Gear Tip: Store your hydration bladder in the freezer

If you love hiking, cycling, mountain biking or any other outdoor activities, you need a good hydration pack. Carrying your water in a bladder stored in your pack keeps your hands free and you hydrated. The problem with hydration packs, however, is keeping the bladders clean. Try as you might, you won’t be able to get all of the water out of them when you get home. Stagnant water is a breeding ground for bacteria, which will make water stored in your bladder taste funky and potentially unsafe to drink. Bladders aren’t cheap, so you don’t want to replace them the minute they start to smell poorly. So, how do you keep your water bladder clean and safe? Here’s a simple trick to avoid bad smells and worse bacteria.

Store your hydration pack’s bladder in the freezer. The bladders aren’t that big when they’re empty (even a three liter bladder, like the one in the Osprey Raptor 14 that we reviewed), so you’re bound to be able to find some space in your ice box for one. Go ahead and put the hose in there, too. Any part of the bladder that might have water left in it should get put in cold storage.The frigid temperatures will kill any bacteria and prevent odor from forming. The next time you need your hydration pack, simply take the bladder out of the freezer, fill it up as you normally would and enjoy how cold your water stays because of the temperature of the bladder. Your water will taste fresh and smell pure. Assuming, of course, that you’re filling your bladder with good water.

Sure, you can spend the money on a cleaning kit, but even those aren’t perfect for killing bacteria and don’t ensure that you get all of the water out of the bladder once you’re finished. Plus, they cost money.

You already have a freezer. Storing your bladder in there is free, easy and a way to keep your gear fresh.

You’ll thank us the next time you hit the trail.

Fortnighter launches, providing customized expert travel advice

Ever wish you could have a travel magazine or guidebook written just for you, catering to your specific interests and full of up-to-date travel advice? The new travel website Fortnighter offers just that–customized itineraries written by professional travel writers.

How does it work?
Start with a destination, specify who you’re traveling with (solo, as a couple, or with friends), and the number of days (currently 3, 5, or 7). You’ll be quoted a fee of $100 – $200 depending on the number of days and given a questionnaire to fill out with your interests and specifications. One week later, Fortnighter will send back a PDF with a detailed run-down of what to do and where to eat and stay (check out a sample itinerary here).

How can I trust the travel advice on Fortnighter?
The contributors have written for all the big travel outlets, from the New York Times to Condé Nast Traveler to Fodor’s guidebooks, travel frequently both for a living and because it’s what they love. All itineraries come without writer bylines, to ensure that their advice comes without bias or influence from hotels or restaurants. Plus, we can personally vouch for the site – it was founded by writer Alexander Basek, a friend and colleague to many of Gadling’s contributors.

Why should I pay for travel advice?
If you’ve ever spent time on Trip Advisor or other user-generated websites, you’ll know that sometimes you want expert advice from people who travel extensively, not just people who want to complain about the airplane movie or that their towel wasn’t folded into the right animal. Just because Joe Blow loves a restaurant featured in all the guidebooks doesn’t mean a single local would eat there, and you might miss out on a great small hotel if they don’t have a fancy website optimized to come to the top of your Google search. Fortnighter writers are selected based on their personal expertise and experience, and are often located in the destinations they write about to provide local recommendations. It’s a fraction of the cost of a customized tour, and you can do it independently and at your own pace.

Sound good to you? Check it out at and share your experiences with us.

Knocked up abroad: prenatal care and pregnancy advice in a foreign country

See part 1 of Knocked up abroad: getting pregnant in a foreign country here.

One of the best parts of my experience so far with pregnancy in a foreign country has been the excellent medical care I have in Istanbul. Like many other expats before me, as soon as I took a positive pregnancy test, I called up the American Hospital for an appointment. The hospital treats many foreigners each year, is renowned for infertility treatment as well as other quality medical care, and is popular as part of Turkey’s growing medical tourism (the cow pictured at right is in the hospital lobby; you can tell how serious he is because of the glasses).

My first prenatal appointment was scheduled for Thanksgiving Day, and while many Americans were getting up to stuff the turkey, I confirmed I was six weeks’ pregnant (you’re welcome for sparing the “bun in the oven” puns). My very charming and English-speaking Turkish doctor gave me the usual pregnancy advice/warnings*, all peppered with only-in-Turkey bits:

  • Eat lots of dairy like ayran (yogurt drink Westerners often hate because it’s not sweet), yogurt, and cheese. While pregnant women should avoid unpasteurized milk and soft cheeses, you won’t find many of either in Turkey (or in the U.S.) unless you are looking for them.
  • No undercooked or raw meat like çiğ köfte, a popular raw meat and bulger-wheat snack served all over Istanbul (I first tried it outside a trannie bar here). I’ve discovered that the primary concern with sushi is an elevated risk for food poisoning; there is no additional or specific risk to the fetus. Sushi fish is often flash-frozen when caught, therefore it contains lower levels of bacteria. Use your judgment when ordering raw sushi, or stick to California rolls.
  • It would “be a crime to not eat fish in Turkey,” according to my doctor, but stay away from the big ones like shark which have high mercury levels. 1-2 servings of salmon or tuna per week is fine.
  • Sadly, especially in a country with excellent produce, eating unpeeled vegetables or salads in restaurants is a no-no, due to the hepatitis risk. While most restaurants are very clean in Turkey, when you are in a country with some traditional “natural-position” (aka squat) toilets still in use, you run the risk of some food contamination that’s riskier for expectant women than the general public.
  • Like many Europeans, I was told that 1 or 2 alcoholic drinks a week is okay, such as a glass of wine with dinner. Moderation and common sense are key, and it’s always best to err on the side of caution.
  • Caffeine is also fine in moderation: 1-2 cups of coffee, tea, or sodas are allowed per day, though I’m not convinced that a piping hot, two-sugars-no-milk glass of Turkish çay isn’t higher in caffeine than your average cup of tea.
  • Light exercise like yoga, pilates, and swimming are fine, but no “jumping exercises.”

My other concern was, of course, travel, but that was given the green light as long as I have no complications. Most airlines allow travel up to 28 weeks without a doctor’s note and up to 35 weeks with medical clearance. Whether your flight is short or long-haul, it’s advised to get up and move around every hour or so (good advice even for non-preggos) and choose the aisle seat. As I get bigger, I find puffing out my stomach as much as possible helps to get baggage assistance, and seats on the subway is good too.

The costs of prenatal care in Turkey are low: each of my appointments to a top-end private hospital cost just over $100 USD even with NO insurance (my U.S. insurance treats all international care as out-of-network and thus, out-of-pocket), even with ultrasounds at every visit–most American women get only a few over the course of the pregnancy. I’ll pay less for childbirth with a private room and catered meals for the family than I would for a shared room in a New York hospital. I rarely wait more than a few minutes to see the doctor, and the facilities and equipment are new and clean.

So far, Turkey has proved fairly easy to navigate as a pregnant person. I’ve never had a doctor who I could easily email with problems (such as which cold medicines were okay to take when I was sick in Russia), and everyone I meet is helpful with my concerns and questions. Istanbul is built on hills, so walking to the store can mean a fairly strenuous hike, but modern Turkey accommodates with online food and grocery delivery. Organic food is cheaper than at home, and nearly all of my cravings have been satisfied so far (though I could go for some American mac-and-cheese). I’m not yet halfway through the pregnancy but wouldn’t hesitate to reassure another expat that Turkey is a fine place to have a baby.

*Note: none of this is intended to be taken as medical advice, but rather my personal experience and anecdotal evidence. Talk to your own doctor about warnings and concerns before traveling to a foreign country, pregnant or otherwise.

Stay tuned for more on pregnancy travel, including Turkish superstitions and customs, where to travel in each trimester, what to eat when pregnant abroad, where to do pre-baby shopping, and more on having a baby in a foreign country. Check here for further updates.

Want to get lucky on the road? Look on Wednesday, act on Thursday

Feeling amorous on the road? Well, the best day to act on that urge is probably Thursday. Avoid people on Tuesdays, since that’s when a crappy mood is most likely, and save Monday’s for relaxation (and to avoid a heart attack). This may sound like strange advice, but it comes straight out of a study in the British Medical Journal.

The progression actually makes a lot of sense. The study suggests looking for love (or, I assume, lust) on Wednesday, calling it “ideal for a first date,” according to 40 percent of the 8,000 singles polled. So, cruise the hotel bar for some temporary bliss, but don’t act on it right away! Thursdays are for sex. And to help you seal the deal, Wednesday is the best day to ask for a raise, so you’ll be able to line your pockets to finance the big push, so to speak.

Thursday, remember, is your day for action. Natural cortisol energy levels hit their peak, The Sun writes. Get up early when testosterone and estrogen are up to five times higher, and take full advantage of what nature’s giving you. Then, shower, grab a quick bite from the hotel’s continental breakfast and get off to that morning meeting!

[photo by Melissa Audrey via Flickr]

7 travel rules you should break

I am not what you would call a rebel. I floss nightly. I chew each bite of food at least 20 times before swallowing, for fear of choking. As a kid, I colored between the lines. In short: I obey the rules. I always have.

But lately, I’ve noticed a little rebellious streak has emerged within me, particularly in the realm of travel. I’ve realized that a lot of people like to issue travel rules. Definitive statements about what we should and shouldn’t do as travelers. And frankly, that seems silly.

Now, don’t get me wrong: if the U.S. government issues a travel warning about heading to a foreign land, I think you should listen (or, you know, at least read the warning). I don’t think that walking down dark alleys is strange cities is necessarily a good idea. But I do think that some travel rules were made to be broken. And that by doing so, you’ll actually have a better time than if you had obeyed them. Here are seven travel rules I recommend you ignore.

Rule: Never check your bag.

I’ve heard this rule repeated time and again by experienced travelers (and I’m not going to lie: I’ve said it myself a few times as well). They warn that checking your bag makes you that much more likely to lose it. Or have your stuffed damaged, stolen, or otherwise snooped through.

Still, this is a rule that is delightful to ignore. After all, checking a bag makes going through security a breeze — no need to worry about liquid restrictions, or having to lug your bag with you while simultaneously trying to remove your shoes, watch, belt, underwear, and dental fillings. Plus, checking your bag means that you’ll be able to purchase an array of items that you couldn’t otherwise pack (perfume, wine, etc). I’ll never forget the time my hubby and I didn’t buy an absolutely amazing bottle of liqueur because we didn’t want to check our bags. I still think about it, and would have gladly waited an extra 20 minutes at baggage claim to have it.

Rule: Pack light.

I once read an article in a travel magazine in which the author implored his readers to pack nothing for their next trip. Absolutely nothing. Underwear was meant to be washed in the sink. Shirts could be re-worn several times.

For me, this isn’t exactly a viable option — perhaps because “washing underwear in the hotel bathroom sink” isn’t on my vacation to-do list.And while I understand the joys of packing light, there’s something to be said about about over-packing. Having several clean outfits to choose from (and enjoying the decadence of changing your shirt twice in a day!). Swapping out comfy shoes for even comfier ones! And honestly — if you’re just going from the airport to your hotel and back, lugging a bigger suitcase isn’t that much of an inconvenience.

Rule: Avoid tourist traps.

I’m told on a daily basis how awful tourist traps are. They’re overpriced! They’re not worth it! They’re too crowded and cliche! They’re what everyone does when they visit !

While every city has it’s own fair share of tacky, touristy activities, that doesn’t mean you should avoid all of them — especially if means missing out on something you want to see. The Colosseum in Rome is always packed with tourists — but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go. Nor should you skip the Empire State Building in New York. Or the Space Needle in Seattle. Are they packed with people? Absolutely. Why? Because they’re fun and iconic and worth seeing.

Rule: Don’t talk to strangers.

Okay, I admit, this one has a bit of validity. Travelers should exercise a bit of caution. I wouldn’t randomly walk up to some suspicious-looking character and tell them the details of my life, my social security number, or which hotel I’m staying in.

But one of the most rewarding things about travel is meeting new people. If you find yourself in a safe, public place, and you’re in the mood, why not spark up a conversation? I love chatting up cabbies, restaurant workers, doormen, and countless other locals I encounter for tips on what to see and do in a city. Even if I don’t end up taking their advice, I still end up having a richer experience.

Rule: Have an agenda … or at least some clue of where you’re going.

I constantly meet super-organized travelers who put me to shame. They have every minute of their vacation organized, scheduled and planned out. They’re researched tours, purchased tickets to shows, and made reservations months in advance.

I, on the other hand, am lucky if I remembered to book a return ticket home. And that’s not always a bad thing. There’s something incredibly liberating about arriving in a foreign city with absolutely no plans whatsoever. You can pop into whatever storefronts look interesting, roam a town aimlessly for hours, and snag last-minute tickets to a show or museum exhibit you’ve never heard of. Some of my best travel experiences are born from my lack of foresight.

Rule: Don’t buy cheesy souvenirs

I had a friend, years ago, who I thought was the epitome of elegant. Her souvenirs from her travels consisted of obscure concert posters and hand-crafted jewelry that she had fiercely bartered for in the middle of busy European streets. She scoffed at mass-produced snowglobes, key-chains, and t-shirts.

While she did have a point (finding unique one-of-kind items while traveling is always fun) there’s something to be said for tacky souvenirs. They’re cheap, they put a smile on your face, and since the name is usually emblazoned across the front, there’s no question where it came from. Besides, a Leaning Tower of Pisa shot glass that actually leans? How cool is that?

Rule: Try new things.

I’ve heard time and again that trips are a time to break away from routine, to try different things, to experience a new place and culture. And while I agree with that, I also think that travel is about relaxing and having a good time — and sometimes that means doing the same thing over and over again.

If you love the chocolate croissants at your hotel’s breakfast, there’s no shame in getting them every single morning. If you absolutely adored wandering around Central Park last time you were in New York, why not go again? Yes, travel is about exploration, but it’s also about having a good time. If that means become a repeat offender at a restaurant, museum, or a hotel, then do it. You won’t regret it.

What are your favorite travel rules to break? Share your thoughts in the comments section!

[Photos: Flickr | NicolasNova; L. Marie; JonRawlinson; ElvertBarnes; Mr.Thomas; AndreaKW; StephYo]

Geraldine DeRuiter is the founder of The Everywhereist, a travel blog for the accidentally adventurous.