Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Adventures in Traveling Light(er)

I'll admit that I am not the lightest packer. In fact, I am quite a heavy packer. Most of my trips revolve around work, so I end up carrying quite a bit of gear with me including a 48 pound toolkit and two laptops. Between my checked and carry-on bags, I carry over 100 lbs of equipment with me on an average trip. I know that this isn't traveling lightly, but it is a style of travel to which I have become accustomed to. A recent familial obligation necessitated my traveling to Southern California on short notice, and it changed the way I'll look at traveling and packing forever.

My trip required me to be in town for two nights, and I couldn't risk having my bags delayed so this left me with only one option: carry-on only travel . It required me to pack by a new set of rules, which have opened up a whole new world of travel possibilities.

The most obvious changes were that I wouldn't be able to bring a pocket knife with me and that I'd have to be careful to follow all of the TSA rules for carry-on travel. Additionally, I needed to remember that I'd be carrying everything, so weight was also a concern.

Once I started to think about traveling solely with carry-ons, I was reminded of a line from one of my favorite movies:

"Take only what you need to survive" -Lone Star to Princess Vespa, Space Balls

I'd heard this phrase repeated many times over the years, but never before had I encountered the perfect context for it.

With the sagely wisdom of Lone Star ringing true in my mind, I set about deciding what would stay and what would go. Since I only needed a couple changes of clothes and an extra pair of shoes, I decided to go with a roll-a-board case that would hold my clothes and my day pack, which held my water bottle, food and my toiletries. I'll admit that I didn't do a full purge of my backpack as I should have, but time was short so I ended up lugging around a lot of gadgets that I didn't need to take with me.

In addition to the above items, I also packed a 2 pound round of cheese for my father (he really likes sharp cheddar). The cheese went into a soft sided cooler which fit nicely in my day pack. When checking into my flight I weighed in to find that I was lugging about 35 pounds of gear with me.

While sitting in the boarding area, I started to take a close look at everything that I ended up carrying with me, and I realized that there was quite a bit of redundancy. Did I really need a water bottle and a travel mug? Did I need to carry fresh fruit when dry is available? Isn't carrying 4 magazines a little excessive? Would a lighter/smaller book reduce my reading enjoyment? Do I need a comb and a brush?

Even though I had cut down the weight of my gear considerably, there was certainly more that I could have done. Realizing this, I was thrilled with the possibility of making carry-on travel a regular part of my life. In a moment of clarity, taking advantage of last minute travel deals and
spontaneous travel changes suddenly became a reality. It was as if I could finally see for myself what others had been telling me for years about what travel could be.

As it turns out, there's a great website for traveling without checked bags called OneBag. I really wish I would have found this resource before my trip to Southern California, but I've been enjoying it in preparation for my next carry-on only trip.

My first carry-on only trip went fairly smoothly, and I didn't miss any part of checking my bags (ie: having to wait at the baggage carousel, watching my bags get loaded on the plane and wondering if my bags would arrive with me) . While I wasn't able to take my pocket knife with me, that was a minor inconvenience when compared to the gained flexibility and peace of mind knowing that my bags would not be lost. I look forward to my next carry-on only trip because I've learned a lot since then, and I can't wait to really apply myself to this style of travel.

Do you regularly travel with only carry-ons? Do you recall your first carry-on only trip? Please respond in the comments section below.

If you've enjoyed this post please consider subscribing to the RSS feed.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Dangers of Airport Polynom Syndrome

Today I’d like to explore one of the problems that is encountered by modern travelers: airports with multiple names. This may not sound like a serious problem, but airports with multiple names add to the general confusion of travel.

Airports often start off named for the city or region in which the airport is located. As the area develops, this name can become out of date, so the name is updated. Eventually, the local government decides to honor a local hero or politician by changing the airport’s name once again. The result: an airport with far too many names.

I recently took a trip to Southern California, and I was advised to fly into the Orange County airport. I looked up the airport code at World Airport Codes and found that the Orange County airport code was SNA, as the airport is also known as Santa Ana, the city in which the airport is located.

When I booked my tickets, my itinerary showed that my destination was Orange County/Santa Ana. When I checked in, my boarding pass said that my destination was Orange County. Not knowing with absolute certainty that Orange County only had one airport, I was slightly confused. After all, this was California, the same state whose public university system uses the following naming convention: University of California followed by the city name in which the university is located (ie: UC Davis, UC Berkley, etc.). There could have been Orange County/Santa Ana, Orange County/Anaheim, etc. Considering this, I think that my moderate level of confusion was completely reasonable.

After reassurances from a gate agent that I was boarding the correct plane, I relaxed for the flight down to Orange County/Santa Ana. You can understand my surprise when I was greeted by the following sign upon my arrival:

In short, I had booked a flight to Santa Ana, flown into Orange County and arrived at John Wayne. If you’ve flown to this particular airport before, then you are surely aware of this naming oddity. However, if you’ve never been there before, as in this case, then you’d probably be as confused as I was. Luckily, the family members picking me up knew about all of the names, and they picked me up at the correct airport.

The Defining of a Syndrome
Airport Polynom Syndrome:
When an airport has more than one name to which it is commonly referred to, it is said that the airport suffers from Airport Polynom Syndrome or APS.

If APS was isolated to a single airport, then I would probably let it pass, but APS does not afflict Orange County/Santa Ana/John Wayne alone. I’m not exactly sure how deep the problem is, but I do know that the effects of APS are widespread. They reach out as far as Taiwan.

When I was planning my travel to Taiwan, I was told to fly into Taipei and that I should to use the CKS airport. I typed the airport code CKS into the website of my favorite airline in order to get an idea of how long the trip Taiwan would take. Much to my surprise, I found out that this would take me to Brazil. After a bit of head scratching and a few internet searches, I discovered that CKS was an acronym for Chiang Kai Shek, for whom the airport was named. The correct code to use was TPE, for Taipei. Once I had that bit of information, my inquiries went much smoother. APS can confuse even an experienced traveler, and the effects of APS are further complicated by poorly defined acronyms.

Varying Degrees of APS
The above examples reflect the moderate variety of APS; each airport had three names. Mild cases of APS are much more common (two names), but they are dealt with much less difficulty than more advanced cases. I believe that more advanced cases of APS are present in the world today, but I don’t have any first hand knowledge of them at this time. If you know of any airports with four or more names, please let me know.

What Can We Do?
Unfortunately, I believe that the spread of APS is an inevitable part of the evolution of travel. I suppose that airlines can do a bit more to educate customers, but putting all of the names that an airport has accumulated on signage and boarding passes may be difficult due to space limitations. Airports could resist the urge to change their names, but I fear that the marketing departments of airports may be too easily swayed against common sense and usability. As consumers, we can spread the word about APS and educate ourselves about the problem in hope that those with the power to make changes take notice of the situation.

The problem would be somewhat simplified if a comprehensive list of airports with all of their aliases was available. Such a list could be integrated into an existing website such as World Airport Codes, thus providing a great service to the traveling public. Once such a list is established, you could easily do a search for any of the aliases, and the correct airport code would pop up along with all of the aliases for that airport. This wouldn’t get everyone to use the same name for an airport, but it would provide a good tool that would serve the purpose of avoiding traveler confusion.

Are you aware of any airports that suffer from advanced APS with 4 or more names? Do you have first hand experience in dealing with APS? Please add a comment below, and we’ll see how widespread this problem is.

If you've enjoyed this post please consider subscribing to the RSS feed.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Why I Love Grocery Stores

There is something about grocery stores that I find irresistible, especially the ones that I get to visit on my travels. I'm not exactly sure what it is that draws me to them, but I think it has to do with the combination of the mundane and the exotic. The basic structure may be familiar, but there are just enough changed details to make the experience truly memorable for me. I do not always have time to visit the cultural sites of each city that I visit, but I nearly always have the
opportunity to run into a grocery store or two.

There are all kinds of new and interesting food items out there to be had; you just have to look for them and take a chance on something new. These are often inexpensive snacks that don't look very promising, but you never know what you are missing until you try it. Salted black licorice is a good example. It may sound terrible, but once you try it a few times you may find yourself going back for more.

Then there are things that are a little more common place. Take something as mundane as sugar for example. In France you can find pairs of sugar cubes wrapped in bits of paper; the wrapping of each pair is often decorated with some sort of pleasant design. Tourists have been known to collect these sugar wrappers from their after-meal coffees. In Australia you'll find sugar made by the the Bundaberg company, which is better known for making rum. Since molasses (the raw material for rum) is a by-product of the sugar making process, producing rum and sugar is a natural combination.

For every product out there you'll find wonderful local variations. It may be a product that you are very familiar with, but since the packaging is in German, it's just a little more special.

In Taiwan, the easiest store for me to find was a 7-11 because they are wildly popular in Taiwan. At the Taiwanese 7-11 I found a wonderful variety of things that I'd never seen before: canned coffee drinks (both hot and cold), surprising variations on familiar products and no Slurpies. They had Doritos in flavors like BBQ Chicken and Honey Rib. I tried the Honey Rib Doritos, and they were quite good; I wouldn't go out of my way to try them again, but I'm glad that I tried them.

In Switzerland I went shopping for chocolate, and I tried 7 different bars to find what I wanted to take back home with me. I had quite a selection at the store that I wondered into, and I had a great time picking them out. I remember walking around the square feeling quite warm even though it was a bit chilly outside; it was a good day.

In the United States, we enjoy a large amount of regional variation in our grocery stores. Take grits of example. In Oregon, we have 1 kind of grits, but in the South you'll find at least 5 types. In a super market in Georgia I saw Aunt Jemima and Quaker brand grits, side by side, made by the same company, and with nearly identical packaging. One was red and one was blue. On one package there was an elderly black woman and on the other an elderly white man with a beard. They were the same product, just with different branding. It can be both maddening and wonderful to find something like this, and it tickles me every time.

If you don't happen to travel often, you can always visit your local ethnic grocery store for new and unusual items. While they can be a little overwhelming at first, ethnic grocery stores are filled with wonderful culinary treasures, so it's well worth the effort to visit. They have things that you just can't find at run of the mill stores. If you've always wondered what the inside of your local ethnic store looks like, take some time to wander around it some time; you'll be
glad you did.

Once you've brought something back from a far off (or not so far off) grocery store, you'll have it as a tasty reminder of your trip. I use my supply of grits to remind me when I need to visit the South; I am currently overdue.

What's the strangest food item you've brought back from a trip? I'd have to say that mine was some strange salted and dried cherries from a 7-11 in Taiwan, at least I think they were cherries. At any rate, they were awful.

If you've enjoyed this post please consider subscribing to the RSS feed.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Voluntary vs. Obligatory Travel

When we speak of travel, we often refer to what I'd like to call voluntary travel. This is the type of romanticized travel that we see on TV and in movies. People going someplace exotic and new in order to relax and de-stress from everyday life. Voluntary travel doesn't always go exactly as planned, but it doesn't have to; that's the beauty of it. If we go with the flow on this type of trip, we can still have a good time, and we may discover something unexpected and quite pleasant.

On the other end of the travel spectrum you have obligatory travel where you have some sort of obligation to fulfill. For me, this tends to be a business trip where I have several objectives that I have to accomplish. There are schedules to stick to (hopefully) and expectations to meet. All of this can be very stressful.

Obligatory travel is not necessarily confined to business travel, it can be for a familial obligation such as attending a wedding or a funeral. The main thing about obligatory travel is that it is based around some central event that you have to attend and your time is not completely your own. Often, the events that are the center of obligatory travel are inflexible so you have to plan accordingly and be at their disposal.

Over the past 5 years, I've become fairly competent in the area of obligatory travel, but I fear that my skills in voluntary travel are starting to become dull. The last time I engaged in this type of travel was about a year and a half ago on my honeymoon. In the time since that trip, I've been on roughly 16 obligatory trips. With that kind of ratio, it's no wonder I am a little stressed about an upcoming voluntary trip to the Boston area this month.

Do I still remember how to relax in an unfamiliar environment? I hope so. Will the complete lack of a schedule cause me to revert to a state where I lock myself in my hotel room and read? I hope not. Will I obsess with research about the area, making myself an unreasonable schedule so that I can't possibly enjoy the trip? I really hope not.

Only time will tell with respect to these questions, but I hope that I'll able to adjust to the world of voluntary travel without too much difficulty.

Have you been stuck in the world of obligatory travel? Do you find the shift from obligatory to voluntary travel as difficult as I do? Do you have any tips for me in my struggle? I'd love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

If you've enjoyed this post please consider subscribing to the RSS feed.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Using Twitter to Gain Assistance in a Travel Emergency

Last week an article of mine was published at about using Twitter ( to gain swift assistance in a travel emergency.

You can read my musings on the topic at Using Twitter to Get Travel Assistance in an Emergency, and if you are on Twitter and would like to follow me, my twitter handle is ghtravelblog.

If you've enjoyed this post please consider subscribing to the RSS feed.