Sunday, January 1, 2017

Tips for International Travel

I just got back from a spur of the moment trip to Hong Kong. Fantastic memories made with my fella in a country that was a blast to explore. As my brother and sister-in-law prepare for their first international trip together I thought I would provide some tips for them (and you).
First, have your travel paperwork squared away. Some countries require a visitor's visa. If you do not know if the country you are traveling to requires a visitor's visa look it up here on the US Department of State website: https://travel.state.gov/content/visas/en/general/americans-traveling-abroad.html. And, of course, make sure your passport is current. For our trip to Hong Kong, our passports couldn't expire within one-month of us traveling. For China, it was six months. Every country has different requirements so make sure your paperwork is in order.

Second, know how to pack. For our five day, four night trip to Hong Kong me and the fella both did a backpack and one carry-on luggage. The minimal luggage helped us move around airports and train stations easily. Also, if you ever need to do standby for a flight NOT having checked luggage makes it EXTREMELY easier to get on a flight.

Here are tips on what you should pack.
Items you need for customs (in carry-on luggage):
  • Passport. Keep this with you at all times while traveling. Local police can and will stop you if they feel like it. They will ask for your passport. This happened to the fella while we were in Hong Kong. The police officer did a quick call into dispatch, read off the passport info, got the all clear, and we were back on our merry way. 
  • Pen. You have to fill out paperwork for the country you are visiting. Your flight attendants will hand out the necessary papers for your to fill out. Having a pen handy will allow you to fill out the paperwork on your flight instead of at the airport (saving you time).
  • Address and phone number of where you will be staying in the country you are visiting. This info is needed on your visiting paperwork. If you are staying at a hotel, use the address and phone number to the front desk. If you are staying at an AirBNB type of place, use the address and phone number of the homeowner. If you are staying at multiple places, use the place you are staying at the most for your paperwork.
  • Address of place you are staying. If you don’t speak the language of the country you are visiting it can be helpful to print the address of where you are staying on small pieces of paper (business card size) so you can hand it to taxi/Uber drivers. You can also keep the hotel concierge (or AirBNB host) on speed dial if you need their help in translating while you are out and about.
  • Visa paperwork. If needed. If the country you are visiting requires a visa makes sure you have the appropriate paperwork handy as you will need to show it to the customs agent. If you do not have it, before you leave the US they will help you get the required visa before you board your plane. It costs more and it creates more stress ... I don't recommend it.
  • Flight information (carrier and flight number).  You need this info for your customs paperwork. It may look like AA60 (American Airlines 60 ... this was my flight from Tokyo). Or CX825 (Cathay Pacific 825). It'll be on your boarding pass.
Items in your carry-on luggage (to help make long flights a little more comfy):
Lucky enough to be upgraded to business class for 16 hour flight.

  • Scarf/shawl. Can double as a light blanket. 
  • Sleeping eye mask. No matter how dark they try to get the cabin it never gets dark enough for sleeping.
  • Ear plugs. If you are trying to sleep, these are a must. Crying babies might happen but noisy adults are guaranteed.
  • Earbuds/headphones. International flights have entertainment consoles. And good movies! Most airlines provide headphones but if they don't you'll be prepared.
  • Book. Lots of hours means lots of time to read. I usually purchase a couple of "travel" books ... once I'm done reading them I leave them. Less books on the way home mean more room for souveigners. 
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste. I brush my teeth before landing because it makes me feel human again.
  • Brush. Same as brushing the teeth.
  • Face wipes. Same as brushing the teeth and hair.
  • Tissues. A runny nose is never pleasant. And sneezing into a tissue is very grown up. 
  • Melatonin pills. These are natural sleeping aids. I take them for long haul flights to help me stay asleep (without the awkward effects of drowsiness).
  • Comfy socks. I cannot wear shoes on a long flight. But I'm also not going to gross anyone out with bare feet. Plus, comfy socks provide comfort.

Items to pack: 
  • International electrical adapter. The one I have didn't have a label for Asia so I had to research it before my trip. My electrical adapter worked great (Hong Kong is the same as the UK). I use this type of adapter. Or borrow one from a friend if you don't travel internationally frequently.
  • Put copies of the following in your room's safe.  If you should happen to lose them or if they should get stolen you'll have the copies available.
    • Passport
    • Credit/debit cards
  • Portable charger like this one. If you are using your phone a lot on your trip you'll be glad you had this charger handy.
  • Cords to charge your electronic devices
  • Camera. Digital is preferred (where do you get film developed these days?)
  • Hand sanitizer. Trust me.
    Escalators and markets are EVERYWHERE in Hong Kong. It'll make you want to keep your hands clean.
  • First aid kit. I keep this bag stocked year round and throw it in my bag whenever I'm traveling to a different country. It is not a big bag ... REI has a good one here.  I never want a little medical nusance to get in the way of a good trip.
    • Bandaids
    • Antibacterial ointment
    • Pepto-Bismol tablets
    • Alcohol wipes
    • Benadryl pills
    • Tweezers
    • Bandages
    • Advil/Tylenol
  • Dirty clothes bag. If I'm doing a long trip I will do laundry (or pay for it to be done) so I don't have to pack as much.
  • Prescription drugs. Take just enough for your trip. 
A couple of other tips:
  • Mass transit. Look it up and know the best option for transportation. Taxis can be expensive. Plus, mass transit shows you how the locals do things.
    Traveling with the locals is an adventure in itself.
  • Mind your Ps and Qs. Americans get a bad wrap for a lot of things. Be courteous, gracious, humble, and mindful of your surroundings. 
  • Great food doesn't mean expensive. Splurging on a meal or two while traveling is fun but REALLY good food doesn't require a bank loan. Most of our meals in Hong Kong were less than $20 for two people and we ate like kings! Be adventurous and try new stuff.
  • Bypass cell phone usage. When I take my phone, I turn off the cellular data so I don't get charged for international fees. I do keep the WiFi on. Most countries have WiFi hotspots (EVERY country has a Starbucks and most mass transit systems offer free WiFi). In Hong Kong I didn't take my phone, only my iPad. Our hotel provided a free Handy phone during our stay. It was awesome to have and we could turn on the hotspot feature so we were connected all the time. I hope more hotels/countries start using this device.
Unless you are going to a VERY remote place, most things you can buy wherever you are going. Don't worry if you forgot to pack something, you can buy it there. 

Enjoy the heck out of your trip. Let the mishaps that will happen be memories to laugh at later. But be as prepared as you can be to have fun.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

How to Yard Sale Like a Semi-Adult

I held a yard sale about a month ago because I:

  1. Wanted stuff I never used out of my house.
  2. Wanted money for stuff I never used.
This was my first attempt at having a yard sale since becoming an adult. I had "worked" garage sales in my childhood with my parents, aunts, and uncles but actually hosting one myself was different.  I actually had to do ALL of the work.  

So I researched how to do yard sales.  That's right ... I broke out the nerd in me and actually researched it.  I mainly used Pinterest to get ideas and read blogs of people who had "been there, done that".  

In case you want to do your own garage/yard sale and need some tips, here are mine:
  • Know the objective of your sale in advance of preparing for it.  My number one goal was to get stuff out of my house.  When people wanted to haggle with me on prices I had to remember that if they didn't buy it I might have to find a place for it in my house again. And that wasn't going to happen.
  • Have a game plan.  I created a calendar to help me go through the rooms in my house looking for items I wanted to get rid of. The calendar also included reminders to get a city permit for the sale, when to do social media posts, when to create signs, when I was traveling leading up to the sale, etc.  It helped keep my sanity in check without feeling overwhelmed.
  • Know what to price stuff. I created a spreadsheet to keep track of what I was going to price things. Some stuff I had to research on Craigslist or Ebay to know what people were charging for used items.  I didn't want to over (or under) price things.
  • Make your sale an event.  I promoted my yard sale on gsalr.com because the site was free, easy to use, and there were a bunch of other sales in my area on the site.  I looked at the other postings and they were pretty much the same thing (garage sale on date with time) ... BORING.  So I labeled my event "Shopaholic Turned Minimalist" and listed items that were for sale with descriptions. For example, "Treadmill ... or clothes hanger. You decide!" I was marketing to a young professional crowd. The traditional garage sale shoppers will come whether you are savvy with marketing or not. However, the inexperienced garage sale shopper isn't keen to haggling and they will usually pay pretty close to asking price.
  • Signs need to stand out.  I created signs that would get me to go to a yard sale whether I needed something or not.  And my signs definitely got the "looky loos" to the event.  I had several patrons say they stopped by because they loved the signs.
  • The magic of the "free" box.  On my second day of the yard sale I put stuff that I didn't think would bring in any money into a box and labeled it FREE.  I placed the box on the curb.  Everyone who took stuff out of the box also bought something at the yard sale.  
  • Carry your money on you at all times.  I read in different places to have a lock box for money.  Well, those can easily be carried off if you aren't watching it all the time.  And when you have a yard sale going on you aren't going to be watching it all the time.  I used a fanny pack ... yes, shut up, I have a fanny pack.  And it worked great to keep my mind sane while I had several people rummaging through my stuff.  I also had counterfeit markers so I could check bills to make sure they were legit.  Again, peace of mind stuff.  (Also, make sure you have plenty of change BEFORE your sale. Know how much seed money you started with so you know how much you made at the end.)
  • Everyone wants a good shopping experience.  I am thankful for my short lived stint in retail.  If you are pleasant with the customers they are more likely to buy stuff.  Also, if you have "music to shop by" playing people tend to be in a better mood.  I played a Songza playlist labeled "Rock of the 70s" and people definitely had a bounce in their step while shopping.  It also helped that I played music out of the electronics I was trying to sell.  Showed that they worked!
  • Put the merchandise at eye level.  The only items I had laying on the ground were shoes (had a chair by the shoes so people could try them on), furniture, and luggage.  Everything else was displayed on tables or clothes were hanging on hangers.  The easier shoppers can see stuff the easier they will want to purchase it. I also rearranged items on the tables as stuff was being sold. It helped me keep inventory as well as better display stuff for the next shopper.  Just like an actual store.
Again, my number one goal was to get everything out of my house.  I definitely completed that goal!  The few items I had left over went straight to Goodwill that afternoon.  My number two goal was to make some money.  That happened as well!  And that went straight to my bank right after the event was over.

Having a proper sale is a lot of work.  However, I got rid of so much clutter that I don't anticipate doing it again for another 30 years.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

That Time I Went To ... Chicago

Last year I went to Chicago with Nunya.  He had to work at a conference and I had to explore Chicago.  Seems fair.

I did a little bit of work while in Chicago meeting with clients and industry friends.  Then the rest of the weekend was on my own exploring the awesome city.  I, of course, only go to Chicago when the weather is amazing.  Which, of course, makes me want to live there.  Until, of course, I see the winter weather they get.

Oh well.

On Saturday, I strolled through neighborhoods and visited farmer markets.  Which made me really sad because I couldn't buy everything to bring back to Texas.  Then I went to the large farmers' market in Lincoln Park. If you can attend this market do it!  So many great things to see, explore, and taste.  After my loop through the market, I sat on a park bench eating lunch in the midst of all the locals enjoying the beautiful weather.

I asked a local lady sitting next to me if she knew where the restrooms were and she said "Well, the market has port o' potties but I don't recommend them.  If you walk up one block you will find public restrooms that are really clean.  They are in the barn."

And that's when I worried that she was drunk.  And/or high.  I said thank you and then walked toward the "barn".  Sure enough, there was a barn.  In the middle of Chicago.  With cows, pigs, horses ... a whole working farm.  And the bathrooms were very clean.

Sometimes talking to strangers pays off.

Turns out the barn was part of the Chicago Zoo.  Which is free.  Which made me want to move to Chicago really bad.  I explored several zoo exhibits and the people watching.

As I left the zoo I followed a path to get to a particular spot that one of my company's clients mentioned to me the day before.  He said you can see the Chicago skyline pretty well from one particular spot.  And he was right.
I also got to spend time with Nunya during his work trip.  One of the events I went to was in the John Hancock Center's Signature Room.  On the 95th floor.  A fun event, good food and drink, nice people, and amazing views.

Navy Pier is on the left.
After a weekend like that who wouldn't want to move to Chicago?!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Tempting Fate with Airbnb

People ask me if I travel a lot.  And it is hard for me to answer because what quantifies as "a lot"?  I think the amount I travel is manageable (and enjoyable) for me.  If other people travel at my frequency they may say "I'm always on the road" while others may say "That's it?"

I have always wanted to test out a service like Airbnb.  From the company's website: Airbnb is a trust community marketplace for people to list, discover, and book unique accommodations around the world.  On one of my work trips to Arizona in February I decided to test it out Airbnb.  I did it on the company's dime because 1) I'd save the company money because Airbnb is usually cheaper than a hotel room and 2) I'd have a paper trail in case the experience didn't go well.

I found a place that was close to where my meetings were, it was a place all to myself (they have options to rent a room as well as share a room ... I went with "Entire Place"), and SUPER cheap.  Contacted the owners and made arrangements for my trip.
SUPER COMFY!
The place was a standalone structure in the back yard of the main house.  The house had a beautiful backyard with orange trees, huge pool, and big yard.  I also had access to the pool if I wanted to go swimming.  In order to get to into the backyard (and my Airbnb place) I had to go through the gated driveway.  I was given access via my personal code which I keyed into the gate's key pad.  I felt more secure at the Airbnb location than I did at most hotels.
Free coffee, tea, and sodas. The desk even had blank cards and stamps in case you wanted to mail a note.
Plus, the neighbors behind the house trained police dogs.
Thoughtful toiletries for travel warriors.
The building in the backyard wasn't anything fancy but the accommodations were better than expected!  Queen size bed, wonderful linens, large desk, fully stocked mini fridge, snacks, toiletries, books, etc.  There was no TV in the room but I don't usually watch TV when I travel for work (my days are filled with work stuff and my nights are filled with sleep).
Free snacks! Budget friendly work trip!
Did I mention everything in the mini fridge and snacks were free?  Yep.  And I had free WiFi.

I'd recommend using Airbnb but I will say to do your homework on the property before booking (just as a precaution).  I had to cut my trip short due to weather at home (wanted to get home before I flights were cancelled) and the Airbnb owners graciously reimbursed me for the unused night.  Much better than staying at a hotel!
Little chocolates were on the bed welcoming me to my first Airbnb experience!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Epic Morning

I posted before about channeling Samuel L. Jackson when I realized birds were eating my garden. However, when faced with a snake I do not channel Mr. Jackson.

This morning, I was going through my normal routine. Sort of waking up, checking my phone for the latest updates around the world, start running the water in the shower to let it heat up, try to get the curious cat to jump in the shower (he never does), and then I hop in.  Started going through the shower routine: shampoo hair, wash face, rinse hair, condition hair, shave legs, rinse hair.

However, I never got past "shampoo hair".  Because I saw this in the corner.
That's right!  A snake.  It might not have been a cobra but I didn't ask to see its identification.  Instead, I hopped out of the shower with shampoo suds dripping into my eyes.  I then tried to call my boyfriend (he didn't answer), then I called my mom (she didn't answer), and then I called my dad.  Dad tells me to go get a shovel and kill it.

Instead, I burn down my house.  Seriously, Dad, "get a shovel"?  That's the worst advice ever.

So, when faced with a real snake I become a crazy person ... maybe I do channel Samuel L. Jackson.