Monthly Archives: July 2014

Leaving tomorrow, and still working…but look what I’m listening to:

IMG_0729The last day before leaving for vacation is always a challenge. Being self-employed, I think it might be even more challenging…

I contacted clients six weeks ago to tell them I’d be gone for three (!) weeks and told them the last date they could have projects to me for finishing. Most complied. Some did not. I’m spending time this morning finishing up writing, design and print jobs.

And that’s the time I was going to devote to packing, getting my “electronics” charged, prepped (clearing off lots from the iPad to leave room for photos), downloading apps, photocopying travel docs (leave one copy with Mark, take paper and electronic versions with me). Oh well, I’m sure I’ll get to it all before tonight’s final 6:30 pm client meeting…right?

But even in the midst of all the “work,” it’s impossible to ignore that excitement about this trip that continues to bubble up inside. So while I’m working I’m also listening to various Rick Steves podcasts about the areas we’ll be visiting. Steves, a consummate tour guide has a free app, RickSteves Audio Europe Travel App, which includes oodles of short audio programs, including interviews, history, culture and even kilometer-by-kilometer guides down the Rhine as well as walking tours in various cities.

What I like about the app (in addition to getting me even more “in the mood” for tomorrow’s departure) is that I can choose from a huge variety of topics and, once downloaded, the various podcasts don’t require Internet connectivity to play. When I’m done listening, I just delete the audio to make more room on my phone.

 

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Money, money, money…what’s the best way to handle it?

I’m accustomed to USA dollars; you know, the green kind with George Washington’s stern countenance peering out at you. In various denominations, of course, and sometimes accompanied by coinage. But it’s all based on the same old money system I’ve been loyal to all these years. Well, really, I had no other choice; the local coffee spot only takes that kind of money and this is the first time I’ve ever even needed a passport—so you can tell my international financial experience isn’t overwhelmingly grand.

The idea of “new” types of money to use is pretty exciting to me (euros and forints, oh, my!). But it took some figuring out, too. And more of that pre-trip “planning.”

  • Should I get euros ahead of the trip?
  • Should I use a debit card for cash withdrawals while there?
  • Would my credit cards work everywhere I needed them to?
  • How would I keep my money safe?

You may have a lot more experience with international travel and aren’t even concerned about it the money thing…

…But I am concerned, and there’s a very practical reason for that focus: I understand that most (all?) public toilets in Europe are only open to the needy amongst us if you have the right coins in hand (between 30 and 70 cents, I’ve heard). At a critical moment I definitely do not want to be left wanting for the right coinage, be it euros or otherwise.

Our Viking Grand European Tour cruise covers almost every cost for meals, touring and transportation. But there are other things to spend on—think some of those famous German pastries, or ropey pretzels or a ride in that huge Ferris wheel in Vienna. And of course those toilets (gee, do you think they’re any better than ours because they use all that money for spiffy upgrades?).

So here’s my plan:

CREDIT CARD: I’ll use my credit card when possible for any “larger” purchases. I’ve heard you can even use them for meals, but you may not be able to put any “tip” on the card. I checked with my card companies and there is no foreign transaction fee for either one. One card is the typical magnetic strip type, the other has the chip and the strip. This second one has a PIN number; but it is not the European preferred “chip and pin” card that can be used in the automated kiosks for trains, etc. Neither of my credit card companies had that version available yet and I figured getting a new card just to have that probably wasn’t necessary. And, yes, I called the companies to tell them I’d be traveling (gee, it was fun to rattle off the five countries we’ll be in!). Mom and I will split up the credit cards so if one of us loses a card, the other of us has a “different” card we can fall back on.

ATM CARD: I’ll ‘fess up: I’ve never had a debit card before this trip. I figured, though, that a debit card would allow me to withdraw cash just about anywhere pretty easily (it’s not free: 3% foreign transaction fee and $2.50 charge per withdrawal). I opened up a separate checking account at my very friendly local bank (Bank of the West, in case you’re wondering); this way, if something does “happen” to the debit card, there’s just a limited amount of money in that account and it’s not linked to our regular checking accounts. I figure I can email Mark back at home and have him transfer some more money into that account if I find something I absolutely must have cash for. Again, I notified the bank I’ll be traveling (more thrills saying those five countries again). And, don’t think I’m weird, but tomorrow, my last day here in my own neighborhood, I’m going to go “try” that debit card at the bank ATM; I’ve never done the “let’s go get money at any hour from the ATM machine” thing and I think it’s time I practiced once before I really need it. Remember those restrooms…

CASH: I know I can get euros from an ATM right at the airport in Amsterdam when we land, but Mom and I decided we’d be a bit more comfortable if we had some of that colorful European money in hand when we land. So I ordered euros from my friendly bank (they are really friendly) and now I have them ready to go. We’ll also be carrying a small amount of US dollars with us to have when we land back in Los Angeles.

KEEPING IT ALL SAFE: Or, as safe as is practical. I’ve read that the Viking Atla has a small safe in each room and we’re planning on keeping our “extra” money in it during day trips off the ship/boat (which one is it called, really?). I’m wearing my “hip and shoulder bag” (ahem, okay, it’s really a fanny pack, but doesn’t “hip and shoulder bag” sound so much cooler?) by PacSafe; it has the anti-theft features (tough-to-undo zippers, slash-proof material and straps) so I’m comfortable wearing it with my daily supply of cash that I need to have easy access to. I’m using the front zipper for a small coin purse (yes, those bathrooms again…) so I don’t have to open the whole thing up to retrieve my Eagle Creek wallet (RFID, big enough to hold those chunky euro bills). And, for those times when we’re traveling between the cruise portion and the pre- and post-cruise trip extensions, I have an Eagle Creek money belt (I had the money belt from Lewis & Clark first but returned it; the “extra” part of the belt dangled unattractively; the Eagle Creek model has little clasps that hold it tight to the body).

What am I missing? Please tell me!

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I know it’s getting close—it’s LDTGAFA* day…

After all these months of planning, poring over web descriptions, reading Cruise Critic and typing lists (things to see, things to get done, things to buy, things to pack, things to remember…sigh…), the set-off day for our Grand European Tour is getting closer.

How do I know for sure? Well today it’s officially LDTGAFA Day. What? You don’t recognize that occasion? Well, it’s the *Last Day To Get Anything From Amazon Day.

Yep, after filling my shopping cart again and again on Amazon (and, yes, pulling more items out of the cart than ever stayed in it for actual purchase), today was the final day I could receive anything from this online megastore in time for packing it for this trip.

The final item arrived today—a splurge, it’s a tiny little (dual voltage) Baybyliss Pro titanium travel flat iron, and it’s the nicest color. I have a full-size iron but it’s a pricey thing and I didn’t want to take it along. As soon as my friendly UPS guy drove up with the new travel flat iron this morning, I unpacked it, plugged it in and tried it out. It made smooth strands, is hot enough to do the job and easy to pack. Just perfect for this trip! [Revised for clarity: This is a curling iron/flat iron for my hair, folks!]package

But, back to the timeline. Now, no matter what I spot on Amazon (and please, don’t tempt me with overnight shipping–I’m a Prime shopper all the way), it’s too late to receive it because I’m less than 48 hours from boarding Southwest for the first leg of this trip.

Oh boy, oh boy!

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Things to take to make life better: Part 3, everything else!

Part Three: “Other” items for this 15-day river cruise, plus pre- and post-trip extensions:

  • Money stuff (another post, I think…).
  • ID and travel documents (backup as a PDF on iPads as well as left at home).
  • Flat hair iron.
  • Makeup, lotions, favorite shampoo—you know, the stuff to make you presentable. And, yes, I know Viking boasts l’Occitane products, but I’m not sure that’s going to be what my hair will like!
  • Sunglasses.
  • Sunhat (collapsible).
  • Sunscreen.
  • 8 small wire clips for hanging items to dry on shower clothesline. Also, two old-fashioned wire hangers to use for damp clothes on the clothesline, if needed.
  • ZipLoc bags (3 gallon, 4 quart). These are travel wonders no matter where you’re going, but river cruise forum members said the large could be used for washing clothes (the sinks are said to be pretty small and not best for washing a few clothes items) and the smaller bags can help me spirit a few pastry/fruit/cheese treats back into the stateroom for between-meal munchies.
  • Dr. Bonner’s liquid soap for laundry (I like the smell!).
  • A small money belt. Another item I’m not sure I’ll use since there is a safe in the stateroom and my PacSafe hip bag is “slash proof” and has multiple anti-theft features, but maybe this’ll be what I need for “transport” days…

If you’ve read all three of these and you see something I’m missing, please tell me!

 

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Things to take to make life better: Part 2, flight comfort

Part Two: Comfort items on the plane (these will be in my carry-on shoulder bag)

  • Patagonia Lightweight Travel Courier Shoulder Bag. My carry-on that will do duty if I need it at ports, too. Folds up in a tiny pocket but I think it’s going to be unfolded and well-used during this trip. Padded shoulder strap, a few little zip pockets. Really a nifty bag.
  • Zojirushi travel water bottle. Simply the best water bottle around. Sturdy, insulated, never ever leaks (unless you put carbonated liquid in it before flying. Oops…)
  • Travelrest inflatable pillow. Looks weird, I know, but I tried it on a red-eye back from Hawai’i and it was the best sleep I’ve ever had in a plane. It keeps me from flopping over forward while sleeping, or, worse, flopping sideways on to a seat mate. Ugh! Rolls up small.
  • Eyeshade—and it’s turquoise. I like to think I’m giving folks a smile when they wander down the airplane aisle in the middle of the night and catch sight of me in these bright little eyeshades. Think very large—and bright—bug eyes. Yep, that’s it.
  • Trail mix, nuts, breath mints.
  • Meds for “just in case” including Tylenol, Bonine, antihistamine, decongestant, lomotil and No-Jet-Lag pills (okay, I don’t know if they’ll work, but I’m giving ’em a try; we’re flying east across oodles of time zones and I figure these might be useful).
  • My trusty Olba inhaler. I’m in love with these things; one little sniff and I get a blast of wintery freshness that just cheers me up. Especially nice when flying and you wake with that icky feeling that your head has been bouncing around in a clothes dryer for hours.
  • Electronic devices/chargers needed on plane (listed above).
  • Disposable wipes for seat trays, armrests, etc. Hand sanitizer.
  • Headlamp. I always fly with one of these. I know, I know, if a plane were going down you probably would be no better off with a headlamp, but it makes me feel like I could find my way out of someplace better in the dark.
  • Stain stick. Just in case that mocha downed in the boarding area seeks out my blouse as a likely target as I sip my Starbucks.
  • Pashmina and socks (these are mentioned on my “what to wear” page).
  • Firm-sided glasses case. I learned this one after my most recent Hawai’i red-eye. If you’re going to sleep (especially with eyeshades), you need to take off your glasses. Put ’em somewhere safe or they’ll get smushed in your pocket or folded into your blouse neckline.

Next, Part 3: The rest of the stuff!

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Things to take to make life better: Part 1, electronics

My husband taught me to backpack. In the past 30 years of trekking with everything I’ve needed on my back (including that very necessary little orange shovel), I’ve certainly learned the value of packing light.

But, heck, this is a river cruise, right? And I’ll be gone for three weeks from start to finish. So, while I’m certainly aware of the value of cutting every ounce, I’m doing it with a solid nod to comfort as I pack for this trip. This means I’m bringing my trusty iPad, the iPhone (but turning off “data” and “roaming”), my favorite little camera and other assorted goodies. Hiking down a dusty trail without a flat iron for my hair is very do-able; being presentable for days on end to the same 180+ folks on the Viking Atla is not possible without same flat iron. Besides, I’d look yucky in all those photos we’re planning on taking…

I pored over web pages, pondered Amazon listings (and the all-important reviews) and borrowed stuff from more worldly traveling friends to pull together those items that are going to make me happy. Or at least I hope they do.

Part One:  Electronic considerations:

  • Two iPads (old-school, not the new ones with lightning connectors). Three charging cables (sometimes a cable goes bad unexpectedly).
  • Two iPhones (one of each connection style). Two more charging cables.
  • Old iPod Touch (just for music on the plane; it’s so very stingy with power and is loaded with 6 gigs of Hawaiian music to relax to as the flight hours stack lazily one atop the next). Will use the cables from above since it won’t be used often.
  • Bluetooth keyboard for my iPad (‘couldn’t live without it for lengthy typing). MicroUSB charging cable.
  • Two Canon cameras (Mom’s is an Elph 330, mine is an S110), each with charger and one extra battery.
  • Zen earbuds for plane (with three-prong adaptor, but I don’t think those are needed on Lufthansa; better safe than sorry, though)
  • Camera card connector for iPad (transfers photos from our camera cards directly to the iPad, no wifi required).
  • One MonsterPlug four-plug “extension” powerstrip/cord. These are great for “sharing” power connections in airports; if you get to a boarding area too late to snag a power slot, you can ask someone to unplug their charger, you plug in this powerstrip then you can both use the single slot.
  • Targus Power Adapter. This is NOT a converter; I looked at all my devices and found I do not need the converter. I’m not even sure I’ll need this because Viking says the boats have US-style outlets, but I also read there are the European outlets, too, so with this adapter I can utilize more outlets, if needed. Also good for hotels (in case water levels are low/high and this turns into more of a bus trip with hotel stays). Besides, a friend who travels around the world a lot loaned it to me…
  • Anker 36W, 4-port USB hub. Two of the ports are the “high” charging output for the iPads.

Continued, Part 2: Comfort items on the plane

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What to wear?

I’ve read the forums. I’ve searched the web. I’ve scouted out photos on Flicker and SmugMug.

Now I’ve figured out what clothes to pack. Hooray!

But it all started off like this:

  • “Don’t wear jeans. Nobody in Europe wears jeans.”
  • “Don’t wear white athletic shoes. Nobody in Europe wears white athletic shoes.
  • “Don’t wear bright colors and prints. Nobody in Europe wears bright colors and prints.”
  • “Don’t wear a hip pack. Nobody in Europe wears a hip pack.”

Sigh. I was beginning to think that, if I wanted to follow the comments, I’d be attired in a black t-shirt, black skirt (“No one in Europe wears shorts”) and a black pair of leather flats. Throw in a pair of black earrings and maybe a scarf in black and grey and I’d have it nailed.

Then there are the forum posts about what to wear (dinners seem to be an especial issue) on the Viking ships. Entire online lives seem taken up by tossing out “gotta do this” grenades from the fashionista police.

Okay, I get it: I don’t like to sit down for dinner next to some guy in a tight-fitting white ribbed tank top and jean shorts that sag to his knees (and well below his belt line on the other end). But I don’t need the same tablemate to be in a dinner jacket either.

So I planned my wardrobe to be:

  1. Comfortable
  2. Tasteful/respectful
  3. Stylish (hopefully!)
  4. Easy to pack as well as mix and match.

In case it helps you, here’s what I’m packing in the clothes department (devices/personal items are another post entirely!). And, if you’re a woman “of a certain age” (you know what that means, a grandma these days but nowhere close to being a great-grandma) and have some different ideas, please let me know! Keep in mind we’ll be river cruising in August.

Wearing on (long) flight:

  • Black straight-leg, ankle-length pants with nice stretch (I love the Style & Co. line from Macy’s)
  • Short-sleeve white top with embroidered swirls
  • Pashmina in rich blues/blacks (draped loosely around neck at first, later to cover up with)
  • Black flats (my roomiest; I’ll put on some dark knee socks just before boarding to keep my ankles warm while in flight)
  • PacSafe Metro Gii 100 Hip/Shoulder Bag (yes, it’s a “fanny pack” if worn around the hips, but I love this bag. I’ve used it for six years on trips all over. It holds everything I need for the day and I don’t have to carry anything over my shoulders. So fie on you, fashion police!)
  • ScottEVest Sterling Jacket, black. Sleeves zip on and off–this doubles as my jacket for the rest of the trip but I think I’ll likely be using it most in the “vest” configuration. This is my first trip with this vest/jacket; I’m looking forward to seeing if it “carries” small items well, leaving my hands free. So far, the home trial looks pretty good—it just looks like a black vest and not like I’m loaded down with gear (even though I was!).

Trip wardrobe:

  • Light mocha-colored straight-leg, ankle-length pants, same as black ones above.
  • Black cropped straight leg pants, same Macy’s line as above.
  • Black, just-at-the-knees swirly skirt
  • Black, lightweight cardigan. Modern fit, gathers in back. Mom has the khaki version of same sweater; we’ll be switching off!
  • White and black dressy tanks for under sweater.
  • Black/white-striped s/sleeve top
  • White sleeveless ruffled top
  • Two multi-colored sleeveless tops
  • Two scarves
  • Bathing suit (for the baths in Budapest)
  • Lightweight rain jacket (this is very lightweight, from my backpacking gear, and packs into its own pocket; it has a hood, should it be needed)
  • Jammies
  • Three pairs of quick-dry undies (I love you, ExOfficio)
  • Two more pairs of black flats (I have feet “issues” and would rather be able to switch ’em out frequently)

I know I could pack fewer tops/pants but I’ve put everything in my suitcase (all gear entirely, including the carry-on satchel stuffed inside the outer pocket) and I’m only at 24 pounds, including the suitcase. With my nifty Eagle packing cubes, I still have plenty of room left, too. So I figure I’d like a little variety in wardrobe.

So, what do you think?

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Goodies from Viking!

Viking_goodiesOh, boy—this trip is getting closer!

A “personalized” itinerary booklet, two small books about the rivers we’ll be traveling, a zip case for iPad and travel documents, and a handful of nifty little Viking-labeled travel accessories arrived today. For those of you with upcoming trips, the package got to me about three weeks before we depart so you can look for yours about then, too.

The itinerary book is obviously a “print on demand” book, utilizing the standard Viking itinerary description combined with details of our trip. It’s neat to have this little book, but, geesh, why didn’t they send us a download link for a PDF of it, too? Then we could keep it on our iPads for easier reading (and less bulk to carry with us). Plus, I’d have a full itinerary, personalized with flights, etc., to leave home with hubby.

So, I photocopied the first few “personalized” pages and then, using Acrobat Pro, added those pages to the beginning of the Viking “Grand European Tour” Amsterdam to Budapest PDF itinerary online at Viking (thanks to BlueFine on Cruise Critic’s European river cruise forum for pointing me to that resource). Now I have just what I need…but it would have been nicer if Viking had provided it that way in the first place.

While we’re at it, I’ll put in my wish for the two additional books (one on the Danube, the other on the Rhine) to be in PDF format, too.  You see, since Viking advertises that the zip case is for an iPad (or tablet), why not give us the documents in a form that can be read on the tablets?

If you wondered, you can put a standard iPad in the case, but you’d have to take off any case you have on the iPad first; it’s just too snug of a fit. Of course, if you have an iPad Mini it’d fit in it, case and all. Do you think I can justify a new iDevice just for that reason? Hmmm…probably not.

Also slipped in the black zippered case are a red leather luggage tag (or something supposed to look like leather if leather was red), two paper tags for luggage handles, a nifty red sticker for me to wear when I get off the plane so the Viking folks doing the transfer can spot me more easily—and, there’s nothing like a bright red sticker to add to my travel style ; )

Everything is proudly blazoned with the Viking logo. Of course.

I have some reading ahead of me…

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