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Babcia and Yia Yia!, Notes on Planning and Packing

6 Tips To Make Airports Easier

Let’s face it. Airports are a big pain in the you know what. However, there is still something that draws me to the excitement of flying regardless of all the hassles. These days, airports seem more crowded and full of more issues than ever. With all of our back and forth, here are the five things that will make navigating your next trip to the airport a bit easier.

Go Digital

Everything in the travel industry has gone digital and airlines at airports are no exception. Having a few apps can go a long way to navigating the airport with ease. So get your iPhone ready with a few of our faves.

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Start with TripAdvisor. We love this app because it keeps all of your information in one place. Be sure to download your airline app and connect with them on Twitter. This is a great way to get expedited customer service if plans start to fall apart. Lastly, grab the MyTSA app to get the down low on your local airport. With stats on how long lines will be and what is and is not allowed through security.

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Check you bags

There. We said it. It is beyond us why everyone is convinced that this is the travel corner to cut. Here us out! Why oh why does it sound like a good idea to schlep all of your stuff through TSA and past 57 gates in order to board a plane and play a game of overhead tetris with every other sweaty passenger? Check the bag. And, hey, if you’re nervous use an apple airtag or try out the service offered by Blue Ribbon Bags. Just think about how nice it would be to simply walk through security and not arrive at your gate as a sweaty, sweaty mess.

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Arrive with time to relax

Speaking of sweaty messes, can we recommend that arriving with time to browse a shop or have a drink at an over-priced bar. What we mean is that maybe the airport can be part of the experience instead of a bigger hassle.

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Don’t be a gate crasher

Another phenomenon that we can’t wrap our brains around is the boarding process chaos. Please explain to us the psychology behind everyone wanting to board first. In all reality, we like to board last. Since our bags are checked, we have no need to join the overhead bin battle. We can walk on as the door is ready to close and buckle up just in time for the pre-flight safety show.

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Upgrade your travel wardrobe

Don’t get us wrong, we like to travel in comfort too. But, if there is one thing we’ve learned over lots of air time, it would be that dressing nicely can often signal to flight staff that you would be a good candidate for an upgrade. Since you won’t be a sweaty mess, you’ll probably look the part and get that upgrade as you waltz on board at the end of the line.

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Have an exit strategy

We like to take inventory of where everything is in our airports. It makes things easier on the return trip. We keep an eye out for all kinds of things like where baggage is, where the low use bathrooms are located and where shuttles or Ubers meet passengers. This little task can make things a little less stressful when you are an overtired traveler.

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So, what are our pics and pans?

  • BWI: dated over crowded and a plain mess. Instead we’d pick PBI: we love this little airport! It’s an easy in and an easy out.
  • CDG: with no air conditioner and extra long corridors that don’t ever stop, we’d pass and land instead at ORY: small quick and cheaper to get into town.
  • FCO: there are so very many tourists happening here that it becomes a tough task to get in and out easily. Instead, we’d land in the brand new customs hall at ATH.
  • IAD: in desperate need for a remodel and no realistic public transport in sight, we’d opt for DCA any day.
  • JFK: with a dated customs welcome and a mess in the traffic department, we think that you’d receive a better welcome at ATL.

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Babcia and Yia Yia!, Travel With Alex: Europe 101

9 Travel Mistakes When You Visit Europe

So, you’ve done it! You’ve made the commitment to travel to Europe and you want to make it a trip you will never forget! You want to do your best to plan and prepare for an epic adventure. Good for you! I am the biggest fan of people who travel! I love everything about it! So, how can you ensure that your booking is the ultimate trip? Read on to learn about the top travel mistakes that Americans make when crossing the pond.

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Take us with you! Listen in to our podcast while you are on the go by clicking here!

Be a tourist.

Look. There are two kinds of people who go to other places: the tourists and the travelers. It may seem like these two words describe the same thing. They don’t. A tourist is a person who only visits the top three places in the most popular guide book and then hurries off to the local Starbucks for a break. On the other hand, a traveler is a person who settles in to a new location with a zest for learning as much as he or she can. A traveler strives to understand and respect local cultures, customs, and traditions. They are often considered globally literate. Travelers are often in the middle of the action and not a side line spectator. Often, a traveler concerns themselves with doing everything except the things that they can do later at home.

Travelers, I find, are ironically more grateful and happier when they return from a trip as they appreciate what they missed just a little more. They come home with great memories and a spirit to enjoy their own backyard just as much as they enjoyed a trek through the Swiss Alps. Tourists come home tired and not satisfied with the experience they had and complain about uncomfortable moments that had them altering their own habits and expectations. Always, always be the traveler.

Be camera ready.

We all want pics from our trip. I get it. However, sometimes you need to take a break from searching out the perfect Insta-shot. Sometimes, you need to experience the moment. After all, you are in the presence of greatness. Masterful artists, jaw dropping history, awe inspiring architecture and, the vistas of your dreams. Feel all of these things first. Slip in your camera here and there but, please don’t make travel mistakes that have you only viewing your trip through your iPhone screen.

At the same time, don’t spend so much time getting picture perfect each morning that you miss out on time that could be spent exploring your destination. Be sure to have a quick style routine that gets you out the door fast. It’s your experiences that matter the most! You want to be up early to get to the markets or the harbor inlet to see the fishermen come in. Also, you want a chance to catch that morning sunrise on the great rivers of Europe. That sun that seems to always shine just perfectly on the great church domes and castle facades that dot Europe from north to south.

Read the fine print.

There is no greater way to understand a destination better than finding a connection to it. And, the only way to make those connections is to learn about where you plan to travel. There is a fragile balance between traveling by the seat of your pants and educating yourself. I find that having some sort of understanding, whether, historical, familial, linguistic, or culturally, makes travel so much more engaging. So, read, research, explore., become globally literate. Then, you have some frame of reference to use as you read plaques in museums, research which piazza has the best pizza, and explore hidden chapels and nooks in churches and castles. But, books aren’t the only source of connection.

Let me give you an example, I’ve had avoided France for quite some time. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to go, it’s just that I wanted to find a better connection to my travel like I have with Italy or Ireland. Then, one Christmas, as I was sitting with my family, I learned about two uncles who had lost their lives in WWI. Read their story here! France, here I come! I’ve got a connection!

Connection isn’t only about person to person but can be found in all other kinds of ways. Do you love Impressionism? Head over to Giverny! Do you have an affinity for beer? Check out Belgium and Germany! Let your interests be your guide so that you dig a little deeper and enjoy a lot more. So, go on that trip! But, go as a well-read traveler instead of an under prepared tourist making yet another one of those travel mistakes.

Bring the whole house.

Instead, pack for your needs in a smart way. You do not need that hair dryer, umbrella, and full makeup bag. Pare down your suitcase by thinking of what you can share with your fellow travelers. Learning about capsule wardrobes gives you more choices and extends the pieces that you have chosen to bring with you. Check out this link to give you even more information on traveling light and right.

You may subscribe to the carry-on method of packing ensuring that you are well within the prescribed limits. Conversely, you may be like me and feel that checking your bag is a far easier process than first meets the eye. Either way, pack with the activities and experiences that you have in mind. The biggest travel mistakes that happen when packing are usually the “just in case” items. “Let me bring these shoes, just in case. I should pack that Pepto, just in case.” With very very few exceptions, all of your emergency needs are perhaps more easily available while you are in Europe. Simply look for the bright green plus sign for a pharmacy and, usually, very close to that is an all purpose department store for any of your other needs.

See the major sites

The Eiffel Tower? Check! Buckingham Palace? Check! The Acropolis? Yup! See them all! After all, they are icons for a reason! However, take a moment and understand that Europe offers more than just icons like Neuschwanstein Castle and El Prado. Europe is so much more. It’s the cafe’s on the squares, it’s the football games that locals watch in the local pubs. It’s the romance of daily shopping at the butcher, the baker, and the wine shop. Moreover, it’s people watching and the hustle and bustle of the main squares. It’s the quiet back alleys and the loud chefs in the back kitchens. Turn a corner and find a church that leads you to and underground excavation of past civilizations.

Europe is meant to be experienced! Stroll the markets and discover the nooks and crannies. Smaller sites, no matter where you travel, are often the source of greater memories than the Ivy League stops. In fact, it when you make a discovery, that you feel the most excitement. I was once asked by a church secretary if I wanted to go on a rooftop tour of a church in Rome. After walking up one of Bernini’s spiral staircases and learning about the life sized saints along the roof line, I was asked to peek into a window. It turns out that this particular church had a ceiling that was paved in New World gold leaf that was given to Queen Isabella by Columbus himself. Talk about an amazing moment! There I was face to face with a ceiling full of gold that was part of so much history. Wow!

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Travel the whole map

All too often, travelers to Europe fear that they have only one chance to see as much as they can because they will never be able to return. Stop! You are falling for one of those travel mistakes! I solemnly promise you that if you travel smartly to Europe, you will become a travel addict and you will find all kinds of ways to get back! So, plan like you will return! Don’t take three weeks and expect to see 27 countries. You will be exhausted. Not to mention, I can’t imagine that you will remember much! So, slow down. Spend more than one night at each destination you choose.

Better yet, choose a region, like Normandy, or a country, like Poland, and keep to it. Europe is not going anywhere and it will welcome you again and again (and again). It can feel overwhelming to have so many choices to pick from but an experience in one place is worth far more than a marathon– unless you plan on going to Marathon in Greece. This easy dip into the pool of travel mistakes is simple to explain away. Try not to fall down that slippery slope.

Eat at McDonalds

Please. If you only walk away with one tip from me. Please. Do not eat at a restaurant that can be found in your backyard. Please. Instead, be a patron at mom and pop establishments. Restaurants where you find grandma in the back making the best the region has to offer. I like grandmas. They cook good and always know how to make a breaded chicken patty for every picky eater at your table.

While the food at locally run establishments is ALWAYS, infinitely better, the more important thing is that your one meal keeps the traditions and charm of where you are visiting alive. I mean, how important is that?! If we all get Starbucks in Barcelona, that’s the only choice we’ll have. Why bother going? I can get my grande-frappe-cup with fries on the side at home. If we want to preserve everything that makes Europe the charming, old world adventure that it is, we must be responsible and not fall victim to this most tragic of travel mistakes.

Represent!

We all want to be as comfortable as we can when we travel. We want to be able to enjoy ourselves without any hassles. Let me pass a little tip your way. Euro hawkers, Euro pick pockets, and Euro scammers L-O-V-E Americans! Oh, yes! They love to find Americans and target them for whatever no good deed they are cooking up that day. You may wonder why. The reason is super simple. We are gadget crazy and stuff heavy as a society. No body on Earth packs more into their purses and pockets than Americans. If ne’er do wellers are data driven, Americans put the odds ever in their favor!

The best way not to be a target is to not show up looking like one. Traveling within public squares, museums, and pretty much everywhere else you plan to visit means leaving the Americanisms at home. You don’t need a huge purse, a baseball hat, or a lot of jewelry. In addition, try not to wear message tee’s or be a walking billboard for any particular brand. Simple and classic is the key to not getting a target painted on your back. And in the end, your pics will turn out better and your capsule wardrobe will be far easier to manage. Win-win-win. Crime and profiling in Europe are moments and crimes of opportunity. It’s up to you to not let it happen.

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Babcia and Yia Yia!, Notes on Planning and Packing

Travel Plans: Details! Details!

Getting planned and organized for a trip can be a mammoth task. And let’s face it, we feel obligated to ensure we plan thoroughly enough to make every travel moment count. It’s almost as if we are fearful to miss an opportunity that may be just out of reach if we don’t research and plot each and every move.

Truth be told, I love the planning process. It’s one of the many reasons why I write and share so very much. In fact, I sometimes think that planning is as satisfying as the trip itself! (I’m looking straight at you, Disney peeps!)

I know, I know! A weekend trip to Asheville is a super big difference from a multi country, multi week jaunt across the ocean. While one is just a matter of gathering a few things, the other necessitates my big fat trip planning strategy. However, there are a few things that are a travel blessing no matter what kind of trip you are on.

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The Devil is in the Digital Details

My mother often talks about an incredible road trip she took down the Romanticstrassa in Germany. She fondly remembers how each charming hotel owner would simply call ahead to another inn just a few hours drive south. Each place was a new adventure with rooms fit for a princess and picturesque views that are simply unattainable these days. They traveled from Amsterdam all the way to Lake Como using this call ahead system.

Can you imagine it? Just calling ahead!!! One day in advance?! That Europe is certainly not today’s Europe. And, for that matter, it’s not that kind of travel world either. It’s time to face the music: You’re going to have to embrace the digital world to thoroughly plan and track a trip.

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I think about starting to plan. With three trips in the future, I’ve got to log in for flights, tickets to venues, ground transport, hotels or AirBandB’s. It’s a lot of log ins and, as a result, a lot of opportunities to screw up well meant plans. On top of that, it takes time. Hours and hours of time.

There are quite a few great digital conveniences that exist for the planning junkie and top of my list is TripIt.com. This travel tracking website and app duo is great to keep your upcoming travels organized in one place. Whether I am simply planning a weekend getaway or I am crafting a multi country, multi week adventure overseas, I use TripIt to file each and every plan. I can keep track of my museum tickets as well as my flights. I can add copies of pdf tickets and boarding passes. It keeps me digitally organized.

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If you are looking for one less log in, google calendar can also do a decent job of blocking out times and making sure you have your bases covered. As a frequent traveler, I set up a dedicated free gmail account and I can track and schedule everything from one spot.

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Home Sweet Home

Once all that planning has been accomplished and you are ready to go, take a bit of time to think about how you are leaving things.

  • Consider a house sitter or pet sitter to check in on your home each day. Be sure to choose wisely and leave detailed instructions! We were on our way out of town and needed someone to just check in once a day on our self sufficient pup. I thought a neighbor’s son would be just fine and while my dog was properly fed and watered just like we asked, our sitter didn’t know to check around the house. We lost two sets of window blinds because my dog couldn’t see out the windows! Ugh! Like I said, detailed instructions!
  • If you are an Amazon Echo or Google Home subscriber, consider the automated plugs that let you turn on lights on a timer or automatically. If automation isn’t an option to get ready to travel, this is a good time to dig out all of those old school timers that you have in your Christmas decorations. Why not put them to work for you twice a year?
  • Take care of the bills, mail, and deliveries. If your lights go on and off but you have 4,000 Amazon boxes at your door, you haven’t helped yourself at all! I try really hard to not order any last minute things. Although I am very guilty of ordering a travel curling iron at the last minute only to find mine two days later as I pulled out my luggage.
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  • For bills, I try to ensure that they are all taken care of before I go or I simply add them to my calendar so I get a notification when I need to pay them. Be careful to put them on the day before they are due so you don’t wind up being late because of the time zone you are in! As for mail, think about whether to put a temporary stop in place or if your house sitter can take care of that for you. I try to leave an empty basket on the counter as a catch all.
  • Let your bank know that you are getting ready to travel. Your card will get flagged and you could wind up with declined charges. I know I can simply log in and annotate when I am coming and going with my bank. They make it pretty easy.
  • Leave your house exactly the way you want it when you return back home. Be realistic, you don’t want rotting fruit, dirty dishes, laundry or gross garbage in your house upon arrival. You want clean beds and baths, some frozen pizzas to heat up and an empty washer so you can throw your travel gear right in. My routine when I come home is to make my first stop the laundry room. I open my bags up and get a load going while I sort the mail. I order take out or throw in that pizza and collapse. Everything else can wait. After all, tomorrow is another day! Right, Scarlet?

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On The Road Again

I once planned a trip to Ireland for six people. The trip was a massive undertaking and took a ton of planning and, as a result, tickets and schedules. I wound up carrying around a mini binder tied up with a ribbon that kept us on track for almost three weeks. Thankfully, technology has done a great job of replacing my binder but it can be it’s own challenge on the road. From google translate to audio guides, organizing your phone to be ready to handle all that you planned before you ever walked out the door is imperative these days!

In addition to having all of your plans readily available, your suitcase needs to earn it’s keep too! Having an organization plan with packing cubes and a laundry plan, if you need it, is a quick and efficient way of getting rid of some of that unnecessary travel stress! I like to pinpoint a laundry mat for wherever I’m going to be on my seventh or tenth day of travel, depending on how long I’ll be gone. I may use the ship’s services if I’m on a cruise or perhaps I find a service in whatever town I’m headed through on that day.

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I know, I know. Laundry seems to be pushing the over planning a bit too far! Just remember that you are going to be lugging that suitcase and carryon around, be sure everything you put in it is worth the effort. The hard truth is that no one ever says “I wish I had packed more!”

Wrapping it all up

I admit it, I’m a shopper! When I am traveling, I’m a sucker for a gift shop. I like Christmas ornaments and jewelry. I fall for kitchen gadgets and artwork. Every. Single. Time. One time I was in Poland and I bought so much pottery that I had to mail it home. I wound up wasting serious time packing and shipping. It’s one of those times that I wish I had a a better plan in place. Whether you plan on just getting a pretty scarf for yourself or you are loading up on local art, have a plan to get it home that doesn’t waste your time.

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Last on my organization list is getting my memories in order. I mean that’s part of the travel point, right? Before I leave, I take a quick look around and I ensure that I know just where a new piece of framed art might work. This lets me have a little guidance as to what to buy while I’m gone. I also pick my digital album layout so I can easily dump photos in when I get home (or even when I’m still on my trip).