Tip #2 Packing Lightly – Luxury Items

Now for some of the luxury items I allow myself on a flight:

IMG_4955I love to have fresh flowers in my hotel room if I will be staying for a while. It makes the room seem like mine and like home. I recently found some disposable flower vases at the local Dollar Tree. These are as flat as a baggie, but open up to be firm and stand up very well to a fairly large bouquet of flowers. When I left the hotel the last time I used these, some of the flowers were still fresh so I just left them for the hotel staff.

I like to make coffee or tea in my room at night. In Paris in 2013, it finally hit me that I could have “good ol’ American coffee” if I didn’t mind instant. I went to the grocery and bought a small jar of Nescafé. I mixed it in a hotel plastic cup with hot tap water. That sufficed.
IMG_5748However, by 2015, I was prepared. I bought a cheap glass cup, a travel water heater for the cup, a box of Foldgers one cup packets of instant coffee, and a very small can of powdered creamer. I left the cup and the powdered creamer behind when I came home. They cost me a total of $2 and I had well used my money’s worth.

I like to have small hand wipe packs in my purse. I take enough of the kind I like to last my whole trip. Each day, I put what I will need in my purse. When the trip is over, I leave the leftovers behind for someone else.

I take a very small, light umbrella. I want one that will fit in my purse. I found a really good but inexpensive one for travel at IKEA. Depending on space, I know this is something else I can leave behind when I head home.

I take a cloth tote bag. Shoulder length straps are a plus. This can roll up small in the suitcase. Once at my destination, I carry it in my purse daily. I can pull it out for items I purchase or to carry a wet umbrella or my jacket that has turned out to be unnecessary. I also use it to carry laundry to the laundromat.

I always remember to take empty baggies of several sizes to use for food I purchase or leftovers for the hotel fridge. I love to picnic on vacation and having baggies for a single serving of the food I purchase at the grocery helps a lot.

When traveling in Europe, don’t expect wash cloths to be provided. I take a few with me and wash them with my other laundry. I leave them behind in the trash when I check out of the hotel. This also helps  clean out those wash clothes at home that are getting too thin.

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My advice  is to pack as little as you can of things you intend to bring back home. Snacks and all the luxury items I listed here can be used up or pitched before your return trip. This makes room in your bags for all the new things you purchase on your trip.

I start gathering items I might want to take on my trip a few weeks before my scheduled departure. I designate an empty clothes basket or an unused bed to start accumulating things as I think of them. I go in once a week and look over my collection. This inspection spurs me to think of items I have forgotten and, usually each time, to pull something out saying, “I can do without this.”

For a long trip, at least a week before I leave, I do a practice run with the luggage I plan to take and the exact clothes that are involved. I pack like I am leaving tomorrow. Then I evaluate how much space I have. I usually still need to pull items.

After I see that it all fits, it is time for the weigh in. Believe it or not, I can get enough stuff in a 21” bag and a briefcase that the total weight is over the allotted poundage to carry on. Having started early on this packing project, I have time to evaluate my situation. If I feel I really must have everything in the bags, it is time to plan on checking the larger one.
IMG_5747You really need to weigh your bags before leaving home if you are flying. You can usually find luggage scales similar to the one in this picture at places like Walmart or Target. You don’t want to get to the airport and be surprised when the clerk tells you that you have to check a bag and you know you have some important items in both bags. I have seen many people trying to trade out items from one bag to another in order to work things out. You don’t need this kind of stress at the airport.

Planning ahead can really make your life easier and your trip more enjoyable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tip #2 Packing Lightly – What You Need

Once you decide the means by which you will travel and about checking baggage on a plane or train, you can start planning what to pack. Once I discovered how little I really need for even a three and a half weeks’ travel, I started traveling this way even on short trips. I have spent many trips in past years coming home and finding several things in the suitcase that I never used at all.

For this particular packing plan, let’s say you are flying somewhere for 2-3 weeks. There are some things that you absolutely need and some that you really want. Start by making lists of needs and wants. Your needs will be things like medications, some clothing, and bathroom supplies. Things you really “want” will probably include electronics and charging cords.
IMG_5749If you are flying, remember the TSA 3-1-1 rule. Liquids need to be in 3.4 oz. containers. All of these containers need to fit into one 1 quart zipper bag. Remember that liquids include shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, liquid or paste makeup, lipstick, deodorant, perfume, artificial tears, antibiotic ointment, etc. Remember, also, that hotels are going to have shampoo and soap. I carry my spray hair conditioner, because I like a certain kind. However, I pitch it when I head home. I don’t take shampoo at all, but just use what the hotel provides. If I am staying a couple of weeks, I will purchase some shampoo that I like at the destination and leave it behind. I take travel size toothpaste and deodorant. I take sample size lipstick and perfume (many department stores will give you one of the brand you purchase there).

When packing clothing, remember you are on vacation. Unless you are going to a wedding or a “fancy” party, casual or business clothing should be all you will need. Try to take tops and bottoms that are interchangeable. I wear jeans (heavy and cumbersome to pack) and take black slacks. I can manage indefinitely with the pants I wear and two extra pair, one in my briefcase and one in my suitcase. I make sure the tops I take can be worn with any of the bottoms so I never have to worry about what matches.

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Paris, 2015

Remember that you can wash your clothes and wear them again – just like you do at home. I take TSA-approved laundry sheets for small wash-outs in the sink. However, I do use a coin operated laundry for heavy things like jeans and try to do this once everything is dirty except what I have on. If you want to go to the laundromat, it helps if all your clothing items can go in one load in a washer without fading. No reason to double the cost if they can go in one load. The laundromat I used in Paris in 2015 did not have a workable soap machine, so I stopped at the grocery a block down the road to purchase some. I had not thought about needing to know all the French words for the kind of detergent I needed and the young man stocking the shelves didn’t speak English. I finally read enough on the box to find the words for “by hand or machine” and figured that would be fine.
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Depending on the weather, you will need to decide on outer wear. However, even in a warm climate, sometimes it gets cool. Always be sure to have a sweater or light jacket. I always make sure to have at least one long-sleeved shirt too for layering with an outer garment. For the ladies, scarves can dress up an outfit or keep you very warm. I have found also that scarves make the perfect souvenir for myself and friends.

Wear comfortable shoes. Comfort is much more important than looks. I take one extra pair, usually sandals in the summer. These pack flat and are light. (Remember, you always want to wear the heaviest and most space-consuming items and pack the lighter ones.)

I have never had a TSA agent ask about my medications. However, there could always be a first time and, since I keep them in a carry-on, I make sure they are organized. I ask the pharmacy for small bottles with current labels for prescriptions. I put all of these in one baggie and all of my OTC drug items in another baggie. I take my empty week day pill container that I use at home and fill it up once I arrive at my destination so I don’t have a problem forgetting my meds.

Another thing you want with you on the plane is your charging cord for your cell phone. Other chargers are optional to carry on, but I keep them all together. I roll each cord tightly and stick them all in another baggie. Can you tell why my adult children call me the “bag lady?”IMG_5751-1

Tip #2 Packing Lightly – Luggage

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Grand Canyon, 2008

As you begin to think about packing for your trip, many decisions will be made for you according to your mode of transportation. You can take as much as you want in a car and fill every little crevice if you so desire. I used to do it that way. However, trains and planes require you to think more carefully about what you need and want to take with you.

Trains such as Amtrak usually allow a lot more luggage to travel with you without extra charge than air travel does. Depending on where you are going on a train and what kind of accommodations you reserve, you can take varying amounts of baggage. If you are staying in a bedroom car, you can take just what you need for overnight with you to your room and store the rest of the suitcases on the lower floor of your car. You will still have easy access to these  larger items as you proceed on your travel, but they won’t be taking up space in your cabin. You still have to be able to handle all of that luggage once you arrive at your destination.

If flying to your destination, you will need to think about the following questions: Do I want to check luggage (be sure you know how much that will cost for your airline)? Can I get what I need in two small bags that will fit carry-on restrictions?

Remember, if you are flying, that you might be solely responsible for carrying or rolling everything you take with you from one end of an airport to another. Yes, there may be “red caps” that can help. However, you might be in a rush and have trouble finding someone to help you. There are large luggage racks you can pile everything on and roll around, but this is a lot to manage if you have several pieces of luggage. Also consider how you will manage all of that luggage after you arrive at your destination.

IMG_5746My suggestion, and how I try to travel on plane or train, is to stick to carry-on size luggage pieces. Most airlines today are moving to a 21” bag instead of the more spacious 22” of recent years for the largest carry-on size allowed. This measurement includes handles and wheels. You are usually also allowed a second piece that can be the size of a tote bag or briefcase. I use a canvas briefcase which can hold an unbelievable amount of “stuff” but will still fit under the airplane seat in front of me. (This is a requirement for the second piece on most airlines.) When I take my 22” piece (I have it, why not use it), I plan on checking it. This is if I travel on a flight that allows one free checked piece of luggage. If I carried on a 21” piece, I would be responsible for lifting that full suitcase into the overhead bins. That is quite a feat for a short old woman.

Remember that luggage can get lost. Because of this, ALWAYS carry on the plane with you a complete outfit of clothing and all medications and things you will absolutely need and can’t afford to lose. In my briefcase, I take a complete change of clothing, all my electronics and charging cords, medication, snacks, and reservation papers and documents. ( I keep a second copy of all paperwork in the checked suitcase as well. I also email myself a copy of all reservations and paperwork so I can always find a copy on my computer. Call me paranoid, but I have seen too many people lose their documents and have no copies.)
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Every piece of luggage should have your name, home address, and destination both inside and outside of the luggage if you are flying. I make a two-sided paper to slip into the name tag. One side tells information leaving home and I flip it when I am ready to head back home with the different destination.  If luggage is lost, this is very helpful in getting it delivered to you.

 

 

 

 

 

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First Trip After the Loss of a Spouse

If you have traveled a lot as a couple as my husband and I did, traveling is one of the significant pleasures of life. I knew when my husband died that I was no098t willing to give up the traveling that I loved so much.

Sure, when I mentioned vacationing alone, there was a mixed response from family and friends. Fortunately, my family members were very supportive and offered comments like, “You are an experienced traveler and don’t need anyone to go with you. Go have fun.” Other people were more leery and suggested all the dangers and loneliness of traveling by myself.

IMG_0564 (1)I admit that my first trip alone was a place where we had visited as a couple. However, I went here not because of having been there with my husband, but because it is a place of comfort and healing. The Hemlock Inn, in Bryson City, North Carolina, is a place we had been visiting for over twenty years. This is a quiet inn on the top of a mountain in the Smokies. The innkeepers feel like family and I felt I could go there (only two months after the death of my husband) and feel comfortable and loved.

This “first” trip proved to be more wonderful than I could have hoped for. I met many new friends, some of whom I continue to hold close. It was not a sad time at all, but a rejoicing in realizing that my travel life was alive and well and that I could do this all on my own. Since that time (five years ago), I have stretched my wings and traveled to places we didn’t go to together.

Each person needs to make the decision that is best for herself. Those first few trips after a significant loss are similar to other facets of grieving. Each person must do it in her own way.

321My second trip was overseas. As a couple, we had traveled throughout the continental United States and Canada, but never to Europe. I went to India with my son and his family for nearly two weeks (a trip report for another time) and decided to make the huge step of routing myself home through Paris for my second solo trip. This would actually be the first trip to a place I had never been and knew no one. This was about seven months after the death of my husband and it was one of the best trips I had ever taken.

I was pretty nervous at first about international air travel, language, and an unfamiliar area. However, after awaking the first morning in Paris and walking to the Eiffel Tower, it was all positive and uphill from there. Each new activity was a boost to my confidence. Everyone I met was friendly and helpful and, having prepared ahead with reading travel books and having maps, etc., I could do anything I chose.IMG_1740

That independence of making all my own decisions was exhilarating. I walked tall in Paris (even though I am a fairly short person) with a smile on my face. This was my new life and I was ready to live it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tip #1 – Plan Ahead

If you are traveling alone, you need to do some deep research about the following;

  1. Location

What is the weather like at the time of year you are going? Will you need a coat, a swimsuit, raincoat? How do the people dress there? You want to be comfortable, but do not want to stand out. There are places, for instance, where even in hot weather, people are not expected to be seen on the streets wearing shorts.

  1. Transportation

What are the various means of transportation for this trip? Can you drive and, if you do, how long will it take and how many days of motel and meal bills will it take, making it possibly more costly than a flight directly to the location?  Sometimes, you might want to make a circle trip and see things on the way to the destination and back. However, sometimes, it is more your goal to go directly to the one location. I flew to Seattle a couple of years ago from Illinois. I love car trips and especially love Amtrak. However, for this trip, I really only cared about seeing Seattle and it was much more inexpensive to fly there and back.

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San Diego Amtrak

Remember that if you fly or take a train, you must also plan for transportation once you arrive at your destination. When I fly into Chicago, I take the GO Airport Express shuttle between my hotel and the airport. When I flew to Seattle, the best choice for me was the light rail system from the Seatac airport into Seattle and back. When I have traveled to Paris, I have tried a shuttle, a private car, and a taxi. The taxi was by far the best choice to and from the airport (although, I did know more about how to get to my hotel than my taxi driver did).

How will you get around once you arrive at your destination? Do you need to rent a car? If so, a reservation probably needs to be made far in advance. Does the city have a reliable public transportation system?  If so, you can probably find many resources online that tell you how things work in that city.  The New York subway system is very different from the Paris Metro. There are many good YouTube videos about different transit systems around the world that will show you exactly what to expect before you leave home. No reading you do will prepare you as much as actually seeing this system in process. This is a great confidence builder when going somewhere new on your own.

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Dubai Airport

Remember that some modes of transportation require reservations far in advance. Some increase prices as you get closer to your choice of departure dates. Be sure and start scheduling early.

  1. Gathering information

Trip Advisor has a huge amount of information that can help you plan your trip. Their site covers lodging, restaurants, and what to do and see. Trip Advisor also has discussion forums for many cities in the world. On these sites, it is easy to ask questions about the place you are planning to visit. You will get responses from other travelers as well as from residents of that area. Getting involved in these discussions also relieves a lot of stress because you are getting advice from those who have been there before you or who live there. You will also see questions from others on the forum that you hadn’t thought to ask.

The big taxi strike of 2015 happened in Paris while I was there. During the strike, it was not possible to get to the airports to fly out. I connected to the Trip Advisor Paris forum and one of the Paris residents who traveled in the area every day, gave me updates and assured me the day before that he would check again so I would know if I could make my flight.

I always get at least one travel book for wherever I am headed. I have used Rick Steve’s books, Fodor, and Frommer as my first sources. There are many other reliable books out there. You need to look through the books and see which one offers the information you need in a format that feels good to you.

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As you find internet links to places you want to go and things you want to see as you travel, always remember to bookmark these links on the computer you will be taking with you on the trip. When you read through travel books and find information that you want to have with you on the trip, photocopy the important pages to take with you. This helps tremendously with space and weight in your suitcase.

It is fun, once you decide on a destination, to start researching for things you want to do and places you want to eat. Make a list of these places and include addresses and phone numbers. However, be sure not to lock yourself into seeing everything on the list. These are ideas that you think (while sitting at home) would be interesting. Once you arrive at your destination, allow yourself to change your mind and go somewhere not on your list – just because it looks interesting.  Remember, you are traveling solo. That means YOU get to choose.

Be sure to acquire a good street map of the places you plan on going. This needs to be a map that has big enough print for you to read easily, but small enough that you could open it in public to check on a location.

You will need subway maps or bus maps of cities where you think you might be using these forms of transportation. Many of these are available online to print on an 8.5 x 11 paper. Remember that for many big cities walking, taking city transportation, or a taxi may be easier than having a car in the city.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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