Thursday, November 30, 2017

A seasonal primer for luggage etiquette on airplanes

It’s the season of the squeeze.

That should require absolutely no explanation, but just in case: Picture thousands of stressed-out holiday travelers in airport terminals, train stations and bus terminals, bundled up in winter clothing, all piling into a claustrophobia-inducing cattle-class cabin.

With luggage.

“The worst offenders are people who abuse the carry-on luggage limit and take up more space than they are supposed to get,” says Raymond Lee, a finance director for a consumer goods company in New York and a frequent traveler. “They are also the ones who will put their luggage sideways and take up more space for no reason other than they just don’t care to do it right.”

It can lead to chaos.

What better time to brush up on your luggage etiquette?

It starts with what you bring. “Consumers are looking for the most possible space and lightest-weight case possible,” says Scott Niekelski, a direct import manager at the National Luggage Dealers Association, a luggage distributor.

Know suitcase limits for the
airline on which you are flying.
That may be the wrong impulse. When it comes to proper luggage etiquette — less is more. The most experienced passengers travel light. Some don’t bring any luggage.

“I ship my gear ahead to my destination, especially if I plan to be in one place for an extended period,” says Brian Teeter, the Irvine, Calif., author of the “Healthy Trekking Travel Guides” series. “That way, I can travel light and have my main luggage waiting when I arrive.”

Realistically, most of us travel with at least a backpack, purse or some other kind of carry-on.

Tag luggage before arriving at
the gate.
On planes, carry-on luggage is a never-ending irritant. Airlines are partly to blame, since checked luggage fees incentivize passengers to carry most of their belongings with them. Protocol experts say the key to avoiding scraps over luggage is packing light and moving fast. Downsize to a smaller carry-on, like a 22-inch rollaboard or a backpack, and place it in the bin above your seat — not someone else’s (that’s called bin-hogging, and it will almost certainly annoy the passengers below).
Packing lightly makes the
whole process go smoother.

Speed matters. Don’t overstuff your bag to the point where you have to wrestle it into the compartment. “Stow carry-on luggage quickly in the overhead bin so other passengers may pass in the aisle,” says Rachel Wagner, a corporate etiquette consultant in Tulsa. “If you need extra time to stow it, step into the seat area for a moment so others may pass by, then step back into the aisle when there’s a short break in the aisle.”

No one likes a blocker, and that’s true at the luggage carousel, as well. For some reason, passengers feel they own the spot immediately next to the conveyor belt, and they refuse to give it up, even if other people see their luggage and want to collect it.

Be kind and patient when waiting at luggage carousels.
“Don’t hover around the baggage carousel,” says photographer Gary Arndt, who travels constantly for work. “Stand at least several steps back from the carousel, and only step forward when your bag is actually coming past.”

Backpacks are another source of pain for travelers, and that’s true on any mode of transportation with narrow corridors. During boarding and deplaning, it’s easy to turn quickly and unwittingly hit fellow passengers with them.

“Take bags off of your shoulder, especially backpacks, before walking down the plane aisle,” says Sarah Howell, a corporate trainer and frequent business traveler based in Austin.

A special note about kids: Parents, if you can avoid taking a stroller, do. Strollers are clunky and they’re easily damaged when you gate-check them. Also monitor older kids with luggage.
Backpacks are easier for kids
to manage themselves.

“Don’t let children wheel their own suitcases through the airport,” says Evie Granville, a writer from Houston who hosts a lifestyle podcast that often deals with etiquette issues. “Instead, pack a backpack for them to carry.”

Christopher Elliott's latest book is “How To Be The World’s Smartest Traveler” (National Geographic). You can get real-time answers to any consumer question on his new forum,, or by emailing him at

Photos from free sources

Friday, November 24, 2017

What Antarctic travel taught me about the fish we eat

Chilean sea bass makes a tempting dish--but if you care about protecting
marine life, you might choose to order something else.
If your choice of seafood when splurging at a high-end restaurant or sailing on an ocean cruise is Chilean sea bass, you might want to reconsider: The fish isn’t really a bass at all and it's probably not from Chile. The truth is that it’s really an ugly fish that Chileans would rather not bother with. 
During our expedition to Antarctica, we learned that Chilean sea bass is actually a Patagonian toothfish, a species of cod found in cold, deep waters including sub-Antarctic islands. (This is not the same type of sea bass caught in U.S. waters.)

Chilean sea bass became very popular with Americans as the result of a marketing campaign invented in 1977 by a fish wholesaler named Lee Lantz. “Chilean sea bass” is essentially a trade name invented to appeal to Americans looking for an exotic-sounding main course. Because it was used extensively on menus, it was accepted by the Federal Department of Agriculture in 1994 as an alternative market name for Patagonian toothfish and in 2013 for Antarctic toothfish.
Chilean sea bass is a favorite seafood choice of chefs,
many of whom don't know the back story.
It’s is a mild white fish with a flavor can adapt to whatever it is prepared with, so chefs love its versatility. For that reason, it fetches premium prices in specialty markets and high-end restaurants. So, what’s the problem?

Overfishing to meet demand has affected the sustainability of marine life in south ocean waters.
The popularity of Chilean sea bass led to over fishing despite regulatory organizations.  In the late 1990s to early 2000s, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU) nearly collapsed some fisheries in the Southern Ocean. Piracy was rampant, and the supply dwindled.

Besides being illegal, over fishing upsets the balance of nature. Patagonian toothfish is the main food of orca whales and seals that inhabit the cold southern hemisphere seas—and not just around Chile. As Patagonian toothfish have become less plentiful, whales and seals that depend on this food source must seek new waters—or die from starvation.

Without Patagonia toothfish in cold ocean waters, orca whales
and seals lack a necessary food source.
One of the guides on our Antarctic voyage recommended a book by Wall Street Journal reporter Bruce Knecht called “Hooked:A True Story of Pirates, Poaching, and the Perfect Fish.” During our down moments on the trip, I read the book which describes a three-week, 4,000-mile chase across the southern end of the earth by the Australian fish police before the pirates were apprehended and taken into custody.
In that way, Chilean sea bass are representative of large fish and oceans all around the world that may be in danger because of over fishing, whether legal or illegal. As we learned more about this imperiled situation, we understood why our guide was adamant about not purchasing this particular fish, either in a supermarket or a restaurant.

Traveling the world is important because it helps travelers better understand issues that they might not be faced with at home, such as the importance of global sustainability. Now that we know better, we no longer consume Chilean sea bass. Hopefully, others will rethink their choice of seafood, too.

Photos from free sources

Friday, November 17, 2017

Travel stress-free when flying during the holidays

The holiday period from Thanksgiving through New Year’s can be stressful for many reasons: shopping, entertaining, cooking, and decorating. Travel by air can add more anxiety. But a little advance planning can help you arrive at your destination relaxed and ready for a delightful holiday visit with family and friends.

·         Book a non-stop flight to avoid possibly missing a connection or dealing with lost luggage.

·         Fly early in the day to avoid delays that can happen, especially with unpredictable weather, and the possibility of getting bumped from an overbooked flight.
·         Charge electronic devices before leaving. You want music players and cell phones to be fully charged (even if some planes have docking stations) so you don’t have to worry about them cutting out when you need them most.
·         Pack a couple of days before your flight—keeping it to carryon bags, if possible. That will leave you free to get plenty of rest the night before you leave.

·         Ship gifts prior to leaving. If you must take them along remember that gifts must be left unwrapped, or TSA will do that for you.

·         Take an extra tote bag to bring home gifts you may have received—preferably one that can be stored in the overhead bin on your return flight.

·         Check-in online and print your boarding pass or send it to your mobile phone. This option is typically available 24 hours before flight time and will save you waiting in line at the airport.

·         Sign up for alerts from your airline, so you will be notified of any delays. Many airlines provide email or text messages, but if not, you can check the carrier’s website prior to leaving your home.

·         Arrive early at the airport. Crowds are larger during the holiday season, both on the road driving there and in the airport itself. Security lines back up quickly (make sure you don’t hold up the line by not being ready), so allow plenty of time prior to departure. Arrive two to four hours early to avoid the tension of waiting in long lines and decrease the likelihood of getting bumped if your flight is overbooked.

·         Be prepared with snacks, medications, and reading material in your carryon in case your flight actually is delayed by bad weather or other causes (I’ve been caught by a baggage-handler strike on Christmas Day and a pilot timing out after a rain storm had passed).

·         Keep a sense of humor and share some holiday spirit. Smile, and wish fellow travelers a safe and happy journey.
Photos from free sources


Friday, November 10, 2017

Thrills galore--white water on the Zambezi River

“Get down!” our guide shouted as a wall of water rushed over the yellow inflatable raft, tossing it like a foam ball in a wind tunnel.  I wedged my foot under the bumper seat, slid to the bottom, and hung onto the perimeter rope, hoping desperately that my oar would still be in the raft when the frothing frenzy was over.
Following orders to "get down" on the bottom of the raft.
Seconds later, as our rubber raft bounced away from the explosive waves, we heard the next stern command: “Paddle!”   So we paddled—hard—until the swift water of the Zambezi River in Zambia, Africa relaxed into a steady flow. 

Our crew for this white water rafting adventure, consisted of a newlywed couple from Ireland, 20-ish couple from London, young man from Australia, and my husband Larry and me. We had just navigated “Morning Glory,” a class five rapid below Victoria Falls. Several diagonal shifts off the right hand wall of water fed into a big hole at the bottom that submerged the raft before lifting it back to the surface.  But quickly the current carried our raft towards the next big rapid, Stairway to Heaven, a thrilling run characterized by a steep drop with a hole and massive waves. 
Everyone had oars but not everyone was effective at paddling.
It’s a good thing I didn’t check the Internet before booking this whitewater trip. I might not have opted to tackle what the British Canoe Union describes as “the wildest one-day whitewater run in the world with extremely difficult, long and violent rapids, steep gradients, big drops and pressure areas.” Had I known how dangerous the Zambezi rapids can be (several people drown on similar trips every year), I might have skipped this excursion. 
Larry is ready to enter the raft and begin the white water adventure.

But I relish challenges.  On my refrigerator at home is a poster that reads Every so often, push your luck.  That has become my mantra because doing so is good for both body and spirit.  Besides, unforgettable experiences happen when you’re open to new adventures and willing to take a chance on yourself. 

Having rafted on whitewater numerous times, we looked forward to this excursion. Spectacular Victoria Falls thunders over a tall, craggy wall and crashes into a deep, narrow canyon where water rushes away in the Zambezi River, creating a perfect confluence of whitewater.  When dense waves splashed overhead, threatening to wash away the rest of my life, I hoped I wasn’t pushing my luck too far.

Huge waves of water engulfed our raft many times.
Vincent, our guide, had the cocky confidence of a person in charge, a good thing for this crew of novices.   The first rapid was a level five called The Boiling Pot.  Here a wall of water forms to cushion the raft against the rocky gorge (nasty if you crash) and lifts you over the eddy. On the first attempt our crew paddled haphazardly, and we missed the current that would carry us over the rapid.  We tried again, synced our paddles, and, to Vincent’s relief, successfully maneuvered through the fray.  From then on we were invincible.
White water rafting on the Zambezi River is not for the faint of heart!
Our raft stayed upright throughout the trip, and no one became a swimmer (fell into the river). With a touch of sadistic humor, the Australian fellow had threatened to sabotage the raft, so we could all experience the water first-hand.  He backed off after we saw a crocodile sunning itself on the river bank.

We paddled hard while riding the crescent of the waves.
Number seven, a class five high volume run, was the longest and most technical rapid on our trip—so difficult that outwardly fearless Vincent made the cross sign when we successfully avoided two dangerous rocks.
On the eighth rapid, our group voted to take the 50/50 spill route instead of the safer, less daring route.  This took us over a challenging series of three runs that totally submerged and spun our raft like a toy boat caught under the bathtub faucet. For what seemed like minutes, we were engulfed in a towering rush of water—pushing our luck.  But adrenalin kicked in, and everyone paddled furiously until we approached calmer water.

Oars up salutes a successful trip.
In all we navigated five class five rapids, the most difficult allowed for raft passage, plus numerous three’s and four’s.  We portaged around Commercial Suicide, a class six, before tackling the last run, Gnashing Jaws of Death, from which we emerged soaked and exhausted. 
Looking back over the wild river we had just navigated
But it was too soon to celebrate success. Exiting the canyon required navigating a steep incline on a crude ladder built of tree branches while carrying our equipment.  The adrenaline rush that propelled us through the rapids had vanished, leaving us hot, thirsty, and tired. But quitting wasn’t an option.
A crude ladder was our only way
out from the Zambezi River.

Monkey-climbing the ladder on all fours, I finally reached the top. As I washed dust from my parched throat with a cool drink, exhilaration kicked in.  I had pushed my luck and succeeded.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier and SafPar Rafting Company





Saturday, November 4, 2017

Maroon Bells and glorious Aspen, Colorado

We’re heading out of Aspen,Colorado to hike around the Maroon Bells, the most photographed peaks in North America.  These two peaks in the Elk Mountains are the main reason my husband Larry and I wanted to spend a night in this well-known ski destination on our September road trip.  No snow has fallen yet, but the temperature is 37 degrees, and we expect it to be cooler in the mountains.
Reflections of Maroon Bells near Aspen, Colorado
We grab a couple of breakfast burritos at a local French bakery and quickly drive 20 minutes to the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area.  Vehicles are only allowed to enter before 9:00 a.m. or after 5:00 p.m. During the day, visitors must take the bus from Aspen, which conveniently drops you off at the base of the Maroon Bells. A five-day pass is $10, but our National Park Senior Passport saves us the fee.

Path to Crater Lake is flanked by
brilliant aspens.
After parking we follow the trail to Maroon Lake for our first view of the twin peaks.  The path is filled with strollers, kids, and amateur photographers, but no wonder—the view is stunning, and reflections are spectacular.
We decide to hike to Crater Lake, just under four miles round trip, in hopes of moving beyond the crowds.The trail winds through an aspen forest and ascends 600 feet over rocky paths.  The initial incline is moderately difficult, partly because the altitude here is 9,000 feet, and the air has less oxygen. 

View for the trail
Golden-leafed aspens glow in the sunlight, draping the trail in luminous beauty on this excellent fall foliage hike. At one point we look back to see Maroon Lake framed by a clear blue sky and colorful leaf display--a postcard-perfect scene. 
After an hour we arrive at Crater Lake, which is surrounded by fallen logs and boggy ground, still a little crunchy from overnight frost.  The water level is low, but that’s normal for the fall season.  Snow melt in spring will fill up the lake again. The weather is surprisingly warm, and we shed layers of clothing, stuffing jackets in the backpack until it won’t hold any more.  Because the air is dry, we must drink plenty of water.

Aspens glimmer in the sunlight.
Upon returning to Maroon Lake, we find fewer people milling about. Reflections are even more glorious in bright sun and clean, clear air.  This scene is so irresistible that we are thankful for the large capacity (and delete feature) of digital cameras.
Aspens can be red, too. We saw
several of these trees in town.

Back in Aspen we check out of the charming Molly Gibson Lodge where we had spent the night and take a quick tour through downtown and pedestrian malls. Aspen Park provides the perfect spot for a leisurely picnic lunch before departing for Rocky Mountain National Park.

If Aspen’s ritzy reputation has been reason enough to by-pass the town, you might be surprised, as we were, to learn how affordable it can be. Sure, Aspen is high on the radar of celebrity skiers (or apr├Ęs skiers) during the winter season, but it becomes an excellent value during spring, summer, and fall. Downtown is easy to explore on foot, and Aspen’s fleet of free buses connects visitors to all local destinations and attractions including Maroon Bells.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier