Dear readers – assuming I still have readers, I’ve really fallen off the wagon. But, I have a GREAT excuse. Are you ready? I quit my day-job and started my own business. The work is plentiful, but the pay is much, much less…..sounds attractive, right? I work for myself! All in all, it takes more of my time, but it’s SO much more rewarding. You’ll just have to trust me on this.
Nevertheless, I HAVE been traveling. Albeit, it’s much more domestic than my travel was previously and one of the first places I want to cover is my dear old friend, New York City. I visited Manhattan immediately prior to lock-down and now 3 or 4 times since. I’ve noticed a few things.
As you know from reading prior posts, NYC has always been a favorite of mine and I’ve always considered myself a bit of an aficionado where the big apple is concerned. Bearing in mind that I’m speaking as a tourist, I’m going to tell you what I’ve learned following the last 2 years:
Don’t believe the hype – New York City is not unsafe for travelers
Be sure to check hours of operation and even menus before you head out
Don’t take the city for granted – it’s vulnerable just like everyone else
Listen to your gut and you’ll find NYC perfectly fine for tourism
People keep saying that the city is WAY more dangerous post-COVID. So often I hear: I wouldn’t do that today……. Or, “Don’t go there alone anymore.” Of course, it gives me pause when I hear locals say it, so there must be SOMETHING to it. My impression? It’s just less crowded today than it used to be.
The old adage about safety in numbers was to our advantage in the city prior to COVID. Anywhere you turned, there were hundreds (thousands?) of people around you – nowadays, you might turn down a city block and find it surprisingly desolate. ESPECIALLY at night. So, eyes-up guys, stay alert! As I’ve said before, every place isn’t Disneyland (…..thank God, but also….now I’m thinking about Disneyland…..) Be aware of your surroundings. Know where you’re going.
And, for goodness sake, realize that it’s not always worth ‘muscling through’. I have to remind myself sometimes that diverting my planned course is best. Ducking into a store to get your bearings, check your directions or to let someone following too closely pass by is just a smart approach. Call a Lyft or Uber instead of saving the $10 that would’ve led you down an empty street or through a bad neighborhood on foot. Make good choices – you won’t be sorry.
Manage expectations: Google is your friend
Lots of places took advantage of the downtime and remodeled or even re-branded, so their offerings have changed dramatically. Some are still struggling with getting enough help, so hours are reduced.
One of the best surprises I’ve gotten recently was the new lobby and bar at the Algonquin Hotel. I found it comfortable and reliable before – but, it’s a must-see today! Drop in after a show to grab a cocktail and dessert. You’re welcome.
However, due to the staffing shortage, some places don’t have the late hours they used to. If you’re counting on an after-show snack, call ahead and be sure you have options. A little planning will make the difference between ending the night on a high note, or eating mini-bar peanuts for dinner. I know they don’t really have mini-bar peanuts anywhere anymore….it’s a joke….you got where I was going with it though, right? Geez.
The times, they are a’changin
If you have “that place we always go”, and most of us do, I’m very sorry to tell you – it might not be there anymore. More than 1,000 restaurants have closed since March 2020. It’s shocking to me to see the number of closed retail and restaurant spots as I walk down the streets. That said, I found new places that I can learn to love very much. Carnegie Diner & Cafe, for example, was a delightful breakfast spot. Had one of my old favorites been around, I would’ve passed it right on by.
It’s a little bitter-sweet, but, keep an open mind. The good offerings are still out there and there are MULTITUDES of the old staples out there waiting for your patronage. What’re you waiting for??
“London is satisfied, Paris is resigned, but New York is always hopeful. Always it believes that something good is about to come off, and it must hurry to meet it.”
– Dorothy Parker, writer and founding member of the Algonquin Round Table
New York was hard-hit and so were other major cities. They’re struggling to make a come-back. I’ve been to NYC at least 3 times since the pandemic first started. I’ve been to Chicago at least twice and LA 2 or 3 times. It just takes a little more upfront planning now. And, I don’t begin to suggest I know what it’s like to live and work in the city under the new conditions, so forgive me if I’ve struck a chord for anyone. My aim was to write a love song that promotes what we love about the city(ies) and maybe motivate ONE traveler to say, “Yeah – I’m booking!”
If we don’t use it, we’ll lose it
The longer you wait, the more likely a further prolonged dip in business might whittle away at those beloved places that are still hanging on. We have time and science on our side now and I think we can move around comfortably and relatively safely – don’t let the pandemic put the “Out of Business” sign on your own personal travel itineraries – get out and see the world. It’s been waiting for you to return.
Speaking of which, I’m returning to New York in a few weeks to take in the holiday decorations – I never thought I’d go 1 year without basking in the glow of Rockefeller Plaza all decked out in its holiday finest, but now I’ve gone 3 (THREE!!). Maybe I should titrate first……I’ll look at 10 twinkle lights a day at first, then 20…..
When last we spoke, I had QUITE a few trips on the books – that’s changed. I’ll bet it’s changed for you, too. Take this time to reflect and plan.
Spring Break to Hawaii – canceled
Spring Break to South Beach – abruptly ended
April in Hollywood for my beloved TCM Film Festival – Canceled
May in New Orleans for a Travel convention – Canceled
You see the pattern here.
I made my last business trip in March (that’s my flight on March 4th pictured above). At that time, we were focused on no hugging, not social-distancing. I gave my team the option of staying at home, but we all agreed that we’d take the necessary precautions to get some face-time. For us, we’d just been grounded for a few months already, so we were raring to go. During those 2 days, we slathered ourselves with sanitizer and exchanged tips for opening/closing doors without using hands. Instead of a typical meeting table where everyone vies for access to power outlets, we vied for the isopropyl alcohol. It wasn’t normal.
Days later and only hours before our planned trip to Oahu, I told my husband I worried about getting stranded in Hawaii. Southwest Airlines understood my concern and helped me pivot to a new itinerary. By switching to South Beach, for a high-end, 4-night getaway, we’d be a little less stressed and come back refreshed. We landed, had lunch, had a heavenly meal in the Art Deco district….and, called the airlines again. We came home the next morning. Being away just didn’t feel responsible. It wasn’t normal.
We have a new normal now and I have to remind myself that adventure doesn’t have to require an airplane to a far-away place. I’m not going to write one of those up-lifting pieces that paints a big silver lining on the whole situation. There are enough of those already floating around out there. Instead, I’m going to tell you 5 ways I’m channeling my energy and maybe this will stimulate an idea for you.
1. Make a List
(You’re kidding me, right….?) No, seriously – if I don’t write down what I want to accomplish, I’ll scroll news on my phone, flip channels and ultimately (literally) waste an entire evening and have nothing to show for it. Instead, I start jotting down tasks in the Notes section of my phone. When I have a lull and think that there’s nothing to do, I can refer to my list. Low and behold, there is infact something to do, and ipso-facto, something to accomplish:
What’s something you want to accomplish TODAY?
How about something for the weekend, week and month?
Crossing off something ahead of schedule can seem VERY productive. Still you have to know what that something is in order to cross it off – so write it down now – get it out of your head.
What about something you’ve been noodling for ‘someday…..’ Could you give it an hour a week? A little progress here and there might add up to helping you finally get it off the ground.
Even if it’s menial, write it down – an hour for reading? Write it down, do it, cross it off. LOOK – you accomplished something.
2. Leverage New On-Line Options
I mentioned before that channel flipping is a terrible time-suck for me and then I feel like I’ve literally wasted my time. Note: Killing time and ‘wasting’ time are 2 different things in my book – and, it’s a shame to waste time. So, I have a few things I want to accomplish to this end:
Select films to get excited about.
Build on my Letterboxd list – Letterboxd has a lot of film nerds in one place. Build your own lists that you can keep private or make public. I have them for Christmas, Halloween, certain locations like Hawaii and Vegas. Movies enhance moods for me. Edgar Wright posted his Top 1,000 and that’s been a good solution for my husband and me. We found 82 mutually acceptable movies right off the top. No more fighting or scrolling – just pick one and start viewing.
Many streaming services are offering first-run movies (think – would’ve been in theaters if not for all this). The price of rental is about the price of 2 theater admissions.
Museums are on-line (!!) Can’t get to NYC, no problem. Didn’t have the funds or the time to make it to Florence? Just pull up a chair and your laptop.
Film Festivals are going to be available from home, too. Think: SXSW and even TCM is going to host an at-home version. I’m hearing it’s all at no charge.
3. Move Around
Clear your head. With minor precautions, you can go outside and move around in the fresh air. Take advantage of not being stuck in a boardroom, and take that teleconference on the move. Explore your options. If you let yourself sit at home and eat chips (I’m assuming you do this, too…) just because your normal social options are off the table, you’ll decline emotionally and physically. Stay active. Have you noticed all the on-line workouts? While the gyms are closed, those classes you normally didn’t have time to get to are now available on-demand? This is HUGE for me. I’ve been curious about Zumba (don’t judge me), but I hate to try things publicly that might make me look silly and uncoordinated (because I’m in fact silly and uncoordinated). So, I’m trying it at home.
4. Pick up the phone
Ordinarily, I’m not one who calls to actually talk now that I have so many other (more efficient) options for communicating. I’m an extreme introvert, so I’ve recently found the shelter-at-home to be a license to stay home and I’m not hating it. But, that’s not true of everyone. Some friends are struggling a bit. I plan to make my relationships stronger by connecting via phone and (gulp) video to make us all feel less isolated. So, this has been kind of a new (again) experience for me. Very old-school. Pick up the phone – you’re probably not interrupting them. Literally no one is “just walking out the door” at the moment.
I’m hearing and seeing amazing pics of virtual Happy Hours – and, there’s no driving involved.
Friends are doing Facebook Live videos that I’m now addicted to – and, you can host watch parties for almost anything. This is totally social.
5. Plan what comes next
When all of this is done, and it will all be done at some point, what will I do next? Where will I go? On several levels, we all might shift perspective. If you have income now, you’re probably saving a lot more than you were before, so maybe a splurge. If you’re negatively impacted economically, then your future travel will shift shape, but it doesn’t have to be scrapped. Budget travel options are out there in abundance for a good reason – lots of people use them. Put pen to paper and think about what you want next. With the right perspective, a new paradigm in and of itself can be a motivating project.
“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while you could miss it.”
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
We have to band together and support one another. Travel will be (or maybe have already been) hit harder than it was post-9/11. This is an industry I love and I want to help them get back on their feet. I still have a trip planned for late-summer. Keep the faith – prices will be extraordinary. Turn that into a boon by booking the trip you couldn’t afford last year when they were charging top-dollar. Win-win opportunities are out there.
So, where to start?
Pick a location (or more) and plot a course for 4-6mos from now
Book at today’s prices
Order a guidebook to be delivered
Start collecting pins @ Pinterest (lots of good tips there)
Start following the boards and forums @ Trip Advisor for your destination
Use Trip It to start mapping your days and excursions
And, as I reflect on my travels this time last year to Singapore, India and my beloved film festival in Hollywood, I could get a little down. Or, I could look ahead and know that future travel will be a little more special to me because it’s made itself even more rare.
Adventure doesn’t have to happen on the road. It can be anywhere – trying a new workout, learning a new skill, identifying what this recipe might have tasted like without all the impromtu modifications……(again, I assume you do this, too).
Use the slowness of the universe to explore things you didn’t previously have time to – whether that’s reading a book, watching the AFI Top 100, or trying your hand at a new endeavor. Adventure is where you seek it and you can convey yourself emotionally and intellectually….that’s kind of like travel, right? That’s what Ann’s doing a lot at the moment.
Why stay at an airport hotel, when you can stay very near walkable activities and see more? Come with me and I’ll give you some tips for turning that layover into something great.
Have you ever connected through a city, or arrived to/from a meeting and told yourself, “I’ll just stay at the airport”? I’ll admit, I’ve done it. And, at the time, I thought I was right to do it. In looking back, I missed some pretty great opportunities. So, I’m not going to let that happen to you. Without further ado, here are my thoughts on making your London layover SO much better.
Where to stay?
London is geographically large enough that one night isn’t going to do it justice – admittedly. But, you’re not there to see the whole city. Mainly, you’re just looking to avoid another night of room service and future embarrassment (having seen nothing) when someone asks about your trip. To narrow it down, let’s say you pick an attraction you’re interested in and focus on that:
What about the London Eye and observing the Thames, Big Ben and Parliament?
You could easily take in a live show with little or no advance planning
Are you a shopper? – Harrod’s can more than deliver and you won’t even have to leave for dinner
Near each of these attractions, there are options for lodging, food, and a libation (or 2)…. Here are some excellent options:
This Marriott is in the shadow of the London Eye and offers amazing views. It’s a luxury property, so the pricetag might not be for everyone. Also nearby, is this Radisson property, right at Westminster Bridge.
The Radisson Blu Edwardian offers several luxe locations. One of which is nestled in Leicester Square where you can take in the British Museum or a show, and a terrific meal.
Knightsbridge is a location that puts you near Harrod’s, the V&A Museum and this adorable boutique townhouse. If you want to really feel like your brief stay was out of the ordinary, this will do it.
Finally, don’t rule out an economical alternative. Premier Inn is all over town and is routinely recommended to me by friends and colleagues. I haven’t yet stayed at one myself. Yet, I guarantee there is one near anything you want to see.
What if I can’t get to London until 5-ish?
Definitely. I’ve gotten in that late and made a bee-line for Harrod’s, which closes at 9 most evenings. You can start with a cocktail at their champagne bar, do a little shopping for yourself (obviously) and friends back home if you’re feeling generous. Before calling it a night, make your way down to the Food Hall for literally anything your heart desires. You could try something new, sample something you’ve been missing, or stick to a staple. There’s no shortage of options here. Eat there, or take it back with you.
Arriving that close to curtain time, you might be apprehensive about buying show tickets in advance, so TKTS offers last-minute tickets, too. In any case, most box offices will have single tickets available for purchase. Grab a quick bite, and then sit back and enjoy something truly spectacular. What a way to live it up on an evening that was just a place-holder for a meeting tomorrow, or an early morning flight.
What says “London” more than a traditional pub? In my opinion, not much – and, if you haven’t visited a true pub lately, you’re missing out. They have a few. You can’t throw a stone without hitting one. Furthermore, each one is unique and worth a stop. And, if you’re hungry, many serve food – really, really good food.
I’ve written before about my love for the neighborhood of Clerkenwell. Within its walls, I can walk along streets that sing “London” to me – the vibe is rich and authentic. I have a favorite hotel, restaurant and bar. I don’t need more. If I’m leaving out of a London airport in the morning and coming in from the English countryside, I’ll always choose to stop here.
Are you nearly convinced?
My point is simply this:
If you’re flying in, pick a spot outside of the airport and see a LITTLE something; taste something.
The city is the perfect, vibrant stopover en route to the airport. You’re nearer than the countryside, so it’s a productive option.
You’re not adding any more time away….unless, you want to, and I would never discourage that. As I’ve said before, you’ve already invested the time it takes to get there – pay yourself back by adding some vacation on top.
Since you’ve probably already missed something at home just by being gone, don’t make it worse on yourself by limiting your experience to simply: the office and the airport. If nothing else, think of the fun you’ll have all year long pulling out gifts of little trinkets you’ve collected on your travels. With every one you wrap, you can relive a fond memory of the brief trip you made. These little excursions are out there for the taking – grab one.
Rainy days can be cozy and contemplative. A little drizzle outside can provide a terrific backdrop for a hot cup of tea, a good book and curling up in a warm spot. Nevertheless, it’s not always optimal when your plan was to tour a new city. Are you just a little disappointed when that happens? I am. Obviously, rain means wet clothes, bad hair, umbrellas….and let’s face it: The same is true of snow. Sure, it’s pretty for a second and it would be great if snow stayed in solid state. Unfortunately, though, it’ll turn to wet momentarily, which means everything I just said about rain. Inclement weather days can be to your advantage (i.e. fewer crowds) if you know how to structure them. Here are my ideas for salvaging a wet vacation day in Washington, D. C.
I’ll walk you through a day that I think could suit the most disheartened traveler and one that she’ll come to remember fondly. Reminder: Always know the local weather and look it up before you pack. Just like we’ve talked about before, keep a travel umbrella stashed in your suitcase …always. And, wrap it in a reusable plastic bag. This way, when you transfer it to your carryall for a rainy day, you’ll have a way to store your wet umbrella without leaving it at a storefront, or loose (and dripping) in your bag. Before you even leave home, you’ll want to know the rain and snow chances so that you can pack shoes and jackets accordingly. With this safely accomplished, I feel certain you’re dressed appropriately and ready to stroll out your hotel door.
Where to start:
My favorite place to stay in DC lately is The Mayflower Hotel. It’s part of Marriott’s Autograph collection, which means it’s a boutique hotel with special little touches throughout. We once spent Christmas in one of their one-bedroom suites. The separate living area was a spacious room with a sectional sofa that pulled out into a bed. And, it surrounded a working fireplace. The rates are surprisingly affordable. So, say you switch off your fireplace and pull on your galoshes, head down to the lobby and get a cup of complimentary joe to go. Assuming you want to start your day with a hot breakfast, I’m going to direct you to Kramerbooks and Afterwords Cafe. It’s walkable from the hotel and open for breakfast until well past dinner. Aside from having really good food all day, the café is nestled within a book store.
DC is easy to navigate by train, and I’ve started you out between 2 convenient stations. Pick your favorite topic and I assure you the Smithsonian has a FREE museum to interest you. Ask my son his favorite stop, it’s always the Air & Space Museum, followed closely by the Botanical Gardens. I can’t pass up a chance to see Marie Antoinette’s jewelry in the Natural History Museum. And, you can explore American pop culture through the ages at the Museum of American History. Avoiding crowds probably isn’t much of a possibility, but I always find the Portrait Gallery to be calming – at least it’s usually quiet. This is also true of the National Archives.
If you’ve planned ahead, you should also consider the Holocaust Museum. It’s not part of the Smithsonian system, so you’ll need to obtain an entrance time. This museum is not to be missed.
If you’re undeterred by the weather, and conditions are not worsening, I’d say head over to the Jefferson Memorial. You can’t walk there from the mall, but you can take a train ride or an Uber. I delayed seeing this monument for a long time because it’s not as walkable or readily accessible as the others. I’m assuming that you spied the vast majority already while moving amongst the Smithsonian museums. So, take the time to drop in on Jefferson – he’s got some pretty good digs. We were surprised by how large the monument is both inside and out. As compared to the Lincoln Memorial, which you can pretty much walk up to and say you saw it, Jefferson encourages you to stay and explore a bit with interior exhibits, giftshop, etc.
No time or energy for more sightseeing? I highly recommend settling into the E Street Cinema. It’s one of my favorite art house cinemas. They have a full bar and snacks that are not your typical movie theater fare. Their film selections are exceptional. I’ve been known to see one….or two…films on a bad-weather day. And, I’m not at all complaining.
Winding Down for the Evening:
No matter how you feel about the President, and chances are you’ve felt one way or the other about each one, the White House is an impressive sight at night. I always walk past it in proximity to the Willard Hotel. You’ve seen a lot of history today – even if you only made it to the cinema – you can’t throw a stone in D.C. without hitting a historic landmark. But, I’m awed every time I enter the Willard. Leadership from both sides of the Civil War sat down together in their lobby to discuss terms for ending the conflict. Let that sink in. The north and the south. Sat there. Talking. During some of our nation’s darkest hours. To me, this epitomizes the history that surrounds me in D.C. That’s a lot of thought and introspection…so, head up to the Round Robin Bar for a pre-dinner cocktail.
I don’t often recommend chain restaurants. I think most of you know my position – I love for each city to be unique. But, occasionally, a small chain catches my eye. In this case, it’s Mari Vanna. We went the first time simply because it’s next door to the Mayflower. It’s since become a favorite D. C. spot – the opulence when you walk in is present throughout. The staff has always been authentic, too, as are their dishes and their VODKA. How about more than 100 flavor-infused vodkas to sip? You might be there awhile. But, it will be worth it. And, if you’re thinking right now that you don’t like Russian food, I’d challenge that maybe you just haven’t really had it. We’ve dragged our kids there under extreme duress only to have them change their tunes as they dug into caviar, or tender meat-filled dumplings. Trust me.
One Last Thing:
Well-satiated, you need only walk a few steps from your excellent meal back to your hotel where the doormen will great you warmly. Treat yourself to a nightcap (…or cup of tea?) at the Edgar just inside the lobby. Legend has it, and their website confirms, it’s so named because J. Edgar Hoover dined here daily. Hm. I don’t know about all that, but I can tell you, we’ve overheard an intriguing conversation every single time we’ve been there. Stopping in is an imperative. Keep your ears and eyes open – I doubt you’ll be disappointed. And, when you’re done, make your way back to your room and that cozy fire you left this morning. You earned it.
I was grounded last year. Has it been awhile since you considered “being grounded”? In the business travel world, it’s not necessarily punitive the way it was when you were a teen. I wasn’t caught smoking or staying out past curfew. We had a re-prioritization of funds and discretionary travel was off the table. Twenty years ago, curtailing “discretionary travel” was different. Just to have a productive meeting meant traveling hours to be around a table together – that’s not now. Nowadays, you can, in fact, have a pretty productive meeting using Skype. You’re all talking in (almost) real-time with only minor delays. And, if you can muster the energy to dress from the shoulders up, you can use your camera and even see faces. So, it is literally the next best thing to being there. Thus, “essential” travel NOW means – there was no way to accomplish what I needed without being there. And, that’s few and far between these days. So, for those of us who truly love the nature, process, and experience of actual travel – it’s a little less fulfilling. How do we spend our time? Planning the next excursion.
I mentioned in a prior post that I had 7 trips on my TripIt for 2020 so far. One has now been completed, and there are 7 new ones on the horizon. A few of them require pretty extensive exploration and consideration, so that’s been an active process. Active in the sense that I use all my resources:
Plot out open/closed dates for attractions; this is key
If you believe that the adventure is in the journey rather than the destination, then this is it – at least half of my journey begins well before I ever approach my Clear ambassador. And, I’ve found through trial and error that the destination is made exponentially better by having a plan in-place prior to arrival.
We used to laugh that my Disney trips came with Excel spreadsheets. By “laugh” I mean, they actually came with spreadsheets and some people laughed at me. But, you know what didn’t happen? We didn’t languish amongst the parks missing shows, lacking coveted dinner reservations, etc. We don’t live and die by the schedule, mind you. I provide a structure that becomes our fall-back. If your fall-back is pretty desirable, then you have absolutely nothing to lose. If, however, you say “let’s wing it” and you find yourselves eating dinner at a counter-service restaurant dining over high-boy stand-up pub tables, you’ve done it wrong. The goal on a “nice” vacation is not to get the food in as quickly as possible on-the-go. At least, it’s not for me.
So, I plan. I’ve recently decided that having 1-2 touristy adventures per day that are scheduled (booked with tickets purchased if necessary) and 1 sit-down dining experience per day is sufficient. That gives us a lot of time to flex and build in whatever catches our fancy. In Hawaii, this means that my husband and I might hike Diamond Head and then explore Pali Lookout one morning and spend the rest of the day on the beach, or taking a massage under a cabana while listening to the waves. Leisurely, we can make our eventual way to cocktails on a lanai somewhere en route to a dinner reservation I’ve been holding for weeks. If, as we did on our last trip, we decide to switch up the dinner location for another that’s caught our eye, we can. At worst, we end up at a place we carefully selected awhile back. What doesn’t happen is our ending up at Burger King or some walk-up window for fried shrimp because all the restaurants are booked up. The same was true in Paris – I scheduled a tour that would span a few hours and check off several must-see boxes on our wishlist while the rest of the day was ours to shop, sip, and wander until dinner. Each night before we wrapped for the day, my girlfriend and I would review the next day’s itinerary and decide what to keep and what to switch up. My point is, planning ahead gives you options. Keep them, or change them up. If you know me, you know that having options is one of my defining characteristics – being left with NO options is just the worst, IMO. THAT’S when I get flustered. And, grasping for a solution can lead to my ‘shut-down’, which manifests in my being short-tempered and irritable. It’s pretty ugly if I’m completely honest. To avoid this, just plan. It’s that easy.
Today, I’m going to actively work on details for 2 upcoming trips. For me, this provides a diversion from my routine and it’s productive. It’s going to save me time and hassle in the long run and improve the relaxation we enjoy when the expensive trip kicks in. I don’t know about you, but when I’m buying hotel nights and every meal out (as you do on vacation), I want it all to be pleasant, not ‘serviceable’. There’s a time and a place for both.
So, back to being grounded. What does a road warrior do when her wings have been clipped? Getting the neglected house in order covered about the first weekend at home…..then, I started plotting. In the end, I made the most of the rest of the year by visiting friends and family, and thoroughly decompressing at a nearby destination spa. Come to think of it, I did that twice – once by using Marriott (or Bonvoy) points, even. Since about November, though, I started planning 2020. And, while it’s now chock full of much more personal travel than business, it’s shaping up to be a somewhat new adventure for me that incorporates more domestic destinations for a change AND the prospect of some potential and novel career avenues. There’s no telling where travel will lead you – one is never made lesser by getting out and seeing the world.
So, we’ve wrapped up another year – in fact, this one was a DECADE. I saw a meme yesterday that said: 2050 is just as far away as 1990. I don’t think this is possible because 1990 was just yesterday, and 2050 is clearly a year beyond “Blade Runner 2049” even. And, THEY were interacting with androids and using flying cars, so clearly – that’s impossible. (insert eye roll of denial). Nonetheless, I do rather wonder what I’ve been doing with my time. Do you ever look back and take inventory as it were? Having never been a diarist, I tend to look back through past itineraries. I use an app for it – an app that helps me organize future travel and fondly reflect on past travel.
The app I use is TripIt. There are others, but when you do a search around the interwebs, this one shows up at the top of most lists because it’s so easy to use. It’s also a SAP product, so if your travel agency uses SAP Concur for your travel reservations, there’s an auto-interface (I’m not techy, so this sounds right to me – don’t chastise me if I’m way off base). What I mean is, my travel agent makes a reservation for air, hotel, rental car (pfft) and then *poof*, it’s there in my TripIt. I then re-name it whatever catchy name I have for the trip – like instead of “Irvine, CA”, I might call it “Q1 TeamF2F”. Toldja it was catchy. Within the itinerary that my agent started for me, I can add all my other details (e.g. dinner reservations, excursions, tours). It’s very easy because you:
Make a reservation
Receive confirmation of said reservation
Forward the confirmation from any e-mail account linked to your TripIt
It pops up in an itinerary with corresponding dates, or starts a new one
You don’t have to put context, or codes, or anything around the forwarded e-mail, which you send to: Plans@tripit.com . It honestly could not be easier. Sure, they occasionally don’t plunk it down just as you’d hope. When that happens, it gets stored in a separate file that you can move manually – it’s not hard. It’s not the magic that it ordinarily is, but when you’re dealing with foreign languages, or less formal confirmations from private vendors, it’s a minimal hassle that you can easily navigate.
Another thing I adore about it is that you can share an itinerary with anyone. You just indicate right in your itinerary who you want to share it with. If they’re a TripIt user, too, it shows up in their app effortlessly. And, you assign rights to them. Just want to let them follow your travels? Don’t give them rights to edit your plans. If they’re a fellow traveler on that trip, they get to collaborate. It’s really effective for couples and small groups especially. My husband used to get frustrated when I didn’t tell him my plans, so now I share all of them. When we travel together, we can each contribute without inadvertently double-booking ourselves. And, I’ve mentioned before that I like having a way to track my flights outside of the carriers’ apps, so you can upgrade your TripIt and do that here, too. I haven’t gone that route, but when they’ve given me free trial periods, it does seem pretty snazzy.
Anyway – back to the reminiscing part. According to TripIt, I stayed pretty busy in 2019.
Sunny California in January? I’ll take it. I treated myself to a beach resort – makes it feel less like work.
Speaking engagement in Florida (both January and February)…someone had to go; at least one was walking distance to Downtown Disney with a HUGE variety of shopping, restaurants and bars/lounges.
Milestone birthday for a friend in New Orleans. Stayed at the exquisite Monteleone and ate some pretty incredible food. You do what you have to do to nurture friendships.
Oh, yeah – 91st Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood.
Vegas, baby – couple’s retreat. As I’ve said before – poolside at a posh or even semi-posh hotel, footsteps to fine dining and excellent shopping. Rarely do you even have to hail a cab in Las Vegas. That’s pretty relaxing.
Singapore and India – I think I’ve posted about those a fair amount already. The flights are long, but SO worth it.
I do think one has to see countries in Asia. I thought I was well-traveled until I went there and realized how little I’ve really experienced to date.
TCM Film Festival – it’s a hi-light for my year. Located at Hollywood and Vine I get to indulge my obsessive passion for film as an art form along with other people who revel in old movies (and, movies that came out for us in highschool are now considered ‘old movies’, too, FYI). There’s truly nothing like experiencing movies in a group setting (aka: a theater) among dedicated fans.
College visits – helping them move in and out of dorms/apartments is, as I’ve said before, grueling work but so worthwhile. The one-on-one time as they start to forge their own independence is so fun to share.
Orlando (again) to meet with my department this time – I really love the folks I work with and I value the time we get to spend in-person. There’s too little of it. Someone once told me, ‘It’s too easy to hang up the phone and start letting a person’s disembodied voice become a constant irritation….yet, spend a couple days across the table from them and you start to remember what you liked about them.’ It’s true.
Skype helps, but true face-to-face time, some wine, and a bizarre attraction to coordinating ponchos and interpretive dance does for a group what could never be accomplished via video conference….
Another milestone birthday for another friend and her desire to go somewhere she’d never been. We toured Brussels, Antwerp and Bruges. Old friends, new adventures – what could be better?
PARIS – have I mentioned I went to Paris last year? I stayed for 2 weeks. It was work and play. I won’t go on because I’ve bent your ear enough about it – but, I will take a moment to ask: Do you ever invite friends who aren’t your “bestie” to travel with you?
It’s actually a really good formula. Because you’re not too close, you don’t tend to make decisions FOR them, or encroach on their good nature, etc. Of course we don’t start out to take over for our best and closest humans, but with familiarity can come that tendency. I would highly encourage you to take at least one trip this year with someone whom you simply know and trust, but who isn’t your best friend or partner. You’ll get to know them (or re-know them) better, discover a shared interest, and maybe gain some new insights. You might even find a new travel buddy.
Finally, a return to see cherished family now living in Tennessee rounded out my year. Take time to go see your family and friends who live far away.
There’s something unique about a shared history – whether it’s your childhood, or your ancestry. There’s a unique bond there that you can choose to explore. When it comes to establishing these people in your life, that ship has sailed – the people you knew growing up are now set and finite. You can’t get new ones. The people who share your same ancestors – also set. There’s no one else who knew your grandparents, aunts and uncles when you were little. So, whether you love those folks already, which I do, or if you’re willing to GET to know them and share a laugh at the weird mis-steps and idiosyncrasies among yourselves and your extended family, there’s literally know one else who has as much skin in the game as you do. Cringe, cry and laugh about it together, but you don’t have to EXPLAIN it – that’s the beauty of it. They already get it.
What will the new year, or new decade for that matter, hold for you? Now’s a great time to start mapping that out. I have 7 trips on my TripIt already. How about you?
“Every night, we stack all our luggage in front of the door – we would just need to hold them off long enough to wake Dad”, said my eldest step-daughter to a friend while we were on a family vacation to NYC one Christmas. That was funny for a second…until I realized we were in fact doing that. Every night. When you have 2 adults, 3 kids + 1 friend and you want a place to stay in Manhattan at Christmastime, you get creative. In an earlier post, I talked about the Times Square hotel we all shared one holiday season that took 30min for each and every elevator ride. At that investment of time, we considered carefully whether we really needed to ascend/descend before setting out. As a result, we either stayed outside wandering while freezing, or collected in the warm room watching “Honey BooBoo” more than I like to admit (btw – the people on ‘My Strange Addiction‘ are not exhibiting normal behavior at all). So, in trying to find a place that would hold all of us and actually be on the island, I chose to judge a little more liberally than is typical for me – I’ve since put together a guide I follow when selecting Airbnbs. That’s what I’m going to share with you now.
Before I’d ever used Airbnb, a friend of mine had already traveled the world using the ‘new’ app. Her advice: Never rent a place that hasn’t already, and preferably recently, been reviewed by past guests. That was great advice to get me started. As such, I’ve never had the problem of showing up at my destination only to discover my “Airbnb” didn’t actually exist. I’ve seen friends and acquaintances post experiences to that effect, so I know it happens and not to oblivious people. Just people who thought they could have blind-trust in a product. So, be vigilant. Airbnb has “Reviews” posted for most spaces. Read them. I also limit my searches now to “Super Host” or “Airbnb Plus” hosts.
Set your filter to exactly what you’re looking for so that, again, you limit surprises. I like “Entire Place”. I’m not willing to even consider anything else, so I set my filter and only look at those spaces. There are, however, “Private Room” and “Shared Room” options. The private rooms will tell you what locks are available for your privacy. Shared room might be only a couch. Living in Austin, I know people who rent out their couch, or an air mattress in their living room, during SXSW and Austin City Limits. That’s not my thing, but if it works for you – cool. Just be certain you know what the arrangement is before you arrive. Remember the old adage – “If it’s too good to be true….” and proceed with caution. Most places, getting a nice apartment for $95-$125/night is great compared to almost any hotel. Even if there are cleaning fees of $50 or so. But, if you’re looking at what you think is an apartment in Chicago for $40-50/night, double-check you’re not looking at just a private room; both are available in this price-range. Just be certain you know what you’re getting. And, location means a lot, too.
I asked a friend how he picks an Airbnb and he said “vibe” is the first and most important criteria. If he looks at the space, reads the reviews and gets a bad vibe, he immediately eliminates the property from consideration. Had I done that, I wouldn’t have ended up in the sketch Manhattan space with the kids…. In that case, I even did a google earth search on the address and I could tell the environment wasn’t ideal. But, I thought – it’s the whole building, and we’ll all be together. It was not the whole building – and, in retrospect, the comments did allude to a shared kitchen space – I just thought – we won’t need the kitchen. I had not considered that folks on a shoestring might be sleeping in the kitchen. Yep, there were folks sleeping in the kitchen. About 10 folks. And, the other space that was listed by this owner wasn’t another apartment by my standards – it was just another large room down the hall. What separated us from the rest of the temporary inhabitants? A doorknob lock. Ergo the luggage-piling. In retrospect, this information was all discoverable had I exercised more scrutiny – but, I was over a barrel with short-notice, a large family, and holiday competition for space. So, to be fair, I did give the host a good rating – he hadn’t misled me. The pictures were accurate as was his description – I had just hoped the pictures “didn’t do the space justice”. Do not assume that.
Set your filters
Only consider places that have past (and hopefully recent) reviews
If the reviews are too short & sweet, they might just be checking a box – look for reviews that really do give you a “picture” of the space and their experience
Reviews aren’t posted for the guest or host until you’ve both reviewed each other. So, post a timely review. But, remember you’re being reviewed, too – be a good guest. It could impact whether future hosts will rent to you.
Research and know what part of town you want to be in – you can set a filter for that, too. You can even plug in key words/locations.
Do a Google Earth search of the address and have a look at the outside – had I done that this past Thanksgiving, which I actually forgot to do, I would’ve picked a different space
Reach out to the owner and ask questions.
#1: If they don’t respond quickly now while they’re courting your business, just imagine if you were having an emergency during your stay.
#2: You might have special considerations that make a difference to you. For me, I like to be able to stream movies and make coffee (the important things). My friend is very tall. So, he asked the owner if the below-ground apartment would work for his height and the owner immediately said it would be miserable over a 10-day stay.
I’m not suggesting that I always want Airbnb over a hotel – I don’t think you have to choose one camp or the other. And, Airbnb surely isn’t always that much cheaper when you consider cleaning fees, etc. If I’m hopping from one town to another with only 1 night at a clip, hotels really are easier to pop into and out of. Sometimes, though, room to sprawl out can be nice. Being able to bring your pet is a nice alternative, too (even pet-friendly hotels usually have a 75lb limit for dogs). Have I ever stayed in a hotel for 10 days? Nope – but, I’ve stayed in an Airbnb for that period of time. When you’re setting out with the family, especially over the holidays, it’s a lot nicer (in my opinion) to have a large space. Even with separate bedrooms, a shared community space gives you a spot to congregate. As compared to a row of hotel rooms. The cost of 3 or 4 hotel rooms in a row, even if achievable, would be rate-limiting in most cases. And, never quite so “homey”.
When do I consider an Airbnb over a hotel?
Have a large group?
Last Christmas, we went to Montreal with my niece’s family and had my step daughters meet us. There was ski gear, Christmas presents, etc. I loved having a large space and cubbies where we could spoke off. And, a full kitchen. That was ideal.
Attending a major event – festival, or holiday?
These occasions cause most hotels to either sell out, or dramatically increase their rates – I think it’s a “what the market will bear” situation….and, there are, by volume, a lot more apartments, houses, etc. than hotel rooms that people might be willing to rent out. You might save a lot by comparison, or your might simply expand your option of available space. Either way, fear not – lodging searches just got a lot wider with Airbnb as an option
Want to get a better feel of the location?
Airbnb is a great alternative for that. I love staying at Airbnbs when I visit my son’s college. I’ve met some terrific hosts and I’ve gotten to interact with his environment SO MUCH BETTER than if I’d stayed at one of the economy hotel options, which are designed to look like their branch in every other city.
Alternatives to economy hotels
I’m not much an economy traveler – so, before I stay at a no-frills hotel or motel, I’m going to be looking at Airbnb. Previously, I’d tapped into traditional Bed and Breakfasts, but that doesn’t suit my husband. Airbnb provides the privacy he wants and the quaintness I prefer.
Want to live like a local?
When staying for more than a week, I think you should sort of live in their shoes for a minute. Go to the market. Make your own breakfast. Have a space where you can sit and read without being a customer somewhere. If it’s an apartment in the Marais neighborhood of Paris or one with a balcony overlooking the heart of Rome, you’ve just given yourself a rare treat that you’ll treasure.
Traveling to a rural spot?
Would you believe me if I told you there are places that don’t have hotels? I said when I started this blog that I would give compliments where they were due, and not remark on those that were undeserving. So, without being specific, there are such places. They might tell you they have “inns” or “resorts”….I beg to differ. These terms apparently have a vast array of definitions as you travel across our land. I’ve driven to the middle of nowhere to visit kids in summer camps – consider Airbnb. There are delightful vacation homes that people keep and you can enjoy them when they’re not. It’s a win-win.
Need a big kitchen?
I’ve taken to hosting Thanksgiving out of town to be closer to my son who can’t take the whole weekend. We tried going to a hotel and eating out one year. While that was fun (and delicious), it didn’t feel quite right. We need traditional dishes and a couch for movies. It’s a lot of work and a ton of schlepping, but so fun to have this option.
So, whether you’re bringing your kids and large pets, AND cooking a huge meal during a major holiday ALL while attending a world-class festival in a rural community…..or, you just want to get away to a little place where you get more space and autonomy than a hotel (and, maybe a cost savings), I’d encourage you to consider Airbnb. It seems to be here to stay and for good reason. I’ve taken to enjoying some of their Airbnb Experiences, too. Every place isn’t Disneyland – you have put a little thought into it in order to make the right choices. And, the resources to pick the right Airbnb are available to you if you tap into them. When you do, you will have really dramatically increased your options and experiences for tons of exciting new locations.
“You’ll lose him – you’ll lose him for sure”, is what everyone said when we announced plans to take our 6-year-old, ‘spirited’ child to Times Square for New Year’s Eve. Guess what – we didn’t lose him. In fact, he actually turned 21 today, so I guess I’m not that bad a parent after all….I mean, he’s not HERE, but I know where he is. For the last 13 years, my office has been in New Jersey while I work from Texas. And, before that, I spent treasured times in the city with close cousins – we commuted, by train, ALONE, from Long Island, ….when we were children. Can you imagine? Times were different (we tell ourselves). Nonetheless, New York City has always had a special place in my heart and if pressed, I honestly could not tell you how many times I’ve been there. Whether it was for a luxe vacation, a budget vacation, just a dinner, summer or fall, I’ve seen it all there. But, I can confirm for you that there’s no city I’ve seen that compares to NYC during the holidays.
Take the picture of Radio City above. If you were standing in this spot right now, you could literally pivot around and see Rockefeller Center with its skating rink serving as the most luxurious and well-tread tree skirt any Christmas Tree ever had. Pivot again and spy Saks Fifth Avenue’s windows and light show. If you picture in your mind’s eye the scrolling electric beacons that dress Times Square and the Theatre District, that’s just a sampling of what you’ll see at Christmastime across entire swaths of the city. And, it’s sincerely holiday cheer – ok, fine – the commercial side is probably manufactured to some degree. But, you certainly get the impression the city revels in it, too. It’s not just for show – the city, its inhabitants and its tourists, find a way to get along and actually, dare I say, share some good will. Even if it’s only for a moment. There are lots of cities where you can go outside and just walk. But, few cities where you can bundle up and walk among the tourist traps and the honking horns of midtown, into the pristine rolling hills of Central Park, and then on to shopping that rivals Rue de Faubourg of Paris in a single stroll. It’s a long stroll. Work with me on this.
Think ahead (as always) on what you’ll want to do while you’re there. Is it all casual? Or, will you also need to fit in some dress clothes for The Rainbow Room or Lincoln Center? You can always adapt your activities around what you’ve brought, or buy more (my preference), but you will want to look smart and be comfortable regardless.
How does a Texan dress for snow?
Dressing for your walking trip through NYC is directly proportional to your level of enjoyment. There’s an art to this:
Dress in layers – this isn’t just something to say – it’s a fact
I recommend silk underwear – it breathes in a way cotton doesn’t. And, if you’re new to the northeast at winter, you don’t yet know that they like their interiors to be a balmy 92F at all times. Layers.
Casual top of any variety – I like flowy, my men wear T-shirts
Scarf (or, 2 – they’re $5 each on the sidewalk)
Coat – I had a nearly frozen southerner in NYC once tell me “You know how they say leather coats are the warmest in the world?” No, no one has ever said that who experienced actual cold. Get wool, get quilting, get down….get smart.
A hat – Texans don’t understand the hat part, but it’s key. I have a HUGE head and a ton of hair. So, I’m usually comfortable with ear muffs, but cover your EARS
Cute shoes? – leave them at home. You need at least 2 pair of durable boots and comfortable socks. I really can’t overstate how much you’ll be walking. Just assume you’ll never get a cab – then if you do, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
If it’s going to be REALLY cold, grab some foot warmers. I discovered them last year in Montreal – Heaven in a self-activating pouch
If you DO have to bring fancy shoes for an event, note that New Yorkers commute around in sensible footwear – you’ll carry your nice shoes in a bag that gets coat-checked, after you swap-out, with your outer coat when you arrive. They think of everything.
Packing mix and match pieces that all coordinate has never been so vital – you might find yourself wanting to wear everything at once someday – and, if they all match, you’re in business.
Bring cash – most places will encourage/require you to check your outerwear – you’ll want to tip at least a little
I recommend a plastic bag you can stick your gloves and hat into that they can sling over the hanger of your coat. Otherwise, shove those pieces into the coat pockets and slide one end of the scarf down the arm of your coat – less likely to fall off and get lost that way.
I’ve chosen to pop over to the city from New Jersey for dinner on more than one occasion – it’s always worth it. But, this is especially true November – December. Maybe you’re bridge-and-tunneling it, so you’ll likely stay close to train stations. There’s the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station (with Holiday markets popping up left and right). Then, you make your way back down toward the PATH and find yourself near Bryant Park, with alas, more Holiday shops. Sip, stroll, repeat.
Say you have just enough time for dinner, but you gravitate near the Park. Plan ahead and make reservations at Tavern on the Green. Yes, it’s back and better than ever – but, don’t forget your reservations. And, if you’ve never done it before, I recommend a carriage ride through Central Park. It’s in fact controversial these days – are the horses well cared for? There are 2 sides to that story, so I won’t direct you either way – do your own google-search and decide. I will say that doing it once is enough for me – I’m not going to use it as a standard mode of transportation. But, as a slice of Americana – I just couldn’t say no.
“Better to see something once than to hear about it a thousand times.”
Asian Proverb (I can’t confirm it’s referring to New York, but I think it is)
Not a shopping fan? How about pop-up ice skating – right in the middle of things. Bryant Park, Central Park, again – Rockefeller Center beneath Prometheus? That’s all pretty Christmas-y. The latter costs the most and has the longest lines. Among the 3, if this is your cup of tea, I’d aim for Bryant Park.
Museums? Um, they’ve got your museums. Here are just a FEW of my favorite NYC art museums:
Metropolitan Museum of Art (ok, fine – yeah, duh….but, even if you’ve been a million times. Go see the Angel tree at Christmas) BTW – if the lines are insane, and they will be, as you face the museum, you’ll see a small entrance down below and to the left….it’s for groups. I play dumb and use this entrance; I haven’t been turned away yet. Good luck.
Natural History Museum – I’ve grown weary of the crowds at this museum, but if we’re talking Christmas, their Origami tree is really worth the hassle. OK fine. There. I admitted it….I’m looking at my origami souvenir ornament right now.
Museum of Modern Art (and, an amazing hamburger just nearby @ The Burger Joint in the Parker Meridien Hotel….let your nose guide you….bring cash)
And, don’t miss the museum’s LARGE gift shop across the street from the museum itself.
The Guggenheim – Frank Lloyd Wright – if all you do is stare at the building, it’s worth the trip. But, while on the upper east side – stop by a cozy wine bar. Rest your feet. You earned it.
The Morgan Library and Museum – Not far from the New York Public Library and what a pleasant little surprise. For decades, I didn’t even realize it was there just waiting for me to discover it.
Cooper-Hewitt – a hands-on Design museum. I wasn’t initially enamored, but it sucks you in, where you stay for hours. And, their gift shop has some of the best and most unique shopping in town.
Neue Galerie – New to me (I’m not trying to be funny….I’ve really just discovered this gem). Klimt. Enjoy.
I don’t need to tell you there’s nightlife in Manhattan, right? You’ve heard the song: it doesn’t sleep. Well, that’s not exactly been my experience. But, I will tell you that if you’re looking for dessert or a cocktail at midnight, you’ll have no trouble. So, break out of your routine and live like a New Yorker – sleep a little later, eat a little later, be a grown up a little later and squeeze in a show in between. New Yorkers also see shows. And, whether you’re interested in a top-billed ticket like “Hamilton”, or what’s now a tried and true staple like “Wicked”, they’ve got you covered. If it’s “Hamilton” you want, you might want to call your American Express Platinum Concierge (still….in 2019…but, it’s Christmas). Go checkout your options. My advice is to buy at least 1 set of tickets on-line to your dream show right now – before you leave. And,then while you’re there, see what you can pick up on the fly. There’s always TKTS and there are box offices at every venue. You’ll have options. I’ve even picked up tickets outside of a theatre from groups who pre-purchased a block of tickets and a few guests couldn’t make it. Someone always has to cancel during cold and flu season. For face-value, that’s reasonable and fair – I didn’t get taken. But, use your judgment. And, if you’re not down for a live show, check out the numerous cinemas around town. I really like the IFC in Greenwich Village. In addition to first-run films, they’ve got a curated collection of off-beat Noir-ish Christmas offerings. And, in a city of X-million people – there will be a theater showing “It’s a Wonderful Life”, I have no doubt.
If you’re there for Christmas, you’re probably already thinking of visiting St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I guess it’s my upbringing, but celebrating the season in church just brings it home to me – dogma aside. It’s the spirit of togetherness, celebration, and new hope. Even if you’re only there to take in the structure, the art, or the music – it’s always an experience that reminds me for at least a short time each year, that we can be collectively reverent whether it’s for spiritual or just nostalgic reasons, it’s still there inside us.
Where to stay is a question of no small concern – NYC is one of your pricier destinations and you’re going at one of its busiest times of year. You see where I’m going with this – if you didn’t book early, you’re going to be staying out or paying $$$. Still, I’d encourage you to think long and hard about where to stay if you’re looking to economize and consult someone who knows the city. To someone who says, ‘I don’t mind staying out a bit’, I’d say: Trains are a great option in NYC – download the CityMapper app and hope for the best. But, trains breakdown, they get delayed, they’re crowded, they have maintenance at the MOST inopportune times (read: just when you’ve planned your curtain time down to the minute). Cabs can get expensive, but they’re usually abundant….except during shift-change, which is right before your dinner reservations. And, pray that it doesn’t rain – you’ll never get a cab in the rain. Theoretically, someone does, but I don’t know who. And, Uber/Lyft are a great option now, but be aware of “peak time”, which seems to be my waking hours. Point is – you’ll want SOME things to be within walking distance. Don’t plan the whole of your 3-4 night vacation to be very far from where you want to do your sightseeing. There are a TON of New York City hotels – you can find one within your price range-ish. And, be wary of those bearing only a few stars. I’m an intrepid traveler and I’ve had to pack-up and leave a few times when the 3 stars I was “OK” with were discovered to be either ill gotten or just far too generous. You have your health and safety to think of; I’m not just referring to the absence of a Nespresso machine. If you’re staying near Times Square for New Years Eve, or the days leading up to NYE, give consideration to the crowds. We were once greeted at a 5-star hotel with a disclaimer that said the elevators might be quite delayed due to the volume of guests – I kid you not….30min to get an elevator at times. By contrast, I offer the Michelangelo Hotel. I’ve stayed here a few times for NYE and was surprisingly insulated from the crowds and chaos. When I’ve been before, I was always able to walk the sidewalks of Times Square on the big night without being corralled into the barricades you see on TV. I called this year to ask whether brandishing their room key would give me the same advantage – they said it’s dependent on NYPD who will decide day-of. That’s a bit of a gamble at their prices, but it’s an option. A comfy one that allows you to watch the lights and crowds from your window, follow the ball drop on your TV, and pop a bottle of fine champagne in bed. There are worse things.
I’ll follow-up with a post profiling some classic Holiday films set in New York City. I’m not letting this one go – there’s no place like Manhattan at Christmas. You have to see it to believe it. The vibrant spirit, the crispness on your face, maybe some snowflakes in the air, and familiar tunes played by sidewalk buskers. For goodness sake – carts hawking CHESTNUTS on 5th avenue.
I’m not naive – I know there’s a bit of a racket looking to cash in on some of the sights and sounds I’m encouraging you to take in. (I’m picturing Charlie Brown admonishing me for over-commercializing Christmas – thunk-thunk on the metal tree). And, while I’m a bit of an off-beat, boutique shopper, myself, and while I abhor crowds, there is still something magical about just standing still in the Macy’s on 34th Street and knowing that Santa Clause once worked there.
When you travel a lot for work, the very last thing you want to do on the weekends and holidays is deal with airports. I honestly wouldn’t mind being teleported places – truly, I like discovering new places. It’s just the getting there (and back) that starts to wear on me. So, when it comes to anniversaries – that one time a year that belongs JUST to the 2 of you, your spouse can start to feel pretty second-rate when you say (again), let’s just have a quiet dinner at home. So, staycations start to look pretty good: first-class accomodations, pampering spa treatments, sitting in a hammock by the lake breathing in natural beauty…..ready to plan a romantic, low-stress getaway? Lemme show you around.
So, I can see some husbands’ eyes roll when they hear: Let’s plan a spa vacation. I mean, that’s where you go to have a girls’ weekend, right? RIGHT – if you can assure me of the following:
You don’t enjoy all-inclusive meals and snacks; made to order (with access to wine and champagne accompaniment)
You’re averse to water sports (e.g. kayaking, stand-up paddling, canoeing, ….sun-bathing)
You don’t like to swim – and, especially not in a variety of indoor and outdoor pools
You have no interest in working out, stretching, or long guided hikes in nature
Reading a book by the lake doesn’t appeal to you
Lying down on a heated-water massage table while skilled technicians massage out the stress of work sounds unappealing
Cooking demonstrations by chefs who only need you to lift a fork (taking in more food and wine) don’t interest you
Retiring to your private, well-appointed room with a video from the extensive free lending library just doesn’t compare to watching “Law and Order” on your own couch
Are we on the same page now? I mean, what’s not to love, right? We happen to be lucky enough to live within driving distance of Condé Nast’s #1 spa destination in America. Every time we go, though, we meet people from around the US, so it’s most certainly not just locals or people who find it convenient. I’ve been indulging in their luxury – on a day-pass basis – for years. And, taking even a day to strip off your normal daily routine to don a robe, sit in peace and just “be” while you get a facial, a massage and EXCELLENT food, can nourish your soul. Becoming an overnight guest is something that’s been a special treat my husband and I give each other once a year. I think you have to have these special getaways that belong only to you. They don’t have to be the same place over and over – maybe it’s the theme you enjoy and don’t invest in everyday – like maybe you want to take in a cruise once a year from a nearby port where you float around for a few nights only to arrive back at the same spot. Or, maybe you like a cabin in the woods when it’s snowy. When you combine work travel with visiting-the-kids travel, it all adds up to a lot of one of you gets left behind, or a lot of playing Mom & Dad. Regardless, it’s nice to unplug and remind yourself why this is the person you picked to share your life with.
For us, the spa theme works well because when done well, like at Lake Austin Spa Report, it’s the ultimate indulgence: As much aloneness as we want, as much involvement as we want (there are lots of group activities if you’re interested) and as much pampering as we want. If I’m completely honest, massages and facials as a matter of routine are a necessity. But, driving through traffic to get to my appointment, sitting for an hour or so, while “is there anything at home for dinner?” and “did I reply to that e-mail?” plays through my head leaves me feeling a little conflicted at times: Was this just another thing I had to squeeze into my day? It’s certainly not a tooth extraction or a trip to the DMV. Wow – I’m seriously complaining about how to find just the right amount of pampering to count….. But, my POINT is that waking up and thinking “all I have to do today is a hike and a facial” is a very different paradigm.
Obviously, spa destinations haven’t cornered the market on romantic getaways. America’s playground – Las Vegas isn’t a bad spot for a couples’ getaway. And, most people can manage to get there non-stop, which is at least helpful. It’s not all gambling, smoking and bad choices. It can also be fine dining, amazing shopping, extraordinary food and live entertainment – of quality. Here’s what I mean:
Pools – lovely pools open all day and right up until it’s time to go to dinner….just sit, read, people-watch. They’ll bring you food and beverages if you ask
Shopping – not the cheesy fashion malls (note: If it says ‘fashion’ on the outside, be dubious)
Bellagio – always the first place I head for window shopping and, let’s be honest – shopping shopping
Craft cocktails – Sweeping Las Vegas as they are the rest of the world right now. Nonetheless, a much quieter Vegas than what normally springs to mind, and a relaxing pre- or post-dinner pastime
Excellent meals – Can you find cheesy restaurants in Las Vegas, yes. Can you find buffets, yes. Do you have to, no. There’s a Le Cirque and a French Laundry there. Picasso has actual Picassos hanging on the wall. Sure, every chain has a presence there – you don’t have to eat at them. Look for the gems – they’re there.
Live entertainment – Yep – there’re talentless topless shows. I’m not trying to trick you. But, you can find amazing shows, too, because entertainers go where people go and people go to Vegas – Elton John, “Love” featuring Beatles’ music and extraordinary French-Canadian acrobats, most touring bands (e.g. checkout who’s playing at Brooklyn Bowl). If you want cheesy, you won’t have to look far. And, we’ve certainly squeezed in our fair share of stars from our youth: Donny & Marie, Olivia Newton John….but, we manage to strike a balance.
What does all this have to with business travel? Well, I’m glad you asked. Because we’ve had a million little get aways and staycations thanks to business travel – Hyatt, Marriott, Hilton….have you looked at what all they own these days? You’d be surprised – historic hotels are now in their ranks even. So, formerly privately owned places you’ve always wanted to stay…..are now only points away. (Royal Hawaiian on Waikiki, now part of Marriott….I’m heading your way again soon) So, download their apps, monitor your points and see what might be available to you for FREE. Here are some ideas:
Book a lazy-river kinda weekend: Hyatt Resorts – very generous with the points and gracious (in my experience) with their loyal members, have honored us on numerous weekends with free amenities for being loyal customers even when, and maybe especially when, paying with points.
How about a night on the town: Marriott – Downtown has a new feel when you’re empty nesters. Drive 10min to downtown, check into a lovely, urban resort, sit at a rooftop pool, take in a spa service or 2 and then hit the town. Which is to say, a fine dinner and an early evening. In MOST cases. But, maybe it’s New Year’s Eve or a live event and you won’t want to drive or head home early. Relax, treat yourself.
Rent a house and work remotely for a few days: Airbnb has many options for couples with dogs – I wouldn’t want to take the kids on a romantic excursion (no offense kids…you wouldn’t want to come anyway), but the dog is THRILLED to come with us. He’s been on 2 whole vacations, you know…he’s quite well-traveled.
And, while I really wanted to talk about the value of a staycation, which even in its briefest form, can be restorative, I end on a note of: stock up on your points and work your miles. I can’t tell you the number of times we’ve looked at each other on a Thursday night and said: Do you have any points we could use for the weekend? Those are some of the BEST weekends. Your credit cards really can work to your advantage if you use them wisely, too. You’re spending the money anyway – why not put it on a card that will reward you with free nights or free airfare (just don’t incur interest or fees). It takes discipline, but doesn’t everything? I’m not eating a Justin’s almond butter cup right now because of discipline – it can’t all be fun and games; I drank the extra glass of wine – I’m not a masochist.
This is what I’ve learned: it’s important to just BE. Live in the moment – appreciate your surroundings. Enjoy the people you’ve chosen to spend your life with. Even the most staid and stoic partners need some variety – and, so does a relationship enjoy a change of scenery. Use your travel savvy and make a weekend special. It doesn’t have to be a huge endeavor and if you’re smart, you can even off-set the cost. But, the memories are yours to keep – at no additional cost.
This time last year, I was in Amsterdam and a friend said: Y’know….those shoes have seen better days. And, she was RIGHT. I left those shoes in my hotel as I desperately tried to finagle everything that once easily fit into my carry-on luggage….once…about 10 days ago….before a lot of shopping. But now, every inch counted. And, at a size 8.5-9, shoes count. Let’s be honest – shoes always count. The important thing is – I hadn’t remembered those shoes again until fall crept into Austin (i.e. the mercury dipped below 90) and I needed something other than sandals. In my search for a neutral pair of cheetah print shoes that go with everything I remembered my most essential pair of closed-toe shoes, which I now needed to replace. And, that led me to thinking about my essentials in general and what couldn’t I live without…travel-wise.
We all have our favorite items. I asked some of you and found we share a lot of the same tools of the trade. Sleep masks rank pretty highly – especially silk because they’re soft, durable and light-weight against your eyes. If you’re a light sleeper like I am, that crack between the black-out curtains…that stands between your good night’s sleep and about 10 high-powered street lamps…is a foe who will get the better of you everytime. Also – socks. If my feet are cold, I’ll never fall asleep. Long-haul flights hand out amenity bags that contain sleep masks and socks, so I’m not making this up. These are basic creature comforts that are worth their weight in gold when you need them. So, plan ahead and enhance your trip before you even leave.
I have a few pieces that just live in my suitcase. Well, a few things and cat, who plants himself in my suitcase any time it comes out of the closet. What is it about cats and suitcases? Nonetheless, the essentials that I keep are similar to yours:
So, here’s a strangely neurotic thing – on weekdays, I like to watch local morning news while I get ready for work. Do you? I want to know what’s happening in THIS city TODAY. I need the newscaster to tell me every 8 minutes what time it is and how much traffic I’ll encounter and whether I need an umbrella. But, AFTER work or on the weekends: Podcasts and Spotify. You could use the speaker on your phone, but this little beauty packs a punch – it sure is nice having decent sound in your room. I have a million curated playlists: A variety of instrumentals for when I need to think intently and songs with lyrics of all ilk for when I just want to unwind. This brings a little bit of home with me everywhere I go.
I’m not a BoyScout, but I like to be prepared. You never know when a colleague or a business is going to give you the gift of wine – and, you don’t want to appear ungrateful. Unlike a traditional corkscrew, this version is TSA-safe. Somewhere along the way, I also acquired a wine stopper and portable infuser because……I don’t know why because. But, they all live permanently in my suitcase and, um, get used. Often.
Because you don’t know until you’re getting dressed for an important meeting that THESE pants are the ones your cat’s been hiding behind in your closet at home. So that you don’t look like a Yeti all day, carry a lint roller. This one is small enough you can stick it in your purse, briefcase, or just keep it in your luggage as I do. It’s refillable, too, so less plastic waste.
Travel Umbrella and Carrying Bag
Yep, they’re everywhere…until you need one. So, I just leave mine in my suitcase permanently. I tell other people to think of it as an insurance policy because if you don’t pack it, sure as…..rain, you’ll be plagued with damp hair and clothes the whole trip. For $10, you too can rule the weather. And, yeah – they usually come with a little sleeve that if you’ve taken the advance course or have a Masters in physics, you can use over and over again with ease. But, if you’re like me, you need to just stash it in something impermeable quickly and keep the rest of your satchel contents dry. I stole this tip from an NYC friend who uses the reusable plastic bags from the grocery store. My take on this theme is a plastic bag from Harrod’s in London. Why not? Reminds me of a good trip and it’s a great conversation starter on a dreary day.
Aforementioned silk sleep mask
I’ve had a variety of these:
Memory foam – pricey, and a little heavy = hot
Scarf – works in a pinch
Free from the airlines – perfectly serviceable unless you flew United this summer when they were giving out the Spiderman masks…..NOT serviceable
Silk – current favorite and a favorite among my friends apparently. Light-weight, pretty, gentle – as in no pressure on your face. And, a reasonably priced luxury item at under $20.
You wear your shoes into public restrooms……and, then you tuck them into your suitcase next to your undies? So, you get where I’m going with this. Shoe bags. They’re not expensive. Recently, British Airways even put their amenities into shoe bags – 1 round-trip and you had a pair. Lots of nice shoes even come with them tucked into the bottom of the box. Shoe bags. Use them.
If you wear silver jewelry like I do, it’s an essential. For some reason, jewelry tarnishes faster on the road – or, er, maybe you’re just suddenly aware because you’re getting dressed and using it……could be either. Really. You can buy them easily enough. Or, at finer stores, if you ask nicely when making a purchase, they’ll gladly implore you to take it as a gift. Thank you.
As an aside – Did you know that gemstones take in all their light from the bottom? Before you head out, you can quickly scrub your colored gems, on the underside, with an old toothbrush and water. That’s really all you need – maybe some baking soda if you think you need to scrub. And, diamonds are the only stones that take in light from the top, so scrub opposite for them. I worked in retail jewelry for a long time – if you ever dropped your jewelry off to be cleaned with me, this is what you got. So, a little tip – direct from me to you. No charge.
Even my function over form husband admits this is genius. These bags fold up to almost nothing and I keep one in my luggage at all time. I use them when I’m out for a day and want a large, light weight bag for shopping Or, since I sometimes buy more than I’m able to comfortably get back into the luggage I came with, the zipper and a luggage tag allow me to securely and conveniently check it. They are available in a variety of sizes and colors.
Have I given you anything to think about? When I asked for everyone’s essentials – I got a lot of great ideas that I think most of us who travel often take for granted. Example: Buy 2 of every toiletry and keep your liquids, makeup and “other” ready to go at all times. (Can you tell I personally keep them in 3 separate bags…?) Don’t swap out – just keep a set ready to drop into your suitcase without giving it a thought. Another: Melatonin. I resisted it for a long time, but I have to say – it takes the edge off and helps me sleep. Noise cancelling earbuds – these are on my list of items to explore….would love to hear about brands and experiences from others. I’ve had Bose recommended to me. At one time, I blew these off because they were just one more thing to charge, but now that I carry an extra power source with me, that’s probably not a problem. Hmmmmm…..so much more to learn. SOCKS – Don’t forget socks; often free on airlines, but inexpensive to grab a pair that you keep in your suitcase. If forgotten, they can mean the difference between a restful sleep, or torturous tossing and turning. At which point, you start trying to tie shoebags onto your feel in lieu of socks…….well, that’s a topic for another time.