Save Money And (Maybe) Time With The Right Luggage, Packed Efficiently

I am one of the lucky ones: a traveler who has never experienced the inconvenience of lost or damaged luggage. I like knowing that but have never dared talk about it out loud, for fear of jinxing the luck or angering the luggage gods. Instead, when others tell their tale of woe concerning luggage mishaps or go on about inadequate reimbursement from airlines, I politely nod in sympathy. Still, I know that luck does not hold out forever. Wanting to go out on top, combined with a need for speed and a love for saving money, I tried a different approach on a trip to Amsterdam recently; I checked nothing and carried on all of my luggage.

“Back in the day, checking your bag on a trip only cost you 20 minutes of your time after a flight. Now you’re lucky if it only costs you $20,” says Adam Dachis from Lifehacker, a website with tips, tricks and downloads for getting things done.

My thoughts exactly – but as more air travelers try to beat the system by carrying on more, less space is available, making packing efficiently a must. Picking the right bag, rolling clothes and taking only what we actually need make for a good start. But getting your head in the game can score some of the best results.”Problems occur when you start thinking of everything you pack as “single use” items,” says Dachis in “How to Fit Two Weeks Worth of Luggage Under the Airplane Seat in Front of You,” urging us to realize that most clothing can easily be worn more than once, some many times.

Dachis recommends a flexible duffel-style bag that gives up little space to padding, protection or aesthetics. Been there, done that, not for me. Spending a lot of time in airports I had seen businessmen with stackable luggage. A medium sized bag that fits overhead and a smaller one that fits under the seat. These were the road warriors I needed to pay attention to. Many had rollerboard-style luggage with four wheels too. I liked that idea as well. These were my personal luggage idols. They had crossed the finish line with a huge luggage win.

In my case, the search was long and tedious to find the right luggage. After years of searching, trying and eventually adding failed bags to a spare bedroom we call “the luggage room,” I may have found a good fit.

TravelPro’s 21-inch Spinner Suiter combined from their Crew collection can easily go in overhead storage and holds plenty of clothes for a week. What Travelpro calls a “business brief,” from the same collection, has extra room for more clothing too and fits easily under an airline seat. On my trip to Amsterdam, home for a day then off to Venice, I don’t want to unpack and pack again. This looks to be the right tool for the job – for me. Everyone has different needs.

“You can’t have a perfect packing system,” admits Dachis, placing his greatest emphasis on efficiency. “Good preparation makes for better travel.”

I couldn’t agree more. The down side? I still have to wait for those I travel with to collect their checked luggage. So much for saving time.

Looking for more reasons to change your thinking about the luggage game? Watch this video:

[Photo credit – Canadian Pacific]

The Best Street Food In Amsterdam

Tourists don’t come to Amsterdam to eat. The Dutch city of debauchery attracts legions of travelers for other things – like, say, flowers or pretty paintings or twee canals – all of which build up quit an appetite. So one would think the city would have a flourishing street food scene to feed all these munchies-craving visitors. And not just in terms of availability but that some culinary entrepreneur would have realized this potential in the market and offer some seriously creative food (think state fair everything-on-a-stick cuisine or some variety on the theme of comfort food).

I recently found myself in Amsterdam with a sudden case of the munchies. After becoming hungry from … um, looking at so much art (yeah, that’s it), I wandered the city hoping to find something good to eat. I had to walk for a while, scouring the streets, peeking into storefronts, but I eventually found the best spots to quell my hunger.

Here, in no particular order, are best street bites in Amsterdam.Vending Machine Croquettes
One of the best things I ate in the week that I spent in Amsterdam came from a vending machine. Sprinkled throughout the city are shops called FEBO de Lekkerste. The walls are lined with vending machines that contain burgers, fries, chicken nuggets, even ice cream. The best, though, was the croquette filled with veal ragu and a peanut sauce. It was hot and fresh and tasted so good I had to get a second one. And for about $2, why not? I might be over-thinking this but the peanut sauce seemed like a nod to Holland’s colonial past in Indonesia. Whatever the case, I’m still thinking about that croquette.

From one of the best things I ate to one of the worst. If there’s a typical Dutch street food item, it’s herring. Dutch people line up at stands that dot the center of Amsterdam for herring. If you’re a lover of street food and slimy fish – and, really, who’s not? – then you’re contractually obligated to try this. Hold the fish up by the tail, raise it above your head and commence chewing. Hopefully you’ll like it more than I did. Get it on just about every corner or stop by the Amsterdamsche Vischhandel at 129 Zeedijk St.

Pork Buns
Not far from the Amsterdamsche Vischhandel, is the Chinese restaurant Hoi Tin (at 124 Zeedijk St.). If you’re the type of person who chooses an ethnic restaurant based on the presence of that particular ethnicity eating there, then you’ve found the right spot. In fact, the restaurant itself declares it with a large sign out in front: “THE PLACE WHERE THE CHINESE EAT.” It’s also a great place to get a juicy pork bun for pocket change.

My second favorite Dutch treat are bitterballen. Thick, round, golf-ball-sized croquettes stuffed with a molten mix of veal or beef ragout spiked with spices like nutmeg and, sometimes, curry. Apparently, bitterballen were inspired by yesterday’s leftover meat dishes in the early 20th century. Today they’re just a damn bite available at most snack shops and pubs around Amsterdam.

Everything Else
I tried the French fries – served with curried ketchup – and they were sufficiently crispy and filling. Other street food options that I didn’t have the stomach space for (or, let’s face it, the interest) included pizza, hot dogs and kebobs. I think on my next visit to Amsterdam, I’ll stick to the vending machines.

[Photo by David Farley]

Travel Gifts For The Last Minute Shopper That Won’t Break The Bank

With one of the biggest travel gift-giving holidays of the year coming up, not everyone is done shopping. To many gifters, last-minute mode is panic time and tactical shopping strategies kick in. Rather than simply buying a host of generic gift cards (akin to throwing money at the problem), get creative with gifts that show some thought.

A slap in the face saying, “Yes, I do care!” can be had by simply paying attention to your travelers’ air schedule. If a two-hour layover will give them time for lunch, check the airport list of concessions to see some place you might buy a gift card for.

Better yet, if you know that your traveler sneaks off to gate A13 at the Dallas/Ft Airport (DFW) for Popeye’s Chicken, something they would never admit to, get one of Popeye’s gift cards. (They also happen to have a “buy $20 card for $10” promo going on).

Internet time for many travelers is one of those sure-fire, absolutely-they-will-use-it gifts. In the air, GoGo Holiday JetPacks offers all-day access redeemable on any Gogo equipped flights between Dec. 22, 2012, and Jan. 3, 2013.

Discounted about 50%, a two-pack is just $14.50. Your frequent flyer might enjoy a 30-day unlimited access package for $49.50.

Europe Scratch Map is a way to keep track of where you have been or would like to go in Europe. This is a great one to give travelers who, when not on the road, have an office someplace where they could display it (like “Gawd I hate this job but look where I got to go because of the income it provides”).

Gently rub a coin against the places you have visited to reveal a burst of vibrant blue beneath. A great way to commemorate trips taken, or to dream of journeys yet to come ($24).

Crumpled City Maps
make folding a paper map a thing of the past, if Google and smart phones did not do that already. Travelers with Crumpled City Maps crunch them up into a ball and stuff it in their pocket.

Printed on some sort of durable, wonder-material, these maps are available for New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, Paris, London, Amsterdam, Berlin, Barcelona and Tokyo ($20).

[Photo Credit- Chris Owen]

What’s The Difference Between Holland And The Netherlands? This Video Tells You

Remember that fast-talking fellow with all of the nifty geography lessons? The guy who sorted out the difference among Great Britain, England and the UK for us in one dandy film? Well he’s back, and he’s here to explain the proper use between The Netherlands and Holland. I won’t ruin the surprise for you, but the geographic difference was quite enlightening.

His name is CGP Grey, by the way, and he also sells T-shirts strangely. Check out his whole feed here.

A Dead Duck In Amsterdam

There are parties and then there are parties in which one of the guests is standing in the corner caressing a dead mallard duck. Then again, this is Amsterdam and it’s sometimes hard to tell if one is hallucinating from taking too much … um, jetlag, or if, in this anything-goes city, people really do never leave home without their taxidermied animal.

I was visiting a friend in Amsterdam and we ended up at the opening party for the flashy new Andaz hotel there. The party, apparently, was filled with Dutch celebrities and some members of the country’s royal family. It was also attended by the mayor and the hotel’s designer, Marcel Wanders. There was a DJ spinning hip-hop and pop tunes. There were crazy (and apparently permanent) video art installations (like one of a girl jumping up and down on a hotel bed). There was great food. There were enough cocktails to drown in. But I just wanted to talk to the man with the dead duck.His name was Kees and his life changed at 5:55 p.m. on June 5, 1995. “That’s when this mallard duck” – he looked down at it lovingly and stroked its side – “crashed into a thick window in the Natural History Museum in Rotterdam,” he said. Kees went down to see what happened and saw the duck lying on its stomach in the sand. But here’s when the story gets real interesting: just then another duck – a male duck, also – flew up to the freshly dead duck and proceeded to have sex with it.

“It was homosexual necrophilia,” Kees said, again stroking the duck’s back. Kees brings the duck out to parties to raise awareness of – let’s say it again – homosexual necrophilia in ducks. This was one of those times when I thought I should be looking around for the hidden TV cameras. Instead, I bid Kees adieu and pointed myself straight for the martini bar.

I hadn’t been in Amsterdam for ten years. At that time, I did what one does on a first visit: I went to the Anne Frank House, the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum; I took a boat around the canal. I even smoked some local “tobacco.” This time, I just wanted to wander. Not much had seemed to change – though the level of official prostitutes who work behind their glass doors in the Red Light District has declined (and it will go from 240 to 120 in the next couple of years). The liberal use of marijuana is still around, evidenced by the wafts of sweet-smelling smoke pouring out of coffee houses in the center of town; it was under threat recently but that threat has passed and the pipe will continue to burn until the next right-wing government decides it’s time to change things.

The next day I found myself aimlessly strolling around the center of town. Stopping in the Red Light District, I was more interested in watching the groups of guys, dirty smiles on their faces as they’d glance at one another, and the nervous solo men, afraid to look at anyone, patrol the neighborhood.

In the shadow of the Oude Kirk – built in 1306; it’s the city’s oldest building – and its tall Gothic tower, there’s a coffee shop. Pot plumes wafted out of the crevices of the doors and windows. Around the corner from that, a youthful prostitute with long brown hair – is she really 18? – stood in her pod, beckoning male passersby with her index finger. It almost seemed as if the latter two, the grass and the prostitutes, were mocking the former, the church, by nearly rubbing themselves up against it. Or perhaps was it the other way around? All three – pot, prostitutes and piety – have been around since humans began walking on two feet. In this way, they seem like a perfectly fitting triumvirate, almost as if they have a symbiotic relationship. Without one, the others would cease to exist.

Standing there, in the middle of this triangle, I almost felt compelled to gravitate to one of them. None, in fact, really interest me, outside of an intellectual curiosity. Instead, I wandered toward a shop I’d heard about: Stenelux, a store crammed with taxidermied animals – even ducks.