Traveling with “stuff” then and now

I’ve been traveling regularly for the past 25 years with occasional forays before that. I read this on the Conde Nast Traveler site just now that mentions things that used to be common in travel that are no longer a “thing” anymore and it made me think of things I used to do/bring/consider when I traveled and how things have changed.

Travelers’ Checks (Sorry, Travelers’ “Cheques” here in Canada) were the safest way of bringing your money with you when you traveled. Remember going to the bank to get them and you had to sign every one in front of the bank clerk? In my very early days traveling, I would buy them in US dollars because that was more accepted. That changed to Canadian dollars or I would buy them in British Sterling. You’d have to go to a bank, or the  Thomas Cook or American Express office to cash them in most of the time. Sometimes, a shop would let you purchase things directly with them if the TC was in the local currency but you’d have to provide your passport and an armful of ID to go with it.

Even when ATM cards started to be more commonly used and your local bank card was on a network that could be used outside the country, I took some TCs just in case though not as much. When I made it through a trip where I didn’t use them at all, I cashed them in when I got back and never bought them again.  I’ll often pre-pay a load of spending money I’ve saved on my credit card before I go to avoid interest charges, especially if I need to use it for a cash advance because occasionally the foreign ATM won’t accept my bank card. I still bring two different credit cards with me, one of which is just a backup and I always buy a bit of foreign currency to start me out. You always need a bit of cash for taxis or a snack in a cafe on that long airport/train/bus station layover.

Royal Oak phone boothHow to communicate with folks back home? I could call collect from a pay phone through an overseas number for Canada Direct, speak to a real person and the call would go through. Calling collect these days is all automated and it’s more and more difficult to find a pay phone. Then prepaid calling cards were invented and that worked pretty well but mobile phones are now our best friends and long distance rate charges are super low. I bought an unlocked phone and a local SIM card for the UK and used it there and in continental Europe. I could top it up online to keep the number active in between my annual visits and hit the ground with hit already loaded with enough to get me going. When I switched to a smartphone, the first one I bought came already unlocked. It was a Google Nexus through Telus, I think. Perfect. I’d land in the UK and pop in my local SIM and away I went. I still do that when I’m going to be away more than a few days out of the country.

For outside Canada travels on short journeys, I’ve tested out my provider’s travel package which was a bit pricey but covered roaming charges and gave us some data to work with. I see our provider has another travel scheme that looks like it might work as well, charging $5 a day if we use data, calls or text but doesn’t charge if we don’t. (wi-fi is wonderful and increasingly common!) We’ll see how that works when we go to the US in November.

Another category that site mentioned was disposable cameras. I’ve never bought one in my life to take traveling. I’ve been a lifelong photography enthusiast so I’ve always had my own camera, either point and shoot or SLR. In the old days, I would have to stock up on film. I take a lot of photos. Always did even in the days of film. I’d generally buy a dozen rolls of film, a mix of 24 and 36 exposure and shoot all of it, possibly buying more on the go if I did a lot of sightseeing . If I was traveling with a friend, we’d both takes a lot of pictures, then get them developed with double prints and share. There was always that moment of fear and excitement when getting the pictures back from the developer hoping and praying they all came out ok. Mind always did but you never knew if the exposure was wrong or if the developer messed up something.

I worried about airport x-rays ruining the film so I would buy lead lined bags for it. Later, If I was staying somewhere for a few days, I could get my photos developed while I was away and that was always great. As digital became popular, I remained faithful to my film camera but started to take advantage of the offer to be provided with digital scans of my photos on CD along with physical prints. It was great. Saved me time scanning and gave me a backup of all my photos, too.

Eventually, I went completely digital and about 5 years ago, I bought a small laptop, just a little bigger than the low end “netbooks”. It was a fully functional one with a good size hard drive and decent memory and I always back up my photos from the camera to it every night. This has saved me losing a lot of photos at least once when the camera broke and corrupted the memory card.

The things I have left behind included those travelers’ cheques, rolls and rolls of film, and preprinted postcard labels. I still send a few postcards if I’m going somewhere new to 2 or 3 people because I know they enjoy it. I used to send cards to a dozen or more people but these days, a blog post, a Facebook post or an email to touch base is far more immediate! I still often bring a printed travel guide or two if I’m going somewhere new and print off a few local maps with things marked on it. Google maps is fine and I guess I could customize them but the paper ones are better for that, I find.

The other things I bring now that I never had to before are all the various chargers and rechargers. The laptop must have a mouse and a power cord. Luckily, my phone and ereader use the same charge cable. I have a plug converter that is a necessity as well and a voltage converter just in case the laptop power cable isn’t a dual conversion one. Naturally, I have the phone, ereader, camera and laptop. I use the camera phone occasionally and reluctantly for an Instagram hit or other social media posting and I like the way it does a panorama photo better than my main camera. I don’t have a tablet because it’s more messing around to backup my photos from a camera to it and I can’t type a travelogue update on it without a separate keyboard.

I guess I haven’t really saved myself much space in the suitcase. Technology has made some things easier but I’m not 100% there yet. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The Golden Rule of Travel

In a travel email newsletter from Bite-Sized Travel this week, there was a link to a blog post at Outside Online telling Americans to stop telling people that they’re Canadian when they travel. You can read that here. The gist of it urges American travelers to stand up for themselves and their country to Make America Great again. Be proud of where you’re from. They say it makes the traveler lie to people they meet right from the start and it doesn’t fool anyone. (Krista at Bite-Sized Travel says the easiest way to tell an American from a Canadian is to pronounce the letter Z!) It certainly won’t make you any safer traveling abroad.

American travelers pretending to be from Canada is nothing new. It might be an urban myth but I remember hearing that American travelers and backpackers have been sewing the maple leaf on their jackets or luggage even back when I was young, in the 60s and 70s. I’m from Canada so it wasn’t an issue for me. I am what I am. American tourists had a reputation as “ugly”, that is, loud and rude when they travel so people from other countries allegedly didn’t care for Americans. From my limited experience, I can tell you there are loud and rude travelers from pretty much every country, *including* Canada.

Having said that, Canadians do tend to be polite and friendly on the whole. I have a small number of experiences with the perception of where I’m from by someone in a European country when they discover I’m from Canada and not the United States.

The first time came when I was on a school trip to Paris. A few of us were trying to explain to someone in a cafe that we wanted hot dogs but couldn’t quite manage the French needed to make the waiter behind the counter understand. He seemed dismissive and we were getting frustrated. Our French teacher arrived and within the space of a minute, after she explained where we were from and what we wanted, the waiter was all smiles. “Oh, les Canadiennes!” What we got wasn’t quite a hot dog, more of a sausage in a bun but it was served with a smile.

Because the general Canadian English accent isn’t really that different from many of the American regional accents to the foreign ear, I often get mistaken for American and I’m always pleasantly surprised when someone recognizes my accent as Canadian straight off but I do think that my East Coast Canadian accent is a bit more recognizable. I do remember someone asking me a question about products on a shelf in a pharmacy in London that we were both perusing and when she heard my accent, immediately expressed her sympathy. It was about 2 weeks after Sept. 11, 2001. It was very kind of her but I did tell her where I was from but that it was quite frightening to have something like that happen so close to home and there were some Canadians that had died in the towers.

I’ve taken a few bus tours over the years. Most of the time, at least half of the passengers have been from the United States with various other countries represented as well. Sometimes, there have been fellow tourists that have been loud and opinionated and yes, they were from the USA. But there have also been some very lovely passengers from there as well. One older single lady traveling on her own complained through the whole trip. Everyone else sympathised with the other single traveler that was paired with her to share a room (saving that single supplement cost) and the tour guide must have had his work cut out for him. She was from Canada. In stereotypical response, most of the rest of us Canadians on the bus always felt like we should apologize on her behalf! (Canadians have a reputation for apologizing a lot and it’s true, we do!)

One last anecdote: On another bus tour through Italy, a group of 5 or 6 Canadians from Montreal kept themselves to themselves and didn’t join in at all with the rest of the passengers. They used the bus for transportation only and went off on their own all the time while the rest of us mingled and chatted with each other about our own cultures where our respective native languages made it possible. For most of us taking a bus tour, the camraderie between tourist from different countries is part of the fun. So, you see, tourists of all stripes and attitudes can come from any country.

Mainly, though, I haven’t really experienced any difference in attitude in people when they learn where I’m from, one way or the other, though I have had a friend say she’s noticed a thawing from a frosty service person when she’s self-identified as Canadian. It is true that there are a few countries on this planet where the USA is not welcomed and perhaps some travelers feel safer pretending to be Canadians out on the streets. For me, I wouldn’t travel to a country where I wouldn’t feel safe but I’m not an adventurous traveler.

I have had it (smugly) suggested that I am still considered an American because I’m from North America. That person happened to be from Scotland. Right. So, I suggested, it’s perfectly all right to call you European because the U.K. is part of Europe or perhaps I could refer to him as British because he was from the British Isles? That person’s national identity raised his hackles and he insisted that no, he was Scottish. I made my point. He conceded. (In fact, you won’t find anyone from the U.K. agree that they are European, in my experience, and even moreso now since Brexit.)

I think the writer of the Outside blog post is right, American travelers, (or travelers from anywhere) you should be proud of where you’re from and when you travel, just remember the Golden Rule. It all comes down to respect, doesn’t it? If you treat people with respect and use good manners, they’ll respect you in return. Don’t get cranky because things are not the same as at home. You aren’t home! You travel to experience new things. Why would you want them to be the same? If you find that people from other countries assume Americans are rude and obnoxious travelers, prove them wrong and change that reputation.  Travel, enjoy, come home with wonderful memories!

You can see what Krista at Bite-Sized Travel is up to here, and she does a great weekend mailing list with loads of interesting finds about travel, packing and planning and you can also read her blog posts about all the places she’s been and is planning to go.

Where Have I Been?

Galway Bay, Ireland

Galway Bay, Republic of Ireland

It occurs to me that, while I have posted twice before about travel wish lists (here and here , both fairly similar posts, I’m afraid),  I haven’t really made a post listing all the various places I have visited. I’ve probably posted photos from every country I’ve touched down on, or a good many of them at least but a full list, for my own records as much as anything (and probably more detail than you’re interested in), includes:

Countries:

  • Canada (where I live): I have visited the provinces of British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, where I live. We’re going to BC again this fall, my husband’s first trip there, and hope to see a bit more of Vancouver Island and maybe outside of the Vancouver area if we have time.  My husband hasn’t been to Ottawa so we really should go there so he can see the capital of his adopted country.
  • United States. We’ve both visited (me alone and us together) the states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, New Jersey (that one’s just mine), Massachussetts. New Hampshire and Vermont were drive-thrus and New Jersey was for a training course so I didn’t see much of it aside from the hotel and training facility, and a little of the countryside on a bus between Parsippany, Newark to Manhattan.
  • United Kingdom including Wales and Scotland but not yet Northern Ireland. Obviously, I’ve spent a lot of time visiting England to see my fella before we were married but I’d already had a handful of visits there before I even met him, including a couple of bus tours.
  • Ireland (a bus tour, Dublin as part of the tour and also just to see friends, twice to see friends in Cobh including a wedding)
  • France (Paris, twice for me, once for him, and I was also in Nice with day trips both east a little ways and west into Monaco which were part of a high school trip)
  • The Netherlands (We took in Amsterdam and the open air museum in Arnhem)
  • Belgium (Brussels, Bruges)
  • Denmark (Copenhagen)
  • Italy (I’ve been on a bus tour around the country including San Marino, a short visit to Rome as part of my high school trip to Rome, Paris and the south of France and we visited Rome a few years ago)
  • Vatican City (Part of the high school tour,  bus tour of Italy and the two of us together)
  • San Marino (a tiny principality in Italy, we stayed here overnight on the bus tour)
  • Monaco (as a day trip from Nice on the high school tour)
  • Iceland (that was just in the airport, changing flights en route to London)
St Peters and Via Concilliazone

St. Peter’s, Vatican City

In the grand scheme of things, my list of countries I’ve visited isn’t that long compared to how many there are but I have made a lot of repeat visits to the United Kingdom.

 

I won’t go into the wish lists again, you can read through those links above if you have a burning desire to know. I won’t be insulted if you don’t!

I’ll never be able to afford to travel as much as I want but I enjoy what I can do and try to go some different places even if I’ve been to a location before, maybe just a museum new to me or a different day trip outside of a city.  I’ve been to London over a dozen times and *still* haven’t seen quite a lot of the areas such as Notting Hill and much of the East End which has a few really interesting museums and loads of markets.

I’m determined to lengthen that “been there” list a little more before I shuffle off my mortal coil.

Oh: Edited to add: I meant to add this link. I’ve got my own website where I have travelogues written for most of the trips I’ve taken, long and short journeys, here at The Voice of Reason.

Quirky Travel Related Bits and Pieces

Reindeer-on-the-rocksI was perusing a summation of 100 things that you didn’t know, something the BBC news published online, and a few links jumped out at me that could be travel related (some at a stretch, admittedly).

New York City always had a reputation for having a few neighbourhoods that were rather scary for non-residents but in recent years, most areas of the city have been “gentrifying” a lot of formerly low-income areas into chic neighbourhoods that are attracting up and coming businesses, galleries, restaurants and visitors. Oh, and all with higher rents. It’s getting more and more difficult to find an affordable place to live in the Big Apple if you are not making buckets of money but there are still three places left you might try. They are Carnasie and Bay Ridge, both in Brooklyn and South Shore, Staten Island. You can read more about that here.

If you are planning on a trip to Norway, do be aware that recent television trends are for “slow” events, including a knitting marathon. Now they’re looking at televising a reindeer migration. You might want to watch out for that if you’re a fan of nature or, you might want to watch out for that to avoid that particular day. Having said that, after a long day sightseeing, it might be just the thing you need to relax and fall asleep. The migration takes weeks but even the broadcasters recognize that’s a bit much and would restrict the televised event to about a week. More about that here

There are a lot of destinations in the world where hordes of mosquitoes might have a negative effect on your enjoyment of the great outdoors, depending on the time of year that you visit. Here’s an idea for a great repelant that will be kinder to your skin than the usual DEET filled solutions. After testing a variety of natural alternate solutions, Victoria’s Secret’s perfume called Bombshell was found to be very good at keeping the little critters away for more than 2 hours. The drawback is that it has to be fairly highly concentrated and the perfume is not cheap. But if you use it, it might be worth a try! More details on the experiments herel

Anybody that travels for business knows about all the paperwork they need to do for travel expenses and reimbursements. Here’s one of the more unusual claims. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin was reimbursed $33.31 for a “business trip” to the moon in 1969. Yes, *that* trip to the moon. Aldrin has published the claim form though it isn’t specified what he was reimbursed for, though likely some sort of transportation expense transferring between airports en route between Texas and Cape Kennedy. He also published a customs declaration form that all three astronauts had to sign on re-entry and arrival in Honolulu airport!

It’s not out of the realms of possibility that you might have to do the same. Apparently, a company called Space Adventures plans to send tourists to a private visit to the moon starting some time after 2018. You won’t get to land on the surface but you’ll do a turn around it and the trip will include a visit to the International Space Station to acclimatize yourself to being in space. They have already taken a few people up into space and there are other companies that plan to do the same including Virgin Galactic. It will cost you, though, so start saving now!

If you’re a football fan (soccer for North Americans), this might be just the ticket. There’s a new hotel in Salford, UK overlooking the Old Trafford football stadium. Most fans will know that’s the home of Manchester United. The 133 room hotel is owned by a group of former United players. It’s filled with memorabilia and there’s even a football pitch on the roof where they also have pre-match barbeques. The views over the city are amazing and there’s easy transport nearby into Manchester city centre. Obviously, it’s convenient if you’re going to be attending one of the games but I would expect it would book up pretty quickly far in advance of those. It’s called, what else? Hotel Football. Here’s the kicker (see what I did there?), the rooms, normally costing about £95 for a double, nearly triple the cost for the game days to £250.

And finally, if you are a gay man, it looks like some of the best places you might want to live or visit are the Scandinavian countries, with Iceland being ranked as the best one. Canada is ranked number 6, I just thought I’d mention that since it’s my country! Uganda and the Sudan are ranked at the bottom of the scale. The Planetromeo.com survey is based on 115,000 men all over the world and the website has quite a few interesting statistics and results.