My Life as a Traveler

Planning and Life

My Mom's the one in front with the Big Gun

So, as many of you know, my mom’s been in town this last week and we’ve had some crazy fun times. It’s always fun traveling to a place that’s quite different from home, and when there’s family involved, there’s a sweet mix of familiarity and strangeness. Here are some of the fun things we’ve done in Virginia this week:

  • Country Ham and Grits at local diner Pop’s – Mom’s first time with grits, and we found out that they’re not her favorite. Once a hash-brown girl, always a hash-brown girl, I guess.  George’s other son Matt, his wife Katherine, and their 7 month old baby Camden were in town and met us there. It’s so amazing to watch a baby grow up 2 months at a time – like one of those stop motion cameras filming flowers open or grass grow.
  • Standing in my laundry room and watching the clothes go round and round in my new front-loader washer. First they go one way…. Then the other…. Then they get wet… I guess you can figure out the rest. It was fascinating for the first 15 minutes, anyway. They use less water, but take way longer – I think the water savings is greater than the extra electricity used, but I’m not sure.
  • Dinner at my good friend Susie’s house with her mom, who is the same age as my mom. We were also fortunate to have Morgan and his friend, Dominic, join us as well. Susie made a yummy four-cheese pasta, I brought the bread, and my mom made some killer smoked salmon spread, which we ate for dessert.  The moms (all 4 of us) loved the boys’ contribution to the evening and a good time was had by all.
  • We indulged my mom’s pruning fetish and let her have a go at the overgrown bushes in our front yard. She wielded that electric trimmer like a pro. When the bushes were a uniform size, I came around with the pruner snippers and cut out the dead stuff in the middle. Unfortunately, for some of those poor bushes, the entire middle was comprised of dead stuff.  I just couldn’t stop! Think bonsai and you can imagine how the front yard looks now. Artistic!
  • Barkdust – we don’t call it mulch. It’s barkdust!!!!
  • Mom’s birthday was Sunday, so we started early with dinner at the yacht club on Friday night. We were trying to set my mom up with a handsome sailing captain. There were a lot of older guys to choose from, but nothing blew our way. The setting was fun, the view was awesome, the company congenial, but don’t let me ever eat so much fried stuff again.

My mom’s 74 this week. Yet she’s a bush-trimmin’, barkdustin’, grits-eatin’ active gal. I love that she is willing to try just about anything. She can keep up with Morgan and I wherever we go and wherever we are, she looks fabulous. I can only hope and pray that when I reach my 74th, I’ll be as active and open-minded. Happy Birthday, MOM!


Do You Need a Passport? Yes!!

 

My (renewed) passport and Morgan's older one

 

If you are a US citizen, you should be in possession of a valid passport.

What’s a passport for? A passport is a document issued by the government of a country to a citizen that certifies that citizen’s identity and gives them permission to travel to other countries. Most foreign countries require a passport for entry, even Canada, but more importantly, if you leave the country your passport is the one thing that will get you back in.

Here are the benefits of having a valid passport:

  • It’s the ultimate ID, better than your driver’s license and easier to transport than your birth certificate.
  • If you have the opportunity to travel to another country, you will not have to wait the sometimes 4-6 weeks it takes to get a passport. You can get it sooner, but the fees to expedite the process are huge.
  • Once you apply for and receive your passport, it’s a cinch to get it renewed.
  • It makes for a good back-up ID in case you need it for countries that might not require a passport, like those in the Caribbean.

Here’s a story I heard this week. A family of four planned a cruise to celebrate the two sons’ graduation from college. The cruise was on one of the most modern and newest ships, sailing from Fort Lauderdale to several Caribbean islands that did not require passports for entry. Once you show your ID to the cruise line, they will issue you a card which will serve as your “passport” that allows you to disembark and then re-board the ship. Since no passport was required, and no one in this family had one, they just planned to use their driver’s licenses as identification.

Well, they flew down to Florida the day before and the young men decided to go out clubbing the night before the cruise. Unfortunately, during the evening festivities, one of them was pickpocketed and lost his wallet with money, credit cards, and most importantly, his driver’s license, the driver’s license that he needed to get on the ship with his family the next day.

Despite every effort that family employed to get the cruise line to let him on, they were unsuccessful. There was no way that young man could join his family on that cruise and he watched them sail away. The family had to scramble to find a place to stay for the young man and provide him with enough funds for his stay in Fort Lauderdale while the rest of the family sailed off – the cruise was non refundable at that point. I’m not even sure how they got him back on the plane home.

Now, if he had a passport as well as his driver’s license, he would have had no problem. He would have left his passport with his family, gone out, and even if he lost his credit cards, money, and even his driver’s license, he still would have been able to get on that ship.

What happens if you get your passport stolen in a foreign country? Well, you need to go to a US Embassy in that country and have them issue you a temporary travel passport. This may take a while as they verify who you are, but can be extremely expedited if you have a copy of said passport to present to them.

So, the bottom line is: get a passport! Keep it up to date and make a copy of it to take with you (kept in your main luggage, away from the bag/wallet that holds your passport).

You’ll be ready to travel internationally at a moment’s notice and have a rock solid proof of identity in case you need it. Go online at http://travel.state.gov/passport/ and they’ll walk you through the process. Your passport will give you more freedom and flexibility.


What’s on Your iPod?

What’s on your iPod? Before we get started, would you please make a comment on this blog and tell me what you have on your mp3 player when you take a trip? Pretty please??? Thanks!

OK, finally I have my iPods programmed for travel. Now that I have connections in my car, I can bring my dedicated car/roadtrip  iPods into my glove compartment and leave them there. As mentioned before, if I use my regular iPod in the car, I constantly forget to bring it back into the house. My garage is not attached to the house, so it’s a little bit of a trek in my pj’s (cause it’s not til bedtime or just when I get up when I want it), so I’m happy to have the small cheap ones that don’t surf the net or take pictures in my car. I only have to bring them in when I want to change the music/podcasts – they charge right there in the car, which is sweet!

So, I have one iPod for music only, which has an assortment of tunes of the rock/dance/pop genre (no meditative music for the car zzzzzzz…..). It’s not my favorite, though.

I’m a great fan of talk radio and always used to have my radio tuned to NPR in the olden days. However, it’s the 2010’s (how do we say that? It’s the 10’s?) and technology has advanced to where I can choose my topics, programs, and hosts with podcasts. I loooove podcasts and subscribe to quite a few of them. My favorite topics are self-defense, self-care, language lessons, cool music, and stories. When I’m tuned into a podcast, particularly when I’m on the road or on the elliptical trainer, time seems to fly. Here are some of my favorites and a short review:

  • The Practical Defense Podcast by Alex Haddox. This guy looks at self-defense the same way I do. So much, in fact, that he volunteered to write the Foreword of my book and invite me to be a guest on his show (number 142). Great stuff that keeps me current on my book/speaking topic. Best with the elliptical trainer. I’m just starting to get into Karate Cafe as well.
  • Elsie’s Yoga Kula – Elsie is my favorite yoga teacher, bar none. When she teaches yoga, wherever she is or has been, she walks around with a lavalier mic on her lapel and a recorder on her backside, records the class and puts it up on her podcast. It’s like being in the studio with her entire class. Her style is Anusara yoga which is always based on an uplifting theme. I travel with my mat and Elsie wherever I go. Her classes are long, though, and if I don’t have an hour and a half, I go to Hillary’s Yoga Podcast, usually an hour, or Yoga Journal, Yogamazing, or the 20 Minute Yoga Download for a quicker fix.
  • Learn to Meditate – first, I love their Australian accent. G’day! If I have time, this is 20 minutes well spent on guided meditation. If I have problems falling asleep, I plug these guys in and usually don’t make it to the end. Other good ones are My Thought Coach, Meditation Station, and Zencast.
  • Dave’s Lounge – when I’m really chillin’ I put on Dave’s Lounge. Mellow stuff that’s good as background music for a late glass of wine. Other background music podcasts are the Celebrity Playlist podcast and The Concert, which I especially enjoy with Sudoku.
  • Tranquility du Jour with Kimberly Wilson, author of The Hip Tranquil Chick and Tranquilista. I like to think of her podcast as a Mind Spa, dipping into all kinds of self-care and creativity-enhancing topics like Ayurveda, tea, journaling, and Sark. Great for exercising or train rides.
  • Escape Pod – my favorite story podcast of all time. Steve Eley hosts science fiction stories that pretty much blow my mind every time. Some are funny, some are a little scary, all are thought-provoking. I don’t listen to these by myself, however, these are only for long car rides with George and Morgan. We also like Podcastle (fantasy stories) and The Classic Tales Podcast (a distant third, however).
  • The Onion Radio News – just for grins.
  • Learn French by podcast, Coffee Break French, and Learn French with Daily Podcasts. I listen to each of them equally, as they all have a different take on what’s important to learn. I love Coffee Break Spanish as well. I have a major long distance crush on the guy who is the main teacher on those Coffee Break podcasts. He’s Scottish, so patient, so smart, and tries to be funny in an awfully endearing way. Mark, I love you!

So, that’s what keeps me busy on the road. There are more, and I’ll throw them in here and there in future entries.

I’m dying to know, though, what do you have that you cannot live without on your iPods or mp3 players? Do tell…   leave a comment!

Till next time, as Steve Eley of Escape Pod says, have fun!


Music to Go-Go

Morgan's 4th gen, my Touch, and the two Nanos (black one has a blank screen)

This is music week in the Greene household. My factory-installed Harmon-Kardon car sound system failed a few months ago.  It took til now for my good friend and car guy Shawn and I to get to it, so last weekend we took apart my car and installed a new stereo and speakers (cheaper than fixing the H-K pieces with the result of better components). My new head unit (not a body part, although these days I could use a new one), or stereo, now rocks and has the added fine feature of being able to play any iPod in the world. Which also rocks, as I have a fairly extensive iPod collection, all because of my car.

Here’s what I’ve got: an iPod Touch, 2 really old 2nd gen Nanos, and a 4th gen Nano. The one old Nano has a blank screen, which means that when I plugged it into my after-market iPod attachment that I installed in my old stereo, it would play the same songs in the same order alphabetically by artist, and every time I got into the car, it would start all over if I didn’t use the car every day. There was no way to change it, no matter how much I dialed and clicked that wheel.  Way tooooo much AC/DC (installed by Morgan), although we had to run through ABBA first.

I bought the 4th gen cheap on eBay right after the 5th gens came out. I thought it would work in my car, but no, it was too new. I went back to eBay and bought an even cheaper 2nd gen Nano with a functioning screen and would have been happy using that one, but then the entire sound system went kaput and I never got to use it.

My newly installed system will play all my iPods now and I can sync and keep the two old ones in the car – one for podcasts and one for music. Even the blanked out one is useful now because it is now controlled by the stereo, not the clickwheel. My iPod Touch is still my fave for travel and everyday out-of-car use (I would use it for my car, but I kept forgetting to bring it in or take it out of the house). Morgan got the 4th gen, which now can play in my car, a better program than the Philips mp3 player he had, which would not. With Morgan ditching RealPlayer to come over to iTunes, I am forced to make playlists now and consider which of my songs are worthy enough to travel with me due to the addition of all the heavy metal on my iTunes.

So why the long story? Well, some of the travel that I do is by car. With a 14-year-old boy. Who loves music. Heavy metal. With a soundless sound system, he reverts to headphones, which totally stalls any conversation. I’m just so thrilled to have a kickin’ system that will play his tunes when we’re together, and when we’re not, will play what I want. My new stereo has a cd player, but also a USB port that is in my glove box. I just provide the cord that goes to the iPod, and voila! Music.

What does this have to do with traveling? This applies to rental cars, too. Just about every rental car now has a cd player. This is great, but who carries around a bunch of discs anymore? What we want now is either an AUX port or a USB port – and I’m seeing this a lot more every time I’m in a rental car.

Soooo for your next road trip — bring your iPod, mp3 player, or anything else that you want to hook up to a USB port (but don’t let me catch you doing email while driving.) Best piece of advice:  be sure to bring a little cord that will plug into the aux port as well as your headphone input  – you know it’s the right one if both sides can fit into your headphone jack. With this, chances are that your rented ride will be able to give you the ability to play whatever is on your player through the car’s speakers. Coool.

Next post I’ll share some of my favorite podcasts, music, and other fun things I keep on my travelling iPods.


Hurricane Coming

This is the view from my front yard looking across the Hampton Roads harbor. No hurricane yet!

What do you do when a hurricane is coming and you’ve got flight reservations?

The weather can be so exciting on the East Coast. I’m originally from Oregon, where the biggest weather event, one that will stop flights (besides volcanoes – it’s been a while for that one) is an ice storm, and it’s somewhat rare.  However, here in Tidewater Virginia, we have some pretty severe storms a few times a year which may turn out to be… gasp…  hurricanes!

The entire area gets all aflutter when we have a hurricane warning. People buy generators (during hurricane Isabel about 10 years ago we lost power for 12 days), canned goods, lots of water, and start emptying their freezers. (Honey! Mystery meat for dinner!) The gas stations have lines as long as Disneyland at Easter and everywhere you go, the only topic of conversation is the weather, or rather, your personal state of preparedness for it. There’s a all-for-one, one-for-all spirit about the whole business.

The big deal around here is usually the flooding – so many homes are at sea level or just a few feet above. We’re lucky because our elevation is 13 feet. There’s a lot of lowland that gets flooded before the waters reach us.

We are leaving for Fort Lauderdale on Saturday morning and Earl is supposed to sweep the coast from midnight tonight until about noon tomorrow. First they said it would come directly over us as a Category 3 (111 to 130 mph winds), which could really mess a lot of people up and will almost certainly mean 12 days without power, at least. However, as of now (5pm Thursday) they say it will bypass our neighborhood and just graze the outer banks of North Carolina, south and east of us, and be out of here by Friday afternoon. Phew!

But what if we were really worried about this storm to the point where we might cancel or change our travel plans? Many airlines will offer free rebooking to/from the same destination within a seven day period. If it’s not prominently displayed at the top of the website (love USAirways – at the top of their site there’s a red “travel advisory” link), you need to call the airline and see what their policy is regarding changing plans due to disruptive weather. We’re flying out of Newport News on Saturday, and we have until 1130pm tonight to change our reservations for free, if we wanted to. If we lived in Massachusetts or Maine, we’d have until sometime tomorrow to change.

Nice to know! However, it looks like, even after all the excitement and weather-watching, Hurricane Earl will be a non-event, so our plans will stay the same. So, Fort Lauderdale, here we come!


Food on Foot in Virginia Beach

Sometimes you don’t have to travel very far to have an eclectic travel experience.

Last week my friend Michelle and I took a road trip across the Hampton Roads Harbor to Virginia Beach. Actually, I had to go to the MINI dealership there to get the key to the locking lugnuts on my wheels (don’t ask) and decided to make an excursion out of it.

Who uses Groupon? Such a good deal! One coupon for all kinds of local and semi-local services (i.e. facials, photography, restaurant meals, scuba diving lessons) comes to my email every day for at least 50%, sometimes 85% off of the regular price. The catch is that enough people have to buy in for the deal to go. (Shameless plug: go to http://www.groupon.com/r/uu1757403 and if you sign up, I get a little credit from Groupon.)

Anyway, through Groupon, I purchased a Virginia Beach Food on Foot tour at 50% off. So, since I had to go to VA beach anyway, I thought I would take a little lunch tour with my friend Michelle.

We met Eric, the owner, tour guide, general manager, and founder of the Virginia Beach Food on Foot Tours (http://virginiabeachfoodonfoottours.com/) on the Boardwalk at 37th. An energetic young entrepreneur, he first gives us a little history of himself, his business, and Virginia Beach (the longest pleasurable stretch of beach in the world), before we make our first stop for fish tacos. And it just only got better from there.

On his website, he does not give away all the stops, and if you go, they will probably be different next year, but let’s just say, we went from Baja (that’s the taco place), to South Beach Miami for the best pizza I’ve ever had, to a Boston raw bar for yummy crab soup, to Pittsburgh for some Steelers action, to name a few.

Two and a half hours later, we ended up at the 21st street snack bar with dessert! The entire experience was like a progressive meal going from city to city, cuisine to cuisine, yet they all melded together into one fine meal. We were stuffed, entertained, and educated by the time we were done, plus met a very nice guy to boot. Glad to support him. I think he’s operating his tours through October, so check him out!

Sometimes all you need to do to find good travel experiences is just look in your own back yard.


Back on Track

My apologies. Here I have promised a blog about traveling and I’ve traveled and have not been sharing with you all. I can offer you all sorts of excuses, but one thing I learned from LEAP camp (more on that in later posts) is that there are no excuses. Just an I’m sorry, I’ll do better, and then DO BETTER. So, here we go.

Where’ve I been? Well, after the Paris trip with our dear Anna, I was home approximately enough time to be able to wake up without the heaviness of jet lag before I headed off to Albuquerque for a R.A.D. Systems (that’s Rape, Agression, Defense for those not in the know) to learn how to teach kids self-defense (for kids, it’s Resisting Agression Defensively – I actually like that better than the adult version, but that’s just me). I also learned how to wield my defensive key chain like a madwoman with a flail – and control, of course.

Home another two weeks and then Morgan and I were off to LEAP camp (Leadership, Excellence, Accelerating your Potential – so many acronyms, so little time!) I offered my DEFY the Bad Guy books to the girls and helped out with meal tickets and getting people (including comedian Niecy Nash!) parking tickets and directions. There were some amazing speakers and the kids learned everything from how to make a brag book to how to tie a tie. I’ll try to include some of the ideas of the speakers in later posts. As a reward (not that he needed it) we stayed an extra day in LA and rode almost all of the rollercoasters at Six Flags Magic Mountain.

So, I’ve been home for a week and absolutely want to get back in blog. Bear with me! My goal (I’ve found a cool little app for my iGoogle – I look at the goals and make a list for every day on my home page) is to connect with you all at least 3x/week. I’ll chat more and have more pics when we’re on the road again.

Which will be….  drum roll…. Labor Day! George has a meeting in Miami (ooohhh, we’re staying oceanfront Miami Beach!) but we’re going down a couple of days early to visit his brother and sister-in-law, Sherrill and Quinn, who live in North Fort Myers, across the Florida peninsula from Miami.

I’ll find some of my pics from New Mexico and post them on the next entry. Thanks for hanging in there.