Saturday, September 20, 2014

Carry On Only!

My husband and travel partner, Rob, introduced me to the joys of carry on luggage on our first trip together in 1999.  Like many other travelers in those pre-9/11 years when bags were checked free of charge, I was used to lugging around a big, fat, heavy suitcase stuffed with outfits for any and every contingency, four to six pairs of shoes (heels, hiking, sandals, slippers, rainy weather), coat, sweater, raincoat, hairdryer, set of hot rollers, make-up and toiletries, laptop, books to read during the flight.  I was certainly ready for anything...but at the end of the flight, I had to elbow through the big mob at the baggage claim carousel, hoping that my bag was joining me at the end of the flight.  Most of the time, it did.  Twice it did not.  The first time, it just meant sitting in the airport for an extra two hours waiting for the next flight to arrive.  The second time, my suitcase went to the land of lost luggage for a little week-long vacation, while I got spent my first days of vacation shopping for a replacement wardrobe.

So when Rob told me that he would be traveling with only a carry on bag and small backpack on our three-week-long trip to Paris, I was interested, but skeptical.  How could I possible carry everything I needed in such a small space?  I pulled out every item I would normally have packed and started sorting.  This first attempt took several hours of planning, rearranging, tossing out, negotiating with myself...but by the time we left for France, I had successfully packed a 22" x 14" x 9" suitcase and the backpack with a complete travel wardrobe.

After fifteen years of traveling with our carry on bags, I can't imagine ever going back.  We never have the worry of lost luggage.  There is no more waiting in long lines at baggage claim.  Best of all, walking through the cobblestone streets of Europe and tramping up and down the many steps of the charming older hotels that we prefer is so much easier with a small suitcase.

With the new baggage check costs imposed by many airlines in the past few years, Rob and I have been joined by many other travelers who rely on carry on.  In fact, our biggest luggage challenge now is finding enough space in the overhead bins on the airplane.  Yet I still have many friends who insist that they could never fit their travel wardrobe into a such a small suitcase.  To them, I say, "Yes, you can!"  In fact, on my last two trips, I found that I had over-packed!  Here are some photos of the wardrobe I packed for a trip to Maine this month.  When I unpacked, I discovered that there were two blouses I had never even worn.

Tip #1:  Wear your heaviest items and your bulkiest shoes on the plane.  The airplane tends to be chilly, so an extra sweater or your jacket may be a blessing while you travel.
Tip #2:  Mix and match!  (I focused on black, brown, and blue on this trip.)  Every piece of clothing should go with at least two other pieces.  Stick with a neutral color palette and use scarves to accessorize.  Use skirts instead of dresses.  Layer thinner items rather than relying on thick, bulky clothing.  And remember, if you travel from place to place, no one you see except your traveling companion knows that you have worn the same item four times on the trip.
Tip#3:  Minimize the amount of underwear you take.  Invest in some quick-dry underwear and simply wash it out every few days.
Tip #4:  Reduce the number of shoes you take.  Unless you are traveling "upscale," you don't need fancy shoes.  In fact, one pair of good walking shoes can get you through almost any situation.  In the summer, a couple of pairs of comfortable sandals can serve for both casual and dress.
Ziplock baggies are essential!
Tip #5:  Ziplock baggies are essential for carrying the liquid items that must be visible to the NSA staff in the security lines, but they are also handy for organizing many other items.  I use one bag for all of the cords needed to recharge my phone and iPad, as well as the little camera accessories.
A daily pillbox and a small cosmetics bag takes care of most of the other small items you will need.

These were all the items in my small backpack.

Tip #6:  A tablet or iPad replaces a myriad of other items.  It serves as a notebook and journal.  It stores your travel documents and photos of your passport.  It carries your music library, your downloaded movies, and dozens of books.
Tip #6:  Experiment with the packing method that suits you best.  Some people swear by rolling clothes, but I find that I can pack more by laying items flat.

All packed and ready to go!
If you are already a master of the carry on bag, give us your tips on packing light!  If you have not yet taken the plunge, let us know your questions and concerns.

Monday, September 15, 2014


As I write this post, my husband, Rob, and I are enjoying a week in Maine.  This morning, we successfully completed a journey that we had begun over two years ago...a hike up one of the "Bubbles," a pair of rounded hills that sit side by side at one end of Jordan Pond in Acadia National Park.

This is the story of our first attempt to climb the Bubble...and with it, my Travel Lesson #2:  You can't do anything about the weather, so just relax and enjoy whatever Mother Nature blows your way!


We really could not have timed it worse if we had tried.  Rob and I were on the last few days of our drive up the Maine coast and had finally reached Mount Desert Island, home to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park.  The guidebooks for the region included vivid photographs of trees glowing red and golden under the autumn sun, cerulean ponds shimmering under sapphire skies, rocky islands dotting the many bays and inlets along this glacier-gouged coast.  As we drove into town, the anticipated vibrant colors were considerably muted by the grey drizzle that had followed us up the coast, but we held out high hopes for the following day.

We woke early, filled with anticipation for our drive to the top of Cadillac Mountain, which sits inside Acadia National Park just behind Bar Harbor.  At 1,532 feet, the mountain is the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard, and the summit is the first place in the United State to catch the rays of the rising sun.  Somewhat to our dismay, the rays of the rising sun were totally absent, still hidden by thick grey clouds.  Ever the optimists, we drove into the park and wound our way slowly up the mountain.

As Rob drove, I took the role of perky minute-by-minute weathergirl.

“Oh, look, honey, I can see a little light shining through a little break in the clouds! -  I think I see a little blue over there! - I’m sure it will burn through any minute!”

The "view" from the top of Cadillac Mountain
We reached the parking lot near the top and walked up the trail to the very summit for the guidebook’s promised glorious views of the coastline.  We saw an ocean all right…an ocean of grey fog swirling around us, obscuring even the other tourists peering into the gloom.  We hiked around the trail for a half hour or so, vainly searching for a glimpse of the coast below, but finally admitted defeat and headed back down the mountain.

Determined to salvage the day, I dove into my Acadia National Park guide.

“Here’s another great hike, honey.  We can walk to the back of Jordan Pond and hike up the South Bubble.  It’s also supposed to have some great views, and I’m sure the weather will clear up by the time we get there!”

The Bubbles
And, in fact, the weather did appear more promising as we reached the trailhead at Jordan Pond, a lovely tree-lined lake.  At the far end of the pond sit “The Bubbles,” a pair of rounded mounds that rise to about 800 feet.  The walk along the very edge of the lake was a pleasant stroll along a well-maintained trail.  The frequent rains of the past few days had caused a number of little rivulets to flow over the path here and there, but I carefully hopped over them, keeping my new walking shoes warm and dry all the way to the fork in the trail that would take us up to the top of the South Bubble.

My husband has a very cute rear end.  I know this because the minute we start an uphill hike, that is the view I get as he charges effortlessly ahead while I huff and puff my way up the trail.  I quickly came to terms with the fact that I will never get to walk with him on the up hills but I get the advantage of the nice view, and he has slowly come to terms with the fact that he has a hopelessly out-of-shape wife but he gets the advantage of a nice rest when he reaches the top and waits for me.

We started up the South Bubble trail and, as usual, Rob forged ahead so quickly that I soon found myself walking alone.  I didn’t mind the solitude.  The forest was dark and cool and quiet and I was quite happy to amble slowly along enjoying the beauty of the surroundings.

About ten minutes into the climb, it started to sprinkle.  The leaves above me were so thick that I barely felt the drops but I could hear them tapping out a little rhythm.  I joined them with the little ditty from Disney’s Bambi.

“Drip drip drop, little April showers,
Beating a tune as you fall all around.
Drip drip drop, little April showers,
What can compare with your beautiful sound?”

About twenty minutes into the climb, it started to rain.  I sped up a little…trying to catch up to Rob.  The trail was no longer a nice tidy dirt path but had become a steep minefield of granite boulders and tree roots.

About twenty-five minutes into the hike, it started to pour.  I met a man coming rapidly down the trail and asked hopefully, “Am I almost to the top?”  He laughed and shook his head, “No, you’re about halfway.”

I cursed Rob under my breath for being so fit as I had to keep fighting my way up the trail to find him, but a few minutes later, he came down to me.

“Joan, we have to turn around. This is getting too dangerous.”

Soaked through!
I didn't know if I was mad for making it this far and just missing the target or happy that this torture was about to end, but Rob was right – it was pointless to go on.  We turned around to start our descent and gasped in dismay.   The heavy rain was being funneled right down the steep trail, which had become a raging waterfall.  We carefully picked our way along the edge of the boulder-strewn trail, grasping tree limbs to keep our balance.  The dirt on the boulders had turned into a treacherous slick surface that threatened to send us tumbling down the mountain.  Slowly, slowly, we made our way down to the flat trail back around Jordan Pond.  We looked at each other and burst out laughing.  Hair and clothing completely soaked through, we might as well have jumped in the lake and swum back.

Our search for gorgeous views that day was a failure, but the return hike held one consolation.  I did not have to jump over the rivulets that criss-crossed the path…I just marched right on through!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014


"Go Abroad, Young Woman, Go Abroad!"

This was the siren song playing in my head when I got the notice that the University of California was accepting applications to its Education Abroad Program.  Until I saw that bulletin, I had never even considered going overseas to study, but the minute the opportunity presented itself, I started planning my packing list.

The first step was to select the country in which I would study.  This turned out to be quiet easy, as most of the universities required fluency in the language.  After four years of high school and college French classes, I still spoke very elementary French...and barely a word of Spanish, Italian, or German.  I had the grand choice of one program that did not require a language background, the university in Lund, Sweden.

Norwegian Stave Church
The selection process was lengthy: a round of essays, interviews, psychological testing, but finally I got the exciting letter that I had been accepted into the program.  Almost immediately, I received a follow-up letter notifying me that the University of Bergen, Norway had just joined the UC Education Abroad Program family, and asking if  I would consider going to Norway instead.  Accepting this invitation turned out to be one of the wisest decisions of my life.  Not only did I get to live in one of the most stunning places on earth, but I learned lessons about life, about other cultures and attitudes, and about myself, (along with a little bit of European history in my studies that year).

That wonderful year abroad instilled a wanderlust and a curiosity about the world that has still not yet been satisfied.  My husband, Rob, and I share the philosophy that life is short and the world is wide, so we travel as often as time and finances allow. This blog is going to highlight some of the "lessons" we have learned from our travels - and the first lesson is:  Don't wait!

Go Abroad, Dear Reader, Go Abroad!