An Open Letter to the Alaska Airlines Gate Agent

31 Mar

142457_4059Dear friendly gate agent at Medford airport’s Alaska Airlines,

I am not a nervous flier. I have flown regularly all my life and quite enjoy it. I fall asleep almost immediately when the jet engines get going, and have been known to sleep with my mouth hanging open for hours. I know that flying in an airplane is astronomically safer than riding in a car. I also know that the odds of an airplane crash are extremely low. When I’m flying to Phoenix, Arizona from Medford, Oregon and I hand you my boarding pass, there are many things I am happy to hear you say to me after you check me in. These include, but are not limited to, “thank you for flying with Alaska Airlines; have a wonderful flight; and, Nancy, we’ve upgraded you to first class.” What I don’t want to hear, anywhere in the vicinity of an airport, particularly FROM AN AIRLINE EMPLOYEE WHEN I AM BOARDING MY FLIGHT, is “good luck.”

Really? Good luck? If this isn’t one of the first things covered in what not to say to customers when learning how to be an airline employee, it certainly should be. I might be more inclined to accept this if I was say, flying to Monte Carlo, but even then, I’d really like to hear it when I’m exiting the plane, not when I’m getting on.

Help me out here Alaska Airlines. Please remind your employees that good luck should be reserved for Caesars Palace employees at the roulette wheel. Let’s keep luck out of the airport entirely.

 

Sincerely Yours,

Nancy Bestor

I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink

25 Mar

241655_3022by Nancy Bestor

Twenty-five years ago I did some traveling for my job with the California banking industry. My expense account was generous, and the hotels were high end. My co-worker, who had been traveling with the company much longer than me, said when she was on the road she would often order room service and hide out in her room, to avoid company dinners whenever possible. She also clued me in to using a hotel room’s mini bar if I didn’t want to see anyone in the hall or down in the restaurant when getting a soda or drink. This made perfect sense to me, because I was 24 years old, and didn’t really want to spend my evenings with bankers 50 years my senior, after I had already spent the entire day in meetings with them. I got used to getting a coke from the mini bar when I returned to my room, and ordering a hamburger and french fries from room service, then sitting on my bed to watch a pay-per-view movie and eat my dinner. I didn’t pay much attention to the prices, because I just signed over the bill to my company (and I wasn’t ordering Chateaubriand either).

Fast forward 25 years. Bob and I are paying the hotel bills now, and I realize that room service and mini bar prices are damn expensive! No way am I paying $4 for a can of coke, or (I kid you not here) $5 for a 12-ounce bottle of water. I can walk down the hall, or better yet, send Bob to the vending machine, and pay $1.50 for a coke (yes, still a rip off, but better than $4). water bottlesI can even LEAVE THE HOTEL, and walk to a convenience store to buy a soft drink. And room service, really? The food is mediocre, arrives lukewarm at best, and it is WAY overpriced.

Here are a few random but interesting minibar facts: the top selling minibar snack is Pringles; M&M’s make up for 7% of minibar revenue; and the number one minibar item is bottled water, followed by Diet Coke. (Maybe Jeopardy will have a hotel minibar category sometime soon. If so, you’re welcome.)

Many hotels have done away with the minibar altogether, as apparently I’m not the only one who thinks the prices are not worth it. I’m always frosted (get it, frosted?) when some hotels won’t even let me put my own food/drink into the refrigerator to keep it cold. Since minibar products are sometimes on sensors, even if you move a drink to make room for your leftovers, you’ll be charged. Rude.

minibarWho even uses the minibar these days anyway? Are there still companies like mine from 25 years ago who will pay most every hotel bill and not bother to suggest their employee go down to the lobby or restaurant for a soda or hamburger? Give me an empty hotel fridge any day. I’ll fill it with cheaper and better food and drink.

 

Buy Me Some Peanuts and Crackerjack

25 Mar

by Nancy Bestor

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Bob and I at Camden Yards 25ish years ago.

It’s April, and while some think about showers and flowers, and others of Paris, certain people in my family—who shall remain nameless, but are not myself or either of my daughters—think about baseball. It’s not that I dislike baseball, in fact, I grew up with it and have always enjoyed following my Oakland Athletics, it’s just that April is a long way from October. And we all know that October is when baseball actually gets interesting. It’s hard for me to get fired up about wins and losses when I know there are more than 100 games left to go. Maybe if I still lived closer to my team (instead of in a state with no major league baseball at all, shame on you Oregon), I’d pay more attention, as I’d be going to games regularly. But alas, I can only watch my team on the tube, and there are too many other things going on in my house that distract me from focusing on the game.

But whether I pay attention or not, the baseball season will roll on, and here are a few highlights for those with travel plans and baseball in their future this year:

  • The Chicago Cubs will celebrate the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field. April 23 is the date of the “official” birthday game at the historic park, but other celebratory events, including special guests from Wrigley’s past, are scheduled for each home stand.Visit www.cubs.com for more information.
  • The A’s will host a 1974 World Series Reunion in late May, and if Bert “Campy” Campaneris is there (my all time favorite Oakland Athletic), I may just have to drive down for the game.
  • The Houston Astros and Baltimore Orioles will play in this year’s MLB Civil Rights Game on May 30 in Houston. This annual event pays tribute to those on and off the field who fought for equal rights for all Americans.
  • And the Minnesota Twins will be the host of this year’s All Star Game, July 15.

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If you’re really fired up to visit as many baseball spots as you can this season, 101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out is the book for you. With historic locations like Babe Ruth’s grave site, the Nolan Ryan Center and Willie McCovey’s Restaurant, even the biggest baseball fanatic will find a new spot to visit in this guide. Play ball!

For The Love of the Food Cart

26 Feb

by Nancy Bestor

foodcartI’m a huge fan of the food cart. No matter the city or country I am in, if I have the choice between a food cart and a brick and mortar restaurant, the food cart wins most every time. I’m not sure why that is. Maybe my brain sees the food cart as more authentic, maybe cheaper, or maybe the truth is, I just believe food that comes from a food cart tastes better.

Portland, Oregon seems to be ahead of the curve with its plethora of food trucks, and its blogs and books devoted to the food cart scene. Every time I visit the City of Roses, I’m sure to hit the downtown cart pod on Alder and 9th, for chicken and rice at Nong’s Khao Man Gai, or a pork sandwich at The People’s Pig, or maybe even Pad Kee Mao noodles at I Like Thai. I have also sampled cart cuisine in cities throughout the US, and based on my experiences, Washington D.C., San Francisco, New York, Boston, and Los Angeles all have their share of delicious roaming restaurants too.

Our food cart passion also kicks in when we’re abroad. Bob and I drank phenomenal fresh squeezed pomegranate juice in Shanghai, and ate the best stir-fry noodle dish ever on a random street corner at another random cart. In Mexico City, we ate succulently rich deep IMG_0503fried gorditas at a food cart on yet another street corner. The atmosphere certainly isn’t fancy, napkins might be hanging from a cord, and the seating (if there is any) might be plastic kiddie chairs or short wooden stools, but for me, that just makes it better. I’ll never forget on our trip to Thailand more than 12 years ago, we ate every day at a local woman’s food stall on the island of Koh Phi Phi. This was our first experience eating at a food cart in a foreign country. We pointed to the ingredients we wanted her to include, and had to let go of the fact that she had no refrigeration, and her chicken was just sitting in a cupboard under her cook stove.

In the US, within the food services industry, food carts have a bit of a bad rap. Restaurants don’t necessarily like them, as they can take away their business, yet the carts don’t have the overhead that a restaurant has. Although I see their point, I’d like to think food carts and restaurants can find a middle ground, as I believe there are enough customers to go around. And not every diner is willing to stand in line outside and then find somewhere to eat, often also out in the elements.

That can be one of the food cart downsides, especially here in the US. There is rarely a set eating area, so you often have to find a bench, or a patch of ground, or in some cases sit in your car and eat. But how bad can it be to have the wonderful aroma of say, Tom Yum Soup, filling your car for a short while?

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Deep-fried gorditas in Mexico City – YUM!

Food carts are often the first place budding restaurateurs try out new menu ideas. Los Angeles chef Roy Choi put his toe in the water with his Kogi Barbecue Taco trucks before going brick and mortar. The Grilled Cheese Grill in Portland might do the same, with inventive specialty sandwiches like Grilled Jalapeños, Colby Jack, Cream Cheese, and Corn Tortilla Chips on Sourdough. (I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely feeling a bit peckish right now.)

Maybe in the end, the truth is that I love food carts because I think they are hip. And I’m always looking for an excuse to convince myself that I am as “with it” as my college and high school aged daughters are, and eating at cool food trucks helps me feel like I am on the cutting edge of the food scene. (I am right?)

Train Train, Rolling ‘Round the Bend

26 Feb

by Nancy Bestor

227786_5486My sister and her husband are headed to Italy for two and a half weeks this summer. She hasn’t ventured to Europe in over 20 years, and was asking my advice on navigating the trains. “When do you need a reservation,” she asked. “When and where do you need to validate your tickets?“ “What did I think of a longer night train vs. ‘wasting’ a day of vacation on riding a train for six hours.” These are all good questions, and frankly, although I like to think of myself an expert in all things (not just travel, I’m talking about EVERYTHING), I didn’t necessarily have the answers to all her questions. When we traveled by train throughout Italy a couple of years ago, we found that the information we believed to be true after doing research ahead of time didn’t always turn out to be the way things worked on every train. Sometimes we thought we didn’t need a reservation, and it turned out we did.

Other times we were sure we needed to get our rail pass validated for the day, and we couldn’t find anywhere to do it, then the conductor told us not to worry.

Nevertheless, the best way to prepare to use public transportation in Europe is to research, research, and research. Here are a few websites on Italian train travel that my sister has been browsing:

Rick Steves has a great website for many things, including train travel in Europe.

The official Italian rail site is another good one. This is where we purchased point-to-point tickets for a busy route from Venice to Milan. The US agency selling tickets is: http://www.italiarail.com

You should also look directly on the Italian rail site to see where tickets are cheaper.

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In my opinion, the Rail Europe site is the best place to buy multi-day rail tickets for train travel in Europe. On our three-week Italy trip, we bought five-day rail passes that let us choose the five days that we wanted to travel within a 21-day period. We did not have to know those dates ahead of time either. Whenever we decided we wanted to use one of our days, we simply made sure we had our five-day passes validated for the date of travel. Then on that travel date, we could take as many Italian trains as we wanted. Rail Europe often has specials available, and you can buy multi-country passes as well.

Water Filters vs. Water Purifiers: Drinking Water Safety

24 Feb

by Ember Hood

Safe drinking water is a basic need for everyone, no matter where you go. But how do you make sure you don’t ingest something harmful while you’re traveling in countries that don’t have the water filtration and purification standards that your body is used to? You could drink bottled water the whole time, or you could even boil your water before you drink it. Perhaps a better and easier alternative to the time and effort that takes is to pick up a water filtration or purification device before your next adventure.

There are four things that water filters and water purifiers will remove from water:

  • Particulates (ie: dirt)
  • Bacteria (such as Escherichia coli, or E. coli, Salmonella, Vibrio cholerae, Yersinia enterocolitica, Leptospira interrogans and many others)
  • Protazoa and cysts (tiny single-cell parasites such as Cryptosporidium parvum, and Giardia lamblia)
  • Viruses (such as hepatitis A, rotavirus, enterovirus, and norovirus)

Water Filters

Water Filters like the LifeStraw prevent the first three of these contaminants. They work by using a semi-porous material that captures larger particles like dirt, bacteria and parasites while letting water pass through. The LifeStraw works on anything larger than 0.2 microns, which is very, very small. But waterborne viruses are even smaller. They are tiny enough to slip through these pores and will NOT be filtered out by the LifeStraw.

Because North American wilderness waters are extremely low in viral contaminates, water filtration with the LifeStraw is considered safe for domestic hiking and camping trips. You can drink straight out of a stream or fill your bottle and use a LifeStraw to drink the water. It is small, lightweight, and compact, and doesn’t require batteries or chemicals. LifeStraw will filter 1,000 liters or 256 gallons of water and has a shelf-life of 3+ years.

Water Purifiers

If you are going to a third-world country, or anywhere where the water could be contaminated with human waste, you will need a water purifier. The SteriPen is a water purifier that uses ultra-violet light to kill 99.9 percent of bacteria, viruses and protozoa. The only drawback is that it does not filter particulates, and it can only be used on clear water. If your water is muddy or murky the UV light cannot do its work to kill contaminants.

But that makes the SteriPen ideal for purifying questionable tap water when you’re in a foreign country. The Steripen is easy-to-use and compact enough to carry in a pocket or travel bag. You can purify a liter of water in 90 seconds, and it can be used in individual glasses at a hotel or restaurant (note: it does not work with ice water). The SteriPen Traveler uses Lithium AA batteries and can purify about 95 liters on a single set of four. The SteriPen Traveler will purify about 1,500 liters of water over the life of its lamp. The Steripen Freedom uses a rechargeable internal lithium ion battery that will purify about 20 liters of water before it needs to be charged again. It will purify about 4,000 liters of water over the life of its lamp.

If you have any questions, feel free to call us 1-800-258-0758.

Steripens LifeStraw

I’m Not Sick, But I’m Not Well

30 Jan

by Nancy Bestor

845059_65243846It’s flu season once again, and once again I have failed to get a flu shot. I’m not going to go on record and say that I’m healthy, because that will assure I’ll come down with a cold next week, but I will say I work hard to eat right, exercise and avoid situations that would compromise my health. But what about germs and travel? There’s only so much I can do to keep from getting other travelers’ germs, especially when the person right next to me is sneezing, sniffling and coughing from takeoff to touchdown.

A USA today article recently brought to light the most germy spots on airplanes and in airports, but I’m not sure you want to read it. Ick. Everything from influenza, diarrhea and MRSA have been found on airplane tray tables. Yuck. Every now and then when I’m wearing sandals and have to take off my shoes at the xray screening, I forget socks. Ick. Walking barefoot on the mats and during the scan CAN’T be good for me.

How can we keep from getting sick after flying? Well I for one could start by bringing socks. Some hand sanitizer might be a good idea too. Finally, research shows that the most germinated areas are those that people touch the most (shocking!), so if we can avoid touching with our hands the most commonly touched items, like the latches of overhead bins, and the door handles of bathrooms, we will be better off. Or, if like me, you haven’t figured out a way to open the latch of an overhead bin without using your hands, at least don’t touch your hands to your eyes, ears, mouth or nose until you’ve sanitized them. Achoooo!

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