Thursday, September 8, 2016

How to Stay Organized While Traveling

After all of the years of traveling, I have grown to appreciate the art of packing light, no matter where I go or for how long, it is critical for me to take only what I need but not feel that I have to do without.  I use my tried and true packing list, carefully color co-ordinate my wardrobe and have learned how to roll and stuff like a pro.  What I haven’t been able to master is how to stay organized while I am away, especially on extended trips.  By the time I arrive at my first destination, that lovely packing job I was so proud of becomes an unruly, tangled mess.
This summer, I embarked on a fantastic downsizing adventure, and traveled to Florida to look for my new home.  I was determined to only take my one carry-on bag for the entire trip.  I put everything else in storage and off I went.  It was pretty easy to accomplish that because I knew I wouldn’t need much for the warm weather and that I could easily pick up anything else I wanted along the way.
This was a multi-faceted journey, different cities and different accommodation
By the time I was at my first stop, I was already feeling a bit unsure about how to keep my one little bag organized.  There was no room to put my clothes away and because it was such a short stay it didn’t make sense to have to unpack and repack every day.
It was then that I was contacted by the Co-Founder and President of EzPacking, a small travel accessories company in California.  They asked if I would try out their Packing Cubes and give them some feedback.  Timing could not have been better.  I asked them to ship them to my next destination so I could try them right away.  I have talked to many people who love packing cubes but I really wasn’t sure if they would be right for me but I was willing to give them a try.
The starter set was perfect for my carry on
They sent the starter set and it was waiting for me when I arrived.  Even as I opened them I was a bit skeptical, wondering if these would really help.  I did like the design and that with clear tops you could see the contents.  It wasn’t until I actually started packing them that I was truly impressed. 
I started my standard rolling process and then decided how I would organize what went into each cube.  Slacks and blouses in the largest, shorts and dresses in the next, swimsuit, undergarments, sleep shirt in the next – that was everything and I still had one left to use for toiletries or miscellaneous bits that I carry in my tote bag.  I was really surprised how much they held and that I still had room for more. 
Versatile and Easy to Use
Something I really like about them is that I don’t have to pack and repack my bag while deciding what I want to take on my trip.  All 4 cubes fit easily in my bag, so I know if it fits in the cube it will fit in my luggage.  I don’t have to worry about a zipper breaking and strewing my laundry all over the airport or TSA rummaging through my bag, it all stays visible and organized.  It also really helped me when I stayed at a very small B&B that had almost no drawer or closet space at all.  I kept my clothes in the cubes and just took out what I needed for the day. 
Now, after several trips, many different destinations and adding to my collection it all still fits in my one carry-on bag.  They are so easy and convenient with so many ways you can use them either at home or away. 
I appreciate EzPacking sharing their product with me and was happy to provide a review for this site.  I really enjoy using them for all of my travels!
Have you ever used packing cubes?  What are your favorite travel accessories?  What is your biggest challenge when it comes to packing for your trips?  Share your stories and join the conversation!

Disclaimer – I received the EzPacking Starter set in kind for my honest review of the product and all opinions are my own.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

My Magic Wand

Years ago, when I was working and encountered any sort of problem or difficulty, I would tell my team that I would just bring in my magic wand and that everything would be fine.  I actually had one that I purchased from a local Renaissance Festival - it was beautiful, twisted metal wand with a gorgeous crystal attached, but that is not what held the magic.  It was the attitude that I had about the situation.

Somehow, I always knew that something good would happen and it would always work out for the best.  Call it serendipity, happenstance or just plain luck, whatever it was I understood that the more positive expectation I had, the faster it would come.  This was a belief I held in all areas of my life.  It seemed as though, as soon as I joked about it and let go of any attachment then - poof, it would appear!

Easy Does It

I was traveling from Fort Lauderdale to Fort Myers, Florida and had scheduled a shuttle from the airport to take me on the short 2-hour trip.  It seemed like a great option, I love land journeys, they are very relaxing, and you get to see areas that you miss by flying.

As always, I arrived extra early because I don't like to rush if I don't have to.  That is another bonus of being retired, I can take my time and set my own schedule.  So, while patiently waiting at the airport, I felt very fortunate to not be getting on a plane, I had fun just wandering around and visiting with some of the nice people there.  

As the pick-up time approached, I went to the designated area and waited there.  When the shuttle did not arrive on time I rang the office to check on the schedule and they said they were running a few minutes late.  No worries, I was fine standing in the fresh air just watching the people go by.

When Things Go Wrong on the Road

While I was waiting I met a lovely young couple from Australia who were traveling to visit family in the area.  I love meeting new people wherever I go so it was very nice to chat to them while we waited for the shuttle.  I am a very patient traveler and know that delays happen so I was not concerned until over an hour passed and still no sign of the shuttle.  The office was no longer answering our calls and my phone had completely died.

After almost 2 hours we began to get a little anxious that they may not be coming at all and we needed to think about what we were going to do.  We all needed to be on the other side of the state that evening or we would have to make plans to stay where we were for the night and try again tomorrow. 

I don't like feeling trapped, I'm sure no one does, but my response is to get creative and see what other choices are available. 

The Golden Rule of Traveling is to Stay Flexible and be Open to other Possibilities

When problems arise you have to decide how you want to handle it and it never helps to get upset or to be rude.  Calmly assess the situation and then decide how you want to proceed.

Fortunately, we were at the airport so we had many options for alternate travel.  We could rent-a-car and drive over, we could hire a taxi to take us or we could fly.  All reasonable avenues, and more if we wanted to check into coaches or the train.  Literally the moment we began to decide what option we would prefer, the shuttle pulled up to collect us.

The driver was brusque and clearly had been having a very bad day, much worse than ours.  The bus was loaded with passengers who seemed very tired and frustrated as well but now we were on our way.  At a short fuel break, I talked briefly to the driver and asked cautiously how he was doing.

It had been a very long day for him, he was actually the owner of the company and had a driver that didn't come in so he had been driving since 4 am and was trying to get all of his customers to their designated locations throughout the state.  He was so warm and friendly and immediately the atmosphere changed for the entire journey.

Sometimes the Best Things come from the Strangest Circumstances

After arriving safely, having a great dinner and good night’s sleep I thought about what a great day that it had been.  I met some wonderful people and got to see some lovely parts of the state and everything worked out perfectly.

Perfect does not mean that everything goes to plan.  It means that it works out for the best, usually in a way that will surprise and delight you!

I no longer have that magic wand but its power is always with me as long as I remember to expect the very best outcome possible and know that it will happen.

What experiences have you had while traveling?  Do you expect something good or something bad when things go awry?  Join the conversation and share your stories.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Best Travel Memories Come in Orange Plastic Bags

As I was packing for a short work trip recently, I pulled out a bright orange plastic Sainsbury’s bag that I had from my last trip to London. It brought back such a flood of great memories that you would have thought it was a priceless memento.
Something as simple as this little bag represents a special place and time and I can instantly recall all of the wonderful experiences I had when I was there.
Building Travel Memories and Watching the World Go By 
I stayed at a great hotel right at Paddington Station, which is one of my all-time favorite places. This is not just because of the trains – with all of the shops and restaurants right there it feels like a little city unto itself.
The hotel has a fantastic lounge, overlooking the train platforms and some of the shops. I loved to just sit and watch all of the passersby coming and going on their daily commutes. It felt like I was sitting at the window of the world and just imagined all the stories and lives that were intersecting there.
Wherever I Go, I Feel Like a Local
I love to shop at the market or grocery store, it always makes me feel like I live there and am not just visiting. Just browsing through the aisles looking at all of the interesting and unfamiliar products is so much fun.
When I’m in England, I always buy biscuits, tea, fresh fruit, cheese and crackers to take back to my room. I used to try to save some for the journey home, but very seldom did they last that long. That said, I always ended up with a bag or two and found that just that small reminder was enough to relive the entire experience.
My Favorite Keepsakes
When I travelled, I was so excited about all of the new experiences that I would save almost everything from my trip. This included bus tickets, boarding passes, maps and, of course, the required tourist souvenirs of all sorts. Sometimes, I would actually buy a tote or bag from my destination to make sure I had room to bring it all home.
Now, wherever I go, even when I buy gifts for friends or family, I always save at least one small plastic bag from every trip. Each one has a special memory attached. One reminded me of being stuck at the Barcelona airport in the sweltering heat and buying a pair of flip flops. 
Another brought back memories of the fantastic French wine and cheese I had in my hotel room. Then, there was the bag that once held the lovely scarf I bought for the train trip to Italy. Another bag took me back to the wonderful bacon sandwich I had for breakfast in Ireland. There are too many memories to list!
The Gift I Give Myself is the Memory
I love that I can recall exactly how it felt to be in that environment – who I met, what I did, the food I ate, the places I went and the things I saw. It all becomes part of that special experience I had along the way.
Something as simple as seeing one of those cherished bags instantly transports me back to that moment in my life and I will always remember my wonderful journey.
What are the most meaningful mementos from your travels? What are your favorite travel memories? Do you like to buy traditional souvenirs or is there something special that evokes a memory for you? Share your stories and join in the conversation.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Packing Challenge - 3 Weeks, 2 Climates, 1 Bag

As I prepared for a recent trip to Europe, I thought about all of the different activities and climates I would need to plan for. There would be sunny beaches in Spain, cold and wet hikes in Ireland and of course the fantastic dinners and dances with my friends.

For the first time in many years, I considered actually checking my luggage, so I could just take everything I wanted and not be concerned about what to bring.

This was a big trip, so I felt totally justified in bringing extra bags.  Then I thought of the times when my luggage was lost, or when the wheel came off of my roller bag and I had to carry 3 bags upstairs, across the train platform, outside in England, in the rain, I remembered why I always travel light!

So, now my challenge was to see if I could bring everything I needed and wanted in 1 carry-on bag.

Planning My Wardrobe

The first thing I always do is go through my expected itinerary, day by day, and make a list of what clothes I will need. Starting with what I will wear on the plane and every day and evening for the entire trip. 

Immediately, the list becomes overwhelming and seems to include just about everything I have in my closet. Knowing that it is not reasonable, I begin to pare down.

First, I select the main color scheme I want for the trip (black and gray or brown and blue). Right away that decreases my list by half or more, especially since I now only have to bring one color of shoes.

Next, I begin to put together complete outfits and lay them out on the bed. Every top must match every bottom – no exceptions. You never know when you are going to have a spill on the one blouse that only went with that skirt and need to change it.

You will never be sorry that you have more choices that match as opposed to ones that don’t.  I stick to solid color bottoms and then add printed tops and scarves for color and variety.

Prepack and Volume Check

Now comes the fun part, I attempt to pack my bag (I use a rolling backpack, it’s versatile and lightweight and I don’t have to worry about broken wheels or handles). 

I don’t even get half of the clothes in when I realize that I still need room for shoes and shampoo. This is usually about the time the panic sets in and I start thinking how much easier it would be to just check my luggage but I refuse to give in and start over.

I look back at my list and start eliminating anything redundant or unnecessary. I don’t need 3 pairs of jeans or that bulky sweater that I might wear once, so out they go. 

It’s amazing what you’ll discover when you start to work with what you have. I found that I don’t need a separate swimsuit cover when that lovely black blouse will do fine or that I can layer warm weather pieces for the cooler climate.

The Final Selection

This is where I give myself permission to change, rethink and repack absolutely everything. Now that I know what will fit in the designated bag, including shoes and personal supplies I can make whatever substitutions I want, as long as it all still fits in the bag.

I ended up taking nice dress slacks, jeans, a skirt, a dress, a sweater, blouses, a swimsuit, walking shoes, boots, flats and a raincoat. Not only did I have more than enough to wear, but even came home with a couple of tops that I never wore at all, that really surprised me.

Tips and Tricks

Packing light is a fine art and with a little practice you can master it too. Take the lightest weight, wrinkle free garments that you can find, remember layering is your friend. Not only can you take more with you but you can also wash things out easily during your trip.

Use compression bags to help maximize the space and roll everything tightly. You will be surprised how much you can get into that one little bag and how much easier your trip will be when you learn to travel light!

What kind of packer are you? Have you ever had an experience taking too much or too little on a trip? Share your stories and join the conversation.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Celebrating My 60th Birthday in Mexico

Every year, I plan an international trip for my birthday. It’s a wonderful way to mark the passage of time and an excellent excuse to go somewhere fun. I especially love milestone birthdays and since this year was my 60th, I wanted to do something extra special for myself.

Even though I usually travel solo, a friend of mine wanted to meet in Mexico and I jumped at the chance to have a girlfriend’s getaway. She was going to be in Tulum, so, I flew down to join her.

It Was All Very Last Minute

I just booked the flight, packed my bag and left. It has been a while since I did anything quite so spontaneous, but I knew I would have a fantastic time and I was up for the adventure.

We ended up at a lovely resort right on the beach and my friend arranged to have me put in the room right next to hers. The room was perfect, full of rustic Mexican charm. It even had a balcony with a stunning view of the Caribbean Sea. I was thrilled and I knew this was exactly what I needed.

On the Very First Night, We Decided to Go Into Town
We went to a gorgeous, beachfront dance club. It had all the fun and flair you would expect to find in a lovely little Mexican town. To top it off, it was a full moon and a Saturday night, so, everyone was in very high spirits.

To me, it felt like everyone was there to celebrate my 60th birthday. What an incredible evening it was!

Years ago, celebrating would have been a nightly occurrence. After such a great first night in Mexico, I was simply content for the rest of the trip to relax under a shady palapa and visit with my friend.

Turning 60 Was a Big Event for Me

I have always loved the aging process and truly appreciate every passing year. This birthday felt different – somehow more significant.

Turning 60 felt like a new beginning – a brand new start to the rest of my life.

Things that might have concerned me in the past seemed unimportant and I had the sense that nothing would ever be the same. I had given myself permission to enter this chapter of my life with the wonder and excitement of a child. I suddenly had no more expectations – just anticipation for what may lie ahead.

My Life Has Been a Series of Fantastic Experiences and Wonderful Lessons

Now, beginning a new decade, I feel that I am becoming more myself. All of the self-reflection, joy and sorrow are blending into this beautiful mosaic that is my life.

Watching the crystal blue waves, rolling in and out, feels like a metaphor for my life – one continuous, beautiful flow.

There is a lovely symmetry to reaching a golden age and going on vacation. Both experiences are a wonderful reflection of who I really am. They remind me to enjoy every single moment.

I am so grateful for this incredible journey that is my life – and that I got to celebrate it in Mexico!

Have you ever gone on vacation to celebrate a milestone birthday? What do you like most about life after 60? Join the conversation!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Planning Your First Solo Travel Adventure

It’s been over 40 years, but I remember the first few trips I took alone like they were yesterday. I was so excited and nervous. At the same time, I knew it was something I had to try.

I would read stories about all of the wonderful places in the world and fantasize about going on those trips, never really believing I would actually go. Finally, I let my desire overcome my fear and I booked a short solo trip, not far from where I lived.

Now, four decades later, I am barely home from one adventure before I am planning the next.

Everywhere I go, women ask me how I do it, so, I thought I’d share some of my tips on how to plan your first solo travel adventure.  Just a word of caution – it can be very addictive and can change your life forever!

Planning for Your Solo Travel Adventure

The first step is to think of something you enjoy doing. Do you like visiting gardens or parks, museums, outdoor activities or sporting events?

Whatever you like to do at home you will enjoy even more when you are away. I love to hike in the mountains so that is what I decided to do for my first trip. Having a sense of purpose helped to calm my nerves.

I recommend staying close to home at first; this will ease the stress of feeling like you are too far away. My first trip was only an hour from home and I knew if I didn’t like it or if anything happened I could easily leave; it was very reassuring.

Next, decide where you want to go, how far away and for how long. I began with just a weekend – drive on Saturday morning, go hiking, stay overnight and drive home on Sunday. It seems so easy now but at the time this was a very big deal for me.

Managing Your Bookings

Whether you are driving, flying or taking a bus, you will need to make arrangements for how you will get there and where you will stay. The Internet has made this process so much easier so you can research and book everything online.

I always check multiple sites before I make any travel arrangements. I start with Expedia and Travelocity and then check the specific hotel or airline website for more detailed information and the best rates.

Many airlines offer vacation packages that include airfare, hotel and car so it is easy to book all of them together. Before I book anything I check to see the reviews from other solo travelers. I am very careful to make sure that where I am going is safe and that I will be comfortable.

Also, I make refundable arrangements. It can cost a bit more but I want to make sure that I can cancel without penalty.

Depending on where I am going and what the costs are sometimes I purchase travel insurance. Also, I always have a contingency plan, just in case.

Looking for Tours and Excursions

Depending on what you plan to do, you can either book organized tours or go independently. Many of my early trips were to visit lovely botanic gardens in various states so I would check into my hotel and then go from there.

I very often take walks in the park or gardens here at home so it did not feel uncomfortable to do this on my own in a new city. The one thing I always do is plan my transportation before I leave the hotel – directions, bus schedule, taxi etc.

Getting the Most from Dining Out

For some women traveling alone this can be a big concern. It is one of the reasons that I always book a hotel with a restaurant onsite. If I am feeling uncomfortable for any reason or perhaps just don’t want to go out I can order room service and stay in.

Early on, when I went out, I took a book or my journal to occupy myself if I felt bored or uneasy. Now, with phones and tablets, most of us have something available all the time.

Try not to be too distracted. A lot of people will talk to you when they see you are on your own but won’t interrupt you if you seem too engrossed in your phone.

Honestly, it has become one of my greatest pleasures. I always plan at least one night when I dress up and treat myself to a nice dinner out. I’ve met wonderful people all over the world and always look forward to this part of any trip.

Embrace a Little Self-indulgence

For me, this has become one of the best things about traveling on my own. I get to do what I want, when I want and always do something special for myself. It doesn’t have to be expensive just anything that makes me happy.

It might be a nice meal, massage, cute pair of earrings or just a nice warm bath with a glass of wine at the end of a great day. No matter what it is, it helps me remember that I deserve to treat myself with love and kindness.

Wishing you safe and happy travels!

Have you ever traveled on your own? If not, would you like to? What solo travel advice would you like to offer the other women in our community? Join the conversation and share your stories below.

Friday, February 26, 2016

5 Travel Safety Tips for Women Traveling Solo

Traveling the world on my own gives me such a sense of joy and freedom. It is a fantastic way to meet wonderful people, while having new experiences. At the same time, I have learned that it is very important to know how to be safe so I can continue on my wonderful adventures. 

Here are a few travel safety tips that I have learned along the way.

Stay Aware of Your Surroundings 

No matter where you are (airport, train station, restaurant, hotel etc.) it is always important to notice what is going on around you. If you are in a busy public place, you should know where the exits are and who is nearby that can assist you in the event of an emergency.

If you are traveling in a foreign country, make sure to learn some key phrases in the local language and what the emergency call number is.
One thing that I found, while staying at international hotels, is that, very often, cell service is unreliable. 

Occasionally, the room phone will be blocked for outside calls, unless you have specifically made arrangements when you arrive. Once, I needed to use the phone in the middle of the night and I have never forgotten this experience.

You feel very vulnerable when you need assistance and can’t call anyone.

Protect Your Personal Information

People are very kind and helpful when they realize you are a woman traveling on your own. At the same time, you must be careful about giving out too much personal information.

I do not give my full – or even real name – to anyone, except the airline, hotel or car rental company. I like to be prepared with an alternative name and email address. This way, I’m not caught off guard when someone asks to stay in touch.

I keep my luggage tag reversed and only put my last name and email address on it. This way, it cannot be seen by anyone standing in the queue next to me. I also keep my personal documents in a closed location, out of public view.

At the hotel, after I have checked in, I memorize my room number and discard the sleeve. I like knowing that, if I lose my key, no one will know what room I am in.

Most hotels are good about not announcing your room number, while you are checking in. Unfortunately, they sometimes declare it openly when you go down for breakfast or to the pool. Politely remind them that you prefer to keep your room number private.

Personal Safety

While in your room, always use the do not disturb sign and keep all internal locks secured. I have been walked in on by housekeeping and even other guests, who were accidently given a key to my room.

I also carry a small, lightweight lock, for those doors that don’t have a good internal lock or, in some cases, none at all.

I prefer to stay at a hotel with a restaurant. This way, I can have my meals without having to leave the premises. Sometimes, especially if I’ve gotten in late and there’s bad weather, or it’s a dodgy neighborhood, I can just have my dinner and wait to go out the next day.

Do not go anywhere with strangers. The hotel should be able to arrange safe transportation for you when you go out and provide information on what is available for your return.

There might not be shuttle or taxi available when you come back, so, it’s best to plan your return transportation before you leave. I always take a card from the hotel so I have the address handy.

Do not post your plans or location on social media until after you have returned from your trip. Trust your instincts and use common sense anytime you are out and about. 

Guard Your Personal Belongings

I like to travel light. I only take carry-on baggage, one rolling backpack and one zippered tote. I can easily manage these bags without assistance and always know where everything is. The only purse or handbag I use is something small with a shoulder strap that goes under my jacket or sweater.

Always use the room safe or ask the front desk to store valuables while you are out. I keep a photocopy of my passport in a separate location and email a copy to myself so I can access it anytime.

Be Flexible

Travel is a wonderful, albeit unpredictable, adventure. You need to be able to adapt and adjust to whatever happens. Some of my best experiences have come from circumstances that initially seemed like a problem.

Wishing you all safe and happy travels!

Do you feel safe when you travel alone? What other travel safety tips can you offer to other women in our community?

Published on - Sixty and Me