Travel Lifestyle

Travel Gear: 7 Items On Your Packing List To Rethink

Okay, let’s get down to brass tacks. You’ve booked your flight and you’ve made all your arrangements. You’re tickets are printed and you have an alarm on your phone to tell you when to pre-board. You are ready! Not so fast cowboy. You’ve gotta pack! Now, some of you might have rolled your bags out of the closet weeks ago while others of you just realized that you leave in 48 hours and haven’t packed a thing! No matter where you are in the packing process, there are a few items we all seem to grapple with and this list of travel gear is hear to help!

Let me confess, I do not use a carry on bag.

There. I said it. go ahead and judge! We know we MAY need certain items while flying and they would be helpful but are they really? On top of that, in the travel age of “everybody brings a carry on”, we have limits. I, personally, am a check bag kind of traveler. I do not find it appealing to sweat because I am lugging a bag all over the airport before I get on a plane. But we shall save that hot topic for another day. So, what do you take and what do you leave behind? Let’s sort out this mess.

Hairdryer

I get it! You can do your hair the way you know how with your things so you will look good on Instagram! I’m with you! But the bottom line is that a hairdryer is bulky and heavy. On top of that, hairdryers are notorious for blowing a fuse or simply giving in. Besides, if you are staying at a hotel or B and B, they have one for you to use. The only place that I can think of that has no hairdryer is if you choose to rough it and you probably are okay without it anyway.

Take it? Never! Unless you are a hairdresser on the way to a trade show.

travel tech hair dryer

Heels

I get it! We all want to look nice but heels take up a lot of room. But, for the typical traveler who is out to enjoy the local sites and culture, there is really no room for high heels. Instead, there are lots of lovely sandals out there that can do double duty for day and night. See if that is a better option. Shoes should be just another part of your mix and match wardrobe. There are just two kinds of shoes I take, a pair of sneakers and sandals. I can think of a few isolated times when they need to go with you though.

If you are cruising, you may need formal wear (although that trend is not as prevalent as it used to be), you may have a specific event (a night at the Opera in Vienna or a family wedding), or you may be staying at a resort with certain activities that have a dress code. By all means, pack the heels! But for the day to day tourist, don’t waste you space.

Take it? Maybe. Just have a really good reason like your cousin, Agnetha’s wedding.

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Umbrella

I get it! You are headed to London or perhaps, Bangkok- maybe Victoria Falls is written on your ticket. You’ve read your travel guide and it says rain. I say do not pack the umbrella!!! Believe me! The true need for an umbrella is overrated. In stead pack one or two pretty scarves that can double as a quick head cover as you duck in and out of museums on a rainy day. Scarves are usable on wet days, dry days, windy days, and cold days. They spruce up your outfit and fold down to next to nothing. If you really truly need an umbrella, buy one where you are. I’ve only done it twice in 20 years.

Take it? Nope. A few rain drops won’t hurt you.

Laptop

I get it! But is this your vacation or is it another work day? We all talk about being unplugged but we adults are not very good at it. Americans have more leave time accrued than any other nation and we don’t use it! So, do you bring it? Well, if you really have no choice, then lug that thing along but even as someone who does do a little work on the road, I don’t bring mine. Why bother with that heavy bag which you don’t want to check in for fear of it going missing. I opt for two pieces of technology, my iPad and my phone. I can pretty much do whatever I have to with much lighter gear and still watch the newest Netflix releases if they ever drop (I’m talking to you The Crown!) And if I can’t? Well, I am on vacation after all!

Take it? Nope. Only a workaholic brings along their work.

Image by Pixaby

Books

I get it! You are going on vacation! You want to sit back, relax and read that beach novel. I say, if that is what you are truly going to do, then by all means take that book. But, do not think for one minute, if you are traveling to Tokyo or Rio that a book will be read. You have too many other things to do! Books are heavy and you are not going to open them on the go. Instead, opt to read digitally (kindle, iPad) on the off chance that you have a few moments to spare on a train from Munich to Venice. One or two notable exceptions: always take your travel guides they are an indispensable part of your trip and grab something juicy for the ship or the beach if you are going nowhere else.

Take it? Maybe. Beach reads get to go but leave Fabio at home for anything else.

Camera

I get it! Once in a lifetime trips deserve once in a lifetime memories. So, do you need a camera? Well, I’ve been unsure for years about this one. So, I decided about 3 years ago to try a little experiment. I only took my iPhone and snapped all my photos on that. You know what? It worked! My pictures were clear, reasonable quality, and easy! So, for me, I’m a no go on the camera. I like not having extra gear. However, I do think there are some notable exceptions and the first one is safari. You need more than an iPhone for that! If you are an amateur photographer and it’s going to bring you joy to have a good camera and lens, you should bring them. Get those wonderful memories on film somehow!

Take it? Maybe. Only if you know what you’re doing with it and you know it will do a better job than your iPhone.

Travel sized products

I get it! You are about to stuff two weeks worth of stuff into a two day bag. Space is at a premium! Not so fast, unless you have pledged to the secret society of “I will never pay for checked luggage again”, there is an alternative. Okay, I’m seriously not trying to scare anybody but I take my own FULL SIZE products! Gasp! I do! I take them almost empty- with just enough for my trip. On the last day, I ditch them all and make room for all of the things I’ve brought along the way. Why do I need to pay $3.99 for 20 cents worth of shampoo of a brand I don’t even like? Again, I check my bag so, I don’t have to deal with the liquids restriction and with powders becoming restricted too, I don’t care to get involved with that nonsense either.

Now, you have a few other options, I’m talking to you carryoners. You can buy reusable bottles for a small price and use your own products or simply use whatever is in the hotel bath if you’re not picky. My new favorite alternative are bath bars like the ones from Ethique. They have shampoo, conditioner and body wash in non liquid, TSA happy bars. I love them.

Take it? Not me. I can pay to check my bag for the prices they charge for all those little plastic bottles which are not good for the environment anyway.

travel gear silicone bottles

No one ever said, “I wish I had taken more”. So remember, you are going to have to lug all of that travel gear in your suitcase everywhere you go so pack wisely! Me? I prefer to leave room for all the treasures I find along the way!

architecture building dark dusk
Travel Lifestyle

The Hidden Pilgrimage

Travel is an interesting creature. It is always changing. There are always surprises around every corner. Travel can humble even the hardest of hearts and uplift the lowest of spirits. Sometimes when we travel, we don’t always know why a particular adventure has drawn us to it. In fact, it can sometimes seem like we discover the reason why we are on a trip while it unfolds. I happened to find myself in just this situation while taking a classic Mediterranean cruise. Little did I know, I had just stumbled on a hidden pilgrimage.

orange and gray tunnel painting
Photo by tyler hendy on Pexels.com

Istanbul To Athens

My mother and I were off on a great, relaxing cruise that would highlight the Eastern Mediterranean. We were excited about the itinerary that would take us to quite a few ancient sites. We arrived in Istanbul and would make our way through Turkey and Greece aboard a Regent Cruise ship. It was all very fancy and growing up with Greek connections made it that much more exciting. With ports like Philippi and Ephesus, there was no doubt that I would be calling on my Catholic roots to help me make sense of it all. For the record, I consider myself a cultural Catholic. I don’t always go to church but I’m very tuned in to the culture and traditions of my faith. In other words, I’m not a nun but can hang with the sisters.

Photo by Taryn Elliott on Pexels.com

The Saints

In the Mediterranean, St. Paul seems to pop up everywhere. As one of the most travelled apostles, it’s no surprise. He spent a tremendous amount of time spreading the word of Jesus all along the coast line. Paul, Peter, and James all move around the Med and leave their mark in plenty of locales. I had heard these stories my whole life but, as a traveler, there is no substitution for actually putting your feet in the same spot that biblical history occurred. In fact, each port of call seemed to bring more and more connection to the very core of my faith. Let me share some of them.

Ephesus and Mary

Our tour bus wound around and snaked up the side of the mountain that towered over the ancient ruins of Ephesus in the Summer heat. We were headed for the top where the House of The Blessed Mother sits. I was not looking forward to being an inch closer to the sun but, Mary holds a special place for me. We walked a few yards from the bus into a grove of trees and the temperature in the shade was welcome.

There, in front of us, was Mary’s modest home where she lived after Jesus ascended. Here, in the care of John as Jesus had asked, she lived out her years. It was a magical place and it seemed as if a peace like no other fell over the small grove on the top of the mountain. Just then, a little kitty came to greet us as if to say, “yes, you understand, this is a little paradise!”

Down in the valley, the ruins of the ancient city stand tall and proud as it to say, “see how well we did?” The library of Celsius was a masterpiece and we meander our way toward the amphitheater. Here, Paul was supposed to speak to the locals about all he had learned from Jesus. But the vendors who sold little statues of Artemis, did not want to lose any business. They put up quite the fuss about this so called speaker of the word and Paul changed tactics and wrote a letter instead. That letter. A letter from Paul to the Ephesians. As I stood in the place that this letter was read to eventual boos from the crowd, I couldn’t help being overwhelmed.

Phillipi and St. Lydia

The port of Kevala in Northern Greece is the jumping off point for Philippi- as in, “a letter from Paul to the Philippians”. Here, one of the most important moments of Christianity that you never heard of occurred. Paul, moving north from Turkey, met a woman named Lydia. She was a well to do merchant who sold purple material. Paul told her about his time with Jesus and Lydia became quite the believer. Here, in a cool stream by her house, Lydia became the first European to be baptized.

As we pulled up to the tiny but stunning baptistry that sits adjacent to the very stream that Paul and Lydia shared that sacrament, we again felt that feeling of peace and contentment. In the 106 degree heat, we pulled off our shoes and sat on the banks. Our feet in the cool stream, was sat remembering the quiet moment when Paul helped Lydia find her Christianity. Magical.

Acropolis and St. Paul

Our last port was Piraeus. Homebase for anyone wanting to explore Athens. And at the top of the list for most is the Acropolis. The hill that holds the proud Parthenon is a mecca for so many. However, in addition to climbing up to the top, there is another stop for pilgrims: a rock. This three story rock was where the judges of ancient Athenian culture passed down rulings. It was here that Paul faced his critics and defended the resurrection of Christ.

We arrived early the day after we disembarked to get a head start on the heat and crowds. After enjoying the splendor of the Parthenon and the Carytids of ancient times, we made our way downstream against the morning rush and climbed the metal staircase that led to the top of the Areopagus. Here, Paul made it clear that he was on Team Jesus. He spoke eloquently to the judges who didn’t quite buy the whole thing but at least didn’t order his death! Not much is on the top of the rock but a sign to tell you a quick history and the feeling that you are stepping onto literal history. Just wow!

Lesson Learned

Our cruise was over and I walked away with an amazing experience that history found in books is all around us in real life when you are willing to look. While my path had me stepping into the stories of Christianity, there are plenty of moments regardless of the faith or interest you may have. More importantly, a traveler’s first experience with these kinds of magical moments allows future travel to have those magical memories too! As I continued to travel after this cruise, I found myself adding experiences to my pilgrimage. I’ve included some of them here.

The Vatican and St. Peter

By far, one of the most iconic pilgrimages for anyone in the Christian world is the Vatican. As Paul traveled, Peter on the other hand, went to Rome to face the Emperor and all of his might. He, along with others, was eventually crucified on Vatican Hill. Years later, Constantine legalized Christianity and Vatican Hill became the epicenter of the Catholic world. While the cathedral is amazing and the museums are world class, it is the religious significance of the Vatican that gives you the goosebumps.

Jesus said to Peter ” You are Peter, you are my rock and upon this rock I will build my church”. So powerful. It only holds true that underneath those words in latin painted by the incomparable Michelangelo, lies the bones of the very St. Peter Jesus spoke to. You can visit his crypt beneath the church by arranging to be part of a tour of just a dozen people per visit. By planning and booking months in advance through the Office of the Scavi, you can have that incredible moment to see Peter, the Rock. After, climb the dome to see those letters from the great artistic master up close for the full experience.

Auschwitz and St. Maximillian Kolbe

In another corner of Europe is a fascinating story of courage and sacrifice. While the Nazi death camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, is most notorious for the final solution: the rounding up and killing of anyone who wasn’t Hitler’s ideal. While the Jewish population was the primary population that was targeted, quite a few other groups found themselves as part of the Auschwitz population. Among them was Father Max.

The humble priest wore the same rags as the others, and witnessed all of the horrors of the camp. His story is singled out because he begged to change places with a man who had a wife and children. The man was set to be starved to death in basement of cell block 11. He died from this sacrifice and the man, years later, attended his canonization at the Vatican. a miracle indeed.

The cell is still there and many who pay their respects at Auschwitz stumble upon his story rather than go to just see the shrine in the basement. A true hidden pilgrimage!

Look For The Moments That Speak To You.

Travel is such a fickle thing. One moment it tires you and yet another exhilarates you beyond your expectations. Travel excites, informs and brings peace. I am thankful for it everyday: even when I have no idea that I’m experiencing something life changing. It happens to us all the time. Don’t believe me? Check out the amazing David Suchet (most famous for his portrayal of Christie’s Poirot) on his journey to unexpected pilgrimage.

Pilgrimages can happen to anyone. It may seem like they only stand out to a select few but, with an open mindset, every corner of the world offers a pilgrimage of sorts. Regardless of your faith (or for that matter non-faith) a spiritual adventure could be the next amazing experience in your passport!

anonymous tourists showing us passports on street on sunny day
Travel Lifestyle

Passports 101

So, you’ve done it! You’ve thought and thought for years about it and now you’ve decided to take the plunge and make the commitment! Hooray for you! You are going to get your passport! It will open you up to a literal world of experiences and you won’t regret it. TGC is here to walk you through the whole process with a couple of facts, a couple tools, and, as always, a couple of stories. So, sit back with a glass of wine or a cup of tea, let’s get to traveling!

anonymous tourists showing us passports on street on sunny day
Photo by Spencer Davis on Pexels.com

Listen in to our conversation about passports on our podcast! Babcia and Yia Yia Travel The World is a great way to get all kinds of travel tips. Click here to listen to this episode and more!

Did you know?

  • Only 25% of Americans make the effort to apply for a passport so you are in quite an elite group of travelers now.
  • Passports really expire 90 days before the date in the book. Be prepared to reapply early!
  • Passports are held by the bursar on cruises. He or she has the responsibility of getting your passport stamped and legal in every port.
  •  The Real ID Act which looks to take hold in October 2021 requires you to have your personal documents updated and reviewed by your state. Once done, you get a star on your driver’s license. If you are looking to travel and haven’t done this yet, know that your brand new passport will work just as well (even when flying domestically).

The Basics

Everybody who gets a passport has to start with that same first step: applying to The State Department! For most, applying is pretty straight forward. Simply use the online application, gather your documents, get photos taken, and make an appointment at your local post office. The cost is about $165.00 in a check made payable to The State Department. A few weeks later, you will have your fancy new passport in your hands.

teal fujifilm instax mini camera near white ceramic mug
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Birth Certificates

There is one part of the application process that scares me. One of the things you have to send along with your application is your official first copy of your birth certificate. To set you at ease, be sure to look in on how the USPS has been faring and opt for an upgraded method of delivery if the post office machine seems to be lagging at all.

My best friend applied for an expedited passport in order to enjoy some time at Niagara Falls. She would up missing all of her Canadian time because her birth certificate was not accepted by the State Department! It turned out that the birth certificate she had been using for decades turned out to be an unofficial copy from an area notorious for giving the State Department fits. Finally, she got her passport 4 months after she had first applied.

Your Passport Choices

A standard passport has plenty of pages to gather stamps around the world is works perfectly fine. There are a few other options including a double thick book and a passport card. I’d leave those to the business travelers!

person putting a passport on bag
Photo by Vinta Supply Co. | NYC on Pexels.com

Global Entry?

First, evaluate whether you need global entry or TSA precheck, keep a few things in mind. As technology develops, lines in smaller airports are usually less than 20 minutes. Use this app to check in on the airports you are going to use to see if TSA precheck is really needed. Global Entry includes the TSA pre-check service. Global Entry is basically the passport version of the Fastpass.

I once raced my mother through ATL customs. She was on Global Entry and I was using Mobile Passport (the link is below). We both emerged from the process at the same time. The only difference? My option was free. All in all, it could be money better spent in other areas of your trip.

Passport Safety

One option to keep you connected is the STEP program. By registering with the Bureau of Consular Affairs, you can keep up to date on any advisories related to your destination and have a direct connection to the government if you are in need of help. It can be handy especially in more “exotic” locations.

Don’t put your passport in the pocket of your airplane seat! In fact, I was once in Dubai connecting to a flight to Greece. Sure enough, just as I took my last step off the plane, I realized that my passport was back in the seat pocket of seat 34D! Unfortunately, it was too late to backtrack and I had to wait for everyone to disembark then hope that a nice flight attendant would be kind enough to go check. I almost missed my connection! Lesson learned! Never-ever put that passport down when you are gathering your things!

Never hand over your passport! I was crossing the border between Zambia and Botswana. So, our driver had gotten us right to the Zambezi River and then turned around and asked for our passports. A sticky situation! While not wanting to offend, I also didn’t want to hand over my official identification to a complete stranger. What to do? I politely asked what he wanted to do. It turned out that he simply wanted to cut the line by going to the back door of the passport office. I asked if I could walk with him. He was delighted! Issue avoided. Lesson learned! Look for the polite way out.

Check out these fun passport resources!