Sep 11

The Challenge – Only a Carry-on

For my trip to Knoxville and Pittsburgh I have challenged myself to take only a carry-on. There are a couple reasons for this, but it’s mostly because I have 2 flights for each leg of my trip and am afraid my luggage will get lost. It’s also an intriguing challenge for myself as a person who sometimes over packs. I’ve gotten much better over the years, which is why I think I might be able to do this. I also know that when I get to Pittsburgh I will be able to do laundry if I need to.

Some things I plan to do to get all my stuff in 1 carry-on suitcase. Skip the hairdryer. I have made sure that all my hotels have hairdryers available. I’m also only taking my small point and shoot camera that fits in my pocket instead of my DSLR. I’m going to wear my sneakers and bring a pair of sandals. I’m not sure what clothes I’m bringing but I will check the weather closely to make sure I have the right clothes, I often over pack clothing when I have the space to accommodate for different weather. I wont have that luxury on this trip.

Sep 08

Visiting State College and Penn State

This past weekend I went to State College, PA for a Penn State game. It was a fantastic weekend, but then I love it every time I’m in State College.

My weekend started with a delayed drive with my friend Tara (from Hawaii). I didn’t think we would make it, but we did make it to the Football Eve events at Beaver Stadium (football stadium of the Nittany Lions). Tara and I easily got parking and were there a few minutes early. At Football Eve the Blue Band played and introduced some of the freshman to some of the Beaver Stadium traditions. Curt Warner was introduced and honored as he was being inducted to the College Football Hall of Fame this year. Then Joe Paterno and the football team were introduced. Joe Pa gave a motivating speech and the night was over. Tara and I however were quite hungry and went to Baby’s for dinner. Baby’s is a little 50 diner in town, the food is average but cheap and I’ve always liked the atmosphere, I always go to Baby’s when I’m in town. After that it was time to start the shopping expedition, Tara and I always seem to have to visit every store twice to make sure we get just the right things to complete our Penn State clothing collections. A woman’s job is never done!

We stayed at the Comfort Suites Hotel on North Atherton, it was a little outdated but otherwise an ok hotel. I do generally prefer to get a hotel room in town, but there aren’t many of those. It was expensive though since there weren’t many hotel rooms left when I went to book. We ended up with a “suite” – it had a couch in a separate area, though the area wasn’t really separated. We did have a refrigerator and a microwave which are handy. The hotel also had a pool and hot tub as well as offering a free breakfast. The breakfast was pretty good for a hotel breakfast, cereal a variety of bread products and make your own waffles there was also orange and apple juice.

On Saturday we decided to take the shuttle to the football game, it was a good decision, though not a fun way to travel. We waited 20 minutes for the shuttle which is supposed to come every 10 minutes. We were the first stop so it took another 40 minutes to get to the stadium. The worst part was we were the last stop on the way back, but that only took 25 minutes at least. But for $6 it wasn’t a bad deal. I just wish I had known how long it would take.

The game was great, the student section looked even more fun then when I was there and Penn State was only playing Akron. We won 31-7. After Football Eve and the game I remember how much I love Penn State, there is a great pride in the school and everything about it. Even the football videos who images of Old Main and other spots on campus, these are the places that every Penn Stater loves!

After the game we took a nap (12:00 games are WAY too early, and I’m not even a student!) After our nap we ate dinner at Mario and Luigi’s an Italian place across the street from the hotel and it was fantastic. The salad was great, I got the Balsamic Italian dressing which was a bit oily, but there was an abundance of herbs in it giving it a lot of flavor, I don’t find many places that can do that. The ravioli were freshly made and delicate and delicious. The Lemonade was fresh and delicious too, though no free refills for that. I would absolutely recommend this place to anyone visiting. Then we went back to town for some more shopping and then had a drink at the Fridays by the hotel (we liked the idea of being able to walk back to the hotel after having drinks). Sunday we just did a little campus tour and went home, I miss the place already.

Some places that we didn’t go this time, but I do enjoy going to when I visit. The Corner Room, an inexpensive diner type of place with good food and always a line. The Deli a little more expensive, but also has good food. If I’m staying downtown I like the Days Inn, it’s in walking distance to the campus and centrally located in town.

Things I don’t like – The Nittany Lion Hotel, this is sacrilegious, I know, but the place is expensive and has the worst bed I’ve ever slept on in a hotel. The Diner – aside from having a sticky because it’s a sticky, it’s a crappy diner.

Sep 07

Dining Alone

When traveling, unless traveling with a friend or partner you sometimes end up eating alone – whether on a tour or when doing independent travel. For most people this is a departure from their typical lifestyle. For some it’s a social stretch, how often do you eat alone?

 I first dealt with this on a conscious level when I had along wait in an airport. When you have 3 hours, there is only so much shopping and reading you can do so it’s nice to eat at the airport. But instead of just doing the fast food place I went to Fridays and had a nice sit down meal. An airport isn’t a bad place to try out eating alone. There are quite a few other people doing that already, you’re not in a place where you’re likely to run into people you know, and you probably already have something to distract yourself with – a book or a magazine.

When you’re on vacation alone you shouldn’t feel forced to eat fast food for every meal, or have to bring food back to the hotel or picnic just because you’re alone. You can and should eat in restaurants and enjoy the local cuisine without feeling subconscious or out of place. If it’s hard for you, then try finding times and places, like the airport, where you can practice doing it, it’s not as scary as it seems.

Sep 03

Babies on a plane and Penn State

Tomorrow (Friday) I’m heading out to Penn State for a football game. It’s only the Akron game, but I’m quite excited. I haven’t been to a Penn State game since I went to the PSU vs Boston College game in 2004 in Boston. Much too long… I’m dreaming of the fun of Beaver Stadium, yelling “WE ARE…” “..Penn State.” Shopping downtown State College for Penn State clothing and visiting the creamery for some Ice Cream…

On a completely different topic… My friend is flying this year with your 7 or 8 month old baby. She was planning on buying a seat for her baby, until she found out that a seat for a baby is actually $100 more then it is for an adult. This is outrageous to me. A baby doesn’t take up any extra room, and doesn’t require a snack or drink. Further this is a safety issue. For some reason airlines apparently have this idea that because it’s free it’s a good idea to have your baby on your lap, I’ve heard of people being discouraged from buying an infant a seat by the airlines. Hello, it’s a safety issue some people think that the extra money is worth their piece of mind. But there is a breaking point, like $100 more for an infant. I think it’s irresponsible of an airline to charge more for a child. They should be encouraging (or at least neutral) to parents who choose to get a seat for their child. They should charge less, not more for that child. I don’t get it?

Sep 02

Coney Island, NY

I recently spent some time working in Coney Island, home of the world famous Nathans hot dog. I’m not impressed with the place, it’s quite dumpy. It’s slated for refurbishment, and it needs it. It looks like there were once a lot of “pay by the hour” hotels there that have since been boarded up, isn’t that quaint? Most of the shops are small and unwelcoming. For food there is Nathans (with limited seating), Popeye’s and some other not too exciting fast food options. There are vacant lots that are overrun with weeds. I’m told by others that Coney Island at night isn’t terribly safe in terms of crime. Have I convinced you to skip Coney Island yet??

The good? The subway station was redone and is and fairly nice for a NYC Subway station. Keyspan Park featuring the Brooklyn Cyclones is nice for a family baseball game. The amusements are classic old school types of stuff – wooden roller coaster and carnival games. The beach looks (I’m working there, not going to the beach) nice and fairly well kept up.

The verdict? Unless it’s summertime or you really want a hot dog from the original Nathans, don’t bother. If it’s summer and you want a NYC beach or you want that hot dog, then it’s not a bad place to visit for a couple hours during the day. But don’t expect a nice fancy area, this is a run down little area with a beach and boardwalk. Nathan’s hot dogs are pretty good too.

Aug 31

Travel clothing

I found this blog post by Everything-Everywhere. It’s a little hardcore about picking travel clothing, but the thought process is good. It’s a great article if you’re interested in long term travel, an interesting article to get you thinking if you’re doing shorter trips. This guys next posts will involve some other packing tips – shoes and accessories.

I don’t travel quite so light myself, but I do try to find clothing that will all match. I often take pants that roll up with buttons (the girl version of zip-off pants) that can be worn as pants or capris. If I expect I might have to do laundry while away I try to bring some quicker drying shirts.

Aug 28

Frequent Flyer Programs Misconceptions

I find a lot of people from all walks of life don’t fully understand Frequent Flyer Programs, how they work or how to make them work for them. I’ll admit that even I am just getting a grasp on them.

The first misconception about frequent flyer programs is the idea that you need to fly a lot with one airline to take advantage of them, and while that does help it’s not the only way to make them work for you.

Most airlines are part of airline alliances, this allows you to fly on one airline but build up points with another airlines frequent flyer program. For example: If you belong to American Airlines (AA) frequent flyer program and book a trip with British Airways, (BA) both members of One World, you can use your AA program number to buildup your points from your flight with BA. Or, you can use your AA points to book your flight with BA. With this understanding I try to keep a frequent flyer program with one airline in each alliance and use that number when I fly with other airlines within the alliance.

Building up miles can be quite difficult if you don’t fly too often or fly with whoever has the best deal. If you’re using the same airline or airlines within an alliance most of the time, but not enough to earn your miles, then you might want to consider getting thier credit card. You’ll earn points on your purchases and build up your frequent flyer account more quickly, maybe just enough to get an upgrade or free flight. Take a look at different opportunities to earn double or triple miles with your credit card, it may take nothing more then using your card at the right places. Be aware that credit cards associated with frequent flyer programs often have large fees – from no fee to over $100 a year. BUT, you may be able to earn these fees back by having the card. One of the benefits of the Continental credit card is that you are waived baggage fees. You would reduce that yearly fee from $95 to $65 with one round trip flight where you are checking a bag.

Airline credit cards usually have high interest rates so if you have trouble paying off your credit card month to month then these cards might not be your best option. 

After reviewing all the different airline cards I personally decided on the American Express Card. It allows you to earn points with each purchase and then the points can be transferred to most airlines for use in purchasing tickets, upgrades and other types of travel. Additionally, I have family who have used their Amex card this way and have been more then happy with it. Here is an article that has ratings of some of the airline credit cards. I do also have a Jetblue Amex card, but am planning to close that account when it’s up for renewal.

What to do when you have lots of points, but nowhere to go or not enough to do anything with? Many programs offer other products you can purchase with expiring points. I’ve gotten subscriptions to magazines with my old points in the past, a better use then losing the points. You can also donate to charitable organizations, a nice way to give if you don’t have the cash to donate.

Here is a list of the current airlines alliances as of Aug 2009:

One World
American, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Iberia, Japanese Airlines, LAN, Malav, Qantas, Royal Jordanian

Sky Team
Aeroflot, Aeromexico, Air France, Alitalia, China Southern, Delta, Continental, CSA Czech Airlines, KLM, Korean, Northwest

Star Alliance
Air Canada, Air China, Air New Zealand, ANA, Asian Airlines, Austrian, BMI, LOT Polish Airlines, Lufthansa, Scandinavian Airlines, Shanghi Airlines, Singapore Airlines, South African Airlines, Spainair, Swiss, TAP Portugal, Thai Airways Int., United, US Airways

In late October Continental will be moving from Sky Team to Star Alliance.

And to give credit where credit is due, I started to understand this whole airline miles stuff when I read Chis Guillebeau’s Unconventional Guide to Discount Airfare.

Aug 26

Travel Tip: Navagating the train

One of the challenges of traveling to a city you don’t know, is getting around – depending on the city, the bus or the metro may be the best option. But when you’re on a metro it can sometimes be hard to figure out where to get off the train. In London where you speak the language it’s not too hard. If you travel to Paris things get a little more complicated since there is a language barrier. A city where they use a different alphabet makes it much harder.

Here is my tip – take a picture of the name of the metro stop. When all else fails you can refer to the picture on your digital camera, and this works anywhere, not just in a city with a different alphabet. If you’re drunk in Berlin and can’t remember the name of your stop you can refer to your picture, and if you’re really drunk you can get a local to help you with your picture.

Aug 24

Travel Tip: Booking connecting flights

For my trip to Knoxville and then to Pittsburgh I had to book two sets of connecting flights. Apparently US Air has the cheapest prices but no non-stops.

After narrowing down times that would work for my I looked at stopover times. Many different flight options had similar total times, but the amount of time of the stop over was was different depending on where I was flying in and out of. I opted for the flights with the longest stopovers. It’s not that I like long stop overs but rather my concern with missing my connecting flight. With how often flights are delayed any stopover less then an hour made me nervous. While it’s handy to get off one plane and hop on the next, it’s not so good if you end up missing your next flight. I ended up with a 2 hour and an hour and a half stop over. Now I need to keep my fingers crossed! 

I ended up making all of my connections, some more comfortably then others.  In the future I will continue to look for layovers on the longer side, or at least make sure I know that there are more flight options if I miss my connecting flight.

Aug 21

Adversity

I find that non-travelers often have an opinion on your choice of vacation location. Why would you want to go to Egypt or Russia??? Or well anywhere that isn’t a tropical paradise. I didn’t get much flack over Hawaii, but did hear about how long the flight was. Oh, the drama of it all! It’s frustrating and can, at times, take the wind out of your sails.

Currently, I’m getting flack over going zorbing. Some people are just baffled by the idea, others are intrigued but not interested. A lot of people just think it’s plain old dumb. These people have no sense of adventure, one must wonder what is on these people’s Bucket List? The most frustrating part of people who feel a need to share their opinion is when they share. Hey, if I bring up the idea then I expect to hear their opinion, but when you’re having a regular conversation and they change topic to: Are you still going to go zorbing? Really??? Just drop it because at this point because I’m tuning you out…

I don’t have any answers to how to get rid of these people. One the one hand I try to surround myself with positive and supportive people, but I don’t have much choice in my family. I do try have conviction in my decisions, educate myself about them, and do them with enthusiasm. Does it really matter in the end what others think? They’re not going to strange places or doing adventuresome things and they are missing out on life. Don’t let their notion of “living life to the fullest” affect yours because it’s obviously different from yours. Go to Egypt, Russia, the Middle East, Zorbing, Bungy Jumping, or whatever catches your interest.