Wednesday, December 22, 2010


It’s early morning. My eyes are barely open, and yet… I’m on my way to work. Too tired to make breakfast, I decide to dial the only restaurant I keep in my cell phone. On speed dial.

Dan’s Hamburgers.

Why Dan’s?

Well, they’re on the way to work. :)

And they make good, fattening, diner-style breakfasts. This is important to anyone who calls themselves a southerner. We revel in our eggs, fried apples, grits, and hashbrowns. Our biscuits with gravy and our ham with red-eye gravy. Well, depending on what part of the south you’re in, of course.

Today, I clicked my speed dial and ordered my usual: eggs and grits.

I entered Dan’s and the world of cheap, 1950s style diner unfolded before me. Counter help wearing white uniforms. Waitresses wearing maroon aprons.

Apparently, Dan was once married to Fran. When they split, the franchise split to become a few joints called Dan’s Hamburgers and others called Frans.

All I know is that back when I ate meat, Dan’s made a pretty darn good burger.

And they make good breakfasts.

I stepped up to the counter and gave my name.

Like they were heralding royalty, the counter help intoned: “Joy’s here!” “Joy’s here!” to the cooks in the back.

I smiled and had to stifle a royal wave.

A bag was produced, and my iced tea provided. I paid the fare and walked out to my car. There is something comforting and soothing about having breakfast at a place like Dan’s. It’s like walking into Cheers.

As I sat down at my desk to eat my creamy grits, I thought about things like warmth and friendship and good, down-home cooking. Thank God for Dan’s. It just starts my day out right somehow!

Monday, October 18, 2010

And the Wheels Turn...

I've been considering my travel exploits as of late.  Due to the ever-increasing difficulty of getting overseas airfare for a reasonable price (tickets are running about $1200 RT to the UK through Travelocity for the May/June timeframe), I am doubting my ability to make a trip to my beloved England this year. *sigh*  I'll do my best, but it will take much larger bank roll than I will likely have the wallet for.

That leaves me with lots of alternative options, of course.  As you know, I recently returned from New Orleans which is only a few short hours away.  The Ozarks, which I visited summer before last, are also an option.  I live in one of the most fun and scenic parts of the US here in Austin, so there's plenty to do right at home.  San Antonio, too, is one of my favorite cities with it's Riverwalk and El Mercado. 

There's Fredricksburg, New Braunfels, Salado, Wimberley, and Greune when I need a day trip and Walburg German food to assuage the European in me.

Here are some links for those places:

Eureka Springs
Austin, TX
San Antonio
New Braunfels

Of course, my folks live south of Houston, so I get to see Galveston.  A lot.  And since I was raised nearby, I know a ton of places to go there.  I'll put that information in a separate posting.

I am traveling next weekend with a friend from Tyler on a day trip... somewhere.  We'll see where we end up!

In the meantime, I'm home with my puppies and content - for a few days - to sit still and make a quick trip to Eric's place for them to run a time or two this week.

Take care, travel pals, and see you next time!

Toobin' down the Guadalupe - New Braunfels:

Walburg German Restaurant

Monday, October 11, 2010


I will likely blog more on this when I get time, but here are the highlights of my trip to New Orleans last weekend:

Our hotel was GREAT!  St. Christopher: Ask for room 605 – it was roomy and quiet and very well appointed.

It’s also a Best Western if you’re collecting points.

First, for beignets, we stopped by Café du Monde. Get there by 8:45 or there will be a line! Afterwards, we headed further down Decatur to the French Market. It’s an open air farmer’s market and sort of flea market where you can get souvenirs and such. There is also a psychic there called Audrey who I highly recommend.

French Market:
Café du Monde:

Then, headed back to Jackson Square – because it’s a great place to people watch, and because there are artists, psychics, mimes, and musicians there:

I just wandered the streets after that. Royal Street has a really fun shop called Fifi Mahoney’s (I actually got a wig there!). Whether you buy one or not, it’s a LOT of fun to try them on!

For lunch, if you want a taste of New Orleans, the locals go to a place called Johnny’s: or Café Maspero:

You can book a tour – they’re kind of fun. Recommend this one: (the ghost tour is always fun). Book ahead for either the 6 or 8 pm walking tours.

By mid-afternoon, I was whupped and went to nap at the hotel.

For dinner in the French Quarter, I recommend either Court of Two Sisters: or Gallatoires: Lots of people disagree as to the best food in the French Quarter, but I’ve never been disappointed with these two. Court of Two Sisters is more classic fare, and galatoires is more creole. Both are excellent.

Someone recommended Deanie’s to us, so we went there this weekend. Huge disappointment. It’s not a gourmet place – more of a gourmand place – where they pile a plate high with fried seafood. Not really impressed with the atmosphere or the food. The waitress was nice.

Of course, at night, you have to see Bourbon Street. It’s formidable even during the day, but the music (all kinds) is blasting at high volume so much that the bass throbs through your body. I was surprised I wasn’t bouncing along the street! It’s highly crowded, and I don’t drink much – so it’s not really my cup of tea. For a less distracting version of Bourbon Street – go along Royal. There’s music there (just not so much).

Even though I had a bad Pat O’Brien’s experience, I’d still recommend going there at night to see the fire fountain:

On your way to or from New Orleans, make a stop in Lafayette to see my friends Rick and Charlotte at Meche’s Donut King. First off, Ricky and Charlotte are the nicest people on the planet. Second, they make the best donuts and king cake in Lafayette. Here’s a trip advisor review for them: Tell them you know Joy from Austin and give them a huge hug for me. Those two are more like a Sonny & Cher comedy team. Love them!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Considering Travel

It’s early on a Wednesday morning. Hump day as we call them here. Once you’re over the hump, it’s all downhill. However, at the moment, I’m staring at Wednesday from the base of Mount Everest… thinking of the climb to the summit and feeling very weary.
I met with a friend last week to discuss travel plans. She had some ideas. I had some ideas. I’m not sure that they mesh.

She would like to spend all our time in Greece. And, while I think Greece would be interesting, it’s cutting into time I could better use in the UK. I haven’t seen every square inch of the British Isles yet… and I so want to.

People don’t stop to think (well, Americans don’t) that the UK is a collection of about a zillion islands. Of course there’s the big one (England/Scotland/Wales)… but then you have the Isle of Man, Isle of Wight, Gurnsey, Portsea Island, Portland, the Shetland Islands, Orkney… so many I could go on forever.

Then, there’s Lindisfarne (Holy Island) which the Vikings ransacked and nearly destroyed Catholicism in Britain. Darn those Vikings!

I have seen none of them.

Or how about a trip to Findhorn… one of the oldest running spiritual communes in the world, and one of the best known. Findhorn

I want to see Inverness and Aberdeen and Penzance and Cornwall and Cardiff.

And, of course, I want to see the rest of Ireland.

You see? I have enough to keep me busy for a lifetime of visits.

In Greece, I’d want to sit in a hammock on Santorini island and gel. I’m not even that interested in the architecture or history. I know that’s sacrilege.

It would be a beautiful visit for me, but probably not very intellectually fulfilling. I’m just a very focused traveler, I suppose.

Sometimes, it worries me that I may not be able to do this much longer. I’m 52 now…soon to be 53. The trips are becoming more and more wearing as the years go by. It’s not physical weakness as much as it is … the length of the trip, the frustrations of traveling to and from such a distant place, leaving my dogs knowing they will be traumatized for the two weeks I’m gone… that sort of thing.

Each trip, I travel as if it’s my last… because it may well be.

And, perhaps we are supposed to travel that way. It makes it very easy to live in the moment and enjoy the breadth and depth of the experience.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Missing England

Sometimes, even when I don't see Dr. Marvin, I imagine she's here. After all, I'm not wise enough to have these thoughts on my own, you know. It takes stimulus and imagination... and things I just don't usually get from 8 to 5 working as a technical writer.

Today, I'm looking at the wallpaper on my desktop. I try to change it out to keep myself from getting too bored. Today, as most days, it's a peaceful setting in the UK.

I like the UK. A lot. Enough to ponder moving there if I ever make the right connections. So far, no luck with that. Anyway, today, I'm viewing a pastoral scene in Yorkshire. I lived in Yorkshire at one time, many years ago, and it sort of stuck with me. Like peanut butter on the roof of your mouth.

I spoke with Thom the World Poet once, who is also an anglophile. It's a strange connection we have to the earth, the hills, and even the weather of England.

"Oi cud nevah liv theah," he told me once in his thick Aussie voice. "The weathah." Yes, well, it is what it is. I understood the darkness and dankness of a typical Yorkshire day. But, here I am, looking wistfully at the green meadows, stone fences, elderly barns, and cattle-dotted fields.

I wanted to be in the picture so badly.

Like that one episode of Night Gallery where a Nazi war criminal wishes he was in a peaceful fishing scene on a lake in the mountains. Except he got his wish and got put, instead, into a picture of the crucifixion.

Perhaps I shouldn't wish to be in the picture... but it is always so hard to pry myself from staring.

Once, a long time ago, Magical Michael stopped mid-sentence and gasped, "You were British in a past life! I saw it!!!"

I looked back to the hills and meadows, and I knew that at some point, I had been.

I gather up the mists and memories, and I pull my arms around them. I gird myself with them when times are tough and I'm sitting at my desk trying to accomplish tasks that provide me with just enough money to pay my bills and buy a ticket back... back to...

"What?" asked Dr. Marvin.

"Oh, thank God you're here," I said. "I was starting to get a bit depressed."

She just smiled with that gorgeous Cheshire cat smile of hers.

"Why is England so important to you?"

"I'm not sure," said I. "Partly because I started my married life there, perhaps. Partly because I'm interested in the history and culture. Partly the beauty of the place."

"But that's not all of it," she said.

"No, that's not getting to the crux of it."

"Which is?"

"I think I'm English," I said. Then, I told her the story about Magical Michael.

"I suppose there may be something to that past life stuff," she nodded.

"It feels that way. It feels like for lifetimes I was there. I loved her, I fought for her, I died for her."

Then, I told Dr. M. about the time when I was driving along and heard "Rule Brittania" on my radio. Such a wave of national pride overwhelmed me at the time. So much so that it scared me.

And the time I was riding the train from Gatwick, smelling the rich earth, passing by homes and gardens, knowing that my feet had deep roots in all of it.


It was like a memory I couldn't quite recall.

And that's all I wanted to tell you this morning. That sometimes, I miss England so badly it hurts.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

It's All Good!

Hello dear reader!

I'm back after a long hiatus. Shall I bore you with my life or try to write something witty?

Well, since you're a captive audience, I'll bore you with my life. :)

I've been unemployed, looking for work, and found a contract since I last wrote. It's a bit of a sticky wicket (finding work), but I have an angel looking out for me, obviously.

Ok, I want to tell you something so strange you probably will not believe it. I bought a ticket to the UK a few months back (no, that's not the strange part). The strange part was that ... once I bought it, I lost all energy to want to go! I mean, you know me - c'mon! By now, I have transportation all worked out, places to stay, people to see...

And this year, nothing! I wish I knew what it was about. It may be the time of year I chose (October) so that I could join Thom the World Poet at the Cheltenham Literary Festival. October is not my first choice of month when vacationing in the UK. And then, Thom did not get the offer of a ticket that he usually does, so - for the first time in a decade - he's not going to be there!

A kind of depression set in when I thought of going to England this year.

And then...

I got this job that pays really well. If I took off two weeks, that's $4K of pay lost. Not to mention the $2500 it costs me in room, transportation, food, and sundry costs for the rest of the trip. $6500 for two weeks in the UK in October... a bit too pricey especially in lieu of the weird mental state I was in about it.

So, I canceled the one or two plans I *had* made. And am going to take the hit when it comes to the airfare (non-refundable ticket through the evil, satanic priceline).

What's on the agenda now?

I've got a couple of ideas for travel talks at REI I'm considering. I'm working on a book (not travel related). Keeping up with hospice, puppies, friends, and work.

And yet...

My gypsy heart keeps calling. I recently ran into my old friend Diana who traveled with me to England in 1999. She wants to do another trip...

And perhaps it's time to break out of my comfort zone. I'm considering two weeks in Europe (will likely at least include London, Edinburgh, or Dublin in that). I'm working on a sly idea to piggy back off an existing tour (I hate guided tours). But, it means a price break for airfare, lodging, and food. I'll be chatting with the Nomad Lady (Sharon) about the feasibility of this and will contact Diana to see how she feels.

I'm thinking... June 2011?

It's all good. :)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


I know you hear me talk about England a lot, and you are probably thinking, “Hey, what are we? Chopped liver?”

Far from it! I thought I'd take a moment to sing the praises of my beloved homeland.

Texas is to me...

the smell of salt air and hot asphalt. The sound of seagulls. Sand between my toes, humid winds, pine forests, and the clink clink of rigging on shrimp boats tied at the docks.

I live to watch the sun rise over the Gulf and set over the Central Texas hills.

Texans are friendly people… we never meet strangers. We dance polkas and schottisches. We listen to the happy music of Mexico mixed with strains of Bob Wills and Janis Joplin.

The expanse of my state amazes me. We are larger than France, but smaller than Zambia. We have a large population of Hispanics, Germans, Czech’s, Polish, and other nationalities, and welcome each of them. Even Californians!

When I close my eyes and think of my life in Texas, I’m filled with a warm glow of love and the smell of fresh tamales on Christmas morning.

Texans respect the military and support our service men and women wherever they are. They are not “troops” or “casualties”… they are mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers. We may not like War, but we love our military personnel for how much they put on the line for us.

Texans love football. We camp by our stadiums, picnic with other sports fanatics, and paint ourselves Orange. Or Maroon. I hear that in the far northern territories, some even paint themselves Red!

I don’t like football, but if I close my eyes, my mind fills with my youth spent on the marching field. The bright lights of halftime. The cheers of the fans in the stands. And music. The hot, humid air of a waning summertime.

The sun beats hot in Texas summers. It’s not for the faint of heart, but we deal with it happily and reserve our right to swim, drink margaritas, and bask in the air conditioning whenever we like.

Texas raised my friends and people I have loved for decades. We grasp the bayous, canyons, and mesquite with a hunger only those who have been Texas bred can truly understand.

An American's View of a British View of America

I've often felt the slings and arrows of the British viewpoint of America. Generally, I think they see us as bombastic, surly, aggressive, entitled, boisterous, and obnoxious. Not all of this vision of loveliness is entirely incorrect.

I wanted to hide under the seat of my guided tour (full of Americans) when a largish woman behind me began screaming, "A Bobby! A Bobby!" simply because she'd seen... you guessed it... a Bobby.

I cringed when my friend picked up a 200 year old vase off the shelf of an antique dealer. The dealer's mind clearly sending me messages, "Get your nasty Yankee hands off my 200 year old vase."

Everyone knows, you should look at it from a distance.

The British don't quite get Americans... but that's ok. We don't exactly get the Brits either. The British see us as upstarts, nouveau riche, pretenders to the throne of aristocracy with designs against the British Commonwealth. The British gave us Queen Elizabeth and Westminster Abbey. We gave them Michael Jackson and Disney World.

The British act from centuries deep culture, tradition, and bad weather. If they burn people in effigy, there is a reason. If a guy wants to blow a horn at the close of day in the square at Ripon(1), there's a reason. If a guy bangs a black stick on the doors of Parliament and the door is shut in his face(2), there's a reason.

We Americans generally have no reason for what we do. Have you ever asked yourself why someone buried a bunch of cadillacs in Amarillo(3)? Or how tailgating parties originated? What about pig calling contests or wienerdog races?

The British have a reason. All we have is a sense of humor. Perhaps that's the underlying difference.

But wait - there's also the food barrier!

In the 1980s, my British next door neighbors nearly had a heart attack when I served them tacos for dinner. Where were the knives and forks? Things have changed a bit since then, but I have seen (more than once) a hamburger eaten with knife and fork. It's only proper, you know!

The heathen Americans will eat just about anything with their hands... pizza, hamburgers, tacos, popcorn... Good Lord, how we are even allowed past British immigration still baffles me.

But then, I watch the British eat pork n' beans on toast FOR BREAKFAST, and have a similar reaction.

One of my American friends was told by a British child how wonderful the hamburgers were they had for dinner, and asking them what made them taste so good. It's called MEAT. No fillers. Grilled up and served fresh.

And yet, the British eyed us warily as we fired up our grill one snowy day in winter... go figure.

The British hate our politicians as much or more than they do their own. It is a British past time to hate politicians, and they revel in it. They will discuss politics at the drop of a hat with anyone, anywhere. If you don't believe me, just catch one of those black cabs and ask the driver what he thinks of Obama.

In return, we get a view of their Parliament in seeming chaos every time video is released of their sessions. Having the podium in Parliament doesn't necessarily mean that you'll be heard. Americans would call that rude.

When Representative Joe Wilson yelled at a legislative session that Obama was a liar, he was heavily criticized for his outburst. That wouldn't have even made news had it happened in Parliament.

Perhaps, the British think we don't care about politics because we're not raging at the top of our lungs. Well, some of us aren't, anyway.

In all, I think British and Americans are more than just two countries divided by a common language. We are like a dysfunctional family... the Americans left the nest and haven't really been forgiven. I heard a discussion in a pub by two elderly men who were still engaged in World War II:

"Came in too late to the war, they did."
"Yeah, we had won it by the time they got 'ere."
"Surprised they bothered."

I also got to witness first-hand the repercussions of NOT joining the British in the Faulklands War. Sit-ins, protests, a lot of under-the-breath clucking.

Americans give money, aid, and support so often to world disaster relief and aid in wars that buy no land or accolades for us. Perhaps that intimidates. But, like a child who is always seeking recognition from an aloof parent, the British just see us as bumbling through the world without the enlightenment of British wisdom.

Perhaps one day we will reconcile our love for each other's cultures and the bonds that link both the British and Americans. Until then, I choose to admire the Queen and Westminster Abbey over buried Cadillacs and Michael Jackson.

1. See Ripon's Hornblower (
2. See Black Rod (
3. See Cadillac Ranch (

Friday, April 23, 2010

Travel Packing 101

Hello dear friends! It's been ages since I've written since there hasn't been any real travel going on in my life. So, to stir the pot a bit, yesterday I went to Travel Packing 101 by Sharon Williams, aka the Lady Nomad at REI. It was a fabulous evening of travel packing tips by a truly travel savvy lady from Austin.

I'm condensing the notes I took here for your convenience and edification. I'll also comment from time to time. (You KNOW you can't shut me up.) :)

First of all, if you want to view Sharon's website, see If you write her and ask nicely, she might even email you a sample packing list!

We started off the evening by discussing the overall packing methodology. You must stop and ask yourself:

1. What is my travel style?
2. What kinds of activities am I planning?
3. What's the baggage allowance?

As for Sharon (and myself) we pack as lightly as possible. Sharon gets by with about three changes of clothes. When I go (which is typically for around 10-14 days), I pack about five days worth of clothing.

Sharon started off by discussing the actual luggage. We saw:

• a duffle bag
• a very handy roller bag
• a Rick Steve's carry bag with packing cubes
• a day pack
• a fanny pack

Someone mentioned the duffle bag might have been too large to fit as a carryon. To me, they seem a bit unwieldy and difficult to carry once fully loaded. However, if you prefer a duffle bag, you can get them with backpack straps. Get something with durable material and ensure that seams are multi-stitched. Sharon recommended a few brands like REI, Rick Steves, and Eagle Creek.

If you are a tall person using a roller bag, ensure that the handle is long enough for you. I'd never thought of that since I'm short, but that's a consideration for you jolly giants out there. :)

Someone asked about the difficulty finding your bags on the carousel when they were all the same color. I thought it was funny that Sharon and I both used the same tactic. Tying a purple ribbon/string to the handle of the luggage.

Sharon recommends the Rick Steves carry bag with packing cubes. See to look up this type of luggage.

These packing cubes can compact clothes and make it easier to fit into the luggage:

The Rick Steves carryon bag can double as a backpack, but has luggage handles:

You don't have to wear it as a backpack if you don't want to.

Reviews of this packing method have been extremely good. One reviewer mentioned that even the TSA people double-checked because they didn't think he could get *that* much and still have it be a legal carryon (it was).

But, here's my contention with this packing mode:

I think for the most part, middle-aged to elderly female (and maybe some male) travelers don't like backpacks.

I packed it up (during a packing trial - which is why I recommend them), and it was huge on my back. Difficult to manipulate on and off - for a 52 year old woman who has never backpacked, and it didn't have the back support of regular backpacks. The LAST thing I want to do is throw my back out on vacation. Having said that, it might have really been of use on that climb up 70 steps to my B&B in Edinburgh. Again, as Sharon said, it depends on your travel style. Also, you don't *have* to use the backpack feature, but if you don't, you're left with (pretty much) a shapeless bag with handles. Which, to me, is as easy to carry as a duffle bag. Not my first choice.

If you want to see what I did take with me, you can view here:


You want to pack as little as possible for the duration of your trip, so find things that don't wrinkle, that are multi-functional, that are light-weight, and that are easily washable. She showed us a really cool pair of zippered pants... you can either wear them as long pants or unzip them and make shorts out of them. That went on my "must buy" list. Someone in the class mentioned for travel clothes.

Again, I agree with Sharon when she says to "layer" clothing. Bring short sleeve shirts and wear them under longer sleeved shirts for warmth. This also means you have the short-sleeved shirt if it gets warm outside. Wear a lightweight, waterproof, breathable jacket and carry a fleece underjacket if you are going to colder climates.

If you're going to a colder climate, you'll typically be packing thicker (and heavier clothing). It may take you some different trials at what works best. I actually pre-pack a time or two to ensure I have what I need and that it fits comfortably into my bag.

Sharon takes one pair of shoes and one pair of tevas (comfortable, expensive rubber sandals).

I've never taken these as I usually go to the UK or Europe where the ground tends to be muddy and it's cold outside. When I go, I'll pack a multi-purpose shoe - such as this very comfy Clark's mule:

It works for everyday walking as well as nighttime dinner and a show types of outings. If I'm not planning anything else, this one type of shoe has done well. However, I try to get in some short hikes when I can. So, I'll also bring either sneakers or hiking boots.

Note: Hiking boots are extremely heavy. Only bring them if you absolutely have to!

Sharon brings a makeup/travel bag.

I have this one from Eddie Bauer, but I do not take it on my overseas travels. it's a space issue for me. Why use an extra piece of luggage when a plastic bag will do? And you can easily see what you need in plastic bags. She did bring up a good point though that if you are staying in a hostel or low-budget hotel, it might be nice to have the mirror.

Sharon also packs a hard shell makeup kit (a small plastic storage box). I also don't use something like this. Sharon likes it because it holds everything she wants held and she can open it up and see everything she has. For me, I think you can accomplish the same thing with plastic bags, less weight, and taking up less space in your luggage.

Sharon mentioned that, especially if you are doing laundry in your sink, you may want to bring a large, flat stopper (obtainable at most hardware stores). Some sinks won't have a stopper when you need one most!

She also brings a very cool clothesline made by Rick Steves that can hang clothing without clothes pins!

Some other things she mentioned:

• Small firstaid kit and plenty of bandaids

• Power adapters and power converters if you are going into a country with a voltage different from the US. I have a small travel blow dryer that I got at an American store which works in both the UK and US and has a UK plug. I've taken it with me for probably the last 13 years when I travel there. Note: I *do* occasionally travel to Europe and that's a whole other ball of wax. I do believe that I required only adapters (no converter) for the hair dryer.

• Chargers and batteries (ensure batteries cannot touch each other and spark a fire). Note: I don't ever carry converters or adapters to England as I don't need chargers (no cell phone and no computer).

• Myself and another lady mentioned mole skin or blister patches... if you plan to hike, be sure to bring these to prevent blistering. You don't want your feet not working properly on your vacation! You can get blister pads from REI (

I used a brand called Compeed when I was in England, but they aren't available here. Apply it like a bandaid BEFORE you go on any kind of long walk, or take them with you just in case.

There are other hiking tricks - most blisters are caused by friction, so double-sock. Voila, no friction. They make double layer hiking socks and sell them at REI. And you can also buy sock liners to wick moisture away from your feet. For more information on protecting your feet, Google "blister protection."

• Washcloth - amen, Sharon. Most countries don't use them. If you want one, take one. However, if you're like me, I just use the edge of a towel when I need to.

• Night table bag - this was something that I had not thought of. Sharon packed a plastic bag with an alarm clock, and a small mag light that can also double as a night light.

• Umbrellas - I agree with Sharon that a poncho is much more useful and multi-purpose. Umbrellas can easily be blown inside out - as in my epic drenching in Dublin. A rain poncho will keep you dry, and can double as waterproofing for your backpack as well.

• Swimmer's towel or chamois - if you are staying in places that are not exactly the Ritz, you might want to get one of these towels. You can easily dry yourself with a small cloth, wring it, and it's ready for packing.

• Dr. Bonner's bar soap - multi-purpose bar soap that can clean you as well as your clothing. Obtainable at most grocery stores.

• Duct tape - small amount comes in handy for luggage repairs and other emergencies

• Travel guides

• Snacks - you never know when a restaurant WON'T be open

• Wipes and hand sanitizer

• Extra plastic bags. You can use plastic bags to compress clothing, store, protect against spillage, and a lot of other things. I wish I had invented plastic bags! It's kind of like duct tape in the multi-use category

• If you're going to a sunny area, pack a sun hat, sun screen, and sun glasses

• Medications - you must have your prescription for prescription drugs. If it's an over-the-counter medication, keep it in it's original packaging

• Ear plugs - Sharon said she didn't use these much, but I have

• Small disinfectant for the toilet if you like (I don't bother as I typically stay in decent hotels)

• A notebook for information and journaling - I also brought up that you should upload the information to the net for easy downloading if you end up losing your journal. Sharon recommended a thumb drive (which - I'm iffy about - they're so easily lost). But, I did take one on my last trip. At the very least, though, upload your critical information somewhere where you can retrieve it (such as

• Pre-printed postcard labels - this was a GREAT idea! I'm horrible at printing labels, but I might try it next time.

• Toilet paper - because you just never know...

• Extra passport photos just in case your passport is lost. Someone mentioned there's a microchip in the newer passports. People have been known to scan your information and steal your identity that way. My friend mentioned getting a shielded case. Here is a link to one:

They also make billfolds, so people can't read your chip-equipped credit cards.

• Credit cards - this microchip also exists on some credit cards. In America, we have not yet begun using these types of credit cards as much as in Europe, but it's coming. This is also a good time to let you know that if you *can* get such a card, get one. The English were a bit miffed that they couldn't just swipe my cards with their readers. I think American Express may be the only carrier that uses them.

• Keep copies of all your critical documentation in hardcopy form

If you carry a satellite (day) pack, Sharon recommends the following items go in it:

• Poncho
• valuables
• camera
• electronics


• Keep your money separate. Do not put all your money, credit cards, and passport in one place. All it would take is one pickpocket to totally ruin your holiday. Put some in your pocket, and some in your (locked and safely stored) luggage. Sharon uses a thin money belt, but I find that an added hassle for the type of travel I do (I do see where you might want something like that in less-desireable environments). Sharon mentioned that she also uses a fanny pack. (Note to my English friends - this is NOT what you think!) It's similar to one that I use as well.

This doubles as my purse. I carry it close to me, always ensure that you are aware of your surroundings at all times.

• Bellehop alarm $8 at the Container Store - this is a door alarm that might save you if you plan to stay in some not-so-safe hotels or destinations

• Sharon discussed zippers a bit. Ensure they zip with ease, and that they are "locking"... they kind of zippers with a hole in them.

Get TSA combination locks for your luggage that you can lock and that TSA can open with a key. That's most likely the type of lock pictured here.

• Someone asked about getting luggage in fashionable colors. The response was that you want to attract as little attention to yourself as possible. You don't want to stand out as an American tourist/pickpocket target. Wear neutral clothing and carry neutral luggage.

Things Sharon didn't discuss that are worth considering:

• Laundramats - I do not ever feel like I've wasted my vacation if I go to a laundramat. You don't have to wash in the sink or depend on undependable cleaners in foreign countries to clean your clothing. It depends on the country you go to, but since I typically travel to Europe, I've never had an issue in laundramats. Going to a laundramat means that you don't have to carry clothes soap or clotheslines. Just much less messy and your clothes *really* get clean.

They're also great places to meet the locals.

• Money - what works best for overseas? Traveler's checks, credit cards? Debit cards? Cash? What do you need to be aware of - such as the microchipped card that can be swiped. How much should you carry? How should you plan for the amount of cash you'll need?

• Travel documents - what should you remember? E-tickets, train passes, rental car agreements, insurance... Sharon did mention possibly getting an international drivers license, but in a lot of countries they are not needed. Check with the country before going over.

• More on whether to take a laptop or netbook or IPad or something. Personally, I don't take any of that. No cell phone, no computer of any type (I'm on vacation). But, then I know there are usually tons of internet cafes in the UK.