Top Ten Items For Urban Traveling

Let’s face it – packing for a trip can be very stressful. There are so many questions you might ask yourself, such as “Do I really need to bring that new set of encyclopedias with me? How about an extra laptop? Hmmm, how will I survive without my favorite set of bowling balls? What if I get caught up in a freak blizzard, or if a swarm of locusts suddenly attacks?” The truth is you only need the essentials to be a happy traveler, especially if you are visiting urban areas. On the other hand, you don’t want to have an epiphany halfway to your destination, and realize that you forgot something you really need. I, Buzz the Bumblebee, an experienced traveler, have decided to compile the following list of items to bring on every journey, excluding the fairly obvious ones. Like a suitcase to put all the stuff in.

Here are top 10 items every traveler should bring along:

1. Swiss Army Knife
I can’t even remember the number of times this brilliant little device saved the day. Slicing bread – check. Opening wine and beer bottles – check. Opening cans – check. Plus it fits in every pocket, unless you go overboard and decide to get one as extensive as the one in the picture. Although I’m sure you would never get robbed if you actually decided to carry one of these, since the thief would burst out laughing as soon as you would pull it out, I recommend a more compact version.

2. Inflatable Traveling Pillow
Those long plane/train/bus rides don’t need to be uncomfortable at all. An inflatable neck-supporting pillow such as this one can make sleeping in your seat a pleasant and relaxing experience. There is really no need for mandatory soreness in your neck and shoulders if you try to sleep in such places without this little fellow. You can also use it in a horizontal position, replacing a “regular” pillow if you don’t fancy the ones you got in your hotel room. Be sure to carry a little repair kit with it, since punctures just happen. Don’t use it as a floating device though, unless you’re desperate.

3. Reliable Map
Sightseeing isn’t much fun if you can’t find your way around. This can be especially difficult in large cities you have never visited before, even if your sense of direction is excellent. Therefore, a good foldable map can be invaluable. Don’t rely on maps you can get for free at the local tourist offices, since most of these will be more detracting than helpful. You’ll be doing yourself a favor if you purchase a well-marked city plan beforehand, possibly even marking things on your own as you plan which landmarks you’d like to visit. A GPS system or a mobile device with access to Google Maps, for example, is a better, but pricier option. Unlike bumblebees, humans have to actually navigate the streets, which is quite unfortunate. For you.

4. Local Guide
Each country has a specific culture and its own set of “unwritten” rules. The mentality of people varies from place to place. No two cities have identical subway & tram lines. Bummer. I’m guessing you don’t want to offend anybody, so it may be wise to consult a local guide for some insight about your destination(s). You can get a lot of relevant information from online guides, like Bumblehood, or you can opt for a well written country-specific guide, such as Lonely Planet, Fodor’s or Frommer’s. Read at least the basics before the trip, since you will want to explore when you reach the destination, not read the guide and miss out on the real experience. Meet the locals and see the sights – don’t just read about them!

5. Comfortable clothing & shoes
How many times did you bring too many pieces of clothing on a trip, “just in case”? And how many times did those “cases” actually happen? Right. Only bring the things you feel comfortable in, and which are adequate for the season and climate of your destination – don’t bring your entire wardrobe. Yes ladies, this is an inter-species appeal to you from males around the globe. Choice of shoes is especially important, since you will probably do a lot of walking. A sturdy pair of traveling shoes with thick soles can really help avoid the pain in your feet after a long day of sightseeing, so buy the best ones you can afford. Don’t forget to bring adequate headgear – a hat or a baseball cap will protect you from the sun during summer, while a woolen cap (+ gloves!) will keep you warm during winter hiking sessions. Remember, he who would travel happily must travel light!

6. Quality Sunglasses
Chances are you will need some form of eye-protection regardless of the season. Unless you’re going for a skiing trip, in which case you’ll need goggles, a pair of quality (and stylish, of course) sunglasses will be well appreciated on a sunny day. What good would it be to stare at, for example, the Eiffel Tower if you can’t see anything because of the glare. Or to squint and hide in shadows as long as the Sun is up? Just be sure to actually bring these babies, since they are often left forgotten somewhere at home. Or is that just me? And bring along with suitable wiping cloth, so you don’t scratch the lenses while rubbing them against your jeans.

7. Camera
Traveling is oh so much better if you have actual hard evidence that you really visited the locations you claim, so you can brag about it with some credibility. Any camera, be it digital or just plain old analogue, will do the trick, but the bigger your budget the better your pictures will be (obviously). On the other hand, you might not want to bring really expensive models on a trip, since it might get lost or stolen (ignore this line if you are a Japanese tourist). A small tip – if you plan to make hardcopies of your picture, you might want to purchase a photo album in the city/country you are visiting, to make the memento even more authentic. Or you could just upload the whole thing to your Facebook / MySpace profile. Or both.

8. Compact Dictionary
Here is one pearl of wisdom from my big box of pearls – the locals will be more willing to help if you address them in their own language, even if your grammar is not perfect – you just need to show good faith. Unless you speak the language in question, this effort would be impossible without that dictionary in your pocket. You can opt for classic, printed versions, or even electronic dictionaries if that is your fancy. The latter may help you translate the word you are looking for a little faster, but a quality printed dictionary will never fail you by running out of battery power. Beware of tricky phrases though; if your statement comes out something like “I like to bone that sheep” when you meant “I would like to board that ship” people might want to get away from you as soon as possible. But hey, it’s all traveling experience and you can at least get a few laughs afterwards.

9. Secure Belt & Pouch
Seriously, only kangaroos and other marsupials have no need of such a travel accessory. This bumblebee never crosses a state line without one of these babies. Money, a small notebook & pen, aforementioned swiss army knife, city maps, a compact camera and all other small essentials can easily and securely be kept in such belts, and they will always at hand when you need them. Beats the hell out of stuffing your pockets and wondering where you left any particular item. Be careful when putting it down somewhere, in a bar for example, because they are so practical that people tend to forget they even exist. When it’s not attached to your waist, always keep an eye on it! You don’t want to mess around with embassies when your passport gets stolen, believe me.

10. Water Bottle
Even though water is most likely readily available at whichever urban destination you happen to be in, it never hurts to keep a bottle of your favorite liquid by your side. Especially during hot summer days. If you already carry the belt mentioned above (and you should!), you can easily attach the bottle to it with an appropriate clip. You never know how long that museum visit is going to last. If you want something, ahem, stronger, you can replace the plastic bottle with a metallic flask full of firewater of your choice. Either way, you’re sure to save a few dollars on overpriced drinks.

Planes, Cruises And Hotels: Busting The Biggest Travel Myths

We’ve all heard myths and urban legends about Big Foot, tested illogical home remedies like using hot water to make ice cubes faster and have made conservative choices on Friday the 13th, but how many of us have missed out on a travel adventure due to the fear caused by a few travel rumors? Here are some of the biggest urban legends in travel and the facts that debunk them.

Myth 1: Americans Are The Worst Tourists

Are Americans really the world’s worst tourists?

American’s rank 9th best out of 27 nationalities, according to an annual survey of hotel managers. The truth is Americans were ranked the loudest but also the biggest tippers.

Myth 2: Once You Step Onboard Your Money Is No Good

The truth is that your soda, meals, waters in the dining hall and buffets are paid for, everything else costs including alcohol, alternative dining, internet access and more. The fact is an average cruise traveler spend 50% more than the base fare on additional amenities.

Myth 3: Rule 240 = Money Back

If your flight is delayed, the urban legend states that Rule 240 requires the airline to compensate you. This is not exactly true, the rule 240 did at one time exist. It was created by the Civil Aeronautics Board. With deregulation though, Rule 240 has been expunged.

Myth 4: Bottled Water Is Your New BFF

At least 25% of bottles water is simply tap water. So if you are weary of Montezuma’s Revenge while abroad, know that there’s a 25% chance the brand you buy will simply be local tap water anyway.

Myth 5: Your Hotel Key Card Knows More About You Than You!

This again is also not true, your hotel key card doesn’t know everything about you. This rumor was started by Detective Sergeant Kathryn Jorge of the Pasadena Police. She saw a presentation about fraud techniques indicating this as a possibility, and sent an alarming email in response. The police department had to retract the statements of DS Jorge to quell fears.

Myth 6: There’s Money In That Bible

This is another myth which people want to be true, the myth is that people believe that there is a crisp $100 tucked into their hotel Bible. But till date there are no reports of such generosity.

Possibly, all of these myths depends on the mode of your travel, like many cruise lines don’t include soda in their inclusive meal price so you need to pay for your soda every time you buy it or you might want to go for a soda card plan. Other than that I wish I found that money in the Bible or anywhere in my hotel room, but my bad luck.

Rethinking Urban Design Can Save Energy and Reduce Congestion

Director Robert Zemeckis chose for a quaint town square shadowed by a massive clock tower for his iconic DeLorean-powered-by-lightning scene in “Back to the Future.”

Such squares give residents the impression of community, allow them to mingle and experience common culture. For the past 70 years, however, that town center has been shoved aside and is experienced undamaged only in communities that have remained relatively intact and development free. Some in New England come to mind.

Now there’s a growing effort to change that through innovation and a re-creation of those old styles.

Most cities, Fresno, Calif. especially, have seen their historic town centers marginalized by sprawl and pockets of massive outward-bound commercial construction. In Fresno, the city moved north. Some of its deserted streets in downtown would make great post-apocalyptic movie sets.

Seattle and San Francisco found ways to beat the trend, focusing inward while still experiencing an explosion of suburbia. But their successes are overshadowed by a majority of U.S. cities and towns, whose residents learned to accept longer commutes, parking battles and frustrations that come with congestion.

Michael Freedman, urban planner and founding partner at San Francisco-based Freedman, Tung + Sasaki, spoke of such sprawl and its beginnings at the Smart Valley Places kick-off convention at the Radisson Hotel in Fresno. Then he tore off the veil. Smart Valley Cities is a partnership of cities, organizations and regional groups to promote sustainable development in the San Joaquin Valley.

“The market has shifted,” Freedman says.

Young people increasingly are gravitating to urban environments, settings made popular on sit-coms like “Seinfeld,” “Friends” and “How I Met Your Mother.” They don’t want the cookie-cutter neighborhood, which almost served as the evil villain in “Edward Scissorhands.”

Somehow, Freedman says, developers missed this shift in demand that started in the 1990s, continuing to plunk subdivision after subdivision ever farther from city centers and work places, forcing commuters to endure longer drives, use more energy and spend more money.

Reversing that design mentality would save energy, reduce commutes and cost less. Energy savings alone would be a huge boon. Fewer vehicle miles traveled means huge reductions to greenhouse gas and emissions production.

Freedman gives a history lesson in community design in his presentation, explaining that our current system for designing cities arose from mechanization, industrialization and the assembly-line mentality of the early 20th Century, when Henry Ford pioneered profits by separating tasks and creating worker specialties.

The idea to separate housing, recreation, work and transport caught global fire after the appearance the Athens Charter, a treatise on urban planning by Swiss architect Le Corbusier. It was based on ideas reached by the Fourth Congress of the International Congress of Modern Architects, which took place in 1932 “mostly aboard a passenger boat which steamed from Marseilles, France, to Athens, Greece, and back again,” according to clio-online.

“We embraced this,” Freedman says. “This was cool. This was modern.”

Subdivisions were separated by incomes. “We had business parks,” he says. “We had shopping centers, separated by function with miles and miles of pavement… with miles and miles of utilities.”

The current system has fallen apart. Freedman cites Emerging Trends in Real Estate by Price WaterhouseCoopers, which says, “Homeowners slowly will accept that they can live comfortably and more affordably in smaller houses or apartments and gain economies from driving less.”

The annual report also says infill areas, or vacant lots, and cities with active neighborhoods and “urbanizing suburban nodes” will become more desirable among aging, baby boomers and their children. “At the same time, fringe suburban subdivisions – long car rides from work, shopping, and recreation amenities – lose some appeal.”

Innovation, Freedman says, is the answer and new design must incorporate cluster and density, synergy and mix and public places. Of course, he says, that’s exactly the opposite of most existing zoning regulations. “It’s a time of tremendous opportunity but also tremendous anxiety,” he says.