Bill Bryson says…

“…[T]here are always people who don’t want to go anywhere and I think that’s a great pity because two things happen when you travel – you find out there are other ways of doing things, and that sometimes they are better; and sometimes they’re not done half as well. But it gives you a much greater appreciation for what you’ve got at home, or how you might improve it.” Why people wouldn’t want to do that is a mystery to me.”

Bill Bryson, a travel writing icon (legend?), when asked in a recent interview on why some people have no interest in traveling.

IT’S A MAJOR AWARD!

It’s not everyday that the beautiful and free-spirited mind behind Travel Chick Diaries bestows a wonderful honor on yours truly…MY FIRST BLOG AWARD!!!

WHAT!?

I think this GIF really sums up my level of excitement —

Happy!

Okay, so now that that’s out of the way, the Lighthouse Award was created in 2013 as a way to “recognize the people who have created beautiful, heartwarming, and inspirational blogs” and to honor those who bring a little ray of light into our world.

Wow.

I am SO thankful and appreciative of all of my readers  – both those who follow regularly and those who find my blog by accident – who have found my posts over these last few months interesting and inspiring.

Besides being a place to share great travel tips, stories, and news, I also hope this blog helps you to:

1. Become a better and smarter traveler. There are so many choices and disclaimers when it comes to booking a trip these days. The more educated you are about what your choices are, the better you can make a decision about what best suits your travel needs (and wallet!).

2. Realize that travel is scalable.  You don’t have to travel halfway around the world for it to count! Travel opportunities are all around you whether its an afternoon visiting your local sights and attractions or just taking a day trip to a locale within 3 hours of you. Don’t ever feel limited by your environment or intimidated by travel stories from others.

3. LAUGH. Shit happens when you travel, and often at the most inconvenient of times. Learn from my mistakes and the lessons of your fellow travel bloggers.  Then go make your own. You’ll laugh about it later.

In the spirit of the Lighthouse Award, here are few blogs that I enjoy and will surely bring a little bit of light into your life as well:

http://ontheluce.com/

http://journeywonders.com/

http://thirdeyemom.com/

http://nkellersarmiento.wordpress.com/

http://photocory.com/

http://backpackerlee.wordpress.com/

For those nominated, let’s keep the light going! Here’s how:

• Display the Award Certificate on your blog.
• Write a post and link back to the blogger that nominated you.
• Inform your nominees of their award nominations.
• Share three ways that you like to help others.
• Nominate as many bloggers as you like.

Now – who’s ready to get lost?

xo

Ten Things I Don’t Travel Without

Whenever I travel, I always have that feeling that I forgot something as soon I check in at the airport. Often times, whatever I left behind wasn’t really that important and can easily be replaced with a quick trip to the store at my destination.

But sometimes I head to places where a convenience store just isn’t on the itinerary.

These days, whether I’m headed on a leisure trip somewhere in the U.S. or off on a TDY assignment in Southwest Asia, there are the top ten things that I do not travel without.

1. A small medicine kit which includes essentials like Imodium, Mylanta, Melaleuca Sustain Sport (to replenish electrolytes and keep me hydrated!) and painkillers.  

You never know where you’ll be when your gastrointestinal system betrays you.  The last thing I want to deal with is how and where to find the remedy!

2. An airplane neck pillow.

Even Leo uses one!

I fly economy, sometimes premium economy, and it will be a long time before we will see lie-flat seats in the main cabin.  Which means lots of preventable kinks in necks. If Leonardo DiCaprio isn’t too good for a neck pillow, neither am I!

3. Wet Ones Hand Wipes. Hand Sanitizer may kill bacteria, but it doesn’t clean your hands and actually remove any debris or residue you might have on them from touching doors, subway handles, clothes, etc. I don’t go anywhere without ’em. ANYWHERE.

4. Melaleuca Revive Fabric Freshener Spray.  Think Febreeze, but with serious staying power.  After a few days on the road and limited clothes in rotation, this liquid miracle keeps my clothes smelling fresh and clean. I’ve even used it on jeans and a sweater which reeked of a grassy substance (not mine!) after a Jay-Z concert; it was like they had just came out of the wash! As an added bonus, it also acts as a wrinkle remover. I just pour what I need into a travel spray bottle and off I go.

5. A scarf. A large pashmina-type scarf can come in handy for all kinds of occasions.  It can be draped around the shoulders for warmth in the evening, used as a shoulder/head covering when visiting certain houses of worship, worn around the neck for style, used as a bag cover, worn as a belt…the possibilities are pretty much endless.

6. Dry Shampoo.  Washing your hair every day can be drying and hard on your hair, and in between washes I like to make sure that my hair looks and feels clean as if it were first washed.  This dry shampoo from Oscar Blandi is a staple in my travel bag.  It’s paraben-free and I LOVE that it smells like lemons!

7. Ear plugs. I cannot over-emphasize this one. Not only are they great to block out some of the ambient sound in the main cabin of the airplane (or the awful snorer two rows over), but they are also great to mute out noise at my hotel. Whether its street noise, calls to prayer, or just the settling of the building, I’m more apt to hear everything the first couple of nights. These are so small and for a few dollars are worth every penny when it comes to preserving my sanity.

8. Extra canvas tote bag/reusable shopping bag.  It’s not uncommon to pick up a few extra goodies when you’re on vacation.  When it’s time to come home, I use the extra bag as a carry-on with any extra stuff that won’t fit into my checked luggage.

9. My iPad mini.  Using he Nook app from Barnes and Noble, I can keep current on my reading without lugging four books around, which takes up valuable space in my carry-on. I also use the iPad to store photos which frees up space on my iPhone which acts as my primary camera.  On shorter trips, I prefer to just travel with the iPad mini and leave the MacBook at home.

10. A handful of Melaleuca Attain Bars.  Not only do they make great snacks on the road to curb hunger, the bars are also super easy to pack.  I often stuff a few in my carry-on and stash the rest in the nooks and crannies of my checked bag.  They’re packed with protein to keep me going when my next meal is still a few hours away, and are far more nutritional than munching on a sugar-packed granola bar.

 Do any of these make your “must pack list?”

What did Delta Really Change in their SkyMiles Program?

Frequent fliers woke up to some interesting news this week.

Starting in 2015, Delta Skymiles will change how its fliers earn redeemable reward miles.  Instead of the traditional model which allows passengers to earn miles based on the number of miles flown, or:

600 miles flown = 600 redeemable miles earned
(plus any premiums depending on your Skymile status)

the new model rewards passengers with 5 miles for every dollar spent, for example:

$600 for a r/t ticket = 3000 redeemable miles earned

If you have silver status or higher with Delta, your reward mileage conversion increases by the following multipliers:

  • 7 for silver;
  • 8 for gold;
  • 9 for platinum; and
  • 11 for medallion

So what does this mean to the everyday traveler? Probably not much.

Remember, this change to Delta’s mileage program doesn’t change the way you earn qualified miles (or frequent flyer status), only on the way you earn redeemable reward miles.

Did you catch that?

If not, you’re not alone.

Let’s say you want to plan a trip to Paris from Washington Dulles in September.  An economy class ticket costs $1282; a business class ticket costs $5058.

Assuming this passenger has no status, the economy class ticket would earn about 7722 miles r/t; the business flier 11,583 miles (with 50% bonus miles).

Based on the 2015 plan, the economy flier would earn 6410 miles; the business flier 25290 (with 50% bonus miles).

So while the redeemable reward miles earned are greater under the 2015 plan, in order to earn Silver status, both would earn the same number of qualifying miles (based on 7722 miles of actual distance flown) from this flight.

In fact, the biggest change has to do with the dollar component now required to earn status.  Not only do passengers need to fly the required 25,000 qualifying miles to earn silver status, but the 2015 plan also requires customers to spend a minimum amount on Delta tickets for each level ($2500 for silver, $5000 for gold, etc.)

I have to believe that Delta didn’t make this confusing on purpose; but it took me nearly half an hour to really decipher what changed and what didn’t.  I consider myself a very educated person, but it took some time to find the right link to tie together all the figures and tables and conversion charts on the website.

At the end of the day, all you really need to know is this:

Delta’s 2015 Skymiles Plan essentially rewards customers who spend more per ticket, or buy many tickets over the course of time.  This means more miles redeemed on Delta and partner flights or other affiliated services.  It’s a great ploy to build brand loyalty.

Redeemable miles are not the same as qualifying miles which will still be calculated on actual distance flown.

Status will be achieved through a combination of qualifying miles + minimum qualifying dollars spent.

Let’s take one more example of a last minute business traveler who’s jetting from Washington Dulles to L.A. for a meeting.

A last minute economy seat costs $1108, a business seat about $2000; the distance is the same at 4756.  Starting in 2015, the economy flier will earn about 5500 redeemable miles, the business flier 10,000.

HOWEVER, assuming they both have no status they BOTH earn 4756 qualifying miles with the business flier earning a 50% bonus.

Got it?

My Abyssinia

This post originally appeared in my travel journal.  During July 2012, I spent some time in Ethiopia supporting a USAID-sponsored development project.  I’m excited to share excerpts from that trip with you.  This post has been edited from its original version.

I arrived three hours late.

The company driver didn’t have the means to research my flight status before arriving at the airport, nor did he have the wherewithal to ask anyone at the airport about it…so he left.  It was chilly so I fished my fleece jacket out of my suitcase and headed back to the arrival hall.  The hotel had a desk just inside the doors and they could surely arrange a shuttle from the airport.

Except the guards stopped me because once you exit the airport you can’t re-enter.

Oops.

I repeated the name of my hotel, “Jupiter, Jupiter Hotel,” and one guard dispatched the other to the hotel desk stand to fetch the hotel rep.  I sat on my suitcase.  I’d been traveling for two days.  I was tired.  It was nearly midnight.  I started laughing.

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Jupiter Hotel, adorned with red window awnings. I often saw flocks of sheep and goats outside my window.

The hotel rep quickly admonished me for not stopping by the hotel desk on my way out of the airport; I explained I was told I’d have a driver waiting for me.  He made a clucking noise with his tongue and was on his phone calling the hotel shuttle bus.  Within a few minutes, I was packed into a large van.  Thankfully, the hotel was only minutes away from the airport.  The hotel staff, who had been expecting me for the past three hours, quickly ushered me through check-in and told me to drink down a glass of juice to “refresh myself.”  It was mango juice, and it was good.

As I headed to the elevator, a man approached me holding a sign with my name on it and a goofy expression.  The driver.

“You didn’t wait at the airport.”
“Yes.  Plane was late.”
“You’ve been here at the hotel?”
“Yes.”

Lunch the next day was Italian.  There are lots of Italian restaurants here.  When the rest of the colonial powers turned to Africa with a bright eye, Ethiopia was one of two African nations that kept their sovereignty with the exception of a brief flirtation with the Italians in the late 1930s.  They were later liberated by the British and nothing much remains of the Italian occupation with the exception of pizza and pasta.

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Russian Lada taxis parked up the main road from the hotel

After many years supporting infrastructure projects, I tend to take notice of roads when I travel.  For the most part, the roads in Addis are pretty good. The main roads are paved with few potholes; I can’t say the same for side streets which look more like what you would expect roads to look like in developing countries.  The Chinese have taken great interest in Ethiopia and have injected large amounts of capital into the country over the last 12 years.  Much of this money is put back into the infrastructure work, including roads and dams.

The latest project recently completed by the Chinese is a massive ring road which encircles the city of Addis and provides a bypass for many cars clearing up congested city streets.  In exchange for urban investment, Ethiopia imports tons of goods from China.  I bought a wireless mouse this morning – made in China.  Most of the house wares sold in the supermarket – made in China.  The street signs – albeit the majority of them laughably incorrectly translated into English – yup, made in China.

Ethiopia remains as one of the more developed and economically stable countries in East Africa.  The crime rate is far lower than in neighboring countries such as Uganda and Kenya.  Education is very important and there are a number of universities located throughout the capital.  English is widely used as the lingua franca despite the official language being Amharic.  I’ve had no difficultly communicating with our local office staff, at shops, or restaurants.

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At Kaldi’s Coffee. Which uses the same color scheme as Starbucks, and would give it a serious run for its money.

Coffee is Ethiopia’s main export and they are the largest producer of coffee in Africa.  In fact, it was here in Ethiopia that the coffee bean was domesticated. Starbucks and Ethiopia have a very contentious relationship regarding coffee rights and trademarks.  It’s a shame, really, because Ethiopian coffee is very, very good.

I took particular notice of the women’s dress which ranged from western-style clothing to the more indigenous, traditional wear.  Everyone was very friendly, lots of smiles.

Cars are plastered with “I love Jesus,” and “Jesus love me” stickers. Ethiopians are overwhelmingly Christian, with a large minority of Muslims.  It being Ramadan, many remain home until iftar (breaking of the daily fast) at which time the streets and shops become even more crowded.  The Jews largely emigrated to Israel in the late 1980s.

Maybe I’ll make it into the Merkato shopping district tomorrow and take in some of the city’s downtown sights.

If it ever stops raining.