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.