Saturday, May 16, 2015

What I've Learned About Cruises

I've only been on two Carnival cruises, so I hardly consider myself an expert on the subject.  But I have learned a few things in the process.

1.  You can fly into Orlando and depart from Port Canaveral without renting a car.  We flew to Orlando, stayed overnight in a cheap hotel, and the hotel shuttle took care of transportation to and from the airport.  At the airport, we had another shuttle drive us to the port.  We didn't have to pay parking fees, though we did have to deal with airline 3-1-1 restrictions. 

2.  Flying makes me swell.  Horribly.  I'll be wearing compression socks on planes for the rest of my life.

3.  The earlier in the day you check in at the port, the faster you can get through security and onboard the ship.  We practically walked right onto the ship at Port Canaveral.  It was great.  New Orleans took a long time to check in, because we arrived later.  

4.  It's worth it to see if your room is ready after you board. It just might be.  Ours wasn't, but after a quick buffet lunch, it was ready ahead of schedule.  :). If your room isn't ready when you embark, you will be toting all your carry-owns around with you.

5.  I'm not addicted enough to my internet that I'll actually pay for an onboard package.  I use my phone as an alarm clock, watch, and camera.  That's it.  

6.  My birthday was a month past, and they still sang "Happy Birthday" to me in the dining room and brought me a special dessert.  Our booking agent told me it didn't matter that my birthday had passed.  "Close enough!" She said. Hahaha. I felt really special, and there aren't enough of those times. 

7.  A cruise is the perfect time to try foods that you might hate, just because they sound interesting and you never felt like wasting the money on a trial before.  I had strawberry bisque (delicious!), escargot (like rubbery mushrooms - no thank you), sushi, eggs benedict, gazpacho, Mongolian steak salad, chocolate gateau.

This isn't my photo of the menu, but it's the menu we chose from in the dining room for lunch.  Very few people were in the dining room at the time, so we had very fast service.  The dining room is your friend, if the buffet seems a bit iffy.  The buffets are typically themed, and sometimes cooked-to-order food is more worth waiting for.  :D

8.  You can choose a specific dining time and be seated with specific people throughout your cruise, or choose anytime dining and have lots of freedom.  Anytime dining was what I liked best.

9.  I don't think Carnival has a midnight chocolate buffet anymore. I'm very sad about that, actually.  Well, they do, but only on 7 day cruises. Boo.  :(

10.  Our cabin steward greeted us by name on the second day.  At a distance.  Quite a distance. From the back.  He was impressive. His name was Ida. I almost wet my pants laughing at the towel frog he made for us. :)

11.  You can bring on a few 20 ounce bottles of your favorite sodas.  I think six per person is the limit. Hey, they don't have Pepsi products on board, and I'm Pepsi girl.

12.  People have varying success at smuggling their own liquor on board.  I was successful coming back from Freeport.  My sister was not.  The check in table we were told to go to was so far from the screener that he didn't know who had been told to check in liquor, so it was easy to just walk on by.  I walked on.  She didn't. Lol

13.  An over-the-door shoe organizer is very helpful for containing ladies' clutter.  If you're not allowed to hang it over the closet door, rig it up in the closet with carabiners.

14.  The shower curtains love to suck in and stick to your legs.  I'm not sure how to fix that problem yet.

15.  The spa tour is worth taking because they offer a lot of amenities you didn't realize... Including a hot tub with no child access and saunas in the dressing rooms.  Saunas make you feel good. :) Sweat it out!  

16.  Our experience with the spa was muddled. No problem to get into the sauna or gym, but getting the spa to keep its appointments with me was impossible.  They kept rescheduling, so I eventually cancelled.

17.  There is a walking / jogging track on the topmost deck.  It's about an eighth of a mile around.  Short enough to make you feel that you accomplished something you didn't. Lol

18.  Miniature golf on a cruise ship is crazy due to the wind. Fun, but a little frustrating if you're trying to seriously play.  That wind adds a whole new dimension!  Just laugh about it.

19.  Lots of cruise ships have water parks and slides on deck.  Adults ride the slides too.  :)

20.  The Serenity deck is where no kids are allowed at all.  It fills up fast. Lol. But there's no pool.

21.  Bring a jacket because the evening wind on outside decks can be rough and cold, even in the Caribbean.  

22.  Inside rooms are dark, but it's perfect for sleeping well because no light will disturb you, although noise from the hallway might.  (It never woke me, but when I'm tired, I sleep heavily anyway.). There's no clock, however, so bring your own or use your smartphone on airplane mode. I recommend the app Big Clock 2 for visibility. 

23.  Deck chairs by the pool can't be reserved with towels hours before you show up.  You risk losing your towel, which you'll be held accountable for, and you just might tempt someone to steal your stuff. Don't be a jerk.  Take what's available when you arrive, and don't be afraid to move if a better spot opens up.  Besides, the pool is where the children hang out anyway.  :). And the music is a lot louder there.

24.  There is a tiny outdoor smoking area, but it won't be convenient for smokers.  It will be convenient for keeping non-smokers away from the stench.  Yes, it really is a stench, but the smokers are so used to it that they don't notice it anymore.  Don't you want to just be a clean, fresh-smelling, healthy non-smoker without a million early wrinkles? Come on, you know you do! You'll save tons of money!

25. http://cruisemates.com has great forums where you can have many of your cruising questions answered.  :)

26.  Bring a power strip.  There's usually only one outlet in the room, and you'll probably need more than one, but do t be surprised if you come back to find it unplugged when you aren't actively using it. They're just being cautious. 

27.  If you're a water drinker, you might want to bring your own larger mug / bottle for it, because walking back and forth to the dining room for more water can be a pain.  The same goes for coffee -- the ship supplies a regular sized cup, not a carafe.  If you're a heavy coffee drinker, it could be frustrating. 






Traveling With the Humble, Multi-Purpose Beach Ball

(Image from budget travel.com)

Because I like to travel, and travel comfortably, while dealing with a variety of ever-worsening pains (probably arthritis at my tender age -- it struck my mother pretty early), I'm investigating the many uses of the 99 cent inflatable beach ball.  Originally, I'd read of its use as a footrest on an airplane.

Granted, it will probably not replace my inflatable neck rest that I cord-lock around my neck to ensure it stays put while I attempt to sleep sloppily, but it will probably be a great supplement to that.  

As always, if you want to travel light, the items you'll be lugging around should have multiple uses.  I think this toy does just that.

Not all of these are my original ideas, of course, but some of them I came up with without seeing them mentioned elsewhere.  I'm sharing the, with you simply in the spirit of being helpful.

Because these cheap beach balls are easy to find at the beginning of summer and inpossible to locate at the end of the season, I'd suggest you grab a few now.

1.  Foot rest 

Not fully inflated, silly!  It WOULD roll around and take too much space in that tiny gulf where your feet get to dangle, if you're short, like me.  Partially inflated, to keep it squishy and cradling your feet, while giving them a boost. As the plane gains altitude, pressure increases, and the ball will swell a bit, so under-inflate it as you will your inflatable neck rest.  (You'll possibly want to wipe it down with a wet wipe after you deplane, though.) The ball would also make an excellent foot rest in a passenger vehicle, too.

2.  Travel pillow 

If you're going to sit next to a window, you can partially inflate the ball and put it between your head and the window, avoiding that horrible dance between trying to keep your neck straight while sleeping (thus keeping you awake) and your neck trying to accomodate the angles of the barrier beside you while you're asleep, resulting in great pain sooner or later.

3.  Lumbar support

There is no lumbar support in an airplane seat whatsoever.  The designers seem to think humans in economy have backs shaped like shrimp, and mine is definitely a good old S shape.  Partially inflate a beach ball and use it to correct the seat's support deficiency.  Right now I've got a beach ball supporting my lower back as I type this on my sofa.  :) Good times!  It will conform easily to the shape of your back, and you can move it up or down occasionally to support other parts of your back. 

4.  Beach toy

Obviously, a beach ball can be used for tossing and hitting, playing wherever you feel that it is appropriate. The beach, the pool, a park, a boring hotel room, in traffic (just kidding), on a flight (really kidding -- that would probably get you into big trouble).

5. Back rest for the beach

I haven tried this one yet, but I will because those folding back rests cost too much for what little they consist of.  

6.  Wine bottle cushion

Partially inflate, then wrap around the glass bottle, securing with tape, string, or clothing.

7.  Emergency splint

Blow it up partially and wrap it around the part that needs protection. Use tape to secure it. You might even be able to slide a small ice pack in there, using all necessary first aid precautions.  Because yes, I got myself a nice severe ankle sprain a couple of nights ago and I honestly thought I'd broken my ankle. The jury is still out, considering the clinic's X Ray was broken when I went.  It may yet snap.  I'm still angry about my ankle's betrayal of me on a stable surface.  It just folded and CRACKED, throwing me down. In the street.

8.  Lap pillow 

Use instead of a lap desk to support your book or tablet without exhausting your arms.  Great if you need to take out your contacts and still see what's on your lap.

9. Tray Table Pillow 

To lean forward onto if you can stand doing that on a plane :). First Class Sleeper is a device made expressly for that purpose, but you can try it out with a beach ball.  Personally, I only sleep on my face in Paris, and only at the point of utter exhaustion.  I haven't gained the skill of doing so on a plane.  Or truly sleeping in any position on a plane...  It's never real sleep, but I DID pass out on the Eurostar from London to Paris, missing all the English and French countryside, and the Chunnel, and woke up with a dreadful crick in my neck. I wish I'd had a beach ball.  I wish my seat had faced frontward instead of backward, too.  Darn it. 

10.  Seat cushion 

Inflate to your comfort level and sit on it, especially if your seating is hard and unyielding or you've got a sore backside.

11. Emergency flotation device

Well, you know, just in case.  Just underinflate it a bit so you can grip it.  Stick it in your shirt, maybe.  And grab your life jacket from under the seat if you're on an airplane. :)

12.  Bag

If it springs a leak or tears, you can just turn it into a tote, adding handles however you like. Do a search for "beach ball bag" on Pinterest.  Because it's cool to recycle, even a cheap PLASTIC dollar beach ball.  http://www.instructables.com/id/Beach-Ball-Bag/#step6. You'll need some duct tape and scissors, minimum. (I can't believe that link pasted in as clickable!  Yeehaa!)


Sunday, April 12, 2015

Things I Learned After My Latest Trip Abroad

Yes, I'm kind of OCD about packing the perfectly useful but light bag.*

                             * but everyone knows that already and it isn't a bad thing.  ;)

1.  It's best to plan to wear some of those souvenir t-shirts on your trip and home. Trust me -- you won't care.

2.  If your bags are getting slightly too heavy to make it through the carry-on restrictions check, wear a bunch of that heavy stuff to avoid checking your bag, and then go to the bathroom to take it all off and put it in your bag again.

3.  Research before you go how you can ship souvenirs home mid-trip.  I'm not sure what it is, but there HAS to be a way.  I've got a couple of years to research this.

4.  You don't have to bring everyone back a souvenir.  Your shoulder isn't up to it, and besides, they don't bring you souvenirs when they travel. ;) (Hey. Hundreds less you'll spend!)

5.  Bring a tiny pack of Sugru in case something BIG, like a suitcase handle or wheel breaks. Just add it to the fix-it kit with your duct tape (wrapped around an index card for compactness -- why buy a special, expensive travel roll?) 

6.  Washi tape can stick things into your travel journal instead of having loose bits and pieces of paper fluttering around in your way.  You don't even need a dispenser.  It's basically decorated light-tack masking tape, and it comes in fun designs in small rolls. 

7.  You can make a great travel journal out of a basic school composition book.  Create pockets inside for different purposes, secret hiding places, and decorations.  You can write your memories of the day, reminders, stick in receipts and pamphlets, and keep it all tidy.  The sewn-spine kind lasts forever, and you can tear out excess pages if you know you won't use all of them anyway.  Just remember to tear from the center, because both halves of the page come out together.  They usually have a hard back so you can write on your lap or bed if need be.

8.  I added tie ribbons and a cord lock to my inflatable neck pillow's cover.  This kept it in place around my neck.  I usually turn mine sideways for comfort anyway, and without a tie, it would fall off pretty quickly.

9.  An inflatable beach ball is more useful than inflatable water wings.  You can use it for a pillow, lumbar pillow, foot rest, lap pillow, or cushioning for breakables in your luggage.  You can also just play with it if you're bored.  They're so cheap that if you gave it away or it popped, it would be no real loss.

10.  Teva Tirra sandals are awesome walking shoes, and great for flying because they let your feet expand on a flight.  

11.  Rolling clothes really DOES take up less space than folding them.  

12.  I believe that my wiping down my seat, armrests, and definitely my tray table when I first took my seat saved me from some germs that made other people in my group rather ill.  Single-use Wet Ones packets to the rescue!

13.  Bring reliable, travel-proof snacks.  And then make sure to snack a little all through the day on carbs + protein.  Maybe even hard candy if blood sugar is an issue for you as it is for me.

14.  It's possible to crash so hard that you sleep for four hours face down in a pillow and nothing wakes you up, even though you normally can't sleep on your stomach.

15.  Just because someone (me) swaps seats with a lady so she can sit beside her husband on a flight for a few hours, don't think taking your shoes and socks off and sitting there nasty and barefoot will earn you an empty seat next to yours.  That kind person still has to sit somewhere.  And there are things they could do during the flight to make things unpleasant for you, so be polite, you nasty, disgusting, gross mofo.

16.  Dr. Bronner's liquid soap is a serious multitasker in your toiletry bag.  Shampoo, body wash, laundry soap, mouthwash, toothpaste (ICK though!), shaving soap, face wash. 

17.  Eucalan is a great mild hand washing detergent for clothes (especially wool) that doesn't require rinsing, just in case you have a tough time rinsing soap out completely when you hand wash.

18.  Some flight attendants deliberately give you the wrong meal if you dare to be awake an hour after takeoff.  I asked for pasta (to help me get sleepy); I got some Mexican chicken dish that was too spicy for me to eat.  And you know, I do like spicy stuff, but that was inedible.  It's why I didn't give them the chocolates I'd brought for them.  (I'd given some to the flight attendant in my previous flight who had helped me get my carryon stowed -- someone took my allotted space with extra bags -- she seemed thrilled about the treats.)

19.  It's not worth it to bring any kind of jewelry or expensive scarf when you travel.  You become too worried about accidentally losing your nice things. I didn't bring a bit of jewelry, but I regretted bringing my silk scarves, because I didn't wear them.  I did get a lot of use out of my pashmina, though.

20.  The more equipped you are to help other people with their travel needs / emergencies, the more likely they are to expect you to take care of them. Take care of yourself, and stopping worrying about the quality of their travel experience.  Sometimes travelers need to learn from their mistakes.  They can buy toothbrushes and toothpaste, improvise pajamas, and buy their own safety pins when they need them.  Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.

21.  Tons of secret pockets in your jacket are awesome.  Just make yourself a list of what's in each pocket so you don't have to dig.  

22.  Baggu still makes great fold-into-your-pocket shopping bags that weigh almost nothing.  I suspect the extra large ones could be worn as backpacks. (The regular ones are a bit too snug across the shoulders.). They're great as carry-ons for the plane, bus, or train.  Attach a carabiner for hanging help.  

23.  Tis better to pin things to the lining of your bag than to go searching for a single safety pin when you need it.  If you leave five safety pins attached in a highly visible location, you'll always know where to find them.  Leave them there forever, until you need them.  

24.  Bring along an external battery for your smartphone.  Although airports are finally starting to add charging stations, it's not always easy to find a seat beside a free one.  Besides, it's a drag running out of battery life when your phone IS your travel camera.  Now airports require all smart phones to have enough power remaining to prove its a phone and not a bomb detonator, or they won't let you fly.  Better have backup power!  One caveat: People might think that you brought the battery to charge THEIR devices.  Recommend a good charger for them to purchase before you go.

25.  Turn on location tagging for your photos so that later you'll know exactly where you took that picture.  It shouldn't cost you a cent.  (I forgot!)

26.  Sugar free gum will ruin your trip if it is sweetened with Xylitol or Sorbitol.  It's horrible stuff!  It does nasty things to your stomach!  (And if you find out accidentally that you're sensitive to it, your whole torso may swell up.  I kid you not!  I suddenly had problems fitting into bras and stretchy pants that had fit me a few days before. Not being a regular gum chewer, the issue snuck up on me. ). You're better off going with good old fashioned sugary Juicy Fruit on the plane and accepting you consumed another few calories.  Read about the pain and nastiness here: http://www.askahealer.com/xylitol.htm. 

27.  Eating bread before you fly causes gas.  I didn't find that out from personal experience... Just from reading. Lol

28. If you can sew the most basic running stitch, you can retrofit a travel bag with pockets.  I have a 31 Retro Metro Weekender bag that is a cavern of almost pocketless space on the inside.  I cut up a cheap mesh laundry bag and sewed pockets into the sides of my bag with the mesh because it wasn't working for me. It was so much easier to stay organized that way.

29.  I know people say that adding packing sleeves and cubes will keep your bag organized, but if you are putting all those extra bags inside of bags, aren't you adding some appreciable weight and girth? I'd rather use Ziploc bags... I always end up needing them anyway.  They're almost weightless and take very little space, besides being almost guiltlessly disposable. Besides, if your bag is subjected to a random search, wouldn't you feel better knowing your undies weren't directly touched by some stranger, because they were zipped in a clear plastic bag that's easy to examine without touching your underwear??

30.  After a transatlantic flight, I can't drive.  I just can't stay awake.  It doesn't matter which direction I'm traveling -- my narcolepsy hits hard.  It would be better for me to stay the night in my arrival city after returning, than to attempt to drive home.  Next time, I'll stay the night in a hotel before I head home.  If you want to live, please don't ask me to drive right after that flight.  I can't handle it.

31.  It doesn't matter what kind of hair dryer you buy -- if it was made for American voltage, you might get lucky and have it run for a few seconds, but it WILL DIE before you can use it.  I bought a travel dryer with dual voltage (only set for UK and Ireland voltages - I made sure), used an adapter, AND a transformer, and it died the first time I turned it on in Ireland. Buy one made for your destination.  Amazon UK sells them, though shipping won't be really fast.  This is when I discovered that my hair is healthier when I don't wash it every single day, as I was doing before this trip.  :). Though I'll admit, my hair looked hideous after letting it air dry.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Duct Tape Traveling

We have a saying here in the South: if it is supposed to move, and doesn't, use WD-40.  If it moves and shouldn't, use duct tape.

Well, I have more than duct tape and spray oil in my tool box, but I've found that duct tape is really handy to have when there is a problem traveling.  For example, eight years ago, I was driving and hit a deer at 55 mph.  It shattered the plastic front end of my SUV and bent up the hood, but I had duct tape to hold it all together for the drive home.  (I won.  Deer lost.  The frame of my vehicle looks like a battering ram just behind the grill, as it turns out.  Thank you, Toyota, you saved our lives, even though the air bag never deployed.)

Duct tape can be used for so much, traveling: holding stubborn curtains closed, doors open, taping notes, making replacement handles on beleaguered luggage, quieting noisy roommates, making a desk caddy, closing luggage with broken zippers, makeshift bandages, holding up hems, and I've heard about use as a strapless bra in a pinch.  My experience is that good duct tape rips my skin off, and cheap duct tape sticks to nothing, so I'm not likely to stick it to my breasts. I've heard it works.  Just... No thank you.    

There are many more ridiculous uses for it, but let's just say that you should pack some, just in case.  Having it is great insurance that you won't actually need it. Lol. Well, except when deer are involved... And I'm pretty sure I could turn my roll of tape into a workable mace, if I'm feeling threatened.  ;)

Duct tape typically comes on a hard cardboard roll, which is heavy and takes a lot of packing space. I've seen suggestions to wrap it around a pen, water bottle, or even to buy premium-priced travel rolls, but you really don't have to buy anything special, and you can use the tape you already have.  I just wrap it around a 3 x 5 index card, folded in half.  It stays flat and I have a pretty good idea just how much is left on my roll, with the exception of the tiny portion stuck on the paper itself. I fold the end of the tape over onto itself and I don't have to find the end when I need it.  Pocket-sized and pretty close to free, because I already keep it at home and work.  

Zip Bag Airplane Phone Mount

This is a brilliant idea I found in a "life hacks" article.  No matter what phone model you have (or if you have an iPad Mini), this should work fine.  I've bought stands for my iPhone that are useless when a case is on the phone, and a little turbulence may just send your device flying.  If for some reason, you can't put your tray down, such as a reclined seat in front of you, this works anyway.

                                 


I've also used inflated zip bags as emergency pillows before. (Hello, lumbar support?) They take up almost no space in your luggage, and can easily be repurposed for laundry needs.




Saturday, March 2, 2013

Laugh With Me & My OCD!

Cast:

Me - the OCD planner / packer
My Sister - the "fly by the seat of your pants" one

I texted her the other day, "There are apps to help you remember what you need to pack," in regard to our upcoming cruise.

She responded with, "Only you would know that lol."

So I said, "And only I remember all my stuff. LOL"

I win! :D

You know why I'm so into planning for a trip? Because it makes me happy to think about where I'm going. :). I know it's an unusual way to show optimism, but it means I'm thinking ahead of something good to come.


Confession: I Cheated on my 3-1-1

You know how the TSA limits your liquids and gels in carryon luggage to what will fit into a quart bag? Well, I cheated a little bit.

Allow me to plead my case, for those men and clean-face women out there. I wear contacts, wash my hair with color-safe shampoo and use color-safe conditioner. The best hotels don't ever provide samples that protect your hair color, let alone the cheap places I usually stay in.

I need hairspray for my layered hair to stay out of my eyes. I can't get my hair into a simple and neat ponytail no matter how many hairpins I add to the mess, or I would certainly ponytail it when traveling.

I was using styling gel until my hair stylist noticed recently that my hair is rather dessicated and falling out, so now I'm using hair serum instead. (That's likely a hormone hurricane causing this problem.)

I like to use my favorite body wash in the shower, too. Feels like home that way. :). Bar soap isn't my friend. Waxy, soap scummy, drying....

Even with my hormones being goofy, as they sometimes are in middle aged women, I'm still having to fight mild acne. It's been a thirty year fight. I need clear skin, and Nature has decided otherwise. So I use a four-step facial treatment every morning, which controls it and keeps my skin normal. Okay, dry. Those four steps alone would be too big for the quart bag, so I downsized them drastically. After all, I don't need a two month supply on a week-long trip, right?

Still, the more products you use, the more small bottles you have, and those bottles take up a lot of space.

Enter the contact lens cases.

Every time I get a new prescription, I get a new case. And I keep 'em, because I'm weird. Well, I don't have ALL of my old cases. Just several. I can put a week's worth of product into each side of the case. :). All four steps into two contact lens cases. Takes up very little room, and I don't put it into the 3-1-1 Baggie. That's where I'm cheating, though if it does fit, I put it in there anyway. What can I say, except that it works beautifully for me?

Lens cases can hold a lot of stuff. They're just little pots, with (hopefully) leak-proof tops. I've put small dry things in there too: earplugs, earrings, OTC drugs.

There's also that bonus that it really lightens up my baggage if I don't have to wag around full bottles of my stuff. :)

3-1-1 Baggie tip - use freezer bags with pleated bottoms. They're thicker and sturdier than the storage bags, but you can reinforce any of those bags with a little clear tape.