Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Business packing for backpackers (and others who take pride in minimalist packing)

Well, maybe not so minimalist. I've been experimenting with taking only a carry-on lately. Yes, bag fees are the bane of many the traveler's existence but carrying on does one more thing: it makes for a much less stressful packing experience all together. Thanks goes out to sites like which makes the initial panic of, "Holy batman, what do I start with?" disappear.

My latest conference had me flying on an airline which ends in -an. Ladies and gents, these tickets are cheap for a reason. At this point, though, all the major US airlines are making their way towards Ryan Air status so it's not even worth complaining about anymore.

Regardless, the one thing this airline will do is allow you to gate check for free if you're the last poor fool boarding. Their carry on dimensions recently shrunk to child's backpack size. Unless you're carrying on a coat and nothing else, your bag will probably not fit at all. Be the last one on the plane, especially if you don't mind waiting for that free checked bag to make it's way to baggage claim. Save you $20 for an extra 15 minutes spent talking to strangers about their grandchildren or something.

Oh, I was making a list? Shall we?

One bag business trip list (for a seven day conference)
  • Colors. Coordinate your colors. I chose black because I love irony. Really, though, any shades will do as long as they match. I've done browns, blacks and greys in the past as well and it worked wonderfully.
  • 3 pants (business casual or strict business depending on the code at your ultimate destination). Chances are you're not going to cause a massive disaster on your pants via mustard. If they're black the mustard hides after a quick trip to the water fountain.
  • 3-5 tops. All of which could be used for those, ahem, after hour meetings.
  • Something to sleep in obviously. One set. Heck, want to save room? Sleep in your underthings. Just don't scare your potential roommate with your fantastic looking desk job body. (Note: this has happened to me. It's fun for you but not for the victim.)
  • Underthings. Men and Women: Invest in some good travel underwear. Ladies: Pick one amazing bra and one sports bra.
  • Shoes. I know, obvious right? You want one good pair you can wear for business and funsies. Make sure the next time you pick up a pair of work shoes that they can do double duty. Remember: If they're replacing two pairs of shoes, you might as well spend twice as much for a good pair which functions in multiple ways.
  •  Forget toiletries. If you're going to a conference for work then you're most likely going to a hotel which carries all those "forgotten items" for free. Unless you need a specific product it's a waste of both space and time to carry any shampoo/conditioner/lotion/toothpaste. I've never been to a conference hotel which doesn't offer these replacements. 
If your conference and travel time is shorter than seven days adjust the amount of clothing as needed.

What's your ultimate business travel packing tip?

Friday, April 27, 2012

Street art in Iceland

Hello Iceland. It's like give a krona, take a krona
When I said, "Hey, I'm going to Iceland," the rest of that thought didn't include,". . . to see the amazing graffiti and to analyze it for political commentary."

It probably should have.

I think that the thing that surprised me the most was the absolute insane amount of street art plastered about Reykjavik (and even Akureyri). Basically every city and town you travel to has at least a bit of street art gracing it's buildings, walls, streets. If it's paintable, it's probably been turned into art.

Actually, the project we were working on with Worldwide Friends (Veraldivinir) turned out to be a "Street Art Haven". A formerly barren plot of land behind a home which used to serve as the base of operations for the Hell's Angels. After it is renovated it will be a gathering point for art and culture in Reykjavik.

Yeah, that used to be a sewage pipe. Then it was taken out by an Icelander with a backhoe. Many a nose hair cried that day.

It's housed on the same block as Coco Reykjavik, a shop which sells goods produced by volunteers in Iceland and the residents of Tierra Bomba, Columbia. All of the money raised goes to support Veraldivinir and it's goal of providing the residents of Iceland with a central point to engage in active service domestically as well as supporting their ongoing project in Columbia.

The depth and breadth of street art was amazing. The story goes, after the economic collapse of 2005, the government stopped paying to clear "graffiti" from buildings. Instead, the government of Iceland decided that the best way to accommodate the growing art scene was to embrace it, if not with a bit of hesitation. Hence, we get amazing buildings like this one.

If you ever get a chance, and you love urban and street art, you need to take a plane to Iceland. You won't regret it.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Five things I wish I knew before I wandered around Spain and Germany

 Let me preface this post by saying these are just generalities I observed in Berlin, Madrid, Granada and Barcelona. I have no knowledge of the accuracy of this post outside of those cities. Please feel free to correct me.
Now then. Let's begin.
1. America is spoiled when it comes to free Wifi.
  • Seriously. We wander into a McDonald's parking lot and voila! Free WiFi. Finding free internet access is near to impossible in most parts of Spain and Germany. Don't count on being able to check your email regularly (or update your blog) without having to either pony up for some coffee or pay per minute. 
2. Knowing even a few words in the country's mother tongue will get you farther.
  • I sort of already knew this going into planning my trip, but it's a big difference in knowing something is a good idea and actually executing that good idea. I think half the time people switched to English simply because they tired of me slaughtering their language. It's the thought that counts and even a few phrases will make your life so much easier.
Speaking of:

3. Learn some Spanish before you go to Spain.
  • Luckily, being a native of South Florida I need to know Spanish to survive south of my county. My best advice: if you don't know a word of Spanish be sure to have some sort of dictionary with you. I managed around Germany without knowing more than please, thank you, and where's the bathroom. In Spain, I needed to know Spanish. No questions. Barcelona was pretty multi-lingual (Catalan is not exactly a widely spoken language), but I'm pretty sure I would have starved in Granada and Madrid or remained horribly decaffeinated. Neither of which are good things for anyone near me.
4. There is no such thing as a free bathroom.
  • Again, something we American's are spoiled by. Need to pee? Pop into Starbucks and wiz to your heart's content. Need to drop a deuce? That Denny's doesn't care if you don't want their heart attack special. Take a seat and enjoy your "Me Time". Spain and Germany, my friends, are not in the business of spoiling their residents with complementary access to the commode. The bathrooms in most places have code pads. You only get the code with a purchase, or you have to pay an attendant to get the privilege of dropping trau at the Porcelain God. I never factored bathroom costs into my equation. I really should have.
5. The water may be drinkable but it's hiding like a virgin on prom night.
  • Finding a water fountain in Berlin and Barcelona was less like finding grass and more like finding a golden egg. Considering my last few adventures were to places where an old Aztec leaders and a bunch of dead tzarists try to disembowel you via the water pipes this was a welcome change. Trying to take advantage of that change was, to say the least, difficult. I ended up playing obvious tourist in many a bathroom and filled my water up there. Madrid, on the other hand, has a ridiculous plethora of fountains. All of them ornate and completely potable. It was like finding nirvana!
All in all, these are things I wish I knew before I set off this past summer. Anyone else have some things they wish they knew before they set off on a foreign vacation?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Is that a backpacker I smell?

UPDATED: What worked and what didn't.

Alright the two of you reading! It's time for a round up of the 21.3 pounds (9.9 Kilos) I'm hauling across Europe. My standard packing list for staying in one place has, not surprisingly, been altered a tad.

I still think I somehow ended up with too much stuff even though I packed and chucked half of it back in the closet. Most of the pack was eaten by cold weather clothes I have to haul to Iceland, and even though I plan on looking like an oompa loompa on the plane it still takes up some room. That and I have to bring a sleeping bag instead of just a liner.

I picked up this Eagle Creek packable day pack a while back. It's ridiculously tiny, ripstop nylon, and it still fits more then I probably should inside. I have room for my netbook, phone, camera, ipod touch, passport, and makeup. Not to mention, I can stuff my stupidly restricted, evil, dangerous, national security harming face wash and shampoo inside. Win/win? I think so.

Seeing as I barely wear any makeup on a daily basis, and I still want to feel like a girl, I brought the bare essentials for this expedition.

My "oh, crap" kit, as I'm so fond of calling it, is tiny but completely worth the bit of space it takes up. Included in my mini triage kit are band-aids, mini anti-bacterial ointment packets I picked up for free somewhere, bottle of random medications (pain reliever, Pepto, Imodium. I'm sure there's something else in there). Also included are alcohol swabs I've been completely, unintentionally collecting at school and work, and some Sudafed off brand decongestant because my sinuses and I are not ever on friendly terms.

This final bad boy of a packing list is all stuffed in two Eagle Creek compression bags.

The final tally (including the above):
2 sports bras
1 regular bra (wear on plane)
2 cami's (one on plane)
5 pair underwear (one on plane)
3 pair merino wool socks (one on plane)
1 quick dry t-shirt
3 t-shirts (cheap hanes tee. One on the plane and I may be ditching the older one.)
2 quick dry long sleeve shirts
2 quick dry long underwear/leggings Ended up using one and washing every two days .
2 pair zip off pants (only one made it home)
1 pair jeans (wear on plane)
1 pair sandals
1 pair flats
1 pair hiking/walking boots (wear on plane)
1 pair dress pants (Never wore them)
1 sweater (on plane)
1 light bolero/sweater (on plane)
1 one piece bathing suit
1 pair running/jogging shorts (Best Idea ever. Wore it under a leggings/long top in way too hot spain)

Of course, all of that is in my previously mentioned TETON pack.

I'm all packed, finally. Now, I just have to get through the next two days at work and I escape Sunday afternoon!