Thursday, October 6, 2011

Traveler Al’s Packing Method and Travel Tips.

I spent the morning unpacking and laying out my stuff for my big "Almost the Last Hurrah" journey so that I could take photos to show my packing method - such as it is.
This is my packing philosophy - 

Rule 1 - "Don't worry about wrinkles!"
You are traveling and wrinkles are a by-product of making a journey.  I have always envied those fortunate people who can dress as if they are going to a wedding, spend hours on a plane, train, auto or covered wagon then step out at the end of the journey looking as fresh and pristine as if they had just left their make-up table.  

I am not one of them - and most likely - neither are you.  Quit worrying about wrinkles!

Rule 2 - "Take half of the clothes and twice the amount of money that you think you must have!"

No matter how much I cut down on the number of shirts, pants etc. that I take with me - I find that I will always return home with some of what I have been so uncomfortably  hauling around has never seen the light of day as it slowly worked its way to the bottom of my suitcase. 

Ladies - Chances are that you will not go to the grand ball given by the king of "Some-where-istan."  Do you really need to pack more than one or two nice outfits with lots of interchangeable accessories?

I just received a wonderful e-mail from Misty, a very elegant and vivacious lady I met on my last Transatlantic repositioning cruise.  Misty is a solo traveler as I am - she has some very specific tips for minimum packing for the ladies.

"Hi Al, Good tips. 
I traveled around Europe for three months and packed everything in a carry on.
My trick is to take three basic bottoms: Black jeans, one dressy pair of slacks and one pair of shorts with multiple tops that are lightweight and versatile. Making sure that all bottoms are one color eliminates the need for multiple shoes and the tops are interchangeable to make many different outfits. 
One light jacket, a tango skirt, one pair of tango shoes, (Misty is a very committed dancer!) tennis shoes and one pair of dressy shoes. Night shirt and slippers. Cosmetics, sample hygiene bottles. A touch pad instead of laptop and books, and I was done. 
I did use a money belt especially in Italy. I was very grateful for traveling light since I covered a lot of ground by train. 

Happy travels my friend.

Likewise - I always find that every meal, bus, taxi or metro rides are more expensive on my trips.  Money just seems to speed its way out of my "poor thin wallet!"  Take more money or have debit cards with you to draw more cash as you go.

Rule 3 - "Never get separated from your medications, cameras and any necessary medical equipment you use."

Medications, your camera equipment and any medical equipment you must use MUST be kept with you at all times in your carry-on luggage.  I use a positive air pressure CPAP breathing machine at night - it and the myriad of medications I use daily are always in my carry-on bag. I never let anyone else take my cameras and carry-on bag, even when checking in at a hotel when going to my room or cabin.

Rule 4 - "Leave jewelry and other expensive things home ... or be ultra cautious in guarding it as you go."

Don't pack money or valuables in the luggage you will be checking in or turning over to bellmen in hotels or to stevedores at dockside.  

I was the victim of a pickpocket team in Amsterdam once and on another trip two unsuccessful attempts to get into my pockets were made in Prague.  That one successful attempt ruined that trip for me, not because I lost any thing valuable, but because of the emotional effects of having your personal space so badly invaded.

Pickpocket teams are clever about relieving you of your wallet and other valuables at the places tourists visit.  Use money belts inside your clothing to guard your money and do not wear lots of "bling" that will attract the attention of hard working criminals.

On my last trip overseas there was a con game being run all over the city.  Two teenage youth would drop a shiny, heavy ring near a tourist and then pick it up to ask you if it was yours.  I do not know the outcome as I did not act greedy to want to keep the ring.  One afternoon that scam was tried on me at least 6 times!  

Clothes I will wear when I leave home

Not illustrated, my large golf umbrella that I use as a walking stick. I made a fitting for the umbrella handle that allows me to use the umbrella as a mono-pod for my camera to lift the camera above the crowd or to hold it steady. That fitting will be in my checked bag.

Please notice that I use a black leather cover for my passport.  It has a cord to hang around my neck.  You can also see my money and credit card  holder that I wear under my clothing, tucked into my the waistband of my briefs.  This is where I carry my credit cards, driver's license and all except about $40 of my cash.  I will carry the windbreaker jacket looped through the handles of my rolling stack of bags unless it is cold out.

The pants I wear for the flight have elastic in the waistband and should not fall down (as they have several times in the past!) when I remove my belt at the airport security point for the x-ray machine.

Rule 5 - "Every time you fold a garment, you are making it bulkier.  Try not to fold clothing when packing."

I have seen packing methods of rolling clothing, layering clothing with tissue paper and so forth.  My goal is always to get the most stuff in the smallest space possible.  I find that folding and refolding garments just makes them bulkier and creates the need for - "We have to use one more suitcase, I can't get another thing in this bag!"  

See Rule 1 above - I repeat that when packing for travel - quit worrying about wrinkles in your clothing.  When you get where you are going, you can hang the clothes up and let the wrinkles fall out, or hang them up in the bathroom to let the moist air ease out the wrinkles.

Here are photos of my trial packing for my big journey during which I will be away from home over two months.


Challenge - to get all of this ....

..into these 3 bags !
Detail of stuff for carry-on bag

What you are looking at is mostly stuff for my beige colored CPAP positive air pressure breathing machine at the top center of the photo.  The machine requires two air hoses, a face mask, a water container and a base plate that is used to humidify the air, a transformer and extension cord. I also carry a small electric voltage converter with a variety of conversion plugs and sockets for different styles of foreign electric sockets.  

I pack two folders - one with information about emergency medical coverage by my HMO carrier and the other with all my papers with my itinerary, reservation confirmations and so forth. I tend to accumulate lots of literature and brochures as I travel.  

My medications are all in a small zippered "ditty" bag that goes into the carry-on bag, but to make additional space, I may line the bottles of pills on the bottom of the bag and fold up the ditty bag.  I have a set of underwear, socks and a pants and shirt combination in the carry on bag just in case my checked bag is lost in transit for a few days.  

I carry a few first aid items with me as well, gauze and telfa pads, adhesive tape and antibiotic ointment.  

My carry-on bag is a child's bag.  I bought it at K-mart and it has made a few trips with me already. It is small, but that means it will be light enough for me to lift it into the overhead luggage bin on any plane.  It is also small enough that if I must put it under the seat in front of me on an airplane, there will still be room for my feet.

And ... I like that it has a "jet plane" logo on it :-)  !

The first layer in the carry on - 1 outfit of clothes. electric voltage converter, spare end for air hose.

Carry on bag - 2nd layer of items

The second layer has the air mask, hoses, CPAP machine (which I have to remove so that TSA can swab it for chemical analysis at the airport security station) and a ditty bag full of medication bottles.

A legal sized travel documents folder will go on the very top over the above illustrated items.

The pocket of the carry-on with emergency medical documents and the ziplock bag with liquid toiletries.

Camera Bag - 1st layer

This is all the wires for camera to computer connections, for recharge connection cable for a Kindle electronic reader, a cell phone charger for use in an auto (not shown my cell phone charger which will be added later), several pens and a small portable fan.  

Camera Bag - 2nd layer

This layer has the camera instruction booklet, my check book, a Mini-Mag flashlight, the camera battery recharger, the camera case with extra memory card and extra battery, the converter lens for telephoto photos and my diabetes test kit.

Camera Bag - final layer

The last layer in the camera bag is the electronic Kindle reader.  I actually had to put the curved corners to the side of the bag closest to the camera to be able to zip up the camera bag.  The Kindle has about 35 books loaded which should more than last my journey.  I used to always carry at least 5 or 6 paperback books with me - which made my luggage very heavy.  I would read them and leave them here and there as I finished them.  I won't do that with the Kindle !

Camera bag now full!

I use this Igloo brand lunch cooler as my camera bag.  It is soft sided to protect the contents when it falls on the ground and small enough not to be obvious as a camera bag. 

The last of the items now go into my bag that will be checked.  This includes - 1 pair of pants, 4 aloha shirts, 4 non-floral lei's, a sweatshirt, 2 T-shirts, a beverage sipper cup, a floppy hat, swimsuit, plastic bags, underwear and socks, maps (Istanbul street map and map of the Western States), lanyard and slot machine player club cards, a bottle of sunscreen, a deck of cards, a small sewing kit, several small bungee cords, nylon cord, a deck of playing cards, a long-handled shoe horn and a mono-pod because I need it to keep from shaking my camera even at fast shutter speeds.

I will wear the lei's in place of a necktie in the cruise ship dining rooms at dinner.  In Hawaii an Aloha shirt with a lei is considered very formal.

Checked bag - first layer
This layer has dry toilet articles (razor, Q-tips etc), floppy hat, the lei's and a swimsuit.

Checked bag - 2nd layer

This layer has more toilet articles, beverage sipper (which will be moved to a different spot in next photo) player club cards on a lanyard, a small spray bottle of Febreze, underwear and socks and shower slippers.

Checked bag - 3rd layer

This layer has the pants folded like an accordion from the bottom of the pant leg upward from one side of the bag to the other, several plastic bags for wet or damp clothing and 2 larger plastic bags for dirty laundry.

Next items added are the shirts which I first stack up flat on the bed on top of each other with the buttons facing me as I stack them.The shirts are then laid over the open suitcase as illustrated and the entire stack is folded on the edges and then up from the bottom.  The shirt collars are laid where the hinge or fold of the suitcase itself will fold them.

Beginning layout of the stack of shirts

Sides of all the shirts in the stack are next folded in to fit the bag

The bottoms of the shirts are folded up into the bag

The sweatshirt and T-shirts are stacked and folded the same as the shirt stack.

Final items are placed onto the pile of stacked shirts

In this view there is an accessory Blackberry keyboard & keyboard  batteries (which I may not take), my mono-pod, the fitting for my umbrella handle and a long handled shoe horn. 

Items in the small pocket on the checked bag

The small pocket has a pair of gloves if needed, bungee cords and a marking pen.  The bungee cords come in handy to tie all the luggage into a "rolling stack."

The large pocket on the checked bag is empty and available for souvenir items.

The checked bag has the ability to add another 2 to 3 inches in depth by unzipping around the bag.  This is a luxury I have never traveled with before - the chance to buy things to bring home in my luggage.  I have always packed so tight in the past that there simply was no room to bring any purchases home!

This is the end result a rolling stack of luggage.

Even I can handle the stack of luggage to get from the curb to the counter to check onto a flight or to get from the check-in desk over the gangway into the cruise ship or for a quick departure from a cruise ship the morning of arrival.


No one writing about modern travel should forget to mention that there is a risk of bringing bedbugs home with you. Even the very finest and posh hotels have bedbug infestations since DDT was outlawed worldwide.  

My illustrations all violated one big rule of travel and that is:   

Rule 6 - Never put luggage on a bed.   

Use a luggage rack or the arms of a wooden chair or the floor away from the hotel bed to keep bed bugs from getting into your luggage to be brought home to your house!

Traveler Al's Travel Tips 

  • Never pass up an opportunity to use a restroom or to sit down.
  • Always carry a supply of cookies, granola bars or other non-messy quick foods in your carry-on bag.  The airlines do not serve food anymore except for the long haul, overseas routes.  These packs of "survival rations" come in handy the first few nights when you wake up in your hotel, starving at 3 AM after having crossed 15 time zones in one day.
  • Always have a bottle of water with you. Purchase it at the airport after you go past the security checkpoints.
  • Try to purchase souvenirs in museum gift shops - the quality is much better and the prices are much lower than at the souvenir shops at the major tourist sights.
  • Always remain alert to who is near you and what is going on around you.  
  • Take the time to take the photo!  No, you will not be back tomorrow to take it when the light is better or when your feet have stopped hurting.
  • Wear comfortable shoes.  I recommend SAS or Rockport shoes for the ultimate comfort.
  • Try different foods and restaurants other than the major chains like McDonalds and KFC, especially if you will not be back that way again.  
  • Carry small bottles of hand sanitizer with you and use it frequently - especially before eating.
  • Have some anti-acid tablets and anti-diarrhea tablets with you in your carry on.  Ramses or Montezuma's Revenge can spoil a trip.
  • Always smile and be pleasant - even when you don't feel like it.
  • Try not to be another horrid, demanding, complaining tourist.  No matter where you are, people are people and they all come up with different ways of dealing with life where they live.  Experiencing that difference is part of the joy of your trip!

I hope your travels will be as enjoyable and as enriching as mine have been. 

I will post photos from my upcoming journey as soon as I can.

Please share this blog page with your family, friends and Facebook friends.  

Your comments are always welcome. I have been informed that you must register for a account to leave comments.  That process is easy and can be handy to have - even if you do not want to start a blog.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Where Does The Urge To Travel Come From - How Do You Plan The Trips ?

The Wander Lust Urge

I suppose my "wander lust comes from my “Army Brat” childhood. From about the age of six years old until late college age, my father was in the US Army.  I and my family were all Army Dependents, traveling with Dad whenever he was ordered to a new base or Army assignment.  We moved at least every three years – even moving from rental house to rental house during the stays at each assignment.  

It was a gypsy like existence that I loved.  Every three years or so, I would move on to a new place, new schools, new friends.  If a teacher was being difficult or a mean kid was being a bully, picking on me – soon, I would leave them behind. 

I suppose in a lot of ways I became – and still am a “travel snob!”  It was and has been immensely satisfying to have said things like this as a child: “We attended an educational association instead of a school when we lived in Ankara, Turkey”; or “In Rome the only cool place in August is inside St. Peter’s Basilica !”  

..... And, no matter the place or state mentioned – most of the time we had visited or lived there! 

I finished my last two years of high school at my Dad’s Alma Mater in Des Moines, Iowa.

I felt sorry for one of my school friends who had never been outside the city limits!  I cannot imagine having that limited a world.  As soon as I graduated, I was off travelling to return to my family in New Orleans and soon after that my family was reassigned to Orleans, France.

Getting the “Itch” or – “It’s time to travel again!”

I subscribe to many travel newsletters.  I receive from 15 to 30 e-mail airfare and other travel notifications daily. These are about special low air fares, special deals at hotels all over the world and last minute fare reductions on cruise ships.  I always have these tantalizing, tempting bits of information dangling in front of me that start my fantasies of where my next journey will take me. 

I also have what I call my “travel dreams.”  I dream that I have forgotten some vital item when I packed my luggage, or that I am on an airliner with no seats, or I am spending time with friends at an outdoor cafĂ© under a beautiful leafy arbor at a Mediterranean seaside.  

All of this tells me that it is time to plan and make another trip.

There are many airfare bargains out there.  But, frankly, air travel has become no fun even at its very best. 

I cannot afford First or Business class, so I always travel Economy or Economy Plus (for the 8 hour or longer flights).  This is definitely the modern equivalent of steerage or “packed like anchovies in a can” class of travel.  Now that the added insults of a pat down search and being x-rayed has been added to the air travel check-in procedure – flying should be avoided if possible.

Finally, I have a bucket list of places to see and activities I want to do before I "kick the bucket."  All of the above factor into my travels and planning for my wanderings.

The Evolution Of My Next Journey's Plans

I have long wanted to make a complete trip around the globe*.  My current planning started off with that goal in mind.  I was planning to fly from Honolulu, Hawaii to Hong Kong* for several days to see the sights, then onward to Bangkok*, Thailand for a week or so.  From Bangkok I wanted to fly to India*, take a train to Agra to see the Taj Mahal* and then fly to Istanbul, Turkey, into Europe and then perhaps a repositioning transatlantic cruise and a Panama Canal Transit cruise* to the West Coast of America and then a flight home to Hawaii.  

* Indicates an item from my Bucket List of things to see and places to go before I kick the bucket.

That was a lot of flying and a myriad of hotels here, there and everywhere to make reservations for.  Nevertheless, I started to lay out the timeline or calendar and a budget for this itinerary.

But, there were some definite drawbacks to this preliminary itinerary!  It was both expensive and uncomfortable!

I really enjoy cruising on a ship.  In cruising, you have transport, lodging and meals as part of your cruise fare. You have a comfortable cabin, entertainment provided, amazing food and a great deal of leisure to read, swim and so forth while you are traveling. The only flying involved is that needed to get to the embarkation port and back from the final port of the cruise.  How can I work that goal into the itinerary?

One necessity I have every 6 months is to return to Southern California for medical check-ups to keep my Health Maintenance Coverage intact (Med-I-Care regulations). So, I have to fly back to the Mainland periodically.  How can I use this required trip I had to make sometime no later than October of 2011 as part of my itinerary for my next big journey?

In February and March of 2011 I began to look carefully at transatlantic repositioning cruises in November to get back from Europe to the United States rather than flying back.

Transatlantic repositioning cruises are often great bargains that cost just over $110 per day even with included taxes, tips and single supplement fees that I must pay because I travel alone.

The lack of frequent stops in ports on a transatlantic cruise is not a problem for me. The greatest appeal of being on a ship, to me, is the fact that it is moving along through the sea. It is a great, grand boat ride!

Several Celebrity cruise ships were leaving Barcelona, Spain or Rome, Italy back to Florida starting in mid-November.  Shortly thereafter, I booked a transatlantic repositioning cruise with Celebrity.  This was the first hard booking I made for my big journey.

I kept working and working with air fares and schedules to fit to go to Hong Kong, Bangkok and India and could not come up with reasonable fares or times to make it all work.  I started to drop the idea of making this my trip around the world. 

Oh well!  There is always next year!

In researching cruises I noticed there was a very nice fare sale on a 14 day cruise to the Holy Land that departed Istanbul, Turkey on November 6, 2011 on Celebrity Constellation.  This was very tempting and I could tie it into the transatlantic cruise.  Several days later, one of my newsletters reported that Turkish Airlines was posting a round trip fare from Los Angeles to Istanbul – round trip for $525 plus taxes!  

Bingo!  This is an extremely low fare!   I booked a flight from Los Angeles to Instanbul for November 3, 2011.  On this particular flight, I may abandon the included return flight back to LAX - Unless I can put the return segment on hold for a year to use on my next big journey.

I booked the Holy Land Cruise that became the same ship's transatlantic repositioning on the next segment of its voyage! I would disembark and re-embark in Barcelona, Spain on the Constellation on the same day, November 17th to get to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida on December 3rd, 2011.

It’s Getting Very Complicated!

The itinerary was starting to get complicated, so I started an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of the segments of my itinerary starting with flying from Honolulu to Las Vegas with my friends that started the first 4 days of my big journey. I also used it to track flight numbers, lodgings while visiting with family and friends and hotels in Las Vegas and the Riverside area.  I also needed to keep track of the times and dates of doctor visits, car rentals and my costs.

Page One of My Planning Spreadsheet

Page Two of My Planning SpreadsheetAdd caption

I noticed that Carnival Cruises had a Panama Canal Transit Cruise leaving from Tampa, Florida the afternoon of the day that the transatlantic cruise arrived, December 3, 2011.  Would it be possible to drive or fly across Florida in time to catch the Panama Canal Cruise?  Taking that additional cruise from Florida and arriving in Long Beach California would save me the air fare from Florida to California – which would be about half the cost of the cruise fare and be one of my item to check off my Bucket List!  I went ahead and booked that cruise as well!

You may notice on the spreadsheets that I always purchase a "soda card" for the cruise.  I don't like coffee - I get my caffeine by drinking lots of cola drinks every day.  The bars on cruise ships charge at least $2 for each soda I drink, so with the amount of daily soda I drink (at least 6 to 8 diet sodas per day) it makes the soda card a must for me.

I now had three back to back cruises lined up – Starting in Istanbul, Turkey, with stops in Turkey, Greece, 2 stops in Israel, Malta and Spain then onward to another two stops in Spain, then to Island of Madera and the Canary Islands arriving at Florida then immediately departing Florida for Grand Cayman Islands, Cartagena Columbia, a transit of the Panama Canal, Puntarenas, Costa Rica, 2 stops in Mexico finally arriving in Southern California – all without flying!

I asked a friend from Texas whose wife recently passed away if he might like to join me on the Panama Canal Cruise.  He decided to join the cruise and share the cabin.  By having someone to share the fare the cabin with, it effectively cut the cost in half for both of us – keeping the cost near the $110 per each day limit that I like to stay within when I take a cruise.

That leaves me with a few hotel reservations yet to make. I will stay at the same hotel I stayed at on my last trip to Turkey back in 2009, the Hotel Ilkay.  The Ilkay is not fancy but the breakfast is included and edible (no bacon or pork served!) and they have a free internet computer and internet connection to use at a cost of about 51 Euros per day (about $70 per day).

My daughter in law’s father, Walt,  has an guest bedroom with a private entrance at his home that I will use when in the Riverside area. I will stay with my brother at his home in Pahrump, Nevada to save on hotel costs.

I will be leaving Hawaii the second week in October, but not starting the cruising until early November.  I will be taking many photos in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Haifa, Acre, Athens, Malta, Barcelona and other stops as I go. 

It may take awhile to get my all of the decent photos posted in late December and January, but I promise that I shall do so.

Counting my pills and the spreadsheet I list them on  (Seasick pills I use daily for vertigo shown above.)

I am including a photo the spreadsheet I use to keep track of my medications and how I count out my medications so that I will have sufficient pills to see me through the entire journey.

I will report as I can – as my “Almost a Last Hurrah” journey unfolds. 

Next – Traveler Al’s Packing Method and Travel Tips.