Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Time I Lost my Passport

There I was, in the middle of the Copenhagen international terminal, people from countless countries rushing about me and I couldn't find it. I checked, rechecked and triple checked my pockets; it was gone, I'd lost my passport.

Not having yours with you can stop your travel plans cold and it is one of the scariest experiences, short of the possibility of physical violence, that I’ve come across as a traveler. I recently traveled to Norway and on my return home I faced this travel nightmare head on.

After getting to the airport, which required a brisk walk with all my luggage and a 45 minute bus ride, I was greeted with sad news. Since I was switching airlines in Copenhagen I would not be able to get all of my boarding passes or check my bags clear through to my destination before I left Norway. This is always a pain since there is another line to stand in to get things sorted. Loyal readers will remember how much I enjoy lines from Queue Madness. When extra lines are combined with the sometimes tight connections in international travel the situation can go downhill fast.

I asked the counter agent in Norway if there was anything to be done about it but I conceded this point quickly as it was clear that I was on my own with this matter. After making it through security I found some food and made my way to the gate. At this point I think a little context might be helpful. I had just spent four days in Norway and I hadn’t slept well due to the sun never setting at the time of year I was there. Details about this can be found in my previous entry 24 Hours of Sunlight. Needless to say, I was not running at full mental capacity on this trip home.

Waiting for my flight to board I took out my passport and inspected my visa stamps as I often do while traveling. I had 18 more spots to fill before I needed to get additional pages added. I stopped momentarily at my favorite stamp, it’s from Germany when I took a train across the Swiss boarder, it has a little picture of a train on it. Coincidentally I got lost on that train trip but that’s a story for another day. I thought of all of the places that I’ll visit in order to fill my passport and then I put it back into my shirt pocket along with a copy of my itinerary and my boarding pass.

Over the course of my flight to Copenhagen the combination of sleep deprivation, a warm environment and the gentle humming of the engines quickly put me to sleep. I awoke suddenly when we landed and didn’t quite know what was going on, I figured it out quickly though. I stood up, grabbed my laptop from overhead and then bent over to retrieve my backpack from under the seat in front of me. I heard a small thud and noticed that my itinerary had fallen out of my pocket so I picked that up. I didn’t however notice that the thud was made by my passport which just so happened to be the same color as the carpet on the plane.

I departed and took a bus from the plane to the airport terminal, I was completely unaware of the gravity of what had just taken place.

I made my way to the service counter to pick up my remaining boarding passes and to try to make sure that my bags met me at home. I grabbed a number from the automated kiosk and waited my turn. It was a lot like being at the DMV, everyone stands around and hopes that they get called up by someone in a good mood. Being the good queue participant that I am I prepared for my turn I went to pull out my itinerary and my passport. Feeling where my passport should have been I was surprised not to find it. I thought that I could have used another pocket for some unknown reason so I checked. Front pants pockets…nope. Back pants pockets…no dice. Coat pockets…outlook not so good. Coat pockets again (I keep a lot of stuff in those pockets, it's easy to lose something)…still not there. My backpack and my laptop case…most certainly not. OK, now what?

Where was it? I didn’t know. I remembered having it out at the airport prior to departure but I couldn’t remember putting it away; this was bad. I ran through the events that had recently occurred and the incident on the plane popped to mind. I wasn’t sure, maybe 60% sure about what had happened, but that was all I had at the moment so it was enough to act on. What next? If I went to the gate they could surely help me. I got a third of the way there when I realized that my plane wasn’t at the gate on account of being bussed to the gate.

I froze in place, what was I going to do? I just stood there, dumbfounded by my own stupidity. This is the moment where panic could have got me but I closed my eyes and thought on it for a second. The people at the gate are usually busy with too many customers and the plane wasn’t there anyway, I figured that the customer service desk was my best bet so I headed back to where I first discovered my situation.

Calmly I grabbed another number from the automated kiosk and waited my turn. I was greeted by what turned out to be a customer service manager from SAS airlines named Hans. I slowly and clearly explained that I was pretty sure I dropped my passport on the plane. He gave me the look that I give people when they’ve done something that they shouldn’t have done and then he proceeded to help me. He was a wizard on the phone and made several phone calls that ended with Hans cursing something, complaining that it was the busiest time of the day. He made a few more phone calls and told me to come back in 15 minutes.

My action for the time being was over, all that was left for me to do was wait, this is always maddening. I tried to remain as calm as possible as the minutes slowly ticked by. I noticed a sleek stainless steel coffee vending machine and I was saddened that I didn't have any local money. I wrote a few notes in my travel journal about my situation but I did little else. What more can someone do when the wheels are in motion?

Time moved more slowly than normal and I tried to figure out how much time I had to get my boarding passes, make my way through security and find my gate. It was going to be close.

Just before the appointed time I grabbed another number and got in the queue. Before my number was called Hans saw me and called me over. Much to my relief Hans informed me that my passport had been found on the floor of the airplane, just as I had guessed. He once again told me to take a seat and wait for someone to bring the passport. So I sat down to wait some more but this time I knew that I'd at least have my passport again even if I did end up missing my plane so I was a little more relaxed. I kept and intent eye fixed in the direction of the last gate I went though and I waited as patiently as you can in these kinds of situations.

Sure enough I saw someone coming up the hallway holding my passport. It was given to Hans and I made my way up to the desk once again. Hans took a look at me and at the picture in my passport and with a smile he handed it over. It was such a relief to have my passport back once again.

I got my boarding passes, got through security and made my flight without troubles. All through my trip home I constantly checked to make sure that my passport was secure- in the front pocket of my jeans.

Have you ever lost your passport? Please comment if you have.

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Coming Soon: Travel Gear Highlight-Travel Journal

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Welcome Badger and Blade

I'd like to send out a special welcome to all the good people from Badger and Blade, without their kindness and help I would not be enjoying shaving today. Please enjoy the entry below and feel free to read a some more entries such as Queue Madness or Why I Hate Standing in Line and Vending Machine Love. You might even consider subscribing to the RSS feed if you enjoy this kind of thing.

Thank you for visiting,
AKA: Sporkboy

Shaving in Airports

Whether we like to admit it or not, humans are creatures of habit and ritual. From the moment we wake up to the moment we go to sleep we have these little rituals that we like to follow. Some of these rituals have been taught to us while others have been developed personally. All of these habits have been molded and shaped by our individual life experiences so they will differ person to person but I don't know a single individual that lives without them.

Acquiring coffee in the morning is a good example that applies to most people. We each have our particular way or ways that we get coffee. If you make your own then you have special procedures that you follow. Of course since you haven't yet had coffee yet the outcome can vary slightly but the spirit of the ritual remains. That's the problem with making coffee; you need to be awake but the coffee helps you wake up. I suppose that's why so many people decide to have someone make there coffee for them.

The point that I'm trying to make (aside that I like coffee) is that we have rituals that we all follow and that when you travel or otherwise remove yourself from your familiar environment these rituals are disrupted. Coping with a new environment where you have to adapt your daily rituals can be a challenge but nowhere is this more so than when you are traveling. Now, I'm not talking about being at a hotel but actually being on the road en route to your destination.

On a day when I travel time becomes an illusion, what was night becomes day and you start to lose track of things temporally. The body becomes confused as you change your eating and sleeping patterns to sometimes comical ends. Some will claim that jet lag is a myth but I can assure you that this is not the case. Still there are some bodily functions that appear to continue unhindered by changes in timezone or climate. Specifically hair keeps growing. It doesn't matter if the sun never rises or sets; hair just keeps growing and I haven't noticed any variations due to jet lag.

For men who shave this means that the need to shave remains present even though our normal routines have been disrupted and it is often no longer convenient to do so. Most of the time I can put off shaving on a travel day. I usually try to shave the night before a trip as to avoid shaving at 3AM without the aid of coffee, but by the end of the day I'm usually feeling quite rough and ready for a shave. Sadly though I'm often too tired and put off shaving to the next morning.

Before I had given the topic much thought I would ever so often see men shaving in airport restrooms, usually with some sort of electric razor. I thought that someone would have to be quite hard core to need to shave in an airport and I figured that I would never get to that point.
I also wondered about the choice of an electric razor as electric razors don't get along well with my face. It is however a well known fact that everyone is a beautiful snowflake, I suppose it is just fine for those "other" travelers.

All of my thoughts on the topic quickly came to the forefront of my mind when I was assigned a short notice trip to fly to Spain. After an 18 hour or so journey I was to meet a distributor and then go on to the site. I couldn't very well show up and meet a distributor without having shaved for some 25 or so hours. My beard does go quite quickly and I tend to look rather shaggy rather quickly. Some people say I have an 8AM shadow, it can be pretty rough. So in order to avoid looking like a I've spent a week in the woods I'd have to shave during my layover in the Copenhagen airport.

I packed a packet of shaving cream that I received from a hotel the month before and a two blade disposable razor. Once I landed in Copenhagen I made for the restroom and went to work. I used a small plastic cup from the restroom as a rinse cup and did the best I could. It wasn't elegant, it wasn't completely familiar and it was by far not the best shave I've had but somehow it made me feel better after the long flight. Looking at the number of variables involved in shaving in an airport (water content, water temperature, equipment, shaving cream, etc.) it's amazing that I did as well as I did.

Since that trip to Spain four and a half years ago I have had the chance to shave in airports a couple more times and I've revised my equipment and procedures a bit. In the past year or so I have taken to a more traditional wet shaving approach thanks to my friends at Badger and Blade. I now carry a traditional shaving brush and a container of shaving soap with me where ever I go. I also have a double edged razor from the late 50s, it's a 1959 red tip Super Speed for those that want to know, that I travel with but it does take double edged blades which can not go through security checks without seriously bending the rules . For those times that my checked bags get lost or when I need to shave in an airport I do carry single blade and twin blade disposable razors with me.

The procedure of shaving in an airport is similar to that in a non public place except that I'm shaving without the comfort of hot water. I'll try to find a quiet restroom if possible and then set up my shaving gear once I have cleaned up the basin as best as I can. While I'm doing this I'll put some water on my soap and soften it up a bit. After wetting my face I'll wet my brush and work it into my softened soap.

This soap will be lathered into my beard. This is probably when I get the most odd looks as someone lathering with a brush is no longer a common site. Once my beard is nice and soft I'll shave as normal, then I rinse my face, lather again and shave in a different direction (multiple pass method). I have by this time made quite a mess and lost track of time but I'm always sure to clean up after myself. Despite this odd site of someone shaving with a brush no one has been curious enough about my habit to ever ask me about it.

When all is said and done I always feel much better after a shave while traveling. I did have one exceptional airport shaving experience in Denver, I think there is something in the water in Denver that makes for a great shave. Perhaps it was that I was too tired to notice the actual quality of the shave and my mind has made it to be better than it actually way.

On a recent trip I encountered a man that was so desperate for a shave that he was using the provided hand soap to shave with. Hand soap isn't meant for the face and I felt compelled to offer him some proper shaving soap as I am in the habit of helping out fellow travelers when I can (The Code I Travel By). I figured that rubbing some shaving soap on his face even without a brush had to be a better option than harsh hand soap. He kindly refused as he satisfied with the results that he was getting. I only washed my face with hand soap once, it didn't turn out well. I sure hope his face was OK the next day.

As for me I will continue to shave in airports as long as I'm traveling. I'll keep looking for new lathering options though but for the time being I'm satisfied with the setup that I have. I did see a mention of shaving soap leaves on another blog and I have to admit that I am more than a little curious. Perhaps a review of that product may be in the cards in the future, we shall see.

Have you tried shaving soap leaves? Have you shaved in an airport? Do you have an interesting airport/shaving story?

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Coming Soon: That Time I Lost my Passport

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Queue Madness or Why I Hate Standing in Lines

Queue Madness:
A state of being mad or frenzied as a direct result of being in a queue

Photo by Nicole Holt

Sometimes, when I think about traveling, it becomes clear to me that I spend far too much time standing in lines. I wake up to stand in line at the front desk of my hotel to check out, then I get to the airport where I stand in a line to get my boarding passes, another line to check my bags followed by a line to actually get the bags to the TSA. After all that there's another line to get through security. Once all that is done I need coffee so I'm in yet another line.

There are lines to get on the plane and lines to get off the plane. There's a line of people to use a tiny restroom on the plane because that coffee from a previous line has to go someplace. Lines of people to get taxis and lines of people buying lunch. On a really tough day there's even a line to let someone know that my bag is lost. Perhaps my bag got in the wrong line.

I wonder how much time on a given travel day I spend in standing in line, hmmm...
10 minutes to check out of a hotel
30 minutes in food lines
30-45 minutes to get boarding pass and check bags
15-45 minutes to get through security
10-15 minutes to board
10 minutes to get to a restroom
10-15 minutes to deplane
10 minutes to get a cab

That's between 2 hours 5 minutes and 3 hours per day just standing in queues. The reward for all this standing in line is getting to sit down for large periods of time. Of course I always have things to do but basically I'm waiting in line to sit down. It's no wonder I have issues with people that do not understand the subtle art of the queue.

As far as I can tell there are two main human aspects of the queue: queue management (which is part queue design) and queue participation. Queue management is the responsibility of those that have established the queue: the coffee shop, the security line guys, Disneyland, whoever. The group or individual that designed the queue has an intrinsic responsibility to manage their queue. If the queue hasn't been thought out properly it can cause countless problems: confusion, frustration, fights, you name it. A poorly designed queue is a tool of chaos and a good friend of entropy but surely no friend of mine.

A properly designed queue that is well laid out and quite possibly regulated by an attendant will resolve most issues that are caused by faulty queue participation. The sad reality is that most queues are not set up to regulate the human element as well as they should. For someone that spends as much time as I do standing in queues it surprises me how unaware of queue protocols people are.

Graham's Standard Universal Queue Protocol:
Stand in line. Move forward so that others may follow you. When you get at the front of the line you respond to a visual or auditory cue and then you get to do something.

It really isn't that hard yet I continually see people that don't move forward causing queue backup and needless congestion for those trying to pass the queue and frustration for those in the queue behind the transgressors. The problem compounds when there are two or more queues and no queue management such as the case with two tills at a coffee shop.

I was at just such an airport coffee shop not long ago and there were a couple of women in line talking to each other. They were standing in what seemed to be the center line but it could have easily been the left line but the lines were not marked so I had no way to know. The rightmost till opened up and the two ladies remained unresponsive. I took this to mean that they preferred the leftmost line for some unknown reason. It's far from me to question someones whims so I stepped to the right and stepped forward.

Much to my surprise the lady at the register yelled at me not to cut in line. Had it not been so early in the morning I would have calmly explained that the situation was a misunderstanding due to poor queue design, poor queue management and faulty queue participation. It was early , as I mentioned, so I just cursed her under my breath.

Another queue pitfall of the airport can be found at the check in kiosks. These kiosks tend to have decent queue design but then limited queue management once you get to the front of the line so that open kiosks are often left unused. This really gets to me as I don't want to be That Guy and yell at the people in the front of the line to shift. Equally I can't jump the queue and cut in front of everyone because that's just plain rude. Instead I just stand there like the other sheep and when I get to the front I briskly walk to one of the kiosks that has been unused the whole time. Perhaps others behind me notice and follow my lead but I never turn to check.

For the bettering of society I present you with some simple rules for queue participation:
Rule 1: Respect the queue itself, do not cut in line and do not modify the queue
Rule 2: Be aware of yourself and your place in the queue
Rule 3: Respect your queue mates, do not bump or nudge them
Rule 4: Be aware of your queue mates and do not inconvenience them unduly
Rule 5: Observe the queue and learn what to do when you are in front (queue leader)
Rule 6: Move quickly and safely through the queue, do not let a large gap develop ahead of you

If everyone followed the rules that I have outlined above I think that the world would be a much better place. Of course I may be a bit biased since I spend so much time standing in line.

A well thought out and properly managed queue can do a great deal to reduce queue participation issues. I don't have any personal experience in designing queues so I can't comment on them at length. I will say that clear markings designating the beginning and ending of each queue along with appropriate queue management (even if minimal) do help quite a bit. I will leave further comments on the matter to the queue design experts out there.

The next time you are stuck standing in what seems to be an endless queue please follow the rules outlined above and try not to get too mad on account of people that don't know what they are doing. After all, there's probably another queue waiting for you just around the corner.

I'd like to thank Nicole for inspiring the topic of this entry as it was based on her continuing problems with a poorly set up queue and some less than cooperative queue mates at her local coffee shop.

Are there any queue participation rules that I missed? Do you have any good queue stories to share? I'm sure you do. If you are a queue designer I'd love you hear you thoughts.

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Coming Soon: Shaving in Airports

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Wide World of Candy

Lately I've found myself bringing back more and more candy home on my trips abroad. It packs well, it's easy to find and makes a great gift. As an added bonus every time I find a candy that I've found before (either domestically or abroad) I remember another time and another place fondly.

Oddly enough I don't have a particularly sweet tooth though I do like the occasional piece of candy. One of my hobbies happens to be confectionery so I think that might have something to do with my interest in candy from foreign lands. It's something that is just universal and all over the world candy is something that you can get relatively easily. Even if the flavors aren't exactly familiar the main point still gets across...most of the time.

I think that the accessibility of candy is one of the main appealing factors for me. I can find candy at grocery stores, corner markets, airports, gas stations and even vending machines. I am quite fond of vending machines and I quite enjoy them for various reasons which as my loyal readers will remember I explored in Vending Machine Love.

Many countries have a candy that they are especially known for, chocolate in Switzerland and salted licorice in Finland for example. I try to seek out what the locals know and love. This has had the strange effect of making me quite fond of salted black licorice (Salt Sild, pictured above) which is as it turns out, an acquired taste). Of course there are some things that I just don't get used to such as the slightly banana flavored chewy confection in the shape of a Monopoly car that is a native of Sweden (Biler, pictured above).

I have noticed that while hazelnuts aren't that popular here in the States, they are quite fond of them in Europe. People really go for them in chocolate bars as a peanut substitute. I don't know why we don't use as many hazelnuts here but it is a sad deficiency that we face and somehow don't notice.

Of course we have plenty of candy here in the United States and over all candy is still candy but there is something about the novelty and rarity of things that we can't easily find that unwraps something inside us. I've noticed that the child like wonder and lust comes back when tempted with what I'll call a rare sweet. Candy becomes new again and curiosity gets the best of people; it's wonderful. A bit of chocolate in the shape of an egg is just a bit of OK chocolate but put a plastic toy inside (Kinder Surprise) and even the most serious of adults are transfixed, if only for a brief moment.

I've never had any problems bringing wrapped candy to or from another country, it's not a blip on the radar for customs people and I appreciate that. When visiting abroad I've even started to bring some candy bars that aren't generally available abroad along with me to complete the cultural exchange of sweets. Just as we have specialty candy shops that carry foreign candies, stores like that exist abroad however the prices are highly inflated ($5 for a standard sized Hershey bar for example). Unfortunately the candy doesn't move quickly in these shops so it can be a bit stale which is a shame given the cost of imported candies.

In my cultural exchange of sweets I've found that candies that are easy to share tend to work out well such as Whoppers and Junior Mints. This makes it easy for someone to try something new without committing to eating a whole candy bar.

Even though I find a lot of my candy abroad please don't think that you'll be left out of the fun if you don't get to travel often. Domestically there are regional candies that you'll find if you take the time to look while traveling such as Idaho spuds which are only available in a handful of states. Closer to home there are still plenty of places to find unusual treats. Your local grocery store most likely has an ethnic food section, here you'll find a small selection of candies from around the world. Unfortunately they'll be overpriced and will most likely be on the stale side.

A better bet will be your local ethnic grocery store. These will cater to a more specific group and the stock tends to be a lot fresher than a run of the mill grocery store. You may not find a broad range of candy (as you might find in a specialty candy store) but the prices are generally very reasonable and you'll get a chance to explore a new grocery store which is something that I am always keen to do.

One final source I'll mention is Cost Plus World Market. The prices here tend to be more on the expensive side and the stock can be a tad stale but they'll have things that I haven't found anyplace else domestically. They tend to specialize in sweets from the UK and Australia such as Jelly Babies (a cross between gummy candies and jelly beans) and Eating Licorice (soft licorice for eating). While they do have Jelly Babies they aren't popular at my local store so they are always stale, the licorice is pretty good there though. Cost plus even has the dangerously good Lakerol from Sweden. Lakorol is a sugar free mentholated pastille that comes in various flavors ranging from sweet licorice to cactus (they are all good though the one called salvi took a while to get used to).

Even though I might pay a little more for these rare sweets they are a special treat and they remind me of experiences that I've had in far off places, long ago. Every time I find Australian licorice at a store I recall stopping in at a candy shop in a mall in Brisbane after being lured in by big glass jars full of different colors of licorice, it was a good day. When you factor in the recollection of fond memories then spending $2-3 on a candy bar is a bargain when counterbalanced by the cost of travel now a days.

The next time you see a strange candy I would invite you to take a chance and try it because you just might find a new favorite. If you do, please come back and comment about your experience. Please let me know about some of your favorite non domestic candies and I'll keep an eye out for them in the future.

If you'd like to read further on the topic of candy I can highly recommend Candy Addict for reviews on candy, both foreign and domestic.

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Coming Soon: Queue Madness or Why I Hate Standing in Lines