Monday, February 22, 2010

Michael's Travel Tips

Planning a trip in the near future? Ready for a break? Whether it's a two week vacation to Europe or a drive to Grandma's for Thanksgiving, sometimes ya just gotta get out of the house!

After numerous summer vacations with my family, living in Finland on foreign exchange, spending 10 years in Hawaii (after getting tired of scraping ice off my windshield), working in India for a year on expat assignment, and traveling to 16 countries in 12 months to take 14,000 pictures, I've picked up a few things about traveling. So today I thought I'd share a handful of my favorite travel tips with you. I hope these are helpful!

Michael's Travel Tips

  1. If flying or riding long distances alone, bring plenty of activities (read: distractions) to keep you busy during "down times". For instance, my iPod contains collections of my favorite music, e-books, movies and games. * Travel tip: it's also easier to optimize the benefits of travel if you bring some little pieces of home with you.
  2. Bring a digital camera. It's much easier to remember your trip later if you have pictures! Plus, if you have a blog, web site, Facebook account, etc., you can share your trip more easily with friends and family. * Travel tip: If traveling alone, don't be afraid to ask someone to take your picture - most people are happy to.
  3. Be aware. Traveling can be a fantastic experience; it can also be a bit unnerving at times (especially in a foreign country). Be sure to do your research about the destination before you travel and pay attention to which areas you may need to avoid. * Travel tip: Ask people for help or seek assistance of local law enforcement if you have questions or feel you're in danger.
  4. Reduce the amount of luggage you bring. You really don't need that much stuff! A few changes of clothes can be rearranged/layered/swapped easily, so make do with less. I've been guilty, myself, of over-packing so I finally broke down and bought a small carry-on roller suitcase. * Travel tip: If flying, carry-on luggage is free and lets you skip the check-in lines and the baggage claim: less $$ + less waiting time = less stress!
  5. If traveling by plane, find the best seats and planes by visiting for the latest information on every airline and every seat. More about SeatGuru here. * Travel tip: Leverage sites like Kayak and Orbitz to get the best deals on flights and hotels.
  6. During your trip take time to pick up a postcard or two and send them to friends and family. It's always nice to share your trip experience with others. * Travel tip: Buy postcards from shops who also sell postcard stamps so you actually send them.
  7. Ask local people where to find the best food and shopping. Some travel books are helpful, but I've found the best spots come by recommendation. * Travel tip: You can also get the lowdown on best places to eat and visit from friends who've been there before - plus they might have a travel book to loan you (thanks, Holly!)
  8. If staying at a hotel, remember:

    • Reuse towels and sheets. Do you change your sheets and towels every day at home? Then don't do it when you're on vacation, either. It's better for the environment and keeps hotels costs down. 
    • Always ask for (complimentary) room upgrade. You'd be surprised how many times it's not a problem... many hotel rooms go empty in the off-season.
    • Request early/late checkout (if no charge). This gives you more time to pack and unpack without feeling rushed.
    • Use stairs instead of escalators and elevators (if possible and feasible). Great exercise and keeps you moving.
    • Ask for a room with a refrigerator. You can buy your own food and save a big chunk of money. Stock your fridge with breakfast and lunch foods, beverages and snacks - keep your money for having a nice dinner at a local restaurant.
    • * Hotel travel tip: If you're prone to losing things when you travel, leave your room key at the front desk when you go out for the day or evening. 
Well, off to San Diego this week - gotta keep on moving! I will have more tips about international travel in a future post. But in the meantime, get on the move and experience the world.

Happy Trails,

Mr. Michael

    Wednesday, February 10, 2010

    My Kind of Town

    This past weekend I jumped on a short flight over to Chicago to visit my friends Rob and Aaron for the weekend. Rob and I have been friends for over 25 years (wow... I just thought about how long that is!), so we are an example of those friends who are always connected - you know the kind... we see each other a couple times a year and "pick up where we left off". It's great to have people in your life who really get you - those friends where no explanations are needed - you just meet each other where you're at in your life and compare notes. A great way to check-in an reconnect with someone who know you, especially those times when you really need it. A good friend is one who knows who you are and can remind you when you forget. * Travel tip: Try to combine visits with friends and family when you plan your trips!

    In addition to reconnecting with Rob I was glad to be back in Chicago. Between visits for concerts, sporting events, and former working trips (one of my former clients was CNA - the big red tower!), Chicago has always been one of my favorite Midwestern cities. Why? Because it's so very easy to navigate. Unlike some of the uber-windy, circular, twisty, curvy cities like Paris or London (which are fantastic cities, don't get me wrong...), Chicago is extremely easy to navigate - especially by foot. Between the easy to follow grids of streets and parks, and the efficient "L" (or elevated train) system, getting around town is a cinch. And with the wide variety of sports, entertainment, arts and cultural events, Chicago offers something for everyone.

    A highlight of my weekend was visiting The Art Institute of Chicago during their Free February campaign. Yes, that's right - admission to the AIC is free the entire month! A great opportunity to get people out of the house and in to the galleries. The Institute is famous for its classic architecture and central location, but what I like best about AIC is the eclectic mix of paintings, sculpture, furniture, and artifacts from a worldwide collection. For example, you walk into a gallery, see a painting from a collection of local Midwestern artists and then suddenly, voila! - an original Monet or Van Gough. How cool is that?! In addition, the AIC features specialty traveling shows and exhibits. My sister Becky and I visited the King Tut exhibit back in 2006 and really enjoyed it. * Travel tip: Before you travel somewhere take a moment to Google the city/region and find out "what's happening" while you're visiting.

    As February moves into full swing and "cabin fever" has the ability to hit those of us here in the cold snowy Northland, take the opportunity to get out and enjoy something new and different to keep you fresh. Visit a local art gallery, museum or exhibit (in Minneapolis, see what's happening at MIA or The Walker); so see a great show (visit the new Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis or Park Square Theatre in St. Paul); or just go visit friends and family (insert friend or family member whom you haven't visited in a long time and keep meaning to, here). The important thing is to keep moving - it stimulates your creativity and keeps you active, interested and healthy. * Travel tip: Even traveling across town or going to stay friends or family for a night/weekend can provide enough refreshment and help you to "reboot".

    Get on the move and experience the world!

    Mr. Michael