Travel Documents to Bring Along

30 Aug

by Nancy Bestor

I try very hard not to use too much paper. I use old envelopes for shopping lists, I reprint on the blank side of pages I no longer need, and cut up paper to use for notes. Thus I don’t love having to print travel documents. But I have learned the hard way that this is necessary before most of my travels, particularly when heading out of the country. While I can keep itineraries, boarding passes and hotel and rental car confirmations on my smartphone, I always worry that I will not have service when I need to access the information, so I’ve taken to printing it all out (usually on the backside of one of my daughter’s AP Government draft essays).

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My hard lesson came when our family arrived in Vietnam at midnight at the hotel where I had made reservations online. Needless to say, they could not find our reservation, and they were full for the night, and I could not access the email they had sent me confirming my reservation. Had I just printed that confirmation out, I could at least have proven that I had a reservation, although if they didn’t have rooms I’m not sure that would have helped any (but it’s the principle dammit!).

Thus here are the items I always print out, and tuck into a pocket in my suitcase or day bag for future reference.

  • Return Itinerary – I regularly forget the time my return flight home is scheduled for. Sometimes if I’m really having fun I forget the day too.
  • Any hotel/rental car/reserved transportation confirmations (see hard lesson above), along with phone numbers and addresses of said hotel/rental car pickup/etc.
  • A copy of my passport.
  • I write down the credit card account numbers that I am traveling with, as well as the toll free and/or international phone numbers to call if one is lost or stolen. Photocopies work too.
  • Copies of any prescription medications I may be taking – in case I fall ill or need an emergency refill. It doesn’t hurt to include the phone number of an emergency contact back home, especially when traveling alone.

It’s entirely possible that I won’t need any of the information I am bringing along, but I only needed to be stuck at midnight in Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City with my husband and two daughters once, with no where to lay our heads to remember the age old phrase, better safe than sorry.

When This Old World Starts Getting Me Down

28 Aug

by Nancy Bestor

rooftop barWhen two of my girlfriends and I went to New York City this past spring, one thing we knew we wanted to do was have a drink at a rooftop bar. NYC has plenty to choose from, and the weather during our visit could not have been better for sipping a cocktail and watching the sun go down over the Big Apple. It was a Tuesday night when we finally got our chance to seek out a rooftop perch, and our expectations were high.

Coming from small town Ashland, Oregon, I never expect lines, waits or traffic for anything. Here we can almost always waltz into any bar or restaurant and find a spot whenever we want. Apparently that’s not the case in New York. The first rooftop bar we tried was 230 Fifth, and when we arrived at about 5pm, it was hopping with people. The hostess asked if we had a reservation. As Lyle Lovett would say, “it was then I knew I had made my first mistake”. Once she learned we did not, she pretty much lost interest in us. Though she did take our phone number and said she’d call if something came up, she did not check the wait list nor did she offer us an expected waiting time. And best of all, she did it all with an amazing lack of enthusiasm. We only waited a few minutes before deciding that there were many more rooftop bars to choose from, so we moved on. This porridge was too hot.

The second spot we tried (which made such a small impression on me I can’t remember the name) was way more low key, perhaps a little too low key, with wooden lattice on all sides of the balcony, pretty much blocking the view entirely. I can say with certainty that it was in Chelsea, or the West Village, or maybe even Mid-Town. Less pretentious than 230 Fifth? Definitely. Too casual? Yes. Crowded? Yes again. This porridge was too cold.

Our third and final spot—we’re nothing if not determined–was Vu Rooftop Bar on top of the La Quinta Hotel. There were several empty tables, we had a stunning view of the Empire State Building, and we even got a free drink for “checking in” on Yelp. While there was no table service and the drinks were $13 a pop, this porridge was just right.

There are oh so many rooftop bars in New York City—way too many for us to have visited on this trip—but there’s always next time, right girls?

Along For the Ride

26 Aug

by Bob Bestor

The rain is coming down sideways. I am soaking wet. The temperature is in the low 40’s and dropping. My knee, which in 51 years of everything I could throw at it has never given me the slightest bit of discomfort, is now giving me great bouts of it. Yet I still have many miles and a couple of thousand vertical feet of bike riding to get to the summit of Utah’s 9,485-foot Wolf Creek Pass. And it’s all Mark Satkiewicz’s fault.

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Mark Satkiewicz is a bad man. He’s the CEO of Smartwool. You know, the makers of all those lusciously comfortable socks and toasty warm sweaters that we’ve carried for more than ten years at Travel Essentials? Yes, those guys. And oh, how I longed for both warmth and toastiness on the Wolf Creek climb.

Anyway, about nine years ago, when Mark was just a lowly Vice-President at the company, he decided that it would be a good idea to ride his bike from Smartwool’s headquarters in Steamboat Springs, Colorado to the annual summer Outdoor Retailer Trade Show in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Why is he bad? First off, the most inviting spot on the entire route is named Starvation Reservoir. Second, during summer, between Steamboat and Salt Lake, there are two types of terrain, scorching hot high desert and towering mountain passes. And he wanted to make the 400-mile commute (they were on their way to a trade show remember) in a scant four days. Nevertheless, he convinced another nineteen colleagues to join him and a tradition was born.

This year I got invited to go along on the ride, and I immediately said yes. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

But, as you may guess, I was far from alone in being tired and soaked to the bone. What is now known as “The Smartwool Ride” has grown considerably and I was grinding up to that mountain pass with 82 other cyclists of all abilities, myself being on the lower end of the ability scale.

And while everything I’ve written so far is true, the real truth is that The Smartwool Ride is a total blast. Sure it’s hard, but it’s never too hard. And it’s the other 82 riders (not to mention the staff of Iconic Adventures who supported the event) who actually make it worthwhile and even somewhat easy.

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As you might imagine, the outdoor/travel industry attracts a certain type of person. And from that group, those who enthusiastically set out on and tackle 100-mile days on a bike make for terrifically fun and interesting company. It was kind of like a rolling cocktail party.

One tends to forget the heat when cruising down a gorgeous, gently winding desert canyon chatting with three time Olympian Emily Cook who is just about as humble and as nice as she can be and who is generously willing to share stories about her amazing career even though she met you no more than 90 seconds ago. The hills are also a little easier when new buddy D.C. is praising “the pig” in reference to his love for the barbecue of his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee, or grilling me on what I know about Tupelo Hardware and whether I am worthy to wear a hat from their store. Or when Bill Dillard is offering up the story of how his Grandfather started up a little five and dime store in Arkansas, learned the ropes, and launched what has now grown to become the 330-store chain Dillard’s. I even rode in the slipstream (way, way, way back to be sure) of a former Tour de France champion. Just sayin’.

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So it was four days in the saddle. Long days. Days filled with deserted back roads, bucolic rolling farmland, stunning desert vistas and stifling desert heat – until the weather changed on day four. We woke up to rain and, knowing that we had Wolf Creek Pass on the day’s agenda, pushed back our roll out time by an hour in the hopes it would pass. It didn’t.

The rain came and went throughout the morning. Each time giving us false hope that it might stay away. But soon after we got on to the Wolf Creek climb proper, it had decided that it wasn’t going anywhere. By the summit aid station, even those outfitted with the finest rain gear were soaked through.

While there was much shivering, there were only two choices. Hang out at the summit or get on the bike for the 15-mile descent down the other side. For those of you who don’t cycle, going up in the cold and rain is one thing. Going down is quite another. Going up, at least you are working and creating some of your own heat. Going down, you’re pretty much just sitting on your bike. Imagine sitting outside, soaking wet in a 35 mph windstorm. It can get cold. Not only that but the performance of road bike brakes are severely compromised in rainy conditions. This was not a good recipe for a bunch of amateur cyclists who already had 360 miles in their tired legs.

Soon though, a third choice came available – get in the support van for a safe ride to the bottom. I’m not too proud to say that I took the easy and warm way out.

Did I say that Mark Satkiewicz is a bad man? Well he is also a very strong cyclist. And as such he and his group of riders were way ahead of most of us and had already tackled the steep and freezing descent and instead of shivering at the summit were shivering at the bottom. It was at this point that he decided two things. First, that this year’s Smartwool Ride was the most epic of all. And second, that in the interest of safety, it was over. Mark is wise as well.

So we crammed into the vans and it wasn’t long before we were all cleaned up and warm and cozy after hot showers at the state of the art U.S. Ski and Snowboard Training Center in Park City. There we congratulated each other, shared the tales of our epic cycling adventure, and watched several Olympic hopefuls go through their training regimens as we ate pizza and drank beer.

Lauren’s Travel Essentials

20 Aug

by Lauren Skinner

1_thepileOne of the things that I love about working at Travel Essentials is having the opportunity to use our wonderful products when I head out on a trip. My boyfriend Ryan and I are usually budget travelers, meaning that we drive to our destination whenever possible, but a few weeks before Fourth of July weekend, we were able to secure reservations on some inexpensive flights (in order to save ourselves some extra hours of driving). We flew from Medford airport to Portland and back, and I’m happy to report that I had one of the smoothest flying experiences that I can remember, thanks to some of my favorite Travel Essentials gear!

I spent Thursday evening excitedly setting out all the clothes, shoes and toiletries that I wanted to bring and planning how to organize and fit everything into my bags. In the end I was able to take a giant pile of stuff and transform it into a carefully packed masterpiece! Well, maybe not a masterpiece – but I was feeling proud that I was able to fit all my items and even have some room to spare. So proud that I took these photos to share with you… Seeing the before and after is pretty satisfying. Please note my empty “personal item” Pacsafe backpack in the photo below which ended up holding an extra pair of sandals and a light sweater – score!

I took some of my most useful travel gear with me and it really did make my trip go smoother than I even expected. So let’s talk about what these items are and all the different ways that they can make life easier on your next adventure.

  1. Travel Vest
    If you love pockets and organization as much as I do then I highly recommend a travel vest! How can a travel vest benefit me you might ask? 5_travelvestWell, to start it has a pocket for EVERYTHING (lip balm, pen, camera, water bottle, ID, cell phone, boarding pass… as many as 17 pockets!) which can leave your hands free when going through airport security. Instead of having to carry a purse and dig through it looking for my wallet or boarding passes I had all the items I needed at my fingertips and out of sight inside my vest. Also a travel vest is great for preventing theft since all your items are carefully zipped in the pockets inside. The Scottevest, costs $135 and can be found here.

  2. Wide-Body Carry-On Suitcase
    The Briggs and Riley 21” wide-body Transcend suitcase is our bestselling carry-on bag – and for good reason! I own the very same bag myself and am always amazed at how much it is able to hold. It retails at $379 and is available for purchase here. This bag was a big purchase for me however the functionality of the bag and the amazing warranty (keep reading!) have definitely justified the expense! Some of my favorite features include:

    • 6_landedThe fold-out garment holder which I usually use to hold a folder of clothing (see item #3 on this list). It’s also be perfect for trips when you might be attending something more formal, like a wedding or business event, and want to bring a suit or a nice dress.
    • A wet pocket that is perfect for holding your TSA compliant quart-size liquids bag and preventing any liquids from leaking onto items in the main compartment of the bag.
    • A very deep full-size front pocket allows me to put an entire clothing folder (see item #3 on this list) in front, freeing up space in the main compartment of the bag for bulkier items like shoes or delicate electronics.
    • The 360 degree expandability adds about 20% capacity to the bag in case you buy some things on your trip and want to check the bag on the way home. Please note that when the bag is expanded it exceeds the carry-on size regulation and would need to be checked.
    • And the cherry on top is the Briggs & Riley lifetime, no-matter-what warranty which allows you to have the bag repaired if you experience problems such as a torn seam, stuck handle or a missing zipper. Since this warranty includes any kind of damage-airline damage included-the manufacturers are using the most durable materials available to create these bags in order to minimize the repairs that are required throughout the lifetime of the bag. Can’t beat a lifetime warranty!
    • You can check it out here.
  3. Eagle Creek Packing Cubes/Folders
    Eagle Creek Pack-It products are excellent for keeping my clothing organized and minimally wrinkled during my trips. For this trip I used two folders and a few cubes. I have a small and medium sized folder. The smaller folder on this trip held 4-5 tank tops and some shorts, and stored away into the fold-out garment folder of my suitcase described above, while the larger folder fit all of my skirts and dresses and slipped into the front pocket of my bag. I used a larger cube to hold a pair of shoes and the same cube was used during the trip to store dirty laundry away from my clean clothes. Eagle Creek has an extensive selection of sizes of Pack-It cubes and folders available, as well as shoe sacks, padded electronic cubes, compression bags, and toiletry kits. You can check out Eagle Creek Pack-It Garment folders here. And the Eagle Creek cubes in a variety of sizes and colors can be found here.
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Meet Travel Essentials’ Employee and Hometown Boy Danny Frazier

17 Aug

by Ember Hood

danny 1Danny was born and raised in Ashland, Oregon, where he met and married his high school sweetheart, Mara. While Mara had traveled extensively with her family as a kid, Danny’s first experience with international travel was a journey through Ireland, Wales and England when he was nineteen.

Danny and Mara started in Shannon, Ireland and spent a couple of weeks making their way to the eastern coast of Ireland, where they took a boat to Wales and immediately became incredibly sick. “That’s when I fell in love with rugby,” Danny told me, because they were bedridden, and the only channel in their hotel room was a sports network showing reruns of Welsh rugby matches.

Once they recovered, it was down to South Hampton and Buckinghamshire in Southern England, where they stayed with family friends. The father in that family was a nearly retired police officer, and he took Danny and Mara down to the police station. “It was three floors,” Danny explained. “First floor: processing. Second floor: offices. Third floor: pub.” And in the pub they were plied with pints of good beer and enjoyed a live band from Northern Ireland, which Danny found oddly encouraging in an English pub, especially during those times.

A few years later, Danny and Mara took another trip to Europe, this time planning to slowly go through France and Spain. They enjoyed some time in Paris before making their way up through Normandy, then down through the Loire Valley and to the southern IMG_8383coast. They were almost to Spain, when their friends suggested a last-minute trip to Amsterdam. And because a trip to Amsterdam is not to be missed, they made it work. “I instantly felt at home there,” Danny said. Though he admits that they got very easily lost in the city, too. They spent a few days exploring Amsterdam and especially enjoyed the Van Gogh museum, which offers a well-thought-out tour through Van Gogh’s life and artistic process.

They did eventually make it to Barcelona, where they got to witness the frenzy of Spanish football fans, as Spain won a big game in the World Cup Semi-Finals. “You could see every light on in the high rise buildings,” Danny explained, “and every TV on. And then when the game ended, they flooded the streets. We barely made it across the street.”

Now parents, Danny and Mara are plotting their daughter Lillian’s first international trip. While Lil dreams of wandering the streets of Paris, her parents think Norway will be her first passport stamp, where she can meet generations of family, including a host of Scandinavian cousins to play with.

Meet Sabrina Markowitz: Artist, Japanophile, Gardener, Cook, and Travel Essentials Employee

5 Aug

by Ember HoodScreen Shot 2015-08-04 at 8.51.43 AM

Born and raised on the Big Island of Hawaii, Sabrina grew up surrounded by all things Japanese. She studied the Japanese language for five years and was involved with the Japan Wizards—a competition of Japanese language and culture.

So when Sabrina had the opportunity to visit Japan with a group of her friends while in high school, she was very excited. They traveled through Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo. Kyoto, she explained, was her favorite. She loved the juxtaposition of ancient buildings next to the modern skyscrapers and apartment buildings. Kyoto was filled with modern amenities, right next to ancient temples. Both beautiful in different ways.

Screen Shot 2015-08-04 at 8.39.20 AMWhile in Kyoto, Sabrina and some of her friends decided they wanted to know what it was like to wear a traditional geisha costume, so they went to a special shop where they carefully wrap and paint you in traditional garb and make-up before taking professional photos. The geisha clothing is so restrictive, that the women dressing them continuously asked if they were okay, “daijoubu desu ka?” After slow, careful hours of being bound, wrapped, painted, and adorned, they got to pose for photos.

Tokyo was a different experience for Sabrina. She was enthralled and amused by the vending machine options available to her—“Hard boiled eggs, beer, underwear, ice cream… Mmmmm, green tea ice cream – green tea everything. I had as much of that as possible.” She was not as fond of all the fish in Japanese cuisine, but she managed to get by. Her favorite food on the trip was green Japanese melon bread – it was light, fluffy, delicious and tasted like green melon.

Sabrina finished high school in Hawaii before moving to the Rogue Valley at eighteen to attend Southern Oregon University. She got her Bachelor’s degree in Printmaking – her medium of choice, inspired by her love of Japanese woodblock prints. She even met her boyfriend of five years in a Japanese class, there.

Sabrina is also very fond of insects, and often incorporates them into her art. She likes to wear them, too – jeweled beetle brooches and large, exotic ants encased in resin tied to her wrist. She is captivated by their beauty. She also loves to garden and cook, pickle her own produce, and make jams. She never slows down, and she is currently working on an art show to go up at Weisinger Family Winery next month.

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As for adventures, Sabrina’s thinking she’ll visit Germany next, to go through the Black Forest, and take a wine and bike tour by the Rhine and Mosel Rivers, and over into France. “I dream of finding and purchasing an amazing cuckoo clock and eating rich Black Forest Cake,” she said. “Also, Rieslings are the best.”

You Can Ride it if You Like

3 Aug

Bob’s off this week to pedal his bike from Steamboat Springs, Colorado to Salt Lake City, Utah – just short of 400 miles in four days. He is riding his tried and trusted LandShark Bicycle, made locally here in the Rogue Valley, and obviously had to figure out how to get his steed to Colorado. He assumed the best and cheapest way to get the job done would be to check it on the plane as an oversized item. And while that would have meant the bike traveled with him, the fees charged by the airlines (United out for $200 and Alaska back at IMG_0652$100) turned out to be almost double the price of shipping his ‘Shark via UPS Ground (including insurance). The downside was that he had to be away from his one true non-wifely love* for both a week before and a week after the event. The upside? – well over $100 saved. And his bike was insured for the exact amount of replacement. I’m not 100% sure the airlines would have coughed up the replacement value if they had damaged or lost the bike.

* Upon editing this story Bob noted that he likes his 1998 Big Bertha Driver a whole lot too.

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