The Science Experiment Continues

In my last post, I blogged about jamming a month’s worth of apparel into my carry on. But can I do better? What about just a backpack? What about just a backpack that was initially intended to accompany a carry on? Well, we shall find out, because Lufthansa lost my luggage. How could that be, you wonder? Isn’t the point of a carry on that you carry it on to the plane so that it is always close to you? Wonder no more, because I’m going to tell you.

When I learned that my connecting flight had been changed because of snow in Frankfurt, I envisioned several inches of wet slush. Jetways are not guaranteed in Frankfort. Sometimes you have to walk from the plane down steep metal stairs, to a bus that drives you to a door where you find yet more stairs, and if you are lucky, a working escalator. Carrying 26 pounds, plus backpack, through all that was not an appealing prospect. So, I checked said bag. But only to Frankfort. I’m no fool. What if the snow was so bad I was stuck overnight in Frankfort? I’d definitely want my jammies.

I was feeling pretty good about my decision as I walked down the stairs and onto the bus (yep, no jetway– but not much snow), but those feelings quickly evaporated as I watched bag after bag arrive. None of them being mine. How could you lose a bag that got on a plane in Newark, that landed in Frankfort? The list of life’s mysteries just got one item longer.

Here’s what immediately went through my jet lagged mind:

  • good thing I bought travel insurance
  • For once in my life, I have a complete record of everything my bag contained. Who knew blogging could be so very helpful?
  • Everything that is not easily replaced is in my backpack: my iPad, iPhone, chargers, camera, passport, money and charge cards
  • I’m so glad I only checked the bag through to Frankfort, because when Lufthansa changed my flight they put me on TAP Portugal. Can you imagine what a nightmare it might have been trying to figure out which airline was responsible for losing my bag? I know Lufthansa is responsible, and more importantly, so do they.
  • Let’s see how I do with this challenge. I only have the clothes that I am wearing and no toiletries. Snacks and a flight pillow aren’t all that helpful now, but the Motrin may come in handy.
  • Will my Amazon Prime work for deliveries in Portugal?

The line for customer service at Lufthansa was surprisingly short. When I asked the rep about the probability my bag would be found the same day, she said it was slim. So, since I was only going to be in Lisbon one night, I gave her the address of my hotel in Beja. She said they would call and email me with updates.

So what little pearls of wisdom can I share from my science experiment?

  • Lisbon has amazing malls, and the staff there actually HELP you, which was important in figuring out my size. I didn’t have the time or the energy to try things on. In Italy, I was saddened to learn only “molto grosso” fit; in Argentina, it was “muy grande”. In Lisbon, I was “medium”.
  • I didn’t need to know Portuguese to translate this sign. Bet you can figure it out too.
  • I CAN get by with one change of underwear, just not THIS one…
  • A tee shirt is still great for sleeping, just like in college
  • Next time, put an adapter in my backpack. Luckily, the mail had an electronics shop, but you can’t always count on that, plus they aren’t cheap – €20 or about $25 for a basic model.
  • My toiletry essentials are toothpaste (the hotel gave me a tiny tube but it tasted terrible), deodorant, a comb and brush
  • Shampoo works fine as laundry detergent
  • Although my underwear was perfectly dry by morning, my shirt was not. Wrapping it in a towel did NOT work. I tried the hair dryer, but it kept switching off after a few minutes. The front desk explained it was a “safety feature” to keep it from overheating. Good thing I kept the plastic bag from my shopping extravaganza for my damp shirt.
  • Not all hotels supply conditioner. It is wise to read labels so you don’t put body lotion in your hair
  • Conditioner DOES make a difference
  • In the future, avoid Frankfort airport. The gate for my flight to Lisbon changed THREE times.
  • Losing luggage caused my adrenaline to kick in. I was able to go without sleep for over 40 hours, then wake up completely jet lag free. Despite that happy side effect, I do NOT recommend you voluntarily replicate this experiment.

Bet you’re perched on the edge of your recliner, wondering how this saga ends? How long will our heroine have to wear the same corduroy pants and Keen sandals with socks? Are her air-cooled, memory foam Sketchers gone forever?

The good news? I got an email Saturday at 6 PM telling me the bag had arrived in Lisbon. The bad news? There was no way for me to get in touch with the courier to tell them to bring it to my Lisbon hotel. No phone number, no email address. The courier promised that EVENTUALLY it will make its way to Beja. I figure I can last a couple more days with what I have.

DRUM ROLL, PLEASE…

It’s ALL good. My bag arrived in Beja before I did. Not only that, but it was waiting for me in my room, so I didn’t have to carry it up a flight of stairs in this elevator deprived hotel.

Lufthansa has not mentioned any compensation for delayed baggage, however I have saved my receipts, and so far, they owe me €99.90, or about $125. Travel Insurance would cover up to $100, but I’m going to call Lufthansa customer service to inquire where I should send my receipts and how long before I’m reimbursed.

One Month Travel With One Carry On??

Packing is one of my biggest travel challenges.  I always intend to travel light, but sometimes I get carried away at the last minute.

I’ve been able to go for two weeks with just a carry on.  But a month?  Can I get everything I will need into my trusty eagle creek carry on and my backpack?  I’m going to try.   I hope others find my attempt helpful.  If not, at least this post will allow ME to remember what the heck I stuck in my bag.

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been “auditioning” my clothes to see whether they dry quickly, are versatile enough for weather that will vary between the 40’s and 70’s and, most importantly, can be crammed into my bag.  I’ve tried out different combinations to see how comfortable I am at NJ’s current cooler temperatures.  My discovery is that lightweight pants, when paired with silk long underwear work out just fine.

For past trips, I have either used local laundry facilities or I packed enough to get me through the entire trip.

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In Pokhara, Nepal, doing the laundry was a cultural experience.  The promised “tumble dry” only works if the government doesn’t shut off the electricity for several hours every day.  Bet you know what happened while I was there.

THIS time, my plan is to wash as I go.  I don’t normally hand wash clothes at home, so I gave it a whirl.  I wanted to see how long it took for different items to dry, and I was also curious as to how my duds would look after I had sloshed and wrung them out.  The verdict:  I figured my technique needed a little work.  Then I remembered a tip from a fellow traveler.  She nixed the wringing, instead opting to gently squeeze, then wrap her garments in a microfiber towel.   She swore her clothes were dry by the next morning.  So, I ordered a microfiber towel  from Amazon and gave it a try.  My technique still needs work.

Because I expect to do a lot of walking, I wanted to make sure that I had comfortable shoes.  I found a pair of Sketchers that should do the trick.  Air cooled? Memory foam?  My feet may be in better shape than my head.

I have super sensitive feet, so I am reluctant to put all my toes into one basket–or one pair of shoes– so I’ll be wearing my trusty Keens on the plane.  Yes, I WILL wear those Keen sandals with a pair of socks, and YES, I DO know that is a huge fashion faux pas, but hey I’m old enough not to care.

Here’s how I started out:IMG_5673

Then I had to make some choices.  One white knit top and pink bathing suit – out.  (I found another bathing suit that squishes up smaller)  Hanging toiletries bag, replaced by a zip lock bag, which also freed up space for my hair dryer and adaptors.

There are those that swear by rolling clothes, so I thought I’d give it a try.  Some might think I am REALLY obsessive compulsive, to take everything out, and try to put it all back without rolling.  Others would realize that I am completely committed to the scientific method.  YOU can pick whichever explanation you prefer, but I’m going with the latter.

Want to know the result of my “science” project?  Both methods produced the exact same result.  Conclusion?  Do whatever brings you joy.  I wasn’t going to take everything out and roll it up again.  I’m not THAT crazy, so I left everything packed flat.  Here’s what made it into the bag.

  • 6 long pants – 1 corduroy, 1 jeans, 4 quick drying (one lined, three lightweight)
  • 6 long sleeved cotton tops. 1 knit, plus 2 short sleeve shirts
  • 1 pajamas and  1 long underwear set that can double as pajamas
  • 2 long underwear bottoms and 7 underwear, 2 bras, 8 socks
  • 2 scarves
  • hair dryer (which I can use to dry clothes, if needed)  and toiletries
  • laundry kit
  • 1 Sketchers black air cooled shoes, with memory foam and flip flops for shower (or if I’m lucky, pool)
  • index cards (for teaching). According to our team leader,  former volunteers have left supplies behind, so i don’t need to bring a white board or other teaching materials.
  • 1 waterproof windbreaker with hood

Plus, of course, I’ll have the clothes I wear on the plane, like my fleece and the zip up sweater that would have fit in the bag if I had unzipped the expandable part.  (But then, it might have been hard to get the bag into the overhead.)

My back pack will carry my money, credit cards, passport, travel info, iPhone, iPad, chargers, my mobile “pharmacy”, camera, , pens, snacks, sun glasses, water bottle and travel pillow.

Total weight of carry on–26.5 pounds, something I can easily hoist into that overhead bin.  I think I’m all set.  We shall see.

 

Mexico with Global Volunteers

With so many fantastic places to visit, it is highly unusual for me to return somewhere, but that is exactly what I am doing next week.

I visited Querétaro in February, 2015 as a member of a Global Volunteers’ team.  Was it the work, the city, the food, the students, or our wonderful leader, Pam, that is drawing me back?  Short answer–all of the above.  What will make THIS trip even more special is that my cousin Kristy and two friends that I met on other Global Volunteer projects (Jeanne and Sally) will be joining me.

At first, I was going to just write an email to my travel buddies, sharing what I remembered  from my prior experience, but then I thought why not blog so that the  information is available to anyone contemplating volunteering?

In getting ready for the trip, I also realized just how much I had forgotten–and how helpful it was for ME to go back and look at my old posts to see what I was wearing, which luggage I took etc.  When the space between my ears fails me, which happens quite frequently these days, I am glad to have an electronic memory to supplement the “organic” one.

Getting Ready

The Hotel Hidalgo was once the finest lodging in Queretaro.  It was so grand that in 1848,  Santa Anna stayed there prior to signing the Treaty of Guadalupe with the USA.  As one might expect of a hotel built in 1825,  there is no elevator.  There is also no staff to carry your luggage up the 31 stone steps to your room.  (Yes, I DID count them the last time I was there).

I actually LIKE having a built in stair master.  It’s a great way to work off all the excellent Mexican food I’m looking forward to eating.

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Fortunately, there are only two floors! Still, you can get quite a workout climbing up those stone steps multiple times a day.

It is always wise to travel light, and this trip is no exception.  The good news is there is a laundry right around the corner from the hotel.  You drop off your clothes one day and pick them up the next evening.  The bad news is you may experience all three seasons in ONE day.  So, the tried and true travel advice works here:  Dress in layers.  One clear advantage of being older–your days of making a fashion statement are a VERY distant memory. Clothing is chosen for comfort and utility.

In case you’re wondering what I am bringing, here’s a visual:img_3604

I will wear the heavy tan sweater and blue fleece on the plane, but everything else goes in my bag: Hair dryer (they are not supplied by the hotel), toiletries, long underwear (can double as pajamas when the one pair I’m bringing is at the laundry), 5 pants, 4 long sleeved cotton shirts, 1 long sleeved knit top, 3 short sleeved shirts, 1 long skirt, 1 windbreaker with hood, enough underwear for 8 days, hat, small purse, and travel meds (Airborne, Neosporin, motrin), 1 pair of sandals.  I will wear sneakers on the plane.

My routine (as you can see) is to lay everything out on the bed, then determine whether I can get it all into my carry on.  Total weight:  a manageable 24 pounds

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Yep–it all fits, with room to spare. for any last minute toss ins, like scarfs and jewelry.

My backpack will hold my iPhone, iPad, chargers, money, credit card, passport, index cards, tissues, hand sanitizer, erasable markers for white boards (Pam tells me she has a good supply from volunteers leaving them behind, so no need to bring more), pens, notebook,  facecloths (used to erase the white board), tea bags (water coolers on each floor of the Hidalgo dispense both hot and cold water) water bottle, and snacks for the flight.

There is no heat, so the rooms get a bit cool at night and in the morning.  You can request an extra blanket for sleeping, but you need something warm for when you get out of the shower.  A bathrobe is too bulky to pack, so I buy an inexpensive one in Queretaro, and leave it behind when I head home.  That’s one of the advantages of being in a city.  You can buy just about anything you need at either Del Sol or Woolworth’s (Yes, Woolworth DOES still exist. Just not in the USA).   For me, the problem is I am WAY bigger than the average Mexican.  This time around, I’m going to try shopping in the men’s department!

The stores carry just about everything, including products that you would never in a million years buy!
The stores carry just about everything, including products that you would never in a million years buy!

The high altitude dries your skin, but lotion is available everywhere, so I didn’t bother packing it in my toiletries bag.  There is no need for insect repellant.  I never saw a bug the two weeks I was there.  A hat is important, because the sun is strong.

The hotel uses the same kind of plug and the same current as the USA, so no need for an adapter and converter.  Even so, I’m bringing my trusty little gadget that I bought at Staples, because most rooms only have one electrical outlet.  Notice the two USB ports, plus one regular plug?  This little treasure allows me to charge iPhone, iPad and camera all from one socket!

USB slots , with the C adapter extended.
USB slots , with the C adapter extended.

Arrival 

If you are arriving at the start of the program, Pam will arrange for your transportation.  I like to go in a day or two early, so I handle my own transportation to the hotel.  It was 350 pesos to get to the historical center, (about $17 US).  There is a booth in Queretaro airport, just outside  immigrations and customs that helps with getting a taxi.  I recently learned that Queretaro now has Uber service, but I think I’ll stick with the taxi to get to the hotel.

Money

You don’t need to bring much money with you.  There are ATMs at the airport and in town, so it is easy to use your debit card to get pesos.  For those that want to exchange dollars, there is an office around the corner from our hotel, but ATMs are so abundant, I find it more convenient to just tap into my checking account.

Because the program fee covers room, board and transportation, you only need cash for shopping or if you plan on traveling on the weekend.  Even then, credit cards are widely accepted.

The Project

Pam, our terrific leader, contacts all volunteers in advance of the trip.  She explains that we will not be working with the same group of students every day.  Instead, when we arrived at the school, we go off with whatever teacher we are assigned to.  The students could be beginners, intermediate or advanced.  Some teachers will tell you what they want you to work on–others will tell you to do whatever you want.  This is where an iPad comes in handy. Last time,  I took photos of common household objects so we could practice “what is this”,  “this is a —“.  For the more advanced students, we were able to talk about what was important to them: dating, family, work, food, entertainment, travel.

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One of the photos on my iPad used for a beginning lesson.

Because there are also evening classes, our hours vary.  Some days we start early and end early, with a nice break before we get back together for dinner.  Other days we have our mornings off, but pack food for dinner and arrive back at the hotel around 9 PM.  I thoroughly enjoyed the varied schedule.  It gave us a chance to experience the city of Queretaro, although I have to tell you — not much is going on before 10 AM!

I bring my backpack to school every day.  It holds my meal (lunch or dinner), extra layers of clothing, teaching aids, hand sanitizer and toilet paper (there are no paper products in the ladies’ room) and water bottle.  It also serves as my luggage for my weekend excursion.

backpack and carry on
backpack and carry on

Free Time

Global Volunteers have their weekends free.  You can book  trips on the Primera Plus bus at the travel agency around the corner  from the hotel (in 2015, it was open from 10-2 and 4-7).  Last time, we took the 8 AM bus on Saturday to Guanajuato, returning on Sunday’s 3:30 bus.

This time, Jeanne, Sally and I plan to visit San Miguel de Allende on the weekend between our two work weeks.  Pam, the GV team leader, warned us that we needed advance reservations in San Miguel if we wanted to stay in the town center at a reasonably priced hotel.  Good thing she did! There weren’t a lot of choices left when we made our reservations a few weeks ago.  Once again, we will head out early Saturday morning and be back in time for dancing in the town square on Sunday night.  Maybe Uber will be a good choice for getting between the bus station and hotel.

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Wonder if I’ll run into my dance partner again?

That’s all I can think of.  I hope it is helpful, especially for my travel buddies Sally, Jeanne and Kristy.