Happy New Year ,,, we hope you have some wonderful travel plans for 2017!
In this edition of Tips for Travelers we span the seasons with our personal winter travel to New York and European river cruising in the fall. We also bring you tips from friends who spent 5 months traveling the U.S. pulling a trailer as their home, something neither of us has on our bucket list but we know some of our readers do! You'll also find an assortment of packing and unpacking tips, plus timely information on changes in air travel.
Our goal is to help you pack smart and be savvier than many other travelers, no matter how, where or when you are traveling. We hope our ideas help you prepare for your next trip and that you will share your own smart packing tips with us.
We hope you enjoy this issue and share it with others!
Susan & Leslie
Please note: We only write about places and resources we - or our readers - have personally visited or used and we accept no compensation or favors for our comments.
Included in this newsletter:
Airline Travel Changes in 2017
Recent news indicates air travelers are in for a big change in cabin selection: the rise of “premium economy” alongside the increasing roll out of barebones “basic economy.” It’s good news, bad news depending on how you like to travel.
Here in the U.S. American and Delta are launching “premium economy” cabins – widely used by foreign airlines - that give you a wider coach seat on international trips, more legroom and a separate cabin. It costs more, but is much less than business class and is a big step up from the extra legroom U.S. airlines have offered for several years.
With the rise of deep discount airlines, the major U.S. carriers (Delta, American, United) have created “basic economy” class to compete. Features vary by airline but be prepared for no advanced seat assignments, limiting carry-on bags to one personal item that fits under the seat, and no access to the overhead bin – that means you must check your luggage. For some, these are major inconveniences not worth the savings in ticket price; for others it offers more choice and a savings if you like to check your bag anyway.
To hear more details on these cabin and class changes, plus trends in air fares and the impact upcoming airline and hotel mergers will have on the travel experience, watch this video of an interview with Scott McCartney, travel columnist for the Wall Street Journal.
Packing for a Winter Weekend in New York City
By Leslie Willmott
My husband and I made a holiday visit to New York City in December 2016 during a polar vortex that changed to 55 degrees during our short stay. How did we pack for such a weather change?
Watching the forecast daily starting a week out from departure, we adjusted wardrobes as it changed, making sure to have the necessary layers so we could bundle up or pare down and be comfortable walking, shopping and museum hopping.
We flew from our local Asheville Regional Airport nonstop to Newark. Our TSA Precheck status made for an easy pass through security with our carry-on bags. We left and arrived on time!
After a short visit with family in New Jersey, we traveled into Manhattan by rental car, dropping it off a short walk from our boutique hotel – the Hotel Chandler, situated between the Murray Hill neighborhood and the Flatiron district on E. 31st Street, convenient to a subway and only a short walk to 5th Avenue shopping.
December is always an exciting time to visit New York as it’s all lit up for the holidays. The 5th Avenue store windows did not disappoint but the standout for me was Tiffany & Co., both inside and out.
We lived in Manhattan for several years so our visits center around dining with friends, museum exhibits and the theater. Highlights of this trip included two fashion exhibits: 1) “Proust’s Muse: The Countess Greffulhe” at the Museum at F.I.T. and “Masterworks: Unpacking Fashion” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The first featured an exquisite collection of gowns owned by the woman who inspired a character in Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. The Met’s exhibit of pieces from the 18th C. to present day presented works by designers who have changed fashion history and advanced fashion as an art form.
We like to walk a lot in New York, in spite of the weather. It was very cold our first day with temperatures in the subzero’s to the 20’s. I wore my suede ankle boots and had several top layers on over my heaviest pant: Heattech tee shirt, silk turtleneck, leather jacket and ¾ length wool cardigan sweater - under a cashmere coat, belted to seal in my body heat. My husband also layered, wearing a cashmere turtleneck and wool blazer under his topcoat.
My body was warm but my hands were still cold in my leather gloves. I stopped into Uniqlo and purchased their Heattech gloves – much less costly than any other glove I might have bought, or brought, and they did the trick. I also bought Heattech leggings to wear under my jeans the following day.
We took a cab to a holiday party that evening, so I could wear lighter weight black pants and black silk tee, accessorized with easy-to-pack red belt, red suede flats, sparkly jewelry and fabric evening bag.
Day 2 brought warmer weather but a little snow that turned to slush by the time we ventured out and down to the West Village for lunch with friends. I had treated my suede boots with a waterproofing spray so they kept me both warm and dry; the Heattech leggings added warmth under my jeans. My husband exchanged his topcoat for his leather jacket, wearing a cashmere sweater underneath.
On Day 3 the weather was 55 degrees with a little rain. We were both able to pare down on layers and happy we weren’t lugging heavy coats around, especially when we went to see a matinee show on Broadway. I’m a fan of Josh Groban and was thrilled to see his Broadway debut in the musical “The Great Comet”, which was wonderful!
On Day 4 we traveled home without a glitch, taking the hotel’s car service back to the Newark airport for an on-time airline departure and arrival back to Asheville. It doesn’t get much better than that for a weekend trip!
● Packing Gifts: I traveled with a few Christmas gifts, all unwrapped in case security wanted to examine them. I packed gift bags, folded tissue, and tags in the top pocket of my roll-aboard bag so I could wrap the gifts after arriving.
We received two bottles of olive oils as gifts from friends in New York. They exceeded the liquid limit for carry-on luggage so I checked my bag on our return flight. To protect the bottles, I wrapped a tee shirt around each and packed them in the bottom of my suitcase.
Note: Once home I discovered a notice in my checked bag stating it had been opened and inspected by TSA. I assume this was because of the shape of the bottles, which traveled safely as packed.
● Luggage Repair: One of the wheels on my roll-aboard bag fell off as I was pulling it from the car rental garage to the hotel – not surprising since the bag has made many trips over the past 8 years! The bellman offered to take it to the hotel’s engineer “who keeps every type of screw on hand”. He did indeed reattach the wheel, saving me a trip to a luggage repair shop. That’s great service!
Wardrobe List & Tips
- Bottoms: Black jeans*, 2 pair black pants (one heavy, one lighter)
- Tops: 2 cotton turtlenecks (cream*, brown); black silk turtleneck; black silk tee shirt; Heattech tee shirt
- Camel leather jacket, ¾ length black/brown wool cardigan sweater*
- Shoes: Black suede ankle boots, black leather flats*, red flats
- 2 scarves, necklace, earrings, red belt, brown leather belt*, evening bag
- Black cashmere coat with belt*
- Leather gloves; wool neck scarf; earmuffs (save the hair!)
- Undies, bras, knee-high hose for flats, socks for ankle boots
Note: I carried a leather cross-body handbag each day (tucked into my favorite travel tote by Go-Lite when traveling on the plane).
* Travel outfit
- Bottoms: Gray wool slacks*, black corduroy pants
- Tops: 2 cotton turtlenecks (red & white to layer under pullover sweater); black merino wool turtleneck* & red cashmere turtleneck (to wear under blazer or leather jacket); black cashmere zip-neck pullover sweater (for extra warm layer over cotton t-necks)
- Shoes: Leather loafers* (for travel and evenings); lug-soled leather loafers for day walking (both treated with a waterproofing spray)
- Black wool blazer*
- Brown leather bomber jacket
- Camel hair top coat*
- Socks (3 pair, including black wool knee-length for coldest days); underwear; belts (black* & brown)
- Gloves (cashmere lined pigskin); baseball cap
* Travel outfit
Smart Packing Tip: To keep your luggage light, travel in your bulkiest clothing; wear slip-on shoes for ease in going through security.
To tip or not to tip? How do you reward for good service when traveling? There are no tipping rules but what many travelers don’t know is that tipping is not only appropriate but also expected in certain situations.
An excellent article came into our e-mailbox with guidelines from a panel of travel experts on how to reward good service – from airport to hotel to taxi to tour - when traveling in the U.S. Click here for this handy travel tipping guide.
It's important to know, however, that tipping rules vary by country, by region and by scenario: Is tipping customary, required, or not expected? We recommend reading Condé Nast Traveler’s guidelines for the most common tipping situations in 50 countries before your next trip.
Fall European River Cruise
by Susan Foster
In October 2016 my husband and I embarked on our first river cruise. I teased you with an article in the September 2016 Tips for Travelers and offered a few advance packing tips, but even the packing expert sometimes gets it wrong. I monitored weather reports and predictions but temperatures dropped 20 degrees as we flew to Europe and we did not have enough warm clothing. Cold and rain affected our entire trip and we had only two sunny photo-worthy days.
We chose our itinerary based on wanting to see a part of Central Europe not previously visited and selected the Danube River; we cruised from Nuremberg, Germany to Budapest, Hungary. We selected an itinerary on the Scenic Amber that had interesting cities at or near the start and finish where we could enjoy a few days post/pre international travel.
We flew to Vienna, Austria where we spent three interesting yet cold, rainy days. The weather dictated inside activities; luckily Vienna has wonderful museums, galleries and music venues.
Vienna is synonymous with music and was home to Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Johann Strauss. There are many options for concerts. We combined architectural history with music, attending one at “Sala Terrana”. The "Concerts in the Mozart House" take place in the oldest concert hall in Vienna where Mozart lived, worked and played in 1781.
Vienna has many charming boutique hotels but we chose a larger, more service-oriented hotel - The Palais Hansen Kempinski Hotel. A contemporary hotel within a vintage facade, it met our needs: walking distance to the city center; superb service; a spacious, quiet and comfortable room; excellent restaurants within and near the hotel. The concierge service was outstanding, even booking my train tickets and rescuing us by sending a taxi when we were caught during a downpour.
A 3-hour train ride took us from Vienna to Prague, Czech Republic to join our traveling companions and long-time friends Nancy and Paul. Prague is often called “the most beautiful city in the world”. From the imposing Prague Castle to the Charles Bridge spanning the Vlatava River, Prague has Romanesque chapels and cellars, Gothic cathedrals, Baroque palaces and gardens, Art Nouveau buildings, and Cubist architecture that make it unique.
Our travel agent Marion Hager booked us into The Augustine, a stunning hotel built within seven buildings dating to 1284 that housed the Augustinian St. Thomas Monastery. Our room, a frescoed former chapel, was a UNESCO World Heritage site! The Augustine was centrally located with excellent restaurants in the hotel and nearby, and on a tram line that made getting around simple.
Marion arranged a 4-hour walking tour with a private guide, an extravagance for one but reasonable for four people. Our guide shared history and life in Prague while introducing us to the city layout. With her overview and background information, we enjoyed the rest of our visit so much more. Although it was cold and rainy, she organized a stop for hot chocolate at the elegant Art Nouveau Municipal House Cafe.
From Prague, we used a private car and driver (booked by Marion) to take us to Nuremberg to meet our river ship. Although this sounds expensive, when compared to a long train ride or an expensive flight, this was less costly for four people and more interesting.
Our ship, Scenic Amber, was launched in April 2016 so was the latest in river ship comfort and technology. Our 7-night Danube itinerary included: Nuremberg, Regensburg, and Passau, Germany; Linz, Melk, Dürnstein, and Vienna, Austria; and ended in Budapest, Hungary. We chose day excursions by coach to Salzburg, Austria and to Bratislava, Slovakia to expand our experience.
It was an interesting route filled with centuries of history, plus many of these cities were key points during WWII. From Hitler’s choice of Nuremberg for Nazi Party conventions, to the setting for the war crimes tribunal, to the war in Budapest, the cruise was a WWII history lesson.
Much of our passage on the river was done at night while we slept, but one beautiful area was traveled in daytime on one of our few sunny days. During dinner onboard we were treated to beautiful onshore light displays in the villages along the shore. On several evenings local
entertainment groups came aboard our ship following dinner, and a special music event at a gorgeous palace in Vienna was provided to the guests, one of our “most dressed up” evenings.
The cruise ended in Budapest where our ship docked opposite the enormous and much photographed Hungarian Parliament Building, the largest in Europe. Leaving the ship, we moved to Kempinski Hotel Corvinus Budapest located in the core of the shopping and tourist district close to museums and restaurants. As with the Kempinski in Vienna, this hotel had an excellent restaurant and outstanding concierge who booked a private tour guide for us and assisted with dining reservations and train tickets. We place a high value on this service and use local expertise when ever available.
Budapest is divided by the Danube; the former city of hilly Buda and the level Pest were united in 1872. From years hidden behind the Iron Curtain, Budapest is regaining its reputation as a vibrant European capital known for music, striking architecture, and lively restaurants and pubs.
A fascinating part of our walking tour was seeing the Jewish neighborhood of the Great Synagogue, second largest in the world. Unfortunately it was closed that day, but we could see the “Tree of Life Memorial” which stands over mass graves of those murdered by the Nazis. Inscribed on the leaves of the metal tree are the names of some of the thousands of victims.
The most poignant Holocaust memorial is “Shoes on the Danube”, a tribute to the Budapest Jews shot in 1944-45. The victims were lined up and shot into the Danube, but first had to remove their shoes as they were a valuable commodity during wartime.
All was not war and gloom! This is a bustling city that is cleaning up a century of coal dirt and communism and rapidly becoming a traveler's mecca. We toured the huge Parliament Building, loved the Central Market, enjoyed the toe-tapping Gypsy music, delicious traditional food, and excellent Hungarian wine.
What We Packed
We each traveled with our 22” rolling bags plus one personal item (a backpack for him and a shoulder tote bag for me) as we took trains for several legs of this trip. As mentioned in the September post, river cruises tend to be more casual than ocean cruises and my dressiest combination turned out to be just fine: black knit top, black pants, black leather blazer, pretty shawl (also worn as a warm scarf other days).
You can see my original packing list and travel outfit here. Because of weather changes, I added a second pair of jeans, switched the pashmina scarves for wool, and chose my black leather jacket over a lighter one. And I was most happy I had my well-traveled Patagonia ultralight down jacket and a hooded raincoat!
How cold was it? Most days I wore a turtleneck + long-sleeved shirt + sweater + silk long underwear bottoms + jeans + jacket, hat, gloves, wool scarf — and was still cold! One day I wore my raincoat over my down jacket plus all the above layers and looked like Michelin Man! In Prague I bought two turtleneck tops and wished I had packed a warmer hat, ear muffs, warmer long underwear, and a zip-neck fleece top to layer under my down jacket. I also wished for comfortable, warm short boots with good tread soles for walking on wet cobblestones.
- Bottoms: blue jeans; tan casual pants*; khaki pants
- Tops: 2 long-sleeved patterned easy-care dress shirts; 2 golf shirts - red*, blue; 2 tee-shirts - red, white; 1 navy turtleneck
- Navy blazer; 2 sweaters - heavier beige cashmere, tan merino wool*
- 4 pair socks (2 wool); 3 pair quick-drying underwear; 2 undershirts; silk long underwear
- Hat; gloves; warm scarf
- 2 pair walking shoes; loafers
Note: David also wished for warmer layers!
Before booking a river cruise here are some facts you should know:
1. Ships are small and sell out quickly so you must book 12-18 months in advance or take whatever is leftover, which often are the least desirable sailings and the very smallest rooms. We usually don’t plan this far ahead so this was a challenge for us.
2. River ships carry fewer than 200 guests (ours held 169) - which is minuscule compared to ocean cruise ships that can carry up to several thousand - so they feel quite intimate and it's easy to make many new friends.
3. Ships are limited in size by the dimensions of the river locks and the height of bridges. The public spaces are comfortable but can be crowded. Individual staterooms range from very compact to small unless booking a suite.
4. River water levels are critical to ship passage — too high and the ships cannot pass under bridges; too low and they get grounded on sand bars or debris. Passengers are then bussed to another ship on the other side of the problem or to a hotel.
5. Daily itineraries often require a lengthy coach ride to reach a point of interest beyond the port city so can feel like a bus tour without the packing/unpacking.
6. The pace of river cruising is very active. There is at least one port per day, occasionally two. Relaxing days are at the expense of missing activities that are included in the price, so most passengers are on the go every day, all day, and often in the evening. We were exhausted!
To research a specific cruise line or ship, read CruiseCritic.com or RiverCruiseAdvisor.com. It’s important to study more than the river company brochures and understand your travel style. We did our homework and had some delightful experiences but decided this was not our favorite mode of travel. We learned we prefer larger personal space onboard and a more leisurely pace, spending more time in each place and occasionally people-watching in a sidewalk cafe with a glass of wine!
How to Unpack!
How you unpack is really important to planning and packing for your next trip. We always take a few minutes to reflect on the trip and make notes so that we don’t make the same mistakes again:
● How did your clothing work? Which pieces served you well; which ones were losers? What changes would you make on another trip to a similar climate/destination?
● What did you forget that you really needed? Put that item at the top of your packing list so you’ll remember it the next time.
● What did you not have that you wish you had? Add this to the list, too.
● How did your luggage perform? Any damage? Did you see someone traveling with the bag of your dreams? If so, start shopping now while it’s fresh in your mind…and also to be at the forefront of a potential sale!
● Did you have all necessary toiletries, cosmetics and health supplies? Update your standard packing list and restock your travel kit so it’s ready to go when you take off for your next trip.
Kate & Doug’s Cross Country Road Trip
“Not everyone would be happy in a trailer no matter the size and not all couples can manage 24/7 indefinitely. We love this lifestyle and the thought of being back in our house sounds like the harder adjustment!” Kate Bandos
Former book publicist Kate Bandos and her husband Doug celebrated their retirement with a road trip around the U.S. pulling their living quarters - a 28-foot trailer - behind them. Leaving their home in Grand Rapids, MI in the middle of October 2015, they drove over 17,000 miles through 17 states on their 5-month journey. Their 26 lb. dog Bear came along.
Kate and Doug are avid campers who conceived of this trip 5 months before it was taken. When asked if they mapped out the route and logistics in detail, Kate responded, “Only vaguely, knowing we wanted to avoid snow and spend time in Florida and California. With the exception of our first two stops to see relatives in Cincinnati and Nashville, plans were made as we went along.”
Kate shared the pros and cons of their experience and packing do’s and don’ts in a recent interview:
Smart Packing: How did you fare weather-wise?
Kate: We neglected to research average temps for places we wanted to visit and most, including Florida and California, were colder than expected. But we packed for every possible weather condition and rearranged things as needed.
SP: Did you reserve campgrounds ahead of time?
K: Not at first, as we did not think it would be an issue. However, we forgot that fall colors in the Smoky Mountains happen later than in Michigan. We were lucky to get a campsite at all! After that, we started planning a few weeks ahead, making reservations where possible.
SP: What advice do you have regarding reserving campgrounds?
K: We learned that serious snowbirds make their reservations up to a year in advance, especially for major national parks. Most of our prior camping had been in “semi-primitive” campgrounds (electric hook-up only). On this trip, half of the places we stayed in had electric and water hook-ups and dump-stations. The other half had full hook-ups, meaning the addition of sewage connections at the site.
SP: What resources were of greatest value to you?
K: We joined Good Sam Club on the advice of fellow campers to get both campground and store discounts. We also joined Passport America for discounts on many of the sites we visited. Since we did not plan in advance, and often did not have WiFi, we depended more on printed directories than web searching. We used our Garmin for navigating and to find the nearest gas station, drug store, etc.
SP: How was your trailer set up?
K: We pulled a 28-foot trailer that had one 8-foot slide-out providing additional space. It had a queen-size bed plus 3 bunks and a couch that could be made into a bed. We didn’t need the bunks for sleeping so left the mattresses at home and placed plastic tubs holding clothes and other items not needed on a daily basis in the bunks. The bottom bunk, which was also accessible from the outside, held the panels for an outdoor screen room, two small chairs, a crate for Bear, and tall tubs of dog food.
The trailer had WiFi but we like out-of-the-way places so we could only get a connection half of the time on the computer we had set up; fortunately we also had access to a HotSpot.
SP: Did you live out of a suitcase or a closet?
K: We had a small closet with a hanging rod on each side of the bed plus two drawers; we added a set of cloth and plastic hanging shelves to each. There was a third closet for coats, jackets and a hanging bag holding one set of “nice” clothes, which we never unzipped! Shoes fit at the end of the bed and in tubs under the bed.
SP: What about meals?
K: We only ate a dozen times in restaurants and another dozen times at the homes of people we visited; the rest of the time we cooked. We had a microwave and a 3-burner gas stovetop, yet we often used the campfire or barbeque grill in the campground.
SP: What about showers?
K: When we had full hook-ups, we could shower in the trailer’s shower; when not, we showered in the common showers in the bathhouses. These were always clean and had hot water.
SP: Are there any recommendations you can make regarding the selection of trailers?
K: Consider your knowledge of camping — first-timers have a large learning curve. Doug learned at an early age how to camp and drive pulling campers or boats. I can drive hauling a trailer on a highway. We’ve owned trailers for over 40 years so we know how to dump water and sewage at a dump station. I plugged in and unplugged and stored the cord at each site; Doug set the corner jacks to level the trailer; together we set up the canopy and screen room. I set up the inside from travel mode to live-in mode (setting up the garbage can, rehanging the clock and fans, taking out the bars from the refrigerator to keep food in place).
SP: What wardrobe packing tips can you share?
K: Pack what’s comfortable to wear for the activities you’ve planned. We took way too many clothes. We wore long-sleeve tops 1/3 of the time – we took 6 each and could have managed fine with 2 (we did laundry every week at a local laundromat and also did hand wash). We took too many shoes as we never wore the “dress” shoes we packed. Doug wore loafers, sandals or walking shoes; I wore sandals, walking shoes and two pair of sneakers. Layering was the answer when daytime and nighttime temps varied 30 degrees or more.
SP: Were there any special considerations in traveling with your dog Bear?
K: We loved having Bear along; he’s a great traveler. Most campgrounds required dogs to be on a 6-foot leash and with a person if they are outside your camper. A few places had dog areas where we could take him off the leash and let him run. The plus was the exercise we got walking him.
SP: What advice do you have on being prepared for medical emergencies?
K: Know what your insurance plan does or doesn’t cover. We had full coverage with Medicare and TRICARE (for retired military). Good Sam Club also has insurance. I broke a finger and was in a cast for six weeks from a fall while we were walking. Doug was bitten by fire ants and had a strong reaction; the emergency room at a nearby hospital got him set with a week of steroids.
SP: What were highlights of your trip?
K: 1) Seeing friends and relatives we don’t see often, including Leslie in Asheville and Susan in Scottsdale; some we hadn’t seen in 40 years. And seeing many places we’d only heard about, such as Carlsbad Caverns and the Gila Cliff Dwellings.
2) No worries about work, world events, family members, etc. After a tough 2-year period caring for aging parents on top of stressful work, we were happy to be carefree. We often had neither WiFi nor newspapers and in the car listened to Sirius radio on music-only stations, totally removing ourselves to the world happenings and loved it!
SP: What do wish you had done differently?
K: After less than 2 months on the road, we agreed that we would love to do this all the time and become “full-timers”. The places we couldn’t go to because of weather or distance, we just said, “We’ll plan on seeing that next trip.”
Footnote: Upon returning to Michigan, Kate and Doug sold their house, purchased a 40-foot mobile home, and are now traveling full time with Bear!
Packing Tips from our Readers
● Karen K packs her own pillowcase when traveling and switches it out with the one provided by her hostess or the hotel. This way any makeup residue is on her own linens, not theirs. What a nice houseguest!
● Sheila B creates her own fashionable all-day walking shoes: She purchases a comfy pair of cushy shoe inserts with arch support and takes them shoe shopping. She fits them into a fashionable, rubber-soled shoe that is at least one size larger than what she normally wears and walks around the store for a test drive. If she feels like she’s wearing her favorite athletic shoes, she has a winning combo!
Note: Leslie and her husband often insert foam foot cushions into well-worn shoes to add support; and they always pack extra foam shoe inserts as heavy walking can wear down the foam.
● Ron B keeps a small grooming kit - razor, deodorant, and a brush - in his travel bag. He uses the hotel shampoo and the hotel soap doubles as shaving cream. The only liquid or gel he needs to pack is toothpaste.
Personalized Packing Help
You can access a series of packing videos on Leslie's Smart Women On The Go website. But would you like to avoid any stress in choosing what to wear on your next trip?
Leslie is available for personalized one-on-one planning and packing help, no matter where you live. Using FaceTime, Skype or phone, her expert help is available to you!
Please email Leslie directly for more information.
That’s all for this edition of "Tips for Travelers". We hope our ideas help you prepare for your next trip and that you will share your own smart packing tips and travel adventures with us.
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Pack smart and travel well!
Susan & Leslie
Susan Foster, Author, Packing Expert,
Leslie Willmott, Wardrobe Consultant &
Packing Expert; founder,
Smart Women On The Go