Saturday, December 20, 2014

Nine Images of Georgia (Okay, 11)

One of my most adventurous journeys of the year took place in October, when I headed to Georgia (the country). Take a listen to my perspective while looking at the pictures below.


Mother Georgia Stands Over Tbilisi 

Tbilisi's architecture is a mix of ancient and modern.
The white spaceship is the Tbilisi Public Service Hall,
affectionately known as The Mushroom.


Monks at the Alaverdi Monastery in the Khakheti
region has been making wines in qvervi for
more than 1000 years.
Georgia has been producing wine longer
 than any other place in the world....
8000 years!
The Sixth Century Jvari Monastery near Mtskheta is
a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Stalin was born here.
The Stalin Museum in his hometown of
Gori (appropriately-named) is a throwback
to Soviet times.

The Tskaltubo Health Resort is
where members of the Soviet Ministry
of Defense took the waters
back in the day.

While considered luxury during its heyday,
most would consider the rooms and facilities
rather spartan now.

The Caucasus Mountain Range
contains Europe's highest peak. 

The www.georgia.travel website isn't up and running, yet. If you can read Georgian (good luck with that), click here. Although what I am saying on the live stream doesn't always match the images, more pictures can be seen  here.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Holiday Gifts for Travelers: Part II

Is that hard-to-buy-for person on your holiday gift list a frequent traveler? 
If so, here are some stocking stuffer suggestions. Ideas for larger items can be found here.


For years, I've traveled with two tennis balls in my suitcase. No, I'm not looking for a pick-up game with that ever-hunky Patrick Rafter. Instead, I roll my back along the balls in the comfort of my hotel room. I place balls on either side of my spine and then press downward as I slide along pressure points and crack my tired bones. The choreography is a bit complicated--the challenge is keeping the balls parallel while rolling along. Well, now the RAD Roller is making my version of an everywhere massage tool easier. The company has developed a functional, lightweight and durable massage and release tool that looks like two fused balls. You can easily roll your back over it, and it's small enough to target other aching muscles and sore fascial tissue. $24.99



Worried you might bust a zipper thanks to all of those holiday gifts you are packing? Maybe you just want to distinguish your blah black or blue bags from all the others on the luggage carousel. ORB Luggage Straps come in a variety of snazzy designs, and they're only $9.95. Or you can buy a coordinated accessories pack containing a matching lock and luggage tag for $24.95 at various on-line retailers.

Speaking of straps, as I type this post, I am experimenting with the BackJoy Posture Band. While it took me a few minutes to figure out the way to set it up, I managed to tie it together and throw it around my arms. The comfortable elastic tension band gently pulls your shoulders back as you are sitting at a computer...or sitting on an airplane. Granted, if you walk around the airport wearing it, some people may think you are into S & M. Little do they know that your goal is solely to get your posture on the up and up. $19.99



Finally, for the uber-organized, Eagle Creek presents its Pack-It system. The smart, methodical and slightly OCD-prone traveler on your gift list will love it.  The PACK-IT line has everything from Folders, in which you can pack clothing to be wrinkle-free, to Cubes, perfect for compressing pants, Tees, or PJs.. You can buy them as stand-alones or as sets. For example, a starter set contains a mediim folder and a large and a small cube for $35.  Other pricing is available at http://shop.eaglecreek.com/.



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Monday, December 1, 2014

Holiday Gifts for Travelers


It's that time of year when the Travel Elves drop off all sorts of sample goodies upon my doorstep for me to test. Here are a few of the products which pass gift-giving muster in my book.

A Heys Ecotex 5 Piece Packing Cube Set is like a Russian Matryoshka doll. Unzip the biggest one and a smaller one appears...and so on and so on. The colorful quintet costs about $44 and a three-pack runs around $27. Both come with nifty little stick-on labels to identify what's in the bag. Available at http://shop.heys.ca/










It's not a foot rest. It's not a computer case. It's both. This Leggage laptop case has a nifty design that allows you to safely stow your computer and then use the case as a foot rest on the airplane. While the company claims that the wedges on the hard side serve to massage the tootsies...well, that may be stretching it just a bit. But especially for those with shorter legs, having a on-board foot rest will definitely add to comfort and better posture.
It's $79.99 at www.leggage.com.



LiteGear's Hybrid Rolling Tote is the perfect alternative to being weighed down by a heavy purse or tote bag. The fashionable roller, is just the right size for a change of clothing, an iPad, and many other small odds and ends, including your purse..With dimensions of 13.5″ x 8.5″ x 14.5″, it can either replace your carry-on or supplement it.  The LiteGear Hybrid Rolling Tote is available at Travelsmith, Amazon and other on-line retailers. The price ranges from $79.00 to $99.00.




Finally, an adorable little product designed by a travel industry colleague.  Public relations professional Rebecca Werner has created Shoes on the Fly, washable cotton bags in which to pack footwear. Sure, one can always use a plastic bag to separate shoes from clothing...but that's exactly why this is the perfect gift. It's one of those things that your favorite travelers might not buy for themselves, but they'll absolutely be happy 'soles' when they receive it.  The bags are adorned with various slogans and an embroidered bug matching the theme, They cost between $27.00 and $29.00 at www.shoesonthefly.com.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Daily Suitcase Holiday Giveaways

YUM!



First up, a Gluten Free Sampler Gift Basket from Tate's Bake Shop in Southampton, New York (that's the Hamptons, baby). 

Every holiday season, someone inevitably sends a gift basket filled with crackers and cookies and other carbohydrates. While I LOVE gifts, and appreciate the thought, the fact is, as someone who has been gluten-free for 18 years, most of the baskets sent to me get re-gifted. But if someone sends me something from Tate's Bake Shop, I’m keeping it. The gluten-free goodies the bakery makes in a dedicated facility are designed for gluttony--whether you are or are not gluten-free. Believe you me, I've been taste-testing gluten-free products for nearly two decades, and these are among the best...if not the best....I've ever had.


The Holiday Sampler Giveaway Basket includes:


  • One 8oz bag of GF Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • One 8oz bag of GF Double Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • One 8oz bag of GF Ginger Zinger Cookies
  • One GF Brownies
  • One GF Blondies
  • GF Chocolate Chip Cookie Peppermint Bark….

....and is valued at $38, although I think it's worth a great deal more, given the delicious nature of the products contained therein.

RULES (No Fine Print Here):

1. Anyone who follows @dailysuitcase on Twitter during the month of December will be entered to win.

2. Current followers can enter by sending #FF or #FollowFriday @dailysuitcase messages to their followers. For every three followers you #FF to, you will get one entry (maximum--5 entries).

3. Anyone who retweets this link will get an entry.

4. Once we hit 200 entries or December 29, 2014 (whichever comes last) , there will be a random drawing and Tate's Bake Shop will forward the goods straight to your home...or to the recipient of your choice.

5. Good luck!

More information on Tate’s Bake Shop is available on Facebook and on Instagram (@tatesbakeshop).  

Want to order more? Go to www.tatesbakeshop.com or call (631) 780-6511 .

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Travel Writing: Fair, Balanced or Puffery?

Traditionally, travel writing has gotten a bad rap. 

It's certainly understandable that it is often seen as being pure puffery. All too often, a most pedestrian place is praised as the greatest location on earth, a hidden gem with something for everyone.  Look, as an experienced travel pro, I do believe there's something to recommend about nearly every place. But let's not pretend every place is perfect (even when pictures make it look so).
Sun Valley, Idaho is one of my favorite places,
but even it is not perfect.

Why does this happen? Perhaps because a writer got a free trip and thinks that the quid pro quo is to only write positive thoughts. Perhaps he thinks he will be blacklisted from press trips if he regularly reports on the negative (and in truth, this can happen). Whatever the reason, the negatives are usually left unreported, leaving the reader with a biased take.

This notion is currently exacerbated by bloggers who are waxing enthusiastic about places and products in order to get or maintain sponsorships or strategic partners.  Not all travel blogs are pay-to-play. However, the fact is, the current model for making money in blogging is by gaining strategic partnerships.

Here's the rhetorical question, though: If a blogger is in bed with Marriott, will he or she write anything negative about the lodging behemoth?

Furthermore, will the blogger opt to ignore good news coming from competitors like Hilton or Westin?  Similarly, if one is being paid by the U.S. Virgin Islands, I doubt there will be much coverage about St. Lucia or Puerto Rico.

But for those dear, dear readers who still take an interest in journalism, the good news is, there is still room for fair and balanced travel reporting....and God forbid...I don't mean on Fox News. In recent years, I traveled far and wide, sometimes on press trips, sometimes on discounted journeys, and sometimes at full freight. Regardless of who is paying the bill, I make sure my reporting is just that...reporting, and not puffery.  Here are two examples. The Albania story appeared in National Geographic Traveler (October, 2008). The Trans-Siberian piece ran in Travel Weekly (October, 2013), the industry's leading trade magazine.





For more examples, I recommend the work of Chris Elliott, the country's premier travel advice ombudsman.


Monday, November 10, 2014

Holiday Travel Tips

Need holiday travel tips? Here's a link to my November 14 appearance on Let's Talk Live. Below is a recap of the discussion.

1. Book your flights early in the day. Morning flights are less prone to delays. Furthermore, if you do get stranded, you have a day filled with alternative options ahead.

2. Fly in and out of secondary airports. BWI is likely going to be less crowded than Dulles; Midway an easier go than O'Hare. Fewer crowds during the holidays often equal fewer hassles.

3. Book non-stop flights, even if they cost a little more. With the potential for delays, cancellations and lost bags at a premium during the holidays, it's best to go for the most hassle-free options.

4. Avoid luggage fees by booking flights with an airline-branded credit card that offers one free checked bag for everyone on the reservation.

5. Speaking of checked bags, don't follow a one-person-packs-one-bag rule. Distribute everyone's stuff among the checked bags. That way, if one suitcase gets lost, everyone still has clothing.

6. Obvious Wisdom: Check all essentials in your carry-on. That includes chargers, cell phone, medicine, basic toiletries, and a change of clothing.

7. Obvious Wisdom 2: Don't travel on peak holiday travel days. Since Christmas and New Year's Day are on weekdays this year, it may be a bit easier to find decent "off-peak" flights. For example, if you choose not to fly out Christmas Day (which is perhaps the best day to travel), heading out on the Friday or Saturday after the holiday is likely to be better than on the Sunday.

8. To get alerts on low fares, check out www.airfarewatchdog.com..

9.  Keep a handle on the weather where you are, where you are going, and everywhere in between by checking www.weather.com. Travel insurance may help if you encounter weather delays along the way. In addition to covering additional costs like hotel overnights or meals, many travel insurance companies will also assist in re-booking you should a flight be cancelled. Before signing up, though, always read the fine print to know exactly what you are purchasing.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Winter Weather Advisory: Travel Cliches

It's that time of year again. Skies are darkening early, leaves are falling, and temperatures are plummeting. That can only mean one thing--hoary weather cliches will soon be blanketing us like a mid-winter snowfall.

Travel writers and meteorologists alike are prone to taking to the slippery slope of winter cliches. But as I rarely deal with meteorologists (although I just did interview one for a story I am doing for The Washington Post on winter preparedness), I will offer my weather cliche advisories solely for the travel set.

1. Although Sun Valley, Idaho (pictured) can fairly be described as a winter wonderland, please don't call it that. Don't call anything that. Winter wonderland is perhaps the tritest and most overused description for cold weather travel destinations. Alpine villages, small towns dressed for the holidays, ski resorts---please resist as Jack Frost nips at your nose rapping "Winter Wonderland, Winter Wonderland." Think of something else.

2. Similarly, I defy you to read a story on an Alpine ski town without noticing the use of charming. Charming villages, charming landscapes, blah, blah, blah. Visit Mr. Roget's neighborhood and opt for a synonym. 

3. Is that view from the mountaintop truly breathtaking? It is often described as such, yet how many times does a view literally leave you gasping for air? That said, I will concede that if you are at the top of a mile-high mountain in sub-freezing temperatures, between the altitude and the chill, your breath might actually be taken away. In that case, you may use breathtaking. Otherwise, save your breath and choose another term.