Budget Travel – TSA and the Government Shutdown

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I discovered this link in my email from Budget Travel. It has some useful tips on getting through security.

While the government is partially shutdown, several of those agencies that are deemed essential and working are not getting paid. This makes for a(n) (understandably) frustrating situation for those employees and their families. Some have been calling in sick. I can’t say I blame them.

Budget Travel has offered what it thinks you can expect, and some ways to make it easier on you and your family when you’re traveling during this time.

Please also don’t forget the TSA employees who are working to keep all of us safe and not getting paid for their important work. (Not everyone will be given their back pay; I don’t know the specifics of who will and who won’t, but I do believe it would need an order signed by the President.)

Thursday Travels – Trip Tips

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​A few years ago I published a travel organizer. It did pretty well for awhile, but over the years since, I’ve realized that it’s not really what would be helpful for people traveling today. It’s hard to believe that so much has changed in so little time.

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks creating a do-it-yourself trip planner. I had the thought to sell the download, the buyer would print it themselves on sticker paper and fill in their own journal book/notebook of their choice to use as a planner. It worked great for me, but the look of it really isn’t marketable. I will continue to work on it though; maybe something will come of it in the future.

In the meantime, as I was putting that together, I compiled a list of trip tips, which I will share here for anyone traveling this summer and/or fall.

Safe travels.

[Note: This is not geared towards very young children. If you are interested in that age group, drop me a line, and I can put something together. As at the time, I had young children, my original travel organizer had some great advice and an entire section devoted to children.]

1. Most important tip is to avoid putting personal information on things that can be easily lost. Do not put dates of travel on throwaway items. Do not put your home address on these items as well. That can be the perfect blueprint for thieves who check the garbage at travel sites like airports and train stations.

2. Keep your passport on your person. A document holder is a good organizational tool, especially if you’re responsible for your whole family’s or group’s important papers.

3. TSA – 3-1-1 – Even if you’re not flying, this is a good habit to get into. It saves space, and forces you to decide on what’s truly necessary. I would also recommend separating liquid toiletries from dry. For example, put your toothpaste in one pouch, and your toothbrush in another. This is especially helpful for airport security.

4. If you’re flying, keep liquids and laptops separate and easily accessible. If you’re checking a bag, try and put your liquids in there. Check the applicable websites – there have been recent changes to laptops traveling.

5. Print out a copy of the airport terminal map. This is so helpful for finding your gate, knowing in advance what restaurants and food is available, how close the restrooms are to where you’ll need to be, and how to get from point A to point B on layovers. In the last ten years, I’ve had layovers for all of my flights except the last one and the one that’s upcoming.

6. After deplaning and getting your luggage, use the bathroom before going through customs. Sometimes, the line can be quite long, and those drinks on the plane really do add up.

7. Dress in layers – works for airplane, museums, bus tours, beaches, and restaurants, etc. It will always be warmer than you expect outside, and colder inside.

8. Keep prescriptions in original, unexpired containers – do not check them; put them in your carry on. Pay attention to time zones so you can be sure you take your medications on time or near enough to not have any adverse reactions.

9. Same for packing your jewelry. Put it in your carry on.

10. Have some dry, non-perishable snacks for a long flight. It’s much cheaper than stopping at a convenience store or in the airport terminal. Avoid messy foods, like cheese puffs and nacho chips. The orange dust gets on everything.

11. Bring a pack of gum, and be sure to chew it before take-off and landing. It really does help your ears with the air pressure.

12. Packing tip – pack in a smaller bag. Then transfer everything to a larger case. This leaves you room to bring things back without an extra bag or bagging charge. Packing cubes are also great for organizing and keeping things separate (I like Eagle Creek).

13. Plan your outfits so you can match them to each other. This will give you more clothes options without bringing too much. Scarves and pins are two good ways to add some pizazz to an outfit and change it up a bit.

14. Pack in reverse order for clothes so you don’t mess up your bag searching for “today’s” outfit.

15. In the very front pocket of your suitcase, the larger accessory one on the outside, put everything you’ll need for the first night’s sleep. This will save you tearing apart your suitcase when youj’re exhausted from arriving at your destination. All in the front, sleep well, and begin the next day fresh. If there’s space in that front pocket, maybe put in your first day’s clothes also.

16. Some hotels offer breakfast. Continental or full at some places. Factor this into your price when estimating how much you’re willing to spend on a hotel stay. It may not be as expensive as it initially sounds when food is included.

17. What will you use for an alarm clock? I use my cell phone.

18. On that note, make sure your electronic devices will work where you’re going, and that you’re on a plan to cover your use of 4G or calling and texting. If you’re traveling internationally, get an adapter plug.

19. A mini surge protector is a great tool that I’ve been using for several years now. You can get a reliable one from Belkin.

20. I always use a list and I always forget something. I woke up in the middle of the night yesterday realizing that I forgot to put a laundry bag on my packing list. I haven’t seen it in awhile; it’s probably lost somewhere in the basement, hiding with my missing socks.

Travel – Bag of Holding

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​Before Christmas, my family was at the mall. I rarely go to the mall anymore. No money, and I can get what I need at Target for the most part, but a new Think Geek opened a brick and mortar storefront in the mall, and we were curious.

It was fandom heaven.

An entire wall of Pops.

Clothes that I couldn’t afford even with lottery winnings: an $80 Tribble “fur” coat for example. Bathing suits, t-shirts, socks.

Stuffed animals, backpacks, and a $300 Captain America shield. It was gorgeous.

The one thing, however that caught my eye was something I’d seen in their online store and was interested in for a long time – their Bag of Holding.

The top bag is the one that I have. The second row is a smaller version, more of a day bag. I don’t recall the price they were charging, but it proclaimed itself as the perfect bag for a fandom con. If you follow the link to their website, there is a new version of the Bag of Holding. It’s a slightly different color, and has some reinforcement. It is also the same price as I paid. (c)2016-17

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Food for Travel

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Our family travels by car 99% of the time. With three kids, they either want to stop to eat or stop to use the bathroom. Anyone who has ever stopped on a highway area rest area will know that their prices are at least one third higher than the nearest exit. Unfortunately, the nearest exit is usually about five miles from the place with the food and/or the bathroom. When our kids were very young, we brought everything with us. It was certainly cheaper to bring a full box of Cheerios and a box of Pop-Tarts, buying a gallon of milk and a pound of cheese from the local supermarket. I also packed goodies for Mommy & Daddy like a 12 pack of soda so we don’t have to spend our money in the overpriced hotel vending machines.
In a hotel, we always ask for a room with a refrigerator. Many come with microwaves. Almost all have coffee makers, which is also perfect for boiling water for tea.

Most of our choices worked for both a weekend or week long vacation out of town as well as a visit out of town to Grandma’s.

Some of our favorites:
Non-Perishable:

Cheerios
Raisins/Dried Cranberries
Granola
Granola bars
Pretzels
Water
Juice boxes

Perishable items to Buy Locally:

Milk
Cheese
Cottage Cheese
Yogurt

Other Items to Think About:

Tea bags (the only place I didn’t bring my own tea was my trip to the UK)
Single serve instant Coffee

I try to avoid chocolate unless you’re going to eat it within the first couple of hours. No matter the season, the car gets very hot, and chocolate will melt, ruining whatever you’ve put it into.

Ziploc or other zipper plastic bags – they have dozens of uses.
Despite all of these snack choices, remember to have some money for a midnight snack and to avoid extra ATM fees.

Add you own must have snacks and/or travel food in the comments.

Tomorrow: Travel Tech

I Remember – First Plane Ride

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I have a vivid memory, but I’m still not sure how much of it isn’t fantasy. I’m holding Dad’s hand and we’re boarding an airplane. We are standing in the aisle looking for our seats and I picture myself perfectly. White patent leather shoes to match my little purse, carefully placed Jackie O style on my arm. My jacket is all white and buttoned up to my neck, the collar properly turned down. I don’t think I had a hat. Although my hair is neat, as neat as a five year old’s can be anyway, but still sticking out over my ears, a little more than it does now. I’m not wearing the gold pin of pilot’s wings, but I must be clutching it in my small hand. I kept that for a long time after, but haven’t seen it in decades. I did get a replacement provided by my friend, but now you have to ask for your wings. They don’t think they let you visit the cockpit anymore either, although I don’t recall visiting the cockpit on this flight. We were on our way to see family in Toronto, Canada, and since we always drove and my mother and siblings weren’t with us, I can only imagine that it was for some kind of big event like a funeral. We always stopped in the duty-free shop when we drove, so I can only imagine that we did on this visit as well, although Dad could have only gotten half the normal allowance of whiskey and cigarettes, a staple of ours on our return trip to the United States. My parents didn’t drink, but this was a time when you kept alcohol in your house for guests; just in case. These little snippets of memory pop out at the least provocation. Sometimes, they don’t seem so far away.

Sherlock and Stewardesses

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I’m looking at yesterday’s 365 post and I’m postponing the dusting. This morning’s chores took longer than I thought they would. First, it’s freezing. Unbelievably freezing. I went to Mass, got the few pics printed at CVS for my journal, got some groceries and cupcakes to deliver to my daughter at school, then home for breakfast. How exciting, right?

Looking at my list, and I’m thinking it’s a good thing I put a to-do list in that post so I have a road map. I’m not feeling particularly motivated other than motivated to keep reading The Jet Sex.

But that is my reward once I get through my list.

Jar done. *high five*

Time to shut down the computer and work on my green notebook. (Yeah, sorry, this post seems to be a blow-by-blow and I’ll hit post at the end for #7).

So I feel asleep – um….intentionally took a nap.

Actually, I watched A Study in Pink – first time. I could feel myself grinning at Sherlock and John’s chemistry. I really liked it. At least, I’ll be able to catch up easy enough. Second episode tomorrow when the kids go to school.

I’ve organized the green notebook. There are ten sections: Notes, Content Calendar, Ongoing Business, (a section for an event I’m part of), Fandom, Depression – Mental Health, Spirituality – Faith &
Religion, House – Buying & Maintenance (the experience and pitfalls, not the daily journaling about my household crap), and Money, Matters (mostly my personal money issues).

My next big original post will be about my financial difficulties. I know our situation is not unique, and sometimes we can help each other (not just in a monetary way). We do have a Go Fund page, and for anyone who’s followed our specific problems, I will have an update and a link.

I will also post my first piece of writing from my Endure 4 Kindness back in November. I didn’t get any pledges (hopefully, this will improve for next year’s event), but I pledged myself a single donation for the day ($15). The donations benefit the Random Acts organization. I have mentioned them before and I will link them in a future post. They are very worthy of your time and your money. There is no amount too small. Every little bit helps.

Currently, we are making dinner and I’ll be typing up the quick short things that I wrote during Advent.

After that, I will take some time with my new journal and then more of Vicki Vantoch’s book. She has a wonderful writing style; I’m sure that I will be sharing more about this book as I read it. When I read her dissertation, it brought back my own memories of wanting to be a stewardess once I realized that I couldn’t be a pilot. I was an enormous fan of Amelia Earhart’s and flying was a new thing. I remember a trip I took with my Dad to Toronto. I can picture my little white jacket and a patent leather white purse with one of those change purse clasp things to close it. I’m pretty sure that the hat I’m picturing on my messy head is a projection of the times; I don’t believe I ever had a fancy travel hat.

Whenever I’m asked what I wanted to be growing up, I could never remember. My parents worked for the post office and that was something I used to think about as well as for the police department in some capacity or a private eye like Jim Rockford, but somewhere in my latent memories was being a stewardess and flying. Today I am more afraid to fly than not, but I wasn’t afraid as a child. I was enthralled by the glamour that followed that job around. I can picture a blue dress and a matching nurse’s style cap, a small, triangular purse. I had wings from that first trip, which are since lost and we had a blue tote bag with a shoulder strap that said Pan Am on the side. It had two large pockets and zippers and since then (and probably before) I have a fondness for all kinds of bags, wallets, purses, and travel things.

But I digress.

Security: Not as Easy as it Appears on TV

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Mt. Snowdon, Llanberis, North Wales

Mt. Snowdon, Llanberis, North Wales

 

In Tickets, Please! I hinted at other stories from my past, and thought I would take some of my journal entries and my old Live Journal and include them here. Some of them are not so dated that they are not relevant any longer.

Prior to my most recent trip to Wales in 2009, the only other times that I’ve flown were when I was five (with my Dad to Canada, and I can picture my cute little outfit and pocketbook) and when I was twenty (to meet my college roommate who was student teaching in the UK). Obviously, both of these occurred before 9/11 and security was definitely not the same then as it is now.

In fact, for the overseas trip in 1986, I carried a paper bag of wrapped Christmas presents for my friend that sat on my lap the entire time because it would not fit in the overhead compartment. I’m pretty sure this would be frowned upon nowadays.

So, to recap, I’ve flown in 1970 or 1971, 1986 and then again in 2009.

Not a very good track record of airline travel.

I may have also mentioned in previous postings here that I am very anxious. At the time of the 2009 trip, I had not been diagnosed with depression or an anxiety disorder and just put it off to the normal anxiety of traveling alone and the lack of experience. I can tell you that while I was still nervous (and still undiagnosed) in 2011, it was still a much better experience as far as my anxiety levels, and my recent train trip had almost no anxiety at all. All of those stories will eventually come if you stick around long enough.

Wales, 2009: The lesson in how not to go through security.

Three times.

I honestly thought I was prepared. I like to be prepared. If I am nothing, I am prepared. I usually have the extra diaper, the napkins or pack of tissues, the spare change; so when I was planning my trip to Wales, I did not want to wait until the last minute to get British pounds or wait until I had arrived in Manchester.

I also did not want to wait until my departure from Newark Airport, which I pictured as a large foreboding place and where I’d be sitting alone for hours on end and everyone would know that I had money and I would be mugged. Or some other crazy scenario that never happens but everyone still thinks does.

I do think of everything.

Our local airport is big enough – they call it an international airport after all, although I don’t believe that I could fly overseas directly from here.  I planned on popping in to buy British currency. The procedure is simple. You make an appointment, go to the information office, show them your passport, they give you a pass, you then go through security with your pass and your passport, and go to the business office to exchange (they call it buying) your currency.

Okay, no problem.

I do all that, and there’s a really long line for security. That’s okay though. It gives me time to get acclimated and get used to the procedure as I watch other people going through. I listen to the chit-chat. I reach into my oversized bag and feel around for Bob. (If you haven’t met Bob yet, he is my talisman, and he will make occasional appearances on my site.)

He’s there.

I feel safe.

I get to the front of the line, and I will have to recount about the elderly woman in the wheelchair with her identification problems at another time. After her, it’s my turn, and I hand the TSA officer my passport, and there’s this long pause.

Well, it wasn’t that long, but it felt like forever and I couldn’t figure out why. He informed me that the passport isn’t signed, and I think I said something like, “What do you mean?”

Apparently, you are supposed to sign your passport when you get it.

Laugh if you want, but I did not know that.

I thought they came like your driver’s license – already signed, but no, they don’t.

I was so embarrassed. I was lucky a manager was there and I had to sign it in front of them, show my driver’s license, get the manager’s approval, and then they let me in.

Bob was embarrassed by me too. It probably won’t be the first time.

Then it’s time to grab a bin, take off your shoes and put them and your liquids, jacket, purse into the bin. Or two bins. The woman ahead of me had three bins plus her luggage. Go through the metal detector and then you re-dress. Just to add that if you’re a man, you’ll need to also take off your belt.

They do not care that I’m not getting on a flight. If I’m going into the secure area, I need to go through security just like everyone else. I also needed the pass because I did not have a ticket, which is also required.

(At this time (and in 2011), they only had the traditional metal detectors; not the back scatter machines).

Okay, so now I’m through and I get my currency, which is cool, and I leave. No worries. I’m ready now for the next trip through security, which will be when I’m actually flying out.

Security, Take Two.

Newark is a bit crazier than our local airport. It’s bigger. It’s enormously bigger. The parking is color-coded. It’s expensive. My husband and kids leave me at the really long line to check my bag, and this is where I meet a lovely Scottish couple heading home to Edinburgh. We chat, we check our bags, we leave our bags in a corral where anyone can take them, but alas, that is a different story that I may or may not get to later on.

I’m looking for security now. Once I’m through security, even though I’m two hours early (the recommended time for international flights), I want to get through security and then pretend to relax. They have shops and a place to buy drinks and bathrooms on the other side of security. It’s really like a whole other world and I’m kind of looking forward to that part of this adventure. After all, eating and shopping isn’t anxiety laden like going through a metal detector.

I know I’m ready for security this time. I grab my bin. I take off my shoes. I very knowledgably explain to the German lady behind me about the shoes and the jacket, which I’ve laid under my bag in the bin. I give a quick look to Bob and send him and my other bags through.

As soon as I heard it, I knew it was me.

“Bag check.”

My heart began to race, and my mind was repeating over and over again, “Fuck, fuck, fuck, the laptop.”

I not only left the laptop in the bag (they must be taken out and put in a separate bin), but I also forgot the bag of liquids in the carry-on. Bob was the least of my problems, although I’m sure that after the nonsense that was the laptop/liquids, Bob would have kept me off the plane.

I apologized. I got eye-rolls times two. I did feel bad, but they really should be more instructional. I’m a first time flyer for all practical purposes, and I was in the first time flyer lane, but apparently those lane distinctions don’t really mean anything. I get through, but my heart is still racing, and believe it or not, the first thing I did was slip Bob in my pocket and then tie my shoes.

Security, Take Three.

At the end of my trip, upon leaving Manchester Airport, I, of course, went through security. This time, I was determined to be successful. I had put all of my liquids in the checked bag, and this bag did not go into the corral available to any passer-by. All I had was toothpaste in the plastic baggie in my carry-on. I remembered the laptop and even had the carry-on partially unzipped so that I would remember to remove it from the bag. I had asked the first security person if we’re supposed to take our shoes off, and they said no. I threw away my bottle of soda (500ml – too large to carry through.) I was home-free. The man asked for my passport. No problem. I put everything in the bins. I walked through the detector, and…

Beep.

Oh, no, I didn’t.

I looked at the security woman, mouth agape, thinking, “What did I do to deserve this?”

They move me just slightly out of the way, ask me to put my arms out (like a cross) and then a woman security officer starts patting me down. (Wasn’t I put behind a screen? No, I was not. She didn’t even say anything except to extend my arms. She really should have bought me drinks.) I was lucky I didn’t take a step back in startlement. I also now need to take off my shoes and they pass through a separate scanner. That was it really. I think it was actually my passport that set it off – all that new technology crammed into that little book. I hadn’t carried it through any of the other metal detectors. I always replaced it into my purse when it was returned to me.

Now I know for my next trip, I will either sail through or be arrested and my best friend will have to rescue me from a federal prison.

You will rescue me, won’t you?

Here are some hints that I discovered, and not just because of my mistakes.

1.       Keep your pockets empty, including money and change. It’s just easier to get through security and then put that stuff into your pockets or just leave it in your pocketbook or briefcase.

2.       Know that in the US, you’ll need to remove your jacket, shoes and belts.

3.       Don’t wear clunky, metallic jewelry unless you really do want to get friendly with the security officers. Going, I had a really nice necklace, but I put it in my purse until I was through and then I put it on my neck.

4.       Put your ID/passport away in your purse before you walk through the metal detector. There is also a detector that blows air on you. I did not go through that one (by choice).

5.       Your laptop needs to be out of your bag and in its own bin (apart from your shoes and purse, etc.)

6.       Your purse goes in a bin. Your carry-on does not.

7.       The liquids need to be in a bin (with your other stuff except your laptop.) The TSA in the US allow 3 ounce containers inside a quart sized zipper bag. I found Ziploc brand travel bags. I think they were $0.99 for seven bags. I was also surprised by the amount of little bottles that fit in there. On the way over, my liquid bag was filled with things I would normally keep in my purse. Liquid, for TSA purposes includes gels and creams as well as solids (like deodorant) in addition to actual liquids. It’s 3-1-1. 3.4 ounce containers, 1 quart bag, 1 bag per passenger. I found the TSA website to be very useful.

8.       The UK requirement to return is slightly less, so check with the airport security or online for the place you’ll be leaving from, or check your liquids in your suitcase.

9.       Do not joke in the line. It annoys people, and you really don’t want to annoy security.

If I think of anything else, I’ll be sure to add it with another posting.