Tag: travel

Joe’s Top Travel Tips

I travel a lot for work these days. This travel has taken me to every province and almost every territory in Canada as well as to parts of the U.S. Like John Candy and Steve Martin in one of my favourite movies, I’ve travelled by plane, train and automobile. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been able to see a bit of the world this way.

As a way of paying it forward, here are a few travel tips I’ve picked up along the way.

Become a Trusted Traveler

I have no idea whose hands these are

If you travel frequently, consider getting a Trusted Traveler Nexus card or the equivalent. This can expedite travel through major airports. While everyone else is lined up waiting to get through security, Trusted Travelers are usually whisked through. You still have to do security like everyone else but there will only be a handful of people ahead of you in the Trusted Traveler line. Caveats: Smaller airports don’t make a distinction between Trusted Travelers and everyone else. And on one occasion the Trusted Traveler line in Toronto actually took longer than the regular line, but in my experience this is unusual. Getting such a card will take a bit of time; you fill out an online application, wait, and have to do a physical interview at the airport, but it was worth it for me.

At the Airport

Random airport shot

I think everyone knows to get to the airport early, but every now and then I forget that excellent advice and cut it a bit too fine (usually this has to do with early flights and wanting more sleep). I recommend building in extra time in case your ride arrives late or doesn’t show up at all.  Ideally I plan on being at the airport at least one hour before boarding begins.

A few words about getting through security. Make sure your fluids are travel-sized and fit in the small bag the airport provides. Double bag it within a ziplock bag to prevent spills in your travel bag. Know and follow the airport rules. No knives etc. as they will be confiscated. Don’t wear metal, or make sure you take it off before you pass through the security scanner. I stubbornly wear a metal belt that I always have to take off before stepping through the scanner. It is my one inefficiency. One day I will find a plastic one. But dammit I like that belt. And keep your hands out of your pockets as you step through the scanner.  

The Perfect Bag

My bag. I love it

I only ever travel with one piece of carry-on which I never check unless I’m forced to. My longest trips for work so far have been seven days and both times I managed no problem with just the one bag. I love being able to walk right off the plane into a taxi.

I use a small carry-on with wheels and a padded compartment for a 13” laptop. It’s perfect. I made sure to get one small enough to fit into just about every airplane overhead compartment. Because I travel often, I always keep my bag partially packed. I have toiletries and cables just for travel that live in that bag permanently. I can pack the rest of what I need in minutes.

Accessories

These aren’t actually my accessories. I was too lazy to take a picture of my actual accessories

I always bring a pair of headphones for the plane and for catching the odd Netflix show in the hotel room. Like everyone else on the planet these days I carry a cellphone, and I make it work for me. I have apps on my phone for Air Canada and WestJet with all my info, including my Frequent Flyer numbers. When possible I download my boarding passes directly to these apps.

I always travel with a battery charger for my phone and at least one spare cable. This is especially important when my flights are long and involve multiple legs, and I’m relying on electronic boarding passes.

I carry a hair brush, a toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, spare shampoo (twice the hotel didn’t have any), Ibuprofen, my laptop, a power cord for the laptop, and that’s about it.   

Identification

I have no idea whose half a head that is

Once in Iqaluit the authorities almost didn’t let me fly home because the name on my ticket was Joe Mahoney but the name on my Nexus card is Joseph T. Mahoney. It took almost an hour to convince the authorities that Joe Mahoney and Joseph T. Mahoney are one and the same. I nearly missed my flight. Now I always make sure the name on my ticket is exactly the same as the name on my identification.   

On the Plane

One day I will get my own plane

I always book an aisle seat when possible. When I first started travelling I always booked window seats because I enjoy the view, but that was soon overshadowed by the need to pee at least once every trip because of my tiny little bladder. Now I love the convenience of aisle seats where, if I have to get up during the flight, I can do so at my leisure without bothering anybody. Now other people bother me to get up, but I don’t mind.

I always bring a good book and my laptop. I rarely take advantage of inflight entertainment, preferring to either read, work, or nap.

Airlines

I took this shot after being ejected from a flight one day, on the way down. I thought it displayed incredible presence of mind

In Canada, I prefer Air North. Unlike southern airlines such as Air Canada and West Jet, Air North always feeds you, anywhere from a steaming hot pasta dish to a hearty sandwich to (once, for breakfast) a muffin (it was a damned good muffin). On a recent trip to Whitehorse, Air North concluded lunch with chocolate chip cookies. For half an hour the entire plane smelled like freshly baked cookies. The cookies were delicious.

If I can’t fly Air North, I choose West Jet. Unlike Air Canada, West Jet still serves pretzels along with their free beverage, at least the last time I flew with them. Also, you can upgrade your seat to Premium seating with more leg room and a few more snacks for as little as forty bucks.

If I can’t fly West Jet, I grow a pair of wings and fly myself.

If I can’t do that, I fly Air Canada.

Take the Train

Whenever possible I take the train instead of flying. I highly recommend Via Rail Business class if you can swing it. They feed you in Business Class, and the food is good. The train takes a bit longer than the plane but it’s so worth it. It’s better for the environment, for one thing. And you have the option of booking a seat all by yourself. A window seat, no less.

Meals

At first, eating out every night while travelling for work is a treat, but if you travel often this can become an insidious trap. It’s easy to spend too much, eat too much, and make poor choices. The less you spend, the more you benefit from your per diems. Consider adopting a specific strategy to ensure that you eat well consistently. One day, one day soon, I plan on adopting such a strategy.      

See the Sights

One fine morning in Iqaluit

I don’t often have much in the way of spare time when I travel for work, but I usually have at least one evening to myself. If I’m some place new, I like to take a walk around, get a bit of exercise, see the sights, take a few photos, and eat at a restaurant unique to that location. I’ve really enjoyed exploring Iqaluit, Yellowknife, Calgary, Winnipeg, Kamloops, Prince George, Kelowna, Victoria and New York this way, and I’ve been fortunate to have friends old and new show me around St. John’s, Rankin Inlet and Washington, DC, to name just a few locations.   

I hope you find some of these tips and observations useful. Feel free to share your own travel tips and thoughts in the comments below. Or not. Hey, it’s up to you.

Safe travels!

Seven Months in Provence — Part One

Back in 1993/94 I spent seven months in Aix-en-Provence, France, drinking red wine, eating les Calissons, and attempting to learn some French. When I got home I wrote about the experience. Thought it might be fun to post a few excerpts here. So here we go: off to France!

Part One: Off to France

October 1st, 1993 I was living in the apartment of a friend named Joram Kalfa. That night, around 8pm in the evening, I would be leaving for France.

I spent the day packing as I always pack at the last possible instant. I hadn’t done a wash in about a week and figured, well, I’d better do one here today, God knows when I’d find a laundry in France, so I scrambled around doing that as well. This was all good, as I was keeping myself busy, and that was good because I was getting a little nervous.

Joram came home from work and whipped up an ungodly supper for the both of us which consisted of basically every possible vegetable he could find in his refrigerator thrust into a food processor and turned into liquid mush. I believe the prime ingredient was beets and the result was a hideous reddish purple substance. I figured it would be good for me and it didn’t taste quite as bad as I thought it might, so I gulped it down. Joram had done a lot of travelling himself, and I’d done practically none, so I figured he was kind of looking out for me. I figured this drink was supposed to fortify me or something for the road ahead.

Joram commented that I didn’t really look excited. I had been quite excited, over the summer and in fact ever since I’d first planned this trip to France, but now it had been replaced by nervousness. Keeping busy packing and doing laundry I’d manged to keep the nervousness at bay, but the end result was that I wound up feeling nothing. I didn’t know what to tell Joram. I felt as though I should feel excited, but I just didn’t. So I felt the way I felt and told Joram as much and waited for my ride to come and take me to the airport.

My friend Ron Koperdraad had generously offered to perform the role of chauffeur. When he arrived I plucked a bottle of Olde Jack from Joram’s refrigerator. The specialty beer was a going away gift from a friend at work, Mike Danchyshyn, which I’d been saving for just that moment. Ron, Joram and I drank a toast to the forthcoming year, and I was off.

On the way to the airport we ducked into a pharmacy briefly to pick up extra supplies of contact lens solution. At Ron’s suggestion, I also stocked up on some gravol.

I was no longer feeling nothing. I began babbling to Ron about the nature of nervousness. What was its function in nature? An unfortunate evolutionary fluke, I supposed. Just when you should be at your physical and mental best nature provides you with the uncontrollable urge to vomit. Ron, struggling with early Saturday evening traffic, and perhaps fearful that I would provide him with a graphic demonstration, provided few insights.

It was an overcast, chilly autumn day. This pleased me as I imagined the weather would be much more agreeable where I was going. I didn’t know much about my destination, Aix-en-Provence, located in the south of France, but I was pretty sure that it would be much warmer than Toronto, Canada.

At the airport Ron helped me lug my bags inside. I had one large, overstuffed backpack, and one small, overstuffed knapsack. Ron, like Joram, had also done more travelling than me. He took a look at my backpack and the million or so loose straps dangling this way and that way and told me that was bad. You never knew what could happen in the cargo bay of a plane. The next thing I knew he was down on his knees tying every strap together so that they wouldn’t get caught on anything and in such a way that they wouldn’t come undone. He was very thorough and I was impressed to have such a knowledgeable and helpful friend.

Soon we were shaking hands and then he was off and I was checking my bags and I was surprised to discover that my nervousness had largely disappeared. I looked over my fellow passengers and wondered if they were French or Canadians or maybe both. I located a seat by my Gate and dug out a book I’d stashed in my small carry-on knapsack.

I found I couldn’t concentrate to read it, though.

I worried a bit over my tickets, checking the one over for the train from Paris to Aix. I was a bit concerned about finding the train station in Paris, the Gare de Lyon. Then I checked my hotel voucher, and wondered if I would find it okay, the Timhotel Italie. I had plenty of maps so I wasn’t too worried.

Most of the passengers seemed quite a bit older than my twenty-eight years. Not too many students among them. I wondered what the odds were that another student on the way to the same school as me in Aix might be on the same plane.

After a while a skinny young kid dressed head to toe in black (with pitch black hair to match) came and sat in the seat opposite me. He plugged a walkman into a pair of ears only slightly smaller than those you might find on Ferengi from Star Trek. The kid stood out from the other passengers because his youth. He looked to be just shy of twenty. He wore wire-rimmed glasses, which, together with a haircut singularly devoid of any style that I could see, made him look rather bookish (it takes one to know one.)

He might not have made quite such a lasting impression on me had he not wound up sitting beside me on the Air Canada flight for the next six and a half hours.

It wasn’t long until we got talking. I’m afraid I don’t recall the kid’s name. He was travelling from California, heading for a town in the north of France where he lived with his family. He had been visiting his brother in the States, in L.A, and had done Disneyland and so on and had had a good time. I learned that he was finishing the French equivalent of high school, and was about to go to college to study sound recording. Naturally I was quite interested in this, as it happened to be my day job at the time.

The kid was quite friendly. Near the end of the flight I told him that if all French were as friendly as he was then my year in France would be a good one. He seemed embarrassed by the praise.

He wasn’t the only one embarrassed during the flight. Somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean I managed to embarrass myself by spilling an entire glass of orange juice on myself. I just knocked it off the tray and splashed most of it over my crotch. Fortunately the flight was a long one so I didn’t have to get up before it dried off. My French seatmate politely turned a blind eye.

When my French friend and I weren’t talking, I watched a bit of the inflight movie, The Incredible Journey. You could watch it in either French or English. I flicked it to the French for a while, but it was no use. I understood practically nothing, and I reflected a bit on the wisdom (or lack thereof) of going to live in a country where for quite some time I would understand nothing. But I was encouraged by the young guy sitting beside me, who had told me that his English had been nothing to speak of before his trip to the States. He’d been there only a month or so, he told me. His English seemed pretty good to me. On perhaps eight or nine occasions I had to rephrase something that he hadn’t quite understood, and I understood all of what he said to me. One time he found himself utterly unable to express something, and after I couldn’t guess what it was, we just let it drop. But I felt that if I could get my French up to even his level of English by the end of the year then I would be doing quite well.

Talking to him reduced my nervousness to almost nil. I caught a tiny bit of sleep and, except for the unfortunate incident with the orange juice, enjoyed the trip over.

Next up: Paris

Back to Seven Months in Provence: Part One

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