Can armchair travel cure wanderlust? Here are 11 ways to find out.

WHEW. We’re only in the second quarter of 2020 and already the COVID-19 pandemic has turned our lives completely upside down!  Serious concerns about public health and the need to mitigate the spread of this dangerous disease has led to national, regional and city decrees to stay home. As a result, armchair travel, the art of exploring the world from the comfort of your own couch, is experiencing a powerful rebirth.

Previously perceived as an activity mostly reserved for sedentary individuals, that’s no longer the case. Virtual vacations are now all the rage because they’ve become a lifeline for gloomy travelers practicing self-quarantining and social distancing for the greater good of themselves and mankind.  Of course, nothing beats a real-life destination experience. But with technology and ingenuity, there are still fun ways to cure your wanderlust while you shelter-in-place.

Miffed you had to cancel your last trip? Here are 11 ways to armchair travel your way out of your current travel slump:

1. Sharpen your language skills.

2. Read a bunch of travel-themed books to inspire your next trip.

Find suggestions on how to invoke the ultimate book list envy here: Forbes, Conde Nast Traveler, and Mom.com.

3.Join a live cooking demo to learn about regional or global cuisines.

For example, you can head over to @travelsaintlucia for an Instagram LIVE class every Tuesday and Thursday.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B-ZpEbPH8Kv/

4. Take a virtual tour of your fave museum, theme park or zoo.

Are there any museum lovers out there? If so, this is your happy time! Google Arts and Culture has partnered with 500+ museums and galleries to bring you multiple exhibits.

5. Get crafty with destination keepsakes (like seashells).

6. Explore different regions of the world through dance.

7. Binge watch your favorite travel movies or television shows.

Not sure where to find them? Tastes will vary, but these lists from Conde Nast Traveler and The Guardian are great places to start.

8. Picture yourself on a bike in a nature park.

https://www.instagram.com/tv/B-eln7uhwc1/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

9. Check out live beach cams or wildlife scenes for blissful mental escapes.

10. Try out cocktail recipes and reminisce about the great travel stories that accompany them.

https://www.facebook.com/nomadnesstribe/videos/215585989663802/

11. Listen to some podcasts to keep the travel hunger burning.

For Travel + Leisure recommendations: Click here.

For Travelnoire recommendations: Click here.

How do you cope? By creating a diverse global music playlist, putting in ear buds, and blocking out all the anxiety-inducing news? Drop your tips below.

FINAL NOTE: Please adhere to all medical guidelines to stay safe and healthy!

Over-the-counter medications you might want to add to your travel checklist right now

When was the last time you had an awkward case of explosive diarrhea or suffered from painful gas and bloating while traveling?

Never? Lucky you. Not recently? Well, be grateful.

Getting sick is hard in general, and when you’re not in a familiar place, it gets even trickier. Plus, if you don’t speak the local language fluently enough to explain your symptoms, that adds another level of stress to your situation. That’s why I’ve compiled a list of over-the-counter medications you might want to add to your travel checklist right now.

DISCLAIMER: This article was written to give general travel tips only. It is not intended to be an endorsement of any drug manufacturer or a replacement for personal consultation with a medical practitioner (which I, categorically, am not). Please check with your doctor or local pharmacist for all possible drug interactions with your current prescriptions. Also, as an additional precaution, kindly seek information on side effects that can worsen other underlying conditions before taking of these any over-the-counter medications.

Diarrhea

Contaminated food or water are two of the most common ways pesky bacteria and parasites enter our bodies. When that happens, uncomfortable abdominal pain and loose, and inconveniently frequent bowel movements follow. But those are not the only triggers, so watch out for tap water, tempting street food delicacies or even uncooked veggies in high-end restaurants. Food intolerances to products with diary, fructose, and artificial sweeteners, as well as reactions to medication can cause them too.  

Imodium A-D and K-Pek II are two common treatments for diarrhea. Getting adequate rest and keeping hydrated are also recommended. If brands are different overseas, the key scientific ingredient to look for is Loperamide (lo PER a mide) Hydrochloride.  Get out your translation app and ask for that at a local pharmacy.

Pain

If you experience headaches or migraines, a painful period, arthritis symptoms, or minor aches and pains from a cold, flu or sore throat on the road, chances are you’re going to need a pain reliever.

If that happens, Advil, Genpril, Midol, and Motrin can be your solution. I’ve read that Motrin is especially suited for reducing swelling and inflammation.  If you’d rather not pay the price of the brand name products, get the store label which has Ibuprofen (eye BYOO prue fen) in it.

Allergies

Getting to explore regions and landscapes different from our own is often a blessing, but it can also expose us to foreign substances that trigger allergies. For example, things like pollen from plants we’re not used to being around, as well as mold or dust mites popping up in unexpected places can cause nasal congestion, sneezing, a runny nose, or an itchy rash on your skin (also called hives).

Antihistamines like Claritin, Clear-Atadine, QlearQuil, and Zyrtec help to reduce those allergic symptoms. If none of those are available, look for products with Loratadine {Lor AT a deen) as the active ingredient.

Meds for travel

Motion Sickness and Nausea

If long journeys by bus, car or train, or leisurely cruises on yachts and catamarans cause you to become lightheaded or woozy, Bonine and Dramamine are two over-the-counter medications you can usually depend on for relief.  They prevent nausea, vomiting, or dizziness caused by motion sickness. Bonine is also used to prevent and treat vertigo (extreme dizziness. or a feeling that you or your surroundings are spinning around). The scientific name is Meclinizine (MEK li zeen) Hydrochloride and it generally causes drowsiness.

Swelling, itching and skin rashes

If you ever run into problems with rashes, insect bites, dermatitis, poison oak/ivy, eczema and a variety of conditions that cause itching, you’ll want to have a corticosteroid ointment in your medicine stash.

Topical creams like Anusol HC, Cortaid, Cortizone, Neosporin and Proctozone are used on the skin to reduce swelling, redness, itching and allergic reactions. This type of over-the-counter medication is for external use only, so be careful not to ingest it by mouth and do not get it in your eyes. Special care may also be needed when applying it to kids or seniors.  The scientific name is Hydrocortisone (hye droe KOR ti sone).

Constipation

Let’s face it, going three days or more without a bowel movement is not something anyone would wish on themselves – even at home. So, imagine what that level of discomfort would do to you on a bucket list vacation you planned and saved for, for months. Trips cause changes to your normal eating patterns and disrupt routine daily activities, and those factors, along with others, can lead to constipation.  The best way to combat that is to ensure you have enough fiber and water in your diet, and stay active. But if that’s not possible or doesn’t work, mild laxatives can push your bowels along.

I’ve read that stimulant laxatives are the fastest acting, and those include products made from aloe, senna compounds (Ex-Lax, Senokot), bisacodyl (Dulcolax, Correctol), and castor oil.

Other important things to note:

Before you begin taking anything, please do research to find out which medicines may interact with any other drugs you are taking.

Report any negative side effects to your health care profession or doctor as soon as possible.

Do not take doses higher than those prescribed by your doctor or listed on the label.

Follow the storage instructions and keep containers tightly closed to protect items from moisture and heat.

Check for expiry dates and adhere to them.

Talk to your pediatrician regarding the use of any medicine with children.

Editors Notes:

I’ve had my tummy give me the rumbling sign in many inopportune places. The most embarrassing time was just as I was about to check into a hotel in Medellin, Colombia, and out of nowhere, the tell-tale cramping sign started. In hindsight, it must have been the fruit juice I drank on the flight from Cartagena because I was fine up to that point.

“¿Dónde está el baño, señorita? “ Like a hovering guardian angel, those long lost vocabulary words from my high school Spanish classes rapidly surfaced.

“Al final del pasillo y a la izquierda.” The stunned receptionist responded.

Thankfully, I was able to ask for, and find, a bathroom in a timely manner. Honestly, I was out of commission for so long that my sister almost sent a search party to look for me because she was stuck watching our bags. When I finally got back to the desk to complete my transaction, the pleasant enough front desk employee asked a million questions with her eyes.

As the saying goes: “Once bitten, twice shy.”  I now know the benefits of packing over-the-counter meds in my carryon.

8 Tips to minimize the risk of contracting a virus on your next flight

Image of people inside a plane

Since December 2019, the world has been closely monitoring the respiratory disease caused by a coronavirus, which was first detected in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China. To date, the number of cases has surpassed those from the deadly 2003 SARS outbreak and uncertainty about safety has started to affect travel. At last count, the virus has infected close to 90.000 people in every continent except Antarctica, with reports of 3,000+ fatalities. The Center for Disease Control keeps tabs on reported cases.

According to my research, viruses generally have the potential to live on hard, non-porous (water resistant) surfaces such as stainless steel, metal and plastic longer than they survive on soft surfaces like fabrics and tissues. But they all prefer to live on humans, so heavily trafficked spaces like airports and planes are potential hotbeds for infection.

So, what can you do to minimize the risk of contracting a virus on your next flight?

Be vigilant about good hand hygiene

One of the best ways to protect yourself from getting sick is to avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unclean hands. To combat that, it’s best to wash them with soap and water regularly (and vigorously) for at least 20 seconds.  Remember, every public surface you touch like bathroom doors, elevator buttons, escalator handrails or other random surfaces has the potential to harbor germs.

Carry hand sanitizers or wipes with you… and use them

Respiratory illnesses, like the coronavirus, generally spread when we come into contact with an infected persons’ saliva or mucus, which can fall onto nearby surfaces. That’s why it helps to clean your airplane seat, seat belt, touch screens and tray tables with wipes as soon as you enter the aircraft. The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends at least 60 percent alcohol concentration to maximize effectiveness.

Keep the air vents above you open

During flight, the air you’re breathing can be anywhere from two to five rows surrounding your seat, so keep your vents open to create an invisible air barrier around you, even if you angle them slightly away from your face. Many airborne viruses are spread by tiny nuclei that can hang in the air for up to five hours, and your overhead air vent helps push them to the ground.

Sit near a window

A study published in 2018 by The FlyHealthy Research Team across 10 airlines concluded that “there is low probability of direct transmission to passengers not seated in close proximity to an infectious passenger.” That means, unless the infected person is right next to you, the safest place to sit on an airplane in order to avoid contracting a virus is the window seat.  Human movement and contact up and down the aisle is more likely to spread germs than recirculated air.

Use a saline nasal spray

Dry air, like the type experienced on airplanes, makes it harder for your mucus membranes to do their job of clearing out irritants and particles.  As a result, using a saline nasal spray before and during your flight can help overcome a dry nose and improve your resistance to infection.

Stock up on Vitamin C

Vitamin C boosts your immunity system by helping white blood cells fight illness-causing viruses and bacteria more effectively, supporting your adrenals when you’re feeling stressed, and strengthening your skin’s defense system. So whether you prefer to take it in pill, edible or liquid format, pack some Vitamin C in your purse or hand luggage for use on your next flight.

Bring Your Own Stuff

Thankfully, the days of using blankets provided by airlines are mostly over because you can never quite be sure they are being washed before being repackaged and reused. Just play it safe and take your own. And while we’re on this subject, let’s minimize the germs transmission factor by bringing your own pillows and headphones too, please.

Keep a mask handy

The jury is out on how effective face masks really are at minimizing the risk of contracting a virus, especially if it doesn’t fit you properly, but I always feel better covering my face if I’m sitting next to someone who is coughing and sneezing. While masks may not block airborne germs completely, they can prevent you from transferring germs from your hands to your mouth or nose.

Do you have any other tips on how to minimize the risk of contracting a virus?

This link also has additional suggestions on how to avoid getting sick while on vacation.

All my single ladies, don’t stress about Feb 14th. Galentine’s Day has got all the feels!

Galentine's Weekend

You’re dreading Valentine’s Day this year for one or a variety of reasons:

The man you’ve been dating (or your husband) is giving off signals that his interest in waning.

You just got dumped via text by a self-centered loser whom you treated like a king for the past [insert your number] years and that joker didn’t even have the decency to break it off with you in person.

You’ve been in a relationship dry spell and recently decided to take a step back from the frustrating and risky dating pool to regain your inner zen.

Or you enjoy flying solo and can’t be bothered with the February 14th hoopla that comes with dramatic floral arrangement and chocolate deliveries. By that I mean hearing soft gasps of delight from love-struck recipients when the roses arrive, or dealing with the fluttery ooh and ahhs of insincere work colleagues watching with catty eyes from the wings.

Makes you see red everywhere you look, right?

What do you do? Plan your own bangin’ LITuation! As in, a Galentine’s Day treat or weekend event with your best gal pals to commemorate the joys of female friendship. For those of you unfamiliar with this February 13th pre-Valentine’s Day celebration, it seemingly stemmed from a 2010 episode of the television show Parks and Recreation.

https://youtu.be/N1ikySurAP0

So, here are 5 things (other than a spa weekend) you can do to ring in this year’s Galentine’s Day.

Plan a leisurely lunch

Take the afternoon off and gather all your BFFs together for a beverage-infused lunch filled with food, laughter and fond memories. Bring out the funny stories of silly faux pas, trifling dates, the kids’ noteworthy antics and family drama that will zap all the stress away.

Choose outdoor adventure

Whether your besties are into hiking, biking, boating, paddling, canoeing, camping, white river rafting or something else, find a common theme and book yourselves an action-packed outdoor adventure somewhere. Multiple studies show that spending time in nature is one of the fastest ways to improve your health and happiness.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B7BcKFgA7B6/

Attend Oprah’s 2020 Vision Tour

Jumpstart the new decade by attending Oprah’s 2020 Vision Tour to get your life in focus. It’s an all-day wellness event designed to give us the mindset we need to thrive in a life that’s more balanced – regardless of the odds we face. She, along with other celebrity guests, are out to show that contentment is not about our track record of success, how we look, our public-facing deeds, socio-economic backgrounds or our political associations. Rather, it involves learning how to motivate from within and taking care of ourselves. Catch her this month on Feb 8 at the Barclay’s Center in Brookyln, New York or on Feb 15 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B7BVpNrgAUX/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

Wine all your cares away

Depending on where you’re from, you can take that to mean a self-indulgent Girls Trip for Galentine’s Day to places like Napa Valley or South Africa, where you can visit wineries and wonderfully, quaint towns. OR you can interpret wine to mean making an appearance at a music concert or marching arm in arm to a non-stop dance party where you can shake your waistline or booty in abandon.  If you lean towards the latter, Trinidad’s annual carnival, from February 24 to 25, is one such option.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B7oYNHSDDxN/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

Take a fun cooking class  

Whether you do this at home or abroad, taking a fun cooking class is a great way to experience local markets, learn more about cultures and different culinary techniques, and have meaningful interactions. Don’t know where to start looking? This article from Travel Channel will give you some ideas for places that host cooking classes within the US. If you have travel on your mind, foodie destinations like Peru, New Orleans, Italy and Cartagena are great places to consider.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BWlOc0CFum3/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

Do you have any cool ideas for Galentine’s Day you’d like to share? Please drop them in the comment section below.

Three black women walking down the beach_MyTravelStamps

5 Secrets to Ballin’ on a Budget

World: “Hey Mac, I’m thinking about planning a luxury vacation. You down?”

Me: “Oh, you know I’m always ready for a quick getaway! But listen, I’ve got bills coming outta my ears, so I can’t be booking anything too expensive right now. We better be ballin’ on a budget or I’m out, ok?”

Sounds familiar? The pressures at home are driving you all kinds of crazy. At work, you find yourself stuck in that tiny cubicle trying to respond to client emails or make sense of the latest monthly report. And through it all, the thought of pampering yourself to a few days off at an upscale beach resort or a cliff-hugging hideaway is all you can think about. But over the tapping sound of the keyboard and the dull hum of the freezing air conditioning unit, your wallet is telepathically reminding you that its buying power is weak. Trust me, I know. That kind of mental torture can be daunting.

Well, what if I said you can take a nice vacation without breaking the bank? Ballin’ on a budget is definitely possible – if you know a few tricks of the trade.

Feel free to use these tips to get a taste of the luxury life without any accompanying slave-to-your-credit-card strife.

Shortlist countries with a favorable currency exchange rate

Other than flight and hotel costs, there are a ton of other expenses you’ll need to cover in the vacation budget. So, in order to take care of things like local transportation, food and drinks, attraction entrance fees, souvenir shopping and entertainment, it helps to select countries with an exchange rate that allows your dollar to stretch further. 

If you live in the US and budget is a consideration, you’ll get more bang for your buck by going to Mexico, Thailand or Jamaica, for example, because in those countries you can buy more with less. In contrast, flying to places like the UK or Cayman Islands where their currencies are stronger than the US dollar would significantly restrict your purchasing power. Don’t get me wrong. They’re both great places to visit; just not on a strict budget.

Useful tool: If you’re unsure where to start, the XE Currency Converter is a great site to check exchange rates before your next trip.

Travel in off-season

After you’ve shortlisted your possible destinations, the next step is comparing rates for airfare and accommodation in each. Time of year will make a difference, and at this point, your purchase decision will be impacted by demand and supply. Rates are always highest during peak season – the months when most people travel to a set location – and when demand falls, hotels and airlines have excess rooms and seats they need to discount to fill.  Because of that, you should aim to travel in off-season.

Useful Tool: Peak season and off-season vary by locale, so it can get confusing. However, an interactive map by LastMinute.com makes it easy to see monthly variations at-a-glance. Red indicates peak season, the blue-green color represents off-season, and yellow stands for shoulder season, which is in between. (A snapshot of January is shown below).

Go with your squad

There are some things solo trips can do for your psyche, but for everything having to do with finicky finances, there’s the squad. Without a doubt, sharing the costs of accommodation allows you to stay in a higher caliber property than you would be able to book on your own. This travel hack works for luxurious hotel suites that allow triple or quad occupancy, but it is particularly useful in high-end Airbnbs, villa or bungalow situations where you can bring friends or family and spread out comfortably in the space.

Useful tools: If you end up splitting more than the cost of accommodations, there is no need to quibble about who owes who. Splittr and Splitwise are two free apps that help you track and balance trip expenses, and they are available in multiple currencies.    

Keep it short and sweet

One of the best ways to curtail costs, is to go all out over a shorter time period. For example, if lodging costs $400-500 per night, a three- or four-day trip works out much cheaper than a week at the same price. You also end up spending less on attractions, taxis, meals and beverages.

A few luxury rental sites to consider: Boutique Homes, Villas of Distinction, Sunset Homes Anguilla.

Splurge wisely

Rather than blowing cash at posh boutiques, or on elaborate three-course meals, spa treatments and pretty, umbrella-garnished drinks every minute you are away, choose your splurges carefully. You see, the key to this Ballin’ On A Budget life is being able to travel and have a good time, with limited funds.  So, use that kitchen facility at the vacay crib to make daily breakfast, go shopping at the grocery store to have snacks for lunch, and then dress up and go all out on a dinner and/or fancy drinks at a ritzy venue. Sometimes you don’t even have to stay at a five-star to go eat or have drinks at the property.  And luvs, when you do, don’t forget to take the all-important fly photo for social proof!

International phone plan comparisons for travelers on-the-go

Women on phone in hotel_international phone plans room_Tranquility Beach Anguilla

How much do you know about your international phone plan options? If you live in the United States and travel frequently for work or pleasure, it’s highly likely you might have already racked up unusually high charges for calls or data usage while you were overseas. That’s why it’s important to learn all you can about the costs and inclusions of the international phone plans that are available from various US carriers to better protect your pocket.

T-Mobile

Based on feedback in online forums and groups among travelers, T-Mobile is, by far, the most US popular carrier for staying connected while abroad. According to the company’s website, their “Magenta®, Simple Choice™, New Classic, and Select Choice plans provide unlimited 2 gigabyte (GB) data, unlimited texting and calling at $0.25 per minute in 210+ countries and destinations.”  No international data-roaming charges show up on your bill, and there is no setup fee. All you need to do is land and turn on your phone. They also advertise an Essentials plan that includes unlimited text and calling at the same rate – $0.25 per minute (excluding data) – in the same number of countries. Basic costs start at $35 dollars per line for Magenta, and $43 per line for Magenta plus.

Google Fi

Never heard of Google Fi? Don’t worry. Until I started doing research for this article, I hadn’t either. It’s a relatively new phone service for Android users which Google introduced in 2015. For Google Fi to work, you need a special SIM card and specific software on your phone (if you don’t have a Pixel). With it, you get voice, SMS and mobile broadband services across Sprint, T-Mobile and U.S. Cellular networks, and Google Fi intelligently switches between the three or to W-FI to make calls (whenever it’s available).  

The beauty of this service lies in simple billing. If you sign up, your out-of-pocket expense is $20 per month for unlimited talk and texts and $10 for every 1 GB of data used. If you require a lot of data for social media and operate in the 6 GB realm on a regular basis, that catapults you to Bill Protection status, where your charges are capped at $60 per month.

Verizon

Verizon’s turn-key international plan, which is usable in over 185 countries, is called TravelPass. For $10 a day, per line, you can call, send or use data. To activate this international phone plan, all you need to do is text the word TRAVEL to 4004 or on My Verizon, and you’ll get a welcome message when you get to your destination. The fee begins when you use the phone. One important thing to note is that minutes, texts and data usage overseas also impacts your regular plan allowance, so if you exceed your limit, you will get pinged with overage charges. If you are going to be away for more than seven days, it makes sense to switch over to Verizon’s $70 monthly plan to save money.

Verizon customers traveling to Canada and Mexico need only pay $5 per line if those two countries aren’t already covered in their domestic plan. What’s more, the company also has pay-as-you-go rates that charge by the minute for message and data use. This option is available in Cuba and on more than 400 cruise ships.

AT&T

AT&T’s phone plan is called International Day Pass and it costs $10 per day to get talk, text and data coverage in 100+ destinations in Europe, Asia Pacific, Latin America, and the Caribbean. For that daily fee, you get unlimited calls in the countries covered in the plan and unlimited texts to others at no additional charge. However, one thing to note is that you accrue data charges for apps that run in the background, so they advise you to “turn off your messaging apps, disable automatic updates and background refreshes to make your data go further.”

If you need lots of data, you can look at the AT&T Passport 2 GB plan for $70 per month or their AT&T Passport 6GB plan for $140 per month. Both are available for use in more than 200 countries. For persons not keen on buying a package, the company also has a pay-per-use rate of $2.05 per megabyte of data.

Sprint

The international phone plan from Sprint is called Sprint Global Roaming, and all Sprint users with LTE/GSM capable smartphones have access to it within their regular plans. Customers get text and data included (up to 2G speeds) and calls for $0.25 cents per minute in more than 200 destinations worldwide.   

Other options

if none of these plans seem like a good fit, you can always buy an unlocked phone and get a local SIM card with a prepaid plan in the country you’re visiting. Alternatively, you can do what I do and just put your phone in airplane mode then hop onto Wi-Fi and call through the internet using WhatsApp. Facetime audio and Skype work well with as free as possible strategy too.  

Do you know of any other plans that help you stay connected abroad? If so, please drop the details below.

10 Gift ideas under $10 for the traveler in your life

Finding the right gift at the right time and for the right price can often be a challenge. But what if I told you it IS possible to tick off all the names on your to-do list before Christmas and not break the bank at the same time? This week I walked into one of my favorite off-price department stores (Marshalls) and ran into a nicely arranged travel aisle filled with useful gadgets and products. Of course, I immediately stopped to look for goodies so I could share my finds with you.

Below are 10 gift ideas under $10 for that travel-obsessed person in your life. (Costs listed were seen in Marshalls as at December 16, 2019 and could expire at any time.) You can pair two products together, create a larger bundled package, or send one small gift every month for a year if you’re trying to score extra points with someone.

Oh, by the way. In case you’re wondering, this post is not sponsored. You’ll note there are no affiliate links and obviously no fancy product photo shoot. It is simply my spur-of-the-moment gift to you (insert heart emoji).

Pressure reducing ear plugs

Regardless of whether you’re flying first class or coach, experiencing an earache on flights can be extremely painful. So, chances are any frequent traveler in your life would appreciate owning a set of earplugs that reduces the pressure in their ears and helps them get comfortable during flights.

Cost for this Travelon Set of 2 Pressure Reducing Corded Earplugs, US$5.99

A travel blanket

This gift idea sounds simple, but you know that some airlines don’t clean or replace their blankets between every flight, right? In fact, you might be surprised to learn how infrequently airline blankets actually get washed. Why not save your friends or loved ones a possible germ invasion and buy them their own snuggle buddy instead?

Cost for this G Force Jersey Knit Travel Blanket, US$9.99

Packing cubes

All the travel experts say incorporating packing cubes into your luggage-filling technique is one of the best ways to maximize space. It also allows you to keep items organized. In some instances, it helps you learn to pack your life in a carryon and save on outrageous baggage fees, too. This colorful 3-pc set has double zippers for convenient access and cool phrases like “Away We Go” and “Adventure Awaits” for travel inspiration.

Cost for a Miamica Pack Well Packing Cubes Set, US$ 9.99

A folded backpack

Is there a legit souvenir shopper on this planet who wouldn’t appreciate having an extra bag that easily packs into its own front pouch for convenient and compact storage? Certainly not! It’s the perfect solution for unexpected shopping finds, and it is also super handy to have for full-day excursions and beach trips where you need to stash snacks, suntan lotions, shades and riveting reading material as well.

Cost for this Samsonite Folded Backpack, US$9.99

All-in-one pillow protection

The things I’ve read about the germs that lurk in hotel rooms would alarm even the bubbliest optimists among us. And when I see reports of undercover videos showing maids merely fluffing the pillows, and not replacing them, I cringe. Why not buy a pillow protector to guard against some of those questionable cleaning practices? It’s one of those gift ideas under $10 that could possibly save hundreds later in medical bills. Let’s equip friends and family to walk away from the dust mites, allergens, and bed bugs – plueaase!

Cost of this Pillow Saver All-in-one Pillow Protector, US$ 5.99

A waterproof pouch

 If you know persons who enjoy doing water-based activities while on vacation, a waterproof pouch that will protect their smart phone from accidental spills is always a good gift idea. Even though some of the latest handsets were designed to be water-resistant, not everyone can afford Samsung and Apple’s top-end prices, and nothing ruins a great kayaking trip or beach day faster than having to deal with the aftermath of a ruined smart phone.  A clear waterproof case may be just the good phone karma we all need to keep things safe and dry.

Cost of this Travelon phone case, US$5.99

Reusable laundry bags

Do you ever notice the tacky-looking plastic bags hanging in hotel closets? Well, it may be time to help reduce our collective carbon footprints while we sort our whites and bright colors on-the-go. Who knows?  A fashionable and expandable laundry bag that is reusable might be just what your favorite travelers are looking forward to in their life.

Cost of this Miamica Travel Laundry Bag, US$6.99

TSA Compliant Clear Security Case + Travel-Sized Bottles

Now that the Transpiration Security Administration (TSA) has placed restrictions on the amount of liquids allowed on flights, owning travel-sized containers that hold 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) or less per item is key. Why not gift your jetsetter with a set of those bottles in a clear case to store their gels, shampoo, lotion, body wash, and more? It’s a far more polished look than having to haphazardly pull out Ziploc bags at the check point counters.

Cost of this Security case + bottles, US$5.99

Pill Case and Organizer

It’s hard enough trying to follow a strict medication schedule at home, and for seniors or people with health conditions, it can be even more challenging when traveling. The good news is you can help reduce some of that stress away by gifting them with a pill case and organizer that will keep them coordinated. Of course, it will also make their lives so much easier.

Cost of colorful Miamica pillow cases, US$4.99

Easy to Spot Luggage Tags

When faced with rows of similar looking suitcases on an airport carousel, it’s always nice to have special identifiers on your luggage to make it easy to spot. One of the ways to do that is to buy eye-catching tags that use color and clever one-liners to create distinction and show a little personality. That way, the traveler in your life will have bags that stand out from the crowd. The sooner the luggage gets spotted and picked up, the faster the holiday experience begins. Believe me, they will love you for it.

Cost of this cute pair of G luggage tags, US$4.99

Go cop your deal now. These offers are for a limited time only!

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Now it’s your turn to share. Can you think of any other gift ideas under $10 that I can add to this list?

Please don’t drive your cabin crew nuts this holiday season

American Airlines plane

Attention all overly needy travelers! Consider this the inflight guide you never knew you needed.

Do you remember the 2014 Korean Air ‘nut rage’ incident that caused international indignation and had us all shaking our heads? It involved over-the-top irrational behavior by the daughter of the airline’s CEO who threw a hissy fit because she was served macadamia nuts in a bag instead of on a porcelain bowl. Geez. Even now, all these years later, I still can’t believe something that minor really caused someone to unravel that badly.

But apparently, when people exist in an alternate universe that revolves around an orbit of entitlement, it can. Obnoxious travelers come in all shapes and sizes, and like Ebenezer Scrooge, they tend to show up and show out during the yuletide season.

So, I asked some former flight attendants how we can make the cabin crews’ lives a little easier, especially during the busy Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.  Because let’s be honest, these cringe-worthy meltdowns happen inflight far more frequently than we care to acknowledge.

This is their candid advice on how not to drive the cabin crew (or your fellow passengers) nuts this holiday season.

1. Check your bags, not your brains, at the counter.

Gently translated, that means read the signs and listen to instructions.  It’s not rocket science. They’re giving life-saving advice that might just come in handy. So they’re asking us to stop zoning out during their announcements; as in, texting or talking or going to sleep before take-off. Also, if a sign says, “no bags” here, heed it. It is there for good reason. Like leaving the area in front of the emergency exit clear, okay?

And hunnies, try not to squabble over the overhead bins. The seat number is put on the bin to make it easy for us to read and identify our seats quickly. It doesn’t give our bags an iron-clad reservation for that space. Promptly put your bag in any available compartment and for the love of everyone’s sanity, kindly keep things moving.

2. If the airline says one carry-on only, it means ONE carry-on. (Especially during peak travel season)

Crew members want us to remember that other passengers have luggage too, and all travelers want their bags to get to their destination. That’s why we need to quit acting like our packages, and our carry-on items, are the only ones that matter. Airplanes have a weight limit that makes it impractical for everyone to take everything onboard.  Can we just ask you to do us all a favor and send the oversize gifts via sled with Santa, or ship them through Amazon or UPS direct?

3. There’s a call button, and a light button. Figure out the difference…quickly.

It’s not like flight attendants don’t have enough to do on a flight. Believe me, they do. That is why they have asked me to remind you they don’t need to waste valuable time coming to your assistance if you really don’t need it.  Another passenger may have a legitimate request, so please don’t push the emergency call button when all you want is some company or the reading light. There are many other ways to overcome boredom on a flight. Thank you.

4. As much as it would be a great add-on, your ticket doesn’t come with daycare services included.

Note: Lovely, hands-on and attentive parents, this one isn’t directed at you.

.I am sure you will agree nothing is worse than sitting near to bored children whose parents appear oblivious to their fidgeting, or screaming, or seat-kicking antics.  Kids can’t help their short attention spans, so Moms and Dads please take toys, gadgets, snacks, magazines or books to keep your bundles of joy engaged during flights. When you ignore them acting out, other travelers look to the flight crew for solutions. But here’s the key thing we’re all missing: babysitting duties are not in their employment contracts. Yes, there’s not even a hint of it in the fine-print, too.

5. If you have a weak bladder, they understand and sympathize, but ask that you plan your bathroom breaks carefully.

How many times have you seen a passenger get up to go to the bathroom and end up in a mini standoff with a flight attendant pushing a trolley? If that person has been you, they recommend that you schedule a bathroom break before you board, another one before or after the in-flight service, and a final one 20 minutes before landing.

The latter goes for those of you with cute kiddos as well. Take them even if they say they don’t need to go, just to be sure. When the pilot turns on the Fasten Your Seatbelt sign he is not just doing that for his health. No movement means just that – no movement. It is a safety hazard. Failure to comply with the rules endangers you and others.

6. Get to the airport early and be prepared for delays. Like duh… it’s the holidays!

As frustrating as long lines and delays can be, that gives us no excuse to be rude to the crew. Poor weather conditions and/or mechanical faults are outside of their control. Being obnoxious about your discomfort or the inconvenience reflects poorly on you, not them.

Remember, we live in an era where there is zero tolerance for non-compliance with the cabin crew. Disruptive behavior on a flight can land you in jail. For our Monopoly lovin’ friends, that means straight to jail. You don’t get to Pass Go and Collect $200.

7. Give them a few minutes to themselves after they’ve completed the service.

Final words of wisdom. Going into the cramped galley area right after service is completed and the curtains are drawn, is a big no-no. That is the time when the flight attendants get to rest for a bit and consume their meagre crew meal. Don’t forget that their shifts are long and they have to eat too.

Besides, barging in at that time will interrupt a revered cabin crew tradition. In those precious moments of downtime they get to gripe about which passengers are being naughty or nice, and trade stories on hilarious incidents. Like one flight where, amidst all the drama, a 63-year-old woman had to be stripped down because she could not breathe properly. The reason? Her spanx was too tight.

Rant officially over.

Now exit through the front or back exit doors and go have a happy holiday.

Short on time in Memphis? You’ve gotta try these four things.

Beale Street lit sign

Are you flying into Memphis stoked about your new adventure but a little concerned you’ll be short on time to explore the city? Don’t stress. I was there for a three-day weekend and still managed to have a blast, so you can too.

Since I knew I wouldn’t have much time to run around town, the first thing I did was ask my cab driver what were the top three things I just had to experience while there. Without skipping a beat, he recommended “the river, the music, and the food.”  Well, regrettably, with a full day devoted to an event I was attending, I didn’t have time go on one of the many river rides, some of which take you all the way down to New Orleans. However, I did treat my stomach, my ears and my hips quite generously.  How so, I hear you asking. We’ll get to that in minute, hunnie. Just keep reading!

These are my top suggestions for things to see and do if you’re short on time in Memphis:

Eat, eat, EAT

Barbecue at B.B. King Jazz Club Memphis

My driver wasn’t exaggerating when he said Memphis was known for its food, and it’s by no means just a one-hit culinary wonder that solely serves up sumptuous barbecue. Whether you like chicken, steak, pulled pork, or delicious soul food, Memphis has it all in abundance. I’m 1000% serious.  You cannot leave without first filling up your plate and then devouring everything in sight – at a restaurant or two.

The Rendevous, an old-fashioned eatery in a large basement dining room, is known for its hearty servings of ribs and sausages in a vinegar base, topped with dry-rub spices.  Central BBQ is another hot spot, but their specialties are wet ribs and nachos. For some home-cooked styled meals with tummy-rubbing sides like mac and cheese, black-eyed peas, beans, candied sweet potatoes, cornbread and more, 99¢ Soul Food Express, Alcenia’s and Gus’s Fried Chicken come highly recommended. Feeling for lighter, breakfast and brunch fare? Blue Plate Café on South Court Avenue may be just the answer for you. The service is friendly and brisk, and they serve warm maple syrup with their pancakes. Yum.

Immerse yourself in the music

Live ,usic in Memphis

When one town can offer up world-famous entertainers like Elvis, B.B. King, Johnny Cash, Otis Reading, Isaac Hayes and more over time, that’s got to be worth looking into, right? Music sits on you like a second skin and feels as natural as the air you breathe in Memphis. You can take the historic route and visit one or more of the many venues that chart the musical journeys of the city’s beloved hitmakers, or you can immerse yourself in the present and enjoy the soulful sounds of many talented musicians that play live music daily.

For a foray into the area’s ties to rhythm-n-blues, rock n’ roll, gospel and jazz, visit either the Stax Museum, Sun Studio, Blues Hall of Fame, Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, Graceland, or the Memphis Music Hall of Fame. Then time travel to today and head to Beale Street to sway your hips to the blues. There are several places to choose from, like Blues City Café and Rum Boogie Cafés Blues Hall Juke Joint, but as far as I am concerned,  B.B. King’s Blues Club is where it’s at. There is a $10 cover charge to watch the show even if you’re dining, but the food, the drinks, the melodies and the atmosphere are definitely worth it.

Visit the National Civil Rights Museum

Lorraine Hotel where Martin Luther King was assasinated

The National Civil Rights Museum, housed in what used to be the Lorraine Motel, is a riveting and emotional learning opportunity for ALL people (not just during Black History Month), and one which is especially poignant for people of African descent. The self-guided tour starts with a brief film and subsequent exhibits are arranged in chronological order to relay key milestones of the American Civil Rights Movement, going from slavery up to 1968. It is also the location where Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. 

I found it hard to believe that his end came so violently after a life devoted to peaceful protest, especially seeing that only four short years before he had penned his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in Bimini (The Bahamas). The entrance fee to the museum also includes access to the boarding house across the street, which shows you the window from which the sniper fired the fatal shot.

Check out the street art

A Day in the life mural_Memphis

Like almost everything else in the city, the art and culture scene is poppin’ too. In addition to interesting galleries, there are tons of colorful wall murals with varying sizes and themes, so if graffiti art is your jam and you are short on time in Memphis, check out this Downtown Memphis Mural Guide to pick your Instagram backdrop spots ahead of time.  Most places are super easy to get to with the trolley, walking a few blocks, or via the bus or a cab.

Have you been to Memphis? What else would you recommend?

5 nature photos to inspire your next trip

Geological rocks of Meteora

What captures your attention and provides the optimal sensory elements that help shape and define your greatest trip memories?  Is it the food, the architecture, the local art and culture, music and nightlife, or the people you meet? And, including some or all of the above, are you also besotted with dramatic landscapes and the opportunity to leave with beautiful nature photos destined to be framed as your next prized pieces of wall art?

My sister CJ (and best travel buddy) will be the first to tell you “impressive man-made structures have their place, and they’re several iconic landmarks scattered all over the world matching that description.” But for her, the pièces de résistance, the vacation takeaway masterpieces so to speak, always lie in nature.

We’ve been to more than a dozen countries together and she inevitably comes back with images of landscapes, seascapes, clouds, plants and animals. She takes other pictures too, of course, but her beloved nature photos far outnumber anything else.

So for this post, I asked her to help us see the world through her Samsung Galaxy 6 lens and describe what drew her eyes to each scene.

Jamaica

Jamaican countryside

Nestled in the hills of St. Elizabeth there is freedom.  Freedom from the trappings of commercialization and bustling streets that create a cacophony of intrusive noises.  This lone home, enveloped by lush vegetation and surrounded by lung-friendly, pollution-free air, sits atop a hill like a beacon.  Untouched land, friendly people, and rich culture showcased Jamaica at its finest.

South Africa

insects in south africa

Cape Town is steeped in history and known for its popular V&A Waterfront as well as prominent landmarks, but one of my favorite places to visit, other than my safari and Robben Island tours, was Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens.  Found on the eastern side of the famous Table Mountain, it is home to several spectacular species of flora and fauna and the immaculately groomed grounds are presided over by a bust of Nelson Mandela, which is near the entrance.

The aromatic and abundant plant life is a potent elixir for the cutest insects. This little fellow was oblivious to all the tourists milling around as he hung out all by his adobrable and lonesome self.  Clearly, there was sonly one thing on his mind…”Gotta get the pollen! Gotta get the pollen!”

Greece

Meteora rock cliff

Taking a bus tour can often be mundane and long, but when that trip is transporting you from Athens through the northern highlands to Meteora, there are beautiful natural landscapes and geological sites to behold.  The feeling of catching your first glimpse of the giant monolithic rocks on which several monasteries were built is not something that’s easily described. It is an emotion best experienced in person.

Mexico

Paradise Beach_Tulum Mexico

Tulum, Tulum, Tulum. What’s not to love about Tulum?  Found in the Quintana Roo region of Mexico, the area is home to the ruins of the Mayan walled city, and it once served as a port for Coba.  Today it is a treasured UNESCO Heritage Site. 

I’ve been around beaches all my life, but nothing could have prepared me for the sight of this gorgeous shoreline bordered on either side by turquoise waters and craggy rocks. Not only do you get to stroll through the impressive ruins, you can kick off your shoes and dip your toes in the soft, squishy sand if you are not short on time,

Southwest Florida

PineIsland Sound_Florida

Famous for its shell-lined beaches, Southwest Florida is also known for absolutely amazing sunsets.  No two light shows are ever alike because they were ‘painted’ by the greatest artist ever known. He is Elohim.  It was a perfect evening when the lone bird took flight and a few, friendly dolphins frolicked in the ocean below.    

Those are some of my sister’s top picks. Do you have any tips on other cool spots for beautiful nature photos that you’d like to share? Please drop their names in the comment section below.

5 Nature Photos to inspire your next trip