Catherine McGrew Jaime

Author, Historian, Lifelong Learner, Teacher, World Traveler

Category: Travel

Thoughts on travel from a world traveler – based on travels alone, with kids, with adult family members, and with friends.

Tips for Packing Light and Traveling Smart

Travel Fun

There are plenty of blogs out there already offering travel tips (I know, I’ve read many of them), so I hesitated to add another one to the collection.  But since each travel blogger offers hints from their own experiences and perspectives, it occurs to me that I might have a few tips to offer as well.

As my last couple of blog posts mentioned (Travel, Travel and More Travel on here and “Traveling along the Lewis & Clark Trail” on my other website), I am a big fan of traveling. It’s been something I’ve been doing for pretty much my entire life.

Dan, Sonia, and I on our horse and carriage ride across Florence, Italy.

Okay, so we don’t get to travel THIS way very often.

I have ridden as a passenger (my favorite), I have driven (I can manage that too – as my 4200 miles in February and March of this year can attest), I have flown (something I endure for the sake of who or what I am flying to), I’ve occasionally traveled by train (I would be happy to do more of that), and I have traveled by boat (mostly on cruise ships – by far my favorite way to travel!).

I’ve traveled alone, I’ve traveled with one or more friends, and I’ve traveled the most with family. I actually enjoy any or all of those options. Here I will share my tips based on my experiences on those various types of travels. Maybe one or more of them will be helpful to you.

Enjoying Global Entry and TSA PreCheck

When I got to the security area, I happily made my way to the somewhat shorter line for TSA Pre. This was my second flight since receiving my “Known Traveler” number the previous month. At $100 for 5 years, my Global Entry application is one of the best travel purchases I’ve made in a long time! It guarantees me TSA Pre on all my domestic flights for the next five years, and should make coming back into the country from my international flights easier. (I won’t get to test that portion until June.) But I do have to say getting to leave my shoes on, not having to take any liquids out, and not having my CPAP machine taken apart (all of which happened when I flew in January without TSA Pre), is amazing! I had experience the TSA Pre options a few times when traveling with my husband, but to now have it guaranteed makes me very, very happy!

A church bell tower in Italy.

From my first trip to Italy. I hope to make good use of my Global Entry on more international trips.

From what I’ve heard, getting just the TSA PreCheck is less complicated. (My sister was able to do it while stuck in the Charlotte airport on one of her trips, and I’ve seen walk-in offices in several other airports I’ve traveled through.) Whereas the on-line application for Global Entry probably took an hour, then I waited several weeks to hear back from them about setting up my interview. Which is where the fun really began – trying to find an appointment time in a place I could easily get to – even though I live in Northern Alabama, I ended up with an appointment the following month in Houston, Texas. Fortunately I was traveling to Austin and could work in an appointment on my way home from there. Otherwise, I might have been looking at months before I could get an appointment for my 5-minute interview.

The Usefulness of Packing Cubes

My recent trip to Denver was for ten days and I easily packed in my small carry-on suitcase. Since my goal is to always fit in a carry-on, regardless of the length of the trip, that wasn’t particularly unexpected. The real surprise was coming home – my sister had given me a pair of jeans, five tops, and two pairs of shoes – all of which I managed to add to my carry-on along with everything I had brought! That was a real feeling of success. The three packing cubes I had originally packed in were much fuller, of course, but I managed to squeeze it all in.

My 3 Youngest World Travelers

My 3 Youngest World Travelers

Packing cubes have become a big part of my packing/traveling strategy. One of my sons and his wife introduced us to them almost seven years ago – and we have become quite fans, with eBags being our favorite brand. Most carry-on suitcases can easily hold a set of the packing cubes – a large, a medium, and a small cube, though I had actually used one large and two medium cubes on this last trip.

Packing Light

Beautiful sunset

Even on our 15 day cruise (where I saw this beautiful sunset) I only took my carry-on.

At this point I had planned to talk about the importance of choosing the right carry-ons, but I’m still in the process of making the decision on my next carry-on purchase, so that portion of the post will have to wait a week or two.

One of the reasons my carry-on is so important to me is that I take it with me everywhere! It doesn’t matter if I’m traveling for an extended weekend or a two-week vacation, I pack in a carry-on. In fact, I no longer own a large suitcase (the last one I owned went home with one of my children when they were moving several years ago – and I haven’t missed it since).

I read on at least one other blog the idea of never packing more than a week’s worth of clothes, regardless of how long the trip is.  That pretty much works for me – in fact I’ve been known to pack less than a week’s worth of clothes. No matter where I’ve traveled, I’ve had the ability to wash clothes – often in a bathroom sink or occasionally in a laundromat. (On our 15-day cruise I even sent laundry out to be washed a couple of times – it still cost me less than checking a bag one direction would have cost me.)

My Top Travel Tips

  1. If you want to make traveling easier, and not spend a ton of money, my first suggestion is to buy some packing cubes. There are lots of sizes, colors, and brands to choose from. If you haven’t tried them yet, I can just about guarantee that they will make your packing easier. They make it easier to be organized, and to fit more in.  And if your suitcase gets searched going through security, you will be very thankful! I was going through security last summer with a friend who hadn’t flown in awhile. Her bag got pulled because she had forgotten about the “three-ounce” limit for liquids. While the TSA agent pawed through the suitcase looking for the contraband shampoo, I cringed watching her clothes going everywhere. I hope before she flies again, she adds packing cubes to her packing list!
  2. If you’re planning to do much flying, seriously consider signing up for the “TSA Pre” program or the Global Entry.  There’s only a $15 difference between the two ($85 versus $100, each for 5 years). Traveling is much simpler with either of these!
  3. Invest in a good carry-on if you don’t have one. My youngest traveled to school in Boston last fall in a vehicle. She was effectively moving there, so she only took a large suitcase. But this spring she will be traveling home for a wedding. It was cheaper for us to buy her a cheap carry-on for the trip than to pay for her to check the large bag both ways. (Of course, since she should be traveling more in the future, it was also worth getting her a not-so-cheap one.) And again, more on that investment in a future post.
  4. And, last but not least, pack light! On dozens of trips across the country and across the world I have never regretted bringing too little – though I have regretted bring too much on a couple of occasions! I have seldom forgotten something that I either couldn’t live without, or could purchase somewhere away from home.

Happy traveling!

Cathy

Travel, Travel, and More Travel

Sometimes I forget that everyone doesn’t have the opportunity (or desire) to travel as much as I do. It’s been such a part of my life for so long, that it seems normal. Sort of like having a big family – it’s what my life looks like, and I seldom think of it as unusual, until someone else points it out.

Now granted, travel, at home or abroad, is certainly not an absolute requirement  for fulfillment in one’s life.  But for me, it is hard to imagine life without traveling – a lot of traveling, in fact.

Oftentimes it’s fear of the unknown that keeps people from choosing to travel, to try something different. I am fortunate to have grown up in a family that made the choice to travel, and to travel often. And since it was a family that “thought outside the box” even before people were talking about such a thing, our travels were often unusual, and yet relatively inexpensive, at least as much as traveling with a family can be.

Early Travels

Since I feel like I was born with gypsy blood, I don’t remember my earliest travels: I was born in the Panama Canal Zone when my father was stationed there the first time. Apparently my mother and I stopped in Cuba on our way back to the states at the end of that tour (this being long before our Cuban Crisis and subsequent Cuban Embargo).

Over the next five years or so we traveled across the United States, living in California, North Carolina, and Michigan, before returning to the Canal Zone. But my earliest memories of travel come from our time in Panama that second time, including flying with my father out to the San Blas Islands.

But until that point, our travels were not necessarily unique for families with a parent in the military. (Well, maybe the flights to the San Blas were unusual.) But the real travel fun began when my father was reassigned to a base in Massachusetts. What did most people do in that situation? They packed up their families and flew back to the states. Not us. My father ordered a Land Rover from England and purchased a kit from somewhere to build a tent trailer. And remember, this was in the mid-60s,  before the internet made such things at least a bit simpler.

When the time came, the six of us (Dad, Mom, and four kids from a nine-month-old to me, the nine-year-old) drove and camped our way through Central America and Mexico, and then up the east coast of the United States to Massachusetts. I wrote my first (of many) travel journals (Stars Over Central America) during that trip.

Since I was nine-years-old and missing six weeks of school for the adventure, my assignment was to track our travels, including purchases we made, places we stayed, and even the seemingly-never-ending flat tires that plagued us for much of the trip.  And remember, this was in the mid-60s, before cell phones.

A few years later, when my Dad was about to be sent to Vietnam, we drove from Massachusetts to Michigan, via Alabama. There was family to be visited in Alabama, and so we stopped for a visit “on the way.” (As my good friend Dee and I like to say, we can make just about anything on the way on a road trip.)

Road Trips

As a parent, my lengthy road trips have continued. We made trips up and down the east coast, and from Texas to Montana and back, in a converted 15-passenger van. (We maxed out at 13 people in that van.) After more than 200,000 miles on that vehicle, we traded down to an 8-passenger minivan. We broke that one in on a 7,000 mile trip along the Lewis and Clark Trail. (There were a mere 7 of us on that trip.)

The Lewis and Clark trip was the only really big trip in the 8-passenger van, but we still managed to put more than 200,000 miles on that van as well.

I’ve traveled with friends as well as with family. My good friend Dee and I have made several trips to Jamestown and D.C. (each about 700 miles from our homes in northern Alabama), as well as many other places – sometimes for teachers’ workshops, sometimes just for fun!

And in between those longer trips, there were the numerous shorter trips for soccer, football or lacrosse games and tournaments, and the countless trips to Montgomery (at least twice a year for Youth in Government events).  And so that list goes.

Suffice it to say, I like road trips!

Flying

Flying is actually one of my least favorite ways to travel, though I’m hoping my recent acceptance into the Global Entry program (which includes TSA Pre on every domestic flight!), makes traveling by plane a little less painful. (I’ve enjoyed the TSA Pre benefit twice so far -and am loving it!)

But in spite of not absolutely loving to fly, it is often the best way to get where I’m wanting to go.  In addition to countless domestic trips from Alabama to one side of the country or the other, in the last decade I’ve managed to fly to Panama,  to and from Germany several times, to Italy and Albania twice each, once to Turkey, and last summer to Hungary for the start of our first European River Cruise. (I’m definitely holding out hope that we will get to do that again!)

Cruises

Cruising has quickly become one of my favorite ways to travel/vacation.  My  sisters and I took our first cruise together to Alaska in 2010. Since then I’ve managed to cruise seven additional times (with two more scheduled for later this year). So far our cruises have been primarily with various family members, though the most recent one was a group of our college buddies. My shortest cruise to date was the 4-day cruise I took to the Bahamas and the longest was the 15-day cruise we took through the Panama Canal.  So, suffice it to say, I also like cruises!

The Pleasures of Travel

For me, travel brings lots of pleasure: The pleasure of being with family and/or friends; the pleasure of being somewhere new (or somewhere again!); the pleasure of seeing history up close and personal.

As a writer, traveling keeps me in the midst of new ideas and new material.  Since history is everywhere, I am constantly bombarded with new things I want to learn more about, in order to write about.

Volcano at Night

Volcano we saw in Hawaii

But it isn’t just the history that excites me. The whale we watched in Mexico, the volcano we viewed in Hawaii, and the sunsets we saw in Alaska, excite me just as much. In fact, high on my “still to do” list is a visit to the Galapagos Islands – a trip that is much more about the animals there than its history. (Though I did learn it had a fascinating history when I was doing some research a few years back.)

Travel and Retirement

The year before I retired I got a lot of questions about what I was planning to do with myself when I was no longer running my business (a homeschool resource center I had owned for almost fourteen years). I always had the same answer, “Travel more and write more.” For those that knew me at all (and knew even a portion of what I described above), that answer often stumped them. Since I was already doing quite a bit of both, how was I going to do more?

Well, I’m less than four months into my first year of retirement, and I would say I’m off to a good start – I’ve flown to North Carolina and Colorado (on two different trips). I’ve also driven to North Carolina two other times, and taken a road trip to Texas. My road trips in the first three months of the year totaled more than 4,000 miles behind the wheel.

If all goes well, I’ll be heading back to Washington D.C. for a few days at the end of this month (another road trip) and then I’ll be heading back overseas in about six weeks (for the next cruise on the schedule). That will just about wrap up the first half of my first retirement year (with an average of one trip per month).  And plans for the second half of the year are still a work in progress!

As of a couple of years ago, I have finally visited all 50 states (with Alaska and Hawaii being the last two), and I’ve lived in or visited at least 28 countries. When I filled out my  Global Entry application at the beginning of 2017 I had to indicate how many countries I had visited in the last five years, not counting the U.S., Canada, or Mexico. By my count I had been in 14 other countries during that time period (cruising definitely helps that number, though I had flown in or out of almost half of those!).

God willing, I still have many trips to do in the years ahead – trips to learn on, and to share with family and friends. There are so many amazing things to see and do in this big, wide world of ours – I hope I manage to marvel at even a small percentage of it.

In one of the next couple of blog posts I will share some of the travel tips I have gleaned from years and miles of traveling the country and the world, with and without children.

Happy traveling!

Cathy

 

Visiting Washington, D.C. (Again!)

D.C. – One of My Favorite Cities to Visit

Washington, D.C. has to be one of my favorite cities to visit.  Even though it is almost exactly 700 miles from my home, and I haven’t had any “work reasons” I needed to go there, I have managed to visit D.C. an average of once per year for the past twenty years.

My excuses to go started with the first teachers’ conference I attended in the area and extended to a political event, just to play tourist, or to take students. Besides traveling there at least four times with my students, I’ve traveled alone, with family, and friends. I’ve gone for only a day or two, and I’ve gone for as long as a week or more.

I love to go to D.C. for a number of reasons – there is never a shortage of things to see and do – and most of them are inexpensive or free. And it helps that the vast majority of them are worth going to again and again.

Sites Frequently Visited

The above are important points considering how often I’ve gone with other folks who have never been before – which means I’ve been to numerous places countless times, including, but not limited to:

Taking Students

As I plan my next student trip to D.C. for later this spring, I have to take into consideration how many of us are going, which of the students have been before, and what they have and haven’t seen already.

Two years ago I brought some of the same students and we did things that weren’t typical for us: Mount Vernon, The Arlington Cemetery, and the Holocaust Museum. So this year we may very well go back to some of my old standbys.

Promises to Myself

Since there is so much to do, and never enough time to even make a small dent in the list – I have made myself three promises that I work hard to keep:

  1. Always visit at least one new site.
  2. Enjoy however much time I have in the city on each visit – whether it’s hours or days.
  3. Remember I’m “keeping something for the next time”! That was a piece of advice my Uncle Dick gave me and my good friend Dee on one of our many trips to Williamsburg, and it has served me very well on my many trips to D.C.

The Lock Keeper's House

Of course, all of the above promises work well for any place that we have the privilege of visiting multiple times. Venice is becoming another such place for me. I’ve been there twice, and if all goes well, I’ll get there two more times this year.  But, more on that in a future post.

So, if you’re going to have the privilege of visiting D.C. for the first time, I can offer you several suggestions based on my experiences (and of course, like with any other suggestions, you should choose and use just the ones that sound good for you).

Things to Consider:

The D.C. Subway system from underground.1. Public Transportation is very easy to use in D.C. and fairly inexpensive. I like to park at the end of one of the color lines, since they generally have bigger parking lots, and take the subway in from there. (Vienna for the orange line generally works well for us.) It’s a good idea to compare prices for daily tickets versus passes. If you check out the website before you go, you can get a better idea of what works best for your particular visit. Once you’re in the city – walking is generally the best way to get around!

2. My next recommendation for planning a trip like this is to make a plan based on how long you’ll be in D. C. – but then be flexible. Plans are a great starting point – but things happen. (We’ve adjusted D.C. plans because of a late start one morning that resulted in NO parking spots left in the Vienna parking lot; when there was a suspected shooter in the D.C. area; and when we walked by the National Museum of Art on our way from one place to another, and students asked to go in for a little while. Of course, now, I almost always stop at the Art Museum to make sure my students see one of my favorite da Vinci paintings!

3. In order to make a plan, take into consideration how much time you have, what the highest priorities are for you, and where they are in comparison to each other. A city map like this one, is helpful if you’re focusing on the sites/museums on and near the National Mall. Map of the main tourist sites near the National Mall

4. Be sure to look at the days and hours of the places you want to visit before you even come close to finalizing your plans! Some of these places are only open 5 days a week, and some are 6 days a week (and a few are 7 days).

If I have a group that hasn’t been before and two days to tour, this is often how I schedule our trip:

Day One – Seeing the monuments along the mall, between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, and one or more of the museums along the Mall (the American History Museum, the National Archives, and the National Museum of Art being high on my list of priorities). Needless to say that can be a day with LOTS of walking. (If you’re really feeling energetic, add the side trip around the Basin!) On the mall day we used to eat at the food court at the Old Post Office, but since that’s no longer a possibility (see the photo below), we’ve eaten recently at the food court at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center

Day Two – On the other side of the Capitol we can focus more on sites like the Library of Congress, the Supreme Court building, and Folger Shakespeare Library. On that day we often eat at the food court at Union Station.

If you haven’t been to D.C. before, I hope you are able to make a trip. And if you have been, I hope you are able to go again!

Did I leave anything important off my lists? Any place in particular I should add to my “someday soon” list?

 

Happy Traveling!

Cathy

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