How to be Your Own Travel Agent

Planning a travel adventure isn’t the mysterious process it used to be before the Internet made a wealth of information available to anyone with connectivity. Ideally, your planning should happen roughly four months before your trip to reap the best deals and guarantee availability. Here are my tips and tricks for getting the most out of your next trip, broken down into parts. I recommend that you read them in order, but feel free to skip ahead.

  • Step One: Establish your vacation vision / travel personality
  • Step Two: Purchase airline tickets
  • Step Three: If required, acquire visas / inoculations/medications
  • Step Four: Refine the pace/scope of your travel
  • Step Five: Research transportation at and between destinations
  • Step Six: Book your accommodations
  • Step Seven: Explore sightseeing/day trip opportunities and book ahead where necessary
  • Step Eight: Figure out what to pack

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Being a Tourist on Your Home Turf

I’ve often felt as if I give the city I live in (ok, 10 miles outside of) short shrift. Traveling around the world I photograph and explore, but I often forget or choose not to take my camera when I’m in D.C.  Or at least I used to, until I got a tiny but mighty pocket camera that is no bigger than an iPhone and much higher quality, my trusty Canon S110, purchased for about $250 after the newer  S120 came out recently at twice the price.  It’s now my constant companion.

This weekend has seen Indian Summer  weather in the nation’s capitol.  Mr. D and I decided to do an urban explore without any particular destination in mind.  We took the new silver line metro to the Eastern Market stop and just walked.  We were both truly surprised by the gentrification around the Marine Barracks / Eastern Market / 8th Street area, which is now filled with outdoor cafes and stores catering to young families and hip singles. After browsing through the outdoor stalls and the indoor market itself and getting pizza and beer at Seventh Hill, we sauntered down Pennsylvania Avenue past the Library of Congress

IMG_0979to the Tidal Basin.

IMG_0984I hadn’t strolled here for years, and I didn’t remember what a glorious view it was looking up toward the capitol.

IMG_0987I hadn’t  ever paid attention to the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial on the west side of the capitol. On the south side is the infantry

IMG_0985facing a tableau of the cavalry on the left

IMG_0988with General Grant in the middle.

IMG_0986After stopping briefly at the National Gallery’s East Wing too close to closing time for anything other than a pee break

IMG_0990we walked past the Museum of Natural History on our way back to the metro.  I couldn’t resist photographing the beautiful prehistoric looking plantings outside.

What a fun way to spend an afternoon.  I have to remember to sightsee near home more often!

Living La Dolce Vita at Borgo Pignano, Volterra, Italy

Ever wish you could live as if the Downton Abbey lifestyle were transplanted to a Tuscan estate for the warmth of the Italian soul and sun and delicious, home grown food and wine? Well I got to experience this and more, if “only” staying in the farmhouse — not the five star villa —  with a band of merry yogis on a week-long retreat.

Riding from Florence to our lodgings in the back of a VW van, suitcases piled high in the way back and beside me in the third row, careening along narrow, winding, hilly roads with our ebullient hostess Camille (also known as Pushpa from her days as a child in India) was, shall we say, unforgettable. The landscape was breathtaking.

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The farmhouse where our group was staying had a beautiful common room dominated by a huge dining table and french doors looking out across a pond.  The kitchen was ours to use as well, which we took advantage of when our chef Lennie was not around:

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We rose each morning at 7 in time to make our own cappucino, gnosh on baked goods left for us in the cupboard, and walk to the yoga studio about a quarter of a mile away near the main house:IMG_0557

After morning yoga we trundled down the hill to a feast of a breakfast provided by Lennie.  What a challenge he had! Some guests had gluten intolerance, the week was vegetarian even for those who were normally carnivores, and some of us had random food allergies such as mine regarding pine nuts, unfortunately often a staple of pesto genovese — boo 😦 . Everyone agreed that our meals were outstanding.  There was plenty of variety in the unbelievably fresh produce, the bread and cakes and cookies were to die for and the presentation was always a combination of down home and carefully plated:

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Our afternoons were never the same twice. We had a tour of the estate with Pushpa, who delighted in telling us about the history of the place, built on Etruscan ruins and added on to throughout the centuries,most notably in the nineteenth century by two feuding family members who literally divided the home in half:

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Pushpa is deservedly proud of the green way in which the estate is currently being managed. Solar panels provide hot water, heirloom varieties and authentic milling and processing practices contribute to the sense one has of really experiencing what this soil and climate have to offer. All animals range free, the honey used is from the villa’s own hives, herbs and aromatics are made into salves, potpourri, and soaps:

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We did get a peek at the accommodations in the main house, with my favorites being this bathroom and Pushpa’s domain — the bakery:

IMG_0685IMG_0674We were also treated to a pizza night at the outdoor area adjacent to the ancient Etruscan walls:

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Afternoon trips to Siena, Volterra and a hot springs spa, as well as the grape harvesting described in the previous post helped to whet our appetites for the delicious dinners Lennie prepared, sometimes with tutorials for those interested, and always with organic, private reserve red wine from the neighboring vineyard.  We began dinner preparations and socializing at sunset, dined for several hours as the moon rose, and went to bed, grateful to have been alive and together in this beautiful place. Namaste!

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Stay tuned for capsule summaries of the rest of our trip in the days ahead.

Grape Harvesting in Tuscany

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Next to Borgo Pignano, the estate where we are staying, is a limited production “boutique” winery owned by relatives of our yoga teacher. We had a once in a lifetime experience yesterday, harvesting grapes and learning about the production process at MonteRosola Winery.

The weather was beautiful, with a crisp Volterra sky, just enough heat and sun to warm the bones. I could not just understand but feel how important the quality of this sunlight is to the vines and the grapes they bear. Row upon row of specific clones graced a hillside, dripping with clusters of deep purple fruit ready to be harvested.

A family operation, two tow-headed preschoolers skedaddled about, clippers in hand, at one with the Tuscan earth and ready to participate in the harvest. Two enormous labradors padded about, pausing to nuzzle each other or sniff out ripe olives to lap up from the chalky soil. A robotic lawn mower meandered about the lawn in front of the residence while our host explained to us our task and the process of turning grapes into award winning red wines.

I am no oenophile. In fact, I cannot drink red wine due to its tannins and oak barrel aging. But picking and then eating three varieties of organic grapes — cabernet, shiraz, and the local Italian specialty, sangiovese — even I could discern a clear difference in taste and even feel in the mouth depending upon the variety.

We were tasked with cutting and then perusing sangiovese grapes, looking especially for mold, but also being attentive to overripe, already fermenting grapes. These were to be selected out, tossed on the ground and allowed to return to the soil from whence they came. Several hours later the baskets of grapes we had selected would be put through a destemmer, sorted on a small conveyor belt to select out any remaining imperfect specimens, and then crushed, flowing into gigantic oak barrels where they would be tended like delicate hothouse flowers, with minute temperature adjustments and coddling, but with no additives or artificial acceleration of fermentation permitted.

Because the winery operates completely organically, rose bushes at the end of each row signal the presence of insect pests, which are treated with concentrated chamomile. Grape clusters often had spiders within, and the occasional yellow jacket buzzed drunkenly about, feasting on the fallen overripe  grapes.

It will be several years before the grapes we picked will end up in bottles in some lucky person’s wine cellar, but many more years than that before this unforgettable experience fades from my memory.

You can read more about MonteRosola here. 

What I’m Packing (carry on only) for Three Weeks in Italy

Mr. D and I are off to Milan, Bellagio, Venice, Bologna, Florence and finally a one week yoga retreat in a villa in Tuscany.  Having successfully navigated three weeks in Asia this past spring carry on only, we are committed to avoiding the baggage carousel.

Osprey 40L backpack

Using my trusty packing cubes and my Osprey 40L backpack I was able to fit in:

  • 4 elbow length Adea tops in black, grey, light and dark blue
  • 1 short sleeve Adea top in white
  • 1 cotton tee shirt for sleeping
  • 2 sleeveless Adea tops in pale peach and pale yellow
  • 1 dressy black button front blouse
  • 2 Prana camisoles for yoga and for under the dressy black blouse, black and  white
  • 1 J Crew pale peach lighweight merino pullover
  • 1 off white lightweight merino cardigan
  • 1 grey and black striped Merona pullover
  • My awesome grey travel pants from Lululemon (see my Asia post)
  • 1 pair dark blue skinnyjeans
  • 2 pair yoga capris
  • 6 pair ExOfficio undies
  • 1 bra
  • 1 reversible Athleta knee length dress in blue
  • 1 black Athleta below the knee skirt
  • 2 silk scarves from Cambodia
  • 2 necklaces from Cambodia
  • Patagonia black ballet flats
  • Black sandals
  • Black Naturalizer tennies
  • 4 pairs merino socks, really three are “sockettes”
  • 2 pairs tights, black and grey
  • Patagonia Nanopuff
  • Yoga towel
  • 1 quart bag of non-liquid junk like bandaids, soap, etc.

Cinched and ready to go! Travel yoga mat included.

Cinched and ready to go, travel yoga mat included. I know, right!  How the heck did I get all that stuff in?  I’m telling you, packing cubes and really smart brands like Adea, Athleta, ExOfficio, Patagonia, and Prana make it possible.

I’m also taking a black Longchamps large bag with a zipper that expands its size:

Longchamps large bag with zipper to expand.

I don’t need to open the zipper for the trip over, but who knows, perhaps on the way back after a bit of shopping. The bag is very lightweight, sturdy and can function as a carry all or a purse.  It will hold my Canon Rebel camera, my iPad, my packable black trench, charging gear, my 1 quart liquid bag, my deflated neck pillow and compression socks and, if need be to get past the airline regs, this:

Baggallini cross body bag

Most of the time toodling around, this Baggalini cross body bag will be all that I will need.  For the flight it holds my passport in its RFID case, boarding pass, iPhone, Canon s110 pocket camera, RFID wallet, small comb and brush and some wipes. Once through security it will also have some small makeup articles from the quart bag.

Its kind of amazing that I can take all of this in such a small space! In fact, I’m kind of thinking I have packed too much … but Italians are very fashionable and I don’t want to look like a frump or have to do much laundry. Everything can dry overnight that needs to be washed in a hotel sink. That’s key.

On the plane I’ll be wearing black leggings (not yoga pants but more stylish so I can wear them out to dinner), a black merino knee length cardigan, a merino shell, a scarf, and Sam Edelman black booties.

Some things are different tech wise this trip. (You can see what I did tech wise last time here). Mr. D and I have added Viber to our phone apps so that we don’t have to bother with an Italian sim card or a later model phone.  I’ve ditched the tripod and the telephoto, both of which I did not use and which took up valuable weight and real estate. I just don’t think my iPhone cuts it in low light situations like a dinner out and I hate that I can’t shoot raw with it or do much editing. So, I’ve gotten the tiny Canon s110 to carry in my Baggallini when we go out and I don’t want to lug the big Canon.

So that’s it!  Ciao! I’ll let you know how it goes!

I’m Going to Live Like a Dog … Or a Goose

Every morning between 6:30 and 7:00 a passel of geese squawk noisily as they fly over my bedroom, presumably commuting from their riverbank home on the Potomac to the corporate campuses and golf courses where they congregate during the workday. For twenty-one of the last twenty-three September morns their honking has signaled that it is time to begin my own trek to work. Like them, I returned to Great Falls at dusk, only to repeat the pattern at the break of the next day. We are all creatures of routine after all.

But now I have retired, and if I am not already up and out of bed their beating wings and loud exhortations to stay in formation and flap harder suggest that it is time to get some coffee and my iPad in preparation for a leisurely catch up on the world’s doings overnight. I no longer need to find and work to keep my place in the human version of the goose pecking order made visible in their aerial V. Geese can live between ten and thirty years depending upon their circumstances, so perhaps some of the same birds are flying over me as were young when I moved in. I wonder, can geese retire, and what happens to them if they do? Do they get to stay back at the water’s edge with the goose version of social security, meals on wings and senior discounts at the marsh grass feeding area? Are they left in charge of the goslings or just abandoned after they can no longer contribute to the working age flock?

Questions like these about aging, longevity and vibrancy have hung over me like a shroud these last few weeks as I inch closer to the dreaded birthday that signifies that I am officially “old.” I don’t feel old, and most people are kind enough to say that I don’t look my age. I don’t really want to be young; I’m “comfortable in my own skin,” as they say, even if it does sag. But being classified as “old” puts things in perspective and forces me to consider big, philosophical questions that are hard. How much time do I have left, and what do I want to do with it? What is the right balance between living now and providing for a possibly lengthy dotage? What is the definition of “quality of life?” How will it change as I age?

Ever since my beloved terrier Sydney passed in March and his younger, devoted (if bratty) companion Addie had her own bout with cancer in May, I have become acutely aware that time is relative. I never used to think about a day as a unit of time in a dog’s life, busy and unconsciously living, selfishly perhaps, according to my own sense of what sunrise to sunrise meant in the 80 or so years that I might be expected to inhabit this earth. I know that Addie and Sydney have been loved, cared for and treated with patience in their infirmity — even if I was not always as sensitive as I should have been to the meaning of each day of their so abbreviated lives. Now I understand that a day in a dog’s life really does equal a week in mine, and I need to make each one count. Retirement has allowed me to insure that Addie has an adventure nearly every day, that I don’t waste whatever remains of her time at my side.

I’m trying to extrapolate this epiphany to my own activities. Ezekiel Emanuel, the renowned physician and public health advocate so associated with the Affordable Care Act, has a riveting piece in the latest issue of the Atlantic explaining in detail why he wishes to die at age 75. Now 57 and in good health, he makes a compelling case for letting nature take its course after 75 rather than prolonging what is usually a debilitated and diminished endgame. He points out that while each of us think we might be one of the outliers who remains vital and productive until well into our 90s, the reality is that most of us will spend our old age in increasing physical and cognitive incapacity. Therefore, for him, setting a deadline by which he will have accomplished his life goals and will thereafter refuse all but palliative care is liberating rather than depressing. He will live as long as nature or God intends, but without benefit of modern medicine after age 75, except for the alleviation of pain.

When I think about this stance toward mortality as someone just hours from my 65th birthday, I come to the conclusion that I should live life like a dog, imagining each day as more precious than I have heretofore and assuming my lifespan to be just ten more years — Emanuel’s age 75 and the average lifespan of a canine. I am in excellent health and spirit and I love deadlines, so thinking that the next decade is all that I have focuses my mind and banishes indecision about which pleasures to partake of and which adventures to seek. Like Emanuel, I am not advocating hedonism in the meantime — that “We are all going to die anyway so why not eat that extra cupcake” mentality. I will continue to live a healthy lifestyle, not just because it gives me pleasure to be fit, but as an act of social responsibility. I won’t squander my limited but nonetheless ample resources on consumerism, but I will have the kitchen cabinets repainted because they need a refresh and because it will make me even happier to walk into my kitchen in the morning. I won’t get a facelift or a tummy tuck, but I will continue to spend a hefty sum on my hair. I’m giving my thirteen-year-old still perfectly working car to my daughter and buying a brand new one, because, well, because she needs one and I want one. I’ll spend the next ten years traveling as much as I possibly can, while I still can. I want to live to see grandchildren and to enjoy watching my daughters become mothers. I want to read, and write and cook to my heart’s content, but I am sick to death of cleaning and as soon as I can afford it I will pay someone else to do most of it for me. Money is really only useful when it buys survival, security or experiences, and while the temptation is to hoard it for the for the first two, with my ten year perspective and my newfound dog brain I want to use it for living, not staving off dying.

Geese and dogs have much to teach. Both are extremely loyal, the birds mating for life and the canines closely bonded to their pack, whether human or other. Both have strong nurturing tendencies in each gender, sharing the care of young (remember that old adage “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander”). Both like to work and love to play, being social creatures with the ability and intelligence to learn and to participate in complex interactions. As far as we know, despite their ability to feel jealousy, affection, sorrow and many other so-called “human” emotions, neither geese nor dogs have a dread of their own mortality. They can plan, but not for IRAs or 401(k)s or tax deductions. They do not live in the future. Whether my remaining lifespan matches that of a dog or a goose, I will try to be more like them, staying mindful of the now, of the ever-present “here” and enjoying the company of others. In my experience, you can teach an old dog new tricks, and I do love a wild goose chase! Wish me luck.

The Year in Review

It’s been a year since my retirement after nearly thirty years of classroom teaching and school administration. While this last weekend in June may not be New Year’s Day, it is nonetheless time for taking stock and setting goals for the coming year. Nearly all of my friends and acquaintances advised me to take a year off, to just chill out, before setting big goals and expecting to chip away at my bucket list, but I didn’t believe them. I think the karma gods figured out right away that I was now available for all sorts of unplanned speed bumps on the road to a new life phase; let’s just say that it’s been an eventful year. Let the record show that those who warned me were right and I was wrong!

So what have I learned?

1) Just because I don’t have to get up at o’dark thirty to go to work doesn’t mean my animals think I should sleep in, even though I don’t go to bed at 9:30 anymore.

2) It’s a lot easier to eat well and to exercise well and often without the daily grind of working full time.

3) As an introvert, I sometimes have to remember to get outside of my own head and interact with people other than my partner, and then I have to do something about it, which I mostly have, but there is room for improvement.

4) I don’t seem to have much in common with a lot of the people my own age. I am the oldest person in most of the new adventures I’m involved with, and that’s just fine.

5) While I miss the actual act of teaching — interacting with kids, thinking up new ways to present material, mentoring students and younger colleagues — there are big parts of being a K-12 teacher that became more and more onerous in recent years. I am delighted to never again have to:

o   Write another report card comment

o   Explain in person or on some idiotic online form that no one ever reads “how I’ve developed myself professionally this year”

o   Sit through another faculty meeting

o   Post an assignment in yet another format on yet another piece of crap software

o   Endure being told that I am blunt and intimidating because I have decades of experience and am not afraid to say what I think

6) Maybe I just need some space, but the book I wanted to write about the state of contemporary American education is the furthest thing from my mind right now.

7) Finally, having the time to deal with all the junk I’ve accumulated — both physical and virtual — doesn’t mean it’s actually any fun to sift through it and, as they say, “deaccession” (except for most of the work clothes, which went to Goodwill immediately).

So what have been the best things to happen during this first year?

1) Traveling, from planning a trip to actually doing it, has enriched my life and my relationship beyond measure. Mr. D and I have spent months away from home, visiting the West Coast, Asia, New York and Rehoboth. We’ve become a well-oiled partnership on the road, and it has brought us closer. We’ve met some seriously inspirational new people on our travels, almost all of them adventurous and younger than we are, because we don’t ever stay in impersonal and/or expensive places. We’ve had quality time with friends and family during times other than school vacations, and we’ve been able to take leisurely trips to places known and unknown rather than freaking out over how many days we have until we go back to work. I know, most people think, “teachers have all summer off, what’s the problem,” but let me tell you, I used to work my butt off during the summer catching up on household chores, planning for new courses and making “old” ones fresh.

2) I’ve taken two classes that have seriously changed my life. Getting started on learning to really use my DSLR camera enabled me to see the world anew. I wish it weren’t such a pain to transfer these photos in real time to Instagram! Even more importantly, the short story semester class I took with the renowned author and professor Mary Gordon gave me the jumpstart I needed for my own writing. The reading list was challenging, her lectures were riveting, and the comments I received on the five papers I had to write for the course renewed my confidence in my ability. I nearly cried tears of joy when she wrote that she was “blown away” by the “depth and elegance” of my thought and prose. I really needed that as I began to get serious about committing to the next step in my intellectual life.

3) Serendipity brought me a forum to test my authorial wings, and also gave me the opportunity to share with three women who have become my writing touchstone. Kate and I met at the first meeting of an author’s group at our local library, but decided independently that the group just wasn’t for us. She took the initiative to start a group and before we knew it we had four committed women ranging in age from twenties to sixties and several others who came and went sporadically. We meet every two weeks to share work with no restrictions as to genre. Pieces must not exceed 1200 words and must include a word drawn at random the previous session. After one school year so far (not including vacations) we have by my count met sixteen times. The support and critical acuity of my co-members has emboldened me to write deep from the gut, enabled me to hone pieces after receiving excellent criticism, and given me a sense of community and grounding in what can be a lonely or overly narcissistic endeavor.

What have been the biggest challenges of this first year of retirement?

1) Without question, health issues have been major stressors, even though none of them have been my own:

o   My father’s wife’s death after an arduous battle with ovarian cancer

o   My father’s own frailty and ultimate health crisis and recovery

o   Mr. D’s very unexpected pacemaker implantation

o   My brother’s bout with colon cancer

o   My sweet elder dog Sydney’s cancer recurrence and consequent euthanasia

o   My feisty middle aged terrier’s thyroid cancer surgery

Can I tell you how much I loathe cancer?

2) It’s taken a long time to let go of the goals I set for the first year (blogging on two separate blogs every week, accomplishing a number of home improvements, consolidating and perhaps getting rid of all of my electronic and physical teaching materials, becoming a better person, blah blah blah). I’m now choosing to focus on how much I have really accomplished rather than how much is still left to do.

3) It was very hard to adjust to not earning money. This was not so much a financial hardship as a change of self-definition. I continued to do some tutoring, but in effect was, for the first time in decades, not receiving a paycheck per se. I’ve gone from being not just employed but also having at least one freelance situation on the side to being retired. I have no plans or desires to return to the workforce and feel fine now, but those first few months were anxiety producing.

So what’s next?

I’m much less future oriented and much more present in the now than I used to be. My goals are simpler. I want to

o   Be able to hold a handstand in the middle of the room by my birthday

o   Work through the tutorials on the photography program Lightroom5

o   Spend quality time with my remaining terrier now that I have a sense of her mortality

o   Freeze fresh sweet corn and can fresh tomatoes

o   Post on my blogs at least once every two weeks

o   Clean out the garage and the carriage house

o   Get the tile and floor jobs done, preferably by paying someone else to do them

o   Read more

This past year has been one of the best of my life, even though the challenges have been many. I’m looking forward to each day as it comes, and I can honestly say that retiring when I did was one of the best decisions I have ever made!

What Worked and What Didn’t on Our SE Asia Trip

Overall, I think the research I did and the fabulous advice I found from so many smart travelers helped me to have a stress free carry on only trip.  So here is the round up:

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1)  My Osprey backpack was terrific.  I carried it on my back easily, hoisted it up into the airplane bin easily, packed and repacked it easily, and never had it weighed after the first flight with Turkish Airlines.  I think the people at the check-in counters just figured that a tiny little old lady with a backpack probably couldn’t carry more than the allotted 7 or 8 kgs.

2) Packing cubes are the bomb. ‘Nuf said.  Or perhaps I should phrase that differently for security personnel ;-0

3) The luggage scale was indispensable at home because it made me ditch lots of things which I never really missed anyway.  Admittedly, we never used it after we left home.

4) My three smartwool shirts (one short sleeve black and two bright colored tanks) worked as advertised, although I must say that the black tee was the most useful.  The weather was unseasonably chilly in both Hong Kong and Hanoi and that shirt got one heck of a lot of wear. And I never washed it.  And it never smelled.  And it didn’t itch. The tanks . . . meh. Once we hit warm sunny places I actually wanted more coverage and didn’t wear tank tops at all. So, bottom line, I just ordered another Icebreaker short sleeve tee in grey from Moosejaw (on sale, natch) and a super lightweight 3/4 sleeve merino v-neck in ballet pink from J Crew (also at a steal).  I’m totally convinced that merino wool in a fine gauge works for both hot and cold temps and packs and wears like a dream.

5) The rayon long sleeve T was a lifesaver, mostly because of the chilly temps early in the trip, but if I had it to do again I would take the new J Crew merino instead.  The button up tunic blouse, not so much. I really didn’t use it.  The Coolibar sarong was a great idea, and would be more useful if we had done more beach time.  So, no regrets, but it didn’t get as much use as I thought it would. My bathing suits worked out fine, but we didn’t swim as much as we thought we might on this particular trip.

6) Most worn item:  the Adea white tee shirt.  Loved it.  Cool, non-smelly, great coverage but stylish fit, washed that sucker out day after day and it was dry in a matter of hours with no wrinkles.  I immediately ordered four 3/4 sleeve shirts when I got home, only two of which were on sale, which tells you how much I love the brand since I hardly ever pay full price for anything.  The feel of this fabric on the skin is to die for, the fit is oh so Italian designer, and the care is easy peasy.  I could do an infomercial on this brand!

7) Pants: the Lululemon travel/bike-to-work/dry-quick grey pants were AWESOME.  Wore them constantly in heat or cold. The Athleta taupey haremish pants were perfect, but I am a little concerned that they won’t last. Only wore the Kuhl shorts one or twice, but they were comfy and fit great. I much preferred wearing the yoga cropped tights out in public in warm weather places. I only wore a skirt once in Cambodia.

8) My hat was a great success, and totally necessary once we left Hanoi. Best part–it smushed down in whatever shape to fit into my pack and then could be reformed (the wire in the brim meant it didn’t flop). And, it fit my rather small head and stayed on even in gusts. And of course, sunglasses both prescription and regular, were essential.

9) I really didn’t need the Prana yoga top.

10) All of the shoe choices were great.  No blisters. Lots of walking in each pair. Felt stylish and not clunky. Win.

11) Ex Officio underwear is everything everyone says it is.  I bought two more pair on sale when I got home as I have discovered they are the best for yoga and the gym too–no panty line and (ahem) no stink. Plus they dry in an instant.

12) My Patagonia Nanopuff jacket was indispensable.  Not only for the chilly times, but wadded up as a pillow on the plane (we took nine flights in all). And it took up no space in either my purse or my backpack.

13) The Athleta SPF50 white ruched v neck coverup and my  Blockshop Textiles scarf were the most used items, providing layers, sun or wind protection, style, all the while keeping me cool when that was important, skin cancer free we hope, or warm when necesary. I can’t say enough about either one.

14) Tech-wise, I never used the new camera tripod.  It was bulky and I hadn’t practiced before the trip. We didn’t need the voltage converter because all of our electronics did that themselves.  Those two items were heavy.  We never bothered to get phones in Vietnam, but I will get a new iPhone 5 or 6 before our next international trip so we can use SIM cards. Best tech tip:  Get Tunnelbear. I never felt compromised using public wifi in hotels or cafes or airports. It’s worth it and very reliable. My RFID tiny wallet was also great for peace of mind.

15) TSA was fine with my scissors — both the small kid ones and the sewing kit ones.  Hong Kong balked at the kid ones, measured them and let me pass. Danang security took the sewing scissors. No one cared about liquids. Sometimes I had to take my shoes off, sometimes I didn’t.  Moral of the story: you never know. Every checkpoint is different.

16) My J Crew purse was terrific for flights because I could stuff so much into it (camera, liquid 1 quart bag, guidebook, IPad, chargers). Outside of Hong Kong I didn’t carry it but instead used a fabric carryall that folded into a tiny pouch.  Why? Best not to be carrying an expensive leather bag in places where that seems first-world extravagant.

I have a lot to say about toiletries, cosmetics, medications, etc. but I’ll save that for the next post.

Technology for My Trip to SE Asia

So, its two hours until I leave for the airport and six hours until takeoff. I’ve packed, repacked, weighed my luggage, stuffed my purse, and printed out all of my documents. I’ve cleaned the house (I hate coming home to a place that feels icky) filled the cat feeders, done the laundry, paid the bills and fired off some last minute work stuff. I’ve taken a nice long soak and gotten into my travel clothes.

I have just enough time to write this post about what technology I am taking. So here goes:

Canon Rebel Eos Rebel XS DSLR camera with the kit lens (18mm – 55 mm) and a Canon telephoto (55mm – 250mm). This camera is an oldie but a goodie, and all I need as an amateur.

Joby SLR GorillaPod tripod with ball head

Canon battery charger

3 8GB Sandisk SDHC cards (I like the smaller ones because I don’t reuse them but keep them as backup after downloading into Lightroom 5)

1 card reader to IPad connector

IPad 4 with retina display, 16GB

IPhone 4

Chargers for the IPad and IPhone

Eagle Creek kit containing worldwide universal adaptors for any and all circumstances

Earbuds ( I don’t have fancy headphones, although I’d like to)

RFID passport cover and wallet (these protect against folks scanning electronic data while merely walking past)

Tunnelbear VPN (virtual private network software) to be used on the Iphone and the Ipad.

Sewing kit

Eyeglasses repair kit

Rhodia 5 X 7 notebook with pocket

Pens

Lock for my backpack

I think that’s it!! You can follow my journey here and on Instagram @farmhousebythefalls

Bon Voyage!!

Vacationing With the Pooches

In addition to trying to finish up as much of the kitchen spruce-up as possible, combating the godawful heat we have been having in DC, and rehabbing an injury sustained last winter (that’s for another post —  I’ll share with you my adorable but evil personal trainer Casey) . . . I have been researching pet friendly lodgings for the trip up to Maine to begin next Thursday.

I wish these were my pets:

Lilac and Olive as seen in Country Living

but I think they would be hard to travel with! Unlike this pooch:

no one is leaving me behind!

So I found a wonderful website called Bring Fido to avoid this problem:

Notice the pooch in the far backgraound . . .

And instead have this kind of vacay:

Yay!

Once we get to our cottage all will be well.  I’ll let you know where we spend the night on the way.