Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Gifts for the Traveler in Your Life

It's that time of year and if you find yourself pondering what to get the traveler in your life, here are some of my top picks.

1. The Vapur Collapsible Water Bottle. This collapsible plastic (BPA free) bottle rolls up in your suitcase, can be taken through airport security (empty of liquid) and refilled as you travel. Be green and well hydrated at the same time (and they come in cute colors with a spot to write in your name). They come with a carabiner, so you can clip to your bag (and in my case, I have another clip with a strap, so I can carry mine around on my shoulder too). This bottle is washable, foldable, freezable, attachable and wonderful!

2. A great piece of lightweight luggage: with more and more bag restrictions on airlines, lightweight is key (with the bonus of saving your back). There are many options out there, and different styles suit different travelers. A great backpack is perfect for the young traveler preparing to make his or her way across Europe or through the great outdoors. A carry on bag that is well designed for "maximum occupancy" is great for anyone. Check out Rick Steves' models. Also check out our Amazon link and do a search for lightweight luggage. Many travelers have shared their reviews, and there are great options.

A unique piece that I love is a larger backpack with a zip-off day pack attached. High Sierra and Eagle Creek both make such a bag (both have wheels and backpack straps for the larger bag). I recently purchased a Hedstrom bag, which forgoes the wheels in favor of being lighter overall. I can fit my small laptop and all the items I need to stay entertained on the road in the small day pack and then use the main compartment for a few changes of clothing, toiletries, etc.

3. Kindle or another e-reader. For the traveler who loves to read, this fits right in with the lightweight luggage. There is no other way to have hundreds of books at your fingertips for minimum space and weight. I have the model that requires wifi and it is quite sufficient since wifi is so widely available throughout the world. Amazon gift cards are a great option for the Kindle reader (and for just about anything else as well).

4. Great travel clothing or shoes. A great jacket is a perfect example of something that can be invaluable and last a long time. I suggest a waterproof, lined jacket that can be layered with warmer items underneath for cold days. I think the following features make a great jacket: a zip-off/snap-off hood, durable material, good pockets, and a versatile style (I prefer black or a neutral color that coordinates with the traveler's wardrobe, and a style that can adapt to "dress up" situations). I got a jacket like this over 11 years ago at Nordstrom and it is still in perfect condition and traveling with me to this day. Travelsmith has some great styles and there are a wide variety of men's and women's brands at Amazon. We recently discovered Stormtech while in Canada and they have great outdoor jackets and will satisfy the hiker, skier or general outdoor enthusiast.

For women, a Pashima or any nice scarf/wrap is a great addition to any trip. It can be used as a wrap, blanket, pillow or just a beautiful accessory to dress up an outfit.

Shoes are a bit more tricky and probably not something you can buy as a gift for someone, unless you shop together or provide a gift card to a good store such as Rockport or The Walking Company. This will be a true gift for the health and happiness of your traveler.

5. Travel guidebooks, magazine subscriptions or travel literature (traditional or ereader versions, or gift cards for either).

Happy shopping and traveling!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Sightseeing in the Nation's Capitol

There is so much to see and do in Washington, D.C., you'd be pressured to do it all in a week. So what can you do on a one-day visit? Well, on a recent visit, we narrowed down our choices and didn't try to do it all. I'd suggest selecting spots that have special interest and allowing time to walk around and enjoy the city's architecture and history.

Of course, growing up nearby we have been to most of the sites at some point, so that also helped narrow things and we know we'll come back again soon. Rick Steves makes that point about visiting most any city when he says you should visit assuming you will be back again. I agree, because whether you really get back or not, it makes your visit more enjoyable and keeps the pressure down (and who wants travel to be pressure?).

Here's some highlights from our recent visit:
I would highly recommend a visit to this spot, all about news and journalism and its incredible impact. They have an amazing history of news, with archives of some of the first newspapers and early history of our country to big headlines you will remember from your own past. They have a great 9/11 exhibit and one regarding Hurricane Katrina, and both truly illustrate the evolution of journalism and how our crises are documented. It seems like a well-balanced museum, covering big events like the above as well as the fall of the Berlin Wall, history, current freedom of press around the world, the internet's effects and citizens as journalists in that world...plus interactive exhibits and a 4D movie for fun. It is a visually stunning museum as well, and has a great layout (though perhaps we should have watched the orientation movie so we would have better understood that from the start).

This isn't one of the many freebies in D.C., but they do offer student, senior and AAA discounts and are currently doing an early bird special on weekend days. We're pretty speedy museum-goers (I don't need to stare at things long) and we spent a good 2 1/2 hours here and would have spent longer.
The Smithsonian offers such an array of options and best of all, they are free. We had both been to the American History Museum but it had been quite a while. I think the most popular school trip when I was growing up was Natural History, so I didn't recall as much from this one. I loved the First Lady's inauguration gown exhibit and was excited to see Julia Child's kitchen, but would probably have to choose the transportation exhibit and the Star Spangled Banner as my favorites. The pop culture exhibit was somewhat disappointing, though I don't know what I was expecting from the Fonz's jacket. There was a lot more to see here than I recalled, so don't underestimate the time needed--you will likely be surprised by enjoying exhibits you might think to skip at first.

I had been there a while back, but somehow Bryan never had. It is a must-see at least one time and another free treasure and unique display of history. It is special to be able to view the major documents of our nation's history. You can also do research at the archives and I am fascinated by the process of archiving and restoring documents and the job of managing all of that information (only made more difficult in today's information age), but make sure to make the stop through the visitor area to view the documents on display while in D.C. if you haven't seen them.

One last plug for a new discovery for us on this trip. We took the Megabus for the first time and it's a great transportation option. I have used the Metro many times, and it is a wonderful system. Driving and parking in D.C. is the worst option. However, this time we were further north and would have had to drive in to get to a Metro stop, so when we discovered the Megabus leaves from the Park and Ride right down the street, it was a no-brainer. For less than $30 (and often much less if you book in advance) we had almost door-to-door service (the drop off point in D.C. is perfectly situated by the sights). The Megabus offers great deals for traveling between many major spots in the NE. It's bus travel so nothing glamorous but you can relax (not stressed out fighting through the inevitable traffic), get some work done, or catch up on your podcasts or audiobooks (my choice)--they even have plugs right by the seats to charge up all those electronics.

Next trip to D.C., I plan to make a second visit to the Holocaust Museum and try to get in a few more of the Smithsonian's great spots. I'm also intrigued by the spy museum, but may save that for when my nieces get a bit older since it seems like something kids would really enjoy. If you have any suggestions, let me know!