Essentials for Stress Free Travel

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If you have read my blog post on What to Wear When Travelling Abroad, then you know I am a sucker for travel accessories…seriously. Magellan’s? Yep. ExOfficio? I should have stock. Is it all necessary? Nope. But, with the right essentials, your trip can go from stressful to stress free! To help you save a little time & money, I’m going to tell you my favorite travel finds. I have not been paid to endorse any products. With the exception of one item (which was provided to me free of charge to use & review), all products I list below were paid for by me.

Packing Essentials:

La Fresh wipes

La Fresh wipes

  1. La Fresh Travel Wipes – Okay, these little packets are genius! La Fresh wipes can easily fit into your cosmetic bag & your purse while on the road. There are several “collections” but I like the Travel Wipes for Her collection that includes make-up remover wipes, anti-bacterial wipes, nail polish remover pads, hydrating lotion wipes, female hygiene & lens cleaning wipes. I even bought the canine wipes for my dog! You can buy them here.
  2. Packing cubes – I never travel without my packing cubes from Magellan’s. I’ve used the Stow-Away Collection since 2010 and love it! I had tried many different combinations to pack as much into my suitcase and keep clothes wrinkle-free. That is tough. And when the airlines started charging baggage fees, it became necessary to pack smarter. So, as I was browsing through the Magellan’s catalog, I came across these packing cubes and thought I’d give it a try…and it was worth the money. I use these cubes even for overnight trips because it allows me to organize everything in compartments and the Stow-Away Cinch Folders help to prevent wrinkles.
  3. Travel-size Febreeze, Downy Wrinkle-Release, & Lint Brush– I do not travel without these 3 items. Especially if you plan to wear an article of clothing more than once. I like to spray the Febreeze in my shoes and on my coat after each day of travel. While the packing cubes help with wrinkles, it doesn’t prevent them. The Downy Wrinkle-Release is my insurance that I have a way to get rid of wrinkles if I happen to be staying at a hotel that doesn’t have irons/ironing boards (that has happened too many times to mention). A small lint brush is insurance as well. You never know when you will need it. For example, during a trip to London back in 2008, I decided to buy a travel blanket for the flight. It seemed like such a great idea because it was heavier than the standard tissue blankets that they normally give you in coach. I was wearing a black cotton ensemble with a black wool coat. It wasn’t until I landed that I realized I was covered in green fur from the travel blanket (that I had washed thinking it would prevent this type of thing). So, I ended up spending the first evening in London at Tesco’s buying masking tape to remove the fur since I couldn’t find a lint brush. While you may never use it, I figure it is less stressful to have it than to spend your vacation looking for duct tape. You can pick up these items at your local grocery store, Target, Wal-Mart or drug store/pharmacy.
  4. Laundry Bag – I used to put my dirty clothes in the plastic laundry bags provided by the hotels. But, as I started taking trips that had me at multiple hotels in different cities, I felt like the plastic bags weren’t going to keep my suitcase “fresh”. So, I got the Magellan’s Bed Bug Laundry Bag in 2011. I like that it is lined on the inside so it doesn’t matter if you need to pack wet clothes & it contains any odors. This laundry bag folds up small so it doesn’t take up much room in the beginning and I’ve been able to put 2 weeks worth of clothes inside.
  5. Disposable panties & cloths – On a trip to Morocco in 2012, I packed disposable underwear and InstaCloths. It was my first time using either but as we were limited to one medium-sized bag for 10 days, I thought throwing out underwear during the trip would make room for all of my purchases. The disposable underwear worked pretty well. I even hand washed them once and they held together & were dry within a couple of hours. While they are not sexy, they are comfortable in a “granny panty” way. The InstaCloths worked well as a face towel for me and lasted several days (plus they start out the size of a nickel and expand into a full-size wash cloth once you add water). I didn’t use it as a wash cloth but my Mom did and said it didn’t last that long. So, I only recommend it for washing your face & removing make-up.
  6. Adaptors – When travelling out of the country, I always use Brookstone’s 6-Piece Adapter Kit with Snap-On Plugs. It’s a lightweight set of interchangeable adaptors that work for most countries. I’ve not had any issues with this since I started using it in 2010.
  7. Collapsible tote – One of the very best items you can pack on international trips! I got mine from Samsonite back in 2008. It folds up nice & neat and lays flat at the bottom of my suitcase. Then, while I’m travelling and buying souvenirs, I don’t have to worry about fitting it into my suitcase as I can use my tote as a carry on during my flight back.
My pink & green collapsible tote!  A must-have travel item.

My pink & green collapsible tote! A must-have travel item.

Looking Fab & Safe on the Road: I go into detail about what to wear when travelling overseas in the blog post linked above so I won’t cover the same material here. However, I do want to include a few more items that I’ve fallen in love with since I wrote that article.

  1. Jersey fabric – This is the “must have” fabric to wear en-route to your destination. It is wrinkle-free and there are so many stylish outfits made of this fabric that you will look fresh & fabulous even stepping off a plane 10 hours later. I usually shop at White House Black Market, Magellan’s or Travel Smith.
  2. Yoga active wear – If you are looking to travel in comfort, I suggest yoga pants, a cute tank top & cardigan. This is usually my go-to outfit for international flights as I like to be comfortable & it allows me to layer. I usually purchase my favorite items at Athleta & Old Navy.
  3. ExOfficio Sweater Jacket – I absolutely love this waterproof jacket! It is so soft & very warm! I wore it in December while in Europe and felt completely warm & toasty. It packs up very small and converts into a neck roll if you want to bring it on the plane with you. I also love that it’s stylish as well & has a lot of safety pockets where you can store your money, keys & phone without worrying about being pick-pocketed.
  4. Clarks shoes – I must admit…Clarks makes a great shoe that keeps your feet cushioned from the harsh cobblestones you encounter while sightseeing in Europe. You can be on your feet all day in these stylish shoes. A couple of my favorites are the Wave.Cruise Mary Jane shoe that can be worn both casual & dressy; and the Haley Falcon which seems to replace the black Privo that I have worn. I like that it molds to your foot while providing great cushion to your soles.
  5. FreestyleXtreme – This is the only item that I have received for free. A representative from FreestyleXtreme contacted me after reading my article referenced above. She asked if I would review an item from their company (which offers a wide range of clothing & accessories for men and women). I have been trying to find a stylish flip-flop to wear on cobblestones so I thought I’d try the Volcom Black Happy Me shoe. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but I’ve worn them for the past couple of weeks and am in love! They are so comfortable & cute! I like that they don’t “flap” against the bottom of my foot making a loud sound as I walk. Also, the cushion is pretty solid since I can walk around in them for hours and not experience foot fatigue. I’m excited to take them to Italy & try them out on the cobblestones!
Volcom Black Be Happy flip-flop from FreestyleXtreme.

Volcom Black Be Happy flip-flop from FreestyleXtreme.

Go-To Gadgets: I like to travel light…which means I rely heavily on my iPad (and more recently my new Macbook Air). The following 3 items make travelling with my electronics simple.

My fabulous Erin Condren iPad Folio along with a delicious mimosa & travel guides!

My fabulous Erin Condren iPad Folio along with a delicious mimosa & travel guides!

  1. iPad Folio – I love products from Erin Condren. You can purchase personalized stationary, life planners, cards & iPad folios. Mine has my name & an inspirational quote on the front with a picture of my dog on the inside. It’s nice to have reminders of home while on the road!
  2. Apple adaptors – I have an iPad 2 and when I decided to stop travelling with a laptop, I needed a way to transfer pictures from my camera & iPhone to my iPad…which is where the Apple iPad Digital Camera Connector Kit comes in. You can plug the adaptor into your iPhone to easily transfer pictures or plug your SD card into the adaptor and load your favorite photos from your camera onto your iPad.
  3. Power Up I use my iPhone a lot while I’m on the road…between taking pictures & responding to emails/texts, the battery doesn’t last long. Getting to a power outlet is not always possible so I started travelling with extra power-up packs. I’ve tested out quite a few items so far and there are 2 that I prefer:  The first one is the 2600 mAh Universal Power Bank Charger that I purchased from Nomorerack on sale. The second is the Portable Travel Charger from Fat Cat Power.  Both work pretty well and charge my phone fully. They don’t take a lot of time to charge & both are small enough to fit in my purse without taking up valuable space.

What are your favorite travel essentials? Is there anything I am missing out on? Let me know!

The Life of a Nomad

The life of a nomad isn’t an easy one. Sweltering heat, freezing cold, scorpions and snakes…these are just a few things to worry about living in the desert.  I had the pleasure of meeting a nomad family during my visit to the Sahara.  My first reaction was one of sympathy…but by the time I left, I felt humbled.

Nomad camp

In order to get around in the Sahara, you have to either walk, ride a camel or drive a 4×4.  As we were on our way to our own camp, we were invited to visit with an interesting nomad family.  Luckily we had our fabulous guide, Tata, to translate and inform of us traditional customs.

I was told that there are 9 people who make up the nomad family I spent time with (a mix of men, women and children).  What immediately struck me were the “structures” that were built for cooking, showering and shelter.  I assumed that nomads were constantly moving from place to place with no sense of permanency.  However, I found out that these nomads usually stay in a place for 3-4 months before moving on. The catalyst for the move is usually the fact that the food source (grass, etc) has dried up for the camels & animals they raise.

The Sahara covers 3.5 MILLION MILES.  And while the popular thought is that deserts are dry & barren, the Sahara has pockets of areas that are abundant with food and water sources.  However, these sources aren’t unlimited which is why nomads have to move on in search for new sources.  They do tend to come back to the structures they built before…after enough time has passed so that grass has been able to grow again.  Kind of like these settlements are their 2nd, 3rd and 4th homes.

sleeping quarters

The ladies allowed me to spend time investigating their housing structures and asking questions.  I noticed that there were 3 separate sleeping quarters.  One area was completely covered on all sides to protect them from rain and harsher elements, while the second was more open to allow for air during the hot, dry months.  The third seemed to be a combination of the two…walled but open ceiling.  I also noticed that there were a lot of toys…big wheels, bikes, dolls, Transformers, etc.  The kids had plenty to entertain them.  I don’t know what the adults do…there is no television.  And they don’t seem to understand how much their life is lacking because they can’t watch Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.

While these women did not have a lot of “wealth”, they were so gracious to offer us mint tea.  Which seems to be typical of Moroccans.  They may not have a lot of material things, but they are the most hospitable people I’ve met.  You can count on being asked to stay for tea and cookies.

Since our guide knew this family, the ladies were open to answering my questions.  And I had a lot.  Below are some highlights.

kitchen

Q.  Why do you opt to live in the desert moving from place to place?  Why not living in a city with a more permanent home?

A.  This is what we know.  We grew up as nomads and find the desert to be peaceful.  Cities are too chaotic and noisy.  Too many people and sounds.  We like the solitude of the Sahara and not having to constantly see other people.

Q.  How do you get food & water to feed your family?

A.  We dig wells to get water.  Once a month, our family will drive into Merzouga [the city right outside the Sahara] and get supplies.  Mostly grains to make couscous and vegetables.  We are also able to find food here in the desert which we will catch or gather.

Q.  How do you get to Merzouga?  Do you have a car?

A.  Sometimes we are able to borrow a car from another family.  Other times we use our camels to get us to the edge of the Sahara then ask for a ride into town.

Q.  How do you earn money to buy supplies?

A.  The men offer the camels to tourists for rides thru the desert.  The women and children sell trinkets.  Usually small toy camels or dolls that we make from scraps of cloth we are able to find.

During this time, a little boy around the age of 2 has started crying.  His mother tells the guide that she is worried that something is wrong with his legs as he has refused to walk all day.  We take a look to make sure there is no swelling, redness or tenderness.  Then, the guide says that he will escort them to the hospital to have the boy examined.  But, the mother says that she cannot leave without permission of her husband.  She pulls out a cellphone (I know…who knew they had those?  And the next question I wanted to ask was where she charged it since they had no electricity?) and tries to get in contact with her husband to no avail.

As we end our visit, our guide gives the mother his number with the instruction to call him once her husband came back so they could take her son to the hospital.  He even offered to pay the medical bills. 

The next morning, while hiking thru the sand dunes, I am stopped by 3 little girls.  They told me they were 8 and 9 years old.  When I asked if they went to school, only one said yes.  She lives in Merzouga with her mother but comes to the Sahara during the weekends to visit with her father.  During the time I’m asking questions, they have spread out their trinkets to sell.  While I didn’t buy anything, I did give them some money so that I could take their picture.

3 nomad girls

I grew up with plenty of advantages…and the expectation that not only would I graduate from high school, but I would graduate from college as well.  So, it was mind-boggling to meet children who don’t go to school.  While it is hard for me to grasp living without electricity (I mean, I get the shakes when my iPhone dies and I don’t have a way to charge it for a couple of hours), there is a certain tranquility in being able to unplug from the world and just enjoy the solitude.  No emails or text messages to answer.  No demands.  No stress.  No noise (not even crickets…it is dead quiet).  Just stars lighting up the sky.

While some children grow up and leave the nomad life, others are content to raise animals and move from place to place following in the footsteps of their forefathers.  It’s an interesting life…one that I know I’m not strong enough to live, but I am smart enough to respect.  If you ever have the chance to visit the Sahara (and I strongly suggest you do…it is unbelievable), please take time out to visit with a nomad family (but definitely go with a guide…don’t just show up saying, “Hi, got some mint tea?”).  The next time I visit, I plan to take them supplies (grains, vegetables, toys for the kids, blankets, etc.).  If you can, I recommend you do the same.  As Oprah says, “pay it forward.”  The great thing about that?  You can pay it forward anywhere in the world.

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Smartphone Apps = Smart Travel

Smartphone apps are a great way to plan & enhance your travel. Below is a list of my favorite iPhone apps that I use while travelling.  The best part?  Most of these apps are free unless I’ve specified a cost.

1.  Trip Planning

  • Expedia‘s Trip Assist — Great way to book or manage trips via Expedia.
  • Trip Advisor — I use Trip Advisor before booking any hotel because I find the reviews invaluable.  Plus, users can post pictures of the hotels which gives you an honest look at the property instead of the “dressed up” photos from 15 years ago.
  • Airbnb — This is the coolest app.  It’s a booking tool that features unique places to rent.  You can rent a luxury villa, an igloo or a house shaped like a boot!
  • Jetsetter —  It’s invitation-only & features flash travel sales to exotic destinations all over the world.  This app features every kind of hotel you can think of – luxury properties, trendy hang-outs, or eco-conscious resorts – for discounts as high as 50% off!  Love this app!!
  • TripIt — Great app for managing your travel itinerary.

2.  Logistics (Air, Train, etc)

  • FlyDelta
  • TripTracker — Keeps track of all your travel plans across different airlines.  Will notify you of any changes to your reservations.
  • GateGuru — Great app for identifying products & services in each terminal at the airport.
  • Rail Europe — This is a must-have app for European train travel.  You can easily check arrival/departure times and book tickets.
  • Amtrak
  • AllSubway HD — this is a WONDERFUL app!  It features maps for 128 different cities around the world (i.e. Atlanta, Amsterdam, Chicago, Sydney, London, Paris, Cairo, Buenos Aires, etc.)
  • Taxi Magic — Electronic taxi booking service.  Great for finding out what rates should be.

3.  Tours

  • Viator — I’ve been using Viator for 2 years and love it!  The app is super easy to use and great for showing you last-minute deals on tours.
  • Rick Steves‘ Audio Europe – Free audio tours you can download from iTunes.  Tour cover Paris (i.e. the Louvre), Rome, Florence, etc.  It’s a great app if you don’t want to pay for an audio guide.

4.  Food & Drinks

  • Starbucks — In case you need your caffeine fix on the go.
  • Zagat — Provides ratings and reviews for restaurants worldwide ($9.99)
  • UrbanSpoon — You can find local restaurants by shaking your device and watching nearby restaurants slide up and down your screen like a slot machine.  This app covers the U.S. Canada, UK and Australia.
  • Foodspotting — Shows nearby restaurants and allows users to recommend specific dishes.

5.  General

  • Cultures — This is a great app to educate yourself on the local customs for each country you visit.
  • Currency — I use this app ALL THE TIME!  I absolutely love it.  Enter in the amount in a particular currency and it will show you what it costs in U.S. dollars and vice versa.
  • Google Translate — Great app for simple translations.
  • Free Wi-Fi Finder

6.  Country-specific apps

  • London = London Tube Map; JourneyPro
  • Paris = ParisMetro

Here are a few resources that can help you find travel apps for your device type.

AOLs 11 Best Travel Apps

10 Must-Have Travel Apps for your iOS Phone

Forbes 10 Best Travel Apps

Best iPhone Tour Apps

Tip #4: Using Mobile Phones Overseas

Most of us are tied to our mobile phones in our daily lives. So, when we travel overseas, we don’t want to be cut off from the world. However, taking your U.S. mobile phone overseas isn’t as easy (or cheap) as it sounds.

But, here are a few tips to make it easier:

1. Mobile Phones 101* = The standard mobile phone network in Europe (and most of the world) is called GSM. Within this network, different regions run on different bands. The U.S. uses 2 bands and most of Europe uses 2 different bands. A GSM U.S. phone that’s tri-band or quad-band operates on both US bands, plus one or both European bands (so it works in the U.S. and abroad). *source Rick Steves “Europe Through the Back Door”

2. If you have a tri-band or quad-band phone, you can contact your provider and ask about international data/voice plans. Most providers offer a temporary international solution. Also, check to see if you have corporate discounts. My international plan (unlimited data but roaming charges for phone calls) is less than $60/month with AT&T.

3. Global Cell Phone Rental for Verizon Customers: If you would like to take a cell phone abroad and you are a Verizon Customer, Verizon offers a rental service for global phones for travelers who will be out of the country for 21 days or less (Global Travel Program). Service costs vary.  The global value plan is put into effect when the phone is activated, and the plan is pro-rated, so the user is only charged from the day the phone is activated until the day the phone is deactivated; thus, the user may end up paying less than the $4.99 for the month of the global value plan.  It typically takes two business days to receive the phone via FedEx (signature required) delivery and users can activate the phone by calling Verizon or by going to a local Verizon store. Additionally, the Verizon customer can keep his or her current phone number.  To arrange for a phone rental, Verizon customers should call Verizon Customer Service and ask to speak to the Global Services department about Global phone rental.  If you aren’t sure whether to rent a phone or add service to your smart phone, Verizon has a pretty comprehensive page on their Global Services with a Trip Planner to help you decide on the type of service you will need based upon travel type (cruise vs. land) and country. 

4. Another great option is Cello Mobile. If your cell phone provider doesn’t offer an international plan (or the rates are too steep), this is a cheaper alternative and it has received rave reviews from users. I have identified a promo code for 10% off rental of the phone but it’s only valid if you travel for 15 or more days (promo code 1520). I’m not sure how long it’s valid for.  Quick Tip: I usually do a Google search with the “name of the company + promo code” to see if I can find any valid coupons. I have success about 80% of the time.5. If you are an iPhone user and just want to use the phone overseas for WiFi only, then you will need to disable roaming. To disable roaming on an iPhone — go into settings and select “Airport Mode”, and a small icon of an airplane will appear in the upper left corner of the screen. Consider that the iPhone also has WiFi capability, so in theory you can tap into any free WiFi source with the iPhone and surf the web. If you choose to do this, I would recommend staying at a vacation rental or hotel that offers free WiFi.

6. International Rate info by Service Provider
a. AT&T
     i. How to keep data charges predictable when traveling abroad 
     ii. World Packages   
 
b. T-Mobile
     i. International Roaming
 
7.  Rail Europe offers an “eKit” (pre-paid phone card and international phones) for purchase. They run various promotions throughout the year offering credit based upon the type of service your purchase.
 
Need travel apps for your phone?  Check out my post here for recommendations.  Any updates or feedback on using mobile phones overseas?  Please comment so I can keep the information current and correct.  Thanks!