9.21.2018

going on a trip — 6 ideas to make travel easier




Packing is the least fun part of traveling. I'm leaving for England in just three days — I'm literally  counting down the days — and I've had stuff sitting on our guestroom bed for a week or so. But putting it all into a suitcase? That feels like work.

Here's how I get ready for a trip — six things you might do (or bring) to make your travels as easy and pleasurable as possible:

#1 — create a laminated packing list. Before I had a packing list, I had to re-invent the wheel each time I travelled. I had to remember all the clothes to bring, all the toiletries I'd need, and all the various gadgets I'd want. How many times have you forgotten a belt, a tie, a hat, a tube of toothpaste, or forgotten to cancel the newspaper?

So I created my own customized packing list, printed it in a column on both sides of a sheet of paper, and had the friendly folks at Staples laminate it (about $5). Every time I get ready to travel, I consult my check list. It reminds me of all the things I need to do: fully charge my electronics; put my passport and foreign currency into my carryon; pack power adapters if I'm visiting Europe or Asia; etc.

#2 — save your business class amenity kits. They are the perfect size to store electronics items you always need. One for my MacBook holds the computer's power plug and cord, a multiport adapter, and a USB-to-lightening cable. Another for my various iDevices always has a Dual USB wall charger and two USB-to-lightening cables.

#3 — Bose noise-cancelling airbuds; click here to see the item. I find in-ear headphones preferable to over-the-ear when traveling because they take up so much less space in a carryon. Expensive but worth it if you fly a lot, my Bose eliminates most jet noise. With my earbuds, I can hear clearly the audio from the flight's entertainment system or my iPad. They also serve as headphones for my iPhone.

#4 — Cree LED mini flashlightclick here for a photo. Light and tiny, this item takes up no space in my toiletries bag. A flashlight on your side table is very handy if you need to use the WC in the middle of the night — no need to turn on the room lights which tends to wake you up ... or stumble your way into the bathroom in the darkness. A flashlight also comes in handy when you need to get ready while your partner is still sleeping.

#5 — LL Bean travel pillow; click here to see the item. This isn't for the plane; it's for my hotel bed. I'm very picky about pillows. I prefer soft, thin feather pillows, cushy with just enough support for my neck. If a pillow is too thick, it pushes my neck and head forward all night and I wake up with a neck ache. When packing, the pillow compresses and takes virtually no space — and I only use it if the hotel pillows are too thick.

#6 — check in online 24 hours in advance, print your boarding pass, confirm your limo, and track your flight on the morning of your departure. If you're flying over the pond (as I'm doing on Monday on British Airways), I'll also check the incoming flight. If you know ahead of time if an incoming flight is going to be very late, you'll be able to make alternate plans.

copyright (c) 2018 by Ourisman Travel LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell, a Virtuoso® Member. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

9.18.2018

Oakland Zoo | a great family activity




It was a warm, sunny Saturday in Oakland, California, and we had decided to visit the Oakland Zoo. Located just off I-580 at the 98th Avenue exit, a lot of visitors had already arrived, but we had no problem finding parking ($10 per car).

What's unique about the Oakland Zoo is the fact that animals are not kept in cages. The zoo features expansive outdoor habitats that are home to over 700 native and exotic animals, many of which are rescues. There are children's playgrounds as well as a small petting zoo. The most interesting attraction was the Golden Bear exhibit; we watched as two bears seemed to enjoy playing in its large pool of water.

A gondola ride (included with admission) takes guests from the entrance level to the new section of the zoo at the top of the Oakland hills. Admission is $24 per adult, $20 per child or senior — free for visitors under 2 or over 75, and military families enjoy reduced rates. The Oakland Zoo is a great family activity if you find yourself in the San Francisco Bay Area on a sunny morning or afternoon.

copyright (c) 2018 by Ourisman Travel LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell, a Virtuoso® Member. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

9.12.2018

one of life's guilty pleasures ...



Leafing through travel catalogues is one of life's guilty pleasures. Pictured above is the cover of the new 2019 Backroads catalog. Backroads is one of my favorite travel companies — featuring active vacations that involve strolling, walking, hiking, biking, or multi-sport trips (depending on your own preferred activity level). There are lots of great travel catalogues out there — from companies like Tauck, Abercrombie & Kent, Butterfield & Robinson, Lakani, Globus ... and so many others. We work with them all!

Here are several good ways to use travel catalogues... 

(1) Use your travel advisor to book one of the trips. If you come across a trip that excites you, that jumps off the page, your first call should be to your travel advisor. We can book the trip for you (for exactly the same price), but we'll do even more. We know you. We understand your travel preferences. We can help you choose among different trips that might appeal. And we can make sure everything about your vacation is coordinated — your pre- and post-trip plans, even your air if you need help with that.

By the way, if you want to call the tour company first and get a certain date "on hold," that's fine. Then immediately call or write us to take over that booking.

(2) Get ideas for your bucket list. When looking through any travel catalog, you'll see LOTS of trip you'd like to take. When I perused the Backroads catalog this morning, I was inspired looking at the pictures, marveling at the scenery, reading the descriptions of all the fun things I could do in those places. Reading travel catalogs are a great way to develop your personal bucket list.

Then make an actual list and share it with us! We'll keep it in your file (so you won't lose it!).

(3) Personalize one of the itineraries. Maybe one of the trips really appeals to you — but there are changes you'd like to make. Perhaps you'd prefer to travel on your own; the idea of traveling with a group of 12, or 18, or 38 doesn't interest you. Look at any itinerary as a starting point, the first draft of what will ultimately become your own bespoke itinerary.

When you're ready to plan that bespoke, once-in-a-lifetime trip, just get in touch.

copyright (c) 2018 by Ourisman Travel LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell, a Virtuoso® Member. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

9.08.2018

England ... 16 days from today

shoreline in Oban, Scotland (c) 2018 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

In a little more than two weeks, Claire and I will be headed to England for our Fall trip. While I've visited the English countryside on several occasions, I've never spent in-depth time out in the country. This trip, we're spending just four nights in London. We have planned twelve nights to discover what I anticipate will be some gorgeous scenery. Our itinerary includes Hampshire, the Jurassic Coast, Derry, Bath ... and four full nights in the central Cotswolds.

Landscape photography is my passion, and I'm eagerly anticipating the chance to explore the beautiful towns and landscapes of the English coast and the Cotswolds. Travel is my excuse for taking photographs, and I'll be sharing them on Facebook as well as on Travel Horizons. For those of my readers interested in photography, I highly recommend Thomas Heaton's YouTube channel. I've found it interesting to see how a real professional works. His videos have been both instructive and inspirational.

Looking forward to sharing my next trip with you!

copyright (c) 2018 by Ourisman Travel LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell, a Virtuoso® Member. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

8.30.2018

glass-walled bathrooms?

bedroom at Four Seasons Tented Camp (c) 2018 by David Ourisman

It used to be the case, many years ago, that travelers had to request a private bathroom when booking a hotel abroad. I remember staying in a small hotel in Paris with the rest of my winter-semester-in-Paris classmates way back in 1972. While a few of the hotel's rooms had en suite bathrooms, most of us had to use the communal bathroom in the hallway. Private bathrooms are now pretty universal among 3* and higher hotels.

So I'm not sure what some hotel architects are thinking when I see some of their open floor plan designs. Annabel Fenwick Elliott writes in the travel section of The Telegraph that "open-plan bedroom-bathrooms layouts ... for newer, edgier establishments ... has become something of a trend." Her article includes half a dozen photos of such starkly open bathrooms in luxury hotels.

I've encountered the same thing. It's not a problem when you're traveling alone, but when you're traveling with your partner? Not so wonderful. Our guestroom in Xi'an, China was beautiful and spacious, but the walls of its bathroom were clear glass. Not only did bathroom occupants lack privacy, but there was an unaddressed practical conundrum — what to do when using the loo in the middle of the night? Turn on the bathroom lights and wake your partner? Or leave the lights off and feel your way to the WC?

A small number of hotels locate bathtubs right in the bedroom. They call it a "spa room." I'm not so sure. While I can totally forgive Four Seasons Tented Camp for the open soaking tub in our luxury tent (after all, we were in the middle of the jungle), I have to question the judgment of city hotel planners who think this is a good idea.

I wonder whether some architects ever stay in the rooms they design. I remember inspecting a brand new contemporary hotel in London before its opening. Beautiful room, gorgeous decor, but the doors to its bathroom were nothing more than sliding panels of frosted glass. While affording visual privacy, the designer somehow failed to take into account the physics of light: light waves tend to go right through glass. It's frequently the case that one guest will get up early and take a shower, but merely turning on the bathroom light will wake your partner up. Solution: I've taken showers by flashlight, but really ... this is not an obscure concept.

Trendy and edgy might be good for some clients — but there's a reason they sometimes call it "the necessary room." Just my two cents!

copyright (c) 2018 by Ourisman Travel LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell, a Virtuoso® Member. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

8.27.2018

Downton Abbey | with or without the crowds?

Downton Abbey all to ourselves (c) 2016 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

I was privileged to enjoy an exclusive private visit to Highclere Castle in April, 2016. Arranged by our fabulous UK travel partner Noteworthy Events, we were granted entry to the famous estate a full half hour before opening. The picture above shows members of our group as we walked up the drive toward the entrance made famous by Downton Abbey.

We had the castle to ourselves. While we had to keep on the regular pathway through the house, we were able to take our time. We enjoyed a delightful few minutes in the living room, the setting of so many of Downton Abbey's best scenes. We walked up the grand staircase to the living quarters and peered into the bedrooms. We were never rushed nor crowded.

While it's possible to visit Highclere Castle during the public opening times, the experience would be quite different. I've quoted below the photo a few remarks posted on Trip Advisor.

https://www.ladycarnarvon.com/community/heroes-at-highclere-2018/

One visitor was "disappointed" by the crowding.
Although we booked our tickets last February, with a timed slot, I was disappointed at the amount of people trying to view the house at the same time.... The bedroom corridor was narrow and there was nobody in control to monitor the amount of people trying to look at the bedrooms or the pictures. Lots of mumbling complaints about the number of people stuck in a queue to view the rooms.
Another visitor uses descriptors like "achingly slow" and "frustration," and her visit was spoiled by the bored children in queue.
As soon as we were through the door, it was single file, step by achingly slow step around the house. It wasn't a pleasant experience, people behind were trying to get ahead, those in front wanted to stand and discuss. Children were becoming bored, all adding to the frustration of the visit.
Less is more when it comes to crowds. Our Virtuoso travel partners have the connections to offer you an exclusive experience of England ... or most anyplace you'd like to visit. So even if you're not a lord or lady, you can still experience Downton Abbey like Mr. Molesley or Mrs. Patmore!

copyright (c) 2018 by Ourisman Travel LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell, a Virtuoso® Member. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

8.26.2018

John McCain | R.I.P.

statue of John McCain in Hanoi (c) 2018 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

John McCain is a true American hero. He is also considered a hero by the people of Vietnam. Captured when his plane was shot down over Hanoi, he endured five years at the prison American POW's dubbed the Hanoi Hilton. He withstood the years of torture, rejecting the offer of early release (because his father was a four star Admiral in the United States Navy). He chose instead to remain in solidarity with his fellow POW's. The statue pictured above was erected at the location where McCain was captured. Perhaps the lowest moment of his life, out of this tragedy grew his heroism and his career of devoted service to America and to the world.

McCain is beloved by the people of Vietnam. He took the lead in bringing about the normalization of relations between the United States and Vietnam. Our nations today co-exist in peace and friendship, due in no small measure to his leadership. Vietnam has become a quite popular and worthwhile tourist destination for Americans.

The true measure of his faith is the life he lived. Faith, in my opinion, is neither about doctrinal orthodoxy nor positions taken on divisive social issues. John McCain practiced grace. He rose above personal resentment to forgive the very people who had treated him with such cruelty. His leadership helped bring about true reconciliation between former enemies. This is what greatness looks like, the selfless service our world so desperately needs.

Rest in peace, Senator John McCain. "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith" (2Tim 4:7).

copyright (c) 2018 by Ourisman Travel LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell, a Virtuoso® Member. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.