Saturday, February 23, 2019

California Dreaming - Tips for Traveling

I'm back!

But I have to say reluctantly because...

Brunch at the WeHo Bistro - photo credit Sydnee Smith

I LOVED CALIFORNIA!!!


So today's post is going to be about tips and helpful hints when visiting Los Angeles, or really when visiting any new area or city.

Let's get started!


TIP #1

Decide where you want to go and WHY you want to go there.  This is so critical!

I took my daughter and her bestie to L.A. because they are planning to move there in the next few months, and as a momma, I wanted to have a "feel" for the area.  Being an east coast gal, I had only seen and heard things about L.A. and I wasn't going to rely on that alone.

I'm so glad I didn't.

Aerial view courtesy of Southwest Airlines.

When you have a clear purpose for visiting a place, you can enjoy all that it has to offer you.  Even if your visit is "It's on my bucket list," have a reason.  Don't just throw a dart at a map and go from there.

Speaking of maps, order one, or grab one when you get there.  There were free maps available on our airport shuttle as well as a laminated map available for purchase in our hotel.  I got both.


TIP #2

Research, research, research!

Find out as much as you can about where you're going.  With our access to technology, there's no excuse not to know at least a little bit!

I watched some YouTube videos on L.A. (Understand that "L.A." actually includes ALL the surrounding areas - Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Downtown, LaBrea, Burbank, etc...).  I also read a few blogs (google to find them) and asked people that I knew had visited for their advice.

The LACMA - Los Angeles County Museum of Art

I also checked with the girls to see what they wanted to do.  Both are very creative types so I knew a museum was going to be on that list.  

Keep in mind that larger cities will have multiple museums and activities to choose from.  Check entrance prices and adjust your budget.  We did the LACMA, which was a $25 adult fee, but gave us access to amazing art and scenery.  We went on a Sunday and I was very happy to see that they had a children's art activity set up in the courtyard.  It was a free activity and every table was full.  I love cities that offer family opportunities.


TIP #3

Set a budget.

Unless you are fabulously wealthy, you have to set a budget for any vacation or trip - especially if you have kiddos and are footing the bill.

"Speak to me Harry Winston" - Marilyn Monroe, Gentleman Prefer Blondes.
Nope, bought nothing here, but it was worth the trip to Rodeo Drive to wander and window shop.
You will need to look and establish the overall estimated cost of your trip.  This is where your research can help you, especially with budgeting for food, activities, and shopping.

If you are a good manager of your money, I suggest "investing" in a credit card that pays you back.  I have a Southwest card that earns points on future travel as well as shopping, so I used that as my primary source of funds.  These points will pay our entire round-trip ride to Las Vegas this spring.

When traveling, you will have to have a major credit card, especially as most hotels require a deposited "hold" for incidentals and YOU CANNOT rent a car without a major card.  (No, debit cards are not allowed for car rentals.)

Having a CC is a great way to track your spending (you can access your account online, 24 hours a day) plus, you have less worry about theft of cash or a debit card theft.  When you use a CC, the holding company pays out.  When you use your debit card, YOU payout which means it can take up to 30 days to recoup any monetary theft on a debit card.

When you return home, use your vacation savings to pay off the CC and avoid interest.  Then take advantage of all those points you racked up to start planning your next vacation. 


TIP #4

Look around and research your hotel accommodations.

Our room view every morning.  I like to think those 3 palms were the 3 of us traveling together, enjoying the sunshine and reaching for the sky!
I am the first to admit that I am a SNOB about hotels.  I want to have a nice place to lay my head and I want access to services.  I want daily maid service, fresh towels, and NO worries about bedbugs or vermin. I'm on vacation!  I will not scrimp when it comes to hotels, but I'm not going to pay more than I absolutely have to.

Using my Southwest card, I booked flights, a car rental, and the hotel using the Southwest recommendations.  This means that I could take advantage of the partnerships they had with hotels and car rentals and save more money.

Yes, these orchids were REAL, and these arrangements were over 6 feet tall each, not counting the table below them.

Again, all real and gigantic.

1 of 2 gold embossed walls in the lobby, almost 3 stories high.

We stayed at The Beverly Hilton and in terms of service got much more than I think we paid for.  It was an iconic Beverly Hills hotel the was very luxurious.  I will stay there again most definitely.

When our flight attendant asked where we were staying on the plane ride out and I stated The Beverly Hilton, he raised his eyebrows and said "WOW!"  

I guess he was impressed, which means that I got a great deal!


TIP #5

Look into renting a car - even if you think you can't possibly drive in the "big city."

I decided at the last minute to rent a car.  I was initially thinking that we would UBER it around, but in the end, the cost of paying for an UBER would have far exceeded the cost of car rental ($149 total).  I decided to bite the bullet and just get a Nissan Altima.

Driving on the freeway to Downtown L.A.
It was one of the best decisions I ever made.

It was so easy to drive everywhere.  Parking was easy and affordable when payment was required.

And...
THEY ARE SO FREAKING NICE ON THE ROADS THERE!

I know that sounds funny, and when I told that to natives they laughed and thought I was crazy.  They've obviously never driven in the east.  They've never been cussed, tail-gated, pushed off the road, "birded," hounded, cut-off, or obnoxiously beeped at.  These things happen quite often here, but not there.

In fact, I was stunned when merging or turning onto roads.  The drivers coming up to you actually SLOWED DOWN and let you in.  When you put on your blinkers to change lanes they would also slow down and allow you over.  Like WHAT THE WHAT???

My daughter said it was all the sunshine that just makes people happier.

Whatever it is, I'll take it!

Because the streets are wide and the buildings are towering, the sunshine was all around you.
Now, I would not have rented a car if I was in Chicago or NYC, simply because they are so centralized and not spread out like L.A.  I would have also budgeted for hired transportation if we had gone to those cities.

L.A. however, is very spread out, and the only way to get from one place to another is by car or bus system.

Here's where the maps and technology help you out.

TIP #6

Make technology your friend!

Having a pair of millennials is a great way to travel.  I thought I was hip on technology, but I learned quite a bit more by hanging out with these two.

In fact, I put them on as navigator for the driving and cruise director for the restaurants.  I was not disappointed.

Using the YELP app helped us pick food places that were delicious as well as affordable.  I did not foot the food and shopping bill for these ladies - they need to know the cost of things before they move out there!

So, by using the YELP app we found restaurants with great reviews at the double dollar sign $$.

My eggs benedict at The Village Idiot on Melrose.
The menu at El Carmen
Our French pate tray at WeHo Bistro.
My chocolate dessert at SUR restaurant.
Using WAZE and Google Maps helped to navigate around the city as well.  You can set the timing of the verbal directions as well.

The time we used an UBER driver for our birthday dinner celebration night, I notice he used the WAZE app as well.


TIP # 7

Realize you can't do it all, nor do you want to.

Unless you never plan to visit that place again, save something for future visits.

I know I will be back (along with the hubby) because our daughter will be living there and we will want to visit.  I want to save some other things to do for those next times.

In reality, you also need to realize that you can't possibly do everything in a limited window as well.


On that note, avoid the tourist traps if you possibly can.

We didn't go to Grauman's (You couldn't have if you wanted to because that whole area is closed off in preparation for the Oscars this Sunday.), or the Walk of Fame, or even stop at the Beverly Hills sign.  These were not things we wanted to do this trip.

My daughter grabbed this great photo while riding by...
This one too...
I always recommend avoiding the "tourist trap" things as a rule because they are very scripted and you miss out on really enjoying the culture of an area.

Many large cities have what I call "Crafted Culture."  This is where they sell you on buying helicopter trips and "See Where the Stars Live" trips that really just take your money.  Most of the stars do not live in the city but outside in the moneyed enclaves where those busses have no access.

If you want to spend your money, look for real culture like museums, theme parks, studio tours, and family activities where you have some control over what you do and what you see.

And finally...

TIP # 8

ENJOY EVERY MOMENT YOU ARE ON VACATION!!!

Life is too short to not have fun on a vacation.

You've chosen this place to explore, expand your intelligence, and get away.  

DO IT!

Don't dwell on the what-ifs or the how comes.

Connect with the area, the culture, your travel mates, the food, the atmosphere, and most especially yourself.

I solidified that I am more of a west coast personality than an east coast girl.  Nothing is wrong with the east coast, I just know that I am more myself in the western part of this country than here.  It sounds strange as I've spent 53 years here in the east, but when you know, you know!

Eventually, hubby and I will be packing up and moving in that direction.  It's been on our bucket list for quite some time and this trip just made it all the more real.

Full moon through the palm trees.

I hope you find these tips helpful for your next trip.

Wherever it is and wherever you go, I hope you go with all your heart and break some rules along the way!












Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Packing It In

Since we purchased the RV, our trips, in terms of packing have been different.  Because the RV is parked in our driveway, I take my clothes right on and put them away in the closet and drawers.  It's been quite a while since I've had to pack a large suitcase for a trip.

However, when the chance arrived to take a girl's trip to California with my daughter, I jumped at the chance to fly (one of my favorite things to do) which meant that I had to get out the large suitcase and start the process of packing.


Because we fly Southwest, I knew that we could take 2 free checked bags as well as the carry on and a purse.  I didn't need 2 checked bags, but I did want to pack with several options in mind in terms of clothing.  After all...it is L.A.

I don't know about you, but I like to have "options" when I pick out what I am going to wear each day I am away from home.  This includes our camping trips as well.  

Because flying limits your fashion options (unless you're a Kardashian) I had to start with a few things in mind.

First - I needed to check the current weather conditions in southern California.  The average temperature this time of year is about 60 degrees during the day and it's a rainy time of the year.



Second - I needed to pick a "base color" of clothing and work several options of outfits around that color.  My choice was black.  I start by gathering my options on hangers in our guest room.


Here, I've added a chambray top, my favorite black batwing tunic, and patterned jeans.  A solid white T-shirt is always a good choice when packing as well. It goes with anything.


I then gathered a few more outfit ideas together, making sure that I could mix and match tops and bottoms.  I purchased a new pair of black leather Sketchers for the plane ride as well as for walking around  L.A.  I will pack my heels, black booties, and a pair of versatile black flats as well.


I'll switch between my small and large black purse, and will pack my toiletries in 2 Thirty-One bags that I've traveled with for years.

Once I had an idea about the outfits I began pulling jewelry.

Now, let me speak to jewelry... I have had a life-long love affair with jewelry.  It's one of the things that I always look at in a store, and I will find myself buying a piece of jewelry (fine as well as costume) before I even buy an article of clothing.

Think of jewelry as the bow on a present.  You can wear a very plain/neutral classic outfit and a good piece of jewelry can take it to the next level.  In fact, by changing the jewelry, you can wear that same outfit in many different ways.

Here's what I pulled from my collection.


I packed some turquoise, some sterling, some high-fashion, some specialty pieces, and some Apple Watchbands.  All of these options will dress up any combination of outfits that I put together from the selections that I am taking.

The turquoise will look especially great on the black or with my leopard print blouse.

Third - I needed to pull out a large suitcase and look it over.  


This suitcase has been on many trips, so I wanted to make sure that it was still good to go for another one.  If you don't take care of your luggage, it will not last very long.  

TIP:  Before you leave on ANY trip, check your luggage for the following:

1 - Make sure ALL the zippers are in good working order.  You don't want them to be broken or on the verge of breaking.  You can lose your packed items if this is the case.  While you're checking your zippers, it's a great time to put a bit of WD-40 on them and work the zippers all along the zipper teeth.  This will help to lubricate the zipper, making it work smoother and avoiding having a zipper break while on your trip.


2 - Clean the inside and outside of your luggage by wiping it down with a mild cleaner.  I used my Thieves spray which will also freshen the fabric both inside and out.  Stored luggage can take on some questionable smells when it's hanging out in an attic, basement, or even under your bed.  Refresh that fabric, wipe down that vinyl, and polish that hard outer shell.


3 - Check all the pockets and nooks and crannies for any previous left items.  I ended up finding this phone case from my daughter.  It's been in this suitcase for so long that she didn't even remember it!


4 - Lubricate the wheels and roll them around several times.  Nothing is worse than having to drag or carry a suitcase through an airport.  The wheels will make traveling so much easier but only if yours are in good working order.


5 - Make sure that your expanding handle is also in good working order.  Lubricate that as well and make sure that it telescopes up and down smoothly.  Again, the same as #4 above.


6 - Update your bag tag.  I made this one using my business card and some scrap paper and stickers.  You want your tag to be unique so that you can easily spot it when it comes onto the luggage carousel.  Adding a large ribbon, bright pompon, or unique luggage tag will help with this process.  Knot it firmly so that it stays in place.


One more thing about luggage; don't try to buy expensive pieces unless YOU ARE a Kardashian (which means you are flying private and there are no dirty holds or belts).  

TSA will be throwing your luggage onto dirty conveyor belts, dirty transport carts, dirty baggage belts going into the dirty plane belly, and then the process repeats itself when you land and finally retrieve your bag off of the dirty conveyor belt at the pickup area.

Your luggage will have had the bumpiest ride and met with lots of dirt and grease.  Hence the reason why this bag is not the "prettiest."  If you are buying luggage, try to avoid the light colors, no matter how beautiful they are.  You can get the smaller one and use that as your carryon - where you can control it's cleanliness somewhat, otherwise, go for colors that are darker like black, red, gray, purple, and forest green.  

Now it's time to start packing.


First, decide what you will be taking in your checked baggage and what you will be taking in your carry-on.  It's important to always check the TSA site for any updates to what you can take ON the actual plane and the limits on liquid amounts.  

TIP: It's always a good idea to pack a change of clothes and basic toiletries on your carry on JUST in case your luggage is delayed...

I always start by packing the more malleable stuff in the "back" of the suitcase where there are natural gullies from the telescoping handle.  Remember that this is really the back of the case.  The bottom is where the wheels are located, so make sure that you pack heavier objects like shoes at the bottom.  If they are packed nearer to the top they will settle during travel and cause added wrinkles to your clothing.  Gravity must be considered when packing people!


Some people prefer to roll, and I've done that as well, but this time I "boxed" my clothing.  This means that I folded them in box-like structures and laid them flat.  I also fit them in like a puzzle.

I don't mind ironing my clothes, and will often do that when I travel with a suitcase. Having a few wrinkles from folding instead of rolling will be fine with me.


I've got all my clothing packed and just need to add my toiletries bag and a few smaller items.

I've got plenty of room to close the case and it will be well within the weight required.  

My carryon bag is a Biaggi bag (the Zipsac 22) that I think is actually the greatest invention. (I also have the Zipcubes)  If I purchase things in California, I have room in my carryon.  I can easily transfer items between both bags, making sure that I follow TSA guidelines.

I'm now all ready to board my plane and head off to Cali.





In fact, by the time you read this post, I will be in L.A. enjoying the weather and my mini trip away with my daughter.  We will be celebrating our birthdays.

In fact, I'm pretty sure we will be breaking the rules!





















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