21 August 2015

Thoughts on travelling with ease

My view of D.C. at NFA.

I went to D.C. over the weekend, but I barely got to see any of the city at all. Don't worry, you don't need my advice on what to see--just Google it.  We're so super proud of our Abe Lincoln statues here in America. And I hear the zoo is good, but zoos make me sad. 

I was attending the National Flute Association's annual convention, which involves long days of sitting in over-air conditioned hotels with crappy acoustics and rashly paying too much for coffee in the lobby when you run into friends between concerts. The only tour of the city I got was on the Metro between my (much cheaper) hotel and the Rockefeller-style hotel hosting the convention, and the best meal I ate was at a long lost friend's apartment the night before I caught my flight home.

While I always try to carve out a little "tourist" time when travelling for work (like I managed to do recently before my concert in L.A.), sometimes it doesn't work out that way, and then the adventure comes in the form of the journey itself. And there is a sport to travelling, no matter how you plan to fill your time when you get there. So I thought I'd spend this blog post sharing the habits I always try to live by when preparing to travel. 

Pack your meals for the plane. You can see evidence of my sandwich-making, above. There are several reasons to pack your food like a cheap Midwesterner, among them include being able to eat when you want (even if the plane is still sitting on the tarmac), eating what you want (instead of pretending those honey-roasted peanuts are hitting the spot again), and of course, saving some money.  Those $14 sandwiches in the airport are never very tasty, which merely adds insult to injury.

  • Breakfast: a bagel with cream cheese and some thinly sliced fruit or veggies smacked together like a sandwich.
  • Lunch/dinner: a sandwich or wrap filled with hummus or guacamole and copious veggies, or spring rolls made with leftovers and drizzled inside with a little hoisin sauce + handful of nuts.

Pack snacks for when your sandwiches run out. It's going to happen, and you can't keep cream cheese cold for that long. In a pinch, nuts, dried fruits, granola-ish bars (I like Kind STRONG--the roasted jalapeno is amazing--and Larabars, personally), and some tea bags and instant coffee (I appreciate Starbucks most when all I have at my disposal is those Via pouches) will keep you caffeinated, proteinated, and full enough to make it to the next ramen shop.  You can easily make instant oatmeal with a coffee pot in your hotel room if there's no breakfast provided, so throw some of those in, too. Why pig out on a boring, huge breakfast when you could save room for an amazing chi-chi dinner later?

Make plans to use public transportation whenever possible. This is still not possible across most of the U.S., but if you are headed to a city with some kind of Metro system, Google it, map out your trips, and get comfortable with it before you head to the airport.  It's a cheap, environmentally friendly way to see a city, and it might be the most comprehensive tour you'll get.  Ride the bus through neighborhoods you'd never find out existed in travel guides; sail past the city and take in every building of the skyline on the train without ever having to look away to avoid hitting a car; study all the details about the people who live in the city, from neighborhood to neighborhood, like average age of the passengers, friendliness level, standard costumes, etc. You'll also contribute to ridership stats, which is how cities continue to receive funding to keep those amazing services going, and isn't figuring out a train timetable less stressful than navigating rush hour traffic in uncharted territory?

Utilize your smart phone. Your phone is your GPS, your directory, your television, and so much more when you're on the road. Make sure you've got as many charging options as possible--car charger if you're driving, wall charger, and solar charger or external battery pack for times when you are nowhere near an outlet. Bookmark sites pertaining to the place you'll be visiting on your browser, like a city's official visitor information or restaurants you know you want to visit. There are also great apps that I regularly use when I'm away from home; my top picks are:

  • Southwest/United/whatever airline you are flying.  So much easier to check in and get updated info about your flight. 
  • Hotels.com / Air Bnb / whatever you are using for housing. 
  • Gas Buddy helps me search for the cheapest gas in the my area wherever I am, if I'm stuck driving. 
  • Yelp is my favorite review site for finding out about local restaurants.
  • Open Table allows you to make reservations, read menus, and read reviews from diners.  It's not as comprehensive as Yelp, but once you've found a place on Yelp that looks interesting, it's worth checking to see if you can make a reservation on Open Table, as you'll collect reward points that will eventually lead to a gift certificate. l
  • The Metro app for the city you're visiting will be perfect for getting to know the system quickly, and you can just remove it wen you're home. 
  • Google Wallet, which I'm just getting into, really is a handy way to avoid carrying cash or cards that can get stolen, dropped, etc.
  • Tourist Eye by Lonely Planet (I know, how very 90s of me) allows you to find out what's in the area and it somehow magically works offline. 
  • Google maps isn't even an app, is it?  I have to use this constantly, as I have no sense of direction. 
  • Kindle, because I like to read before bed.

PS--Here's a cute little news segment on the flute dorkfest (I say this lovingly) that brought me to D.C.