Monday, May 23, 2016

A Few Travel Tips (Lessons Learned)

I can't believe we've been back a week already! I thought I'd share a few things we learned during our travels - some tips and packing selection. Hopefully they'll be helpful to any of you who are planning some traveling. Understand that our travel was limited to England - specifically, London, Bath, Stafford, and a few outlying areas.

As you know, we traveled carry-on only - this was the most freeing experience! I can't imagine trying to lug suitcases through the Underground, over cobbled streets, up and down stairs (lots and lots of stairs), on and off trains. The trick to carry-on only is a carefully planned capsule wardrobe. I packed and repacked, and repacked again (lol) until I had it as finely tuned as I could. I also worked with a color scheme - white/black/grey. Everything could work with everything else. Every item was interchangeable (you'll see photos below).

Bill used the Tortuga Pack, while I had the Tortuga Air. Mine was smaller, for sure, but my torso is just too short to handle the full size. I worried that I wouldn't have enough room, but once you unzip all the expansions, there's plenty of space. Additionally, utilizing packing cubes further increased space. I roll pack, meaning that I roll up individual pieces of clothing tightly to compress and save space. I've seen a lot of other methods, but mine works for me - it's efficient, I don't have to unpack everything to get to one item, and it prevents wrinkles (there's a picture below).

Shoes - 1 pair.
I went back and forth on this, prior to departure, and for the sake of space, only took 1 pair. They're easy to get on and off for airport security, they're extremely comfortable for extended walking, and being flat black, they go with everything. These are what I took. They handled the miles with ease, and dried super fast when they got wet (walking in the rain and tromping through wet churchyards).

Pants - 2 pair jeans/leggings.
One pair black, one pair dark blue. These are amazing jeans/leggings. Amazing! Super soft, stretchy, and perfect for mix/match outfits. These are the black ones.  And these are the blue ones. Don't let the fact that they're juniors stop you from checking them out - truly, they're incredible (and really inexpensive at $25/pair!)!

Tops -  5 tops.
2 black sleeveless v-neck, 1 white sleeveless v-neck, 1 black/white stripped tee, 1 black tanktop.

Sweaters - 3.
1 knit hoodie sweater. 1 black/grey sweatshirt style top that could be casual or nice. 1 grey dressy sweater.

Jackets - 2. 
1 heavy coat, 1 blazer (here's the blazer). I had asked StitchFix specifically for a blazer that was travel friendly, but could double as dress up and daily casual - this one fits the bill! Soft & comfy, stretchy, and crazy versatile! This is my new favorite item!

Pajamas - 1 pair 
(I probably could have done without, but I have a fear of middle of the night hotel evacuations and being caught in my birthday suit doesn't work for me, lol).

Accessories - 1 belt, 1 purse, 2 scarves (1 thick, 1 pashmina) and 1 hat .
I didn't pack any jewelry or other accessories - simply wore my everyday earrings, necklace, rings, and fitbit.

Underthings - 12 pairs underwear, 3 bras (2 support bralettes, 1 regular), 3 pairs liner-socks and one pair cozy socks to wear on the plane.

Makeup - Before leaving, I'd invested in a new line of makeup from my favorite brand, Tarte. The Rainforest of the Sea line is incredible! It was light, breathable, had built in sunscreen, and (no kidding) easily lasted 18 hours without smudging or smearing. Absolutely amazing! Best Makeup Ever. And the travel kit was perfect for my daily skin-care.

Extra Bag/daypack - for souvenirs. These came in so handy! So glad we took them. They come rolled up - about 3 inches long. You unpack them and they become Santa's sack! We were able to cram all our shopping into them for the return trip and they counted as our 2nd carry-on. Perfect size! Worth every penny. Once back home and emptied, they roll back up into themselves and become 3 inches long again.

Things I left behind...
Dresses/Skirts - I had planned to take a dress and a maxi skirt, but the more I (over)thought, I realized that I rarely wear dresses or skirts, so why would I wear one on vacation. So... I skipped them. This allowed me to also eliminate the pair of wedge sandals that went with them. As our trip progressed, I definitely made the right decision there - pants/tops were the way to go. Easy, simple, comfy.

Boots... I'd planned to take a pair of walking boots but for space, left them at home. Glad I did - absolutely no need for them on this trip. That said, when we go to Ireland, a pair of wellies are on must-pack list.

Here's the contents of my capsule wardrobe. This wardrobe took me through 10 days.

Here you can see just how much space  you save by rolling. The clothes to the side with the shoes are what I wore on the plane.
Doesn't look like so much now, right?


From the Airport - You have several choices... bus, taxi, underground (subway). The cheapest, by far, is the Underground. It took us about 45 minutes to travel from London Heathrow to the station closest to our hotel (which was very near Piccadilly Circus). The underground is clean, well signed, and easy to navigate once you clear the OMG-we're here-fog, lol. When trying to get back up to the surface, simply follow the signs that say "Way Out". And always, "Mind the Gap". Lol. Platforms don't always hit at the level of the tube. Sometimes you've got a bit of a step to manage.

Oyster Card - if you're sticking around London, this is a must! The public transportation there is phenomenal, and if you've got an Oyster card, it's so easy to get wherever you want to go. You can purchase one before you go, or you can pick it up in the airport. You put a set amount on the card, and can top it up whenever  you need. When you're ready to return home, you can pull any leftover funds off the card in cash. Pretty sweet. Also, when  using the card, it automatically gives you the cheapest fare no matter what time you're traveling (prices for tickets change throughout the day - rush hour is more expensive, for example). It's so very worth it. Anytime you travel the Underground, simply pass your card over the reader and follow the signs to your platform.

Bus Hopper Pass - we bought these (15 pounds) when we got our Oyster Cards - they allow you to hop on and off any bus for 48 hours. Totally unnecessary for us. For some tourists, it might be a good thing, but we simply walked wherever we wanted to go.

Taxi - Taxi's are readily available throughout London. They're also cute as a button - and about as big. There are apps that will aid you in setting up a ride, or your hotel concierge can do it for you.

Uber - In London, Uber is readily available. However, when we traveled to Bath, Stafford, and Stoke-on-Trent, Uber wasn't an option. Use the app to discover where you can uber. Additionally, you can UberPool - share a ride with strangers traveling roughly the same area. We did this once, and met a couple of locals who were just returning from a trip to the States. Lol.


Wireless Internet - Prior to departure, I had rented a TEP. It's a nifty little device that for $100/week would  provide us with non-roaming internet wherever we went. It arrived promptly, I read through the instructions, then dutifully packed it up. Upon our return, I simply popped it in the return mail and was done. Now... two things... first, Bill hit up Verizon the day before we left to get the international package turned on (it's free, fyi) and they gave him a wireless device (exactly what the TEP is) free. Yep, free. To keep. I could have saved $100 bucks if only I'd known (and my company is Sprint, they don't offer that, yet another reason I'd love to switch to Verizon, lol). We packed both devices, thinking maybe one would come in handy if the other had a glitch... and never needed either. Not once. The hotels, the restaurants, the transportation hubs... all offer free wifi.

Power Converter - I packed this one. It came in seriously handy as we could charge all of our devices at night.

Portable Charger - Used this a LOT. We were taking so many photos that our phone batteries were dying faster than normal. I simply popped the charger in my purse along with a cord and we could recharge whenever we needed to. A must have!

Hair Dryer - I debated long and hard over whether to pack a hair dryer or not. Finally decided to take it with us, just in case. I  had purchased a dual-voltage one that I was assured would work in the UK. Ha!! First, the hotels generally don't have a hair dryer in the room. No problem, I had mine - Problem, it wouldn't run! Yikes! I spent the majority of our trip with air-dried hair (not a flattering look on me, lol, and why I wore my hat so often). The last night, I did find a hairdryer in the room (yay!). I'm positive I could have simply asked the front desk and they could have supplied one, I was just too busy vacationing, lol.


download in the app store
Rome2Rio - this is my new favorite app! Anytime we wanted to go from here to there, we just popped it into the app and it showed us how to get there - options included: rail, underground, taxi, walking... just pick the method you want and click on it then away you go!

London Official Guide - fabulous! Let us pick destinations, restaurants, etc we want to visit, and save the info offline. It also has an "explore" feature that was fun to play with.

download in the App store
TrackMyTour - Allowed our family and friends back home to follow along our trip every step of the way. We could visit a place, upload a photo to the app & comment on it, then everyone could see it. Pretty darn cool!

Others that came in handy... TripAdvisor, British Airways, Fancy Tips, National Rail, and GeoBlue.

A quick note on tipping... Generally speaking, you don't tip in restaurants and bars. Servers are paid a full wage, unlike here in the states. That said, you'll sometimes note a service charge on  your bill - that's a built in tip. If you don't see one, you have the option of leaving a tip if you believe you've had great service. 10-15% is perfect. In bars... they really, really don't like tipping. Will, in fact, refuse a tip. The way around tipping is to buy the bartender a drink for himself. They can choose to do so or take it in cash. But... they'll only accept it once.

About dining out... When it comes time to pay the bill, if you pay with a credit/debit card, they'll bring the card machine directly to your table. Your card does not leave your sight. Wish we did that here.

Additional note about credit/debit cards... While some places can still take a card that doesn't have a chip - you're better off if you have one. Several times we had to switch cards to one with a chip in order to complete a transaction. Contact your bank about replacing your card with a chip card.

Travel Comfort

Neck pillow. On our trip out, we decided not to take neck pillows - surely the plane would offer pillows, and we didn't want the bulky accessory to deal with throughout the trip. As we disembarked the plane in London, we vowed to purchase neck pillows for the return flight. Seriously - it's kind of a necessity on a long flight. However, on that return, the pillows I picked up in the airport were highly cushioned - too cushioned to be comfy. Booo. The neck pillows we had left here at home were just the right squishy cushy - lesson learned is check out your pillow before you buy - and yes, you need one. Lol.

Blister Bandaids - This might sound silly, but these were an absolute must. The longer we walked, I discovered that the miles increased the difference in size between my feet. Not kidding. What normally doesn't bother me much became a real issue as my right foot swelled within my shoe. Weird, right? Those blister bandaids saved the trip.
Is that crazy? Normally it's not that noticeable,
but the extended walking clearly had repercussions. 

Other items... earbuds, earbud splitter (so both of us could listen to a movie together), ipads (loaded with tv shows and movies for the flights), snacks & water, cozy socks.

Insurance & Other Stuff

Medical Insurance - turns out that our medical insurance doesn't cover us when we travel internationally. But... Blue Cross has a solution! GeoBlue. I was able to purchase coverage for the both of us for the duration of the trip, then downloaded the app which would direct us to medical assistance should we need it. It wasn't expensive, and it did a lot to relieve my travel concerns. And honestly, I should have used it when I split open my chin. Lol.

Driving Legally - while we ended up not needing it, we went ahead and got our provisional driving permits for the UK before we left. Had we decided to rent a vehicle, having that document would clear the way. It's good for a year, so when we go to Ireland, it'll come in handy.

So, there you have it. Those are my novice traveler tips. ;-)  I hope they're of assistance to someone! Lol! And you world travelers out there - I'd love to hear your tips!

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