Life Hack: Travel Like a Pro

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How not to pack!

On a recent NPR Life Kit podcast the hosts distilled the travel advice of professionals for packing and planning a trip down to seven rules. Some of the advice may seem a bit extreme if you are going from say, New Jersey to Orlando for a Disney vacation. Even so,  if you are traveling with a family of four and everyone brings two bags, watch out! You never need as much stuff as you think. A more realistic approach will free you up to enjoy your travel more.

There is a some entertaining stuff including the pro, Doug, who takes a MacGyver approach to packing. His packing essentials include a scarf that can be used as a sunscreen, hairband, hat, napkin, towel, blanket, pillow, dust mask, and more.  Listen to hear the number of ways you can use dental floss! The point is give preference to things that serve multiple purposes.

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You never know how far you are going to have to walk with your luggage, so travel lighter than you think you can. Can you launder along the way? Bring only things that can be worn multiple times. And leave room for that special merino t-shirt.

I learned to travel for three weeks on an international educational trip to four countries with one carry on bag. By the end of the trip I had some clothes I was happy to leave behind in Cuba, but it allowed our large group flexibility and speed we’d never had without luggage restrictions. Once I had accomplished this, there was little point in over-packing ever again. I sometimes overdo it when I take local trips in my car. So thank the airlines for their extra charges, as it incentivize you to watch YouTube videos on rolling your clothes or using packing cubes. and leaving that extra bag behind.

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My battle tested AWAY carry-on size bag works great now that I’ve stopped using the battery. After having the airlines inconsistently apply rules about whether I can take the battery on the plane or check it, it is just easier to leave it at home. 

Plus in most places you can pick up supplies along the way, also providing opportunities to explore markets and find new products. I have discovered better throat lozenges, tampons, honey, man-size tissue, and many other products by shopping local. One trip with my friend Cameon (before 9/11), we arrived at the gate with a carryon and HUGE shopping bags full of Donegal sweaters and Waterford crystal. We were ridiculously overloaded and we smiled our way on board. We couldn’t get away with this today.

People who travel with me know that I commonly underestimate how long it will take to travel distances. I’m never able to do as much as I hope. The pros advise to focus on one main event each day and then fill in as you have time. I prefer to travel alone or in small groups so there is time to stop for another flat white. Everyone appreciates a little breathing space in the itinerary.

What have you learned along the way? What tips in the podcast do you want to try?

 

Art in the Antipodes: Auckland Art Gallery

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Mexicali Cindy and American Julie at Auckland Art Gallery

When in Auckland I love to mooch around the Central Business District (CBD). Some of my favorite shops are in Britomart and on High Street including Unity Books and Pauanesia. There are too many good restaurants to list them. So when I read about the Colin McCahon exhibit, described in Mindfood magazine as best New Zealand artist, I asked my friend Cindy if she wanted to check it out with me. Queen Street is always evolving, but a few mainstays of the CBD are the central library and the Auckland Art Gallery.

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Colin McCahon was a resident artist at the gallery starting in 1953.

The Gallery holds a permanent collection that celebrates western art and New Zealand’s art scene. This is the first time I didn’t spend time gazing at the Charles Goldie portraits of Maori elders. They also have guest shows, and because they are in the antipodes (other side of the world) they can take awhile to get there. Nevertheless, Cindy and I were delighted to take in “Guerrilla Girls: Reinventing the “F” Word – Feminism.” It sparked a great conversation about the challenges of being a business woman of our generation.

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Still frustratingly true.

When you enter the Gallery on the ground floor, you can quickly pay admission and proceed up to the next level to enjoy the beautiful kauri-lined gallery. I am always pleasantly surprised by the installations from the high ceiling. This visit was no different. I loved the intricate cardboard sculptures by Isabel and Alfredo Aquilizan, “Pillars: Project Another Country.”

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Auckland Art Gallery admission is free for Auckland residents, for international visitors the fee is $17 NZ for seniors and students, and $20 NZ for adults. They have a solid museum cafe and small bookshop. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. except Christmas Day.

 

Auckland’s Viaduct is More than Boats

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_274dWhen I lived in Auckland the city was rushing to finish the Viaduct redevelopment project in time for the 2011 Rugby World Cup. They did finish in time for rugby fans to enjoy the new restaurants and attractions. And on each subsequent visit to Auckland, I’ve been impressed with how the Viaduct continues to give a good return on investment.

There are places to live in and around the Viaduct, along with hotels. These will be highly desirable if you want to watch the America’s Cup race in March, 2021. One friend said that everything is already booked! You don’t need to stay in the Viaduct/Central Business District to enjoy the race in the harbor because there is great bus and train transportation throughout the city. Or you can stay across the bay and take the ferry in.

If you are stopping in Auckland as part of a cruise, you are in luck because the Viaduct is just steps away from your ship’s berth. You’ll find coffee shops, restaurants, and plenty of yachts to drool over. There is also a maritime museum and places to relax and read or people watch.

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How to Choose a Holiday of Happiness

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This view of Rangitoto from St. Heliers Bay is always happiness-inducing.

The travel writing world is continually creating lists of where you should travel next. Barcelona, Morocco, Cape Town, or Singapore? It is too hard to decide, so you decide to go to Hawaii, again. (Or in my case New Zealand.) Vacations days are few and travel can be expensive, so it can feel like a big risk to try something like a safari in Kenya.

My recent New Zealand vacation is the first overseas trip where I have listened to podcasts everyday along the way. (I figured out how to download them on the podcast app Breaker when I have wifi access.) And on the Hidden Brain podcast from NPR “You 2.0: Decide Already!” Daniel Gilbert Stumbling on Happiness Harvard Professor, I learned why we might hit repeat instead of trying something new.

Imagine a future event, such as where you will live in retirement. Many of my friends have made decisions recently about retirement living with either a decision to stay in their long time home or a decision to move. One couple chose a active senior community with a beautiful apartment and lots of community activities and space; another couple chose a smaller but still gracious water adjacent apartment walking distance to many of their favorite places; another couple chose to stay in their longtime home but hire repairmen instead of the usual DIY. Each seems very happy with their choice. In each case it seems that they selected something not so distant from what their lifestyle was already because they were already happy.

When we think of the future we tend to focus on a few key details; and only one or two of the many, many details that are part of the experience. So they might notice the square footage of the apartment but not how many other apartments are on the floor and the number of daily interactions that it implies, or the pet policies and how that might impact you. I was impressed that the apartments in Meadowbank allowed a 90 day-no risk trial period. The community-oriented lifestyle is not for everyone and if you don’t get on with your neighbors it’s better for everyone if you opt out, rather than remain unhappily. I recently met a very lovely, cheerful 96-year old who exercised the opt out clause because she was being bullied at the senior community she tried.

Fortunately travel isn’t as high stakes as retirement living. Nonetheless, it is a real drag if your limited vacation time and savings involves a dud tour with obnoxious people. All the research might have pointed to an enjoyable experience, but we don’t know who we will be when we experience that event; imagination rarely matches the experience; we underestimate how much we’ll change. This happened to me when I tried to recreate the first Tour de France experience I had on Thomson bike tours . My experience with the group I traveled with in the Alps was so much fun, and a two of the couples were going to go on the Tour d’Italia. Alas the chemistry wasn’t the same within the group and I ended up counting the days till I was traveling on my own again. I enjoyed Venice even more for being free from the oppressive group dynamic. Screen Shot 2019-11-03 at 12.06.05 PM

Don’t rely on imagination; look for data. Gilbert recommends finding measures of the happiness of the people doing what you think you might like doing.  I have also found it really helps to know yourself and correctly apply the data to your situation. If you despise crowds then going to one of the “top 10 travel destinations” is probably not a good fit unless you can travel during off-season.

This Global Citizen ranking equated happiness with values I share: “What stands out about the happiest and most well-connected societies is their resilience and ability to deal with bad things,” said report co-editor John Helliwell, referencing New Zealand. “After the 2011 earthquake and now the terrorist attack in Christchurch, with high social capital, where people are connected, people rally and help each other and [after the earthquake] rebuild immediately.”

Gilbert also highly recommends using surrogation, that is relying on other people’s experience as a guide for your own. There are many platforms now that facilitate this: Yelp, Trip Advisor and others. Just remember even crowds can be biased; but you may share those biases. They are not perfect tools; however, GilbertTrip Advisor can round out your imagination and give your more detail to consider. Maybe the experience you were thinking of adding to your itinerary based on a friend at Book Club’s recommendation is panned on-line by someone who found it claustrophobic. And you get claustrophobia. 

Gilbert gave the example of choosing a movie–people prefer relying on the trailer over more detailed reviews by people who’ve seen it. We like to “trust our gut” because we live in the illusion of diversity (we are all so unique), when in reality, the reviews are a more reliable guide.

There is also a role in making a commitment to increasing our happiness. We think we’ll prefer keeping options open, but Gilbert’s research says committing to your choice will result in greater happiness. And we like a little mystery and surprise–not a a lot, just a little.

I choose New Zealand again and again. Similarly my adult children and I choose Monterey get aways every year, because I trust my own experience more than any travel writer’s opinion. I always have a wonderful experience when I go to New Zealand and I can create new adventures there so I still get some variety. I know that what makes me and my children happiest is beach access, trips to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Gianni’s pizza. We are perfectly right to book another condo in Pacific Grove or Monterey. To put a cherry on top, add some mystery–new restaurants, or new beaches–and the research says you will be even happier.

This is what the research says. What’s your experience?

 

 

 

Red Cafe in a Blue State

IMG_0336In my lifetime California has turned from a conservative leaning state to a solidly liberal state. We have two presidential libraries–one for Richard M. Nixon and one for Ronald Reagan and there are still many Republicans, Libertarians, and other conservatives living in California. They are out-numbered by Democrats 2 to 1, and also outnumbered by people declining to state a party (independents). The Republicans might have remained more competitive if Governor Pete Wilson had not decided to villify Latinos and lost their votes (most are not immigrants either) for the forseeable future. One of the remaining conservative enclaves is Simi Valley in Ventura, CA. It is just down the road from Apricot Lane Farm. Traffic being tricky, I opted to arrive super early and stop somewhere close to the farm for breakfast. All reviews pointed to the Egg House.

As I drove down Los Angeles Boulevard I noticed storefronts for evangelical churches, but otherwise this part of Simi Valley looks like a suburb almost anywhere in California. The Egg House is not impressive from the outside. It is in a building where you might find an Ace hardware store, but it does have parking. The inside was a lovely surprise! It is super clean and reminds me of the hip diners around Nashville. Maybe this is where country music artists live when they are in Los Angeles?

The waiter brought me my diet coke (I’d already had coffee) and a complimentary piece of coffee cake. The frosting was super sweet, but the base cake was yummy. My scrambled eggs were perfectly cooked, the bacon was crisp and the pancakes were very tasty. They might have a little cornmeal in the batter. My service was super and if you are visiting the Presidential Library then I highly recommend the Egg House for breakfast or lunch.

 

 

Burbank Airport Upgrade

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The new Rental Car Center at Bob Hope Airport (BUR).

Shhh! Don’t tell anyone. The easiest way to visit Los Angeles (domestically) is flying into the Bob Hope Airport in Burbank. And now it is easier to rent a car from BUR at the car rental facility. It has been awhile since I’ve needed to attend to business in Los Angeles. Southwest Airlines flies almost every hour directly to Burbank from Sacramento. It is a small airport and easy to access by train or automobile.

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For pedestrian safety, they created this second story walkway that leads to the train station or the car rental agencies. It is covered mostly for sun, occasionally for rain.

The car rental agencies used to be located at the end of the United terminal with a small lot for cars. Some of the rental agencies required you take a bus to their lots. Now everything is located together in a new multi-story facility. It is a bit of a hike to the facility, but much easier once you are there.

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I once took a human-centered design workshop and they challenged our groups to redesign a process that didn’t work well. We chose the car rental experience. We redesigned it into something that is like the experience today of taking Lyft from the airport (except with ride-sharing you don’t get to keep the car). My experience with Alamo was almost stress free. They no longer print the contract out on an old printer with carbon forms. They sent me off with my contract and I was met by a greeter who directed me to my economy car. It took longer to walk to the office than it did to rent my car and be on my way. One more reason Burbank is the best airport if you are visiting Los Angeles.