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Saturday, November 29, 2014

How to Be a Good Plane Passenger

Okay, so the holidays are here and that means you're going to be faced with bigger travel crowds than usual and crabbier passengers and all that other good stuff nobody likes about flying and going to the airport. Everyone needs to do their part to make the experience less stressful and annoying for everyone else. Be the best passenger you can be and maybe inspire others, too.

  • Put your bag in the overhead as quickly as possible, but move into your row to let passengers further back go by so you aren't holding up boarding.
  • Go one way during boarding. If you plan to switch seats, wait until everyone is onboard and seated before you head back upstream.
  • Turn down your electronics. Headphones are better. Not everyone wants to hear your movie.
  • Don't take up overhead bin space with things that fit under your seat, like purses, jackets, hats, etc. One of you, one bag in the overhead. Them's the rules.
  • Don't use the headrest in front of you for leverage to get out of your seat. We know it's tight, but causing the person in front of you whiplash won't make matters better. Use your armrest instead.

  • Don't stand in the aisles. There are people trying to get to the bathroom and flight attendants trying to do their jobs. Also, if there is any unexpected turbulence, you could seriously hurt yourself or others.
  • Be aware of your child's behavior. Bring games and activities to keep them occupied. We all know it's impossible to keep them from screaming or kicking sometimes, but if show others you are at least trying, they won't hold it against you. If you have toddlers that are seat-back kickers, remove their shoes, as this might keep them from doing so. The seat back is not soft and can hurt their toes enough for them to think twice before doing it again.

  • Ask for everything you need at once. Ex: coffee with cream and sugar.
  • Be kind, don't recline whenever possible. At the very least, look before you just shove your seat back. People working on laptops and tall people already have limited space to work with. Some people sleep on their tray table. Crushing their head will not win you friends.
  • Let your seat mates know you need the restroom so they can move. There is not enough room for you to climb over them, and everyone hates it. Maybe your whole row will just go at once.

  • Have everything you need in the seat pocket or bag under your seat. Nobody likes seeing you midrif, butt, underarms right in their face while you are rummaging in the overhead during flight.
  • Wait until the service carts are done before heading to the lav. There's barely enough room for them down the aisle. You will just end up in some stranger's lap while trying to get by. 
  • Everyone is having the same experience. Complaining about things that can't be fixed in midair is not helpful. It just makes other people angry, so sit back and take a deep breath and don't sweat the small stuff.
  • Smile! It'll make everyone around you a little more Cheery. "Please" and "thank you" never hurt either.
I know that airplane travel can sometimes be painful, but the other 200 people on the plane probably aren't having a better time than you, because the holidays are stressful. The flight attendants are doing everything they can to make your trip as smooth and pleasant as possible, so try not to take it out on them. They're probably doing their best. Things may go wrong. They usually do. It's not the end of the world. Just remember what the holidays are all about and enjoy your flight.

How do you make holiday plane travel more bearable?

Friday, November 28, 2014

Portland's 5 Must-See Summer Festivals

As you know, I live in Portland, and I’m pretty proud to call it home. It’s green and beautiful and feels kind of like a small town, but also like a big city. Named the number one summer destination for family travel by Travel + Leisure Magazine, Portland is a busy place when the weather warms up. Locals break out the shorts and sunscreen and can be seen riding bikes, sailing, running and populating parks all over the city. Everyone wants to get outside and soak up the sun. 

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Summer festivals give people a good excuse to enjoy the clear weather and hang out with friends. Here are five of the city’s must-see festivals:

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RoseFestival and Grand Floral Parade
Portland’s TomMcCall Waterfront Park is abuzz all summer long. The festivities kick off in mid-May and go through mid-June with activities like the selection of the Rose Festival court, a half-marathon, the popular Grand Floral Parade and festival village at the waterfront. Highlights of the Rose Festival are Portland’s largest parade, a fair full of amusement rides and shopping from area merchants and artisans that bring tons of locals downtown for the celebrations.

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Festival of Balloons
After the Rose Festival, folks head to Tigard, a Portland suburb, to watch hot air balloons take to the sky and then enjoy a carnival, food and craft kiosks, a car show and many more family-friendly events. Start the day off with a hearty pancake breakfast and end it with Night Glow – hot air balloons touch down with their burners lit amid the live entertainment and other festivities. The Festival of Balloons has something for everyone, including a beer garden sponsored by Rogue Ales.

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Waterfront Blues Fest
If you love blues music, head down to the waterfront in July for a long weekend of some of the most well-known and local blues musicians. Recognized as America’s most popular blues festival, thousands of people come from all over to listen to artists such as Mitch Kashmar, Eric Burdon and Mavis Staples. Since 1987, the festival has been entertaining music-lovers and raising money and non-perishable donations for the Oregon Food Bank.

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Oregon Brewers Festival
It’s no secret that Oregon is home to some fantastic breweries and microbreweries. Almost 100 craft beers from around the world are on tap for visitors to taste when this late July festival comes to the Portland Waterfront. The Oregon Brewers Festival is one of the longest-running beer festivals in the U.S. Admission is free, however you must purchase a festival mug and tokens for tastings. People are encouraged to bring a designated driver to prevent drinking and driving. Food is available for purchase from local vendors or you can grab a frosty mug in the Root Beer Garden, which is free for designated drivers and minors.

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The Bite of Oregon
Portland is full of delicious and multicultural cuisine. It is home to award-winning chefs and a great mix of fantastic dining establishments from gourmet dining to food trucks. Each year in August, Portland – the home of fine dining pioneer James Beard – likes to celebrate the best of the best at The Bite of Oregon. The theme is different each year, and you’ll find dishes and desserts from the state’s top restaurants and food carts, as well as Oregon wines and beers. While noshing on some yummy foods, enjoy music from local artists or take your children to the Kids Area Stage where they can get their face painted and be entertained by singers, balloon artists and more.

No matter what month you visit Portland, you will find interesting events going on, but summer is definitely packed to the gills. With at least one event available every weekend, it’s easy to keep your vacation days filled with fun. Find more things to do outside of your festival plans at Gogobot.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

2014 Holiday Gift Guide for Travelers

It's that time again. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are here, which means gift-giving time. We all have that person on our list that is tough to buy for. They have everything or are super picky. Perhaps they are big on traveling and that makes it just a little bit easier to choose a gift for them. I've broken the list into three categories, depending on how much you can spend, with at least a few **suitable for packing in your carry-on** when you are traveling for the holidays and don't want to spend extra to check your bags or to ship ahead of time.

Splurge {$100 or more}
**1. Airline or Hotel Gift Cards: These technically can fit into any category, because you can get them in any denomination. You're basically giving them a discount on travel, which is always appreciated. 
**2. CityPASS: Another great gift for those that are traveling and you know their destination city. CityPASS can save up to 50% off attraction and activities. $79 and up at CityPASS
3. Anatomie travel clothes for women: Anatomie sells luxury travel clothing that packs light and flatters the boy without looking like travelwear. $100 and up at Anatomie
4. Anti-theft React Tote from Travelon: A good, sturdy carry-on bag is important. One that looks fab is a bonus. This one from Travelon helps you stay organized, has a padded laptop compartment an slides onto your roller bag. $110 at Amazon
5. Skyroll or Skyroll Spinner: When you travel a lot for business and need the convenience of a carry-on, with the functionality of a garment bag. These are great when you want to bring suits or formalwear, like going on a wedding weekend or on a cruise. The garment bag fits right around the main bag, making it the best of everything you want a carry-on to be. Original $149.99 at Skyroll | Spinner #299.99 at Skyroll

Moderate {$50-100}
**1. Bluff Works Work + Play Pants for men: Hate bringing dress up pants that you may or may not wear when you travel? Bluff Works look boardroom-worthy, but are made like travel pants, so they breathe and wick moisture, plus they don't wrinkle and resist stains. Wear them to a work function then out rock climbing. $93 at Bluff Works
2. Travelon 3 Compartment Crossbody: Need an attractive handbag that is secure and safe from thieves? Travelon has certainly hit the nail on the head with this handbag. All the features of a travel bag without looking like a tourist. $65 at Amazon
**3. HP Tablet 7: A tablet is the ultimate travel gadget. Use it to check your email, play games, watch videos and more. This one is affordable enough to get for the kids, but has all the features you need to get a little bit of work done, too. $99 at Amazon
4. TLS Mother Lode Weekender Convertible Junior: Got a real adventurer on your list? The Mother Lode goes from shoulder bag to backpack in just a few seconds. Perfect for camping near home, a weekend in Vegas or backpacking through Europe. With several compartments, everything is kept in its place and it even expands for when you make a few too many purchases and need extra room coming home. $79.99 at Amazon
5. Portachair Harness: Travelers with little ones can make sure there's always a seat at the table with the portachair. It works as a highchair, by holding your child safely in any chair with a back. It also makes for one less thing to rent at your destination and keeps them from having to use those restaurant ones that might be full of germs. $50 at Uncommon Goods
6. Noise-cancelling Headphones: The roar of the plane engine and the murmur of other passengers and the cries of that baby behind you can really make the travel experience suck sometimes. A pair of noise-cancelling headphones can help drown those noises out and help you relax. You can find many different types, like these that are $64.95 at Amazon
**7. Kindle Paperwhite: I am a big reader. Knowing I have a whole library at my fingertips is comforting and means I don't have to weigh down my bag with traditional books. yes, books, because I often finish one on my trip and then need a second one. This way, I have that option, and variety. $79 at Amazon

Budget {under $50}
We don't all have a ton of money to spend on gifts, especially if we have a lot of people to buy for. All these budget gifts can slip into your carry-on for wrapping when you arrive.
**1. I Was Here travel journal: I always wish I wrote down stuff each day I travel, but then I never do, because I don't have a journal. I have had this fantastic journal on my list for some time. I think I just might need to cave and get it before my next trip. As much as it's fun to add all your travel details online, nothing beats putting a pen to paper and writing down some travel reminders just for yourself. $13.56 at Amazon
**2. iGo multicharger: I hate to pack a million cords when I travel. My iGo goes everywhere with me, because it allows me to charge all my electronic devices - with the exception of my laptop - with one adapter, either in the car or at a wall outlet. You purchase tips for different devices, based on the type of plug it uses. I have a splitter for mine, so I can charge two items at once. $14.97 for wall charger at Amazon$6.51 for car charger at Amazon
**3. Quik Pod Monopod: how many times have you gone on vacation and tried to get you and your partner or family in the same shot with no luck, so you end up never being in the photos unless you ask a nice stranger to take a pic? Quik Pod fixed this problem. We have two of these monopods and, though we may get some strange looks, they have helped us get some great photos. $27.05 at Amazon
**4. Crumpled city map: The absolute worst thing about paper maps is having to figure out how to fold it back up. Stop looking like a lame tourist with a crumpled city map. You never have to refold it. Just scrunch it up and put it in your pocket or bag. Awesome! If you know your recipient is going somewhere specific, get them one for their destination city. From $7.19 at Amazon
**5. Hoodie Pillow: Give them the best of both worlds when they travel. A hoodie to block out light and cold and a pillow to help them get comfortable and sleep without getting an achy neck. It's made of super soft material and you'll want one of your own, too. This is a perfect gift for younger recipients, like teens and college students. $19.99 at Amazon
**6. Travelon Convertible Crossbody Duffel: It's a purse. It's a duffel. It's both! This is a great gift for the shopper on your list or the active person who likes to go on weekend trips or hit the gym. It comes in fun colors and makes a great extra bag for traveling and bringing home purchases. From $27.34 on Amazon
**7. eBags packing cubes: Sometimes it is just nice to be organized. Also, if you're not good at packing light, limiting yourself to what fits in a packing cube set may be a lifesaver. These bags are breathable, lightweight and have handles, so you can just take them out and pop them into a hotel dresser drawer. $19.99 on Amazon

What are some of your favorite travel gifts?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Take a Summer Vacation this Winter in Gulf County

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Gulf County, Florida. All opinions are 100% mine.

It’s holiday time and that means spending the days with your family as much as possible. One of the best ways to do this, in my humble opinion, is to take a vacation. Wouldn’t you like to get away? And with temperatures steadily dropping (or, in some places in the country, becoming a winter wonderland overnight) you might wish to just go somewhere sunny and warm. Well, now’s the time to make your escape and really enjoy yourself and your family without distractions like social media and work phone calls getting in the way. Just what is this magical place I speak of? Gulf County, Florida can offer all these things for you and more and winter is one of the best times to visit.


Doesn’t the beach sound inviting in December and January? Especially if you’re buried under six feet of snow in the Midwest – or Buffalo – or have pretty cold weather year-round like at the Oregon coast. While a lot of places that have a beach and also appealing temps to actually allow you to enjoy it are not affordable at this time of year, Gulf County totally is.


Where to Stay

Whatever your budget, you’ll find an accommodation to suit you. Jump in the RV and drive the family down, where you can have your own space and make as many of your own meals as you like in between exploring the area. Snag a vacation rental that will sleep your whole family (and dog, if they travel with you) and give you the luxury of feeling at home and also feeling like a local. Want to feel taken care of? Choose from a suite in a hotel by the beach or book a room or bungalow in one of the beautiful little inns or cottages that overlook the ocean. With 43 miles of natural shoreline and tons of activities throughout there is a destination for everyone.


What’s What in Gulf County?

Port St. Joe is a nature lover’s paradise, but also offers visitors modern conveniences like unique shopping opportunities. Families can enjoy the beautiful parks and playgrounds, but also engage in boating, hiking and fishing or scalloping. Explore the historical downtown, where you can get a bit of shopping in and then dine in some of the yummiest restaurants and bistros you’ve ever experienced. Whether you’re out to splurge on a meal at a trendy café or are on a budget and want to sample the local fare at a food truck, you’ll be surprised by your choices. In December, hit up the SaltAir Farmers’ market and the Christmas Bazaar and Jingle Bell Golf Tournament. January brings city scavenger hunts and the Winter Reception that serves up appetizers, wine and live music. You can make new friends at the twice-monthly Watering Hole event and even volunteer for beach cleanup with other travelers and locals.


Indian Pass is where you want to go if you love the beach, but hate the crowds. No more fighting for a spot on the sand here. Even when busy, you’ll feel like you found a secret spot. Bring your pooch and lounge the day away if you want. Want more out of your trip? You can spend your time fishing, collecting oysters, kayaking, biking or making a quick trip to St. Vincent Island where a 12,000 acre wildlife refuge sits. Oyster lovers will be in heaven here. While you can not only explore the oyster lagoons, you can grab a seat at Indian Pass Raw Bar where they are served up in any way imaginable along with other delicious dishes, live music and bottle beers that you get yourself from the bar’s cooler. If you like camping, Indian Pass has beautiful campgrounds to pitch your tent in.

You can get on island time at Cape San Blas. The 17-mile long barrier peninsula is laid back and full of adventures for the whole family. The beaches are all westward facing, making the sunsets incredible and a must-experience. If you want to chill out on the beach, you’ll find it quite secluded, and the gentle clear water is perfect for fishing. Get a little exercise by walking, biking or running along the Loggerhead Run Bike Trail. Too laid back for you? Get out horseback riding, kayaking, diving or snorkeling. All ages will find something to occupy themselves with and the shoppers can roam the beach shops for a different kind of treasures. In January and February, take a tour of coastal homes.


When you want a livelier trip to the coast, the Beaches, including WindMark Beach are a bit more upbeat and energetic. Here you’ll find boutique shopping and outdoor activities like concerts and movies. There are traditional boardwalks and beach trails, giving you more of a regular beach feel. Beacon Hill is situate along Bay County and straddles two time zones, either making for a challenging visit when you have plans at a particular time or something fun to play with on a relaxing vacation. Aside from the great restaurants and nightlife to be found, you can also engage in some throwback karaoke over the winter at The Lookout Lounge.

For those that are more of a lake person than an ocean person, a stay in Wewahtchka will satisfy. It is home to the Dead Lakes and you can pick up the local Tupelo Honey too. This is also one of the few places where you can be in the Central Time Zone in one area and then Eastern Time Zone in another. In fact, they have a special New Year’s Eve celebration because of this. Awesome! The lakes provide amazing bass fishing opportunities and the recreation area includes a ton of activities. Go canoeing, hiking, boating, camping and view amazing wildlife. The area of Honeyville inspired the movie Ulee’s Gold, about third-generation beekeepers, and is home to one of the largest beekeeping communities in Florida. It was also filmed there, so if you decide to make the trip, maybe have a movie night beforehand and see all the places you’ll be seeing on your visit.


Summer in the Middle of Winter

Gulf County is the ultimate winter escape. Pack your summer clothes and leave our sweater and coat in your carry-on once you arrive. Enjoy not having to deal with holiday or rush hour traffic. You’ll truly feel like you were on vacation when you return home to the hustle and bustle of real life. Bring the whole family and have a totally different Christmas at the beach. Even your pups are welcome. Most vacation rentals accept them and, as long as they are leashed, they can explore the awesome beaches, too. In fact, Gulf County beaches are consistently ranked in the top beaches to vacation with your pets.

The small town feel of the destinations in Gulf County allow you to slow down, take it all in and make some new friends everywhere you go. Learn more about what Gulf County, Florida has to offer visitors in the winter and beyond by signing up for the Visit Gulf newsletter. And if you’re planning your trip as we speak, check out Come visit GCFL and find all the Winter Fun Events you could be there for.

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Saturday, November 22, 2014

How Far Will Your $100 Go?

Sometimes you just need to choose a destination based on your budget, because there are some places that are awesome and budget-friendly while others take a lot more planning to get to. I love London, but I can't afford to travel there every year. In between the expensive vacations, we plan for more affordable ones. There is always somewhere exotic to go, even if you have a little bit of money to spend. The following infographic shows you the comparison between affordable destinations and more expensive ones. How far will $100 get you around the world? Let's find out.

What's your favorite economic destination? So far, mine have been Ecuador and Belize.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Immerse Yourself in the History of Colonial Williamsburg

Last month I came home from a two-week trip to the east coast. We visited Virginia Beach, Washington, D.C. and Williamsburg. The trip took me back to my childhood, as I spent quite a lot of time in Williamsburg and couldn’t wait to share it with my husband. The area has changed quite a bit since I was there twenty-some years ago, but the feel of Colonial Williamsburg was the same and really made me glad we took this trip.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been anywhere where they do historical recreation, but I adore it. I totally wish there were places all over that did this, because it’s so amusing and interesting to interact with strangers on the “street” who are dressed in period costume and explain to you about their way of life or answer questions you may have about anything from food to clothes to entertainment.

Unbelievably, you could spend a whole week in just Colonial Williamsburg and not experience it all. My favorite bit was the Playhouse, where they had a handful of actors that both explained what going to a play was like in the colonial days, but also acted out some scenes based on the theme of the day. Did you know that different theater troupes used to change scenes or entire endings of Shakespeare plays to suit the time or how they thought audiences would enjoy it more? In one of these instances, Romeo and Juliet’s death scene was changed so that Juliet woke up before Romeo died of the poison he took when he thought her dead. They have a whole scene of joyful dialogue before the poison starts to work and he remembers his mistake. Juliet watches in horror as he succumbs and then offs herself with his dagger.

hard to see without the previous photo for comparison, but she's definitely there

We took a haunted walk through Colonial Williamsburg where we heard ghost stories and accounts of ghost sightings and spirit interactions between workers and previous guests. With so much history, there’s no doubt that the area is teeming with past residents who didn’t want to leave.

Between Colonial Williamsburg, Yorktown Victory Center and Jamestown Settlement, I learned quite a lot of gardening tips to help me with my backyard vegetable garden and storing foods I’ve grown and picked. In the colonial days and before, there were no refrigerators or freezers and they didn’t have greenhouses, so farmers had to make the most of what they had at their disposal to lengthen the life of their crops. Luckily, I don’t have to eat cornbread every day for most of my meals and can go to the store for things I don’t have, like butter or milk. It gives you a new respect for our ancestors and makes you glad for supermarkets.

Jamestown Settlement gives you a glimpse at what life was like when the British came to America. You can learn to fire a musket, watch the blacksmith making tools and climb aboard recreation ships. We were able to ask many questions and find out how it was to sleep on the ships. You don’t realize how small people used to be until you see the sleeping bunks. It may have even been a tight squeeze for me at only 5’1”. Surprisingly, the crew was very minimal on these ships, especially considering how many people were onboard for the trip over to the New World.

delicious (and huge) lunch at the DoG Street Pub in Merchant's Square

The kids and the adults alike seemed to enjoy everything Colonial Williamsburg has to offer and I wish I had a little more time to explore the city and do more. The food itself was quite hearty and delicious, so it would be fun just to go back and sample more dishes at the historical taverns. If you’ve never tried pickled watermelon rinds, peanut soup or game pie made with rabbit and venison, you definitely have to make a point of trying some of these favorites. Visit Gogobot to see more things to do in Colonial Williamsburg and the surrounding area.

{I'll be posting more about my trip in the weeks to come, so please keep an eye out, especially if you're interested in visiting Williamsburg.}

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Visiting Montana For Less

Last month I was invited to a lunch with the Montana Visitor’s Bureau where I got to hang out with some really cool ladies from Missoula, Glacier National Park, Bozeman and more. I had toyed around with the idea of visiting Montana, but it’s one of those destinations that has just gotten pushed down the list of places to go, even though I live in Portland and the drive is shorter than the one to Reno, Vegas and Los Angeles, all of which I’ve made in the past – some more than once.

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Maybe Montana has not been on your radar as an awesome vacation destination either, but it can be. You don’t have to be into skiing or other winter sports to find something to do there, though they have some really amazing places to ski. One resort has over 100 ski runs, so if you are into that, there’s no shortage of runs for all levels of skiers.

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If you’re looking for a more urban trip, Missoula has a little bit of everything. The downtown area is historic and has more than 120 boutique shops – perfect for those who like to find unique items on their trips either for themselves or as gifts – and is very walkable. I love that, since you don’t have to spend money on cabs or gas if you don’t want to. For a more conventional shopping experience, head to South Gate Mall, the largest mall in Montana, or South Crossing for all your favorite brand name stores.
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Get outside and see what Missoula has to offer. Three rivers converge in the city, where many water activities take place, including paddle boarding and river surfing. On specific days of the week, you can take free paddle board lessons or take paddle board yoga classes with your dog. Now, I don’t even know how well I would do yoga alone, but if I had a water-loving dog, this would definitely be something to try.

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Montana is very dog-friendly, which means you can wander the city with your furry friends and be welcomed most places. Enjoy a meal with them at your side at many restaurants without outdoor seating. Bison burgers are a definite must-try when you’re out sampling the local cuisine. If you like to kick back with a cold one or glass of wine, Montana has a blossoming brewery and winery scene. There are eight breweries and wineries that serve up delicious microbrews and wine that is both made with grapes grown locally and those that are shipped in from other states.

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Caras Park is where you will find a ton of different festivals. The covered pavilion houses one of the country’s coolest carousels. It is one of the fastest and was hand carved by Missoula residents. If you want to get some exercise, the park also offers some lovely walking/running trails. Fall may be the off-season for visiting Montana, but it’s also when you will see the leaves turning and can indulge in some major leaf-peeping, giving you the opportunity for taking some gorgeous photos of the changing season.

Between farmers markets, the emerging food truck community, art galleries and affordable hotels and vacation rentals there is something for everyone in Missoula and other Montana cities. You will find a lot of ways to keep your whole family entertained and keep your wallet from totally emptying out.

{Stay tuned for more in-depth posts on vacationing in Montana.} If you've ever visited Montana, what would you suggest for new visitors?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Websites + Apps for a Better Holiday Travel Season

So, we all know that holidays can be totally stressful, especially when you ad traveling to the mix. As much as I love to travel, when the airport is just a crush of people and you are looking at a security line so long you can't even see the front it just doesn't seem all that enticing. Usually I enjoy the trip to the airport – yes, I know that makes me a crazy weirdo – because I love the excitement of being there, knowing I'm going to be jetting off to a cool place, eating at places I only get to visit a few times a year or shopping/browsing the unique stores and watching the planes take off and land before it's my turn. When the holidays come around, it seems like everyone is on edge and there's hardly anyone having a good time waiting to get on the plane. 

If you want your holiday trips to be less stressful, or you just want to make your general travel more fun, I've rounded up some great apps and sites that will make you wish you'd known about them sooner. 

Get Away from Everyone
Can't fathom spending your whole stay with family? Get a vacation rental where you can retreat after you've had enough of the hundred people at the family host's house. I always love using Airbnb, but now you can also find rentals to fit your budget with Tripping, which compiles all the available rentals from sites like HomeAway, FlipKey and Roomorama, and Dwellable Vacation Rentals, which has over 250,000 listings in the U.S., Mexico, Europe and the Caribbean.

Make New Friends
If you aren't visiting family or friends, but want to make some and/or immerse yourself in a new culture, check out both BeWelcome and MealSharing. BeWelcome pairs you up with a host at your destination that will play tour guide for you, show you how they live and will also allow you to stay in their house. This is the perfect way to make international (and domestic) friends and fantastic for those that might like to travel solo, but don't want to "travel solo". 

MealSharing is an awesome site that matches travelers up with meal hosts. Maybe you'd like to have dinner with new friends or you'd like to invite others to your home when you aren't traveling. And, this year they are promoting their second annual ThanksSharing event, where they encourage others to spend Thanksgiving with others. Maybe you're traveling somewhere over the holiday and can't make your own feast. Why not find someone else you can celebrate with?
Do Something Completely Different
Want to see something other than the same boring tourist attractions? (I'm not knocking tourist sites, because I love them, but maybe you've already done them.) Let others give you cool new suggestions with the HeyLets app. The app is especially geared toward families with kids who enjoy doing something a bit different. Add your family's travel style to the app to get personalized tips on what to see and do. App users can add their own inspired activities to make the app even better and help other families travel better, too.

Where the Heck are the mashed potatoes?
Whether you're traveling to see family or they're coming to you, invite your family to join Cabin, where you can skip the multi-texts and phone calls while trying to organize everyone for the big day (or a vacation). With Cabin, you can send messages to all or individuals to make sure everyone knows when and where to show up, what to bring and more. is Aunt Cindy not there with her famous green bean casserole yet? Cabin tracks where everyone is, so you can find out if she's on her way or just around the corner without having to call her every five minutes asking if she's lost or not. Imagine how easy this will make planning other family gatherings, too. 

Keep All Your Travel Plans in One Place
Not all great apps are about connecting with others. One of my favorites is TripIt. I use it online and as an app on my phone to keep all my reservations, confirmation numbers, important addresses and itineraries at my fingertips. If you are like me and hate to print out a ton of unnecessary paper, TripIt is the ideal travel app. Only print out the things you need to and everything else can live solely on the app for you to call up on your phone or computer when needed. it has saved us several times when we've needed an address for a cab driver or to get to on public transportation or to find the phone number to call and get directions or change a reservation.

Have you ever used any of the above apps/sites or do you have a favorite app or website that helps you travel or live better?

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Review: Travelon Anti-Theft React Tote

Having a great personal-size carry-on bag is important. I like to have one that I can also use as a weekender or can doubles as a work bag as well. Travelon has made a point to design bags that adapt to the different ways people travel. I have several of their carry-on bags and now have two versions of the React Tote. I love the first and the new one has only been improved by the changes, making this a bag you'll want to take everywhere with you. I had the privilege of using the React Tote on my last trip and was greatly impressed.

As with all Travelon bags, the handles are nicely padded, so you don't want to carry around a bag on your shoulder that digs in and makes you angry. Nobody wants to be unnecessarily stressed out and irritated while traveling, right? The straps are also short enough that you can carry it by hand if you like. When you aren't using this tote to travel or carry back and forth to meetings, you can use it as a workout bag or something equally handy. The polyester fabric is stain and water resistant, too. You can just wipe it down if it gets dirty.

If you like to have everything in its place when you travel, then the React Tote is for you. It fits up to a 15-inch laptop in its own padded compartment, with plenty of room for other important things on that side of the bag, like magazines, games, paperwork or adapters. The other main compartment of the React Tote is roomy as well, and includes a mesh pocket, for items you like to be able to see without having to dig around inside. I always use these for headphones or snacks, making them easily accessible. As you can see from the photos, there is quite a lot of room inside both main compartments, because the bottom of the bag is wide and gives it a nice footprint.

Both compartments have double zippers which can be locked by way of carabiners, leaving your bag safe from pickpockets. I like that there is one on each end of the bag, so you can choose to lock them both on either side - whichever is more convenient for you when you carry it - or one on each side to switch it up. Travelon really takes your security seriously, but doesn't want it to be inconvenient for you, just to thieves. It has the signature slash-proof lining and shoulder straps, too. 

Like to keep things like your tickets, phone, pens and passport within easy reach? So do I. The front zippered compartment of this tote is really perfect for small items that you want to keep close at hand, but also safe from others. This compartment locks as well with a carabiner, and also has pockets for all your necessities. A large slip pocket for things like your iPad or travel paperwork, a zippered mesh pocket for makeup, change or other little things that may get lost elsewhere, two smaller pockets for your phone/camera (in my case, my flip camcorder) and your passport and credit cards. The passport pocket and card slots are RFID-blocking, so no one can steal your personal info - because wouldn't that be annoying to deal with on vacation?

This is also where I kept items I like to have with me at all times - my sunglasses and a scarf for keeping warm on the plane. And Travelon knows that visibility is not always great when on a darkened plane or trying to find something in the car, so they've added their sweet little flashlight, helping you see things in the bag without annoying other people. It may not seem like a large enough light, but when paired with the lighter, slightly reflective fabric inside, it's just what you need. I've had tote bags where you pretty much have to pull everything out of it to find that one thing you need. Not with the React Tote.

The zippered compartment has it's own smaller zipper pocket on the front. I kept my boarding passes and a map of the airport in it, but it would be ideal for keeping all the stuff in your pockets in it when passing through security. Maybe you'd like to stash your camera in it, so you can quickly grab and snap photos. It's a good size, but not too deep, so you can't get anything out of it, and not too shallow that you can't get your hand inside it.

One of the things that irks me about many carry-on bags that have shoulder straps and no wheels is that they don't have a way to attach it to your wheeled carry-on. I mean, really? It isn't asking much to be able to not have to carry your tote. Not only does Travelon bags feature these slip pockets on the back to slide onto the handle of your main bag, but they have made this even better with two things: There's an elastic strap inside that helps to keep the bag snug to any size handle. If you have a thicker pull-out handle, you may not want to use it, as it can be a bit of a struggle to get it to come off again (but at least it won't fall on the floor!). The bottom of the pocket has a zipper, so when you aren't using it as a second bag, you could use it as a grab pocket for items you want to use easily. It's a great place to shove your scarf or the book you're reading, or both.

We always have a bottle of water with us. I love the normal mesh bottle holder pockets that most of the other bags have, but sometimes they get in the way. Travelon solved this by putting the pocket inside the bag, but still with easy access to it, because it's incorporated in between two compartments, which also helps to keep it cooler longer. It's just perfect for a regular sized water bottle, so it doesn't get lost in there and make it hard to get out.

The tote slides easily under the airplane seat, without having to put it on its side, like some other bags, so you'll still have room for your feet. It also fit nicely to my side when carrying down the aisle, and I didn't almost hit anyone in the head. That made me happy, and probably all those people on the plane I didn't accidentally abuse.Plus, the awesome construction of this bag will keep it traveling with you for many years to come.

More information
Size: 15" x 13" x 5.75" | Strap Drop Length:  10.25" 
Colors it comes in: black | light aqua (shown) | berry | stone
How much is it?: $110.00
Where you can buy it: Travelon website
Other specs: 900 D. Polyester 

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Disclaimer: I was provided with the Anti-Theft React Tote for the purposes of this review, but all opinions are 100% mine.

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