Planning Future Travel in COVID-19 Season

All photos in this post by Marcos Dolislager

I was talking to my son, who is an even more avid traveler than me, and he remarked that one silver lining of this trial by virus is the travel deals that will be available when the travel bans are lifted. I couldn’t share his enthusiasm. This time at home has given me time to consider my motives for travel and to evaluate my priorities.

I am blessed that I have been to almost every continent and I’ve ticked most boxes of places I want to see. As I tally the cost in terms of climate change and personal finances, I’m no longer as interested in travel just to experience new places. I am more interest in travel as a way of spending time with people I love. I especially look forward to traveling with my grandson.


Having said that, I received an email from TSA PreCheck letting me know I need to renew my membership before the end of June. I starred the email and thought about it for 24 hours. It is a no-brainer really. I am going to travel as soon as this COVID-19 season is over. So I just paid my $85 as a down payment on my hopes and dreams for future travel.

We will all get through this together. Right now it means staying home and taking care of ourselves, our families and our neighbors. For as long as it takes.


My son-in-law works for Southwest airlines. He still has a job but we are all a little worried. He provided me these beautiful photos. The travel sector got a gut punch from COVID-19, so I will put a little money by each month so I can reinvest in airline tickets, hotel reservations and dining out as soon as public health officials and Governor Newsom give me the all clear. I was meant to go to Virginia to celebrate a friend’s graduation in May. The graduation has been cancelled, and the trip cannot be rescheduled yet. But when I can, I will pack my Away bag, fly Southwest to BWI, take the MARC train to Union Station and meet up with my friend Carole for dinner. It will be great.


Flying Stand-by with a Southwest Buddy Pass

Sacramento Airport, Ralph Goings, Crocker Art Museum collection

My son-in-law works for Southwest Airlines and one of the performance rewards he can earn is a buddy pass. He has given me a buddy pass twice now and I am figuring out how to make flying stand by work for me. The buddy pass is a non-rev (non-revenue) ticket and the lowest priority–after employees, bumped passengers, other airline employees, and employee family members. But it’s FREE!

So if you are NOT under a strict timeline, it is a great way to travel. Did I mention that it is free.

IMG_7925 (1)I had just debriefed with my son-in-law Marcos about his experience traveling as an airline employee to Barcelona. I was reminded of the importance of being patient in the face of delay, and kind to all airline employees. Not only did they not create the situation (fully-booked plane) and they are more likely to do what they can for me if I’m pleasant. Everyone I encountered was a professional and very friendly, but they are not responsible to get me on the flight. I am flying STAND-BY.

My most recent experience taught me some new things about air travel.  Marcos and I looked at the flight options from Sacramento to Grand Rapids a week before my travel date to identify the combinations with the most open seats to give me the best chance to complete all of my travel in one day. Even though I knew it was possible to make one leg but not the next, when I was in Baltimore and the desk agent was saying it was unlikely I’d get on the only flight to Grand Rapids, I was surprised. I quickly scanned my options. I looked up the time to drive to my friend Ray in Fennville from Chicago–but it was a 2.5 hour drive and the flight wouldn’t arrive until late. Fortunately I have a good friend a short train ride from BWI.

I was asked to wait until the plane loaded and then the desk agent would let me know. I dashed to get some lunch and brought it back to the gate. I was about half way through my burger and my name was called–after a half dozen other names. No one else had responded. I dumped the rest of my lunch in the bin and dashed for the gate. I was the very last person on the plane. The flight crew urged me to take the first available middle seat. I thankfully sank into it and texted everyone that I made it!

I usually travel light but this time I trimmed it even further so I had just one carryon with no extra purse or computer bag. My carryon fit under the seat so I didn’t have to worry about overhead bin space. I assumed I’d be in a middle seat so I didn’t bring my knitting (elbows in!)

IMG_7924 (1)On the way home I thought traveling on a Sunday would be easier. I had to rise super early to drive back to Grand Rapids for a 6:30 flight. There were open seats so they gave me my boarding pass in C group. And it all went well. When I arrived in Denver the C terminal was going crazy. It seemed like every gate was boarding. The gate agent said Sundays are always very busy. It was only 8:30 but it was already looking unlikely I’d get home that day. I found myself mentally checking: friend in Denver, yes. If she’s not home I can stay at a hotel and get some sleep!

This particular flight at preboarding had three people in wheelchairs and a couple of unaccompanied minors. There were also lots of families returning from graduations. One Southwest employee had precedence. I chatted with a pilot from United Airlines trying to get home and he also was in front of me on the list. He assured me that he wouldn’t have my seat because he can sit in the jump seat. I laughed and said I am flying stand by, so don’t worry. I really did feel zen about it. Another panicked passenger missed his flight to Southern California and the Sacramento flight was going on to Orange County. Southwest couldn’t guarantee him a spot on to the OC but he’d definitely get there in the evening if he got stuck in Sacramento. There were no more flights from Denver to Orange County. He took it. I felt a little more tenuous and that was okay. I sat and watched people board and found amusement in their choice of traveling attire. I remember when people dressed up to fly. Now many people look like they are going to a sleep over or to the gym. The gate agent called other names, then mine.

Eureka! I got the last seat again! I quickly grabbed my bag and headed down the ramp. The flight crew said, “All the way in the back.” By the time I was two-thirds down the aisle I could see only one seat in the last row. Then I saw the United pilot rise from the last row and move back to the jump seat. Whew! (and thank you!)

10948AC9-10B3-426A-806B-28E54EA88562 (1)I texted my family that I made it! Remarking on my good luck, my son-in-law texted back, “When you get back buy a lotto ticket on the way home. lol” I took his advice but my good fortune didn’t last that long.

I will use his buddy pass again. Not when I am connecting to LAX for an international flight, or when I need to be at someone’s celebration. I will use a buddy pass with more enthusiasm if I can get where I want to go on a direct flight that leaves early in the morning. Traveling is full of uncertainty, and we all get bent out of shape when our plans go awry. Accepting the chance involved puts some of the mystery and adventure back into flying.

Los Angeles in less than 24 Hours

Southwest Airlines provided props to celebrate 2019.

Most people visit Los Angeles for longer than 24 hours, unless they are going for business. I have flown down and back many times for a business meeting from Sacramento. Southwest Airlines makes it possible to say yes to attending a meeting in person. Southwest Airlines also makes it possible to say yes to welcoming the New Year with a show at Largo.

Sarah Harriet and I flew to LAX on the 11:55 a.m. flight. We had a relaxed morning and good night’s sleep. The flight was full-ish but all of the Rose Bowl fans would have flown the day before or earlier. We grabbed a Lyft to our hotel. While we took surface streets to The Elan, the traffic was light for Los Angeles.

Sarah Harriet gifted the tickets to see Rob Bell and Elizabeth Gilbert at Largo for Christmas, so I gifted the hotel room. On this visit The Elan was a let down. Small room with light pouring in no matter how you close the curtains. It was a great location though. We were able to walk every where until the following morning when we headed back to LAX.

We walked to eat Plancha Tacos. This taco joint in a strip mall (some of the best food in LA is in a strip mall). We tucked in to a yummy Mexican feast. Then we walked past mostly closed shops (good on these merchants for taking a holiday and giving their employees the day off). We checked out a bakery and decided everything looked too sweet. If they had a fruit pie or a bun with a little bit of icing they’d have had a sale.

The view of Los Angeles from the elevator banks in Beverly Center..

We walked on to the Beverly Center. At first we weren’t sure if it was a parking garage or a shopping mall. We rode escalator after escalator and then found the mall. This was unlike any mall in Sacramento as it had all high end designer shops like those on Rodeo Drive. We window shopped and then returned to the hotel.

Although we didn’t feel that hungry we wanted to eat before the 8 p.m. show because neither of us enjoys eating late at night. We used Trip Advisor and Open Table to decide to try Taste on Melrose.

Courtyard tree at Taste on Melrose.

We had the choice of the courtyard (outside with heaters) or inside. Although it was January it was still more than 10 degrees warmer than home, so we said “Courtyard!” The service was slow but the food was really delicious. Just right was the Melrose vibe.

To get to the show at Largo we had to walk just a few blocks back towards our hotel. Largo is a club that seats 300 people and the posters gave us the impression it is where Sarah Silverman and other comics try out material. We asked for our tickets at Will Call and couldn’t believe our luck! We had front row seats!

We  didn’t know what to expect from Rob Bell and Elizabeth Gilbert–two of our favorite authors who are friends–certainly not dancing for more than 5 minutes to Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Can’t Stop (I always thought it was called Shindig). We laughed and laughed because they fully committed. I kept thinking “Don’t they realize how long this song goes on?” It helped to set the tone of vulnerability and fun.

No photos allowed during the performance. 

You can hear the resulting conversation between Bell and Gilbert on The RobCast podcast. There are two episodes. I won’t spoil any of the good stuff, except to say that it was so much fun. One weird part of our experience was the woman sitting next to Sarah Harriet who must suffer from sleep apnea. First she was all into the show, then she got up and sort of tried to sneak out about 15 minutes in. Then 30 minutes later she comes back with coffee and noisily adds cream and sugar and chugs it down. Ten minutes later she is snoring loudly in spite of Bell and Gilbert talking no more than 10 feet in front of us and lots of audience response. The person next to me was frustrated and said, “Nudge her!” Sarah responded that she had several times. Afterward I couldn’t help but laugh out loud when Sarah said that when she elbowed the woman, the woman elbowed her back without a pause in her snore. It takes all kinds of people in the world. We’d go again in a heartbeat to hear Bell and Gilbert (preferably in Sacramento–we have the Crest Theater!)

After a restless nights sleep, which often happens when you are nervous about getting up in time for a 6:50 a.m. flight out of LAX. Southwest delivered again.  This time there were many elated Ohio State and disappointed Washington University fans in the airport. We were home by 9:30 a.m., before we left the house the previous day.  Kind of amazing when you think about it.




24 hours in Los Angeles

Lots of people fly into Los Angeles on their way to somewhere else and perhaps they find they have 12 or 24 hours of time to explore. There is the obvious mouse kingdom, but there is so much more to do and see. Recently my daughter Sarah Harriet and I flew into LAX via Southwest Airlines to spend slightly more than 24 hours in Los Angeles.

Witness the evolution of an architectural boundary jumper.
Frank Gehry special exhibit at LACMA is open until March 20, 2016

We went specifically to see a taping of the Rob Bell presentation of Everything is Spiritual. Plus we had tickets the next day to view the Frank Gehry special exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

Amazing collection of architectural renderings and models.
Frank Gehry’s retrospective illustrates the importance of perseverance and staying true to your vision.

We filled in the blanks with great food and shopping.

We arrived in the late afternoon on a Thursday. After a wild shuttle bus ride, we rented a car from Payless Car Rental. It was fast and easy. I commented on this and the clerk said, “You are just renting the car not buying.” Someone should tell all the other rental companies who still give me a 2 pound agreement in triplicate.

We drove to our Doubletree Hotel in Santa Monica and dropped our bags. We left right away for dinner after a quick search on Yelp. The traffic to Lares was stop and go and parking was a challenge. It was worth the effort. I enjoyed my enchiladas–one with mole and one with red sauce. Sarah and I enjoyed a great conversation and while we were waiting for our check an un-mariachi band played. It was quite lovely.

IMG_7728 (1)
Yummy Mexican food with good service in Lares restaurant in Santa Monica.

The Rob Bell performance was very thought provoking. Read more about it on  We had fun.

The next day after breakfast and yarn shopping, we enjoyed the easy parking at LACMA. We bought our tickets to the Frank Gehry exhibit in advance. Our admission also gave us access to most other parts of the vast museum complex. We had time to view one more special exhibit: New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919-1933. As soon as I walked into the gallery I knew my friend Jim Adan would love the show catalog. Every decadent piece was something he would love. (I was right. He is thrilled with the catalog.) Go see it before it closes on January 18. (LACMA tickets: $25 per adult for Gehry exhibit/museum admission; $12 for parking)

By this time we were going to be cutting it close to get back to LAX vicinity and return our car, and so on. It was worth the little bit of stress. We had such a memorable time.

Why Does Anyone Fly United Airlines?

Sorry for the blur. There is little headroom for your average United passenger and even less leg room.
Sorry for the blur. There is little headroom for your average United passenger and even less leg room.

Why does anyone fly with United Airlines? Really. Tell me if you know.

I thought I would fly to New York City on United Airlines as they offered a number of choices for routes from Sacramento at reasonable prices.

Then my plans changed and I needed to revise my ticket to start in Nashville. United Airlines charged a $200 fee to change my ticket.

Goodbye any savings.

Plus I had to call Customer Service and spend 30 minutes on a very poor quality line. If I had not slogged through the automated computer answering service to speak with a representative I would have had to pay even more.

Really? A $200 fee for changing my $436 ticket!

There was no room at my feet for carryons, so I popped open my overhead and bin to find this. Where are you supposed to put your bag on United? I am not talking suitcase--just briefcase.
There was no room at my feet for carryons, so I popped open my overhead and bin to find this. Where are you supposed to put your bag on United? I am not talking suitcase–just briefcase.

Why does anyone fly with United?

I wrote the above in January but did not post. I do not like to rant as a rule. Then I decided to branch out of my usual Southwest Airlines rut and booked round trip tickets to Miami with Delta Airlines. I booked on-line and I distinctly remember selecting an early morning flight on Sunday because I am too old to do red-eye flights any longer. My bad: I just put the Delta confirmation in my travel folder instead of checking it. Turns out the website assigned me the red-eye flight afterall.

My hotel booking is now off by a night and I will be arriving just as the conference starts. Plus I will likely be sleep deprived.

I was hoping to find an alternative to Southwest because sometimes they are not the lowest fare or the most convenient times or in this case they fly into Ft Lauderdale (not Miami).

So I am making the most of the extra day at home with my dog. I checked with the hotel so I can access my room (that I am paying for anyway) for a quick shower before I got to the conference. Plus I will try my old buddy Tylenol PM and hope I sleep.

This is why no one says “travel is glamorous” anymore.

Let’s Talk: Traveling with Bikes and TSA Confiscations

Let’s talk. What is your experience shipping your bicycle for a special ride by plane or delivery service?

Thule bike case allows you to ship your bike safely.
Thule bike case allows you to ship your bike safely.

I am flying to ride RAGBRAI via Southwest Airlines to Des Moines. They allow 2 checked bags to fly free. I read somewhere that this includes bikes in a case. I was checking a bag through to LAX today so I asked the Southwest employee handling my suitcase if there is a fee.

Als, they do charge $150 each way for “oversized luggage”. I asked if Southwest charges for golf clubs. No. I smiled and lightly protested sports discrimination. She said she would pass my comment along to management.

I was planning to rent a Thule case from Mike’s Bikes for $50 a week or approximately $100 with my travel time tacked on to the 7 day ride across Iowa. So this would be $100 plus $300 Southwest luggage fees or a total of $400.

Versus $110 each way shipping with FED EX with my bike in a box. The helpful FED EX representative in Davis gave me that quote and encouraged me to bring it to them because they have a lot of experience shipping bikes. Say it is slightly more expensive, shipping with FED EX  is still $250 compared to $400. I will probably ship my bike to my Cousin David in Des Moines and save the box for the return shipment.

Any advice?

Let’s talk. When is Homeland Security going to review the rules around what we can bring through security?

As a seasoned traveller you would think I would know better than to try to bring a small jar of very thick, premium chocolate sauce through security. TSA confiscated it.

I would say “bring on board” instead of through security except I am sitting on the plane a vente ice tea that I bought at the Starbucks in the terminal.  Why my jar of chocolate sauce from Ginger Elizabeth so thick it doesn’t move until you heat in the microwave is more dangerous than all of the liquids I can purchase after security, I fail to see. Starbucks ice tea

I offered to pop the seal and show them how solid it is. The security person and the supervisor declined to investigate and just said no. I confess in my frustration I accused them of just wanting my chocolate sauce. She said it will go straight into the garbage. Sure, but will it stay in the trash?

How many of us want to speak up about the many indignities that are now a regular part of air travel but do not out of fear we will be put on the No Fly list? Are we really any safer because TSA daily confiscates thousands of dollars worth of expensive hair gel or chocolate sauce or jam that exceeds 3.5 ounces?

Maybe you can tell by my slightly snarky tone that am experiencing a horrible, no good, very bad day. I want to go to Australia.

3 Funny Signs in Nevada

I am waiting at the McCarren International Airport in Las Vegas for my delayed Southwest flight. I enjoyed 5 peaceful days in beautiful southern Utah, so the jangling of the slots are a bit unnerving. I am looking forward to sharing with you the highlights of my St George adventure.

Today I am posting three signs we saw on the return drive from St George to Vegas. We found the first two funny signs in the parking lot of the Lost City Museum.

Here is the area they have provided for you to let your pony pee and poop!
Here is the area they have provided for you to let your pony pee and poop!
Apparently people are unclear which recreational vehicles are allowed to park in RV parking.
Apparently people are unclear which recreational vehicles are allowed to park in RV parking.

We followed I-15 and then turned off toward Lake Mead to go the Valley of Fire State Park. We stopped in Overton, Nevada to check out the Lost City Museum. It is a nifty museum about the ancient pueblo ruins found in this area. Some have already been inundated by Lake Mead. This museum was created to celebrate the remaining. We spent about 40 minutes reading the exhibits and checking out the artifacts. ($5 admission)

We drove on to the Valley of Fire State Park.  The rocks are red but I would not describe them as beautiful–more other-worldly. I could see them making a great set for a movie set on Mars. As we pulled near the self-pay station ($10 day use fee), we saw the third funny sign:

Is this a problem? We are as close to the  middle of nowhere as you can get...
Is this a problem? We are as close to the middle of nowhere as you can get…

It was only another 50-60 minutes to Caesars Palace on Las Vegas Boulevard. The contrast with St George could not be greater! We dropped my chums luggage and realized that our spa weekend was over! Good times. Definitely look forward to returning again.