Best Travel Tips of 2016

Do you ever feel like you make a travel breakthrough? Like, you discover this one little thing that suddenly makes you shameful for all the years you spent without knowing it?

The past few years I’ve traveled a lot by myself, and a lot with family. I’ve gone on road trips with friends, with each member of my immediate family, and with my entire family. I’ve traveled for debate competitions, for school, for fun, and to move across the country. There have been a lot of learning experiences and a lot of adventures. Here are some of the things that stuck out to me the most this year as “YES, THE INTERNET MUST KNOW!” sort of things.

  1. Always bring fuzzy socks on the plane. It almost makes economy feel like first class. Almost.
  2. Keep your body and your skin hydrated. Bring lotion and chapstick on the plane! Carry a water bottle everywhere you go! Especially if you live somewhere hot, you can’t afford to get stuck without water.

This was a pretty big treat. . . . . | #helicopter #losangeles #la #california #cali #ocean #coast |

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3. If you bring your own mug and tea bag, the coffee shops in the airport will give you free water. You get a lot more tea than you would on a plane AND it’s made with much cleaner water than airplane water.

4. Book the hotel room beforehand. I always book hotels and hostels ahead of time, even if it’s just the morning before I need the room. My mom and dad don’t, and let me tell you – after two separate road trips that involved frustrated room searching, they’ve converted to the “book before hand” mindset!

 

5. Seek out the weird. Atlas Obscura and Roadside America are essential tools for planning a trip that’s a little bit colorful. Eat something weird! See something quirky! Adventure a little!

6. Be the first in the airport. Not in a pushy way, but in a “plan ahead and know what you’re doing” sort of way. Be the first to volunteer to take a later flight. Volunteer to switch seats with someone. Keep a close watch on flight updates so you’re first in the customer service line when your flight gets canceled.

7. See stuff close by. You know how long we’d lived in New Hampshire for before we went to explore NYC? Eighteen years. Yep, nearly two decades living four hours away from one of the greatest cities on the planet before we ventured in. Hop on your favorite travel website or Atlas Obscura and see what’s near you.

8. Always bring boots. Once I left my boots behind and we got stuck in a blizzard. I had to wade through snow in my dress shoes. Once I had to borrow my mother’s shoes to go on a challenge course. (This was uncomfortable for everyone involved, since she’s a 6 and I’m an 8.) Bring boots everywhere! (If you’re not a boots person, I would plead with you to change your ways – if you absolutely refuse, bring sneakers instead.)

9. Educational travel can be awesome. I went on a trip with my school this summer to study the geology, history, and culture of Montana, with a special focus on Lewis and Clark. You know what we did that we couldn’t have done if we weren’t university affiliated? Go to one of the most famous and scientifically important paleontology sites in the world. It was AWESOME, and I learned a lot, too!

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10. Be a force of calm. We broke down three times in Montana and ended up returning home early. I can’t tell you how many times we got terribly lost or couldn’t find a hotel room when driving between New Hampshire and New Mexico. Asking “what can I do?”, keeping a positive mindset, and being willing to compromise are such important skills for frequent travelers that I can’t over emphasize them. Learn to spread a sense of calm and you will leave a positive impression with everyone you meet on the road.

11. Modular packing is awesome. Whether you use compression bags or modular bags, this style of packing will improve your trip one hundred fold. Promise.

12. Get a good sunscreen. Ideally, you should have two: one for your body, one for your face. They should be good for your skin, not a pain to wear, and easy to apply. I had no idea how much of difference a good sunscreen could make until I got one. My favs are Neutrogena’s Ultra Sheer SPF 100 Spray (body) and Ultra Sheer Liquid Daily Sunscreen SPF 70 (face). Both are light, non-streaking, and good for sensitive skin. You can even pat the liquid sunscreen on over makeup if you’re careful about it. If you want something that’s good for face and body, Aveeno’s Baby Sunscreen SPF 55 is a quality (and cheap) pick.

13. Always bring anti-nauseous. Yep, I’m the girl who always has Bonine or ginger tea for you. I can and will offer it to queasy-looking strangers. Sure, it costs me money, but it improves life for everyone, since no one’s getting sick and no one has to deal with a vomiting stranger. It’s a win-win.

Learn something new? Pin it!

What have your travels taught you this year? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Disclaimer: None of the links on this post are affiliate links. Product links go directly to the primary distributor. 

Traveler Types

a description of the authentic experiencer

Sometimes, my various interests collide in interesting ways. I was deep in a reading for a Museum Practices segment on working with media when I stumbled across Destination Canada’s list of traveler types. The idea is that everyone has different reasons for traveling, and if the tourist board knows how you travel, they can suggest interesting things suited to your type.

I think this is relevant to us, actually, and not just tourist boards or tour companies. So often we feel pressured to do things a certain way – see this big sight! pack your days full of trips! interact with people instead of spending time in nature! and so on, depending on where you go. If you can pin down why and how you like to travel, you can make much more intentional choices, leading to better a trip.

Apparently I’m the “Authentic Experiencer”, which as far as I can understand means I appreciate both nature and culture when I travel, and I prefer to stay local, solo, and ethical. Which…fits me pretty well, honestly, although it doesn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know.

Read about the rest of the travel types here.

 

 

Visiting Hiroshima

A paper crane in the background with the words "Visiting Hiroshima" and a peace sign.

Hiroshima is three hours away from Kyoto and five hours away from Tokyo by shinkansen. It’s far too long to make a day trip out of it and not near too much of interest, and yet thousands of foreigners still stop by when they’re in Japan.

The bombing of Hiroshima by the US is modern history, but after the bombings, Hiroshima the city slowly slid out of the Western mind. The bombings were behind fifty years of growth, healing, and history when I was born, but even then, all I knew of Hiroshima was the destruction and enormous casualties. A lot can happen in 70 years, though. Hiroshima is now bustling city that reminded me of Boston with its waterways and green spaces. Most of the memorials to the victims of “little boy” are centered in the Peace Park, built over where the worst damage occurred.

This is the A-Bomb Dome. Once an important meeting place and source of pride for the city, it is now the most well-known icon of bombing. It’s only one block away from the hypocenter, the point directly below the bomb when it detonated, and everyone inside was killed. Somehow, much of the building remained, and it’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Heritage Site status was declared in 1996 against the wishes of the US and China, who voted against granting the special historical designation. Pro tip from Renee to the US government: If China is the only other country voting “nay”, you should seriously reconsider your position. That’s not good company to be in.

Usually, the A-Bomb Dome doesn’t look like my picture above. When it’s not undergoing conservation, it looks more like:

(Picture from WikiTravel.)

The Peace Memorial Museum is an absolute must-see for understanding both the immediate aftermath of the bomb and the city’s healing process. It’s also nauseating and heart wrenching. This is coming from someone who’s read books about forensics and watched vlogs about mortuary science for fun. From the girl who went to the Museum of Death on spring break, where visitors frequently pass out.

This was worse.

But it was worth it.

Part of the shock was that I simply didn’t expect to see removed keloids or deformed fingernails in museum boxes. I was also a little concerned about the number of small children I saw with their parents. History is for everyone but not all ages. Most kids seemed either a bit shell shocked or like they were trivializing exhibits to process them.

Little Boy, actual size.

The museum covers the events after the bombing thoroughly, until after the effects of atom sickness began to appear. Then it switches to a long, elevated hall with a clear view of the A-Bomb dome out the window on one side and posters detailing other bits of history on the other side. I stood in front of the poster that explained how the bomb was tested in New Mexico for a long time. In Hiroshima, the atom bomb destroyed upwards of 100,000 lives. In New Mexico, we named our baseball team the “Isotopes”.

You’re probably getting the feeling that a day visiting Hiroshima isn’t fun. And it’s really not. So after I left the museum I got ice cream (from Baskin Robbins, because Asian ice creams are terrible) and sat next to the river.

Visiting Peace Park only takes one day, but I planned for two days in Hiroshima. My second day, I took a day trip to a unique island a short train ride out of the city. It’ll prove much lighter and, uh, fuzzier than this entry, I promise!

New Project to Watch: Lifepack

A woman walking down a city street with a Lifepack on.

I’m always looking cool, innovative new gear, especially on crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo. Recently, I stumbled across a neat project called Lifepack.

Lifepack’s got a sleek design, separate spaces for clothes and work gear, a solar charger, integrated lock, RFID-blocking hidden pockets, and a water-resistant finish. There’s a few things I’m tentative about, but a few things I like  a lot.

First, the positives. The creators have a pretty good track record – they’ve already got one well-received project under their belts, Interlock. Their project time line shares experiences a lot of us are familiar with, including sleeping with backpack straps twisted around legs to prevent theft. The RFID-blocking pockets are a fantastic addition, the built-in lock seems lightweight and practical, and the solar charger set up is nothing short of brilliant. The design is sleek, not too bulky or outdoorsy. If the campaign makes its next stretch goal, which seems likely since they’ve got half their backing period left and already raised 1242% of their initial goal, they’ll offer a black version of the pack.

I am tentative about a few things, though. First, straps. How does it sit? Does it have any back ventilation? The lack of across the chest or around the waist straps is a drawback for me. I’m not keen on the Bluetooth speakers, but since they’re integrated into the solar panel system they shouldn’t take up too much weight. Also, I’d love a regular outlet option, instead of only the USB chargers.

If you want to pre-order a pack at a discount, there are still 125$ and 150$ options left.  And hey, if you get one  and write a review, let me know. I’ll link the first four or five reviews people point me to.

It’s Okay if You Can’t Drop Everything and Travel

I’m sure you’ve seen the posts before, if you’ve spent any time in the travel blogosphere:

You Can Drop Everything And Travel!

How to Travel on Nothing! 

Why Travel Excuses Are Bull$#!*!

And so on.

The refrain is obvious: if you want to travel and you think you can’t you’re lying to yourself. And honestly, that’s a rough thing to hear from a blogger you respect. The “just get out there and do it” motto is fine, and some people need to hear it. It’s not that the rhetoric itself it harmful, it’s that it dominates the discussion. Too often, “just go” is falling on the ears of people who desperately want to travel but really, truly, can’t.

Like the woman who’s spending every second she can with her father before he passes away.

Or the man with a chronic illness who doesn’t have the foreign support system necessary for traveling where he wants to.

Or the woman with the high-power, high-clearance job who struggles to get permission to travel freely outside of the US.

Or the man with a highly sensitive and deadly peanut allergy who’s always dreamed of Thailand.

We need to stop treating travel as if it’s the end-all, be-all of every human’s life. Travel is powerful – it forces you outside of your comfort zone, facilitates language learning, teaches about different cultures, and introduces you to new food. But you know what? You can do those things from home. Get takeout from that new Indian restaurant, start a new language on Duolingo, read a travel memoir, watch Samsara, volunteer with refugees in your area. See the sites near where you live – almost everyone I talk to lives within a day’s drive of some major tourist attraction they’ve never been to. (I’m guilty here myself.)

While we’re on this subject, let me take things one step further: if you travel frequently and stretch your comfort zones, eat new food, talk to strangers, and volunteer your time but don’t when you’re at home, you need to check yourself and ask, “why do I travel in the first place?”

Travel is a wonderful, powerful past time. My experiences on the road have shaped me greatly. But it’s not the pinnacle of everything human. It’s not possible or a low a priority for a lot of people. And that diversity of life experience, priority, and preference is what makes travel beautiful in the first place.

What the Heck is an Overly Opinionated Guide?

Sometimes I pick up guide books or read blog posts and feel like humanness is lacking. The “go here, do this, don’t do that, avoid these scams” advice is fine, necessary even, but sometimes I just want someone to sit down and give me their straight opinions, barely-relevant details, weird stories, biased recommendations and all.

So. ‘Overly Opinionated Guides’ are my way of putting some color back into the way I write about cities I’ve visited. I write more, I’ll list them below. Feel free to share your overly-opinionated comments with me below!

Gear Round Up: Women’s Travel Pants

Ever gotten caught in a rainstorm and gotten your jeans soaked? Fought those uncomfortable creases you get when you sit in tight pants for too long? Gotten a stain you just couldn’t remove? Moaned about the tiny pockets on women’s pants?

I feel ya, friend. There are solutions out there – four way stretch fabric that looks as nice as it feels, treatments that resist water and stains, pockets that are smart phone sized. But they’re ridiculously hard to find. Brands discontinue beloved products (see the bottom of this post for obituaries), other companies are just starting up, others bury their ideal pants in a heap of “not-quite-it” garments. It can be a real mess to sort through, so I’ve done the work for you! Below are 9 pants that fit several of my requirements for the perfect travel pant. Pants are listed from cheapest to most expensive.

Prana Meme Pant, 85 USD

 

Image is from the Fitful Focus blog. You can read her review here: https://fitfulfocus.com/fit-fashionable-friday-prana-meme-pant/

What an unfortunately named garment. (I can imagine the disastrous boardroom discussion: “what do kids like today, Harold?” “MEMES.”) Yikes
Happily, it looks like it performs better than its name would suggest.

Pros:
-Two clean patterns and two colors (including lighter colors if you’re heading into a hot climate)
DWR (durable water repelent) treated
-stretchy
-plenty of pockets!
-wrinkle resistant
-quick dry

Cons:
Not your pants if you’re looking for dressy. I’ve seen them in action and they don’t exactly pass for nice-dinner-out pants.
-DWR treatment means some limitations on washing

Options:

Prana sells another pant, the Halle, that’s a bit dressier and better-named. It comes in sizes 2-14 and five different colors, with three inseam lengths available.

Levi’s Commuters88 USD

 

Pros:
-Water resistant via ECOREPEL
-Jean feel and cut
-Multiple colors, including light ones
-Stretchy
-Extra deep pockets
-Reflective strips (for biking)

Cons:
-Mixed reviews regarding how water resistant they actually are
-Since they’re jeans, they’ll be hot in hot weather

 

BetaBrand’s Travel Cargo Pants, 98 USD

 

BetaBrand’s clothes run the gamut from “really cool” to “what the heck?” But everything they make is voted on by customers and crowd funded, which means that there’s a demand for their weirder stuff…somewhere. (These pants are 98$, but if you use this link they’ll drop to 83. When I updated this post they were on sale for 49$.)

Pros:
-Four-way stretch
-DWR
-low profile and hidden pockets
-two colors
-regular, long, and petite sizing
-BetaBrand’s sale scheme means that you essentially never have to pay the stated price.

Cons:
-Some strangely placed pockets are no doubt practical, but look a little odd
-Limited color options
-Reviews note possible issues with fit and stitching.

Dish and Du/er Pants (Example is 109 USD)

This is the only generic company post on this list. It is also the only post that doesn’t include water repellent pants, because I don’t want you to pass it up. These folks make performance denim that’s tough, wicking, and stretchy, with odor and temperature control features as well. Most of their pants have extra coverage in the back and reinforced stress points. They do carry DWR jeans, but only for men. They size by waist and inseam and have a huge variety of cuts and colors.

ODO Jeans, 115 USD

 

I backed Odo’s kickstarter, so now I’m watching them closely, a mix between an investor and a proud parent. I don’t have my jeans yet (a review is coming when I get them!), but I have high hopes for them.

Pros:
-two fits, three shades of blue plus black

-standard and light weight options
-reflectors for biking
-extra deep pockets
-impressive size range. Odo seems very focused on fit, which is great.
-water, stain, dirt resistant

Cons:
-I’m guessing they’re hot in hot weather

-Lightweight option isn’t available in black

Alchemy Equipment’s Stretch Tech Chinos, 180 NZD (~127 USD)

 

Pros:
-DWR for water and stain repelling
-Four-way stretch
-Abrasion resistant
-Dressy style
-Three colors

Cons:
-Sizes are XS-XL
-No pictures of the pants in different colors
-Several sizes are unavailable in particular colors.

Options:
-Alchemy has a sizeable women’s selection, but this seems to be the only pair of DWR pants.

 

Ligne 8’s Portia Classic Pant, 128 USD

Pros:
-durable, breathable stretch fabric
-water and stain resistant
-quick drying
-higher rise in the back
-grip tape at waistband
-anti-chafing gusset
-reflective binding on lower legs
-belt loops

Cons:
-Basic sizing (2,4,6 etc), no petite, tall options
-Biking features may be a bit much if you just want to travel
-Only one color available.

Options:
Ligne 8 has other, similar pants, like the Grace pant. They also have some nice DWR technical jeans.

Rohan’s Women’s Dry Roamers, 98£ (~140 USD)

 

Pic from foothills.uk.com
Pros:
-Three neutral colors
-DWR
-Moisture diffusing
-Hidden pocket
-Durable
-Quick drying
-Wrinkle resistant
-Lightweight
-Sizes up to 18, with short available

Cons:
-Nice and not too outdoors-y, but not exactly dressy
-Only sizes 8-18 available (good if you’re an 18, not so much if you’re on the smaller end)

Nau’s Device Pants, 145$

 

Pros:
-Two colors, sizes 2-14
-Zipper pockets (pro for security, con for style)
-DWR finish
-Reflective tape when pants are cuffed

Cons:
-Two-way, not four-way stretch
-No discussion of how light, wrinkle-resistant, or quick drying they are

Outerboro’s Motile Breeze Pants, 148 USD

 

Pros:
-three colors (Black, Shadow Gray, Dress Blue)
-light weight and quick dry
-DWR (stain and water resistant)
-four-way stretch fabric

Cons:
-Only 4 sizes
-As of writing, several options are out of stock

 

The Willary’s Pants, 198 USD

 

Pros:
-stain, water, abrasion resistant
-four way stretch with optimal recovery (meaning they won’t stretch out)
-hidden pocket, deep pockets
-belt loops (so many pants miss this somehow)
-made in the USA
-two fits

Cons:
-I’m not sure how well they wash, how quickly they dry, or how light they are.

Pivotte’s 24/7 Pants 220 USD

 

Pivotte’s a new kid on the block and I love their stuff. I hope they stick around because their simple-but-elegant designs and high tech fabrics are a wonderful combo. But 220 for pants? Ouch.

Pros:
-wrinkle resistant
-three colors
-hidden zippered pockets
-water, stain, dirt resistant
-4-way stretch

Cons:
-the price, as mentioned

BONUS ROUND: Bring them back, please?

Outlier Slimmer Dungarees

 

Outlier, I am hurt and betrayed. You had so much going for you – glowing reviews on page 1 of Google results! Funky color offerings! The reputation as the best women’s pants in the industry! A model doing something other than staring into the camera in a studio somewhere in San Francisco!

And then…nothing. You decided, for some reason, that it was a good time to discontinue your whole women’s line. Candidly?  That was a bad idea.

Proof NY Visser Pants

 

For women who like tech pants, Proof NY was first Outlier’s younger cousin. Then, when Outlier discontinued women’s products, they were the new go-to for women who biked to work. Proof NY has been essentially offline for about a year now. Perhaps they’ll make a return, if we’re lucky.

That’s it?

That’s it. I know. So few. It’s unfortunate, but hopefully we’ll have more options in the near future.

If you spot an error or know of another brand I should look into, please let me know in the comments.  I’m hoping to keep this list as thorough, updated, and accurate as possible. If you’ve written a review of any of these pants, I’d be happy to include a link in this post. Just hit me up here or on twitter.

 

UPDATE 6/18/16

-Switched the Ligne 8 Grace pants for Portia pants. I like the cut better, and they’re also 50$ cheaper.
-Added Alchemy, Rohan, and Nau pants.
-Added Dish and DU/ER.
-Removed Makers and Riders pants as the link was dead. They seem to have gone the way of Outlier by removing their women’s line.

UPDATE 3/6/17

Removed ODO Jeans because at worst they’re a scam and at best they’re wildly behind schedule with terrible customer service.
-Replaced pictures.
-Updated Pivotte pants to note new color available.

gearrounduppants