Rethinking the Departure Madness

I have a lot of things to do before I leave on this trip. Sure, it’s still two weeks out, but I know, I know how quickly it goes by. It’s this whole self-employment thing: I’d like to have a vacation with no work (hasn’t happened yet), so I try to finish as many projects as possible, as early as possible.

I was so frantic before my Phoenix trip last December that I was packing at 10pm (a first for me) when I had to get up at 4am, and still went off leaving the crucial piece of two separate outfits hanging next to the suitcase. I was a wreck.

Something has to give, right?

And when a friend I need to catch up with before I leave asked if I’d be too busy the day before departure, I remembered this article of travel tips from Rick Steves. (I’ve featured it before.) Steves is all about planning and practicality, and generally I am too. But I remember being absolutely convicted by this one:

Leave well-rested to start your trip healthy.
Jet lag is stressful, and if you’re just on the edge of a cold, the flight will likely kick it into high gear. Many travelers are in a chaotic frenzy the night before they fly. Avoid this by putting a fake departure date on your calendar long in advance. Everything related to your trip must be taken care of 48 hours before you fly—even if it means staying up all night. Then you’ll leave healthy and rested.

That chaotic frenzy thing got me.

So I said to my friend, “No, I won’t be too busy at all. I’d like to ease into this trip. Let’s do it.”

In point of fact, I depart on a Wednesday—and I have a massage scheduled on the Monday of that week, and now lunch with my friend on the Tuesday. I’m going to work very, very hard through Sunday night, including packing. And then I’m going to make a point of calling loved ones, catching up on email, and not worrying (too much) about work.

This is my Departure Madness Manifesto. 🙂

Travel Essentials

I get a big kick out of Catherine Howard, the delightful Irish gal who writes (and presents workshops) about the publishing industry at her blog Catherine, Caffeinated.

“For the next two weeks I’ll be out of the country on Proper Holidays,” she announced recently.

Proper Holidays, if you’re not familiar with this term I just made up, is when you take a holiday (vacation, American friends) and while you’re there, you actually take a holiday. You don’t read your blog comments. You let the e-mails build up. You avoid any work-related social media. And as a consequence of this, you actually manage to relax.

I knew immediately what she was talking about, because I haven’t taken a Proper Holiday in years, although I do dream about it on occasion. And I’m not talking about checking email; I’m talking about taking actual work—editing—that needs to be done.

But I want to draw your attention to this post, because it’s fun and has some very useful travel advice. That is, the five things Catherine is sure to pack when she gets ready to travel:

1. A Kindle (and some books)
2. One-cup coffee filter
3. The bag within a bag
4. Zip-lock bags
5. Bubble wrap
6. Laptop

More than one friend of mine has watched me tell a waiter I’ll do without rather than make a cup of tea with their cheap, off-brand (or worse: herbal) teabags, so the only thing I would add to this list is a few teabags. Don’t, as they say, leave home without them.

There’s some good information here! (And, if you really want a definitive packing list, check out this one from the folks at Evernote.)

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Rick Steves’s 2015 Travel Commandments

Are you planning a trip this year? I hope so!

One thing I’ve learned in recent years is travel tips change. What was a good idea a decade ago isn’t necessarily a good idea now. Technology changes, changes at the airlines, changes in the way people relate to each other can and do make a difference.

So I was delighted when I found this article from Rick Steves, and thought I should pass it along. He says:

  1. Study ahead to design a smart itinerary
  2. Don’t fly round-trip
  3. Think ahead to avoid lines
  4. Be smart with shoes
  5. Know your camera
  6. Pack light
  7. Leave well-rested to start your trip healthy
  8. Get a credit card with a chip
  9. Use a mobile phone
  10. Don’t follow the crowds
  11. Eat with locals rather than tourists
  12. Be a cultural chameleon
  13. Be an extrovert
  14. Have a positive attitude
  15. Use a good guidebook

A lot of these tips are things I’ve been saying for years—like having a positive attitude (#14) and embracing local culture (#12). But I am guilty, guilty, guilty of the “chaotic frenzy” the night before a flight (#7) and am taking to heart the advice to have everything ready to go 48 hours in advance. (I’ll let you know how that goes.)

Read the article—it’s not long—and start rethinking your travel prep too!

Three Events That Changed My Life

I flew to Phoenix to spend Christmas with my son and to visit several friends who live in the area. Due to the nature of the season, I think, I found myself telling this “story” more than once, and it occurs to me that it’s appropriate to wind up my consideration of the year just past with a final telling.

Camelback Mountain—and Phoenix—seen from the Desert Botanical Garden.

Camelback Mountain—and Phoenix—seen from the Desert Botanical Garden.

This title, by the way, has to do with health. I place my relationship with loved ones first on my list of priorities, but in the category of living well and comfortably—and I grew up in a household dominated by catastrophic illness (my mother), so I know a little about that—there have been three health-related events that affected me in a deep, life-living way.

Throwing Out the Drugs

I worked for more than a decade in a high-stress job at a corporation. Toward the end of my tenure there, I developed and was diagnosed with GERD. For all the television commercials about “acid reflux” that might make this condition seem common and almost routine, GERD is a serious health issue—I actually thought I was having a heart attack the first time. Treatment involved sleeping with my head elevated and a prescription for Prevacid. (And giving up coffee—the horror!) This got the situation under control, but it was a condition I thought about all the time. There were a lot of foods I couldn’t eat, and I still had several miserable episodes per year. As time passed, Prevacid became an over-the-counter drug (as did Prilosec and Nexium, the other major GERD pharmaceuticals), which meant my insurance quit paying for it. I had to take two pills per day to keep it under control, and thus had a $70/month habit.

One day I was discussing this with my massage therapist (she and I share an interest in naturopathy and holistic medicine) and she facepalmed. “I don’t know why I didn’t think of this!” she said. “You should try probiotics. Just try them. They might work.”

And they did. Probiotics cost me about $15/month, and I was able to resume eating many of the foods I’d had to forgo in the past. I still had episodes, though not as frequently, and I still slept elevated. But I was off drugs. Probiotics changed my life. Now, unlike many Americans, I do not take any daily maintenance-type drugs.

Getting Good Sleep

Several years later, I visited my physician. My ankles had begun to swell at the end of the day, sometimes uncomfortably. (Ankle swelling can be caused by a lot of things, so don’t take my diagnosis as yours.)

My physician asked an odd question: “Do you snore?”

“Like a freight train,” I said. “And don’t tell me it has to do with my weight, because even when I was young and thin I snored, to the extent that no one wanted room with me on school trips. I know I’m getting old but—”

“You’re not old.” She laughed.

“Then tell me why I feel like I am 90 years old when I get up in the morning,” I said. “I used to be a morning person. I used to spring out of bed ready to go. Now I am exhausted when I get up. My best hours of the day are 11am to 3pm. I hate it.”

“We’ll test to be sure, but I think you have sleep apnea,” she said.

The sleep study was absolutely the most miserable night of my life, but in a sense, it was a huge success. Everyone has sleep apnea: it is normal for you to stop breathing 1 to 5 times per hour, but anything over 5 should be treated. Thirty times per hour is considered severe sleep apnea. But I stopped breathing 85 times per hour! No wonder I had no energy. No wonder I was tired all the time.

I was promptly fitted with a CPAP machine and literally overnight, my life changed. Most noticeably, I began to have dreams! (I never reached REM sleep before.) And I was rested and energetic—OMG!

Two other things happened. First, my acid reflux diminished significantly. I quit thinking about it (which did mean I had a couple episodes), and I began to sleep on just one pillow, like a normal person. Second, my sacroiliac dysfunction—which had been making me miserable for twenty years—also diminished significantly. I quit thinking about it too. Honestly, the value of a good night’s sleep cannot be overstated. If you snore or otherwise suspect you may have sleep apnea, get tested. It will add years to your life.

And one other interesting side note: I have for years kept track of the titles and how many books I read each year. (I love to read. And I’m an editor.) Most of my personal reading happens at bedtime—and suddenly I was reading for 30 minues, 45 minutes, an hour—instead of the miserly 15 minutes I had before. My book count has doubled. I love my Magic Sleep Machine!

Say Good-Bye to Sugar, Sugar

I still struggled with weight, though. In the spring of 2014, a long-time friend of mine recommended I read Why We Get Fat by science journalist Gary Taubes. Taubes isn’t selling a diet or diet foods—he’s only selling books. In Why We Get Fat,

Taubes argues that certain kinds of carbohydrates—not fats and not simply excess calories—have led to our current obesity epidemic. … Taubes reveals the bad nutritional science of the last century—none more damaging than the “calories-in, calories-out” model of why we get fat—and the good science that has been ignored, especially regarding insulin’s regulation of our fat tissue. He also answers key questions: Why are some people thin and others fat? What roles do exercise and genetics play in our weight? What foods should we eat or avoid?

The book made a pretty compelling case. In the third week of May, I cut my carbohydrate consumption dramatically. I gave up sugar and bread and processed foods cold turkey.

And I began to feel grrrrrrrrrreat!

My acid reflux is a thing of the past. I no longer give it any consideration; nothing I eat affects my esophagus. Gone also is my sacroiliac dysfunction—along with a lot of little aches and pains. I am never hungry—because this is not a diet. It’s a changed way of eating. I don’t have cravings.

Have I lost a dramatic amount of weight? Not yet. But I do lose weight every week, steadily, week after week. I’m confident that this will continue. From a health standpoint, I feel better every day.

If you are curious—and aren’t ready to read a book yet—watch the documentary called Fed Up. (Scroll down for the trailer.) Gary Taubes is one of the people featured in the film.

Recap

This blog is about la dolce vita—which, for me, includes travel. So don’t be alarmed: there is a travel connection to this story—and not just because I was on holiday when I thought of it as a three-part story. If you read the posts about my trips, you’ll note that I often ended up sick—with pneumonia—in a foreign country. Why? Because the airlines recycle the cabin air and people often travel in spite of being “just a little” unwell. And I—having grown up with a father who chain-smoked—am more susceptible than many to respiratory illness. I took 18 round-trip flights in 7 years from 2006 to 2012 and I got sick—often very sick—every time.

When I was researching a way to boost my immunity—perhaps I could ward off those circulating germs on the plane—I learned that all immunity starts in the gut. Improve your digestive health and your overall health will improve. Similarly, good sleep will improve your health across the board. And whether you want to lose weight or not, have a look at giving up sugar. You can thank me later. 🙂

Have a happy, healthy new year!

Lower the Cost of Your Vacation! Pay in Advance!

The trip I took to Ireland this past May was made significantly more affordable because I paid for my hotels weeks—months—in advance. Yes! Both Bewley’s and the Camden Court offered great deals on rooms—as long as I would book and pay (nonrefundable) in advance.

I was reminded of this when I read this article in Time magazine.

After years in which both snow and the economy have been iffy, skiers and boarders have been booking winter vacations later and later—or sometimes not at all. So, to lock in dollars early, resort companies are pushing preseason deals that tempt enthusiasts with access to multiple mountains for a single discounted price, as long as they buy when it’s still waterskiing season. …

Some skiers might not like the idea of paying long before snow falls, but the push is working. Once the domain of locals, season passes are snatched up by global ski tourists. Vail’s 300,000 pass holders—who represent $207 million in revenue—come from 50 states and 78 countries. Sales have nearly doubled in the past six years, accounting for about 40% of the company’s lift-ticket revenues. … The earlier you bite, the better the deal—and the sooner you can begin praying for snow.

Of course, airlines have long offered a price break if you pay in advance. The concept is the same—a business fills up seats or rooms early, which helps in budget planning. Apparently this idea is nothing new. This article from Budget Travel reminds:

Who wants to think about winter when it’s still summer? But you might want to reconsider because we’ve got 11 irresistible winter getaways that can put you on world-class slopes or white-sand beaches. There’s just one catch: If you want a price as dreamy as these trips, don’t wait for the first snowfall to make your reservation. (Emphasis mine.)

The list includes cheap airfare and rooms in Florida, Hawaii, Califonia, Montana … and Mexico, Italy, Vietnam, and more.

Remember, these aren’t off-season discounts—though great deals can be had during the off-season too—but discounts offered for pay-in-advance customers. Nonrefundable doesn’t work for everyone, but in my case, it was a wedding I didn’t want to miss. I knew I was going. So be sure to look for a lock-in price package when you make your next vacation plan!

Travel: There’s an App for That

I spend a lot of time planning my trips; I love the anticipation itch that planning scratches. Still, as you know, even a well-planned trip can go off the rails—a missed flight, for example, or an unexpected case of pneumonia.

But I spend more time at home than I do traveling. I’m not a frequent flyer. So it never crossed my mind that there are dozens of apps to make travel easier.

Some years ago I worked for Mike Hyatt, and I’ve followed his blog for some time (along with about a hundred thousand other people). No longer at the publishing company where we met, Mike is now a popular public speaker and author, and as such he does a lot of traveling. So you can imagine my delight when I found this blog post in my in-box: “Are You Using These Top 5 Travel Apps?

Here’s a sample:

1. TripIt. This is “command central” for my travel details. My assistants and I use it to maintain all my transportation and accommodation information. When they book a flight or a hotel, they forward the information to TripIt. The program parses the email and creates neat records with all the details. It tells me when flights are delayed, the travel time, my seat assignments, confirmation numbers, and whether or not the flight provides wireless Internet service. It gives me similar information about hotels.

Mike goes on to name four other travel apps he finds useful, including one called Uber, which allows you to book limousine service from your iPhone. Don’t assume it’s too expensive, he says: “I find it is often much cheaper than a rental car.” I can affirm this: Gerry and I booked limos from LaGuardia to midtown Manhattan and they were cheaper than cabs.

So read this article—you may find something very useful for your business or pleasure travel. Best of all, Mike encourages his readers to leave suggestions in the comments—and holy cow, are there some good ones:

• Gate Guru: It gives a list of all the restaurants, snack stands, and shops in the terminals of most airports.

• Seat Guru: Find low airfares, pick your ideal seat on the plane, and get real-time flight alerts with the free SeatGuru app.

• GlobeConvert: Currency and units converter.

• HotStop: Local transit directions (subway, train, bus, ferry, bike).

• Bedbug Registry: self-explanatory.

• AroundMe: Quickly identifies your position and allows you to choose the nearest bank, bar, gas station, hospital, hotel, movie theater, restaurant, supermarket, and so on.

Check it out!

Three Myths About Booking Your Own Travel

Last week I posted “Myths About Travel Agents” and I thought I should show the flip side. After all, I’ve done it both ways.

This is “Three Myths About Booking Travel From the Source.” That is, booking directly with the airline or hotel. The author observes, “Whether cutting out the middleman is consumer-friendly is a matter of debate,” which I thought was interesting. But one reason I use Southwest Airlines so often (aside from the fact Jesse lives in Phoenix) is their liberal policy on changing flights. (No fee at all if you do it yourself online. In fact, changing to a cheaper flight actually results in—wait for it—a credit.) Which means Southwest is definitely my airline of choice.

I don’t necessarily make a habit of changing flights but a major life-situation change some years ago meant a ticket to Germany purchased for Jesse couldn’t be used. We knew about it several months in advance; it shouldn’t have been a problem. But it took me weeks of letter-writing, e-mailing, and phoning with American Airlines to get any sort of satisfaction. Their original position was the ticket was, simply, forfeit. They wouldn’t issue a credit (I wasn’t asking for the money back; I knew someone in this family would fly again, and soon). To this day I’m convinced my breaking down in tears on the phone is the only thing that got me a credit—minus, of course, the $150 fee for change.

But we were talking about the three myths about booking direct. Here they are:

1. You can’t save money.

2. Your room or plane seat will be the same whether or not you book direct.

3. It’s easier to change plans with a travel agency.

The author says:

In the last week alone I got a steal on a luxury hotel in Miami by using a discount code offered by the hotel that popped up in a Google search. And I reserved a flight to San Francisco from New York for under $150 during a one-day sale that JetBlue announced on Twitter. The fares, the airline noted, were “not available on Orbitz, Travelocity, Expedia or Priceline.”

I’ve found this to be true, certainly, with Southwest (but then they aren’t on Travelocity), and with flights to Europe too. I can almost always gt a cheaper flight across the pond directly from the airline. So read the article. Let me know what you think!