When A Picture Is Not Really Worth A Thousand Words

13 Aug

by Nancy Bestor

I am good at many things. But to be completely honest there is one area (one?) in which I am not very successful – photography. I am always sure I am about to get a GREAT travel shot, one that I could enter into the National Geographic esteemed photo contest and read comments like, “How is it possible that this woman is NOT a professional travel photographer?” Or, “I would like to pay for you to travel to Bora Bora and take photos of my adorable family on vacation.” But once I go back through my photos and view the “gems” I’ve snapped, I find dark, out-of-focus images, where my subjects are often not looking their best. My family has requested I check with them before posting any photos I have taken, because they know the truth—I would have trouble making Cindy Crawford look good. I can’t even master the art of the selfie, as posing for a photo and snapping the photo at the same time are apparently a bit more than I can handle.

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Thus I’ve taken to letting Bob be in charge of snapping shots on our travels. I didn’t pay much attention when he researched the best type of camera to buy. I didn’t pay attention when he studied the camera and its many features, learning how to best photograph food, night shots and more. And that also released me from worrying about carrying a camera, as Bob handles that as well. I did learn which button to press when I want to take a photo, and frankly that’s all I need to know. Every once in a blue moon I might snap a photo myself when we’re traveling, but more often than not I ask (demand?) Bob to take a photo of something that I cannot believe he has not already taken a photo of himself. It’s almost like having my own private photographer in tow. I’m sure he loves it.

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So I will not be entering the 14th Annual Travel Essentials Travel Photo Contest this month, partly because I am ineligible to enter Travel Essentials travel photo contest, but more importantly because my photos would go in to the “let’s laugh at these later” pile. (Don’t worry, we really don’t have a let’s laugh at these later pile. But if we did, I guarantee mine would be at the front of the pack.)

If you’ve got a few travel photos in your albums that you’ve gotten complements on, or you just have a couple of photos that you’ve taken that you really enjoy looking at, please consider emailing them to us and entering our contest. Your photos might be displayed for the world to enjoy on our website or in our front window, and even better, you might win some great travel gear. The contest ends August 31, so start looking through your photos now. Once we get them, I’ll look through your photos and pretend like I took them.

 

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Blinded By The Light

31 Jul

by Nancy Bestor

I like to think I’m not too picky of a traveler. But, I do prefer non-squat toilets. I also like a good mattress and hot water. One other key component? Electricity. It’s always a welcome feature. A few years ago we traveled to Vernazza in Italy’s Cinque Terre. The town was recovering from a tremendous flood, and construction was happening throughout the area. When we checked in to our hotel they advised us that the power would be out that day and the next, but just during daytime hours, while they were continuing to repair the streets. That wasn’t a big deal, because you don’t really need electric lights in the daytime. On our most recent trip to Bali, however, we lost a bit more electricity than I would have liked. It was fun at first, then it got a little old, but in the end we adapted, because really, what were our choices?

We had planned our vacation for beach time at the the beginning of our trip, and more beach time in Amed, on Bali’s eastern coast at the end of our trip, for some lazy days after traveling throughout the country, hiking and seeing the sites. Amed is a beautiful and sleepy fishing village that boasts lovely beaches, great snorkeling and diving, and fish–lots and lots of fish. It turns out the roads along the five-plus miles of the Amed coastline were first paved in 2000 and telephone lines were first installed in 2003. Once very remote, the region is more touristed now, but still pretty quiet.

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When we checked in to our beachfront villa at Life in Amed the gentleman who showed us to our room pointed out a battery operated light and advised us that once or twice a month the power goes out all up and down the coast. So we were now prepared in the unlikely event that were to happen. Well we stayed in Amed three nights, and guess how many times the power was out after dark for at least an hour? Four times.

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The first time we were the only people eating in a restaurant a few miles from our hotel. The power went out before we got our food, but they were able to finish making it and we ate with a small battery operated lantern at our table. It was fun at first, but then large bugs began landing on our table, near the lantern, and the girls became slightly unnerved. We finished up our meal and headed back to our hotel and within an hour or so, the power came back on. Another night the power went off as we went to bed. We had headlamps and flashlights to read by so that wasn’t too big of a deal, but the upstairs of the villa was pretty hot under mosquito netting without air conditioning or an overhead fan. Boo hoo. The power went off once at dusk too, so we sat by the pool reading with flashlights. The last power outage was at dinner on our final night, where we decided to make it easier on ourselves and just eat at the hotel. This time the tables were better lit, but sadly there were several things on the menu they could not make, including delicious jaffle sandwiches (made with an electric jaffle toaster).

amed view

Really our time without electricity was no big deal. But I’m very glad we had headlamps along and little flashlights too. It’s amazing how handy things like that are when you’re walking down a cobblestone footpath in the dark without electricity, or trying to fit your key into your hotel door’s keyhole. I’m also glad I live in a country where electricity rarely goes out (and where we can sit rather than squat on a toilet too!), although people in Amed seem very used to functioning without electricity. If you want to visit a somewhat remote and sleepy fishing village in a third world country you should be prepared for things to run at least a bit differently than you otherwise might be used to. In the end it was a great experience, and one that made me thankful for what we’ve got.

I Fought The Law and the Law Won

31 Jul

by Nancy Bestor

Lonely Planet advises that if you plan to drive a car in Bali, you’re “supposed” to have an International Driving Permit (IDP). Knowing that we did plan to drive (that’s the Royal We here, Bob would be doing all the driving in Bali), Bob went ahead and got an IDP from our local AAA store in Medford, Oregon for $23. It was easy to obtain, he simply showed his US driver’s license, filled out a form, had his picture taken and paid his money. The entire process took about 10 minutes.

International Driving Permits are actually recommended and/or required in many foreign countries, although lots of people don’t bother to get them. We’ve driven in several European countries and never bothered to get one either. Bob’s brother, Andy Bestor, has been renting cars to European travelers for nearly 20 years (and is very knowledgeable about all things car rental). He says they “officially recommend” the IDP, but tells customers it is mostly for peace of mind.

When we picked up our rental car in Bali (more on that easy third world process in a future post), the American hotel owner where we were staying said an IDP was not really necessary. If we were stopped, we could simply bribe the police officer, and if we also smiled a lot, all would be well. When we hit the road, we tucked Bob’s IDP deep into one of our bags and promptly forgot we had it.

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Bob drove like a pro (on the opposite side of the road, more on that in a future post too!), for the two weeks we were on the island, and we rarely even saw a police officer, let alone worried about being stopped by one. Until of course, our last day when we were hurrying to the airport and came upon a roadblock where several officers were randomly pulling cars over. One of the policeman took a quick look at us and motioned us to stop. The very first thing he asked for? Our International Driving Permit.

It took us a while to find our IDP. It wasn’t in the glove compartment. It wasn’t my shoulder bag. It wasn’t in Bob’s daypack either. I could see Bob getting a bit worried even though I assured him it was somewhere in our bags. Finally we found it, buried deep in one of main bags in the trunk, under some end-of-the-trip dirty laundry. We were glad to find is, because let’s be frank here, we’re really not the bribing type.

All the while our policeman stood quietly by our vehicle, waiting for us to find our IDP and once we finally presented it to him, he looked at it like he had never seen one before. He even yelled to a colleague and waved our IDP in the air, as if to say “look, these silly Americans actually HAVE an IDP.” (For all I know, that is exactly what he did say. Two weeks is not nearly enough time to understand more than a few words of Indonesian.) Once we cleared up the fact that we did have an IDP, the policeman became quite friendly and pointed to our teenage daughters in the backseat. He motioned with his smartphone, gesturing could he take a picture of them. “Yes,” we nodded, of course. Then he asked “Where from?” When we answered America he said “Ohhhh, OBAMA!” Yes, we nodded and smiled, Obama. Finally he motioned that he wanted a picture with Bob, and said “for memories.”

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And that’s the story of our international driving permit. Thanks to our IDP, Bob made a friend that day and a Balinese policeman likely went home and showed his family the photos he took of the first Americans ever to carry an International Driving Permit in Bali. That’s the best $23 we’ve spent in a long time.

A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall

30 Jul

by Nancy Bestor

Perhaps I’m like the cobbler who wears broken down shoes, or the carpenter whose deck is falling apart, as every now and then when we travel I neglect to take along a handy item that we sell at Travel Essentials, and I am truly sorry. There was the time my daughter got seasick on a whale-watching trip in the San Juan Islands, and our guide advised us that she really should be wearing motion bands, and then proceeded to inform us of all their benefits as she lent Emily a pair. I knew all about the benefits, because we sell them at Travel Essentials. Other trips have found us desperate to take a family photo but without a tri-pod. And of course, we sell excellent little travel tri-pods at Travel Essentials too.

Most recently however, Bob and I were caught in a torrential downpour at a beautiful temple on the outskirts of Tirtagangga in Bali, without any kind of rain gear. It was coming down so hard that there was no way we would be able to walk the 1700 steps to see the temple at the top without being completely drenched by about our third step. The temple is beautiful (or so I’m told) and it was a warm downpour, but our cameras and phones would have been soaked through and ruined, not to mention our bodies.

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Sure wish we would have had the emergency poncho that we sell at Travel Essentials for $3.95. Yes, just three dollars and ninety-five cents, and it packs up into a teeny-tiny square. How easy it would have been for me to throw two (or four) of those ponchos into my suitcase. We would have put them on and hiked up the 1,700 stairs to see Pura Lempuyang, and it would have been beautiful (I’m sure). We’re headed to New Orleans in September, and if it rains, rather than walking around with plastic trash bags over ourselves, like we did when we were younger, (and by the way, I would have been delighted with trash bags in Bali) I’ll make sure to pack a couple of emergency ponchos. If nothing else, it will guarantee a weekend of perfect weather.

“Gooooooalllllll!” – Andres Cantor

23 Jun

by Nancy Bestor

As I write this story, the world is smack dab in the middle of perhaps its biggest and greatest international sporting event ever, the 2014 World Cup. For all you non-soccer people out there (or non-football people if you’re really in the know), this is the worldwide soccer event that happens just once every four years, and this year is being hosted by Brazil. We’re big soccer fans in our house (“we’re”, ha-ha) so soccer is on at all times in the front room, on a computer in the kitchen, and sometimes even on a computer in the living room too. Yes, it is on at least two viewing machines at the same time, apparently in case you walk out of one room and into another, because you wouldn’t want to miss ONE MINUTE OF IT.

I’ve been watching soccer since Bob and I started dating. I spent many, many Sundays sitting in the cold watching him play games all over the Bay Area. I traveled most weekends with him to away games, and was often the only fan of his recreational team. (You’re wondering if I was crazy right? I could admit to many things here, but the truth of the matter is, I really liked watching the games.) I don’t watch Bob’s games anymore, one reason being that he most often plays at 6am, and the other being that I now have other things that rank higher on my list (like reading a good book). But I do pay attention to the World Cup when it comes around. I like to root for all the underdogs and the United States, who coincidentally is an underdog in this event.

Over the years we’ve rooted along with our French friends for the French national team to win the World Cup, for Croatia (my mom’s homeland), for Costa Rica (because we met a kind Costa Rican soccer fan and hotel owner in their country many years ago), and, of course, for our home team. Bob fondly remembers the World Cup of 2002, which took place in Japan and South Korea. He got together with his soccer buddies in the middle of the night on several occasions to watch the games live. I, on the other hand, remember getting up in the middle of the night in 1981 to watch Prince Charles marry Diana Spencer. And we ended up getting together anyway.

The World Cup makes me think about the differences between the United States and other countries when it comes to sports. Bob was introduced to soccer when he was 10 years old. A boy at his school, whose father was born in Portugal, taught him how to play this “new game.” (The Portuguese father coincidentally happened to be the doctor who delivered yours truly, a fact Bob and I would learn after we met and married. Apparently our love was destined to be.) He and his friends began playing it at every recess and lunchtime, and Bob still plays today. Although soccer is much more popular in the US now than it was when Bob was a kid, I’m pretty sure soccer comes well behind football, baseball, and basketball, in our nation’s interests. Maybe even ice hockey too.

It’s lots of fun to travel to other countries while their teams participate in a big soccer event like the World Cup or the European Championships. When the national team is playing, things pretty much shut down as fans gather around televisions in public places to see a big goal, or the final minutes of a key game. We’ve been lucky enough to witness celebrations in France, Italy and England, with cars driving around honking their horns and people proudly hanging out their windows and balconies waving the national flag. There’s a national feeling of community during these moments, unlike any I’ve really experienced here in the US. Maybe it happened when the US national hockey team won the gold medal in the 1980 Olympics, but I wasn’t paying attention way back then.

I’m certain the United States national soccer team will continue to improve, as more and more little kids start playing soccer at age 3 and 4. Maybe one day we’ll get our chance to drive our cars through the streets, honking, chanting USA, USA, and proudly waving the American flag after our team wins the World Cup. Until that time, I’ll be rooting for the home team, but I’ll save my horn honking for when I’m trying to get my daughter’s attention in the high school parking lot.

 

Sleeping With My Clothes On

19 Jun

by Nancy Bestor

IMG_1609People in my family always say that I can sleep anywhere. I seem to have a knack for nodding off in cars, on buses, on airplanes, in (ahem) movie theaters and concerts, and even, I am sad to report, at dance recitals. In my defense, my daughter only appeared in two out of 20 numbers (although it seemed like 200), and the theater was dark, and the recital was way too long.

I’ve never been too worried when I can’t get a full night of sleep either. Maybe that’s because I have raised two children and when my youngest was a newborn she woke me every two hours for what seemed like years but was really more like eight weeks. I learned that I could operate on less sleep and catch up on my shut-eye when I next got the opportunity.

So I’m never too concerned when I take a red-eye flight, because I figure I will a) sleep sitting up on the plane with my mouth hanging wide open and occasional snorts coming out of my nose, b) walk around tired the next day at my destination, c) sleep well the following night and d) be energized and ready to roll on day two.

On a recent return flight from the Caribbean, our family had a lousy layover in Los Angeles from midnight until 6am. (Note to self: trips booked with frequent flier miles may be free, but they aren’t always convenient. Perhaps airlines do that on purpose.) We weren’t willing to buy a hotel room for the “night”, because by the time we got to the hotel from the airport and then returned to the airport from the hotel, we would have paid for sleeping in a bed for three hours at the most.

Thus we decided to “rough it” at LAX. We searched out the darkest, quietest and most deserted location that also had chairs that we could lie out on. What we found wasn’t very dark, quiet or deserted but we each took a row, and off to lullaby land we went. I admit to sleeping somewhat fitfully. But I did sleep for at least a few hours. I woke up every now and then, because I’m fairly certainly the airport employee operating the floor-cleaning machine was torturing me by cleaning the linoleum near my row over and over. (Come on! Was the floor that dirty?) When I would sit up to glare at the floor cleaner, I’d check on the rest of my fam, only to find them still stretched out in their rows, covered by their MicroFiber towel/blankets, snoozing away.

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Spending the night and trying to sleep in an airport is not ideal. But beggars can’t be choosers and that night we were beggars. But when we got home the next day, our beds were so comfortable.

Notes:

Here are the items I never travel without to promote sleeping on airplanes, buses, and, when pressed, in airports.

  • Earplugs. A crucial item for any type of travel! You never know when the people in the hotel room next door will be traveling with a teething baby, or the engines of a tiny propeller airplane will be so loud they rattle your teeth. Earplugs will help with all of the above! A small price to invest for a less cranky Nancy.
  • A Microfiber towel. This item doubles as a beach towel/hotel room towel, and a blanket. I find myself using it frequently when sitting in airports and on airplanes. Free airplane blankets really are a thing of the past.
  • Warm socks. If my feet are cold, I’m not going to be able to sleep. I often travel in sandals, but always toss a pair of socks into my carry-on bag, so I can slip off my shoes on the airplane and still keep my feet warm. I never want my bare feet to touch the airplane floor. I’m sure I don’t want to know what kind of germs are on that carpet.
  • I have at times traveled with an inflatable pillow, but since I fall asleep so easily, I don’t seem to have a need for it. Same goes for a travel eye shade. Apparently my eyelids provide all the shading I need. Many customers who are not as fortunate as me swear by these two items though, and I believe them!
  • Money Belt. I wouldn’t want to fall asleep in a public place if I didn’t have my passport, credit cards and cash protected. Normally I am a light sleeper, but every now and then I stay asleep while all kinds of things are happening around me. It’s easier for me to relax knowing my essential items are in a money belt on my person, and won’t be gone when I wake up. Sweet dreams!

Keeping Your Money Safe

18 Jun

by Nancy Bestor

Customers often ask us to recommend the “most important item” that they should take on vacation. Because we feel that security is of utmost importance, our number one must have is a money belt. Bob and I always travel with our passports, credit cards, and cash in some kind of money belt or security wallet. This protects us against theft and our own forgetfulness and gives us peace of mind that our essential items are secure.

Once in Italy with my sister, a group of gypsy children approached me with a map that they stuck in front of my face while they tried to reach into my bag underneath. I swatted them away (literally), but even if they had gotten into my bag, they could have only stolen my lipstick and my water bottle, as my cash and passport were in my money belt. Another time, in Costa Rica, I was walking the streets of San Jose with a small backpack. I felt something like a fly on my arm, and when I went to swat it (again with the swatting!), I realized someone had actually unzipped my bag. There was nothing of interest in there this time either, just a sweater and a Lonely Planet guidebook.

There have been plenty of other vacations where I have felt a little bit uncomfortable with my surroundings—maybe because it was very crowded, or I felt like some sketchy looking folks were paying a little bit too much attention to me. I’ve always been confident with the fact that my important, costly, and difficult to replace items were tucked away in my security wallet, underneath my clothing. They can take my backpack or bag because there’s nothing in there that isn’t replaceable (except maybe for that perfect shade of Clinique lipstick that is no longer in production).

My favorite security pouch is Eagle Creek’s Undercover Deluxe Neck Wallet. I wear it a little differently than most customers expect though. I don’t hang it around my neck straight down in front. Instead I wear it cross body underneath my blouse. This gets the strap off the back of my neck and the pouch off my stomach (which doesn’t need any more pouch, believe me). I size the strap so the pouch is right at my hip and tucked into my pants or skirt. When I need to get into it, I simply pull it out from my bottoms, with it still strapped around me, and get what I need, then I tuck it back into my skirt. Bob’s favorite is the Eagle Creek Undercover Hidden Pocket. The Hidden Pocket has a loop that a regular belt runs through and then the wallet is tucked down inside his pants. It always stays attached to his belt, and when he needs to get into it he pulls it out, gets what he needs and then tucks it back in.

We always keep enough money for the day in our front pocket or day bag. That way we’re not getting into our money belts every single time I demand a gelato (and I demand lots of gelato). But the bulk of our cash, credit cards and passports are always in our money belts. If we’ve got a safe in our room, we do sometimes leave our passports behind, but really, we keep our cash and credit cards with us at all times. I’m not paranoid, I just like to be cautious.

There are all kinds of money belts for all kinds of people. There are even money belts that block RFID signals from being scanned by techno-savvy crooks. You can choose from styles that go around your waist, around your neck, that hook to your bra or strap to your leg. You can choose silk money belts, nylon ones, and more.   It doesn’t matter the type you choose, what matters is that you keep your important belongings safe. And then you can relax and enjoy your vacation.

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