In Praise of Staying Home on Labor Day Weekend

Labor Day weekend. It’s the last hurrah of summer. Soon, it’s back to school or back to work, and in the northern hemisphere the planet tilts away from the sun as we move into fall. It’s tempting to book one more plane ticket, squeeze in one more overnight hike, one more weekend road trip. After Labor Day weekend, it’s closed toe shoes and alarm clocks and carpools and behaving like a grown up again.

Don’t give into the hype. Labor Day isn’t the last weekend ever, there’s no need to act like it. And there are a number of good reasons to stick close to home. Let’s break it down.

Campgrounds are packed. Oh, you wanted to get away from it all, but now, you’re in a parking lot of RVs and listless teenagers and that guy who won’t turn down the Bryan Adams. Sure, you might be able to snap up a last minute campsite, but if you’re going camping with everyone else, you might as well stay in town.

Traffic is a disaster. According to the National Safety Council, Labor Day weekend ranks fifth for the most dangerous driving day in the US. In addition to the dangers of sharing the road with sunburned, hungover, dehydrated lunatics, you’ll share the road with thousands of perfectly sober and sun-screened drivers, all trying to make it home for a good night’s sleep before school or work the next day. You don’t really want to spend 12 out of your 72 free hours in gridlock, do you?

Labor Day hotel rates are inflated. A random search revealed a difference of 50-75 dollars less for rooms in San Francisco on the weekend after Labor Day. Manhattan rates? About 100 dollars less a night for the weekend after Labor Day. Don’t take my word for it, try it yourself.

There are top notch festivals in your back yard. Seattle has Bumbershoot, four days of headline music acts, art, literature… Brooklyn has the West Indian American Day Parade & Carnival with incredible food and costumes. Sure, it’s about West Indies pride, but everyone is welcome. Check your local events site or paper; there’s something fantastic happening near you. Don’t dismiss those small town events, often, they’re an opportunity to fall in love with your home town all over again.

Your local friends and family want to see you. When did you last have everyone over for dinner? When did you go for a picnic in the park by your house? Spring was crappy, and then, you were away and they were away… It’s time you got your tribe together for grilling and shandy and making up stories about what’s next. You’re all off work; take advantage of it.

It’s a great time to take a break. Travel is fantastic, but it would be a lie to say it’s always easy and relaxing. Why not take the long weekend to just wind down? The end of summer is the perfect time to swing in the hammock and mentally write that “What I did on my summer vacation” report. Stock the cooler, park the car, and give yourself three days to just chill.

The weather is great and beer is on sale. ’nuff said.

Photo via Flickr user Myki Roventine.

Knocked up abroad: second trimester travel

second trimester travel

Not far along enough for second trimester travel? Read more about pregnancy in a foreign country, Turkish prenatal care, travel in the first trimester,Turkish superstitions, and foreign baby names on Knocked up abroad.

A few years ago, before the word staycation foisted itself into the travel lexicon, babymoons were all the rage. A babymoon typically referred to the last getaway for expecting parents, often a deluxe resort vacation replete with couples’ massages, room service, and lots of pampering. I’ve spent my my pre-baby travel slightly differently, exploring post-Soviet museums before needing a stroller, eating at restaurants that have never heard of kids’ menus, and learning what non-alcoholic drinks are on offer in local dive bars. Living abroad in Istanbul has also changed my short-haul destinations considerably. In the first trimester, my husband and I traveled to Kiev and Warsaw, Russia in the dead of winter, and to Frankfurt for the Christmas markets, and I don’t regret having gone without the his-and-hers massages. For second trimester travel, I found Singapore to be nearly ideal: the food and shopping are epic, the street food is safe, and the people polite and helpful. Though the hotel prices and high temperatures can be hard to deal with, the Southeast Asian city-state is a nice balance of relaxation and city exploration.

Ask any new parent or doctor and they will tell you that the second trimester is the best time to travel, after the early days of morning sickness have passed and before you get so uncomfortable that a walk around the block feels like a marathon. Given the relative comfort level, the second trimester is also the best time for longer trips further from home. I flew 10 hours home to New York (my first trip back to the US in 10 months) in late February at 20 weeks, and just returned from a week in Malaysia and Singapore at 27 weeks. Today I hit the 28-week mark of pregnancy, a big milestone as it means the end of unrestricted air travel. For many international airlines, including Turkish Airlines, British Airways, and Qantas, you are required to bring a doctor’s note certifying you are fit to fly overseas. We all want to avoid childbirth on a plane, even if it could mean free flights for life.

Here are a few lessons I’ve learned from travel in the second trimester:

  • Travel when you are showing: Part of what makes first trimester travel tough is that no one knows you are pregnant other than you and your travel companions. Exhausted and need a seat? Tough luck, lady, we’re all tired. Need to make sure that foreign drink is non-alcoholic? Better stick to (bottled) water. While my friends cooed over my five-month baby bump, not a single person gave me a seat on the NYC subway in a week of rides, even when I unzipped my winter coat and looked longingly at strangers. Two months later in Singapore, I barely stepped onto a train before several people offered me a seat and every car has a few reserved seat for passengers in need.
  • Don’t skip the creature comforts: Even if you skip the traditional resort babymoon, you should still give yourself a break when traveling. When booking air travel, if you can find a way to upgrade yourself to business class, you’ll be glad to stretch out even if you can’t sip that free champagne. Coming from rainy and chilly Istanbul, a week in tropical Southeast Asia seemed heavenly, but walking around in humid 90-degree weather felt more like hell. I must agree with my food blogger friend Kate over at Savour Fare who said that “swimming pools are God’s gift to pregnant women.” Staying at a hotel with a pool gave me much-needed relief in between wandering the historic (but seriously hot) streets of Penang, Malaysia.
  • Bring documentation: As noted before, many airlines require a doctor’s note for women to fly between 28 and 35 weeks. But how do you prove how far along you are in the earlier weeks? At my last doctor’s appointment before flying to Asia, I asked for a note allowing me to travel just in case, having heard that Malaysia sometimes restricts entry to pregnant women in later months for fear that they will give birth in the country. Good thing I did as nearly every Turkish Airlines personnel asked me for my medical report: when checking in, at the gate, and on the plane. If you’re traveling internationally after 20 weeks, play it safe and bring a note.
  • Do half as much: For first trimester travel, I noted that you should realize your limits have changed. Though energy levels may increase in the second trimester, jet lag and extreme weather still take a major toll. I had a long to-do list in Singapore but could barely manage half the things. I scoffed at paying for the tram at the zoo, but in hindsight, it would have been much easier and more comfortable to get around Singapore’s massive animal park. Even if you normally avoid overpriced museum cafes, they might provide the break you need to stay a little longer. Taxis are another friend of pregnant women, especially when they are air-conditioned.
  • Buy local snacks: Pregnancy is a double-edged sword when it comes to eating: your hunger is greatly increased but you have to watch what you put into your body, whether you’re in a foreign country or not. Often flights arrive late at night or you mistime your lunch break when all the restaurants are closed, leaving you without many food options. Penang is known as Malaysia’s food capital but I had to make different choices for safety’s sake and avoid some of the famed street food, though Singapore’s hawker centers are quite hygienic even when you are eating for two. A visit to a supermarket can provide an expecting traveler with a range of unusual but safe food. Each night in Asia I tried different bottled drinks, from the tasty calamansi juice to the vile lemon-barley drink. Having a stash of local snacks made me feel better about staying safe with street food while still enjoying products only found in Malaysia. America needs to get with the Kit Kat drumstick ice cream cone, though I’m not so sure about the blueberry-and-hazelnut Pringles.
  • Dress for comfort: Nearly all pregnant women experience swelling in the hands and feet, particularly in the last few months. Air travel, salty foods, and humidity exacerbate this, so halfway through my vacation, I worried I’d burst out of my shoes like the Incredible Hulk. If you’re traveling to a hot place, pack shoes that give you a bit of room and remove your rings before flying (good opportunity to find a nice necklace to wear them on). Also be sure to dress in cool clothing that still provides coverage to avoid (or protect) sunburn.

With three months to go, there’s still more Knocked up abroad to come, stay tuned for more on pregnancy travel.

Fall hideaways: Colorado ski resorts for the non-skier

I live in Colorado and I don’t ski, snowboard or otherwise partake in the numerous ski resort activities involving ice, snow, goggles, weird hats and heavy snow-suits (that the so-called fashionable people call ski apparel). But, I do go to the ski resorts at what I consider the best time, the Fall. It is after the summer crowds and before the winter madness begins; it is the perfect time for a getaway to hideaway- or not. The Aspens are turning, the Elk are bugling and the purple mountains majesty are there as always, only with less snow on them. Here are some great finds for a staycation in Colorado ski country.

1. The Little Nell in Aspen is a sophisticated country inn that exudes charm and class. Each room is unique and all have fireplaces. Everything is high-end, from the toiletries to the down comforters on the bed. There is not a bad view in the place and the hotel restaurant, Montagna, has”farmhouse cooking” with such items as crispy pork belly and watermelon salad and a great three course prix fixe dinner and all with a view of Aspen Mountain. There are two bars serving the rooms, condos and suites. In the Fall you can get a double room for $330-$415. Those prices double in season. Many movie stars stay here as the amenities are outstanding and the location is great. You can hide-out in the hotel or do what the stars do-shop Aspen. 675 E. Durant Ave. www.littlenell.com

2. The Steamboat Grand (2300 Mt. Werner Circle) in Steamboat Springs is a large upscale property with rooms, suites and penthouses with the usual high-end amenities. There are three restaurants, two lounges, free shuttle, and two hot tubs said to be the largest in Colorado. Steamboat Springs is known for its natural hot mineral springs which are said to have healing qualities. The town has turned these natural wonders into a thriving business, some with bathhouses. More on these at; www.steamboatsprings.org . 3. Allaire Timbers Inn Bed & Breakfast is a great place in Breckenridge for a romantic hideaway. It is the Colorado lodge style log inn complete with massive stone fireplace and fantastic mountain views. The room decor reflects well known mountain passes. Each room has a private deck, robes and fuzzy slipper-socks. It is just outside of town. If you feel the need for outside action, Breckenridge has the best nightlife in the Summit County area.www.allairetimbers.com Rooms are $149.00-$275, suites are higher.

4. Vail Mountain Lodge & Spa is just a quick walk to dining, shops and skiing. Located at 352 E. Meadow Dr. Fall room rates are half ($149-$299) of their high season rates. It is a lodge with an intimate cozy feel. All rooms have soaking tubs, fireplaces and feather beds. The hotel restaurant,Terra Bistro is a hot spot for locals and their spa is among the best in town. www.vailmountainlodge.com

5. Devils Thumb Ranch just outside of Winter Park is a guest ranch on 4,000 acres and gives new meaning to the term solitude. This is a great escape that has cabins decorated with rustic antiques and a lodge as well. The vibe is Colorado wilderness but cozy. It has two restaurants, a bar, spa, pool, sauna and a game room that boasts all non-electronic games. The ranch is very Eco-conscious and green and even uses geothermal energy for heat. It is a great place to hide-out from the rat race and breathe in that fresh mountain air. It is located eight miles from Winter Park Colorado on Grand County Rd. 83. $210-$565 for a lodge room and $315-$895 for a private cabin. For more information on this property; www.devilsthumbranch.com

All of these accommodations are located in the Northern Rockies and the towns are relatively close to one another. Fall is a great time to hideaway in the Rockies even if it is just for a little vacation close to home-a staycation.

10 travel resolutions for 2010

As 2009 draws to a close and we look back on the last 365 days of travel, it’s time to make some resolutions for the coming year. Here are ten travel resolutions that will help you be a happier, more fulfilled traveler in 2010.

Pack lighter
Nearly every domestic carrier now charges for the first checked bag. The fees are increasing as airlines are relying on the fees to supplement revenue and they show no signs of stopping. If you haven’t yet mastered the art of packing for a domestic trip with just a carry-on, now is the time to do so. Limit yourself to one pair of shoes in your bag, bring clothes that mix and match, plan to wash and re-wear your clothes if they get dirty, and wear your bulkiest items on the plane. Resist the urge to pack for every contingency, learn the 3-1-1 rules, and know that any minor inconvenience you suffer from packing light may be worth the money saved. Plus, there’s no waiting around for your luggage to be unloaded and no danger of it getting lost en route.

Remember to unplug

Many people are afraid to truly take a vacation from work. They worry about how it will affect their career or stress about the amount of work they’ll come back to. If they do manage to make it out of the office, they often spend their whole trip checking email and fielding work calls and texts. Step away from the Blackberry! Sign out of Twitter, shut down Facebook, and put your “out of office” notification on your email. You’ve worked hard for this vacation so unplug and actually enjoy it.Explore your own backyard
Don’t worry, I’m not going to suggest you plan a “staycation” this year. But I will point out that exploring a new place doesn’t have to mean jetting off to a destination halfway around the world. If finances are tight but you still want to take use some vacation time and broaden your horizons, spend your days discovering a place you haven’t been within the US, within your own state, or even within a few hours drive of your own home. In between trips, find ways to do some virtual traveling by learning about your dream destinations or celebrating other cultures.

Slow down
There’s so much to see in this great big world, and so little time to see it in, that it’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to squeeze in as much as possible on each trip. But when you do that, you’re just ticking things off a list and experiencing nothing. Slow down and take your time exploring a few places rather than trying to skim the surface of many. You many not be able to say you’ve seen every country in the world, but you can say you’ve understood a few.

Think outside the box for destinations
Resolve to shake up your travel m.o. in 2010 If you always opt for a European getaway, head to Asia this year. If most of your trips are to big cities where you can wine, dine, shop and visit museums, try a trip to a quiet beach or a countryside setting instead. Consider what you want to get out of a trip and look for other destinations that fit the bill. Dive enthusiasts who’ve explored most of the Caribbean’s depths can try the waters of the Mediterranean. Traveling foodies who’ve eaten their way around Europe can sample the tastes of India or learn the traditions of Mexican cooking. Reconsider places you might have dismissed before, especially those that are emerging as new destinations so that you can beat the crowds.

Try an alternative form of lodging
Who says you always have to stay in a hotel? This year, try a different kind of lodging. Sleep in a bed and breakfast, rent an apartment, CouchSurf or sign up for a home-swap. You may find that it’s not for you, or you may find your new favorite way to stay. As a bonus, alternative forms of lodging are often cheaper than traditional hotels.

Travel green
Help protect the places you love so that future generations can enjoy them. Resolve to cut back on your carbon footprint and do what you can to travel green. Try to stay in eco-friendly accommodations, take public transportation when you can, reduce your energy use at home, and invest in carbon offsets to help mitigate the damage caused by air travel.

Try one new thing on every trip
Travel is about experiencing new things, so why bother going to a new destination if you are just going to do the same activities, eat the same food, and explore the same interests? This year, challenge yourself to try at least one new thing on every trip. Sample a food you’ve never eaten, sip a local drink, learn a native skill, and engage in an activity you’ve never done before. It’s easy to fall into the routine of seeking out the same experiences in different places so challenge yourself to try something new.

Get out of your comfort zone
We travel to discover, not only new people and places, but also new things about ourselves. Push yourself out of your comfort zone in 2010. Try not only new things that you’re eager to experience, but also new things that scare you just a little. Eat that slimy, still-squirming mystery dish in China or face your fear of heights climbing the Sydney Bridge. You’ll learn a little about the world around you, and maybe even more about yourself.

Remember that travel is a state of mind
It’s easy to approach exotic cultures with respect and curiosity. It’s a lot harder to look at different cultures in our country and accept that just because they do things differently, it doesn’t mean they are wrong. Bring the acceptance you learn on the road home with you. Don’t lose your sense of wonder and curiosity once you are back on familiar ground. Remember that travel is a state of mind and you may be just as surprised to discover the world around you as you are destinations farther away.

Facebook “memology” report reveals non-travel bias?

Facebook has released its trend analysis of the top words appearing in status updates in 2009. Unlike the Twitter worldview, which had some terms that could be seen as travel-related, Facebook users appear to have spent more time at home. Sure, there’s the obligatory H1N1 mention, which impacted the travel-hungry throughout the year … but that’s it. What cements the seemingly sedentary characteristic of the Facebook addict this year is #13 on its “memology” report (meme = online slang for trend or fad) is “yard.”

We’ve all grown to loathe the coined word “staycation,” but as much as we try to ignore the word, the underlying tendency can’t be ignored. Just how the hell did “yard” come in at #13? It’s the antithesis of travel – of mobility, really – and drives home the notion that low fares and dirt-cheap hotel rooms weren’t enough to get us out of our own plots in 2009.

Facebook admits to some surprise at this meme on the list, saying, “This is a trend that nobody would have guessed.” Can’t get blunter than that, right?The social network’s blog post continues, “The word “yard” seems fairly uncommon, and indeed it barely breaches a rate of five mentions in every 10,000 status updates. When we compare 2009 to 2008, however, we see a huge increase.”

It’s possible, according to Facebook, that it’s a result of more “moms and dads” coming to Facebook and letting the world know via status updates that they are either working or spending time in the most suburban of land masses, as “these folks have yards that require some tending.”

Does this mean that Twitter users are younger? Or, just more active than their Facebook counterparts? Obviously, it’s impossible to say, but it’s a bit fun to guess. Of course, I cheated a bit with our interpretation of Twitter a few weeks ago, so the chasm isn’t as vast as I may have made it appear.

So, let’s try to change the situation in 2010. Link your Twitter account to your Facebook page and push your travel-related updates hard. Live tweet the hour you wait in line at the security checkpoint, or gripe about the lousy service you get from the airlines. Do something – do anything. Let’s change the face of social media … and put a travel mask on it!

[Photo by Kevin Prichard via Flickr]