I love to travel, but all my friends knew how tentative I was to travel to Eastern Europe in the unsettling climate of current world affairs. My love of new experiences won out as usual, so planning to travel became the priority.
I guess you have heard there is up to 6 feet of snow in our Buffalo area with snow not letting up until Friday. In Niagara Falls, our landscape (shown in my garden below) is a winter wonderland in fresh powder snow accumulating rapidly. Winds are still high at around 30 mph, which is a problem with drifting. When we were in Bulgaria, we had similar weather with high winds and unseasonable snowfalls. So really planning for trips can be a coin toss when weather surprises the traveler. Buffalo Airport has many flights canceled or marked as delayed, so one never knows if they can even get going on their trip. I have plans for late January and have my fingers crossed that I will get to my destination.
Being optimistic as any seasoned traveler from up north, I am most happy when I get all things in order before I leave, at least what is reasonably possible. Having lodging and the itinerary somewhat organized and how to get from place to place adds to getting things under control. Often when I travel it is with friends, so having a travel partner is a good idea. So what can help with safe travel and piece of mind?
All About the Apps
One thing many dismiss as unimportant is all the apps that can aid in pleasurable and safe travel. Before the Eastern Europe trip, I made sure to download to my iPhone and iPad some very cool and helpful apps. On the iPhone, I did have international calling with ATT and the iPad had Skype. I had no call to use either fortunately. They were both for emergencies.
Registered with all the local embassies to receive email alerts, I was prepared should things arise in which to be cautious or if we needed to contact an embassy. The emails were helpful as they told us where civil unrest, demonstrations and parades were occurring. And they were too, but not on the specific days we were there.
Check out apps to help organize your packing (lists so you don’t forget needed items). Airline destination organizational aids keep all the info at the fingertips, get you in contact with the airlines if a problem should arise, plus they help consolidate itineraries with updates.
Speaking of airlines – make sure to double and triple check reservations with the airlines BEFORE YOU ARE TO TRAVEL even if showing confirmed. If a travel agent is responsible, they can make grave mistakes. They had my passport number incorrect, and they accidentally canceled my return flight, yet their site showed it confirmed. Calling the airline alerted me to this. My traveling companion did not have a return flight when we were to leave Romania and this was the same problem I experienced, but I caught it before leaving on the trip. It was rather unsettling for her to get it resolved and make our flights. The travel agent was not immediately available due to the time change that day.
What If You Lose A Passport?
Apps to store private info like copies of your passport are very helpful if your passport is stolen – which a few were on our trip. My favorite apps provided offline maps of cities we were visiting (they also “star” your hotel, US Embassies and places of interest so you always can find your way even if no internet is available). CityMaps2Go and MobiMaps are two. Trust me, you want maps since the names of streets are nothing you can pronounce or even ask for. For that there are apps to help you ask for directions, menu preferences, or make accurate purchases, translating what you say in your native tongue to “speak” the question in their language to those helping you (iTranslate). I love this app.
Another app that is just a dream to have is World Lens. This app takes a photo of say a road sign or newspaper article in a foreign language, then translates it for you. Unfortunately, this app did not have the Slavic languages yet, but did have most common ones like French, German, Italian and Spanish. Google Earth and Google Translate are two more useful apps to bring, and Google now has the World Lens app so other countries are sure to arrive soon.
Tips for sightseeing opportunities are useful; apps to do currency exchange (a very needed app – xeCurrency and Currency+ are two); and those with recommendations for restaurants and lodging are helpful. Honestly, there are apps for just about anything you need. I had so many helpers on my iPad.
Avoid Losing Private Information While Surfing the Web
And don’t forget internet safety with a VPN app for when you are getting free WiFi. What you can do with a virtual private network is surf anonymously with a secure IP address. All your private info is secure from hackers when using VPN. Also, you can set the US IP address with this app so you can log into secure websites at home, like watching HBO Go for instance. I stayed current with all my TV shows from home and would not have been able to without the US IP address. It is as simple as changing it from the country you are in to an IP address to a place you want.
Luggage and Packing, Always Something to Consider
During the planning stage, checking that your luggage will carry all needed belongings and ALL planes will transport the correctly sized and weighted luggage, preferably free. My two smaller bags are sized for international travel. My personal item was a backpack which really was convenient. It is made by Eastern Mountain.
I just love my luggage. It is made by Tumi and I have three really nice pieces. But before my trip, I was in a dilemma. I was going to bring the medium check-in bag, but made the last-minute decision to bring the carry-on. Packing for 16 days in carry-on is not so easy when one has cameras and other tech to bring, after all, technology – laptops, smartphones, and tablets as mentioned above, have all become essential travel companions. And charging those buggers in foreign countries is made easy just by having the appropriate electrical plug.
Packing light-weight, wrinkle-free clothing that mixes and matches to make different outfits is how to pack for travel with carry-on bags. I washed clothes with Tide laundry detergent in travel-sized packets. My friend had a travel wash-line to hang in the shower for drying. We really were set for daily attire in Eastern Europe.
In the Tumi bag shown above is 11 tops, 2 sarongs, 2 bathing suits, 1 dress, 1 long skirt, 5 pair of shorts, 3 pair slacks, 1 coat, 1 sweater, pajamas, underwear for 6 days, the daypack, and I am still not done packing the carry-on bag for travel in January. I only packed it for you to see how much fit in those four green Specter Cubes and the carry-on Tumi bag. The personal bag will have a change of clothing, toiletries, iPhone, iPad and cameras etc. I am really amazed what fits in these two bags.
Packing the clothing was a breeze when I got Eagle Creek’s ultra-light, water-resistant Specter Cubes. It is also what made me change from the check-in bag to the carry-on. They are lightweight compression organizers. Just roll up clothing, place it in the bag, then close the second zipper to shrink and compress to final size.
Eagle Creek also has a 6 oz. packable daypack that folds up palm-size into itself. I used it daily on our walking trips. I did put in items that could easily be replaced if stolen though, no wallet or passport. For that I could safely carry my money, credit cards and passport worry-free in Eagle Creek’s RFID Blocker money wallets around my neck hidden from thieves – under my shirt. My luggage had my personal address hidden from view with bar code registered luggage tags, read by airline authorities with special readers reading the bar code. The luggage was also locked with a lightweight TSA approved luggage lock. This is a safe way for the luggage to travel. It even helps if the whole bag is stolen from the luggage carousel so your home address is not available for thieves to rob your home. I have a spare house key in my luggage, so this becomes that much more important.
So What Happens When You Get Pulled at Security?
I found ample preparation gives a considerable piece of mind. The only problem with this type of packing is when you get pulled for security (happened in Amsterdam). They will make you unpack your bag and if you have it perfectly organized – just forget that. You will have a big mess to fix. I will give them credit though, they took my word for it saying I had clothing in the Specter Cubes. That would have taken a long time to repack.
Every electronic device needs to be activated, so if storing your batteries separate like I do for my equipment’s safety, it is a real hassle to assemble the camera. I was given the full pat down and ran through that imagining scanner where your “naked” body appears. I have to say this was an experience I won’t forget. I was wondering why there was no profiling done? There was a few very suspicious characters on my flight that went right through ahead of me.
With new security procedures implemented recently, they are pulling more people for additional screening. I was one of nine that was pulled by random (so they say – I was sick, coughing and had a runny nose which may have made me suspect – that or all the electronics I was carrying). They mark your boarding pass with a big red SSSS which really gave me the heebie jeebies. Nothing like having everyone see you were given the extra “attention”. I hope I gave you some important things to consider to make your trip as worry free as possible, and some tips if it does not go as planned. Got any more tips or ideas. Feel free to add.
The post images are a bit of a hint, although not St. Lucia unless my cousin who lives there invites me again. Next post, back in Eastern Europe with the outdoor cafés, Eastern Europe Does Outdoor Cafés Really Well.
On Nature and Wildlife Pics, a post on photography (Didn’t We See That Before?), with a link to a downloadable FREE e-book by professional nature photographer, Ian Plant. Well worth your time to grab this great book.