Adventures with Sarah http://adventureswithsarah.net Pack Smarter, Learn Something New, Find Inspiration, Come Adventuring with Me Fri, 23 Jun 2017 14:46:51 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://i2.wp.com/adventureswithsarah.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/cropped-image4.jpg?fit=32%2C32 Adventures with Sarah http://adventureswithsarah.net 32 32 Thoughts on Travel Safety http://adventureswithsarah.net/thoughts-on-travel-safety/ http://adventureswithsarah.net/thoughts-on-travel-safety/#comments Fri, 23 Jun 2017 14:46:50 +0000 http://adventureswithsarah.net/?p=2925 In these past years of unrest in the world, terrorism has changed the tone of travel. Air travel has mounting restrictions, there is a military presence on the streets of some cities…the general feeling of unease can dampen a high spirited adventure. I’m going to London today, Paris next week. Any time I mention that […]

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In these past years of unrest in the world, terrorism has changed the tone of travel. Air travel has mounting restrictions, there is a military presence on the streets of some cities…the general feeling of unease can dampen a high spirited adventure. I’m going to London today, Paris next week. Any time I mention that to people, they instantly ask, “Are you afraid?” No, I’m not.  I’m not being gallant, just logical. Understanding what’s going on in the world and practicing smart travel safety is how I roll.

But…the FEAR!

I’m not afraid of travel in Europe, and I’m often alone. Cities in Europe are highly populated and busy, with lots of people out and about and a generally safe atmosphere. There is a big military/police presence in cities right now that I find comforting. In general, violent crime is far less frequent here than in the US. There are few places in Europe that have made me feel uncomfortable or unsafe.
There are very complicated reasons that London and Paris are often targets, and although I’m no expert, I understand that many of those reasons are related to internal politics and socio-economic injustice. The news dumps everything into a basket of religious terrorism, but the motivations of attackers are far more complex. The root causes need to be addressed but, probably because of how difficult they are, solutions remain elusive. Because of that, this situation may not end any time soon. We have to live with it. Rather than change our travel dreams, though, perhaps it’s better to change our expectations and behaviors.

How I Look at It

Stuff happens. It happens everywhere. It’s probably more likely that I’ll be mugged or hit by a car on my way to my mailbox in central Seattle than to be in an international incident. The statistics say that I’ll probably die of heart disease, which is why I have a vague unease about eating fried foods and Twinkies.

When an incident happens in a city that I visit often, it can be scary. It may make me want to stay away. But there are two reasons I won’t. First of all, that is the intention of terrorism, to make people afraid to go somewhere. Giving in to that feeling only rewards the behavior, which reinforces it–that’s something that parents know well. 

Secondly, I think of my friends who live in those cities. Can they move away? Even if they could, would they? Cities of millions of residents don’t empty out suddenly because of an attack. They carry on, just like we would in our own cities. They carry on, my friends in Istanbul, London, Brussels and Paris, and so shall I. 

This all isn’t to say that international terrorism should be ignored by travelers. I’ve adjusted some of my behaviors to keep myself out of trouble. Well, actually, I still enjoy certain kinds of trouble. But not of the international incident variety.

Be Sensible, Stay Safe

Nobody can control the random actions of others, the only person you can control is yourself. If you’re worried about travel safety, there are some simple things that you can do to keep yourself safe.

See Something, Say Something– If something or someone looks odd, tell anyone who will listen, preferably someone in a uniform. It’s so easy to ignore things, but you never know when your observations will be important.

Go Away From Danger– Human nature is to be curious. Think of all the times you’ve seen traffic on the freeway due to an accident on the opposite side. We can’t help but slow down and look. If there is smoke, loud noises or sirens, fight the urge to check it out. You’re better off to walk away.

Try to Avoid Large Crowds–Big things happen in big, tightly packed crowds. More than once, I’ve been a wee bit too bold and put myself right in the middle of crowded events that began to feel unsafe, like rowdy concerts or observing protests. Learn from my stupidity, steer clear. Some crowds are hard to avoid at popular attractions, but timing visits for quieter days or times can help.

Carry a Cell Phone and Know Emergency Numbers–Everyone should carry a cell phone while traveling these days. Phone booths have virtually disappeared, and a phone can be critical if you have problems of any sort. You can buy a cheap-o dumb phone off the internet and buy a local phone chip (a topic I’ll cover soon) if you don’t have international coverage. You dial 112 in most European countries for help. And this note is for people like my mom who don’t love mobile phones- charge the phone, keep it in your bag, and TURN IT ON. If something happens, people may want to reach you.

Know Your Local Authorities–Familliarize yourself with who you should contact if you need something. The police, paramedics, Embassy and other agencies all play different roles depending on what’s happening, read up on that ahead of time.

Be Sensible–Every city has an element of danger, but it doesn’t take much to stay safe. Stay away from dangerous neighborhoods. If you don’t know where those are, ask a local. Don’t look like an obvious tourist, blending in with modest dress and following local customs is always a good idea. Wear a moneybelt, carry an ID, some local cash and keep a printed list of emergency contacts. These are boilerplate travel tips, but are important for travel safety too.

Follow Your Gut–We usually know when things aren’t right, even if there’s nothing obvious going on. Most people shrug off their intuition and ignore the warning bells. Don’t do that. If something isn’t right, get out of the situation and let someone–anyone–know what you’re thinking.

I’m traveling around Europe with a sense of adventure mixed with a dash of travel safety. I’m excited about going to London and Paris, they are two of my favorite places. I won’t let anyone steal them from me. 

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Why Pack Light? http://adventureswithsarah.net/why-pack-light/ http://adventureswithsarah.net/why-pack-light/#comments Wed, 21 Jun 2017 13:18:52 +0000 http://adventureswithsarah.net/?p=2906 If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that I focus on how to pack light for travel. My techniques are a little bit radical, but so is the concept–that you can live well on the road with virtually no possessions.  We love our Stuff, it brings us comfort to have everything […]

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If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that I focus on how to pack light for travel. My techniques are a little bit radical, but so is the concept–that you can live well on the road with virtually no possessions. 

We love our Stuff, it brings us comfort to have everything that we could possibly need. What is the advantage of working to pack light? There are more advantages than you may know.

I was recently having dinner with a colleague in Rome. She told me that she had a number of women on her tour who had watched my YouTube videos on how to pack light. They had followed my advice and trimmed down their bags, bringing very little. They felt very proud of themselves, she had told me, not just because they we able to carry on their bags but because doing so had made them feel empowered and capable.

I started this project for random reasons, not really thinking anyone would be interested. Packing a bag is a pretty normal task for me, nobody could possibly find that interesting. It’s been mind-blowing to me that anyone would want to read my writing, on that topic or any other. Hearing, though, that another woman had felt empowered and emboldened to travel through this project, well, it makes me a little misty to think about.

I’ve been turning this idea in my head like a smooth stone. How can it be that something as simple as learning to pack light can change someone’s point of view?

More Stuff Doesn’t Equal More Good

American culture spends a lot of its time focused on the pleasure of obtaining stuff. House, car, entertainment equipment and on and on and on. We’ve been convinced that more is better. We’ve been convinced that newer is better too, no need to repair what you have.

I have the sense that the sheer amount of things I own is a quiet stress in the back of my mind. There is the cleaning and maintenance of the Stuff. There is the Stuff i need for the organization of the Stuff. There is the constant project of thinning and rethinking the Stuff. Maybe I need new Stuff!

In my years of travel, I’ve come to the conclusion that this just isn’t so. For one thing, my European friends live in houses just a fraction of the size of mine and are perfectly happy to have fewer floors to mop.

My walk-in closet is packed to the gills with a million pieces of clothing, but I can’t escape the feeling that I have nothing to wear. My friends in Europe own far fewer, but far nicer things that they care for and keep a long time.

Letting go of the need to have so much Stuff is a big leap, I think. Learning to pack light is step in that direction in the broader scope of one’s life.

Lighten Your Bag and Your Mind

There are the obvious reasons to pack light: easier to maneuver, no checked bags for the airline to lose, easier on your arms and back. I’d argue that another benefit is the mental lightness of having less to keep track of.

Keeping track of bags is a bummer and distracts from a trip. I hate that sinking feeling you get when you leave a city on a train and remember that you’ve left something in the room, even if it’s a tiny thing. By definition, bringing fewer things give you less to think about and more mental space to enjoy your surroundings. 

For example, bringing fewer beauty products makes my morning routine fast. I don’t have much with me, so I can’t make it complicated. 

Pack Light–Organization is Power

Staying organized while on a trip can feel like managing a three-ring circus. Learning to pack light and bring less keeps the organization simple. If you have less to organize, it is a snap.

Our lives can be chaotic and out of our control. There is often nothing to be done to fix bigger issues. I’d argue that there is a certain power that comes from learning to control the Stuff. It isn’t solving bigger problems, but the sense of accomplishment from doing it can provide the confidence to tackle larger problems. 

It’s All About Confidence

Wrangling our belongings and making a goal to pack light can build confidence. If you arrive at the airport, certain that you have everything you need, and only what you need, it’s like sprouting wings for take off. No worries, you’ve got this.

That confidence can power a whole new set of views. If it’s possible to pack a 16 pound bag, it’s possible to go anywhere. It’s possible to do anything. Maybe you don’t believe me, but that is an actual feeling, a charge you get when you meet a personal goal that seems impossible. It’s not world peace, but you have to start somewhere.

Trim Your Bag, Trim Your Life

Travel gives us a small window of time in which to live life differently. Travel to another place, adopt the customs, eat the food, experience the scenery. It opens the mind to possibilities. That concept extends to the physical things brought along.

You may be the kind of person that drives a car full of things you “might need” or a purse that overflows with the Stuff. If you’re going away for a couple of weeks, it’s a good opportunity to try out a new version of yourself. Leave the Stuff. If you find you need something, you can always buy it at your destination.

When you get back, evaluate how it felt to live with few things. Do you really need all you have? Maybe you’ll find yourself to be a new person when you come home, one that needs to have a garage sale, getting rid of the Stuff to fund more travel.

My gratitude to Anna Pipperato, PhD, for inspiring this post over a spritz.

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Venice Biennale, the Playground of Modern Art http://adventureswithsarah.net/venice-biennale-the-playground-of-modern-art/ http://adventureswithsarah.net/venice-biennale-the-playground-of-modern-art/#comments Sat, 17 Jun 2017 14:22:12 +0000 http://adventureswithsarah.net/?p=2872 Venice is home to gondolas, masks and Carnevale, but did you know it is also a major center for modern art? The heiress Peggy Guggenheim once lived there and left her lovely, art-filled palazzo as a modern art museum. Current artists live and work in the city today. Because of this, one of the biggest […]

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Venice is home to gondolas, masks and Carnevale, but did you know it is also a major center for modern art? The heiress Peggy Guggenheim once lived there and left her lovely, art-filled palazzo as a modern art museum. Current artists live and work in the city today. Because of this, one of the biggest events in Venice is undoubtedly the bi-annual international art exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia or the Venice Biennale. If Venice is in your travel plans in an odd year (like 2017), this art show should be on your list.

What is the Biennale?

The Venice Biennale started over 100 years ago, with the first edition in 1893. It was set up as a sort of rival to the famous Paris Salon art scene, and intended to showcase Italian modern artists. The city decided to use the neighborhood of the Arsenale, or the old shipyards, to organize the exhibit.

In the nearby public gardens or Giardini, a building was built to house the event, eventually becoming the Italian pavilion. As countries in Europe became interested in participating in the show, new pavilions were commissioned in the garden, designed by the hot architects of the time, making each country’s pavilion a work of art.

Over time, many countries have added pavilions to the gardens. The show has overflowed and now fills both the gardens and the Arsenale warehouses, as well as individual buildings all over the city. Any country that wishes (and can afford it) can rent a structure in the city.

The Venice Biennale displays contemporary art, meaning that it displays the most important artists in that year as chosen by a panel from each participating country. Past artists on display have included Gustave Klimt, Modigliani and Picasso.

These days, the Biennale is a curated show that focuses on a theme. This year it is being curated by the director of the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and the theme is “Viva Art Viva”, whatever that means. Each country picks an artist to fill their pavilion wth art on that theme, which can be painting, sculpture, video, performance art or whatever else an imagination can muster.

The artists chosen may not be recognizable for the average person on the street but are usually big names in the art community. Sometimes there are very famous names– I remember the great Chinese dissident artist Ai Wei Wei filled a pavilion with flying stools a few years ago. Magical.

Modern Art is too Weird. Why Should I Go?

Modern art is weird, that is true. After Michelangelo, what is there left to do? We have mastered representation with cameras, what is the point of this crazy modern stuff?

For me, the Biennale is one of the most delightful events I’ve been to, I am filled with excitement every (other) year. Yes, the exhibits are strange and don’t always make any sense. Some exhibits are boring. Some are so esoteric and pretentious that they are off-putting. Some are gross, stupid or offensive. But on the whole, I find them to be intriguing, sometimes delightful and thought-provoking. That’s the point of art, to make you think and look at the world a different way.

It’s kind of hard to explain exactly what the Biennale is with words. It’s sort of like a Disneyland for modern art. Some displays are interactive, like a ride. Some are visual theater, with sound and light shows. Some are weird, experiential sculptures. And some are just paintings on the walls…those ones are boring in comparison.

The best way to explain the Venice Biennale is to show it to you. Here are a few highlights from this year and my impressions. I may not totally “get” what the artist intended, but I don’t actually mind. In my opinion, art is something personal, the thoughts and opinions of the viewer are just as important as the artist’s intentions. Ready? Andiamo!

The Russian Pavilion

Say what you will about the Russians, they are consistently one of the best at the Biennale. Maybe it’s all the tragedy and angst. Maybe it’s the Vodka. Either way, their pavilion is usually one of my favorites. This year was no different. The top level had rooms filled with intriguing white sculptures, overlaid by a sound and light show. It was like a fairy landscape with a dark undertone.

In the lower level, an artistic group created large blocks that had people struggling to emerge, reminding me of Michelangelo’s Slaves. Yawn. Seems kind of cliche. But then I noticed people looking at the sculptures through their iPads and smartphones. When the camera was pointed at a sculpture using the artist’s app, the figures extended into a virtual space filling the room. It was stunning, and an interesting statement on seeing the world filtered through social media. Smart, interesting and interactive.

The American Pavilion

This one sucked. I was disappointed. The American exhibit is usually sort of hit-or-miss, unfortunately, and this year was a big miss for me. On entering the pavilion, you have to skirt around a big, heaving mass of multicolor yuck. The rooms after have blotchy paintings that a docent explained are representations of cells, viruses and contagion. A statement on the AIDS epidemic perhaps. Meh.

The Israel Pavilion

I’d heard about this one from a friend and local guide, she said she couldn’t even go near the building because the smell bothered her too much. The theme of the art is decay, or I have to assume that is the intention as the entire building is filled with mold.

The walls and floors are intentionally growing mold. A giant poof of cotton or some such fills the center of the gallery, slowly turning orange, green and black. It looks exactly like the mold on top of the cottage cheese that gets forgotten at the back of my fridge. I always intend to eat it but forget and find it months later, covered in orange hair.

There is a warning sign on the door warning about the mold. The smell didn’t bother me, it smelled like coffee, actually, but I guess I tend to think that everything in Italy smells like coffee. I will go back in October and see this pavilion again, I am curious to see how it progresses.

The Great Britain Pavilion

I am usually fascinated by the Brits, as British contemporary art can be great. A few years back, the pavilion had a mandatory tea service half-way thought the exhibit. Loved it! Last time it was all plaster casts of people’s butts with cigarette butts stuck you-know-where….OOOOOH! Now I get it! A butt with a butt in it! Only took me two years to figure it out.

This year was large scale sculptures called “Folly”. Made with paper and wood, there were columns, globs and something that looked like a huge box spilling spaghetti. Huh. Um. Ok. It was a fanciful folly, as the name implied, but i didn’t find it much deeper than that.

The Korean Pavilion

Korea, or I should say South Korea, does good work consistently. Last time it was an experiential piece with a room full of mirrors on floors and walls.

This time is a play on pop culture and pole dancing. The exterior is all decked out in movie marquee neon, and inside is a wall of screens with an interesting video installation. There is a pole for pole dancing, but I didn’t give it a go since I wasn’t sure it was allowed.

The highlight (or possibly lowlight) is a version of Rodin’s “The Thinker”, but this time he appeared to be sitting on the toilet and was made of Pepto Bismol and toilet paper. Maybe that’s what “The Thinker” was up to all along! I will never see Rodin the same way again.

The Japanese Pavilion

I’m still stuck on the work from Japan in 2015, it was a boat draped in red yarn and so etherial. This year was a participatory piece. Outside of the building, people line up to stick their heads through a hole in the underside of the building. Of course I did it. Once you pop up through the floor, there is a miniature cityscape surrounding your head…and a pavilion of people watching you. I felt like Godzilla about to crush the town, while being the art myself.

Up above, it was pretty funny to watch other people’s expressions when they popped up, but the display wasn’t as cool from that perspective. 

I did like the upside-down city models surrounding that performance piece, they reminded me of when I used to make architectural models in college.

The French Pavilion

France almost always does something amazing, whether it is real trees hooked up to motors, and audio assault or huge running tracks of printing presses. Music or audio art is the theme for them again.

The pavillion is set up like a recording studio, but the most beautiful and sculptural one you’ve ever seen. There are instruments everywhere, visitors are invited to play, and the music is mixed and recorded. I was there on a day when people didn’t get it, and sadly, I don’t play any instrument well enough to not humiliate myself, so there was only recorded music. It was still neat, but not the actual intention of the piece. Even so, I’d say it was one of the better pieces of the show.

The German Pavilion

I totally did not get this one, but I learned later that it was a performance art piece. The interior of the pavilion was gutted and open, with glass floors. Side rooms had hoses and suspicious objects scattered on the ground, along with bars of soap that made it all the more suspicious.

It turns out that a group of artists show up occasionally and roll around the under the glass floor, as some sort of statement on social media. I was glad they weren’t there…I was wearing a dress wth a wide skirt. Apparently there were supposed to be German Shepherds guarding the entrances but they became too spooked by the crowds. Better for me, I’m afraid of dogs. All of it fell flat without the performance.

The Danish Pavilion

The last pavilion I hit was Denmark, which was by design because it required timed tickets. Their display was called “Influenza” and was an audio-visual piece, using the pavilion as a theater. The lights turned off completely and only small pins of light moved around to a story narrated by Emma Thompson and what had to be Tilda Swinton. It was interesting, exploring the connection between growth and light, but at 30 minutes, it was too long. After being in the heat and sunshine, a cool and dark theater was a bad ide…a….zzzz….zzzzz…zz.

I visited other pavilions, but the ones I’ve described were the biggies. I liked Switzerland’s movie about Giacometti’s lover. Spain’s audiovisual thing was boring, as was the Netherlands. Belgium’s pavilion was too hot to even look at. Finland was flat-out bizarre and vaguely offensive. The Czech exhibit looked like the artist got a great deal on cheap Christmas lights and called it art.

More at the Venice Biennale

There is far more to the Venice Biennale that these few exhibits. In fact, I haven’t even made it to half yet. The Arsenale buildings are included in the ticket price and display another slug of projects.

Throughout the city, beautiful Venetian palazzi are open to the public for free to see the overflow exhibits that don’t have pavilion space. Sometimes, the exhibit isn’t nearly as interesting as being able to go into palazzi that are typically closed to the public. It’s my favorite activity in Venice during Biennale years, just popping in to the free exhibits wherever I see one.

Strategy

If you are a big art lover and want to dedicate your time to the Venice Biennale, you’ll need at least a full day. Start at the opening and do the Giardini (gardens) first to see all of the biggies while you’re fresh and it isn’t too crowded. Have lunch at the Biennale, there are lovely spots with good food in the gardens. Then head to the Arsenale if you have energy and drop by any associated free exhibits on your way back to your hotel.

Does this sound vaguely interesting to you but not worth the $25 admission? No problem. Look for the free pavilions all over town to get a taste of it and see if it’s your thing. Pavilions are marked by the red square with a red lion on top, you’ll see the logo everywhere. Ask for a Biennale map, which has the locations of all the palazzi displaying art right now. Check out my report on YouTube to see more.

Even if you don’t have an interest or intention to see the Biennale, you’ll see it anyways. The art is everywhere. The big, splashy piece this year has a set of arms coming out of the Grand Canal, holding up (or dragging down) a palace.

I absolutely adore this event. It will challenge you, bore you, make you laugh, cry, vomit and scream. That a single event can elicit so many emotions, that’s what art is really all about. If you happen to be in Venice in an odd year, GO.

For information on hours, prices and an event schedules, visit www.labiennale.org.

 

 

 

 

 

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Packing: Shorts in Europe? http://adventureswithsarah.net/packing-shorts-europe/ http://adventureswithsarah.net/packing-shorts-europe/#comments Tue, 13 Jun 2017 22:16:40 +0000 http://adventureswithsarah.net/?p=2859 Temperatures are climbing here in Italy, it’s getting close to 90 at mid day. For most people in the US, summertime heat means shorts weather…unless you’re from Seattle where kids wear shorts in the snow. If your travel plans are taking you to Europe in the summer, you’re probably planning on tossing in a couple […]

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Temperatures are climbing here in Italy, it’s getting close to 90 at mid day. For most people in the US, summertime heat means shorts weather…unless you’re from Seattle where kids wear shorts in the snow. If your travel plans are taking you to Europe in the summer, you’re probably planning on tossing in a couple pairs. However, before you do, you should be aware that shorts in Europe aren’t always a good idea.

As a traveler, shorts in Europe are problematic for a few reasons. They are not allowed in most churches unless they cover the knee. They are not allowed in nice restaurants. Even if they aren’t forbidden on the street, you will be screaming that you’re a tourist by wearing them, and they may make you feel out of place in more conservative areas. So what’s a traveler to do in a heat wave? Is there any way to bring shorts and wear them the right way?

It’s Cultural

Many travelers ask me if shorts in Europe are ok to wear at all. In the past I would have said no, no, NO. I’ve spent a good chunk of my life in Italy, beginning more than 20 years ago. The customs I picked up back then still ring in my thoughts, and shorts were strictly a no-go, considered crass and too casual even for the grocery store. I don’t think you could have even bought them here when I was a student living in Rome.

Things are changing but still, on the whole, Europeans tend to dress more formally than we do. Shorts are something you mostly see in a beach resort. If you see them in the city, it’s a dead giveaway for a tourist. Shorts are considered to be too casual and too revealing, which, I realize, is rich coming from cultures that accept and endorse Speedos on men of all ages.

Shorts on Women

Most European women choose skirts and dresses in a heat wave. That’s smart because dresses tend to be comfortable and have the natural advantage of, um, let’s call it “air-conditioning.” For women visiting Europe I would tend to encourage adopting the skirt and dress custom over shorts. You’ll be more comfy, plus dresses have versatility–add leggings and a sweater if the weather gets cool.

The other option is Capri pants, or pants that go just below the knee. That is usually my go-to choice. My bag right now has two pairs. Capris usually look best if they are slim fitting, think Audrey Hepburn, and worn with sandals or flats. A nice pair of black Capris with a crisp white shirt and a scarf or necklace…that is a classy, no-fuss look.

Women have plenty of good options for comfortable, classy, feminine summer wear, so my answer is no, women should not wear shorts in Europe.

Yes, I Know, Men Love Shorts

It’s tougher for men, I know, I know. Telling them not to wear shorts is dooming them to being sweaty, or more so at least. The reality is that these days, shorts are beginning to be worn by Italians on hot days, even stylish city folk. It’s more common to see them on young men outside of the big cities, but they can be anywhere.

The difference is keeping it classy. Sloppy cut-offs, overly baggy shorts, or shorts worn with tube socks up to the knees don’t look good on anyone. Khaki shorts and socks with sandals? Mammamia! That’s cause for deportation in Italy.

My advice for men- bring shorts that are fitted, that won’t wrinkle, in a neutral color like black or gray. Collared polo shirts are a far better look than T-shirts here. Wear nice shoes: leather sandals or boat shoes are a good choice.

Some other solutions for men are long shorts, the kind we call “Board Shorts.” As long as they cover the knee, they will probably be fine most places, but still not the opera.

I have noticed a trend in Europe that you may not know about. I call them “Manpris”…Capri pants for men. If you see them, you know one thing immediately- the person wearing them is definitely not American. If you can convince your man to buy them, they make a fun and unique souvenir, plus, I think they look cool.


The reality is, even if we love our shorts, they don’t always look good or appropriate. If shorts are really your thing, keep in mind that swim trunks are not the same thing.

 If you have a young woman in your life, please spread this advice- if your buns are visible out the bottom, they are too short. This fashion is popular with young girls and isn’t appropriate. Anywhere. Sorry for sounding like a grumpy old lady, but I see the looks that these shorts attract, and that is the kind of attention that no woman really wants.

Should I or Shouldn’t I? I LOVE Shorts!

The best insight I have heard was from a local. One of my girlfriends, an American married to an Italian and living in Italy, gave this take: “You can wear shorts, everyone does, but most women will do that only if they dress it up. They will add layers and accessorize with cool jewelry or a scarf to make it look presentable.”

In the end, there is no right answer here. Bring shorts if you have a good reason, if they look good on you and make you feel comfortable. Make sure they are longer and fit you well.

I’m old fashioned I guess. You’ll never see me wearing shorts in Europe, not unless I’m at the beach laying in the sun. Preferably with a cocktail.

Addendum

From the variety and quantity of reactions, it seems that shorts are a very polarizing topic. Some people have shouted AMEN at me, others have been offended that I’m pointing this out in my frank way of speaking and others have said I am totally wrong about this. I am here only to give advice for a better trip based on years of observations.

I say this: there is a difference between what is possible and what is correct. Yes, you can eat a tuna sandwich with raw onions and garlic mayo in a stuffy train compartment full of other people. You can do jumping jacks in the middle of St. Peter’s Basilica. It is possible, maybe everyone else is doing it, but is it right?

There are tons of people wearing shorts everywhere in Europe, even in churches. It is possible, you probably won’t get struck by lightning, but I strive to elevate the experience of travel. This is not just for you, the traveler, but for the locals as well. They appreciate travelers that are sensitive enough to observe cultural norms.

I always err on the side of being too polite to locals, too formal, and too conservative in my dress. I’m old fashioned, I guess, but we have an important concept in Italy called “La Bella Figura”, or the beautiful figure, being your best self to the outside world. It means something to people here that you dress well, speak kindly and show more respect and formality than you need to. Observing these cultural quirks is not just kindness, but something you will be repaid for in mutual respect and kindness. It’s important.

 

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Italian Trains and How to Use Them http://adventureswithsarah.net/italian-trains-and-how-to-use-them/ http://adventureswithsarah.net/italian-trains-and-how-to-use-them/#comments Mon, 12 Jun 2017 10:45:24 +0000 http://adventureswithsarah.net/?p=2837 Taking trains around Europe is the best way to connect cities in an efficient and cost-effective manner. Inter-European flights can be super cheap these days, but the hassle of getting to the airport and navigating security can make a flight more trouble than it’s worth. I travel often on European trains, particularly Italian trains, and […]

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Taking trains around Europe is the best way to connect cities in an efficient and cost-effective manner. Inter-European flights can be super cheap these days, but the hassle of getting to the airport and navigating security can make a flight more trouble than it’s worth. I travel often on European trains, particularly Italian trains, and have learned the system well. It may seem intimidating, but getting around on Italian trains can be a snap once you know how it works.

Rail Passes Past and Present

Many moons ago, a young and sweet Adventures with Sarah drove all the way up to Edmonds, WA to buy a rail pass for Europe from Europe Through the Back Door. Back in the dark ages, a rail pass was the easiest way for a foreigner to navigate the strange and distant world of European trains, giving total freedom on the rails and the ability to avoid dealing with train stations. Pick a destination, write the date on the ticket and hop the next train. Easy-peasy.

These days, rail passes exist but are on the wane, partially because they are increasingly expensive. The typical rail pass costs a bit under $100 per day. That’s not a bad price if you plan to do lots of long trips to multiple countries. It’s hard to make them pay off in a single country or with short hops.  As an example, I’m on one of the longest train rides you can take in Italy right now, Rome to Venice– a last-minute ticket cost me $80.

Another downside of rail passes is that most long haul rides are on high speed trains with pre-reserved seating. Rail passes are accepted, but you must present them at the station and pay to reserve a seat. That’s just as much hassle, if not more, than just buying a ticket.

Italian Trains

The main company for Italian trains is Trenitalia, also known as Ferrovia della Stato. It’s the national rail service of Italy. Their service covers practically every village in mainland Italy and usually offers a bus service to places without rails.

I think you’ve heard about Italian trains, no? That they are dirty, scary, rarely run on time. You’ve probably heard the urban legend of trains in the south being gassed and everyone losing their possessions to bandits. That was a whopper that went through the hostel crowd some years ago. It’s all rubbish.

Trenitalia is very different from the days when it needed Mussolini to make it run on time. Trains are usually clean-ish, somewhat on time and can be surprisingly comfy and modern. Imagine a train system that could whisk you from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 3 hours that is cheap, comfortable and serves great coffee. Americans can only marvel at Trenitalia.

Buying Tickets

Gone are the days of waiting in line for ages at a train station to buy tickets. These days, tickets can be purchased in a variety of ways.

At the Station

You can buy tickets from the ticket window, as in the past. At the bigger stations you’ll have to take a number and wait your turn…which can be an investment in time. I’d suggest buying a ticket in person from a human only if you have a complicated situation, such as connecting Italian trains to French trains. Confirm your plans several times with the staff member and look over your ticket carefully. And certain that they give you all of your change if you’re paying cash.

The easier option at the station is to buy from the ticket machines. Most major stations will have computerized ticket machines in the station lobby or on the platform. The green or red ones are for standard tickets. If you see a blue ticket machine, that is usually for local rail services only.

Before you pick a machine to use, be sure it accepts your payment method. Not all machines take cash. The machines that take credit cards require you to have a chip in your card with a pin number. If you don’t have that, you will have to get in line to buy the ticket from a person.

Be careful to avoid the people at major train stations that want to “help” you with the ticket machines. These are often scam artists looking to make a buck. You don’t need help, but if you do, speak only to official Trenitalia staff in uniforms.

Travel Agnecies

It is still an option to buy rail tickets from a travel agency in Italy. Most towns will have an Agenzia di Viaggi that has English speaking staff. The ticket may have a small commission, but if you are buying a complicated ticket or are in a town with a congested train station, this is a no stress way to take care of business. For example, I’m a big fan of the travel agency in Levanto, near the Cinque Terre, because the train stations often have long lines.

Online

The absolutely best way to buy tickets is on the Trenitalia.com website. It is fast, easy and can be done on a smartphone. I buy my tickets with my phone and save the ticket PDF to iBooks, then show the conductor. If you are traveling with a tablet or laptop, you can do the same thing- I saw a conductor scan a guy’s laptop screen on a train yesterday! Whatever works. If you don’t carry electronics, it is possible to print out a ticket bought online as well.

A couple of small caveats for online tickets– you will not be able to register if you are not an Italian citizen, which means you have to enter all of your info every time you buy a ticket. Also, some train tickets need to be bought at least a half hour ahead of time. If the train you want departs imminently and it looks sold out, there may be tickets available at the station.

Rail Europe also offers tickets online, but considering how easy it is to buy directly, I wouldn’t bother.

Which Class?

I’ve tried all of the classes on Italian trains. If you’re on a regional train or an Intercity train, the class won’t make any difference at all, except that your seat may be slightly wider. A typical regional train has no class. 

On the fast trains, the Frecce or “arrows”, the first or business class seats will be wider, with three across rather than four. They include a coffee and snack service, which amounts to Nescafe and crackers. Seats are often clustered around tables with outlets, which is nice if you’re a writer (like me) but not necessary and occasionally cramping for long legs.

The only reason I see for splurging for first class is the noise factor. Second class cars are LOUD. Italians love to talk–to each other, to their cell phones, to the conductor, to their coffee. The second class cars are always full of Italian families and the cacophony can be exhausting. First class is usually all business travelers and silent as the grave.

Validating Your Ticket

Trenitalia tickets must be validated before getting on the train. If you have a paper ticket, you need to find the green or yellow boxes at the platform and slip them in the slot to be stamped. If you can’t get it to work, slide the ticket to the left in the slot.

Online tickets do not need validation, even if they are printed. Those tickets already have the date and time of travel and are pre-validated.

Be aware that Trenitalia recently changed its policy on tickets. No matter what ticket you buy, it is valid only 4 hours after it is validated and must be used on the day it is issued for. What that means is that you cannot stockpile tickets and use them when you like. I used to buy a stack of tickets for traveling in between Cinque Terre towns and use them as I needed them, but now I have to buy my tickets for the specific day I intend to use them.

What is Italo?

Ferrovia dello Stato was the only game in town for many years. About 5 years ago, a new train service was introduced as a competitor, Italotreno. It is privatized, owned in part by Ferrari, and runs on a model similar to Ryanair. The earlier you book a ticket, the cheaper it is. There are multiple classes and features that you can pay for, like wifi and movie access. They operate mainly online and attract a younger crowd because of it, although they have recently opened offices and put ticket kiosks at major stations.

Italo does not cover the whole of Italy, it only connects major cities. If you’re going from, say, Orvieto to Perugia, they don’t have any service at all. It occasionally goes to secondary train stations, like Rome’s Tiburtina station, which can be confusing.

The point of Italo is that the trains are super high speed with few stops, meaning that you can connect major cities faster and cheaper than with Trenitalia. The train cars are plush, with leather seats and power outlets. I took my son Rome to Naples on Italo, which took less than an hour (shaving 20 minutes off of Trenitalia) and costing $40 roundtrip. Not bad.

Specials and Deals

Because of the new competition on the rails, scoring cheap tickets can be a breeze, but only if you buy in advance.

Here are a few of the specials being offered as of June, 2017:

Trenitalia– Offers available until midnight, two days before departure.

Bimbi Gratis: Kids 15 and under travel free on Frecce and Intercity routes. Kids must show ID to confirm their age on board.

3 for 2: Three tickets bought together for the price of two.

A/R specials: Roundtrip tickets used on the same day (day trip) at about half price.

Italo- Similar offers as Trenitalia, but better deals if you’re on their mailing list. I recently received a 30% discount code, as an example.

Overall, the best advice on Italian trains is to buy online and buy at least two days in advance. Compare the two companies for the best price and schedule. Arrive at the station at least 30 minutes before departure and show your ticket to get access to the platform. The high speed trains will show on platform monitors where your car will be, so you can wait in the right area. Once on board, sit back, relax, and marvel at how easy good public transportation can be.

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Airplane Sickness Strategies http://adventureswithsarah.net/airplane-sickness-strategies/ http://adventureswithsarah.net/airplane-sickness-strategies/#comments Fri, 02 Jun 2017 12:51:50 +0000 http://adventureswithsarah.net/?p=2821 I’ve got two beautiful boys, and we are very close. I can’t help but to hug and kiss them all the time. This past week, though, I shouldn’t have. Both of my kids were out of commission with some kind of virus, coughing, fever, sore throats. Inevitably, I have caught the same thing, but rather […]

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I’ve got two beautiful boys, and we are very close. I can’t help but to hug and kiss them all the time. This past week, though, I shouldn’t have. Both of my kids were out of commission with some kind of virus, coughing, fever, sore throats. Inevitably, I have caught the same thing, but rather than sleep it off in bed I’m on a long plane flight to Italy. It can’t all be sunny beaches and Prosecco.

Illness on a flight is nothing new. I’ve traveled on transatlantic flights with the flu, migraines, broken toes, massively pregnant, and possibly the worst, once with a bladder infection. I actually passed out on a flight some years ago–it was full of elderly French people and the cigarette/body aromas overwhelmed me, sending me face down on the floor.

Flights are uncomfortable on a good day, but miserable while sick. I am in coping mode today and thought I’d share my strategies for dealing with being sick on a plane.

I must preface this by saying that I’m giving you advice from my many years of personal tour guide experiences. I’m no doctor, I actually fainted at the sight of blood during biology in high school and have no talent for the medical sciences. Take my advice with a grain of salt, at your own risk. There is nothing scientific about any of this, just my personal observations.

Here are some symptoms, with strategies to deal with them.

Symptom: Stomache Ache and Nausea

Getting car sick or plane sick happens to everyone. It can be caused by lots of different things, sometimes nothing obvious, often by plane food. Don’t even think of researching the occurrence of food-borne illness on airplanes– you’ll never eat airplane food again. If you’re feeling barfy on a plane, ask for Ginger Ale when the drinks cart comes by. Ginger is soothing to the belly and the fizz will help relieve pressure in your stomach. If you’re frequently queasy in flight, bring some ginger candy to suck on. Any fizzy drink will help if there’s no Ginger Ale to be had.

The other, easiest strategy is to open up the plane’s air vents all the way and point the blowing air at your face. There is, in my observation, a link between motion sickness and over heating. I’ve noticed my tour members are less likely to have motion sickness on the bus if I keep the temperature on the chilly side and the air circulating. Take off your jacket, cool down and get some air.

Symptom: Dizzyness, lightheaded, seeing sparkles, nausea leading to a blackout

This is most likely a lack of blood to your head. When we sit on planes, blood pools in our legs, not recirculating as freely as it does when we are in motion. This is particularly bad in women over 40 who have had kids, or so my doctor once told me.

I have this problem often on long plane rides, but it’s easy to fix. For a minor case, get up and walk around frequently, lifting your knees high. The goal is to get that blood back to the heart, so lifting your legs over your heart is ideal. If you’re feeling very faint, go find a space to lay on the floor and prop your legs up a wall. I know, airplane floors are small and usually a teeming cesspool, but fainting is worse. If you feel faint, it’s ok to go into the galley or anywhere there is room and lift your legs. The airplane crew would rather let you raise your legs than get out the oxygen bottle…or so they told me once when I fainted.

Symptom: Twitchy legs

Similar to the symptom above, rather than feeling faint, some people get twitching or cramping in their legs on a long flight. In this case, walking can help, but the muscles may need more action.

For calves: stand up, then go up and down on your toes, really clenching the muscles as you do it. You can do this seated as well, just alternate pointing your toes.

For thighs: if you can find a wall, a good technique is to do a “wall sit”. With your back to the wall, slide down to a sitting position and hold it for a few seconds, then repeat. If there isn’t any wall space, while seated, try squeezing your thighs together or rock your knees back and forth towards the seat in front of you (if there’s space).

If you’re an active person, go for a workout before you head to the airport. I like to try and get a run in before making flights, my legs are happy for the rest on the plane.

Symptom: Head pressure, ears won’t pop

You can tell who is suffering from cabin pressure, it’s all the kids screaming on take-off and landing. They have reason to scream, cabin pressure can be excruciating if you can’t pop your ears. It’s happened to me a couple of times, most recently today as I’m nursing an ear infection. There are several strategies that can work.

Gum: Chewing naturally helps our ears pop by moving the jaw and by making us salavate and swallow. I like super spicy cinnamon gum for this, it clears the sinuses too.

Meds: Benadryl is the easiest way to preempt a pressure problem, and as a bonus, it makes you sleepy. The down side is that you have to take it in advance. A more immediate solution is to have a Vapor Inhaler on hand. That was my magic trick today. Clearing out nasal passages, even if they don’t seem to be blocked, will clear out ears too.

Earplugs: For those who are chronically bothered by the cabin pressure issue, special earplugs called Earplanes allow the pressure to level on its own.

Hot Towels: If you’ve got a serious pressure problem and haven’t brought anything to deal with it, you can engineer a solution with the cabin crew. Ask for a towel soaked in steaming hot water, put it in the bottom of a cup and press it to your ear, sealing it around your ear if you can. The steam will ease the passages open in your ear. I vividly remember when I was a kid, flying back from Ireland. I was screaming my head off from pain, and some heroic Aer Lingus stewardess clamped cups tightly over my ears. She was the angel of mercy. If you’ve got a lesser problem, ask for a cup of hot water and hold it near your ear.

Symptom: Sore Throat/Cough

If you feel a sore throat or cough coming on before you leave home, you can be sure it will get worse on the plane. Bring a big supply of throat lozenges and keep them in a spot that’s easy to find in your bags. If you take cough medicine, remember to take it before you get on the plane.

For a sore throat that gets worse on a plane, the best tactic is to get some hot water. You have a few options on how to use it. My parents would tell you to pour salt in and go gargle salt water in the bathroom. They swear that salt water gargles cure all.

I like to slowly sip hot water with a slice of lemon, which any plane will have. If I’m especially uncomfortable, adding Jack Daniels whiskey to that mixture cures a number of ailments.

The Best Tip for Healthy Flight

Overall, the best way to avoid feeling sick on a plane is to stay hydrated. Drink lots of water before you head to the airport. Take all the water that you are offered. Yes, I know, that will make you use the bathroom often, but that’s part of the strategy! Getting up and walking to the bathroom will alleviate twitchy legs and get your circulation going. Try to avoid wine and beer, that will end with a headache.

I’m on the ground now and fully hydrated, feeling much better. I hope you all have healthy travels, but if you don’t, share your experiences and solutions here.

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Hotel Room Helpers http://adventureswithsarah.net/hotel-room-helpers/ http://adventureswithsarah.net/hotel-room-helpers/#comments Sat, 27 May 2017 19:56:00 +0000 http://adventureswithsarah.net/?p=2812 In my recent post, What Makes a Great Hotel, there were many reader comments about what people would like to see in a hotel room. So many requests were simple, like coat hooks or a place to put the soap in the shower. I was thinking about that when I went to the hardware store […]

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In my recent post, What Makes a Great Hotel, there were many reader comments about what people would like to see in a hotel room. So many requests were simple, like coat hooks or a place to put the soap in the shower. I was thinking about that when I went to the hardware store the other day, and I found some simple hotel room helpers, small things you can bring to make any hotel room better.

Hotel Room Helpers

I’m not willing to bring a bunch of heavy junk in my bag to slightly improve my life on the road. But a few tiny items that weight little and take up no space are worth it.

Over the door hooks are lightweight and solve problems. Especially in budget hotels, there may not be a coat hook or place to hang your bag. Hang this over the bathroom or closet door for instant storage space. Some types of hooks are strong enough for luggage too.

Simple metal hooks can attach to closet rails or chairs to hang your backpack.

I like to read in bed and really appreciate a small reading light next to the bed. A clip-on LED reading light works on rechargeable batteries and could be clipped onto the nightstand, headboard or the book itself.

If you’re a long-time reader, you already know of my fondness for my hot water coil and titanium mug. Some hotels include kettles in the room, but not all, especially outside of Europe. This coil is dual voltage, it just needs a plug adapter. Be careful here and only buy one approved for international travel, otherwise it will blow immediately. This mug is double walled titanium, weighs nothing and doesn’t get hot to the touch when the water is boiling inside. I use this to make coffee, tea, ramen and oatmeal. Yeah, I know I should be out eating the local cuisine, but sometimes a girl just wants Cup o’Noodles and Netflix at the end of a long day.

I have a thing for fresh flowers. Somehow, a fresh bouquet can lift my spirits, so I always get fresh flowers, usually lilies, at the market if I’m staying for more than a couple of days in a hotel. It costs little and adds a nice scent to a room. My mom bought me these funny plastic vases that pack flat and work perfectly.

If you’re a romantic, bring your own mood lighting. Even a plain hotel  room looks special with candle flicker. These little LED tea lights last for hours and seem like a real candle.

And while we are on the topic of romantic hotel helpers, many hotel rooms only have thin plastic cups. I bought these cool plastic wine glasses in the Napa Valley years ago which work perfectly for classing-up the joint. Pair that with a TSA-approved corkscrew and you’ve got a party.

Bathroom Helpers

Simple suction hooks are an easy solution for hanging a toiletries kit in a hotel room without a vanity shelf or hooks. I’m shocked by how often there is absolutely no place to hang or set my little bag. This is an easy fix.

Many readers complained about not having a place to set the soap in the shower. Even if this may be a little bulky, this strong suction cup soap tray will work in any shower.

Some hotels have terrible or awkward mirrors. This mirror can be stuck to the wall in the shower and has a spot for hanging your razor. It’s a non-fogging mirror as well, for steamy shower shaves.

There are a variety of silicon bottles for shampoo that have nice suction cups on the back. They work well in hot room showers and at the sink, stuck to the mirror. I loved my GooToobs, but I lost them all. I totally forgot that I left them stuck to the shower wall! Maybe someone should invent tracking tags for toiletries.

Got a quick fix for making a hotel room more comfortable? Comment here or on my Facebook page and share the love!

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Get Organized with Packing Cubes http://adventureswithsarah.net/packing-cubes/ http://adventureswithsarah.net/packing-cubes/#comments Fri, 26 May 2017 19:26:05 +0000 http://adventureswithsarah.net/?p=2761 Keeping organized on the road can be tricky, especially if you’re in a hurry or constantly in transit. A neatly packed bag can suddenly explode into chaos if the security unpacks it or if you need something and can’t find it. The best way to keep it together is to use packing cubes. Packing cubes […]

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Keeping organized on the road can be tricky, especially if you’re in a hurry or constantly in transit. A neatly packed bag can suddenly explode into chaos if the security unpacks it or if you need something and can’t find it. The best way to keep it together is to use packing cubes.

Packing cubes are a pretty standard accessory in a suitcase these days, although there are still a few travelers out there that haven’t been converted to this marvelous way of life. Not only can you find things easily, but repacking a bag is quick work when there’s a place for everything. I cannot count the number of times I’ve woken up late and needed to pack in a hurry, packing cubes have saved my bacon every time.

I’ve been using packing cubes since the beginning of my guiding career, and in that time the designs have gotten better. I have tried many different styles and brands over time, and have some thoughts on which cubes are best and how to use them most efficiently.

A History of Packing Cubes

When I started guiding in 2000, packing cubes were a novelty. I eagerly ordered this new-fangled product from Eagle Creek and wasn’t quite sure what to do with it, but it seemed cool. You  know, all the cool kids were using them. I got several sizes and a “folder” to use in my Rick Steves backpack, which was just a bag with a big compartment at the time.

That first set was made to last, with tough Cordura fabric and hardcore, military grade zippers. I figured out how to efficiently pack my tops in a big cube, my undies and socks in another and my foldables in the packing folder. It worked well. I still have those original cubes, and they are as tough as ever.

As I have aged and worry more about my back, the weight of my bag has become more important. Eagle Creek introduced the Specter line of packing cubes, made of an ultralight nylon. I happily bought the whole set to replace my aging cubes and shaved almost a pound off of my bag! Woohoo! There was a price to pay, though, as the new cubes have far less structure and flop around helplessly while I pack. The openings are only on one side, meaning I can’t open the top and take what i need without disturbing the other clothes. Specter cubes also don’t have any mesh, so I can’t see what is inside.

Rick Steves started producing a line of packing cubes,  which have structure and are all mesh. That would seem like the perfect solution. Only problem is that those cubes are designed to fit into a Rick Steves bag and they tend to be a little too big for the small pack I am using. In terms of price, design and quality, they are a good option.

Ikea sells a stunning array of travel products these days, and they aren’t bad. I tried these cheap-o hot pink cubes. The idea is clever–the cubes have openings on both sides. It’s a great idea if you like to roll your tops and arrange them hot dog style like I do. I didn’t use these for long, though. They are cheaply made, so no surprise that the zippers stuck. The fabric is kind of stiff and icky and started raveling a little at the seams. But hey, at that price, if you’re only using them a couple of times or just want to experiment with packing cubes, it’s not a bad deal.

My most recent additions are Lewis N Clark packing cubes. I think they must have heard my secret packing cube desires, they designed something that is almost exactly what I’d design myself. The fabric is similar to the Specter packing cubes but slightly more slippery, which I like because it makes pulling stuff out of a bag easier.

There are mesh panels on top to see what’s inside. There is a bit more structure. The opening unzips on three sides, so it is easy to get what you need. As a design bonus, they have a zipper around the bottom that allows the cube to expand its depth by an inch, so the size of the cube is adaptable to your particular piece of luggage. My only complaint is that the zippers are not good quality and I busted one in the first week of the trip. Could have been my fault for packing too much in the cube, though.

My newest packing cube is from the same line at Lewis N Clark. I have used a variety of shoe bags, cubes and organizers, and they are always too bulky or heavy. This long, expandable cube is not specifically designed for shoes, but it works perfectly for two pairs up to size 12 men’s. I put my shoes in it while it is expanded and then zip it up. It compresses the shoes to a nice, tight bundle.

How to Use Packing Cubes

There seems to be three ways to use a cube, either stuff it or roll it, or fold it. Travel snobs will fiercely debate you on which is the perfect method. I am a middle child, so I am the peacemaker that takes advice from all sides of the debate and comes up with a hybrid method.

For smaller items such as socks and underwear, I use a small cube and stuff it–I don’t actually care if my undies are wrinkled. I roll my socks together (sock folding methods are also a point of contention) and stuff them in with bras, undies and nightgown.

For larger items, such as shirts, I prefer to roll my things and line them up like sausages. When they are all lined up in the cube, it’s easy to see what I have available. I organize the rolled up shirts in order of weight, from long sleeves to sleeveless. My tops tend to be knit fabrics or wrinkle-proof wovens, and the rolling method helps to limit wrinkles.

Some people, particularly men, prefer to fold clothes and put them in cubes. Some men like to have several cubes and stack their folded button-down shirts in one, short sleeves in another, and bottoms in another.

If I am bringing things that need to be neatly folded, I use a packing folder. A packing folder is a stiff plastic sheet with nylon wings that fold over and close with velcro. I tend to pack dresses, pants and collared shirts in a folder. However, I don’t use it at all if I’m going with an ultralight packing plan as the folder adds bulk and weight to a bag.

My advice is to try several styles and sizes of packing cubes to see what works best for you. Think of your backpack or suitcase like a puzzle–your packing cubes and toiletry kit should fit together easily. Buying cubes in different colors is a good idea as well, so you can find things easily. Keeping your clothes organized in packing cubes will keep them fresh, wrinkle-free and easy to find. They lessen the chance of your stuff exploding all over your hotel room.

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Detours: Cinque Terre Day Trip http://adventureswithsarah.net/cinque-terre-day-trip/ http://adventureswithsarah.net/cinque-terre-day-trip/#comments Wed, 24 May 2017 04:34:06 +0000 http://adventureswithsarah.net/?p=2766 The Cinque Terre is a favorite among travel destinations. Five sweet, colorful villages tumble down the verdant, vineyard filled hills into the aquamarine sea. Each town with its own character, all linked by a series of pretty trails along the Mediterranean. Justifiably popular, these little villages are no longer hidden from tourism. Some days, particularly […]

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The Cinque Terre is a favorite among travel destinations. Five sweet, colorful villages tumble down the verdant, vineyard filled hills into the aquamarine sea. Each town with its own character, all linked by a series of pretty trails along the Mediterranean. Justifiably popular, these little villages are no longer hidden from tourism. Some days, particularly in the height of the season (Easter through September), cruise groups pour into the towns and jam the small streets in the middle of the day.

The evenings in the villages are quiet and enjoyable when the day trippers leave, so staying there makes sense. Spending the daytime exploring the areas nearby makes a great plan. So what are the day trips nearby? Particularly since some of the easy trails between the towns are closed, what comparable hikes are possible nearby that anyone can do? I think I’ve found a great plan.

To the north of the Cinque Terre lies Levanto, a sweet beach town that serves as a gateway to the Ligurian coast. While not as cutesy and photogenic as the Cinque Terre villages, Levanto has all of the amenities that tourists need for a great vacation. This is where I stayed when I visited last summer with my son Nicola. Spending the day here or using it as a home base is a good choice, it’s relaxed, local and much less expensive.

When I stay in Levanto, I often enjoy renting a bicycle. The beachfront promenade is the perfect place to lazily cruise around. From Levanto, an old train tunnel beckons, continuing north to the smaller and more scenic town of Bonassola.

The flat trail connecting the towns is wide, with lanes for foot traffic and bicycles. Since the train tunnels are long, a bike is preferable, but the trail would also work well for strollers and wheelchairs, as there are some nice breaks in the tunnels with windows out on the blue sea below.

Bonassola has a small beach and enjoyable town center. It is very reminiscent of a Cinque Terre village, I think of it as the 6th village…although Sei Terre isn’t as catchy a name. I’m a beach girl, and I love a nice sandy spot for sunning. Outside of Monterosso, I don’t find the Cinque Terre beaches very accommodating, so I tend to head to the wide stretches of Levanto or the sandy cove at Bonassola.

From Bonassola, the train tunnels continue north. This next stretch is more tunnel than scenic stroll, so a bike is better than on foot, although there are plenty of pedestrians in the cool tunnels. Taking the train is also an option, with frequent connections from Levanto.

At the end of about 3 kilometers, the train station of Framura is the terminus. Framura isn’t a town, but rather a series of villages in the hills above the train station. There are several hikes from here that can be done, based on ability, and the TI at the train station is happy to describe them. One option is to walk up the paved road to the towns in the hills. While not as picturesque as the Cinque Terre, the views of the sea are lovely.

The better option is to take the coastal trail. Opened just this year, the trail winds around the edges of the mountains and spills out on a small beach. Along the way, stunning views of the Ligurian coast and the sound of crashing waves will accompany you. Rocks on the seafront often have sunbathers lounging like lizards in hot weather (or sunbathing Seattleites in cold weather).

If I were looking for an easy day near the Cinque Terre with few crowds and an easy walk or bike, this is what I’d do. Also, a side benefit, it’s free! Start in Levanto, grab a sack lunch of focaccia and fruit, then rent a bike. Ride slowly through Bonassola and on to Framura train station. Park (and lock!) your bike at the station. Exit the station on the north side, passing under the tracks and follow the trail along the coast to the beach at the end (roughly 20 minutes). Swim, sunbathe, eat your lunch. Bring a bottle of wine if you like.

When you’re ready, head back on the bike and stop in Bonassola. Get a gelato, have a stroll through town, join the locals on a bench for people-watching or sit on the beach. Return back to Levanto and enjoy a well deserved glass of wine at an enoteca. A perfect day in a lovely place, and something that everyone can enjoy with ease.

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International Travel for Beginners http://adventureswithsarah.net/international-travel-beginners/ http://adventureswithsarah.net/international-travel-beginners/#comments Sat, 20 May 2017 19:14:50 +0000 http://adventureswithsarah.net/?p=2741 Are you planning your first trip abroad? Or maybe you’re trying to convince a friend to get out of their comfort zone and travel abroad for the first time? After spending half of my life devoted to travel, I’ve got some advice for international travel beginners. Planning an international trip begins like writing any good […]

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Are you planning your first trip abroad? Or maybe you’re trying to convince a friend to get out of their comfort zone and travel abroad for the first time? After spending half of my life devoted to travel, I’ve got some advice for international travel beginners.

Planning an international trip begins like writing any good story- you need to know the What, When, Who, Where and How. I’m going to cover all of these here.

Why Leave Home?

Some years ago, I asked my aunt if she’d like to come to Italy with me some day. Italy! The most beautiful and magical country! Her answer sort of blew my mind. She said “The US is huge and I haven’t seen all of it. Why would I leave the US when there is so much to see here?” I understand her point, and I’ll bet there are lots of people out there that feel the same way.

It’s true that the US has lots to offer. Beaches, cities, deserts. Grand natural beauty like Yellowstone. Manmade wonder like Manhattan. Great museums and history as you’ll find in DC. Culture-shock moments like you’ll find in the Creole regions of Louisiana. The US has lots of diversity and plenty to keep you busy. However, I have found in my US travels that there is a certain amount of sameness to the US. Even if we are a diverse country, we leave a cultural fingerprint in our ideas, attitudes and chain restaurants. It’s cool because it binds us together but, on the other hand, it does not challenge us the way international travel does.

Part of the beauty of growing and developing as a human is to have our ideas, our patterns and our expectations challenged. Getting out of your home country will change the way you look at your own habits and open up new horizons for understanding our complicated world.

WHERE Should International Travel Beginners Go?

For the extremely timid, Canada might be a good first foray. It’s like a more polite version of the northern parts of the United States. French Quebec is more exotic, it seems like an alternate version of history, if the French hadn’t sold off the Louisiana Purchase. Mexico is another perennial favorite for a first dip into other cultures, but I don’t count any of the resort towns there as international travel, they are like little US satellites.

While adjacent countries may technically count, it seems like cheating. In general, I don’t think you’ve really traveled internationally unless you leave your own continent.

If you’re going to do it right, heading to Europe is the best choice for a first international trip. If you’re from North or South America, Australia or New Zealand, chances are that you are of European origin. Certainly your culture is, even if your DNA isn’t. Western cultures begin in Europe, so it is a natural place to start. You wouldn’t start reading a book half way though, would you? Begin at the beginning.

Starting at the beginning, Greece or Rome would be obvious choices for a first trip. Western cultures are deeply informed by the histories of both countries. Solid choices, but I’ll admit that they are kind of adventurous for international travel beginners. They are pretty exciting destinations, though. Starting here, with great food and deep history, you may never go anywhere else!

Great Britain is a nice choice, particularly for anyone from an English-sepaking country. It is easy to be in a country where you can (mostly) understand the language, but the culture and long history of the British Isles informs our cultures more than we realize, and is just different enough to give that culture-shock feeling. Imagine sitting in a cozy pub with a pint of good beer and a steak pot pie, a stroll through the lush green countryside, or a ride in a double-decker bus.

HOW to Begin

The first task is to get a passport. Everyone should have a passport, even without travel plans. You never know when the trip of your dreams will fall into your lap and sweep you away on an adventure! Best to be prepared.

Passport application is simple but takes some time. You should do this right now. Really. Stop reading this and do it now. I’ve even made this really easy on you, click on the link below depending on where you are from. (Sorry to omit other countries, but Google tells me that these countries are my majority readers.)

Americans can go HERE

Canadians can go HERE

Australians can go HERE 

Fill out the forms, get passport photos taken (or do it yourself), write a check and get it sent in. It can take up to two months or more, so just do it now and get it over with. Owning a passport, even if you aren’t planning to go anywhere, can be thrilling. Makes you feel like a spy. I like passports so much that I have two.

The internet has made booking a trip extremely easy. Do a little research, look for a great fare on websites like Kayak.com or Skyscanner.com. The cheapest fare may be going somewhere you hadn’t considered, like Brussels or Frankfurt. Maybe that is the universe telling you where to begin!

I’m a guidebook writer, so of course I suggest getting a pile of guidebooks to shape your trip. The library has lots of glossy travel guides that can spark your imagination. If Europe is your destination, there is no better resource than Rick Steves. Our guidebooks are top notch and selective. Follow one of them closely and you’re guaranteed to have a great trip with good hotels, restaurants and experiences.

WHO to Go With

Finding a perfect travel partner can be a tricky business. Most people will automatically want to go with their spouse or partner or best friend. If your travel partner is cool and you always have a blast together, then you’re all set. Just to let you know, though, people are different when they are out of their comfort zones.

I have traveled with thousands of different people as a tour guide and have observed all sorts of dynamics. The best travel partners are not necessarily close. Travel can emphasize your habits, beliefs  and character, some people have a hard time with change. Whatever happens on a trip, I can assure you that you will know your travel partner far better at the end….for better or worse.

My best advice is to choose someone with similar interests. If you’re into art, you’ll have far more fun with someone who is enthusiastic about the Louvre, rather than terrified by it. If you’re into food, you may not want to go with someone on an elimination diet. Night owls and early birds don’t mix well on the road, same for vegans and carnivores. Stamina and physical fitness is also a point of contention amongst traveler partners.

Tour groups can be great for finding like-minded travel partners, especially if you choose a company with a particular idea about travel. Some of my favorite personal friends have been folks I’ve met in my travels as they have similar interests and a sense of fun.

Keep in mind that there is nothing wrong with going alone, even on a first international trip. Going solo has many advantages, as I’ve written about HERE.

WHEN to Go

The When is totally dependent upon your schedule. Ideally, I suggest going in early or late season to avoid peak crowds and prices. This is particularly important for first-timers because peak crowds can sour a trip and ruin any desire to keep traveling. I suggest March, April, October and November for a first trip. January is incredible in Europe, there is nobody anywhere, but the weather sucks and beaches are out of the question.

I wrote a calendar for European travel, with destination suggestions, which you can find HERE.

WHAT to Do with Your Time

The What of your travel depends on your interests. Most people will naturally gravitate to only doing the things they know they like, for example, hikers will want to go to the Alps and cooks will want to do a cooking class. That’s a good strategy, but I suggest you cast a little wider net. First timers should try a broad range of things and see what fits. The beauty of a first trip abroad is that you may find things that spark your imagination that you’d never considered before.

International travel beginners should definitely consider doing a tour. Yes, I know that sounds predictable coming from a tour guide, but I believe in what I do. I lead Best of Europe tours for Rick Steves and am always amazed by how they affect people. Getting an efficient, well-organized sampler platter of experiences makes a big impact. There are so many ways to spend your time and so little time to spend, a curated experience gives the biggest bang for buck per minute and may expose you to things you hadn’t thought you’d enjoy.

If you’re not into group tours, day tours are well worth your time. Tour guides are worth their weight in gold, seriously! Soaking in a city at your own pace is a joy, but having someone point out the details and give you some background give it meaning and depth.

Whatever you decide to do, try something new. Travel is meant to broaden your perspectives. Talk to locals, dance in the square, be bold and fearless. Nobody knows you in a foreign country, try on a new persona. Dress better. Read more. Eat passionately. Be the person you really are or at least that you’d like to be. What happens abroad stays abroad, as long as it’s legal.

Am I Going To Make It?


One of the hurdles to clear for international travel beginners is the fear factor. Long flights. Weird food. Foreign language. Fear of getting lost, kidnapped, robbed or falling into a bottomless pit, never to be seen again. It’s ok to be worried or afraid. It’s normal.

The flight is long. Yep. That’s true. But here’s the thing- international planes are far more plush than on domestic flights. The service is nice and attentive. Seats are more comfy with more legroom and cushy headrests. There is great entertainment on the long-haul flights. Free gin and tonics! Nobody gets hauled off kicking and screaming like you see on the TV. It’s mostly a calm, dark cabin full of sleeping people. I’ve got kids, so I kind of enjoy the opportunity to be alone with my thoughts.

The food is weird. You may get a tummy ache. You will definitely get constipated, so be prepared. Bring some Pepto Bismol and a gentle laxative, just to cover your bases You’ll get used to the food and your body will adjust. More likely, you’ll find new foods you adore.

No doubt about it, those foreigners speak foreign languages, even the British. But it’s ok if you don’t understand everything. Do some language practice ahead of time if you want, but moreso, just listen. The human brain is fascinating, it will do whatever it can to understand what is going on. If you pay attention to what’s going on around you, you’ll understand far more than you expect, which is a thrill.

You will get lost. Bring maps and a cell phone with data service and Google Maps. Keep local cash and the business card of your hotel in your money belt, hail a cab if you need to. It’s going to be ok. Getting lost is part of the fun.

You probably won’t be robbed, kidnapped or sold into slavery, as long as you’re smart about where you go and what you do. Europe is pretty darn safe. Wear a money belt and don’t look like a target with flashy or touristy clothing, bags and cameras. Sticking to the touristy areas is an easy strategy but beware of pickpockets. Ask the locals for advice if you’re nervous.

Overall, you’re going to be ok. You’ll make it. I’ve never lost a person, even people who have injured themselves have gotten home just fine.

Travel is a risk, but living at home is a risk too. You’re more likely to die in a car crash in your hometown than an international incident. Don’t let fear stop you. The bigger risk is getting to the end of your life and realizing that you’ve missed out. Go. Go now, while you’re thinking about it and are healthy enough to go. A whole world awaits you with open arms, and you will never be the same once you’ve seen it.

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