Sky Mall Catalog – Early Spring 2013

SkyMall Consumer LogoLast Friday, I was flying back home from a Minnesota business trip. Although Wi-Fi was available, I couldn’t get my MacBook to connect to IndieGoGo Wi-Fi (despite the fact all of my other devices could). Otherwise, I would have live-tweeted my SkyMall catalog-reading experience.

Now that I am home, I can share some of the better highlights. To read my thoughts, just click on each of the pictures in the gallery below. And be sure to leave some of your own snark. It’s best to approach this as some high form of literary criticism, mixed with a zest of regret.

Update 2013/04/24 MMc: looks like I’m not the only one who was entertained by this month’s SkyMall catalog:

How to Pack for a Two Week Trip to Europe

Nan’s advice is spot-on, especially about packing the gear necessary to make your trip both effortless (Camp Dry is ingenious) and memorable (bring a real camera, despite the temptation to shed weight and bulk). Any foreign country is enjoyed best when you are not burdened by too much possession, especially since you might add to said possession as you accumulate souveniers such as clothes, trinkets, etc.

Reading his post stirred some of my longing to travel once again, an old habit of mine put on the back-burner while I get my family started. It won’t be long before I hit the road again.  But until then, I’m glad I get to live vicariously through others like Nan.

Nan’s post was about how to pack, but it made me brainstorm about what to pack (plus some other miscellaneous advice). Below are some of my contributions from past experience travelling to Europe, South America, and Asia.

What to Do Before Leaving

  • Buy transportation tickets in advance: things may have changed since I travelled, but it was usually cheaper to purchase train tickets domestically vs. in Europe.
  • Break in your shoes: be sure the shoes you’ll wear most aren’t completely brand-new, as you want to prevent surprise blisters from appearing. And if they do, don’t forget the moleskine.
  • Get a travel wallet: Americans love to carry money in their back pocket, which is Christmas day for a pickpocket. Get and use something that will easily fit in your front pocket, like a money clip.  While not foolproof, it’s much safer than the a neck wallet that screams, “TOURIST!”
  • Pack one bag: do this both for carry-on purposes and to encourage the virtue of travelling light. All of your shit will await your return, trust me.

What Not to Pack

  • An umbrella: it takes up room and weight, and it won’t hurt you to get a little wet, you freaking kitty cat!
  • Unnecessary electronics: you don’t need an electric shaver.  Computers are bulky, distracting, and thief magnets. And consider leaving the Kindle behind — after all, you’ve got a standing date with Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert (see below)!
  • A travel pillow: besides making you look silly and taking up precious room in your lone bag, they rarely work well. And international flights tend to be more comfortable experiences than their domestic kin, even in coach, so there will be plenty of pillows and blankets.

Essentials to Bring Along

  • Over-the-counter medication: besides Nan’s suggestion of Pepto, Bismol bring along some additional medication: Kaopectate (a stronger form of Pepto, a.k.a. the butt plug), Gas-X (anti-gas), and ibuprofen. You don’t need a ton of each, but bring a few pills to hold you over until you find a local drug store.
  • Moleskine: in the event that hotspots or blisters form on your feet, squares of moleskine will save your hide (and your vacation). Be sure to pre-cut them into 1″-2″ squares, so you don’t have to pack unnecessary scissors.
  • Hiking Shoes:I bring along one pair of shoes for daily wear, and I prefer walking boots for several reasons:
    • They’re waterproof: wet feet are the bane of travel — even if you’re wearing Smart Wool, one step in a puddle or getting caught in the rain can ruin your efforts to remain comfortable. Invest in a pair of boots with Gore-Tex lining, and your feet will thank you later.
    • They’re rugged: streets and sidewalks in foreign countries are often composed of bricks or cobblestones, which can nick up regular shoes and be easily tripped on. Boots are great at shrugging off these bumps.
    • Higher ankles: these will help prevent ankle sprains as you twist/fall around said bricks and cobblestones.
    • Off-road capability: if exploring outdoor areas like Stonehenge after a soaking rain, the traction they afford is much appreciated
  • Running Shoes: for athletes like myself, I would regret not knocking out at least one epic run while overseas. Also, having a pair on-hand allows you to participate in pickup soccer games in the shadow of the Eifell Tower. Today’s minimal natural-running shoes are a good option due to their light weight.  Plus, your running clothes will fit in the shoes themselves, saving packing space.
  • A travel diary: especially if you follow my advice to not bring a computer, you’ll still want to record your memories while they remain fresh. My travel diaries rank among my most-precious possessions. An alternative to carrying around a bound journal is to mail yourself daily postcards and turn them into a book when you return home.
  • A unabridged paperback copy of “Les Misérables” by Victor Hugo: there are moments of downtime on any vacation.  Having handy reading material will help fill the time waiting for trains, lunch, etc. One good long romantic novel is sufficient to keep you busy for up to four weeks (trust me).  And one good long novel is “Les Misérables“, which is the perfect book if visiting Europe, especially Paris (once again, trust me). The first time I visited the continent, I and my travelling companions each brought along a copy. During outdoor picnics or late-nights back at the hotel, we would read passages aloud to one another,  reminisce about that day’s visits to the Parisian streets filling that novel, and hold impromptu contests to see who had read the farthest ahead. People who bring Kindles are worried about not being busy. Reading this book in combination with sleep at night, writing postcards at breakfast, and travelling from point-to-point are more than enough to fill your time.
  • A spare backpack: within your one luggage bag, bring along a backpack to use while the larger bag remains at the hotel. All of your daytime items will go in this, like your camera, jacket, and souveniers acquired along the way. Keep a pocket free to house your copy of “Les Mis!”

What to Do While There

  • Get mail from home: if you are staying somewhere an extended length of time, consider giving the address out to friends/family at home, so they can write you letters. It’s a fun treat to find mail waiting for you at the hotel.
  • Stay at B&Bs: it is a great way to get advice about what to do locally — I mean, who knows better than the people living there? And you can’t beat a hardy breakfast before a day of exploring!
  • Don’t have a rigid itinerary: program in the flexibility needed to relax, take a side trip, do something spontaneous. My mantra: don’t worry about seeing or doing everything while travelling internationally, because I will be back someday!

In Conclusion

I could go on and on, but the above represents some of my travel commandments I try to obey, no matter the length of the trip.

What about you, intrepid reader — any advice you have to share?

Memories of the Green Mountains

Several years ago, I had the fortune to spend two weeks in Waterbury, VT, working on a technology project for one short week. It was an exciting trip, as it was the first (and only) time I had ben that deep into Nw England — and I fell in love instantly. The mountains, the trees, the people in small towns, and the general simplicity compared to busy, bustling Dallas.

I dug up these photos I took and am posting them here to help remember my experience. Enjoy!

The Stars at Night! Are Big and Bright!

Our plane landed just one hour after leaving Busan.

I looked outside my window and laid eyes on Jeju-do, the largest island in South Korea.

Travel had been a whirlwind ever since we arrived in the country, less than one day before the United States squad started their first round World Cup schedule.

I was still coming to grips with how small South Korea was compared to my home state of Texas.   In fact, it occurred to me this might be just the second time I’d ever been on an island, the first being Honshu just a week before.  Up until that point, life had been spent 100% on continental masses.  Although Jeju-do was only 50 miles away from the mainland, I felt a sense of remoteness and isolation.

As we taxied, I looked out my tiny window.  Although the hazy weather thwarted any attempts to survey all but the landscape closest to the aircraft, I still strained to pick out features like the new World Cup stadium or the island’s famous volcano.

Soon we arrived at the terminal, and I started to get excited.  Waiting for us inside was Shupe, an old friend of ours from the Bruce Hall days.  He had been in South Korea for several years, living simply while teaching English and scuba-diving.

Jim and I deplaned and found ourselves in a moderately-crowded terminal.  As expected, a majority of those present were Korean, although we did encounter some of our fellow football fanatics.  We had just touched down before a separate plane carrying the Slovenian squad, which was scheduled to play Paraguay the next day.  Their fan contingent was gathered just outside security, waving all sorts of banners and signs written in their native language.  Despite all of my years learning Spanish, Japanese, and German, I was fascinated at how foreign Slovenese appeared.

We still hadn’t encountered Shupe.  Jim and I started to question if we had gotten something mixed up.

Suddenly, a leather-jacket-wearing dude with sun-bleached blonde hair and glasses jumped out from behind a thick column.  It was Shupe.

Thrusting his forefinger high in the air, he belted out at the top of his lungs, “THE STARS AT NIGHT! ARE BIG AND BRIGHT!

And like any good Texan, Jim and I instinctively dropped our bags and responded. Clap! Clap! Clap! Clap! “DEEP IN THE HEART OF TEXAS!!!”

All surrounding Koreans turned their heads and looked upon us with wonder.  Awe-filled whispers of “Ahhhh! Texas!” filled the room.  Flashes went off as some captured the moment in photographs.

Be the Reds!

The flight attendant gently shook me awake.

“Sir, we’re about to land. Please return your seat to the upright position.”

It took several moments for me to process her words, I had been sleeping so deeply. On this leg of the flight, I was fortunate enough to have a window seat. I looked outside but could see nothing but the inky blackness of the Yellow Sea below. The lights of Incheon International Airport soon blinked into sight, and after a routine landing I was on the ground thousands of miles from home.

One-and-a-half decades of dreaming of Asia were finally coming true. I was in Korea on opening night of the 2002 World Cup.

We filtered out of the airplane and sifted ourselves into evenly-spaced lines at customs. Incheon was a brand-new airport, built on an island far west of the capital Seoul. Built as a shiny yet inanimate ambassador to those like myself that had never set food in Asia, it was designed to be large and efficient. No less than fifteen booths were manned with customs inspectors, a far larger number than I had seen in my previous foreign travels. Behind the booths was a broad balcony overlooking the lower floor of the airport and its baggage claims and shops.

Either I was still asleep, or processing passengers seemed to take longer than expected. Yet after moving in the air for fourteen hours, I was in little rush to move any faster than I had to.

Suddenly, the air was snapped by a sonic boom of human design. It began downstairs in the baggage claim area. Like an tsunami of sound, it swept upwards into the customs area and blew past us, so concussive that I felt the hairs on my arm snap to attention. It was a loud roar, a cacophony of humans cheering, and the building shook from its power.

Before we could process what happened, a door on the far right wall opened up. Out popped the customs supervisor.

He was yelling something in Korean as he briskly approached past each agent’s stand. Occasionally, he grasped an agent by their shoulders, looked steady into their eyes, and quickly exclaimed the same untranslatable news.

Several agents popped up and ran off downstairs, leaving their boothes unmanned and us standing in line. If we so chose, we could have snuck into the country illegally without gettng our passports stamped. Those agents remaining were high-fiving and hugging one another. Quickly, the roar subsided, the absent agents returned to their posts, and our processing continued. We still had no idea what had just happened/

I got through security, headed downstairs, and scanned the crowd, hoping to find the friendly face I expected. Behind me, I heard a familiar voice.

Spam!

Noone else in Korea could be expected to answer to that name. I whirled around, and there was my best friend Jim. He had been on a separate, earlier flight to Korea — he had apparently made it alright. We embraced in relief at seeing one another.

I asked Jim what the hell was going on. The roar, the ensuing chaos. “Oh, you mean everyone celebrating the South Korean team scoring?”

It turns out that the noise was the collective celebration of an entire scoring their second goal of the night against mighty Poland, during the World Cup opening game that was ocurring right at that very moment.

Jim waved his hand towards the several flat-screen televisions mounted in the terminal. Each was broadcasting the game live. Jim explained that when Korea scored its earlier goal, the entire building exploded in a similar celebration. The scary thing was that everyone, from security guards to shopkeepers and cab drivers — abandoned their duties upon each score. Each left their post in a rush towards the nearest television, which would replay the glorious, impossible moment several times. The World Cup was amazingly important to South Koreans, so much so that they’d be willing to leave the airport momentarily defenseless in order to share a moment as a nation. The place could have been robbed blind, or a bomb set off, and noone would have noticed anything but Hwang Sun-Hong pounding home what would prove to be the only goal needed by The Reds.

Now that both of us had arrived, we had a ride to meet. We went out to the curb, where Jim introducted me to our driver for the evening. He was to drive us the long route from Incheon to Seoul, where we would be staying at the home of a family whom we had never met before. We could only hope they spoke English.