip that involved renting a car to visit family & researching genealogical records in New England, & a stay with friends on a boat in New York prior to jetting off across the Atlantic.  The $89 tickets were not just a savings, but inspiration for an incredible journey.

A few years ago the $139 Virgin Air fare between Dulles & Heathrow was so good we took a granddaughter along.  She was excited to be visiting England for the first time, but after takeoff we surprised her with a French phrase book.  She was puzzled until we told her we were also taking her to Paris.  Cheap fares can lead to memorable family experiences.

Repositioning cruises are true bargains, & are generally available twice a year, once in the Spring when ships travel from one cruising route in one hemisphere to that in another, & again in the Fall when the ships return.  In the Fall of 2012 I spent 14 nights aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise ship on a transatlantic cruise between Southampton & Fort Lauderdale.  We made several port calls in Spain & another in the Azores (a definite Bucket List port).   My ticket was $599 ($43 per night), double occupancy with a long-time friend from California.  Next year (2014) we'll be transiting for 16 nights on another cruise ship from Florida to Denmark, via the Azores, France, Ireland & Brussels for $799 each ($50 per night).

Here are five tips for scoring those too-good-to-pass-up deals:

  Read the ads travel section of metropolitan Sunday newspapers.  If there is a special promotion you might find it right there.  The travel section of the Sunday Los Angeles Times is where I once discovered an airline was promoting a new route from LAX to the Gold Coast (think Great Barrier Reef), so $400 round trip tickets to Australia for a daughter & her chaperoning sister made the perfect graduation gift.  This was a long time ago, but as I write this, Norwegian Airline is offering super deals for Summer 2014 between the U.S. & Europe because they also are opening new routes.  For example, book now from $182 each way between New York & Scandinavia or $337 Los Angeles to London.  There are even flights from Fort Lauderdale, so grab these fares while you can.

•  Keep your eyes & ears open.  A dental assistant mentioned to me that a friend had just gotten a good deal on a flight to Costa Rica, & before the afternoon was out I had a ticket of my own [see post on Dental Tourism in Costa Rica].  A family member once told me her daughter had bought tickets to France for $99, which inspired my own online search that scored me two $89 Virgin Atlantic tickets to England, where, after touring for antiques, catching a ferry to France was simple & inexpensive.

•  Combine business & pleasure.  If your company is sending you almost anyplace, get creative & figure out what you can do with that opportunity.  Leave the weekend before, come back the weekend after, explore local sights or use your temporary location as a jumping-off point for adventure.  A meeting in New York?  Book your return trip from Washington, D.C. (probably the same price).  Hop on a train to the nation's capitol post-meeting & spend a couple of days touring the Smithsonian & National Monuments.  Boston in the Fall?  Get an inexpensive rental car & do a New England foilage tour or visit Cape Cod after most of the tourists have left.  Grab your Atlas & see what you can discover.  A little bit of geography can go far in expanding your horizons.

•  Get on mailing lists for newsletters & promotions.  Subscribe to Amazon Local, Groupon & Living Social deals.  Your in box will fill with budget travel opportunities.  While on a transatlantic ship last year I booked attractions, accommodations & tours before docking in Fort Lauderdale.  Saved a bundle ziplining over alligators, swimming with manatees & staying in luxury resorts.

•  Be ready to go on short notice., whether flying or cruising.  Last minute deals can be a steal.  Check your passport to make certain it is not going to expire in the coming year, as some countries will not allow you to enter unless you have more than six months remaining time before renewal.

Travel hacking will not only take you places about which you've only dreamed, but will let you travel on a surprisingly tiny budget.  In addition, you'll have great fun in the process of scoring great deals.  Just think, your next journey could begin by picking up a newspaper or overhearing an interesting conversation!  Keep watching this site, as I'll be posting much more on the Art of Travel Hacking later. 

Update:  Here is another excellent example of of quick travel hacking by author Nomadic Matt, who helped a friend accumulate 110,000 frequent flier miles quickly for a business class trip to the Philippines.  (There is a link to Matt's book on the right-hand side of this page.)

Monday, September 30, 2013

Dental Tourism in Costa Rica

My journey to becoming a dental tourist began somewhere off the coast of Nicaragua in 1993 when the crown on a molar broke.  Our next landfall would be much further south, so I cautiously chewed on the other side for a couple of weeks until Yankee Rogue was safely moored at the Costa Rica Yacht Club in Puntarenas.  (Note:  anchoring out was our normal routine; however, in the fast-moving waters of the estuary, a mooring the prudent option; besides, I had fond memories of the Yacht Club serving $6 filet mignon dinners back in 1989.)  We dined (me gingerly) that first night at the club with one of the club board members & his lively wife, & my very first question was "Who is the best dentist in Costa Rica?"

The next morning I called the recommended dentist's office in San Jose, & a couple of days later caught a public bus to the capitol, & then a taxi (necessary in the city because there were no street addresses then; more on that later) to a modern dental office.  I met the dentist, who spoke perfect English & who had gone to graduate school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  The work was done efficiently in a couple of visits, with a great deal of concern for my comfort.  I don't recall the exact cost of my replacement crown, but remember that I thought it very reasonable.  I was even given some local anesthetic for our ship's medical kit in case of an accident in which one of our crew had to be stitched up by the other (we'd both taken Medicine at Sea classes in California & had practiced suturing raw chicken breasts).

We were in Puntarenas a while for a semi-overhaul, so I returned to San Jose a couple of times for some more dental work, once seeing a specialist for a complicated root canal.  A decade & a half later, my U.S. dentist somberly informed me that I needed some major work that would require more money than my first house had cost, three different dentists & several months of appointments.  I immediately flashed back to the chat I'd had earlier with her assistant about how her friend had just bought a cheap ticket to Costa Rica.  "Umm, I'll have to think about this," I mumbled to my nice local lady dentist before dashing out the door to go home & check on flights to San Jose.

I did more than check on airfares.  Thanks to the internet, which had matured in the years since I'd crewed in international waters, I was able to conduct thorough research, making what I considered the best choice of dentist for the work I required (my old dentist was no longer in practice in San Jose).  My new dentist of choice was Dr. Telma Rubenstein, who works with her husband Dr. Josef Cordero at their clinic, Prisma Dental.  They specialize in cosmetic dentistry, including implants, & their office is the most complete & professional I have ever seen.  Their x-ray equipment, including a panoramic machine, is much more modern than what I've ever seen in the U.S.  Their lab is right next to the dental office, so work is done quickly, & if there is ever a problem it can be resolved almost immediately.

Dental tourism is described in detail in Wikipedia, but basically it has flourished in many parts of the world during recent years as the prices for dental work in some countries, like the U.S., have skyrocketed.  Not only are traveling dental patients able to save a great deal of money, in many cases more than enough to cover all of their travel expenses, but they are able to receive excellent care that can exceed that available locally.  General anesthesia is often available for complicated work or for those for whom the dental chair is traumatic.  Tranquilizers & pain meds, including shots, have been offered me at various times to ease the experience.  Antibiotics have also been prescribed when appropriate.

No matter what dentist I have seen over the years in Costa Rica, the commonalities are concerned patient care, quality work, & efficiency.  They are all aware that time is critical for tourist patients, & it is not unusual for office visits to be extended to whatever length is necessary to ensure that the patient's work is completed in the shortest amount of travel time.  In my experience, U.S. dentists schedule lengthy & complex work in relatively short segments, seeing many patients in a single day.  In contrast, at Prisma Dental as much work that can be completed in a single day is done, even if it means sitting in the chair most of the day or well into the evening.  I've even had a driver from the office meet me at the airport to make sure I got started right away on my work.  This may not appeal to everyone, but I'd much rather have one long semi-miserable day & get over it instead of having to confront my dental fears over multiple visits.  Note that implants will require two separate trips, one for the installation of the metal posts, & the second, after six months of healing, for the finishing crowns.  Last time I checked, general anesthesia for the post(s) installation (my recommendation) was $500, which includes the services of an anesthetist.

If you are having crowns or bridges made in the lab, you are then free to play tourist for a few days until your final installation visit.  (I recommend staying an extra day or two just in case your new work needs a final adjustment).  As an alternative to touring in-between dental appointments, many visitors opt to use the in-between time for cosmetic or other surgery.  A single round-trip ticket can take you home again improved literally from head to toe.  It is not uncommon for couples to travel together, getting whatever medical and/or dental services each of the partners needs or wants (his & her facelifts are more common than you might think.)  Watch this site, as I'll be posting more soon on medical tourism & where to stay during your visit.

Your primary motive for visiting Costa Rica the first time might be to save money on your dental work, but please take the opportunity to savor this incredible country while you are there.  Sample the amazing geology, the diverse flora & fauna, the culture, the delicious food, & most of all the joyful people you will meet.  Dental frugality may be your initial motive, yes, but don't miss the serendipitous experiences available while you are there.

Chances are good you'll want to return to Costa Rica again & again.  Just think of the great souvenir you can bring home--your new beautiful smile!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Time Travels

Some travels don't take time in space, but in time.

This was recently brought home to me when I was contacted on Facebook by someone I didn't recognize.  When I clicked on her page I saw that she had gone to college in California, where I had lived most of my teen & adult life.  I wrote to her, confessing I did not recognize her, but asked if we had gone to school together.

Her reply stunned me.  No, we did not actually know each other, but she had been long-married to someone with whom I'd had a penpal fling back in the 1950's when he was in prep school & then the Air Force Academy.  He was from my hometown in Illinois, where I'd spent the summer of 1958 with my grandparents.  After his mother had died her husband had found some of my mail to him, along with three photographs I had sent.  She & her husband decided that perhaps my children & grandchildren would get a kick out of seeing my letter & photos from so long ago.  Not having any information other than a 1958 postmark & my maiden name, this persistent lady used her computer to track me down, starting with the alumni site for my high school.  There she discovered my married name, & found me on Facebook.

What a trip down Memory Lane the three of us had!  We all emailed back & forth, & I mentioned the names of two of my girlfriends from times gone by in my home town, & almost immediately I received their current phone numbers.  I had terrific phone reunions with both women, & I reminded one that I had been the culprit in the first grade who'd spilled the beans about Santa not being real.  I remembered that her mother was irate with me, but fortunately my childhood friend forgave me.  In fact, she didn't even recall the incident, & we senior ladies then giggled together about our teen exploits.  Oh, the cokes we had drunk, the afternoons we had danced along to Dick Clark's American Bandstand, & the boys we had kissed!  We caught up on loved ones lost & counted up children, grandchildren & great-grandchildren.  I had thought I didn't have anyone left in my hometown, but now I have reasons to return.

Then just a few days later in my post office box there was an envelope in which I discovered the mail I had sent on 13 October 1958, nearly 55 years after I had sent it.  Enclosed were three photos of me from my early teens.  A couple days after than my long-ago penpal, who is now long-since retired from the Air Force, called me & we had a wonderful chat.  Not only had he & his wife utterly charmed me with their thoughtfulness in returning my mail, my friend told me how much my letters had meant to him when he was away from home for the first time.  I wasn't the love of his life, of course, but our naive mail exchanges had been important to each other at the time.

On 28 February 1958 I attended my second-ever dance, the annual high school Sadie Hawkins.  The photo was taken while I was waiting for my date to arrive, & my dad & I developed it in our bathroom darkroom.  My date had had been my biology lab partner from the previous summer.  We'd had great fun in class, & I still had a crush on him.  I don't remember much about the dance, but I continued to date him off & on through high school & some college, until I got caught also dating his roommate (yes, I am appalled at my teenage self).  His sister is still a friend of mine, though my date & I lost contact a couple of decades ago.  However, his well-reviewed books are available on Amazon, & he is a Distinguished Professor at a prestigious university, & recently received a grant to research what is sure to become a major work.

A couple of months later, my dad took the second photo, just before I left the house with a friend to see the same boy play the lead role in his school production of the Gilbert & Sullivan operetta "The Mikado."  The performance was spectacular, I think much better than the one I saw 30 years later by the legendary British D'Olyly Carte troupe.  The high school group definitely performed with more gusto.  I remember well this dress, made by my mother, as were all of the ones in my closet.  I recall even the iridescent ball buttons down the front, as well as the pleated cummerbund that matched the pink cotton satin of the floral stripes.
Note that the dress was supported by petticoats.  They were always too long so I'd have to wear a belt under my dress to keep them up. I usually wore three at a time, starching them with sugar water every night & they would drip-drip-drip in the shower until morning. My father used to tell my best friend (then & until her death 56 years after we met) & me that we looked "like two bells going someplace to ring." Quarreling with my sister was our morning routine as we battled over who got to wear which petticoats.  It got so bad one spring morning in 1960 that my father decreed that no one would get to wear petticoats again, so that was the end of my full-skirted style statements (except for my hoop-skirted strapless gown, which would soon cause an embarrassing incident at prom).

This final photo was taken in June 1958, when I was was 15-1/2, in my grandparent's yard in Greenview, Illinois.  My girlfriends from grade school & I spent long summer days reuniting that year.  I'm sure the primary topic of conversation that summer was B-O-Y-S, & I learned what the word "parking" really meant.  Every time I hear the songs "One Summer Night" or "Lazy Summer Night" I am taken right back to that sultry summer.  Our primary transportation was an ancient car belonging to the grandfather of one of the girls.  It kept flooding & I still remember my friend's bare foot constantly pumping on the pedals.   Oh, the times we drove it all the way into a Springfield drive-in for Green River drinks & our favorite pork tenderloin sandwiches!

I learned how to get my heart broken for the first time that summer, & one of my friends taught me how to make pizza sort-of from scratch that summer.  I still have that first pizza pan, with 55 years of criss-crossed lines from all the pizza cutters over time.  It is the one I've used to teach three generations of offspring how to make pizza.  (Note to self:  add pizza pan to will.)

I look at this final photo, & remember the exact turquoise color of the plaid dress my mother had made.  I know exactly how the matching leather belt felt when I wore it, & I can smell the
freshly cut grass in the yard.  On the other side of the fence lived a horse named Tony, & my little sister, gone 19 years now, & I would feed him sugar cubes & apples.   I know when we teen girls weren't busy chasing boys that summer I spent hours reading books lying in my grandfather's green hammock.  There would be chicken fried steak for dinner, along with mashed potatoes never served without gravy, creamed corn & red Jell-O with sliced bananas.  We would all pass around a small plate with a big onion that had been scored on top & a paring knife, & we would each cut off tiny chips of onion to top off the gravy on our mashed potatoes.  There would certainly be a pitcher of iced tea on the metal kitchen table & a plate of freshly sliced tomatoes.  I would sprinkle sugar, instead of salt, on mine with a spoon taken from the spoonholder that was always on the table.  Two kinds of pies, maybe one of them my favorite gooseberry, would be served for dessert.  My grandmother would hardly eat a bite because she, in her cobbler's apron printed with tiny sprigs of rosebuds, would be constantly jumping up & down, trying to get more food for everyone.  My grandfather would have left his cap on the back porch, but surely he was still wearing his overalls as he ate a full plate, making jokes & teasing the girls in between bites.  The nearby window sill held sweet African violets planted in coffee cans, & all the girls would chatter as we washed the dishes with water my grandmother heated on the big gas stove she wouldn't let anyone else light.  The years have fallen completely away, & I am home again.

My thanks to my long-lost penpal & his lovely wife for their thoughtfulness.  In a bit of serendipity it turns out they live only a few miles away from my elder daughter & granddaughter.  We are planning a reunion during my next visit.

During my recent journey down Memory Lane I have seen, tasted, smelled & touched my past just as surely as I have anything on a trip that began at an airport.  Despite the creaks in my bones & the evidence in my mirror to the contrary, inside I still feel like the 15 year-old girl in the photos.  All the same feelings, hopes, dreams & uncertainties are still there, along with the knowledge tomorrow will still bring something new & exciting.

To what time in your life would you like to travel?  Do you enjoy visiting often?

Monday, September 16, 2013

What to Wear--10 Tips on Basics

So you are conforming to airline regulations & planning to pack light, but what in the world are you going to wear without looking like the proverbial Ugly American?

Tourist in Paris, Heat Wave 2013
Comfort is a key component in traveling, but there are definitely places & situations that courtesy requires some spiffing up.  We love our jeans, but they aren't appropriate everywhere.

Here are a few basic travel clothing tips:

1.  Unless your travels take you on an archaeological dig or off on a stint on a farm in the hinterlands (& they well might, 'cause I've done both), any jeans should be unfaded & in good repair.  Colored (e.g., white, black, lavender) or very dark or colored jeans, even though identical in cut to your everyday britches, make a dressier appearance. Women can wear them with heels & a nice top to make them acceptable many places, & men can even wear good jeans with the right jacket for a relatively dressy look.

2.  Given a choice between jeans & khaki, I prefer the latter for pants most of the time.  Khaki goes with almost any color, including that traveler's standby, black. You can dress up your khaki-based outfit, but if you are off for dusty activities, khaki also hides the grime better than any other color (which is why it is the color of choice for safaris, & why it will be in my suitcase for Mongolia next year).

3.  Appropriate headgear for your destination climate is important, to protect from sun or cold.  Choose white to reflect heat, or a dark color to retain it.  A brim can help shade your eyes from relentless sun, & if dips low in the back, will protect your neck, too.  Wool will keep you warm, even when wet.  Make sure your hat is packable so you don't have to risk leaving it in the overhead bin.

4.  Scarves, for both men & women, can perk up a light-traveling wardrobe, & are practical for hair covering when riding in the open air, if you need sun protection on your shoulders, or fashionable warmth when the sun dips low.  A large onecan become a cover-up sarong on the beach.  Scarves take up little room & give you an instant wardrobe change.

20-yr Old Shower Clogs with Gripper Soles
5.  Although men can sometimes get by with a single pair, women usually at least need two pairs of shoes.  One pair of shoes should be comfortable for extensive walking, with the other pair also comfortable, but suitable for dressier occasions.  Depending on climate & time of year, sandals with good may be the best choice for the second pair (caveat:  don't try to put a lot of miles on sandals, even those advertised especially for walking).  Everyone also needs a pair of good shower clogs with non-slip soles for the beach, hotel room use & safe showering.  Recent trips to Iceland & a planned expedition to Machu Pichu required hiking boots, so I searched for the very lightest available.  By watching for online off-season sale I was able snatch up an easily packable pair that weighs mere ounces for a truly bargain price.

 6.  A water-repellant jacket with hood that can be layered is a traveler's classic, but a lightweight, perhaps disposable, hooded poncho will take up less room in your daypack & may be more suitable for rainy season in the tropics.  If heavy rain is likely at your destination, a folding umbrella is a good idea, though make certain it is a sturdy one that won't blow inside-out in a stiff breeze.  Do remember that even in the tropics it can get quite cool in the highlands, which is why I pack a jacket & slacks for Costa Rica.

Layering was the key to comfort in Iceland in June 2013.
7.  It's a rare trip that I don't carry a simple black swimsuit.  Even in northern climes swimming or public bathing is a common activity, & a hot tub in Reykjavik is the perfect place to view the Northern Lights.  I like a lightweight cover-up for modestly getting to & from the water.  Depending on the itinerary I might pack a hand towel or old thin bath towel that I can either pass on or throw away before continuing on where I won't need it.

8.  Skirts are my frequent choice for travel because they are comfortable, & in hot climates they are cooler to wear even than shorts.  Tops that don't have to be tucked in make the entire outfit comfortable, plus they cover
your money belt.
A skirt was my cool choice for a cruise to Isla Tortuga.

9.  Synthetic fabrics travel well, but are hot in tropical climates, so sticking to natural fabrics is a good idea (especially for undies).  Breathability is the key to comfort.  A loose linen blouse or shirt is tops for comfort in heat & humidity.  A few on-the-go wrinkles are acceptable, & hanging clothes in the bathroom while you shower will smooth them out a bit.  A portable steamer works well, but I leave mine at home to save precious luggage space.

10.  Don't forget a belt that does not contain metal.  Look for one made of webbing with a plastic closure so you don't have to remove it during airport screenings.  Remember that even though those new or freshly laundered pants had a snug fit when you leave home, they are bound to stretch out as you go.  You'll be climbing, stretching & bending over more that you think, & droopy drawers are less than flattering.

If you take the right articles of clothing you won't have to carry too much.  What tried & true must-take clothing items do you pack?  Feel free to post your recommendations below.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Isla Tortuga, Part I: Overboard in Paradise

The day was tropical gorgeous as our 42' ketch, Shannonigans, dropped anchor just off the deserted beach of Isla Tortuga, an island, that is part of the Costa Rica National Park Service in the Gulf of Nicoya.  It was 1989, & a friend & I were crewing from Costa Rica to Panama on the boat, which was owned by a former student of mine & her husband.  Their Lloyds of London insurance policy required additional crew members, so my travel buddy & I had filed our sailing resumes with Lloyds. We both had been accepted as crew so that the vessel would be insured for the passage, which would include a transit through the Panama Canal.  We were a crew of four, the husband & wife owners, my friend & I.

The only inhabitants we discovered on the beach were coconut crabs, busy breaking into the numerous coconuts lying on the perfect sandy beach.  There were lots of shells, some quite large, & the sun was bright. quickly tanning our November-white bodies as we splashed along the shore, relishing our recreational anchorage just prior to making passage.  We four frolicked in the surf & shore as if the rest of the world didn't exist.

The morning passed quickly, & all too soon it was time to take to the inflatable dinghy for a return to the boat for lunch.  I was third up to grasp the rope boarding ladder, & was half-way up the side of the hull when all of a sudden, & without a clue how it had happened, I found myself underwater.  Silly girl, I thought, as I surfaced, my face red in embarrassment, but I quickly reached the ladder, which descended a couple of feet into the water.  I placed my right foot on the first PVC rung & attempted to lift myself to the next rung.  No go.  My weight had caused the flexible ladder to hug the underwater hull like a second coat of bottom paint. Although still in my 40's at the time, still I hadn't the upper body strength to pull myself out of the water with the ladder at a near 45 degree angle.

So on to Plan B.  Okay, I'll just climb back into the dinghy & scramble up the ladder from there.  The physics of hanging off the side of the Avon with most of my middle-aged body in the water soon became apparent.  There was no ladder on the inflatable dinghy, so no purchase for my feet.  Once again I was unable to hoist myself out of the water.  The skipper gave me an assist, Plan C.  No go. Another lift attempt & it was clear this wasn't working.  Geez, I could be in the water a long time.  I looked around for Plan D inspiration.  The sun-kissed beach wasn't that far away & I could have swum myself aground where I could have been easily picked up. However, the skipper decided to try Plan C-and-a-half.  Crouching in the dinghy, he grabbed me under the arms, & gave such a final mighty pull that he ended up flat on his back in the bottom of the Avon, while I popped up out of the water like a cork & he managed to haul me over the side.

By the time I successfully scrambled up the PVC rungs & over the side of the sailboat, all four of us were laughing so hard that I swear it wasn't just water dripping down from our swimsuits. This was a time before cellphone cameras so all we carry to this day is a visual memory of my escapade, though had this happened later in time surely I'd have ended up on YouTube.

It was a funny tale in the retelling, but by the time I was back in the States I was having second thoughts about the entire experience.  The conditions had been perfect for my clumsiness.  At no time had I been in any real danger.  Wet, yes.  Embarrassed, of course.  However, I hadn't even lost a contact lens, let alone experienced anything life-threatening.  But what would have been the outcome if any of the variables had been different?  What if I had taken the dinghy ashore alone & fallen without the knowledge of the rest of the crew?  What if there had been sharks nearby or rough weather?  What if it had been dark & the water cold, or if my skipper hadn't been young & strong?

It's always a good idea to learn from one's experiences, so I did a little research.  An amazing 90% of man-overboard drownings occur during calm weather, & only 26% of the victims were actually sailing at the time of their accidents.  Half the time, even when the overboard victim is right by the boat, he/she is unable to be rescued because it is not possible to get back aboard.   Not long after I got back to Southern California there was an incident where a sailboat owner on a daysail date fell overboard a few miles from shore.  His inexperienced companion was unable to assist him back aboard & he drowned right in front of her by the side of the boat.  I also have a friend whose nephew disappeared one night off a commercial fishing boat, so I am all too aware of the potential consequences of a boating misstep.

What had been an amusing, if embarrassing, story on myself soon became an opportunity to better prepare myself & my boat.  I  installed up-to-date man-overboard equipment & bought individual lifelines for the crew to wear on deck & on watch.  We practiced man-overboard drills.  My own Avon inflatable was soon sporting a non-flexible boarding ladder that could be dropped a couple of feet below the surface so a swimmer could have foot purchase instead of just relying on upper body strength to haul oneself over the side.  A custom stainless-steel boarding ladder was manufactured for Yankee Rogue, our 35' cutter-rigged sloop.  It folded well down into the water so anyone in the water could just step up onto it for boarding safely & easily.  I wrote an article for a boating magazine so that others could learn from my experience.

Happily I haven't fallen overboard since 1989, & no one ever had difficulty boarding Yankee Rogue. Amazingly, the new custom ladder actually saved the life of my beloved Devon Rex cat, Shadow, a couple of years after my own in-the-water experience.  Look for that post later, as well as the story of my return to Isla Tortuga earlier this month , more than two decades later.  (Note that you can subscribe to this blog so you don't miss any posts.)

Did you ever learn an important lesson while traveling?  Please share your tale below--

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Mal de Mer

Just started to read a Huffington Post article on preventing seasickness.  "Avoid ocean crossings," the author advises.  Good grief, to my way of thinking, you'd miss the best part of sailing.

When living in California I made many pleasure trips to Catalina Island without feeling the slightest bit woozy.  My government marine archaeology position required countless trips on various work boats in rough waters, many in the violent waters around Point Conception, where the decks were relentlessly awash, making the journeys from bunk to workstation to galley hazardous indeed.  I thrived, even on those days when it was too rough to leave the bunkhouse bolted to the deck.

Years ago I interviewed Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, CBE, the first person to do a solo non-stop circumnavigation & author of A World of My Own: The First Ever Non-Stop Solo Round the World Voyage, for a sailing magazine.  He regaled me with tales of his near year-long voyage, & recounted his meeting with Queen Elizabeth II when he was knighted.  "She asked me what I did about seasickness, so I told her the best cure for seasickness I'd found was to spend a good bit of time sitting under a tree."  My understanding is that Her Majesty was amused.

I've never truly been seasick.  What I do get is cranky the first 3 days when bluewater sailing.  Except for stove duty & head calls I never leave the cockpit.  At the beginning of a passage, when I'm not expending energy on crankiness, I am totally lethargic.  Once, making passage from Panama to Colombia, my skipper informed me that we were taking on water.  I reluctantly lifted my head from the cockpit cushion for a quick look below.  Indeed water was sloshing over the floorboards in the salon.  Oh well, I thought, that's okay because I can lie down in the liferaft just as well.  Fortunately, my crewmate found the wooden plug I'd stowed for just such an occasion, & he was able to staunch the gushing seawater, & the bilge pump drained the overflow.  I'm not sure I even rolled over during the crisis.

But, oh, how glorious the fourth day & those ever after, when making passage.  I wash my hair & resume basking in the glories of life at sea.  Dolphins race alongside the boat, & I whistle & play Jimmy Buffet music to keep their company as long as possible.  Both galley & cockpit are my domains, & I bake bread & pizza on top of the stove.  I stand extra-long watches under the star-bright skies so my skipper can sleep through the night.  I delight in the phosphorescent wake of our stern, & imagine the magical seaworld beneath our passing keel.  The rising sun gives promise of another glorious day without the travails of civilization, & I revel in the rocking bosom of Mother Nature.  The sea renews, & I am reborn daily.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Laundry on the Go: 10 Ways to Keep Clothes Clean

Here are some tips for keeping laundry chores to a minimum while you are on the go--

 1.  Access to washing machines may be surprisingly limited, depending on  your itinerary.  I was on a two-week cruise last year, & discovered there was no access to washing machines.  There was a laundry service, but the prices were outrageous.   My travel buddy & I improvised with a 2-gallon Ziploc bag & some of my homemade laundry soap.  At night we would add the laundry soap & water to our dirty clothes in the plastic bag.  The overnight soaking, combining with the agitation from the movement of the ship, resulted in acceptably clean clothes in the morning.  A quick rinse, & everything was ready for hanging in the shower to dry.

 2.  Although shampoo or bath soap will do in a pinch, if your trip is longer than a week, carrying your own laundry soap makes sense.  You might not have easy access to a shop that carries it, & even if you are near a laundromat, buying detergent there is expensive.  For a variety of reasons I make my own laundry soap, but if I'm likely to have access to a washing machine, I carry a few Tide laundry detergent pods in a plastic baggie instead of packing liquid.  If I was backpacking for a lengthy period I would carry a bar or partial bar of laundry soap like Zote (my fave) or Fels Naptha.

 3.  Drying socks & other heavy clothing is sometimes not possible overnight.  However, if you roll those items in a towel & apply a lot of pressure, you can remove a surprising amount of moisture before hanging to finish the drying process before morning.

 4.  A travel clothesline is well worth the tiny space it takes in your luggage.  I like the 2-ply elastic kind that has a suction cup on either end, perfect for shower hanging.  Wet items can be hung by weaving edges in-between the elastics.  Small (but not the teensy ones that easily break) clothes pins are also handy, so a few of those go in my bag, too.

 5.  Even if there isn't an iron in your room, chances are good that there is one on the premises, so ask if you really need one.

 6.  Travel steamers work well on wrinkles, but I no longer carry one because of limited luggage space & the fact my travel these days is mostly casual.  However, I did find them very useful when I was doing a lot of business travel & traveled with a working professional wardrobe.

 7.  In a pinch, hanging wrinkled clothes in the bathroom while you take a hot shower will help.  Once you are out of the shower, use your still-damp hands to smooth out the worst of the wrinkles.  Allow clothes to air-dry before donning the garment, or use a hair dryer.

 8.  Preventive measures can decrease your laundry requirements.  Check clothes for stains when undressing.  A stain from dining can be addressed before it has a chance to set, & chances are good you can remove the stain so you can get another wearing out of the clothing article before it requires a full wash.  Tide-To-Go is a handy stick for treating stains as soon as discovered.

 9.  Sometimes the entire garment doesn't require laundering.  For example, on a recent month-long trip the collar of my favorite overshirt, the one with nice buttoned pockets that I wear instead of a sweater over t-shirts, needed a good wash.  However, the rest of the shirt was perfectly clean, as it had gone through a washing machine in Scotland, so I merely soaped up the collar in a London hotel, rinsed & let it dry overnight.  A week later in Paris I dripped something over one sleeve.  It was a quick job to wash only the spotted sleeve, & my shirt made it all the way home before it got the full machine treatment it deserved.

10.  Discarding clothing on the go can delay the day you need to confront dirty laundry.   I once met a woman who in 1968 had sailed solo from Japan to California, the first woman to do so.  I asked her how she handled her laundry at sea. " I didn't do any," she replied, simply.  Then she explained that she bought all her at-sea clothes at thrift shops, then just threw them overboard when they got too dirty.  This won't work on all trips, but most of us have some less-than perfect undies that could be tossed once worn.  If your itinerary starts with dirt-clinging activities & ends with a less strenuous agenda, consider taking & discarding grubbies.  I've left more than one pair of jeans on the road.

When living on a sailboat as a full-time cruiser most of the time I did laundry on board, using a bucket & a (clean, dedicated) toilet plunger as my agitator.  That's why I limited towel usage to handtowels, perfectly adequate for after-bathing, especially when using only a gallon of water in a sun shower (black plastic bag to soak up heat from the sun, with an attached hose for showering) for both shampoo & bathing.  However, when in port we would treat ourselves & our sheets to a laundry service.  Once, in an anchorage near a village in Costa Rica we found someone who did laundry for cruisers for a modest fee.  Later that day we went for a walk & passed by a very modest dwelling surrounded by a low barbed wire fence.  There, drying on the wire were all the the clothes & linens from the Yankee Rogue.  The sight gave us a good laugh.  I didn't care that my undies were hanging on barbed wire.  I was just glad I hadn't had to wring out all those towels & sheets by hand (though twisting them around a boat stanchion would have done the job).

What's in our laundry & how we handle it can tell us a lot about life around the world.  You might enjoy these photos.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Eight Items NOT to Bring on your Trip

When packing, what you leave out of your suitcase is just as important as what goes in.  Here are some items you can probably leave at home, especially when traveling to foreign locales.

Purse--Carrying a purse, no matter how large or small, is an open invitation for thievery.  Other than change or a few small bills, cash should be carried concealed on your body, preferably in more than one place.  Same goes for credit cards.  Both traveling women & men usually need some time of carry-bag, but it should not be something held in your hand.  Snatching is just too tempting.  Some years ago the mother of a friend went on a tour of Costa Rica.  By the end of the 2nd day, every woman in the group had lost her purse to theft.  Don't let that deter you, however,  because it is a glorious country.  I'm scheduled to go back there in just a few days--it's one of my favorite places on Earth--but I'll not be taking a purse.

Expensive Camera--Unless you are a professional photographer on a paid assignment, try to leave large heavy cameras & equipment at home.  Extra lenses, filters & a tripod not only take up precious luggage room, but fiddling with all those goodies will distract you from actually seeing & enjoying all the wonderful sights of your trip.  You don't want to go home with just prints of where you've been.  You also want to take home precious memories.  Besides, fancy equipment of any kind makes you a ripe target for theft.

Matching Outfits--Separates give women more versatility that matchy-matchy tops & bottoms.  Spill something on that pink seersucker top with the embroidered trim, & you've probably also rendered the matching pants unwearable.  Ditch the Alfred Dunner duos, & opt for more versatile separates.  Bonus:  you'll look more like a seasoned traveler instead of a novice tourist.

Jewelry--Don't think that wearing costume jewelry protects you from being a target for theft.  That would-be thief can't tell your cubic zirconia earrings from the real thing, so you could be putting yourself in danger needlessly even wearing inexpensive sparkles.  The same thing holds for gold-plated trinkets.  Note that rings make you vulnerable, so even though you haven't removed them since your wedding day, it is smart to leave them in a safe deposit box while traveling.

Note that being on a cruise ship doesn't necessarily make it safer to travel with your jewelry.  Cabin thefts can occur, & you'll likely be getting off your ship in port several times.  Cruise ship ports of call are known to be trolled by those looking for vulnerable tourists, so ensure peace of mind by leaving your bling, especially those irreplaceable sentimental pieces, at home.

If you are one who feels undressed without baubles, instead opt for those that are obviously merely decorative & without significant value.  Depending on your destinations, your trip may be the perfect opportunity to look for anklets or necklaces made of shells or other materials that won't entice a thief.  Inexpensive baubles make great souvenirs, & think about all the fun you'll have shopping.

New Shoes--Even if your brand-new shoes are exactly like your old comfy ones, break them in for a couple of weeks prior to departure.  Blisters to-go are not fun.

Medicine Cases--Love my honking big pill case with enough compartments for 4 weeks, but only when I'm home.  On the road I have snack-size Ziploc bags for pills labeled for each day.  Put each week's worth of pills inside a quart-size Ziploc labeled Week 1, Week 2, etc.

Extra Keys--If you've left your car in an airport parking lot you may need to take a key with you, but leave all those other keys at home.  No need to carry extra metal to Timbuktu, & you want to avoid losing them in a faraway spot.

Extra Credit Cards--It is prudent to carry more than one credit card, & stashing them in different places.  However, it isn't necessary to carry all those extra domestic-only department store cards.  Clean out the cardboard, as well as the plastic.  I guarantee you that the chain-store sub shop in Reykjavik is not going to punch your frequent customer card.

Do, however, be sure to pack a sense of wonder, respect for the residents of your destination spot, plenty of simple courtesy, & a positive attitude wherever you plan to travel--

Friday, August 16, 2013

Packing Tips for Those on the Go

Gone are the days when you could carry on both a bag & a garment bag, as well as a personal item.  No longer can you check two chock-full suitcases free without regard for weight.

Airlines aren't the only ones imposing weight & volume restrictions on luggage.  Tour companies, trains & buses now limit what you can bring.  Insist on taking more & it can cost you dearly.

It took some bungled packing experiences for me to get the hang of the new rules & to learn how to make the most of the system.  However, now my luggage is not as much a burden as it used to be, & it is a relief not to lug around so much stuff.

Here are some things that have made trekking around the world without running out of clothes easier:

Steps to Isle of Skye Hostel, 800 yds from Bus Stop

1.  The right suitcase makes a world of difference.  Forget that 3- or 5-piece set of matched luggage stored in the garage.  It probably wasn't made for heavy-duty travel & it's probably too big with wheels that are too small.  (If it doesn't have wheels at all, donate it to your local thrift shop.)  Remember, you aren't just getting your luggage from the curbside drop-off to the airline check-out counter.  If you travel like I do, you're going to be hauling it through streets, onto public transportation, up & down countless stairs both over transport overpasses & in hotels (most of the places I stay don't have elevators).  On a recent stop at a hostel on the Isle of Skye in Scotland I not only had a good hike through the streets, but encountered some unusual steep steps to the front door.  Half of the steps were easy-going concrete, but then I encountered an array of gravel divided by horizontal wood beams.  It was a tough go through the gravel bits, even with only one bag to haul.  (Yes, the hostel was worth it, but I did some huffing & puffing to get there.)

What you want is a compact lightweight piece of luggage that holds a lot & has large built-in heavy-duty wheels.  A luggage trolley on a regular suitcase is not a good substitute.  The first time you try to schlep it up a London subway overpass it will become an unbalanced pain in the patoot.

My favorite piece of luggage has a detachable backpack that I can use as a daypack.  It holds my water bottle, lunch or snacks, a jacket or sweater, a compact umbrella, maps & other papers, my Kindle & phone, with plenty of extra room.  I also clip a handy-dandy lightweight tote bag to one of the zipper pulls.  The tote bag zips itself into a compact case less than 4 inches long, yet when opened it holds enough groceries so I can dine in or snack in my hotel/hostel.

2.  Beware huge backpacks!  I once spent a great deal of money on a large backpack designed especially for women, but when I got it all packed I could barely wrangle it off the bed, let alone get it on my back.  I frequently see young folks carrying large backpacks, but even they don't make it look like much fun.  A daypack is fine even for septuagenarians like me, but my large backpack has never made it onto my shoulders.

3.  Zippered organizer bags keep everything easily findable in your suitcase.  bags can be plastic or nylon fabric/mesh.  No more rummaging through an entire bag looking for anything.  Undies are separate from toiletries, as well as from daywear.  Grab the right little bag & what you need is easily accessible.  The 2 gallon plastic Ziplocs are great for shoes, to keep the rest of your goodies clean.

4.  Compression bags are good for the long-haul.  For example, if I've stopped in Iceland (no matter what time of year) I've got some woolies that I probably won't need in more southern climes.  By compacting them I not only save precious luggage space, but repacking (a constant chore when traveling) is much easier.  These aren't the kind that you see on television, where a vacuum cleaner sucks the life out of your belongings.  These are compress-on-the-go plastic bags that you manually press to get the air out of little ports on the far edge.  Surely I look ridiculous as I use a variety of body movements, including barefoot dancing on top to rid the bags of extra air, but as long as I don't fall off & break an ankle the effort is worth the saved space.

5.  Buy & discard as you go.  If you are going to be in one place more than a few days, only pack travel-size toiletries, then buy what you need once you arrive.  The various pound shops (like our dollar stores) all over the U.K. are great places to pick up shampoo, deodorant & such.  Discard leftovers before returning home.  On a recent trek I spent time working as a volunteer on a farm, so packed old jeans & tops, which I then discarded before continuing on to more urban areas.  Afterward I was staying in hostels & needed a towel, so instead of packing one, after arrival I just bought a couple of kitchen towels (tiny towels still get off the wet) for a pound & discarded them as I went.

6.  Recognize that you really don't need everything you want to take.  This is the hardest task to master.  Yes, carry a few sets of undies, but also plan to wash every other evening or so.  No, you don't need that many pairs of shoes--really (though I do recognize that this is more difficult for women).  Two pair of slacks will get you all the way through Europe in a pinch.  Stick with similar colors, so you don't need extra clothes that match.  A woman who packs nothing but 3-4 gray or black tops can use easily packable scarves to create different outfits.  Cool climate?  Dress in layers & use your longjohns as pajamas.  Leave medicine bottles & dispensers at home.  Pack each day's meds in snack-size Ziploc bags & label the date with a permanent marker.  Be creative, be clever, but keep your belongings to a minimum & you'll have a much more enjoyable trip.

Although it is likely you will regret over-packing, no one ever laments "Gee, I didn't take enough stuff."

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Checking Off an 8-Inch Item from My Bucket List

Sometimes life diverts us from our goals, but if we don’t ever set them, we risk reaching the finish line in life without having met any of them.

To me, a Bucket List isn’t a simple list of things you want to achieve in life, like completing one’s education or career goals.  I once gave a talk to a room full of folks & pointed out that “If we are lucky, very lucky, what’s going to happen to us is that we are going to get old, get sick & then die.”

If that’s my best scenario, I want to make sure that I approach my end with gusto, & I’ve left instructions that my headstone is to be inscribed “No Regrets.”  As I completed my seventh decade (count them; it means I'm not 80 for another 9+ years), BucketListing has become a big deal to me.  I enjoy contemplating what should be on my list, and researching new opportunities to have once-in-a-lifetime travels, as well as planning some repeat experiences.  No, you can't go to Paris for macaroons too many times!

I’ve already checked off a number of items on my own Bucket List, which contains both small & large goals, experiences that challenge and satisfy, and in some cases, terrify me (I’ll talk about shark diving some other time).  Sailing from Newport Beach, California North Carolina--yes, we took the shortcut through the Panama Canal--was a lovely years-long journey I shared with my late husband, Rocket Man, & I’ll never regret devoting several years to checking that item off our mutual Bucket List.  I wouldn’t sell my cherished memories of those years on Yankee Rogue, our Fantasia cutter-rigged sloop, for any amount of money.

An item I checked off my Bucket List last year was a simple, but long-held, dream.  I wanted to learn to use a lathe and make myself a wooden bowl, & I finally did just that.  When I was growing up, girls didn’t even know they could want to do woodworking. My father was an accomplished weekend woodworker, but more than half a century ago neither one of us realized that was something he could teach me.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Aydelette
It was long after retirement I bought my first power tool bigger than a Dremel.  It was a stunningly gorgeous German-made Hegner scrollsaw, the sight of which still makes my heart go pitter-pat. I t was a running joke in my marriage that my husband always referred to it as “that saw you won’t tell me how much it cost,” but after that I started getting the best gifts ever--a huge bandsaw, a dual disc/belt sander, & best of all, a floor model drill press.  Oh, and Forstner bits fit for the finest Christmas stocking!  I repeatedly told my Rocket Man that he was lucky indeed to have wed a woman who didn’t like champagne, didn’t wear jewelry, was allergic to fur, and asked for power tools for Christmas.

However, the one tool that eluded me was a wood lathe. I had actually bought one for myself, but before I could even remove it from the box, Hurricane Isabel destroyed it in 2003.  Other life circumstances intervened, and until last year I wasn’t able to replace it.

I like to do research, so I have read books and watched videos on woodturning, and took an introductory class on using a lathe. Then  I had the opportunity to take a one-day class from a master woodturner who was visiting Chapel Hill. I even booked a hotel for the prior evening so I wouldn’t risk missing even a minute of class time by having to commute so far.  I didn’t have my own woodturning tools, but the owner of the shop where the class was held kindly lent me tools and taught me how to sharpen them. I was even invited back for a lesson on how to make most of my own tools.

I left late that lovely spring afternoon with an imperfect, but immediately beloved, bowl made from a chunk of Red Maple. Although I technically checked off using a lathe to make a wooden bowl from my Bucket List, I also carried home with me a passion for learning to make all sorts of items with a lathe. A real bonus was meeting other folks who share my love of sawdust.

Not everyone appreciates my simple 8-inch bowl. When I tried to show it off to a grown granddaughter her response was “And it took you all day to make that?”  No dear, it took me 69-1/2 years to create that sweetly proportioned bowl.  However, the next one won’t take nearly so long.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Traveling Companions--Some Thoughts

A travel buddy is a terrific idea for several reasons:

1.  Sharing accommodations can save you as much as 50%.  On tours you can avoid the dreaded Single Supplement fee.  The savings on shared taxis & car rentals add up fast, & sharing a sandwich, an entree or dessert can be fun as well as practical.

2.  Much of the enjoyment of traveling is not just the trip itself, but the anticipation & planning, as well as the post-trip activities like creating albums & scrapbooks.  Joint planning can result in a rich travel experience.  It's also fun to have a friend with whom you can swap tales about that glacier or the time you ziplined together over all those alligators.

Tidal Flats from Mount Saint Michel, France
3.  A travel buddy also can be handy during the trip.  Divided responsibilities, like money-handling & figuring out public transportation routes, make traveling easier.  If you didn't getthat perfect shot of Mount Saint Michel, chances are your friend did.

4.  Emergencies can happen, as the nature of travel is to encounter the unexpected, & a friend who can assist in those situations is a real treasure.

When considering a friend to accompany you, pick someone you know not only shares your enthusiasm for travel, but has similar values & a compatible lifestyle.

I have friends of both sexes who travel often with me, but we have known each other for two to five decades, so there are few, if any, surprises.  We all share similar lifestyles, enjoying travel adventures, but without personal dramas.  Abandoning modesty when circumstances dictate is not a big deal.  We are all budget-minded, though willing to pay a little extra for a taxi when warranted.  None of us demands an accounting to the penny on our shared expenses, we are all willing to take turns as leaders & followers, & we are open to allowing the unexpected to become part of our adventures.
London Eye

We don't care if we are repeating an experience (e.g., London's Eye or Iceland's Blue Lagoon) because we are not only capable of enjoying such things more than once, but we appreciate the pleasure of introducing a companion to a new experience.  In fact, we recognize it is a particular joy to introduce a dear friend to the spectacular sights in the Food Halls of Harrod's in London or the sensuous delight of one's very first Parisian macaroon.

Family traveling companions can be a mixed bag, so plan accordingly.  Reluctant travelers are willing to not only spoil their travel opportunity, but can even gleefully ruin your trip.  I'll never forget the time I met two college students at a hotel in Costa Rica who were traveling with their poor father.  The grown kids, a brother & sister, were totally obnoxious about their entire trip.  More than 20 years later I still feel pity for their dad, a widower, who was trying to include them in his dream of taking his family to Costa Rica.  Both brother & sister complained endlessly about the quality of the chain-store pizza they consumed in great quantities as they moped around the hotel feeling sorry for themselves for being trapped in paradise against their will.  I hope their dad finally found a good traveling companion & permanently left his whining offspring at home.

However, children & grandchildren can be amazing travel companions.  A grown granddaughter was a helpful travel buddy in London & Paris, in no small part because she immediately "got" the subway transport systems in both cities.  That was a time I was happy to be a follower instead of worrying about which line to take or getting off at the wrong stop. When she was a young teen, the same granddaughter, along with her 9 year-old brother, made amazing companions as we spent a month in our sailboat transiting the Panama Canal & cruising the San Blas Islands on the Caribbean side.  We all had a blast interacting with the Indian island inhabitants, as well
Grandson at age 7
as great times just staying in isolated anchorages.  One time we abandoned home-schooling to spend an entire day on a double-12's domino tournament.  Two decades later at family get-togethers we still recall the fierce competition of that day in a tropical anchorage.  It never ceases to entertain us when we remember buying skinny loaves of Kuna Indian bread, one time eating it all up so that we had to buy more before we could return to the boat.  We all laugh, remembering using the bread to make "Kuna pizza" on top of the stove.  A particular memory is of a day when we were all tired, hot & hungry we happened across a palapa (open-air) restaurant on the side of a road through the Panamanian jungle.  The restaurant was named "Cheeseburgers in Paradise," & no burgers before or since have tasted so good as the ones we devoured together that day.  That experience became such important family lore that two decades later, when the children's grandfather died, instead of a funeral, we held a family gathering with the theme "Cheeseburgers in Paradise," thus continuing the legend.

For the time of our family sail the adult crew was delighted to be in the company of the youngsters, especially because of the opportunity to view the experience through young eyes. We all learned & grew in our month-long family adventure.

Dad Toting Content Baby, Tower of London

When is young too young for travel?  Actually, babies are often necessary on famil

y trips.  I've seen a lot of intrepid traveling moms carrying wee ones with great humor in difficult circumstances. Nursing while traveling can be a bit inconvenient, but it is important to not interrupt too early.  If both parents are traveling, dads are handy for helping with baby care.  It is when little ones be
come rambunctious toddlers that a parent might judiciously choose to plan alternative care while the adults & perhaps older children travel.  A lot also depends on the travel destinations & accommodations planned.  A number of years ago I had a lively discussion with a mom who planned to take her 4 year-old daughter to a Costa Rican recovery spa while she had cosmetic surgery.  I was concerned the mom would not be able to concentrate on her post-surgical recovery, & that the child would be a burden on the staff.  "But I don't want her to miss the opportunity!" the determined mother cried. Opportunity for what?  The child would miss her daily routine & probably be bored most of the time without her friends & usual television shows.  I never did hear the outcome, but my hope is that common sense prevailed & the child was left in her home environment for the duration of her mother's recovery.

In my experience, it isn't the age of the child that is critical in determining whether or not travel is feasible.  Take into consideration the child's nature, the travel experience planned, your own tolerance for things going not-quite right, & whether you can implement a good Plan B.

If traveling with children, young or old, is a priority on your Bucket List, be sure to take into consideration whether or not their notion of a good time coincides with theirs.  If there is reluctance on the part of younger folks & they are not able or willing to adapt, be aware that your particular fantasy doesn't quite suit everyone.  Be willing to either modify your plans to accommodate others in the party, or pare down the size of your group.  A reluctant traveler of any age does not make a good companion. Remember, too, that though we don't all share the same dreams.  Be prepared to inject some practicality & flexibility in your plans, & recognize when traveling alone may be the better option.