Travel Tips: Packing for your trip

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Unless I’m going camping or snowboarding, when traveling I generally wear my life on my back. I’ve come to realize that taking a lot of luggage is a liability and a risk that I just don’t want to take. So I adopted a minimalist view when it comes to packing and that’s what I want to share with you today.

I have spent nearly twenty years in the travel industry and the one question I hear almost daily is “how many bags can I take?” or “how many free bags?”

So here is my view of packing:

  1. If it will all fit into a backpack, use a backpack: As stated above, I wear my life on my back and under most circumstances will travel with a medium to large backpack. The reason for this is because a backpack will typically fit in the overhead bin of an airplane and in some cases under the seat. No checking necessary.
  2. Only take as many clothes you intend to wear. This is primarily for outerwear like jackets, sweaters and even shirts and pants. If you are like me, you have stood over your clothes, spread out over your bed or on the floor, trying to decide what to take. I try to pack neutral clothing: blue or black jeans, a nice button-down shirt for when we go out to dinner, comfortable shoes (and in case we are camping, shower shoes) and depending on if we are going to a cooler or cold climate, an easy to carry jacket. Feel free to take as many pairs of underwear and socks as you think you may need as accidents happen and it can rain unexpectedly.
  3. If possible, stay at hotels or hostels that provide access to laundry (washer and dryers). By doing this, you can wash your clothes and limit the amount of clothing you will need to carry. If this is not possible, and not to offend first world sensibilities, you can wash your clothes in the sink or shower with the soap provided. Hang them on the end of the bed or locker and let them air dry for the night.
  4. Money: You are not going to get a consensus on this. Some travelers still prefer to carry local currency and some prefer credit cards. Either way, your money needs to be out of sight and securely stored. There are a variety of accessories for carrying money, the more inconspicuous the better, also I prefer not to put my wallet in my back pocket, instead of either in the front pocket or a cargo pocket, something that will require a bit more ingenuity on the part of any would-be thief. My personal preference is to use cards instead of cash, purchases are easier to make because the conversion is done for you and you will not have to pull out a roll of bills and try to count out the amount needed to buy that shot glass you want. Today most credit cards are accepted around the world, with branches or partner branches available in case of theft or damaged cards. Check with your bank ahead of time to see if they have local branches where you are going. Also, use the travel features available from your bank such as authorizing transactions for a certain period of time, from a certain location or more importantly, shutting off a card if lost or stolen.
  5. Roll your clothes: Space is at a premium in the military as the men and women of the armed forces know. Whether is it a foot looker in a barrack or a locker onboard a submarine or ship, you need to be able to store all clothing that is issued in the space provided, leisure and business travel is no different. One technique used to do this is to roll your clothing. The tighter the roll the better as it allows for more items to be packed in a backpack or suitcase.
  6. Leave the jewelry at home: While wedding bands are acceptable, you want to avoid diamond rings, gold necklaces, and overall bling. The idea is to blend in, not stand out. Also, theft is not reserved for the streets as many travelers have left their hotel rooms only to come back and find all of their jewelry gone.
  7. Toiletries:  If you are staying at a hotel or even a hostel, generally speaking, towels, pillows, blankets, toilet paper etc are provided for you, so you do not need to carry them. Bring a toothbrush and toothpaste, depending on the length of the journey you may need to duck into a restroom and brush your teeth (your traveling companions with thank you).
  8. Leave the expensive camera at home: When I travel, I take pictures with my mobile phone, the picture quality of mobile phone cameras gets better and better with each generation of phone. Most of the pictures taken on this blog are done with an iPhone 6 plus and nothing more. Learn how to use the higher resolution on your phone to take breathtaking photos and leave the heavy, expensive camera at home.
  9. Find out the baggage limits of the carrier you are taking beforehand: All of the previous points are based on this main point. Travelers tend to get hit with unexpected fees because they do not know how much weight or size of their luggage (both checked and carry on) the carrier will allow before either charging or charging extra. You can call the carrier reservation number or go to their website, typically there is an FAQ or section on baggage that can tell you how heavy, how big or how many bags are allowed before fees kick in.

These are only a few tips and tricks I’ve learned in my years of travel, I hope they make your next trip that much easier.

Until next time…Cheers!

Italian Adventures Part 2: Florence

Travel & Adventure
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After leaving Rome, we took an ItaliaRail train up to Florence. So on our last night in Rome, we found out that the reservation we had made at a hotel that shall remain nameless got canceled. So here we are with nowhere to stay in Rome and nowhere to stay in Florence, my first thought “oh crap, what are we going to do?!”

My second thought was to head to the business center of the hotel we were currently staying. Once there I Googled hotels in Florence, and of course, a multitude of hotels came up most of them were not in our price range on such short notice. I saw a link to tripadvisor.com, I made the same search and began scrolling through the options and reviews. Almost ready to give up, I happened upon a Bed & Breakfast, Le Stanze dei Medici.

A quick side note on our trip from Rome to Florence. First, all we had was a paper confirmation of the purchase of two tickets on the ItaliaRail. Second, it was an early morning train and our car was empty. Third, neither of us spoke Italian so our conversation with the ticket taker was…interesting. Thankfully, the ticket taker was actually really nice, she looked at us and said simply…”Americans?”

Not wanting to press our luck we said nothing, smiled and nodded, my girlfriend handing over our email confirmations. I didn’t check to see if there was a section in Italian but the ticket taker looked the paperwork over, handed it back to us and then walked to the next car. So the assumption is, we were okay. Of course, we kept a low profile until reaching Florence.

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A quick word of caution: While not always the case, some taxi drivers will try and take you on the scenic route to raise the cost of the fare, one thing you can do to keep this from happening to you is to maps out in advance (and print) the directions and the distance between where you are arriving into town, in my case the train station and where your hotel is. Doing this will help because you can tell if you are going in the right direction. I learned this the hard way which I will detail below.

Le Stanze dei Medici is located at Via Camillo Cavour 42, 50129, Florence, Italy

When we arrived at the Bed & Breakfast Osvaldo, our host, met us at the door. The Bed & Breakfast is up a flight of stairs and occupies a large portion of the second floor of the building.

Because we only have one night in Florence (one night? really?) we didn’t venture out that far, we asked Osvaldo for places to eat near the B&B. He gave us a list of places and directions and we were off. We did not get a foot away from the door when we smelled the most gorgeous rotisserie chicken.

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The eatery, with a simple sign of Rosticcerie above the door, was right next door to the B&B. No seats, barely any room to stand and pay but by far the best takeout chicken I’ve ever had in my life.

What I liked most about this location is that it is just down the street from the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore in the Plaza del Duomo which we happened to find by accident while sightseeing. After walking down a narrow street for about five or ten minutes from where we were staying, we may a sharp left and BAM!…Duomo. The first thing that stood out to me were the colors, so vivid!

After our tour of the Cathedral, we continued walking, not wanting to stray too far from the hotel we circled the block (here is where we come back to the above discussion on taxi drivers) and to our shock found out we were less than half a mile from the train station where we had arrived. Our very talkative driver took us all around Florence before bringing us to our B&B which we could have walked too, you can imagine how upset we were, but in the end, we had to laugh, because it’s experiences like these that make travel memorable.

Cheers!

Helpful Links:

Visit Florence

Le Stanze dei Medici

Trip Advisor: Le Stanze dei Medici

Wine Movie Review: Sour Grapes

Wine and Tech Talk

One of my favorite movies about wine is the 2016 film, Sour Grapes. Sour Grapes tells the story of con artist and wine forger Rudy Kurniawan.

Kurniawan is suspected of making tens of thousands of bottles of fake wins and selling them at auctions to the wealthy, who despite their “exquisite” taste, could not tell the difference between Rudy’s wines and the real thing.

I will be the first to admit that I have a lot to learn about wine but the idea that someone was able to pass off fakes to people who pride themselves on their knowledge of wine and taste fascinates me.

So how did Kurniawan pull off his scam? According to the documentary, when investigators came into the home that Kurniawan stayed they found it was filled with empty bottles and printed labels of various high end wine companies and vineyards. How the scammed worked, Rudy would take empty bottles from events he attended or bought, take them home and after cleaning and relabeling if necessary he would refill them with the cheaper wine and then pass them off as the more expensive wines on the label.

Rudy was able to pull of his scam for a few years before being brought to justice. Rudy is currently serving a ten year prison sentence in California. This documentary has several twist and turns that make for a quick but engrossing look into the world of high end wine and wine auctions and the potential threats lurking in the shadows.

Recommended.

Links:

Sour Grapes

Wikipedia: Rudy Kurniawan

Italian Adventures: Rome

Travel & Adventure

Rome, the Eternal City.

What can be said about Rome that hasn’t already been said a million times over?

pexels-photo-753639

 

So when given the opportunity to go to Italy, the first place I wanted to visit was Rome. As a lifelong history buff, it was important to me to visit this ancient city and capital of the Roman Empire.

 

Rome is a city stepped in its history, everywhere you look there is either an ancient monument, an art piece or a building centuries old that is still in use today.

So our adventure began at the Termini Train StationIMG_4711

I should probably point out that neither I or my girlfriend speak Italian but luckily her second language is Spanish which came in quite handy as many of the words are similar enough so that those we spoke with could make out what she was saying and direct us to where we needed to go.

We took a taxi to the hotel we where staying at while in Rome, the Rome Cavalieri.

The Rome Cavalieri is the definition of elegance with several pieces of fine art throughout the hotel.

The Cavalieri is absolutely gorgeous, with a view to die for:

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After a nice breakfast in our room, we got dressed and headed out, the first stop…The Colosseum!

Walking around the Colosseum instantly brought thoughts of the film Gladiator as we walked past the gates the fighters would use to enter the arena. To think this was built without machines fills you with the wonders of human potential.

After taking in a bite to eat (you can’t come to Italy without eating pizza) we heading off to our next destination, The Vatican.

  1. The Vatican is big, please bring comfortable walking shoes
  2. The Vatican is both the base of the Catholic Church but also a very extensive musuem.
  3. Tickets are needed to enter the musuem portion of the Vatican, while groups are available, we found it better to go by ourselves and take our time.
  4. Flash photography is discouraged and in some area not allowed due to the age of the art and tapestry (that was what we were told, we didn’t test it). There was enough light coming into through the windows to allow me to use my mobile phone to take picture. The photos used in this blog were all taking from an iPhone 6 Plus.
  5. Photos are not allowed in the Sistene Chapel. If you can find a way to be sneaky (i.e. using the selfie camera on your phone) you may be able to sneak a few shots.

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On our last day in Rome, we visited the Pantheon

Cheers!

IMG_4591

Wine Movie Reviews: Sour Grapes

Uncategorized

 

One of my favorite movies about wine is the 2016 film, Sour Grapes. Sour Grapes tells the story of con artist and wine forger Rudy Kurniawan.

Kurniawan is suspected of making tens of thousands of bottles of fake wins and selling them at auctions to the wealthy, who despite their “exquisite” taste, could not tell the difference between Rudy’s wines and the real thing.

I will be the first to admit that I have a lot to learn about wine but the idea that someone was able to pass off fakes to people who pride themselves on their knowledge of wine and taste fascinates me.

So how did Kurniawan pull off his scam? According to the documentary, when investigators came into the home that Kurniawan stayed they found it was filled with empty bottles and printed labels of various high end wine companies and vineyards. How the scammed worked, Rudy would take empty bottles from events he attended or bought, take them home and after cleaning and relabeling if necessary he would refill them with the cheaper wine and then pass them off as the more expensive wines on the label.

Rudy was able to pull of his scam for a few years before being brought to justice. Rudy is currently serving a ten year prison sentence in California. This documentary has several twist and turns that make for a quick but engrossing look into the world of high end wine and wine auctions and the potential threats lurking in the shadows.

Recommended.

Links:

Sour Grapes

Wikipedia: Rudy Kurniawan

 

 

 

Italian Adventures: Rome

Uncategorized

Rome, the Eternal City.

What can be said about Rome that hasn’t already been said a million times over?

 

So when given the opportunity to go to Italy, the first place I wanted to visit was Rome. As a life long history buff, it was important to me to visit this ancient city and capital of the Roman Empire.

IMG_4533

(Castel Sant’ Angelo)

Rome is a city stepped in its history, everywhere you look there is either an ancient monument, an art piece or a building centuries old that is still in use today.

So our adventure began at the Termini Train StationIMG_4711

I should probably point out that neither I or my girlfriend speak Italian but luckily her second language is Spanish which came in quite handy as many of the words are similar enough so that those we spoke with could make out what she was saying and direct us to where we needed to go.

We took a taxi to the hotel we where staying at while in Rome, the Rome Cavalieri.

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(Couldn’t leave Rome without taking a selfie with my friend Julius)

The Rome Cavalieri is the definition of elegance with several pieces of fine art throughout the hotel.

 

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The Cavalieri is absolutely gorgeous, with a view to die for:

IMG_4719

IMG_4716

After a nice breakfast in our room, we got dressed and headed out, the first stop…The Colosseum!

 

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Walking around the Colosseum instantly brought thoughts of the film Gladiator as we walked past the gates the fighters would use to enter the arena. To think this was built without machines fills you with the wonders of human potential.

After taking in a bite to eat (you can’t come to Italy without eating pizza) we heading off to our next destination, The Vatican.

 

Here are a few things I learned about visiting the Vatican that I want to pass on to other travelers:

  1. The Vatican is big, please bring comfortable walking shoes
  2. The Vatican is both the base of the Catholic Church but also a very extensive museum.
  3. Tickets are needed to enter the museum portion of the Vatican, while groups are available, we found it better to go by ourselves and take our time.
  4. Flash photography is discouraged and in some area not allowed due to the age of the art and tapestry (that was what we were told, we didn’t test it). There was enough light coming into through the windows to allow me to use my mobile phone to take pictures. The photos used in this blog were all taken from an iPhone 6 Plus.
  5. Photos are not allowed in the Sistine Chapel. If you can find a way to be sneaky (i.e. using the selfie camera on your phone) you may be able to sneak a few shots.

 

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It was beginning to get late so we said goodbye to the Vatican and headed off to find dinner (okay so we had pizza twice that day don’t judge me).

On our last day in Rome, we visited the Pantheon

 

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It should go without saying that we will be coming back to Rome. The city is far to big with countless things to see that less than a week simply will not do. The city is spread out so a taxi will be necessary to get around but they are everywhere so you shouldn’t have a problem finding transportation. If you find yourself in Italy, please explore, enjoy, drink lots of wine and eat lots of pizza!

Cheers!

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Italian Adventures Part 2: Florence

Uncategorized

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After leaving Rome, we took an ItaliaRail train up to Florence. So on our last night in Rome, we found out that the reservation we had made at a hotel that shall remain nameless got canceled. So here we are with nowhere to stay in Rome and nowhere to stay in Florence, my first thought “oh crap, what are we going to do?!”

My second thought was to head to the business center of the hotel we were currently staying. Once there I Googled hotels in Florence, and of course, a multitude of hotels came up most of them were not in our price range on such short notice. I saw a link to tripadvisor.com, I made the same search and began scrolling through the options and reviews. Almost ready to give up, I happened upon a Bed & Breakfast, Le Stanze dei Medici.

A quick side note on our trip from Rome to Florence. First, all we had was a paper confirmation of the purchase of two tickets on the ItaliaRail. Second, it was an early morning train and our car was empty. Third, neither of us spoke Italian so our conversation with the ticket taker was…interesting. Thankfully, the ticket taker was actually really nice, she looked at us and said simply…”Americans?”

Not wanting to press our luck we said nothing, smiled and nodded, my girlfriend handing over our email confirmations. I didn’t check to see if there was a section in Italian but the ticket taker looked the paperwork over, handed it back to us and then walked to the next car. So the assumption is, we were okay. Of course, we kept a low profile until reaching Florence.

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A quick word of caution: While not always the case, some taxi drivers will try and take you on the scenic route to raise the cost of the fare, one thing you can do to keep this from happening to you is to maps out in advance (and print) the directions and the distance between where you are arriving into town, in my case the train station and where your hotel is. Doing this will help because you can tell if you are going in the right direction. I learned this the hard way which I will detail below.

Le Stanze dei Medici is located at Via Camillo Cavour 4250129, Florence, Italy

When we arrived at the Bed & Breakfast Osvaldo, our host, met us at the door. The Bed & Breakfast is up a flight of stairs and occupies a large portion of the second floor of the building.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Because we only have one night in Florence (one night? really?) we didn’t venture out that far, we asked Osvaldo for places to eat near the B&B. He gave us a list of places and directions and we were off. We did not get a foot away from the door when we smelled the most gorgeous rotisserie chicken.

img_4994

The eatery, with a simple sign of Rosticcerie above the door, was right next door to the B&B. No seats, barely any room to stand and pay but by far the best takeout chicken I’ve ever had in my life.

What I liked most about this location is that it is just down the street from the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore in the Plaza del Duomo which we happened to find by accident while sightseeing. After walking down a narrow street for about five or ten minutes from where we were staying, we may a sharp left and BAM!…Duomo. The first thing that stood out to me were the colors, so vivid!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After our tour of the Cathedral, we continued walking, not wanting to stray too far from the hotel we circled the block (here is where we come back to the above discussion on taxi drivers) and to our shock found out we were less than half a mile from the train station where we had arrived. Our very talkative driver took us all around Florence before bringing us to our B&B which we could have walked too, you can imagine how upset we were, but in the end, we had to laugh, because it’s experiences like these that make travel memorable.

Cheers!

Helpful Links:

Visit Florence

Le Stanze dei Medici

Trip Advisor: Le Stanze dei Medici