Archive for the ‘Packing’ Category

Binoculars – Check!

June 17, 2010

I wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice (you might remember the dire oversight I made on my trip to Botswana by forgetting binoculars on safari).  In the event of a majestic breach by one of the thousands of Maui humpback whales, I wasn’t going to miss it!

A quick primer on buying a pair of binoculars:

  • What the numbers mean when looking at binoculars: 8X32 essentially means 8X magnification and 32mm lens.
  • Don’t go crazy for magnification – the higher the number, the shakier the view will be.  For whale watching, stick to around 7-12X magnification.
  • The bigger the lens, the more light you will get, but they will also get bulkier the larger you go.
  • We found this Tasco 8X25 pair to be ideal for travel – durable, with a neck strap, and comfort lenses for easy viewing on a moving boat.

Spotting whales from the shore in Maui.

We booked a whale watching cruise through the Pacific Whale Foundation.  The price was super reasonable, and they had several knowledgeable experts explaining the behaviors and biology about humpbacks.  They even dropped a “hydrophone” into the water so we could listen to their whale songs.  Being that it was the very tail-end of the season, we weren’t expecting to see much of anything (however, they do guarantee sightings through May).  We spotted several different groups of whales – first evident by their exhalations (BLOWHOLE!) – typically a mother and her calf, since the calm waters of Maui are ideal for nursing.  Immediately after the blowhole sighting, you’ll see their “humped back” as they swim along, and then after a few exhalations they usually dive back down hundreds of feet under the water.  This is the point at which you’ll see their flukes, or tail. Sometimes they’ll play at the surface and wave a fin in the air, and on very special occasions a whale will excitedly breach above the water. Unfortunately, we weren’t lucky enough to see this from start to finish close up, but we saw some breaches from far away and caught the tail end of a few.  It must really be a sight to see right by the boat (if you’re as obsessed with whales as I am).

I sooo did not take this photo, but whoever did is a very lucky (and talented) person.

In traveling to Hawaii during whale season – October through May – there’s a good chance you’ll have a sighting just from shore, if not from a whale watch cruise.  You can park along the Maui bay and just wait for the action, like James here:

Waiting....

Even with the clear waters of Maui, it’s still difficult to see the entire creature and appreciate its enormity. I sometimes wish I had the means (and courage) to see a whale up close, but in the meantime I’ll get my fix from Youtube:

Nope, Not Yet!

November 16, 2009

I’m still withholding all of my amazing, fun and awesome trip anecdotes and photos from you. Why? I figure you should have to wait for at least as long as it took us to actually GET to New Zealand. We left on Saturday afternoon and arrived on TUESDAY. Almost 3 days of traveling (with surprisingly just two airline flights) in order to get to our first stop – Rotorua. I have so much to say about this unique and beautiful area of the North Island, but first…the journey.

We left for JFK knowing already that our flight was delayed – Qantas had a mechanical issue with our plane which caused a backlog. However, they expected us to be able to make our connection in L.A., so we didn’t worry. Then New York experienced Noah’s Arc-type rain and we sat in the airport, and then on the tarmac for 2 hours, staring out the window at the torrential downpour. The pilot was honest and finally told everyone that it was unlikely we’d make our connection at this point, and that everyone was re-booked onto a later flight to Sydney, Australia, and would be re-routed to their final destinations from there…

Uh oh. Sydney? That was the last place I wanted to go – it wasn’t even in our itinerary since I had already been there, but the worst part was that we chose to fly to New Zealand first because it is much closer than Australia (3 hour time difference). Now we would have to take a longer flight to Sydney and then another flight to New Zealand. God knows when we would actually arrive! But, we accepted our fate and flew to L.A. to see what would happen next.

Definitely not what we expected!

Delayed, indeed...and that's 5:10AM ET to you time zone math geniuses!

When we landed, the story had changed, and it turned out there wasn’t enough room on that 2AM flight to Sydney, so we would all be booked into a local hotel and put on the next flight to Auckland, New Zealand (which is once a day at 11:45PM). So that would put us behind schedule by exactly one day. It wasn’t the end of the world, and actually we didn’t mind THAT much (we were hung over and exhausted from the wedding, so we just wanted to sleep). Qantas tried to shoo us on our way to the Holiday Inn, but I wanted my luggage (besides, what were they going to do to it, send it to Sydney?). I am not one of those people that packs a spare outfit in my carry-on, and it had already been a super long day. I wanted my comfy PJ’s and my travel-sized toiletries, dammit! After a bit of a brouhaha, we were allowed to “wait” for almost 2 hours to get our bags. So at 3:30AM, we headed off to get some zzz’s.

Lodging Rave! Holiday Inn Los Angeles Airport (HILAX) Ok, maybe I was just deliriously tired, but I loved this hotel. I haven’t stayed in a Holiday Inn in many years, but was surprised by how high-end the hotel felt (or maybe I’m just a sucker for dark wood furnishings). The bathroom was new, the bed was super comfortable, and it had a huge flat-screen TV (isn’t it sad when you stay in a hotel that has a 20-something inch old school TV?). We also received vouchers for their restaurant, Landings (Get it? We’re by the airport!), and the food was phenomenal (but free food always tastes better). Well done, HILAX.

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Unexpected honeymoon pit-stop! Holiday Inn LAX

After sleeping in for a bit, we decided we would try to take advantage of the full day in L.A. and do something / see some sights. James had never been to the city, so instead of renting a car or taking a taxi to just one location, we hopped on a 1/2 day bus tour with VIP Tours of California. In the span of a few hours, we visited Venice Beach, the Farmer’s Market, Hollywood and caught glimpses of Rodeo Drive, Santa Monica, and a bunch of other L.A. sights.

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This was definitely not on the itinerary...

At the end of the day, we headed back to the airport and remembered we were (still) headed to New Zealand, so the real trip could finally begin!

Yay! and Ut-Oh…

September 1, 2009

Last weekend two very special people got married – one of them my future sister-in-law, and the other the only dedicated reader of this blog (besides James) – her new husband Jim.

Love...ain't it grand??

Love...ain't it grand??

One thing I love about my future sis, Jennifer, is that she too loves to travel internationally.  She’s been to New Zealand, Australia, Poland, Greece and a bunch of other fun places.  We had a lot of fun talking about  our respective honeymoon plans, and  was happy to hear they chose Fiji (BULA!).  I’ll get more  details on their très exclusive  resort when they get back, but for now we’ve only gotten a cryptic update through James’ parents that they arrived in Fiji fine, but…sans luggage.

SIGH.

Is that not the ultimate travel nightmare? OK, I guess it could be worse, but what a frustrating way to start out your (much needed) vacation on a tropical island…without your bathing suit! I know the experts say to pack spare underwear and a change of clothes (etc.) in your carry-on, but who really does that??  No one packs for a vacation seriously thinking their luggage may actually get lost – but it does happen.  A lot.  Sometimes you’re lucky and you get your bag in a couple of days, but sometimes your luggage is lost in a black hole (or on the black market?) and never to be seen again.  The Wall Street Journal has a chart of different airlines’ baggage mishandling stats here.

Some experts recommend travel insurance. I did it once on a whim – not sure why – while at the airport waiting for my flight to Australia.  Because my flight was ready to leave the airport, I was charged significantly less than my travel companion, who bought hers weeks in advance. Go figure.  If you’re interested in some tips on decreasing the odds your luggage will get lost, check out this ABC News article.  Hint – there’s no foolproof method!

On a happier note, I am sure Jen & Jim thoroughly enjoyed their Fijian honeymoon with or without their luggage…Congrats to the newlyweds!

New tagline they should consider:  "Fiji...one of the few places you can probably get by without your luggage."

New tagline they should consider: "Fiji...one of the few places you can probably get by without your luggage."

Smart Read

July 13, 2009

I’m filing this article under tips – ways to (try) to avoid checked-baggage fees. My favorite travel columnist, Chris Elliott, offers up some practical advice on how to bypass those creeping fees…

The Wall Street Journal's fee comparison from November 2008...some of these have probably gone up since then!

The Wall Street Journal's fee comparison from November 2008...some of these have probably gone up since then!

He’s Just Not That Into You…X3

May 29, 2009

I love a good red eye flight to points east. You get on board, take an Ambien, eat a little, and doze off to wake up at your destination (sometimes well-rested, other times at least half-rested). Unfortunately, when you’re going west, you’re probably awake the entire flight minus a few cat naps here and there. This is where the airline you choose makes a big difference. If you’re on an international airline, they’ll likely provide you with a host of entertainment options, unlimited beer/wine etc and probably more meals and snacks than you need. With the US-based airlines, you really never know what you’re going to get, but it’s definitely not going to be any free alcohol, that’s for sure.

When I chose American Airlines for my recent flight to London (mainly based on price and flight time options), I was a little nervous about the flight back, knowing I’d be awake and would have to occupy myself for 7+ hours on board. I brought along a book, my iPod, and the latest issue of New York Magazine, but I still had a feeling that wouldn’t be enough if there were no movies (a good way to eat up 2 hours at a clip).

American Airlines had about 10 movies on tap, but nothing really called out to me…but they did have “He’s Just Not That Into You,” the movie adaptation to the snarky, tell-it-like-it-is dating book for delusional women. So I gave it a go. I ended up napping during parts of the first two attempts, and the third time it got cut off right at the end…boo….but I think Ben Affleck finally proposed to Jennifer Aniston in the end, yay…

This trip around, I also rented a movie off of iTunes (Woody Allen’s “Manhattan“). If you haven’t done this before, it’s pretty handy. For $2.99 or $3.99, you can download a movie for one-time viewing (this can take a 1/2 hour or more based on your connection), and you have 30 days to view the movie once it’s downloaded, and 24 hours to finish it once you start playing it. I started the movie while waiting to board the plane and finished it after we hit 10,000 feet. Despite the screen being so small, it’s nice to have the movie you want on demand and to be able to pause it if you need to. You can also purchase movies if you have an all-time favorite you’d watch over and over. And if you haven’t tapped into the thousands of available podcasts, I’d suggest searching around on that part of the iTunes store as well (I listened to a great LOST podcast about the finale episode, as well as watched an entire episode of VH1’s “Best Week Ever”).

But unfortunately, I was still bored…! 😦