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

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!

The art of coffee in New Zealand

Although there are Starbucks close to everywhere New Zealand does coffee slower and much better. Like a lot of things in the country, Kiwis take pride in their coffee making. There are a few distinct differences when ordering coffee in New Zealand (and Australia). The two big differences are the flat white and the tall black. There are many other types of coffee available when you walk up the the counter. The barrister takes pride in the art of coffee in New Zealand. Every coffee is started with fresh roasted grounds perfectly pressed into an espresso machine. Drip coffee pots are very hard to find.  If you enjoy coffee then drinking four hour old coffee may not be your idea of a good coffee. Every coffee is made to order and is worth the wait and the line to get your morning coffee. It is not only in coffee shops and restaurants that this bean art is taken so seriously, gas station also follow suit with a coffee bar with someone there to make it. There is no stale coffee in pots or urns. So you better know what you want as you walk up and dont just say “I want a large coffee” because you will get a strange look. Most coffee is espresso based in many varieties.  You can get a large, not so strong cup of coffee called the Americano which is a espresso diluted with water. Short black, long black, short macchiato, americano, long macchiato, flat white, latte, cappuccino, mochaccino, piccolo, affogato, and vienna are all common espresso drinks you can find and should try. But the drink of the Kiwis is the flat white and its easy to see why. The flat white is 1/3 espresso and 2/3 steamed milk with mineral foam. It is still up for debate where this drink originated from . Both Australia and New Zealand both lay claim to starting this drink. It is a common and heated topic at times because both countries are very passionate about the coffee art.

  • Flat white• starts with a double espresso with steamed milk and foam. The difference between a flat white and an
  • Tall black • no milk, no sugar just great coffee, and strong

Coffee art is very trendy lately and New Zealand is no stranger to the beautiful creations made atop your coffee. As see above my cup of flat white has a little bird and a fern, a symbol of the country. The barista make it look so effortless as they dump the steaming coffee and creamy foam into a mug. But the most important this is the taste. The flat white is where the pride and the art comes in. It is much harder to make a pretty picture on top of a tall black. If you love coffee then try the local favorite of the area you are in. Go out of your comfort zone and try new things, you may never go back to drip coffee again.

Salamanca Market

Tucked away at the edge of town in Hobart is a lively street market. Early in the morning when the row on sandstone buildings have an orange glow, vendors are busy setting up for this large outdoor market. I cut through a park to head to the market and before I made it to the other side I was following my nose right to the fresh baked and fried delights that awaited. There were street performers playing for tips and vendors shouting out to potential buyers walking by. There are two main rows of the market headed down many blocks and including the local shops lining the road enticing market-goers to come inside. The entire scene is loud and colorful making me turn my head trying not to miss any sights. The people of Hobart are craft people making homemade items from scented oils children’s toys. Fresh cut flowers and all sorts of food make while you watch and wait.

I started down one row and was sure to stay on one side and try to only look at only that side all the way to the end and turned around and did the same to the other side of the side aisle to make sure I didn’t miss anything. There are two long and wide rows which I make sure I double back a few parts to make my final purchases and head out to the water for a break from the shoulder to shoulder people at the Salamanca Market. I had an amazing sausage roll with all the fixings and a flat white coffee as I sat and watched the hustle of the market from afar.

The Salamanca Market has been selling wares from 1972 in Tasmania every Saturday. It’s one of the most visited tourist attractions on the entire island of Tasmania. It’s free and it’s in the central part of Hobart how could it not be the most popular! Make sure you get up early on Saturday in Hobart tucked away in Tasmania. You won’t be sorry.

There is also more of a local market on Sunday morning in town. Consisting of cheese and dried meats tents, but mainly fruits and vegetables with a few food trucks. On Sunday I went out to the market to do some shopping it went from raining to pouring on my short walk down the hill to the closed-off road. I already walked these blocked a few hours before that morning and watched the vendors transfer their produce carefully from the car and trucks to the displays and not a drop fell. The whole morning it rained but that didn’t seem to dampen the buyers or sellers in Hobart. The slow precision of the umbrella looking over the goods stopped at the food trucks. The food trucks brought warmth and a lifeline through the rain. A few large tents in the center of the horseshoe for eating was a close cluster with no umbrellas. I had a great lunch in the rain with a few laughs under the tents. Just because it’s raining doesn’t mean the world is inside, go outside and splash in the world.

Manly Island

Going to manly Island on the Ferry is a slow peaceful way to some other parts of Sydney and great photo ops on the way of the iconic Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbor Bridge. There are sailboats scattered all along the waterways and speedboats zipping by.

Getting off the ferry I was surrounded by small tourist shops selling food and beachwear. The boardwalk leads right out from the shops to the long stretch of golden sand beaches. Manly Island is a great Sydney surf spot and on a sunny day, there is competition for the good sets of waves. When I walked down the path along the beach there were two beach volleyball courts set up with bleaches on the beach for events. At the end of the path are an ocean pool and a health center with an amazing view.

The pink dolphins of Hong Kong

Away in an old fishing village, there are regular tours of something I have never heard of before, pink dolphins. More commonly called the Chinese White Dolphin but affectionately called pink dolphins for this unusual pink and white-colored dots making themselves stand out against the dark water. I found this tour in Tai O village, a once-thriving fishing community, now being overshadowed by a giant bridge connecting the Hong Kong cities of Zhuhai and Macau. It is the longest sea-crossing bridge spanning the Pearl River Delta. Tai O has been an attraction to see the local fishing culture and to catch a glimpse of the pink dolphins, but now the village has an added feature on the boat tour, to see the new record-breaking bridge. The bridge construction has been a threat to the rare pink creatures. Marine experts say the dolphins feeding and communication activities of these very social animals have been distributed. Hopefully, now that the construction is about over and the bridge is waiting for its grand opening the sea life will be left alone.

The Dolphins start their lives as dark calves until they grow into the famous pink spots. The pink spots are from blood vessels beneath the skin of the dolphins. There isn’t a great deal known about these pink dolphins of Hong Kong but the numbers don’t lie. The animals in the Pearl River Delta areas have seen numbers drop by eighty percent over the past decade.

Try as you may, but you will not find any pink dolphins in my photos. Like many others on the boat, I was never ready when these creatures would jump up to say hello. After many missed shots, I simply sat back in the first of the boat and watched pointed pink heads pop up and splash away just as quick. It was a calm end to a busy Hong Kong day.

Womans safety worldwide

“You are going to get killed over there” Wherever there maybe, was just the place everyone was so sure to be unsafe. Usually, this fear comes from the unknown. Traveling as a solo female in countries I have never been before always exciting. When you see land as the plane banks for the final approach and your new adventure waits just outside of immigration. Everything seems safe and controlled in the airport until the outside door slide open and the wilds of a foreign land await.

When I choose a country, there are always a few well know spots that I like to see along with every other tourist and traveler. Hot touristy spots have different kind of safety risks to look out for. When there are large crowds of people milling about, keep your personal items close to your body and to be aware of is the best and most basic advice. Pickpocketers have mastered how to barely touch a person and walk away with a wallet or camera in hand. These tricks are played out in busy, sought-after sites that may feel comfortable but are targeted for lazy travel habits. Just being aware that people may be watching for a bag to be left unattended is a good habit to form. There are big city scams that can steal your information at ATM machines and taxi drivers who scam you into a higher fare by driving all over the town first.

Although money is very devastating to lose, physical safety is above all, the most important. Here are a few basic rules I try to follow.

  • Don’t trust people too easily
  • Don’t look like a tourist, look at the map before you go and leave the guidebook in your bag.
  • Don’t have large wads of money, stash cash in a different spot on you and hidden in your bags. Flashing large amounts of money could make you a target.
  • Don’t drink too much and watch your drinks around others.
  • Don’t dress too flashy, blend in

with what locals wear.

Picking a place to stay

Read, read, read! The times I walked away from a hostel or hotel were always the times I didn’t read the reviews. Angry people like to write reviews which is good if you see a pattern of bugs or staff issues. After reading enough reviews you can almost see the same words the owners and managers use to boost their own businesses. You must feel safe when you close your eyes for the night. Never let anyone hear your room number at the front desk of a hotel and always make sure there is a working deadbolt lock and a secondary lock. Bringing a wedged door stopped is a light and easy way to add protection. Hostels often have private rooms for a higher price if the group of people in the assigned room worry you. Spend the extra money to be and feel safe.

Things like where are the nearest medical center is located and getting there in a time of need is a bigger challenge less populated area. Other health issues come into play with less developed countries such as clean water and proper cooking techniques.

Another tool I found is a solo woman safety app that gives you a number of how safe an area is on a 1-100 scale. It’s called Geo Sure Global and will tell you the safety rating for an area you are in or planning to go. There is also a feature to compare different cities next to each other. Geo Sure Global uses a six-point system to determine what the score will be. The number for each area can change depending on the six categories. Being a gay woman traveling can feel like walking into the unknown. Having an app that can tell you a general safety level in different areas can protect you physically and give you peace of mind mentally. There is a wide enough spread of internet across the globe I think an app like this, especially in a time of unrest will help with global safety. Download for Apple or Android