Travel – 15 Quick Tips When Visiting Belfast, NI

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Recently, an acquaintance of mine left for a trip to Ireland on a group tour. Her travels were taking her to Ireland as well as Belfast in the North and as far north as the Giants Causeway. She had been asking for advice, and I thought it would be helpful to share some of those tidbits here.

1. You will not receive a bag with your purchases. 

Not even at the grocery store. You will need to bring your own reusable bag or pay 5p to receive one. I did notice that there weren’t plastic bags swirling around the streets in the breeze.

2. Bring an umbrella and a lightweight jacket.

We visited in August, and we wore our jackets every day. It was colder than I expected. As for rain, it will rain every day. Sometimes it’s no more than a mist that you would feel at a waterfall, but we had at least two downpours, and without an umbrella, we would have been soaked to our skin.

As I joked with my brother-in-law: Ask yourself if you’re still in Ireland. If the answer is yes, then you need to bring your umbrella.

3. Across the street from City Hall in Belfast is a large information center with great pamphlets, maps, and a gift shop. If you can’t get to that one, try and find an information center before you start wandering around. They are very helpful. Visit Belfast Welcome Center.

4. Around the corner and down the road a tiny bit is Carroll’s, an Irish gift shop with clothes, magnets, mugs, candy, everything and anything at a price range that makes something affordable for everyone.

5. The candy selection is amazing.
Even if you find something similar to what we have in the States, the use of local water and milk in the candymaking makes it spectacular.

6. Toffee. Eat all the toffee.
We can’t get good British toffee in the States. It is my go-to when I can get it.

Also, eat all the cheddar. 

7. Visit Titanic Belfast. It is an incredible museum dedicated to the building of the Titanic. I think they did a really wonderful job balancing their pride for building the great ship and the respect for the lives lost in the disaster. They also have plenty of on-site parking at a reasonable price, a cafe, and a gift shop.

8. St. George’s Market.

9. Botanic Gardens. One word of warning, there is very little parking in this area.

10. Wear comfortable shoes. There will be a lot of walking regardless of your prime mode of transportation.

11. Download maps to your smartphone or prints them out. If you can’t do that, get them right away, especially street maps, if only to get your bearings. We tend to drive in circles the first couple of days.

12. Carry cash. The general consensus is £200 to start and then use an ATM as needed.

Visa and MasterCard are taken at most places. 

Notify your bank that you will be traveling and for how long, so they don’t freeze your cards when you need them. (This includes your Debit/ATM card as well.)

From personal experience, I would not recommend Discover. In the two weeks we were there, we found two places that took them. Not even the petrol stations did.

13. £ Stores. Poundland, Pound World, All for a £. The same as our dollar stores, but everything’s £1.

14. Petrol is in litres; road signs are in miles. I have no idea why. If you find out, please let me know.

15. Leave space in your case to bring things back without having to pay baggage fees.

Titanic Belfast. Museum. (c)2018

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.

Writing Tips: A Writing Tool Kit That Really Works

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​This is the sort of thing/organizer that I’ve been looking for for what seems like forever. I’m calling it my Writer’s Tool Kit (or Writer’s First Aid Kit), and it’s something that I’ve tried to put together for the last several years. I’ve gone through a plethora of messenger bags, re-purposed makeup bags, pencil cases, pouches, diaper bags, organizers, and all the other items you’d find in the accessory, stationery, and cosmetic departments at a Target or comparable big box store.

I’ve also tried LL Bean, Lands’ End, Eddie Bauer, Baggellini, and no-name brands on the internet and so far nothing has worked. 

Oh, it works for a little while, but then I need something extra and the entire thing ends up in a mess on the floor with me wearing my frustration face. Even now, I’ve forgotten my earphones. They must have fallen off of my nightstand, and in my hurry to get out the door I forgot they weren’t in my purse where they usually live.

I have been using a small messenger bag that I found on Amazon, and I really love it. It’s the right size, has a decent number of organizational pockets (although the pencil slip could be longer) and it’s big enough to carry all my needs, whether I want to overstuff it, or to use it simply as an oversized pocketbook for my wallet, Kindle, and cell phone. At the moment, though I’m using a separate purse along with the messenger bag.

One problem with my bag is that there is no padding so consequently my keyboard is not protected. I’ve been using a padded tablet case to carry it and protect it, but it’s hard to get in and out of the center portion of the messenger bag; the zipper isn’t wide enough.

On Pinterest, they keep promoting a pin “just for me” from the Mocchi site. It is exactly what I wanted. Slender, large enough for my Kindle and possibly my keyboard, slip pockets for papers, perhaps a notepad, and zipper pockets for post-it notes and stamps. It even comes in my color: green. On the bad side, it costs around $60 before the tax and the shipping and handling.

That is way out of my league.

And it still wouldn’t be perfect.

That’s the way it’s been every time. Until now.

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Travel – Money- Saving Ideas

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Taking a family on vacation can be a ridiculous amount of money. Even when I’ve traveled alone and stayed with friends, it can sometimes be more expensive than I’d like.

Car travel gives you the space to bring more with you and save money on the other end. These can all be adapted to other forms of travel. The only difference (at the moment) would be liquids on airplanes. Check the TSA website for your specific airport information.

Starting a trip, I always try to eat breakfast at home. Whether that’s picking up bagels at the supermarket and toasting them at home or using up the milk with our cereal, it’s better than getting half an hour into a trip and everyone’s starving. Frozen waffles and home brewed or instant coffee are two other ways to save money before you leave.

Once you’re on the trip, if you’re traveling by car, what can you bring with you? Sure, you can pick stuff up when you get there, but it’s not always practical. I will bring a 12-pack of soda and a bottle of juice for the kids. It really is so much cheaper than getting individual ones out of the hotel vending machines. You can always use the ice machine, and most hotel rooms come equipped with a mini-fridge and a microwave.

The microwave can be a good thing to have if you bring popcorn for snacks or microwavable Easy Mac mac&cheese. Everybody loves mac&cheese.

Other snacks that pack well include Cheerios, pretzels, crackers, and water bottles. Cheese doodles and chocolate are pretty much the worse snacks. The doodles are incredibly messy and the chocolate will melt, even in the winter.

Bring your own shampoo and soap.

Don’t buy anything in a convenience store and avoid supermarkets for anything that’s not food. Stick to Target and Wal-Mart for what you need, if you shop at those stores.

Bring an empty water bottle and fill it up at the water fountain on the other side of security. If you each have your own reusable water bottles, you can buy a gallon of water and share it around instead of buying individual disposable water bottles.

Look around when you’re packing and see what you can bring instead of buying. By the same token, be careful not to overpack. Weigh out what’s worth buying.