Let’s Keep in Touch

by Nancy Bestor

Our 20-year-old daughter Emily went to Europe by herself for five weeks this summer, and although she has traveled extensively, I was more comfortable with her trip once she decided to buy an international texting and data plan for her iPhone. Her AT&T plan cost $30 per month, and included unlimited incoming and outgoing texts, as well as 120MB of cellular data. AT&T required a minimum of two months for this plan, but since she was gone for five weeks it was worth it. Frankly, to give me peace of mind, it would have been worth it even if she was traveling for just a couple of weeks. We were able to check in on a daily basis, and she was able to use data even if she didn’t have wireless. While most of the time, in her youth hostels for example, she had wireless access, there were a few occasions that her data plan came in handy – perhaps while sitting in the warm sunshine on the banks of the Seine in Paris?


If you’re planning to make a lot of phone calls while in Europe, you might be better off with a European SIM card that you insert into your phone, but Emily really didn’t make phone calls. She contacted hostels for future bookings via the internet, sent texts to friends she was meeting, and to her family at home, and even Face-Timed with us when on wifi to show us her pretty face. Those who are staying in Europe for an extended period would certainly be better off buying a mobile device in Europe, but for short time travelers, an international plan with your local phone provider is certainly worth researching.

Come Fly With Me, Come Fly, Let’s Fly Away

by Nancy Bestor

I’m not an aviation buff. I fly on planes to get me places, and don’t really know the difference between a 737, a 747 or a 787. I feel the same way about cars—they get me around, but I struggle with understanding, or even caring really, about the difference between a 4-cylinder and a 6-cylinder engine. Thus when Bob suggested we stop at the Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum (WAAAM) in Hood River this summer, I plastered a smile on my face and said I’d be happy to visit. I may or may not have been lying.


Boy was I surprised. With 100 antique aircraft, some dating as far back as 1917, and more than 130 cars, plus motorcycles and jeeps, the WAAAM truly has something for everyone. Each aircraft on display has been completely restored, and amazingly, every single one of them still flies on a regular basis. I was drawn to the pretty ones, those with beautifully colored paint jobs in teals and red, but they are all interesting to look at, and many have fascinating stories to go along with them.


The Curtiss JN-4D “Jenny” for example, was the most popular training airplane in World War I. The Pietenpol Sky Scout, built in 1932, has a Ford Model A engine. Other planes on hand flew mail to Alaska, appeared in famous movies, and more!


The car collection is just as impressive. From 1914 Ford Model T’s to 1957 Studebaker’s, it made me wish I had a much cooler car than my 2003 Toyota Sienna minivan, otherwise known as a “mom van.” Lest you think I’m a total dork, back in the day I did own a cherry red 1977 convertible Volkswagen bug. (I like to call those the glory days. But I digress.)


The museum has so much to offer, and incredibly friendly docents are at the ready to answer any questions that might arise. WAAAM hosts Model T driving classes, aviation camps for kids, a monthly open house where visitors can ride in antique autos, an annual “fly-in”, swap meets, and much, much more. It’s amazing what this museum in Hood River, Oregon has to offer. We learned of this museum on Yelp, when we were looking for interesting things to do in the Hood River area, and the eight reviews-—each with five stars-—were the impetus for our stopping by. I highly recommend this museum if you’re in Hood River. It is well worth the $14 admission price. In the end I was very happy that we visited. And that’s no lie.

Go To The Country, Build You a Home

by Nancy Bestor

peaches2I’ll admit, I’m guilty of forgetting just how beautiful my own backyard is. I’m the first one in line when planning a trip to an exotic location like Thailand or Belize, but am slow to explore parts of Oregon I’ve never visited. Thus when our family had a long weekend to vacation together this summer, I figured Eastern Oregon sounded good. We hadn’t ventured much farther than Bend when heading that direction, and thought we could all benefit with learning a little more about our home state. Unfortunately wildfires in the area had something to say about this though, and at the last minute we had to cancel our trip east and come up with a whole new five-day adventure on the fly. So Hood River became our new destination, and what a great choice it turned out to be!


We found a last minute house rental across Hood River in White Salmon, Washington on www.airbnb.com. Our two bedroom house was spacious, well appointed, included a hot tub, and offered stunning views of Mount Hood. We spent time exploring the town of Hood River and lounging in the Columbia River, watching wind and kite surfers speed through the water, but perhaps my favorite activity was our drive along Hood River’s “fruit loop.” The Fruit Loop is about 35 miles of orchards, fruit stands, farmlands and sweet little towns and communities. Summer is the perfect time to visit, because the fruit and vegetables are as picturesque as they are delicious.


We enjoyed peaches, nectarines, cherries, and delicious jams at Packer Orchards & Bakery. We bought locally made jewelry and caught whiffs of lavender at Hood River Lavender Farms. We petted alpacas and caressed the buttery soft yarns and fabrics at Cascade Alpacas and Foothills Yarn & Fiber. We bought corn on the cob and tomatoes at Kiyokawa Family Orchards, and drank fresh apple cider at Fox-Tail Cider. And we listened to live music and ate delicious pulled pork sandwiches and hearty smoked ribs at Apple Valley Country Store and Bakery. This drive reminded me a bit of my childhood, when we would drive out to Brentwood, California and eat peaches. We may have picked peaches too, but it’s the eating that I remember. Imagine that?


It took us a few hours to eat our way through drive the 35 miles, and we stopped at barely a third of the 31 official stands on the Fruit Loop. It’s safe to say our car was heavier at the end of our journey than it was at the beginning. It turns out my own backyard really is beautiful, and it’s pretty darn delicious too.

Meet Ember Hood – Book Collector, Francophile, and Travel Essentials Employee

by Nancy Bestor

unnamed-1The first time Ember Hood flew on an airplane was when she relocated – for nine months – to spend her junior year of college abroad in France. Born in Northern California and raised all over Oregon, Ember wanted to “get out of dodge”, and as an English major and French minor attending Ashland’s Southern Oregon University, she knew that France would be a great place to do just that. At 22 years old, Ember had already taken French for four years in high school, and two years in college, but wanted to improve her French language skills.

“I was totally unprepared to live abroad. I didn’t know anything but that I probably needed some sort of plug adaptor,” Ember said. She took two suitcases, one big one and one carry on, and off she went to Poitiers, 200 miles southwest of Paris, to study at the University of Poitiers. For the first month, Ember lived with a host family – one woman and her two daughters, but after the month long homestay, she rented a room “from a sweet-but-crazy woman” in a house that overlooked a river. (We’ll have to get the scoop on that story at a later date!)


One thing Ember quickly learned is that she was allergic to French mosquitos (who may or may not have said, “Bonjour,” as they bit her). Ember attended University classes in the foreign language education program, with students from all over the world who were also studying French. In music class, the students listened to French songs and read their lyrics, and in literature they read French novels – which Ember admits she was so excited to bring back to the U.S. with her after the nine month exchange that she willingly left many pairs of shoes behind to fit more books into her suitcases.

unnamed-2Some of Ember’s fondest memories of her time in France revolve around food (of course they do, because French food is fantastic!). She ate lots of good cheese and remembers that all French wine she drank was good – and cheap too. Ember took one trip to the Dordogne region with other international students, who were served a traditional meal with food from the region, including duck, foie gras and more. The woman who ran the international program took the students on a walk through the tiny town of their Dordogne hostel, and just down the road was an abandoned little castle in the middle of nowhere. “There are castles lying around everywhere in France,” Ember said. “It’s amazing how old everything is, and I was even more amazed that people spray paint graffiti on these ancient buildings.”


Ember’s advice to someone considering study abroad in another country, or even moving to another country is to just go – don’t worry about it. “I felt super brave after living in France for nine months. I didn’t know anyone, and I didn’t (really) speak the language. If I could do it, anyone can.”

Congratulations to Travel Essentials’ 2015 Photo Contest Winners!

We recently wrapped up our 15th annual Travel Photo Contest, here at Travel Essentials, and boy did we get some gorgeous photos this year! Congratulations to Eligius Wolodkewitsch of Port Townsend, Washington, who took this year’s winning photo, “Sacred Color”!

“Sacred Color” by Eligius Wolodkewitsch – Grand Prize Winner

Eligius took home a pair of Eagle Creek Flatbed Duffels. Check out the slideshow of our winning photos to see beautiful sights and captivating moments, here on our website.

Meet Felicia Reninger – Brewer, Adventurer & Travel Essentials Employee

by Ember Hood

felica 3Felicia was raised in Paso Robles, California, and stayed there until she was twenty-one, when she moved to Ashland for a fresh start. A lover of beer, Felicia started brewing the golden beverage two-and-a-half years ago. She now creates her own beer at home, and she recently took part in a four-day “Beer Camp” at Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Chico, California. She plans to finish a degree in food science so that she might brew professionally.

Felicia’s favorite travel experience to date was an excursion to Panama when she was fifteen. She went with a church group, which included her father, to a town called Penonomé. There, they visited school children, performing skits and playing games with the kids afterwards. While Felicia didn’t speak Spanish at the time, she had a blast running around with the kids, blowing up balloons, and playing music and games.

While on the trip, Felicia got to visit the famous Panama Canal and watch a boat proceed through the locks. “It seemed like it took forever,” she said. “It was slow, but it probably wasn’t that long.” She was impressed with the enormity of the canal and the huge boats that pass through it.

felicia-1Felicia’s group also spent a weekend at the beach, where the crystal-blue water was so warm it “felt like a Jacuzzi tub”. They stayed in cottages there, and spent time swimming in the warm water and collecting beautiful seashells. Off the coast, too far to swim to, was a lush green island. “It looked like a pirate ship probably hid its treasure there,” she said. Later, they plucked a couple of mangos from a tree in someone’s yard. “It was a huge tree,” she explained. “Like the fifty-year-old oak trees here, just massive. They probably didn’t notice.”

The food in Panama was largely chicken and rice. She learned how to say “arroz con pollo” really well. They were also frequently served a dish that included a baked potato and a small roasted bird in a clear broth. Felicia and her friends drank a lot of coconut and pineapple smoothies, for that piña colada taste without the alcohol. They went to bakeries for juice and sweet breads for most breakfasts, but also enjoyed eggs and pan-flattened toast. Delicious.

felicia 2

Years later, Felicia would love to return to Panama, now that she speaks Spanish, “to reabsorb the culture.” And, with her fondness for beer and beer production, she would also really like to visit Germany for an authentic Oktoberfest, she said, “Even though the Germans will drink me under the table!”

Travel Documents to Bring Along

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).


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.