Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The old fogeys quest for good cheap travel ideas.

Before we go on, let me just say that this is a long article. Most people would suggest breaking it up into a series, but why? Personally I hate it when people do that. No, really. Let ME decide how much I want to read. If I don't have time to finish, I can come back. If I want to read it all now, well then let me read it all now! I hate it when people make decisions for me. Now that that's out of the way!

I frequently travel to California and stay there a while. I went for a month this past January. I'm also leaving in a couple of weeks for a couple of weeks.

And yes, I've seen this commercial....

It doesn't matter though because I hardly live alone. I have a house full of adults and really BIG dogs. lol! Not to mention an alarm system. Needless to say, I'm not overly concerned with that part.

That said, my biggest problem is packing light. I really REALLY try, but after traveling a lot, I've learned that to be really prepared for what I need to do, I can't pack light. Well, that's not true. I can. I just hate trying to.

My grandmother was queen of the packing world and was simply amazing. She traveled the world and carried one small bag, for her and my grandfather, at all times. This was way back in the 70s when baggage wasn't a big deal too. She carried two outfits, a camera, film and shoes. That's it. That's all she took. She would hand-wash her clothing at night and hang them to dry. She swears that they were dry by morning and then they'd shower and put on the clean clothes.

Back then hotels didn't have hair dryers, irons, microwaves, etc. You had a bathroom, some soap and a bed. Heck, you didn't even have an alarm clock! You had to ask the front desk to call you.

Anyway, as much as I would LOVE to travel like my Granny did, I can't. To begin with, I eat like a 3-year-old. I have large breasts and even if I lean over my plate, my food drops on my boobs. Yes ladies! You with the smaller girls, be happy. You've no idea what a pain in the ass it is. For this reason I have to take several tops. It's that or wear a freaking bib every meal which is NOT going to happen.

The rest of my clothes I can reduce, like panties and what we southerners call britches. For you yankees and beyond, pants. The problem though are travel dates. If traveling in January, I need a coat. Now here's the tricky part. I live in Mobile, Alabama. It's usually 70°+ in January. It rarely gets cold. For this reason, I am SO not going to lug a coat around the airport (or airports as it usually ends up being) if I'm not going to wear the darn thing. Even if I were, I still wouldn't want to carry them.

The next set of problems I have are electronics. I have to take my laptop, my phone, extra phone batteries which means an additional battery charger, my bluetooth and my beloved camera. My regular phone charger was a waste because I use up batteries like crazy when out of town. Heck, I use them up like crazy when at home! Either way, the native charger died and since I had a wall charger, I felt no need to buy another.

Let me add that I am notorious for leaving SOMETHING. I also get very annoyed in hotels that only have one freaking outlet next to the bed. ONE! Originally I would travel with my native phone charger and my Kindle Fire with its charger. Both of which needed to be plugged in next to the bed and then I had to unplug the light and the clock. For this reason, I began carrying a surge protection power strip. Then I could keep everything that needs to be plugged in, in one place so that I wouldn't lose or forget something.

So now imagine my carry-on bag. I had a Kindle Fire, a Kindle charger, a bluetooth, a bluetooth charger, a laptop, a laptop cooler, a phone charger, a phone wall battery charger, phone batteries, a camera, a lot of camera batteries, a power strip, a GPS with its charger, and let's see. What else? Jiminy Christmas! There was no room for anything else in my carry on.

I had to do some rethinking. I'm not an avid reader. Well, I was, but I have a neck injury which makes reading difficult sometimes. For that reason, my Kindle isn't as important as it was. Also, the Kindle was heavy and I was afraid it would run down right when Poirot was about to give us the answer.

The last time I traveled, I was able to drop the Kindle completely. I got the Kindle app for my phone, in case of the rare instance I wanted to read a Kindle book in pain. I also was able to ditch the GPS. The rest, however, is still required.

I also have - and I kid you not - 13 freaking prescriptions. I get 90 day bottles of them too. Now can you imagine trying to carry around 13 huge prescription bottles? Read any travel column and you'll see them say to take the bottles with you. Unless I want a suitcase for my bottles, that is completely unrealistic. I have opted for flat pill boxes, so they're pre-filled.

Now I told you all of that to tell you this. lol!

I wanted to go online to find some good travel accessories that would be helpful. Also, to be cheap. One of Google's most unhelpful top hit was this article. Seriously? A $30 jacket gripper "makes life so much easier"?! A jacket gripper! Then shoe bags for $24? I was going to post a comment until I saw that someone had already said what I would have. I use grocery bags for shoe bags! They come with any grocery you buy and other than the company overhead charge, they're free! Well, unless you live in the Nanny State where they charge you, which is flipping ridiculous! They only do that for revenue, not the environment, despite their claims.

Go watch Ocean's 12, or is it 13? It's the one with Catherine Zeta-Jones. Pay close attention to Matt Damon's backpack and jacket when on the train (or was it a bus?). He ties the arms around part of the bag and voila! A free jacket gripper.

Now before any of you execs out there say "well some of us can't have wrinkled jackets". True! But a $30 jacket gripper won't help you with that either!

Okay so obviously that article is a joke, at best. Next article was a slide show. I hate slide shows. Just put them on the page and be done with it, dadgummit! What if I wanted to print it? Guess I'm SOL. The only reason they put slide shows on pages is for your clicks. The more clicks their website gets, the better ads they get.

I will admit that I do like the packing shelf idea in the slideshow. One of the reasons I never unpack is that I'm afraid I'll leave something in a drawer that I didn't use on a daily basis. Yes, I check all drawers but the fear remains. I like leaving it out to visibly see it. The problem here though is that it's $36. The materials that it is made with are not worth that much. However, what if you bought this, for $12, and removed the side fiber boards? Not the fiber boards on the shelves themselves, just the sides. I'm thinking you'd have the same thing with better quality for a cheaper price.

As for secret money pockets in belts and jackets, or whatever you want a pocket in, I have a cheaper answer. Get a needle, some thread and a piece of fabric. Alternatively do know about those iron on patches? That works too. To make double sure it stays on, you can stitch it too.

Thing is, I don't travel abroad and I don't see a need to do this in the US, unless I'm going into gangland, which I won't be. Hopefully. Remember the days when you were on a road trip and had to use maps but you didn't have city maps so when you stopped to eat you could get lost? Those days are over thanks to GPS.

A lot of articles tell you to carry a flashlight. If you have a smartphone, why? There's an app for that, you know. Just Google for one.

I will say that a sleep mask is almost required if any road tripping is to be done. I cannot sleep in a car with the sun in my eyes. Many times the sun is so bright (like our trip through the Nevada and Arizona desert last July) that even the corners of a sleep mask lets in light. Try putting the mask on, then covering it with your sunglasses. Ahhhh. Much better.

Ear plugs are cheap and if noise may be an issue, well then go for it. I've never needed them. Whatever you do, don't waste your money on a sleep mask that claims to block sound. There simply isn't a product in the world that does that, unless they have ear plugs dangling along the sides.

Want to be able to weigh your suitcase? Why spend $30 on a luggage scale (as in the slide show) when you can get this one for $7? Don't search for luggage scales, search instead for fish scales. They'll likely be cheaper. Just be sure it's not for small fish. You want about 50 lbs or whatever weight limit your airline has.

Now there are tons of bag organizers out there. From packing cubes to bag inserts. The cubes are great, but they don't pack all that well. I liked that I could group my night clothes from my day clothes and whatever. However, when it came to fitting everything in, they just simply didn't pack as perfectly as it looks in their ads. Your clothes will rarely cover the entire square footage so you'll find that only the centers are thick, then you have excess cube flapping around. It just doesn't beat packing like a GI.

He says in the video that clothes will get wrinkled, but honestly you get less wrinkles if you roll your stuff. Both my husbands are former military, but my Army ex was the one that did the packing, and he could pack the entire house into a suitcase. I've since learned how to do it myself with careful timing. Most people just want to throw it in there, but use space wisely.

If I had to give you some packing tips, the first one would be to layer your clothing. If you're not planning on swimming but you want your suit just in case, that goes on the bottom then. If the last day of your trip you're going to a reception, then items for that also go in the bottom. If when you first arrive you're going to bed, then your sleep wear goes on top. See where I'm going with this?

Tell you what, start with day 1 and work your way back and pile it on your bed. Then when packing it'll go in reverse.
Tonight I'm wearing this, lay that on the bed first.
In the morning I'll wear this, lay that on top of the previous.
Tomorrow evening I'll wear this, lat that on top and so on.
Then when you actually put it in your suitcase, start at the top and work your way down to the bottom.

To separate dirty clothes from clean, take a cheap pillow case and lay it flat on your table, or chair, or floor, or somewhere. Fold your dirties up neatly and slide it into the pillow case after each use. I even keep a dryer sheet in mine to muffle odor. For that matter, I keep a dryer sheet in my suitcase to keep even clean clothes smelling fresh. Anyway, when your trip is over neatly lay the pillow case in your suitcase and it should pack nicely, while keeping things separate.

As I mentioned above, use grocery sacks for shoe bags and put dryer sheets in them too, especially if you do or did any sweating. You can even dust the dryer sheet with baking soda for added protection.

If you're checking luggage, put at least one outfit with one set of nightclothes into your carry-on. Trust me. I've only had my luggage lost once and it was the worst moment ever. It took days for them to find it and I only had what I was wearing. I'll never make that mistake again. Oh and when you do this, put all electronics on top because you'll have to take that out. Nothing is worse than having to pluck your panties off of your Kindle, when going through security.

Wear slip on shoes when flying. Flip-flops and sandals are okay, but then you'll have to walk barefooted on the floor. Eww. It's funny because growing up in south Georgia, we used to go into stores barefooted. Now it's just gross. Go figure. If you're insistent on flip-flops/sandals, then get those stocking feet things you can use to try on shoes at department stores. The problem is, putting them on will slow you down. Sure, they may be cute but try being realistic instead.

I mentioned the flashlight app, but there are more travel apps out there. If you're driving at all, Gas Buddy is a life saver for two reasons. One, it'll help you find the nearest gas station and two, it'll help you find the cheapest gas.

The problem with using phones as a GPS, I have found, is that one usually has to have phone service for it to work. For this reason, I cannot recommend relying on your phone's GPS unless you are absolutely certain you can use your app offline. Google's is useless offline. There was a critical moment a couple of weeks back when my daughter and I were driving back from Slidell and my GPS kept screaming at me that it needed a connection. Anyone who knows that Gulf Coast region knows that you're driving through the freaking swamps! There is no cell phone service out there. Why wasn't the GPS working? Because Google doesn't allow offline use. B******s!

It is beyond the scope of this post to suggest various free offline GPS voice navigators. There are many however. Each has its own set of features and none are perfect. It's best for you to do the search yourself and pick out the features that best fit your needs. However, I still would recommend ditching a regular GPS unit entirely and finding a phone app. It's less to carry, after all.

There are also two other apps that I love more than anything. One is called Evernote and the other Dropbox. I use them daily for various reasons. Travel is a perfect use for them too. I don't pay for any subscription services EXCEPT for Evernote. That's the only one that I truly believe is worth the money. I use the Dropbox free version and don't ask me to say which is better, because I cannot.

I use Dropbox to carry around files. It's my jumpless drive, so to speak. I can access my files from my desktop, laptop or phone. Evernote does the same, but is for recording information. Trip itineraries, plane ticket info, hotel and car confirmations and so on. You can even scan receipts into Evernote and make the text searchable! It's really ideal. You can also use Evernote on your desktop, laptop and phone as well. Both have free and paid versions. The problem with Evernote's free version is that there is no offline usage on a phone. That's my primary reason for paying.

Young people like to have social media, music/video and all that other nonsense. I'm not even going to say anything about that, except that Netflix on a phone is useless when you're flying. lol! Just keep that in mind.

Purse/bag organizer inserts are a great value, if you can find one cheap enough. The problem is that some of them are either quite pricey or take a thousand years to be shipped to you, if they're cheap. There are some alternatives though. Do you have a small handbag that you don't use anymore? You can put that inside your bag/purse. You can use an old wallet or several of them.

I do recommend buying extra batteries for your phone and a wall charger. Use the wall charger in addition to or instead of your native phone charger. My native phone charger has finally bitten the dust and since I have a wall charger, I'm not going to buy another one. One tip that I will share is don't over battery-ize yourself. I had 4 batteries originally then I found that I wasn't always using the 4th in good time. Three works just right for me and will carry me over in an emergency. Just be sure to rotate them, even if you didn't need it and can just plug your phone in. They need rotation.

One thing you don't often see in articles are "in case of emergency" items. Sure, there's the umbrella or disposable rain poncho, but what if you get sick? I once went to Orlando where we have a timeshare. We purchased Disney tickets and on Day 2 (or 3?) we were at Epcot and by the end of the day, I had a raging fever with all kinds of other symptoms. I didn't know what to do. At the time, I had just switched jobs and didn't yet have insurance kicking in.

Needless to say, I was miserable and didn't feel like trying to find a doctor in my condition. Now I carry a list of locally approved docs that I copy and paste from my insurance website, into my Evernote. For Orlando, a list of acute care clinics would have been nice to have. I do the same for a 24-hr pharmacy, a heavily positively reviewed local mechanic and locksmith as well as a wrecker service, if we have a car.

If you have an auto club, well then those last two or three probably won't be as important. The thing is, I want to be prepared for all things. On trips I have had my car breakdown, I have locked my keys in the car. I have come down with some sort of fatal jungle flu. I have badly sprained an ankle. I have had a flat tire in the middle of the desert with a spare that was only good for 35 miles, when civilization was 70 miles away. I have split my forehead in half and needed a bazillion stitches when a local hospital was over 300 miles away (yes, in Alaska). Let's see, what else? I'm sure I can think of more later.

The point is, that disaster DOES strike and you must be prepared for travel and medical emergencies. Don't assume that you're healthy as a horse and you haven't been sick in years. I freaking sprained my ankle walking down a 3-step set of stairs. I split my head open with a King Salmon fishing rod that snapped. The answer is yes, it wasn't pretty. My health had nothing at all to do with the flat tire in the desert. You get the idea. Oh and the locked car keys went like this:
Me: Well, open the door.
My ex: I can't. You have the keys.
Me: No I don't. You were driving, you have the keys.
My ex: No I don't, I gave them to you.
Both: Well, s**t.
Oh and no. That's not why I divorced him, but he didn't give me those dadgum keys. lol!

Now there are some things that I would say are not necessary. First is a travel pillow when you're flying. To begin with, they have those on board. Second, it takes up unnecessary space. Third, why not use your sweater or jacket instead? It just seems a waste of money.

The neck pillow is useful, but only if you can actually sleep on a plane. It never fails though. I'm nearly always sitting next to some guy who uses that thing and snores - loudly - all the way there. Personally, I wish everyone would just stay awake, thank you very much. However, if you're going overseas, well then pillow it is.

The other thing is stuff to do on the plane. I'd love to read, but since I can't for extended periods of time, I end up with thoughts such as these.
How much more time do I have left? Oh good grief I have 3 1/2 hours. Great, this plane still has ashtrays. That's it, we're going to die because this is a dinosaur plane. How is a seat belt going to save me in a plane crash? Now how am I going to go to the bathroom with that man sprawled out like that? Look at the flight attendant smiling back at us, she's thinking how funny it is that we have to sit there while she can walk around all she wants. I wish that teenager would tone her voice down. She's a Kardashian fan, obviously she's a tramp too. Why do I always reserve the window seat when there's nothing at all to look at? Oh yay! Today's movie is Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2; just kill me now. Why are their magazines nothing but ads about flying? Mmm. That guy is really hot. Oh well, he's probably gay anyway. If only I had a new Sherlock to watch. Too bad they only do 3 shows a season. They do that just to annoy me. Now what time is it? Great. I still have 3 hours and 25 minutes left.
I've yet to find a game that plays well on my phone for an extended period of time. I used to love to play this one game on my non-smart phone, but it was only fun for about 20 minutes and besides, it's unavailable on smart phones. I prefer word games, but I just cannot see those little bad boys on my phone. Also, the same game for 3 hours just doesn't work for me. Well, that's about it. That's my knowledge on traveling. The main thing is use items that are good for more than one thing, pack sensibly, be prepared for emergencies and use your phone to your advantage.

 Happy trails to you!

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