Friday, December 18, 2009

Passports With Purpose

Travel and travel writing can be viewed as containing elements of exploitation and indulgence, but a small band of Northwest bloggers have created a project that displays the opposite. Passports with Purpose was founded by bloggers Wanderlust and Lipstick, Delicious Baby, Wander Mom, and Nerd’s Eye View with the goal of making a difference in some of the conditions that travel has opened their eyes to. This year the beneficiary is non-profit organization American Assistance in Cambodia and the project is to build a school for children in a rural village.

These ladies know how to motivate. This incredibly worthy cause is organized into a raffle filled with prizes appealing to their target audience. Any blogger who wants to support the cause donates an item (with a value of $75 or more) and then readers contribute in $10 increments to buy entries into the drawing for the prizes of their choice. The more than sixty items include resort packages in New York, Costa Rico and Belize (among others), video and camera equipment, travel gear, gift certificates, and unique items like a Tahitian pearl or specialty cake.

This year their initial goal was set at $13,000, the minimum required to build a school. When they managed to break that goal in about a week they set their sights higher, adding a vegetable garden, water filter, and school nurse to their goals to ensuring the healthy standards students need to succeed. With just a weekend to go Passports With Purpose is less than 3.5K away from their new revised goal, thanks in part to a mention in the New York Times.

It’s not to late to get involved in this fantastic cause! You can still enter the raffle or simply donate to the cause by clicking here. During these tough times I’m inspired by such stories of generosity, compassion and simply feeling connected to the global community.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Travel and Holidays, a Love/Hate Relationship

Just mention the sentence “It’s that time of year…” to people and you can expect their eyes to respond two ways: with twinkling or rolling. There are always going to be those people who start playing Christmas music while the rest of the family is still digesting Thanksgiving dinner and those who would prefer to slam the door in the face of carolers who dare knock on their door. This year, as I listened to friends who complained about being “too busy” with invites to holiday parties or sulked about not being able to afford the presents they desired, I was thankful for a few lessons I learned from traveling.

Do what you want to do, not what you’re supposed to do
If you dread addressing stacks of cards, skip it this year. If you would rather wear bright purple instead of red or green to the holiday party, feel free. If you want to sing “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” in the shower every day then by all means, belt it out. Every family has their own traditions and you don’t need to embrace all of them anymore than you HAVE to see every monument in a major city you visit.

Spend some quality time on each other
I remember the first year I spent Christmas away from my family. I was living in NYC and they got me exactly what I wanted that year – a brand new iPod! But after calling home and passing the phone around the room over dinner, that little electronic device wasn’t much comfort towards pangs of homesickness. When I look back on that night the overwhelming emotion I remember was loneliness. The following year I saved up my frequent flier miles and booked a trip home. I remember the excitement I felt at being in my pajamas in the living room on Christmas morning and couldn’t for the life of me tell you what I unwrapped from under the tree.

Know when to splurge and when to sacrifice
Sure we’re all on a tight budget but every once in a while living in the moment outweighs the cost. The year my brother and I woke up to bikes in the living room I doubt if I noticed the bags under my parent’s eyes, but years later hearing how long it took them to assemble them continues to warm my heart. I once broke the spending limit on a Secret Santa gift exchange when I knew the person I drew couldn’t afford an upcoming concert. I was paid back in full when she tackled me with squeals of delight upon opening the gift. There are times when that memory in the moment is worth paying for in the future.

Remember the old saying “It's better to give than to receive”? Well I’m giving it a try
None of my closest girlfriends are in a financial high point this year so we decided on an alternative to exchanging gifts. Each of us is selecting a charity that we believe the other would support and making a small donation in their name. Then we’re getting together over wine (hopefully this one) to tell each other why we chose it for them. In other words, we do a good deed, compliment each other and share a cocktail. I’ll take a girl’s night out over a new scarf during any season!

Holidays, like travel, depend largely on a matter or perspective. Sure we could dream of staying in a nicer hotel in our future or wish for the snowfall of years past, but every holiday movie on repeat at this time of year will warn you not to missing out on living in the present.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Swell Season at Seattle’s Paramount Theater

If music is the international language then seeing The Swell Season at Seattle’s Paramount Theater is like a therapy session in a penthouse suite. Commissioned by Paramount Pictures in the late 1920’s, the Paramount’s decadent d├ęcor filled with high arches, ornate touches and multiple chandeliers has seen Broadway, dance, theater and music ranging from vaudeville to Madonna’s first stop on her 1985 “The Virgin Tour”. When I was young I told my parents that if I ever won the lottery the first thing I would do is buy the Paramount, just to ensure no one ever tore it down. Luckily a Microsoft executive beat me to it pouring millions of dollars into restorations in 1993 leaving me free to dream of other extravagant indulgences.

No matter how beautiful the surroundings, the only thing capturing the attention of the audience on Sunday, Nov. 2, 2009 was the commanding presence of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova who make up The Swell Season. These Irish (well, okay mostly, she’s Czech, but he and his bandmates are all Irish lads) indie darlings captured international attention in 2008 winning an Academy Award for “Falling Slowly” from the film Once, not to mention one of the first times I have ever seen an allowance for an extended acceptance speech!

This pair is inspiring on a number of levels. Their lyrics are full of hope in the face of struggle while the juxtaposition of Glen’s passion-filled wails with Marketa’s quiet, sprite-ish stature exhibits strength in every form. These unassuming stars are well aware of their roots and are known for wandering the streets of any city they play, finding a favorite struggling musician and inviting them to perform onstage in front of packed houses.  Their performances are full of quirky moments from Irglova’s incorporation of her vintage Casio keyboard to Hansard breaking three guitar strings mid-song, forcing a stagehand to run a new instrument onstage multiple times, but refusing to leave the melody unfinished.

But don’t take my word for it, you can stream songs on their website and decide for yourself!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Talking About Twilight, No Teams Required

I haven’t read a single book in the Twilight series. I’ve never taken a road trip to Forks despite my Washington State residence. My loyalties are limited to professional sports teams. Yet somehow, I found myself in possession of tickets to two showings in the first twenty-four hours of the release of New Moon.

What I do have are a few fanatical fans as friends and I accidentally agreed to see it with two different groups. Since both responsible parties snagged presale tickets to ensure our seats, I found myself committed to both a midnight and 10:00am screening of New Moon. You know what’s scarier than vampires? The thought of what an avid fan would do to me if I were caught snoring through the second morning session.

Luckily, I was thoroughly entertained by a few key points:

The blatant objectification of underage men. I may not be a firm believer in the eye-for-an-eye philosophy but a small piece of my feminist nature takes sheer delight in the amount of attention given to the appearance of the male costars instead of the female stars for once. As travelers we are trained to enjoy the landscape and jailbait Taylor Lautner definitely beautifies the land he occupies, preferably (and often) shirtless. And, in the spirit of appreciating the less publicized destinations on any adventure, the entire wolf pack and a few members of the Cullen family absolutely deserve mention in my indulgent guidebook to teenybopper land.

Blockbuster-worthy special effects. Their budget was clearly beefed up as much as the cast for this second installment, improving upon the comical running scenes and bedazzled glowing skin of the first film.

Soundtrack. I squealed like a schoolgirl in the first film when one of my favorite bands on the planet, Muse, blared over the baseball scene. They make an appearance again along with a blend of obscure and indie darlings for the perfect “Melodrama”-titled Pandora station.

Are you indulging in the Twilight phenomenon? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Go Ahead, Delay Away

Airports are such an interesting place to observe human nature and this holiday season I'm giving thanks that I'm not an airline employee.

I had just gotten into my belt-buckled, headphoned comfort zone when the pilot turned on the air conditioner and all of a sudden waves of steam (smoke?) began pouring through the cracks. I clamped my hand over my mouth, not sure what I could be breathing, and cursed that we hadn't yet been instructed to locate the nearest emergency exit.

The pilots shut down the airplane and the substance disappeared immediately as they announced that all passengers should leave the plane while they investigated the problem. I grabbed my bags and gladly got the hell off the plane and back to the gate. Here is where people start to amaze me. Within two steps of reaching the terminal people began to demand an explanation. When there was no instant answer the gossip began to ripple through the aisles like a juicy high school rumor, and the airline immediately became an instant outcast.

When it comes to flying, I'm all for safety first. When they announced that we would be switching to a new airplane but would have to wait for it to be towed to the runway there was a collective groan throughout the crowd. It's this point that the flight attendants need to pull out their PR skills. "Attention passengers, remember how fifteen minutes ago you were scared for your life? And you know how flying involves incredibly complicated machinery that defies the laws of gravity? Well, we take that kind of thing seriously and would like to make sure you actually make it to your destination even if it's a little later than you expected."

Of course, I'm no fan of delays, and I realize that there is often an important event waiting on the other side of the connection for many people but I swear that there is a sense of entitlement pumped into airport air. When we were further delayed because we had to wait for a new crew (frustrating, sure, but would you rather have a sleep-deprived pilot?!) the airline immediately responded by informing us that everyone would be compensated for the delay and offering sincere apologies. I just pictured that smoke, picked up my magazine and waited for the next boarding call.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Around the World On A Stage

One of the things I have picked up through my travels is a love of the theater. I saw my first “Broadway” show in London (and just to further confuse the geography of that sentence it was a production of Chicago). Some of my favorite shows have addressed issues ranging from inner city life in Upper Manhattan to the AIDS epidemic in Africa without adding a single stamp to my passport.

So, when my beautiful and talented friend Taryn Darr, star of the 5th Avenue Theater’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, invited me to an opening night performance I threw on my theater-going heels and raced out the door. 

I'll admit to being slightly religiously-challenged and a little skeptical of a “family” show, but I was quickly converted. This silly storyline takes the audience on a journey from Israel to Egypt riding on the backs of every musical genre they can cram in. I was especially impressed with Jennifer Paz, the narrator whose kid-friendly voice could soothe a rabid dog to sleep yet still manages to remain saccharine-free, and the band of brothers whose vocal prowess and comedic timing were more memorable than any of their names.

And of course, the entertainment industry loves any excuse to throw a party. Palomino hosted the cast, crew and lucky few who took advantage of a buffet dinner and “Technicolor Coolers”. Theater parties rival Halloween for costume watching with attendees in satin dresses, baseball caps and jeans (lead Anthony Federov…), and a fabulous older man in a sequined Technicolor coat (where was my camera when I needed it?!).

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Six Key Members of a Winning Pub Quiz Team

The Over Achiever Consider this person your team captain. They will invite the maximum number of players (with alternates on-call if a team member doesn’t show up) and organize the time and meeting place to get the best seat. This isn’t just for fun - they take trivia seriously! They’ve got spare cash to cover those who forgot their wallet and are the first to shush members caught talking when the questions are being read. Sure, their obsession with the rules may seem a little overbearing at times, but when they argue their way into that extra half-point that puts you in the lead, you’ll be glad to have them on your side.  

The Frat Boy This American boy in a beer logo t-shirt may not have aced economics, but he can quote movies from classic Caddyshack to the latest Will Farrell blockbuster, not to mention the lyrics to every classic hair metal or nineties boy band. He’s got a memory for mindless pop culture knowledge that anyone with their nose in a book through school may have missed out on. As an added bonus, he’ll go through drinks fast enough to ensure that the bartender/server checks back on your group on a regular basis throughout the night, so your glasses will never go empty. 

The Old Timer It never hurts to have a generational gap among team members. When those “classic movies” and “World War II” rounds come up, someone who actually remembers these events can contribute much more than those who studied them in film school or enjoy the history channel. The best way to learn general knowledge is through life experience and those additional years can add invaluable depth.

The Super Fan I have never been to a pub quiz that hasn’t had at least one round or question devoted to sports. You may have trouble keeping this person’s attention if there is a televised game anywhere else in the bar, but that friend who can spout off statistics or MVP’s in any given sport, and follows everything from rugby to racquetball deserves to be a first round draft pick on any trivia team. Warning: they may even expect their first beer as a signing bonus.

The Backpacker As a world traveler you already bring a wealth of knowledge to the table. What city is that famous monument located in? What language is spoken in this small South American city? What is the national anthem of Luxembourg? It just so happens that on your travels you somehow stumbled upon the answer and it involves a story embedded firmly in your memory. You may not become a Slumdog Millionaire, but you’ll never forget why you’re sure of this answer.

The "Dead Weight" There is always one member of every team who is just along for the ride. They swear they’re not any good at trivia, are just out for the company and apologize in advance for bringing the team down. Then that one question comes up that has your entire team staring blankly at each other, and this person jumps in with the perfect answer to save the day. That’s the joy of a pub quiz, you never know what you’ll need to know until it’s too late.

What tips can you add to organize a winning trivia team? And which important members did I forget? 

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

What Comes First, the Sports Team or the Fans?

After a particularly brutal weekend of Seattle football (not to mention coming off of the worst year ever for any sports fan), I got to thinking about the relationship between sports and the city. There is no denying that an athletic presence contributes to the identity of both a city and its people.

Seattle has a reputation for good, but not great, professional sports teams. The Seattle Seahawks made a Super Bowl appearance in 2006, but our rings ultimately ended up on the fingers of the Pittsburgh Steelers. We invested in a gorgeous baseball stadium, spent $100 million dollars on star-studded Mariners talent like Ichiro Suzuki, but still boasted a baseball team that lost a heart-breaking 100 games in 2008. And then there was the winless college football season of my alma mater, the University of Washington…

And yet somehow, Seattlites look for something to cheer about. We rally around individual records, monumental moments and the pure joy that comes from the unexpected success of a perpetual underdog. Our fans actually celebrated the loss of UW’s first college football game simply because we held our own with the highly ranked LSU. In the face of defeat, we remain hopeful.

I find this attitude interesting because as a city itself, Seattle is a bit of an underdog. Sure, it has a reputation for being beautiful, but it doesn’t hold the worldwide the recognition of Los Angeles or New York City. And yet, residents are fiercely loyal in the belief that we don't need a title when we know how great we've got it. So are our sports teams a product of our environment, or an example of it? And how much of this resilience, or is it acceptance of disappointment, finds its way into the everyday life of our residents?

Every city’s fans have their own reputations. I’ve witnessed in-your-face New Yorkers boo their own players if they didn’t feel up to their standard of excellence. Still, this was unsurprising in a city that attracts worldwide talent and accepts only the best in every arena. Could this be a contributing factor to the championship ring collection of the New York Yankees? Or a byproduct of it?

Every sports fan I know wants to feel like they make a difference in the outcome of the game. We bring our attitudes, cultures and our personalities into the stadium, I’m simply curious how much of this mentality actually factors onto the field.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Toilet Humor

I'm always entertained by the signs, customs and advertising campaigns I discover while traveling, but don't always expect it at home. This was before discovering the wall of a bathroom stall in the women's restroom at The Duchess in Seattle's University District:

"Please secure your cell phone before flushing!"

Cue mental image of drunk college female trying to explain to the significantly older gentlemen who run this bar why she was on the phone with her pants around her ankles in the first place....

Monday, September 28, 2009

Three Good Reasons to Love Argosy Cruises

1. Gorgeous views of the Seattle waterfront

2. Way better than anticipated buffet dinner

3. Support for one of my favorite charities,
Camp Goodtimes

And if I can recommend the perfect party game for any occasion, reminiscent of the great Pee Wees’s Playhouse, you should always have a secret word. Ours is “ninja”. 

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Squeezing the Last Sunny Days Out of a Seattle Summer

I’m definitely not what you would call a morning person. I’m a firm believer that days should start once the hours enter double digits. Still, when the West Seattle Blog announced that Alki Kayak Tours slashed their $65 Alki Lighthouse run to $20, simply because they felt it would be a crime not to take advantage of 80+ degree weather in late September, they got me out of bed. Who can resist that kind of staff commitment to sharing an experience they clearly love?

So at 8:30am on a day when I was scheduled to work the closing bar shift, I found myself scarfing down a bagel & cream cheese and a boiled egg (fuel for this three-hour tour) and catching the free
Water Taxi shuttle to our launch site.

This last minute plea brought together seven strangers, picked to paddle the waterfront, and find out what happens when they stop enjoying the scenery and start getting…tired. Our group consisted of a cute young couple, two adult women who had never kayaked before, myself, with the limited experience of once on a lake this past summer, and an old pro called “North Dakota Dave (or was it Dan?)”. Our gregarious guide was named Greg, but went by “Kona” since half the staff also appeared to be named Greg.

The staff had every amenity imaginable on hand, from the essential life jackets and equipment to waterproof bags for cameras and loaner sunglasses. Kona led us through a brief tutorial of how not to end up upside down while entering and exiting the boat and emergency exit procedures should you find yourself flipped to face the fishies. Then it was all hands on deck to haul the boats to shore and start paddling.

Alki Beach provides one of the best possible views of the Seattle skyline, but being locals our eyes were peeled more for the possibility of a seal sighting, foreshadowed by the far off barking echoing over the water and granted about ten minutes in. The group kept an easy pace to the lighthouse and back, stopping sporadically to let lagging members catch up, snap photos or bask in the sunshine. By the time we were halfway back to our starting point my arms had definitely begun to ache, but I took very little advantage of the freedom of the out-of-sight back paddler to slack off every now and then… I swear!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Home is Where the Permanent Address Is

I can remember to exact moment that I decided to move to Manhattan. I was standing in the middle of Times Square, fresh from dinner on the town and tickets to RENT, my first Broadway show. My girl friend and I stepped into the middle of Times Square and instead of feeling overwhelmed I let out a sigh of belonging. “I love this city,” I said to my girl friend. When she responded, “Why don’t you move here?” I was left literally speechless, racking my brain for an answer.

I grew up very attached to my hometown of West Seattle. On every family vacation I was afraid that something important was going to happen at home and I would miss out on the moment of a lifetime. I applied to college based on in-state tuition and proximity to lifelong friends and imagined settling down and building a family in the same zip code as my parents.

This all changed in my senior year of college. I toyed with the idea of transferring to an out-of-state school amidst changing my mind and my major almost seven times (hello, undeclared!), but I never had the guts to follow through. It wasn’t until a friend passed through the study abroad office and discovered a pamphlet for a quarter in Greece (a place I had always dreamed of and talked about going) that something clicked.

Of course, I was terrified. I didn’t pack for my three-month trip until the night before my flight departed. The layover in New York City to visit a friend was meant to break up my flight and ease myself into the trip. I had left the country before, but I had never spent more than three weeks away from home. I had no idea that those three days would change my life.

I went back to my friend’s dorm room after that night in Times Square and emailed my parents, “I think I want to live here one day.” I was convinced that I had just been given the perfect trial period- if I spent the next three months studying abroad homesick and miserable than I wouldn’t move, but if I came home to the same friends, family and city that I knew and loved then I was free to go anywhere in the world. As you may have guessed, Greece was amazing and a crowd of friends met me at the airport upon my return with balloons and a “Welcome Home” banner strung above our freeway exit.

Travelers are often characterized as “brave”, which was a label I had a hard time getting used to. Sure, a new place can be intimidating and keeping up long-distance friendships can take work, but when the worst-case scenario is coming home to a place that you love, it makes taking that first trip a whole lot easier.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Forget Mega-Millions, I’ll Take Mileage!

The more I follow travel news the more I’m amazed by the too-good-to-be-true contests that abound in the industry lately. I don’t want to contradict the highly-respected opinion of my fellow travel blogger Camels & Chocolate (who gives a firsthand look at the actual WORK it takes to do this for a living) but there are some pretty serious chances at a travel enthusiast’s lottery out there. As they say, some lucky dog’s got to win it.

I was sucked into the dream of a $10,000 prize and travel writing trip to NYC that had me spamming friends and begging for votes to make the finals.  The idea of a quick route into something I desperately wanted to do seemed so simple, until I remembered that I hate mass self-promotion via social networking.  I was momentarily disappointed by falling ten spots short of the finals where I would actually be judged on the merit of my work, but quickly decided to refocus my attitude on the amazing support I got from friends, fellow bloggers and complete strangers. If nothing else this provided a networking opportunity and growing blogroll of travel writers I discovered in the process.

In the meantime, there are other possibilities to be rewarded with a destination, while at the very least enjoying the journey. Wanderlust and Lipstick is offering a 12-day Health and Harmony spa vacation in Vietnam for the best travel story submitted, judged by five travel journalists. There are also five runner-up prizes for best in various categories.

Details here:

The other best piece of advice I’ve received is to live an interesting life so that you have something to write about, so I’m preparing to skydive for my 30th birthday! Ridiculous photos, terrified faces, and video full of octave-breaking screams to come…

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Trazzler Travel Writing Contest

I've broken the top 20 of the 200+ semi-finalists in an online travel writing contest sponsored by and The top ten most voted trips go to the finals to be judged on the merit of their writing, so I need your help to get there! The theme of the contest was to find an "Oasis", a place that lets you escape from everyday life and describe it in roughly 150 words or less.

As an added incentive, if selected as a winner I plan to donate half of the $10,000 prize to the American Cancer Society's Camp Goodtimes, a much needed "oasis" for children battling cancer.

I chose the sunset on Alki Beach in West Seattle, a view that has kept me going through many busy nights working at the restaurant where this is my "corner office". I can practically predict my night based around what time the sun goes down and our staff makes it a point, no matter how hectically we may be running around, to stop and enjoy this sight every night for at least a minute.

You can read my entry "Searching for the Perfect Sunset on Alki Beach" here:

***Update- made it to the top 20 contestants, but didn't break into the top ten finalists. Thanks for the love from those who voted!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Discovering Seattle’s OTHER Favorite Football Team

People like to say that Americans are the last to embrace the game of soccer as a professional sport, but it appears that someone forgot to tell that to the fans that occupy the Brougham section of Qwest Field during a Seattle Sounders game. Keeping a close eye on your friends is key in order to avoid being lost in a sea of bright green jerseys and twirling scarves (You’ve GOT to love a sport that provides its fans with not only uniforms but accessories!).

As a newbie to the sport I knew just enough to follow along the basic rules (no hands allowed, go for the goal on the opposite ends of the field, etc.), could distinguish the difference between red and yellow cards, and quickly learned to groan at the amount of time players spent rolling around on the field in pain and then miraculously leapt up and continued playing on said agonizing injury if it didn’t warrant a whistle.

What I didn’t realize is the sheer level of involvement of soccer fans! There was a young guy in the front of our section with a megaphone who led cheers, chants and songs nonstop throughout the entirety of the match. These ranged from multiple verses regaling the strength of Seattle to the less than PG-13 jeers of “F*!? You, A$$hole” directed towards the other team’s goalie every time he kicked, to the downright disturbing chants of “Let-him-die!” when an opposing team member was being carried off the field in a stretcher. Okay granted, he immediately got up and ran down the sidelines once off the field, but seriously?!

Overall it was good-natured fun. I may be a Seahawks girl at heart, but the passion of these season ticket holders was contagious. The only thing less than satisfying was the end result of tie with a score of 0-0. When neither side gets to walk out of the stadium taunting the other relentlessly, doesn’t everybody lose?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Woman Around the World

The more traveling you do, the more you discover ways to make it easier. In this season of spring break travel, I recently shared a few of my insights with Woman Around Town.

I’ve done a fair amount of traveling, from backpacking through Europe to basking in the Bahamas, and have discovered one universal rule- expect the unexpected. No matter how meticulously you plan your itinerary or confirm your reservations, rarely will everything go according to plan. This is part of the fun, embracing the unknown and learning to survive on your own resourcefulness.

But, as I learned this last year, a sense of adventure can become exhausted. While returning from six months abroad I was stranded for a week in snowstorm delays and holidays and quickly learned the value of a few helpful travel trips. So, as you plan for Spring Break escapades and sunny holidays, may I add a few suggestions to turn your trips from stressful to stress-free:

Write it Down
Sure, we live in a digital age where information seems available at your fingertips, but a good old fashioned piece of paper never loses reception or runs out of battery life. Keeping a copy of your passport, flight numbers, addresses and confirmation numbers in your carry on will save you from searching for an outlet, not to mention strengthen your argument if a computer system mysteriously loses your reservation.

Choose Space-Saving Entertainment
If you were traveling with a two year old, you would bring a bag full of toys, right? Well, twenty-two and fifty-two year olds deserve the same consideration. Stock up portable entertainment devices with downloads of your favorite songs, movies and television shows. Plus, paperback books and magazines that you won’t mind leaving behind will leave you extra room to bring home souvenirs.

Opt for Natural Nourishment
You never know when or where delays are going to strike, and if your red-eye flight gets put on hold airport food may not even be an option. Stash granola bars, nuts, dried fruit and health-conscious choices in your purse—just be sure to declare or dispose of anything prohibited by quarantine laws before boarding. Skip the caffeinated beverages and stick to bottled water in case you need a nap, not to mention fight the inevitable dehydration of flying.

Dress for Security
There is nothing worse than mile-long lines when you’re racing to make a connecting flight. Opt for slip on shoes, take off scarves, big jewelry and sunglasses while waiting in line and have your liquids and laptops ready to remove. Those extra ten seconds of effort really add up during high-volume times.

Talk to Thy Neighbor
When your flight gets cancelled it can turn into every passenger for themselves, particularly when it comes to fighting for those last few seats on the next flight. Talking to those around you might actually provide alternatives, like splitting a rental car for short destinations or to the nearest airport. Also, discovering that the person ahead of you in line is a soldier on leave or visiting a sick relative can ease resentment when a week long vacation gets cut a few hours short.

Wait Your Turn
Delays and cancellations can lead to crowded terminals. When boarding, stick with the directions given by flight crews. Stay seated and let those with small children or who may need a little extra time have the space to get through. Standing in the aisles as soon as boarding begins only causes congestion, and the plane can’t leave until everyone boards.

Be Nice
Flight attendants and ground crew are given the miserable job of delivering bad news that they have absolutely no control over. Aggression, yelling or making a scene these days is more likely to lead to calling security than a first class upgrade. Incorporating understanding and respect when approaching crew members with potential problems has led me to placement in aisle seats with extra legroom and inspired a phone call to ensure that a connecting flight would be held for our arrival.

Make the Best of Your Situation
Sometimes you just have to accept your circumstances. When choosing air travel we are at the mercy of increasingly unpredictable weather. When three days of flights around the holidays were canceled it became physically impossible to rebook every passenger immediately, airline staff were happy to accommodate my request that if I had to spend a three day layover anywhere, I wanted to be rerouted through Las Vegas (discount hotels and year-round entertainment!). Instead of dwelling on missed opportunities, start brainstorming your best possible Plan B, even if it’s simply which dream destination you’ll use for your refunded ticket.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Novelty of Familiarity

One of the strangest habits to break after living abroad is learning not to get overly excited about things that remind you of home. In a foreign land your ears get accustomed to perking up at the mention of your hometown, or even just the sound of your native language. Sweatshirts with sports team logos and college colors seem to be written in neon lights.

These beacons are essential in combating homesickness. Wearing your home on your sleeve lets other people know a little bit about you, and can be especially helpful when you’re struggling to find any common ground to start with. It can lead to conversations based on mutual interests in completely unexpected places, and not just with fellow patriots- I found an Australian friend obsessed with the NBA!

And, if you can hold on to it, these little moments can help you see your hometown as someplace just as new and as wonderful as wherever you just visited. Just be prepared to feel like a kid in a toy store surrounded by a crowd of disinterested grown ups, or at least kids who already got everything last Christmas.