To check a bag or to carry on

To bring a checked bag or to not bring a checked bag. That is the $30 to $50 question. Should I pay as that much to check a bag or fill my carryon as full and heavy as I can. There are many different options and opinions but what is right for you on your trip.

There are three ways to bring your essentials with you on a flight.

A checked bag gets taken at the ticket desk. It will cost between $30 and $50 depending on the airlines. There are weight restrictions; generally, if a bag weighs over 50 LBS there is an extra fee. Large items such as skis, golf clubs, surfboards, bikes, musical instruments, fishing equipment, and any other large items can be transported but have an additional cost. Denver International Airport for example has a baggage claim just for oversized items because of the amount of ski and snowboard equipment traveling with passengers. The restriction for a checked bag is far less strict. You may be surprised what can be packed, from ammunition to throwing stars that are approved to travel under the plane.

Carry on Luggage is much more strict and can be tricky. Carry on bags go in the overhead bin and most airlines De must be 22 by 14 by 9 or smaller, or it will need to be checked. Cost varies by who you fly with. Low-cost carriers will charge for a checked bag and carry on while larger airlines let you take a carry on free of charge. Some airlines also have weight restrictions for carrying on items also, so be sure to read the fine print of your ticket before you head to the airport. There is a long list of restrictions for carrying on baggage. TSA.gov has a comprehensive list but here are the basics. Only three ounces of fluids, no aerosols, no sharp or dangerous items, cremated remains vary between airlines, most construction tools must be in a checked bag, and most electronic items are fine to take with you.

Finally is the peripersonal item. The difference between a personal item and a carry on is size. It must be able to fit under the seat and not take up precious room in the overhead bins. For most females, this item will be a purse or diaper bag. For men, this can be a briefcase or laptop bag. Although if you have a backpack that isn’t completely filled and can fit under the seat it should be alright.

●A few thoughts to consider●

How long and what type is the trip you will be going on? If you are going on a business trip, there are certain items you must bring as opposed to a vacation. Can you or are you going to buy items at your destination? There may be great shopping where you are going and if you only have an extremely full carry on you may be limiting your options. Are you willing to wear the same pair of jeans twice? Think about packing lighter. You do not need as much as you think you do. Anything you may have forgotten you can usually buy at your destination. If it’s an international spot or domestic it can be fun to go to a new store to replace a missing item. There are adventures even doing the seemingly mundane tasks.

Don’t miss the train

There was one train that stopped in Broken Hill, Australia and it only came a few days a week. I missed it and I was crying to the ticket agent while she was giving me options I couldn’t afford on my backpacker’s budget. I was in the middle of Australia’s outback and I guess I was going to be staying for another day or two. At the time it seemed like a horrible day, but these are the things that can happen while traveling.

To be fair, this was my fault. I arrived at the train station on time and waited for nearly an hour. There was an announcement over the speakers saying the already late train was broken down and they believed it would be an hour until it arrived at the station. It was early morning in Broken Hill, so I left to get a cup of coffee a few blocks away. While at a cute cafe I hadn’t visited during my time there I looked over the menu and ordered a small breakfast. I waited with my coffee for my carryout order to be ready and boxed up. It took a total of fifteen minutes and I started back to the station. I heard train noises coming from the station. I went running with my not very light backpack, coffee and bag of freshly cooked food to the Broken Hill train station a few short blocks away just in time to run up the flight of stair to see the last of the train pulling away. I yelled out and began to cry, a reaction I do not normally have when things turn upside-down on me. The ticket attendant tried to comfort me and give me options to get out of this lonely outback town. These options included buying another ticket leaving a few days later or getting a taxi to drive to the next town the train was stopping at and asking the train conductor to wait. The cab ride would be cutting it very close and the train would only be able to wait about fifteen minutes. I did not have money to pay a taxi to speed to the next stop a few hours away. I was also not able to get my money back from the train I had just watch leave without me. Still very upset and felling defeated I left the train station and walked down the road still with hot breakfast in hand. I Found a parking lot with a space for me to sit unnoticed under a ramp and called my mom. She did what all great mothers do and told me it was going to be all right and there were other options for me. I knew this to be true, but I was just so mad at myself. I let my mother talk softly to me as I ate my delicious breakfast still sniffling. With my head hanging low I went back to the small hotel I had just checked out of and explained my situation and asked for another night. The owner was so kind to let me go back to the same room which wasn’t yet made up.

I did make plans to leave and I was only delayed a single day. I caught a bus very early the next morning and said goodbye to Broken Hill once again and watched out the bus window a beautiful outback sunrise as the bus drove down Barrier Highway back towards Sydney.

Flight etiquette

It can be the largest game of Russian roulette as you walk down a planes narrow aisle looking at all the people you don’t want to sit next to for eight hours.  Judging all the faces as you get nearer to your seat. I don’t want the mother and the young kid,  I really don’t want to sit next to that large man that has the middle seat, oh no please not the kid playing music so loud everyone can hear. No not him he is fighting on his phone pre-flight. There are snap judgments that we all make on people for the behaviors or actions. A lot of these things are happening to unknowingly passengers. I want to help anyone who thinks that their seat has a bubble around them and no one can smell your feet. There is simple flight etiquette I would recommend everyone to follow.

  • Food
Why wouldn’t I want to bring food from home for a long flight you might ask.  Why would I want to pay for overpriced snacks in the maze of the store the airport snakes you though on your way to your gate. Every few paces there is another restaurant or food stalls set up to lighten your wallet. There may be a few times to choose airport food. AT the type of places that have pre-packaged items such as sandwiches, salads, and bowls or restaurants for a hot burger to go. All of which don’t have an overwhelming odor and are relatively not messy. If you don’t mind dropping some extra money for ready to walk on board with a decent meal. There are deals if you look hard, sometimes. Look for where the crew eats at, they work there every day and know where the best deal is. Sometimes a full day of flying with tight layovers all you can do is buy and fly. You know you get a little envious when you see that mother three rows up with the young child break out multiple bags filled with cookies and crackers. Bringing snacks seems to get left with childhood but is a great cost-effective way to eat until you arrive at your destination. Cookies, crackers, beef jerky, and candy and my favorites to stash in my pack. Avoid eggs, garlic, onions, and other strong odors. There is no amount of mints that truly get rid of garlic breath. Annoying loud crunchy chips are also on my foods to avoid list.
  • In-flight meals & snacks
If you are getting a free meal on a flight, consider yourself lucky with all the budget cuts in the airline industry. On a meal service on a long flight, there are usually two options to choose from and possibly a kosher meal. Depending on how full the flight is, you may not get a choice at all. If you plan ahead there are special dietary meal option through most airlines. When the whole flight is eating the same thing it doesn’t matter if it has a weird smell. When I was taking a short flight from Hong Kong we all received a hotdog in a roll in a paper bag with a small container of water. I could smell the snack being handed out long before I could see it. I was still very thankful for this free snack on a travel day and devoured it.The same goes with meal service on the flight it may have an odor but the while flight is evolved so no one will notice. How your food is eaten is another topic. Although eating on a plane is not a fine dining experience, please don’t leave your manners on the ground. Be aware of how you are eating and what it sounds like. It makes for a long flight when Mr. Middle seat is slurping his food or audibly drinking. For the love of everything, please do not burp or fart in the main cabin. Try to save those gems for the lavatory.
  • Dressing & Undressing
Please keep your clothes on. There I said it. If you are flying a few hours leave your shoes on, besides jackets and cold weather gear, there is no reason to start shedding your clothes. On long flights, you will have a small packet of goodies from some airlines. When you open the in-flight toiletries bag, you may have toothpaste, toothbrush, earphones, and socks. On long flights, you can take off your shoes but make sure you put your sweaty feet in the socks the airline provides. It is never ok to walk to the lavatory in bar feet, that may not be water on the floor. If your shoes are terribly smelly then maybe you should suffer and keep your shoes on the rest of the flight instead of making the passengers around you suffer.
  • It is NEVER ok

If you have to ask yourself if it’s ok to do something on a flight, then it most likely isn’t. Never put your feet between the seats in front of you if there is anyone in those seats or not. Don’t even think about painting your nails in an enclosed airplane. Tweezing is gross when you are in public, don’t try on a flight.  Where are you going to put the hairs you remove? There is a toilet on board and before you say it; I know there is always a line when the cabin lights are turned on after a long flight. Everyone wants to get cleaned up and ready for their arrival. Please be patient, ad wait for your turn to do the five minute clean up in the lavatory. You would think something as innocent as brushing your hair could cause some dirty looks. What you may not notice is little pieces of your hair are now floating around the cabin. Never ever spray cologne, perfume or other types of smelly sprays until you are off the flight. What may smell amazing to you could start a full-blown asthma attack on the passengers around you.

  • Boarding and Disembarking
We all know the drill when boarding an airplane. Disabled individuals, parents with small children and active military usually get to board first. Then comes the fancy perk members with all the points and miles or peoples who pay extra for early boarding. Then comes the common folk. At things point in the boarding process, everyone is already crowded around the gate waiting to rush over to the already formed line to enter the jetway. When your group is finally called and you start the slow one-two step onto the flight remember a few things as you look for your seat. Mind your bags. If you have a backpack, keep the straps on both shoulders until you are ready to take not off. I have been hit and also have hit others in the head with my bag walking down the aisle. Purses also should be kept under control for the same reason. If you need help placing your overweight carry on suitcase in the overhead compartment then please ask for help. Getting hit by a suitcase is much worse than a book bag or purse. I know you are trying to save money and overpacked a carry on but dropping a suitcase can potentially take out a row of passengers. The only thing that would make this worse is your seat is right next to the row of angry and bruised travelers you just accidentally assault. Take your time and don’t rush the person in front of you. Disembarking the same rules apply.  Everyone wants to exit as fast as possible but there is no reason to stand so close that I can feel your breath in my hair. Personal space is important, especially after a long and full flight.I wait until there is almost no line at all at the ticket counter before I even get out of my seat. I have never seen a good reason to stand in a mob waiting for the next group to be called, just to add to the already long sluggish moving line. I will wait even if my group has already lined up. I know the flight isn’t going anywhere, I know I have a seat assigned, and I am not missing out on anything by waiting to board nearly last. The airline does not, however, have to wait until every passenger is on. They will leave you at the airport bar or the duty-free shops fifteen minutes before take-off time. Flights are also allowed to leave ten minutes if everyone around the gate has board.Be kind to those around you. You never know who you are sharing a row with. You may sit next to the best single-serving friendship and the most amazing conversation, but don’t break the unwritten rules of flying. There will be private time soon enough when you are off the aircraft, so please be sensible

Jamaica vibes

Jamaica is a vibrant and at times overwhelming. If you find a nice spot overlooking the area, I would suggest to sit back, drink a Red Stripe, and watch the local and tourist interact. Maybe go all out and drink some local rum, why not!

It may be too overwhelming to be approached by every person selling anything. Now if you are a seasoned traveler you may have experienced this at some point. The relentless sales pitches for anything, and they will walk and talk with you for as long as you let some of them. There is no trick having them leave you alone. It is either a very touristy area that you have just walked into and you must make your way out of the crowds of people. The mass number of people like for example a cruise ship docking for a few hours. The locals know when you will be getting off your floating city and they also know how long you will be on their land and all direct routs to and from the ship. This is how the locals practice their sales pitches, their English, and make their wages. Tell them no politely and keep walking, some may walk with you for a while and keep pushing their sales pitch. You aren’t a sucker if you buy something. There are many handmade items available in Jamaica, even things made right on the street just for you. There are many skilled craftsman to choose from and don’t be afraid to barter.

I really do feel there is something for everyone in this great island. There are amazing tropical hikes and breathtaking waterfalls. Getting to places like Dunn’s River Falls early or much later to avoid the crowds is the best way to see the natural beauty. There are multiable cruise ships that port in Ocho Rios and the falls become covered in cruiser only there for the day. There are plenty of other waterfalls and natural beauty near by Ocho Rio and all around this beautiful island. Try Laughing Waters or Konoko Falls to get away from some of the crowds.

Jamaica is a country best seen for a few days. Like any other destination, a few hours would never be enough time to get to know the country.  Sometimes that is all you have. My suggestion is to grab a plate of jerked chicken, rice, and peas from one of the many street vendors.

As you may notice as you make your way down the streets and shops Bob Marley is always staring back. Jamaica is the birthplace of the reggae god and he is praised everywhere. Make time to visit The Bob Marley birthplace and Mausoleum in Nine Mile, Saint Ann.

Passengers rights on a flight.

There are times when you have the right and times when you must sit down and wait. According to the US Department of Transportation, there are rules in place that US airlines must abide by. If you are on a domestic flight the airline can hold you for no more then three hours and international flights for hours unless there is a safety issue. If you have been waiting in your seat with the same view of the tarmac for two hours the airline must provide food, water, and a lavatory.  In the United States if you have been waiting for three hours you must be given the option to get off. You may not see your checked bag for a while and may find it hard to book another flight, but you will be free of the same seat you have been waiting in for hours. Passengers who choose to leave a plane that has been delayed may not be allowed back on and is then responsible for finding another flight. If you are outside the USA there is still hope to escape a flight stuck on the tarmac, but you must wait four hours to be given the option to deplane and the same issues arise only on an international setting. Trying to track down baggage and book a new flight in a foreign land and losing the money on the flight you just walked off of are just a few headaches involved. These lengthy tarmac delays aren’t the norm, but it is always good to know what options and rights as a passenger you have.

Christmas

Fresh cut trees, trees with bulbs to decorate and plant in the yard after Christmas. Palm trees strung with lights down south. Holiday themed music everywhere you go and it will  definitely get stuck in your head. Instagram  worthy wrapped boxes under Pinterest perfect  decorated trees. Some people choose to go all out and pick the perfect gift for everyone others donate their time to the less fortunate at at soup kitchen.

Christmas may bring up thoughts of spending too much money and waiting in long lines everywhere. Its hard to remember the true meaning for this gift giving day. No, I don’t feel that its a religious events, I feel like it is a family day. A day of waking up early to see what loved ones surprised you with and a big family dinner.

Even the furry family members get gifts in my household. My dog could smell the treats inside! This is what its all about, seeing the excitement on loved ones faces as they tear open the brightly colored paper.

Making home made Christmas and holiday season cards if one of my most treasured pastimes. Its a special time of year, and I am spending quality time making these cards for people that I love. The hard work is all worth the love. The excitement of seeing all the presents wrapped under the tree waiting for Christmas morning to come.

Siam Gulf

A Thai story of food with beer of course.

Chang Beer is a mild beer with 5.2% ABV and is seen as the “Bud Light of Thailand” because it is everywhere and relatively cheap. Chang is the Thai word for elephant which means much to the country. Singha Beer is a pale lager with a full taste and has 5% ABV. The meal started with lettuce wraps bursting with flavor in crunchy chilled lettuce. Siam Gulf has done a great job with the minced chicken with water chestnuts, mushrooms, onions and Thai spices served with crispy noodle on the side.

I have learned over the years of traveling I enjoy eating many things that one on sticks! Chicken satay with thick peanut sauce on the side was a great contrast to the lettuce wraps. It also came with a fresh cucumber salad that was a flavorful contrast to the Thai peanut sauce. The miso soup and seaweed salad was a great way to clear my pallet for the main course. I was getting full at this point and so was the small table I was sitting at.

I couldn’t go out to a Thai restaurant without ordering sushi. These perfectly formed tempura roll still found their way into my growing yet happy belly. Finally, it’s time for the main course pad see ew. A stir fry with flat noodles simmered in a house sauce. Carrots, broccoli, and eggs were mixed with my choice of scallops. Simply amazing.

The space was converted from a wide-open brunch restaurant with minimal decorations to an intimate and warm dining environment. The sidewall has a beautiful mural painted on it now and there are the decorations along the counter. Dark wood planks cover the windows and divide the eating areas into private sections for a more intimate dining experience.

Siam Gulf is located a short drive from the downtown area and off the tourist areas of the keys, so the prices for this authentic Thai food is much more reasonable. The location is at 12th Street and Tuttle Ave at 1100 Tuttle Ave. Sarasota, Florida.

Getting sick far from home

Getting sick far from home doesn’t have to be as bad as the movies make it out to be. Being prepared and being able to “roll with the punches” is always the key to not over stressing and taking care of yourself. When I arrived in Thailand in a smaller and not so touristy area for a week. My belly was not happy with some previous food decisions I had made. I am not sure what adventurous mystery food I enjoyed that did not agree with me, but there I was in a not so English speaking area and I was in need a simple but yet important medical care. In order to not get too description, I will say that I was in need of a poop. My body was holding out on me for days and finally, I couldn’t wait much longer rolling around on my private hostel bed in pain. I was forced to go out and try my luck trying to explains what medical I was in need of. I was also kicking myself for not packing a complete first aid kit. With the help of google translate and forcing myself to leave the relative comfort of my room, I headed off down the sidewalk with had rows of different shops. Seeing the green cross on the shop front indicates a pharmacy, now the only thing left to conquer is the language barrier. With my translator ready with the Thai word for laxatives I walked into a family run shop with the mother tending to a baby on her lap and the older son and father working the counter. I tried my tongue with pronouncing the Thai word with a quiet giggle and confused looks, I just handed over the phone and they understood what I was trying to say. They landed over a blister pack of a brand name I recognized with the rest written in Thai. I was in luck and only had to swallow my pride to walk into a drug store to ask for help to poop.

Vienna

Austria is a German-speaking country with a charm of its own. Vienna is tucked away in the northeastern section and has all the old world charm. The capital city of Austria was home to famous residents such as Mozart, Beethoven, and Sigmund Freud. The museums Quarters District has a lot going on within a short walking distance. If you need a break there are shops, bars, and restaurants around every turn. Enjoy a local beer and watch the people wander through the square. Vienna is a beautiful destination for solo travelers, families, and lovers.

  • Transportation

Coming into Vienna by plane or train you will most likely start your journey in the city center. Public transportation is clean and well organized with local trains, subways, trams and buses running in a timely manner. Tickets are cheap and are on an honor system. There are no booths to check tickets. if you get asked by an agent to see proof and you do not have any, there are strict fines. Believe me, the officials have heard every excuse. I was on a train and thought my ticket could go on to the next city, but it turned out the first time I saw an agent, my ticket wasn’t good. The only reason I was let go with a warning is that I had just added money to my travel card. Let that be a lesson to anyone who is thinking about skipping buying a ticket and taking their chances. There is a large fee for not having a ticket plus the cost of the ticket you didn’t buy. There are also Vienna city cards for 24, 48, or 72 hours pass for public transportation and hop on hop off bus service which is available at the airport and transit centers.

  • When to visit

Summer is the busiest month with beautiful mild weather and all the bells and whistles for visitors. Followed very closely by the holiday seasons at the end of the year. Everything in the region is decorated to perfection in old world charm.

Offseason is Spring and Fall months where you will find discounted flights and dinners to the most popular tourist locations.

  • Weather

Vienna is a four-season city. In the winter months of December, January, and some of February it can be dry cold and snowing. As long as you know how to dress for the weather and make stops to catch a break from harsh weather conditions then Vienna is still a wonderful and walkable city year-round Summers are usually in the 70s but occasionally can get up to the 90s.

  • What to see

The main city draw to this cultured city is the museum district and the many palaces. The most popular is Schonbrunn Palace which is an easy fifteen minutes away on public transportation. All around the city, there are open-air markets filled with fresh flowers, bread, fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices. There are multiple restaurants to sit and dine on local favorites. There are many parks with perfect lawns and fountains taking up blocks to get lost in or have a peaceful lunch.

Vienna is a great and walkable city. The locals are friendly and often English speaking for those not willing to test their German. I felt safe walking the busy areas around the city and quiet backstreets where I stayed. Like any good traveler, you should be aware of your surroundings and be careful after dark.

By Heidi Vastag

Pooping in public

Using the restroom in public is never relaxing but at times a necessary adventure. There is always the standby of McDonald’s or Starbucks with free public bathrooms. When stepping off the train in Europe make sure you have some loose change to pay for a potty trip. Each region has different challenges that you may not be aware of. Asia uses a squatty potty. If you are not used to relieving yourself hanging over a hole in the floor, then you may end up with wet feet. Backpackers have more of a solitary advantage but also have to dig a hole first. This isn’t in public, but it’s not on the privacy of your own home seat advantage.

Walk into a hotel lobby as if you belong there to avoid the front desk.

You may even be able to wander around to find snacks and cookies just don’t look too out of place.

On the unpredictable road of travel, food can be a friend and then seemingly turn on you. That is why it’s important to keep different toilet locations in the back of your mind as a safe bet.

There are a few tips for any country you find yourself in where you are crossing your legs and asking with big hand gestures trying to make yourself understand. I recommend having some small change on you to pay for the maintenance “tip” basket sitting next to the strick looking bathroom attendant. Having your own paper is safer than hoping for the best after the door shuts. In some places in Asia, you must grab paper before you enter the stall. The best tip I can pass along is to wash your hands and stay regular!