Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Traveling With Beer

Beer is not a topic that I've given a lot of thought to until recently. For 30 years I avoided beer, but ever since I went to the Tour at the Harpoon Brewery I've changed my tune. Now I take most opportunities to try a new beer and to find out more about what I like and what I don't like about one of the world's oldest and most popular alcoholic beverages.

Since beer is inherently a regional product with the local water affecting its ultimate taste, making the decision to try local beer while you travel is easy. The fact that the taste of beer is so linked to the location in which it was produced also makes bringing home beer while traveling attractive. With beer from a far off location stashed away safely in your fridge, you can easily relive the moments that surrounded your first sips of that brew.

I have to say that it is quite a special feeling being able to offer a guest to my home a beer that they have likely never seen before. So you like IPAs eh, well let's see…how about we open this Belgian IPA from Oklahoma that was a collaboration between two breweries and only made for one year? Yeah, it's that cool.

As with everything worth doing, research is key. Trying out different beers prior to making your selections for bringing home is nearly always a good idea as doing so can help you avoid lugging home a beer that you really don't care for. You could keep to a style that you know you like, but the chances are that you may find something amazing in the area that is well out of your comfort zone.

Take me for example. As a rule I don't like lagers, but I find myself in Waterloo, Ontario where most of the local breweries specialize in lagers. Guess what I'll be drinking on this trip? That's right, lagers. I don't know that I'll be converted to a lager lover, but I have a hard time believing that they aren't doing something right with lagers here.

Even if you don't like beer, you can still bring some back for your beer loving friends. Does your brother like beer? Going on vacation in September? Christmas present solved. Just bring some decent beer back from your vacation, and he'll love you forever provided that you store the beer in a suitably cool place before giving it to him (lower than 70F).

If you don't like beer, then how are you supposed to find a good one amongst the sea of choices that are available? Believe it or not, talking is a good standby. Most decent beer stores will generally be staffed by people that enjoy beer. Talk to them and ask them what is good and local.

If you aren't one to strike up random conversations with people, then try visiting There you will find a section called beerfly, just type in the name of the city in which you are visiting and you'll get a list of local breweries and places to drink beer. Click on one of the breweries to get a list of all their beers that they have ever made. I look for breweries with averages in the B to A range. If I can track down a few B+ beers in a style that I enjoy on a trip then I call it a win.

When it comes to actually buying beer, I try to stick to larger sized single bottles. Generally you'll find these in 22oz sizes (bombers), but you'll find some breweries that use 750ml wine bottles as well. Either of these are my preferred vessel for transporting beer in my suitcase as they offer a good volume to weight to strength balance.

There are other container options available such as cans and growlers, but I have yet to travel with either of these containers. I'll try transporting cans soon, but I worry that they will not hold up well to the punishment that baggage handlers can dish out. It should be known that I'll be double bagging all cans in freezer bags prior to packing them.

OK, so you've got our beer, now what? Well, you need to pack it up in your suitcase and hope that it makes it home intact. In order to stack the odds in my favor, I've employed several methods of packing including using bubble wrap secured with saran wrap (I wouldn't use the saran wrap again), but there is a much simpler option available. Roll a bottle up in an article of clothing, such as a pair of jeans or a sweater, and secure it with a rubber band.

This sort of packaging is easily undone and redone in event that baggage inspectors need to look at your haul. Use your remaining clothing (if any) to create a base layer and then pack your beer. If you can keep your precious cargo in the center of your luggage then the odds that you'll have a break will be reduced.

If you pack well and your bottles don't have much room to shift around then you most likely won't have a problem. I've transported 17 bottles from as far away as Germany and I have yet to have an issue. I'm not pulling back on my packing mind you, but I haven't had any leakers yet.

Since I've started traveling with beer, I've more consistently hit the maximum limit of 50 lbs on my checked bag. It's never fun to find out that you are just a little bit over the limit at the check in counter, so you should know your limit and know how much weight you have to work with. I need to track down a decent portable scale (any suggestions?), but until then I'm using an alternate method.

When I traveled this morning, my bag weighed 40 pounds. The average bomber weighs 2.5 pounds so I can bring 4 bombers back with me on this trip. Not quite as good as having my own scale, but it will do for now.

That's really all there is to it. The next time that you travel, I encourage you to seek out local beer, bring it back home and share it with your friends.
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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Revisiting Sleeping at the Frankfurt Airport

Long time fans of Graham's Travel Blog may recall that I once spent a memorable night Sleeping in the Frankfurt Airport. Since it was written, this article has become one of my most frequently read articles. It turns out that there are a large number of people out there that have overnight layovers through Frankfurt, who knew?

Not long ago I received a message from one of my readers, Ronnie, who had heard a rumor that the authorities at the Frankfurt airport were no longer allowing people to sleep in the terminal, and he asked if I knew anything about this.

This type of policy struck me as odd, but I know better than to assume that I understand the logic behind airport security measures. I thought about this, and the only justification that I could come up with for such a policy was that once asleep, the German government recognizes humans as an unattended bag. Unattended bags are always promptly addressed, so using this logic it is clear that sleeping in an airport would pose a serious security threat.

Not being able to tell wether or not this policy was after real visiting the Frankfurt airport website, I promised my new friend that I'd look into the situation the following week as I had a trip planned that would take me through Frankfurt.

Upon arriving in Germany, I found a telephone hooked into the airport information hotline. The man on the other end of the line was very confused, but he assured me that no policy exists that would prevent anyone with a layover from spending the night in the terminal.

I had my immediate answer, but I was left with more questions than answers. Where had such a rumor originated and why? Upon delivering the good news to Ronnie I inquired as to the origin of the rumor. It turns out that his friend's travel agent had informed him of the "policy" and encouraged him to book a hotel room at the airport in order to avoid being kicked out onto the street.

This seemed a little fishy so I asked my travel agent if there would be any financial incentive to spreading such a rumor and it turns out that there is. Travel agent usually receive a 10% commission on booking hotels.

I'm not saying that this particular travel agent was doing anything immoral, but it would appear that the travel agent may have been trying to boost their commission check. There's no way to tell for sure, but if my agent ever tried anything like this then I would be looking for a new agent.

During my layover in Frankfurt, I took a few minutes to visit the area where I had spent my restless night. To my surprise I found that much had changed in my absence. The moving sidewalk that woke me countless times was gone, walls that had been in place had been replaced by glass walls and most noticeably the stone slab on which I had rested was gone!

Airports don't stand still so I shouldn't have been been surprised, but I couldn't help but be saddened by the disappearance of my slab. Taking a closer look in the surrounding area resulted in uncovering another significant change. The soft and cushy benches in front of the McDonalds had been modified by adding a "speed bump" to prevent weary travelers from sleeping on them.

While you can still sleep in the Frankfurt Airport, they aren't making it any easier with usable cushioned benches and stone slabs being even harder to find. If you are planning on sleeping in the Frankfurt airport then you will need to be a little more clever than I was.

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

First Class for our Fighting Force

We are a country at war. I know that this is something that is easy to forget or to push into the back of our minds, but the fact that we are at war remains. Most of us are in a position that we aren't constantly reminded of this, and we can go about our days thinking that it is somebody else's problem.

That the current conflict is far from home doesn't change that men and women are dying on behalf of ourselves and our country.

If you've traveled by air recently, the reminders that we are at war are fairly frequent from the uniformed soldiers moving about the country to the posters and PA announcements spreading the word about the USO.

Whenever I see an soldier in uniform, I get the urge to walk over to them, thank them for their service and shake their, but I never do. I usually don't have a problem walking up to someone and talking to them, but this situation is somehow different.

Suppose that I do thank someone for their service and shake their hand; then what? Anything beyond that would feel somehow shallow. They are going to war, what could I possibly say? I suppose that I could offer to buy them a beer, but then the uncomfortable conversation would just move to a different location. Don't get me wrong, I am genuinely grateful, but I just don't know how to handle the situation so I end up avoiding it.

Years of watching television commercials dictates that I handle this situation by sending over a small child bearing an ice cold Coca Cola. I see two big problems with this solution. First of all, not everyone likes Coke. There are a large number of Pepsi fans out there along with a growing number of people that don't drink soda at all. The second problem is that I don't travel with a small child. I suppose that I could borrow one, but attempting to borrow someone's child at an airport could prove somewhat problematic.

As I contemplated this problem, I stared down at my boarding pass that had unexpectedly been upgraded to first class thanks to my frequent flier status. The solution suddenly hit me; switch seats with one of the uniformed soldiers. After all, they are willing to die for our country so shouldn't they get an extra bag of peanuts, a comfy chair and a couple of free drinks?

I spoke with the gate agent to see if I could switch seats anonymously, but he said that any seat switching would have to be mutually acceptable to both passengers. The switch couldn't be an anonymous surprise, but by this time I was determined to follow through with my plan.

I approached a nearby man in uniform who was sitting by himself. After confirming that he was on my same flight, I asked him if he'd like to fly first class; oddly enough he said yes. We approached the gate agent and informed him that we wanted to switch seats. I figured that we would have needed to have new boarding passes issued, but to my surprise we were instructed to simply switch boarding passes.

I thanked the soldier for his service, shook his hand and that was it. The whole exchange lasted less than a minute, but I felt good about it all day long. I hadn't been expecting the upgrade, and it was nice to do something nice for someone that truly deserved it.

On the rare occasions that I am upgraded in the future, I plan to swap boarding passes with those in uniform whenever possible. I would like to encourage other frequent fliers to follow my lead and do likewise.

If you are considering switching your first class seat with someone in uniform, I have a couple of tips for you:

1. Always check with the gate agent in order to determine the correct procedure for swapping seats. This may vary from one airline to another, and it's best not to surprise anyone when it comes to boarding a plane.

2. Have your frequent flier card handy. When you switch boarding passes with someone, you not only get their seat, but their boarding zone as well. With your frequent flier card in hand, you can board sooner and you might even find a spot for your carry-on bags.

If you've swapped seats with a soldier before, please let me know how it went in the comments section below. If you're with me in swapping seats with those that are serving our country, please let me know that as well.

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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

3 (Other) Things to Do on a Plane at Least Once

Article by Leslie W.

I’m gonna go ahead and get the obvious out of the way here. I know of a club and you find it some 5,000 feet or so in the air. And if we were making a list of things to do on a plane, I’d say joining this “club” is probably a universal choice. Moving past the obvious top-spot-getter, I can think of 3 other things that are on my list of things that everyone should aspire to do on a plane, at least once in their lives.

Fly 1st Class
Ah the good life. Who hasn’t looked longingly beyond the cotton curtain that separates the well-to-do from the rest of us poor schmucks? We fall into a restless sleep under a felt blanket with dreams of the lobster and leg room being bestowed upon the passengers in Business Class. For most of us, Coach is the norm. There’s no shame in it, flying is expensive, and the majority us are lucky to have raised enough funds to board the plane at all. But at least once, everyone should treat themselves to a little in-flight luxury. Personal attention, free booze and the chance to stretch out; it would be a nice change wouldn’t it? There’s something about riding in a limo that makes everyone feel like a rock star. Flying first class can definitely have the same effect. Sitting with the power players, can make you feel like one too. Everyone occasionally deserves a glass of fine wine, a gourmet meal, an expensive pair of shoes and a big cushy airplane seat. And when you arrive at your destination you’ll feel relaxed and maybe even empowered. Which is a hell of a lot better than you would have felt squeezed into a seat between a toddler and a creepy dude sleeping on your shoulder.

Make a friend
Normally I’m the first one to pass out, or at least pretend to, in order to avoid chit-chatting with the stranger I am now uncomfortably close to. But every once in a while, it’s fun to pretend I’m not completely anti-social and strike up a conversation with the person sitting next to me. I can see this being far more intriguing when the person in question happens to be attractive, but let’s not limit ourselves to chemically driven motives. Sometimes, it’s cool to talk to someone just to get their story. I know people who feel somehow compelled to extract a full bio from any poor traveler seated near them. But I don’t think that’s the norm. In fact I think most of us would feel more at ease Tweeting the stranger next to us rather than breaking the ice with a “Traveling for business or vacation?”. But before you jam in your ear buds and hide your face behind a Sky Mall. (Do you really need the silver plated tooth brush carrier?) Glance over at your seat partner and give a thought to extending a hello. Who knows, once you start talking you may look up to discover that your plane has landed and you’ve got a new friend.

Spend 12 hours
This is weird right? I know. But I don’t mean just sit there for 12 hours delayed in a terrible rainstorm. That would suck. No I mean fly for 12 hours. I know it still sounds crazy and I don’t think it’s the length of the flight itself that is the exciting part. It’s what flying for that long means. It means you’ve flown far, far form home. You’ve gone someplace that is not easy to get to for you. I think everybody ought to travel to a distant land at some point. If the idea scares you, that’s even more reason to go. Half a day on a plane is no joke either, it’s tough. And I think getting through that kind of extended travel makes you a little tougher too. Although ya know, if you’re gonna be flying 12 hours maybe that’s a good time to think about going first class.

Leslie is a writer for, a company that specializes in renting private jets. Unfortunately, she still spends most of her time eating peanuts in coach.

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