Cool Travel Gifts

27 11 2009

In the spirit of gifting, USA Today has a cool article chock full of gifts for travelers. Some highlights I like:

  • Passport cover – I say take it a step further with a travel wallet where the receiver can keep passport, money, and any important documents. I’ve been coveting this one by British artist Edward Mokton ever since I saw dear Liz with it in Argentina. Something about the fun little cartoon is just sweet, plus not quite knowing where you’re going is the best kind of travel in my opinion.
  • Small notebook laptop. The HP minis are pretty cute and portable, and starting at $299 relatively affordable to boot. With the more and more planes having internet, it’s a good idea, though isn’t travel supposed to be about unplugging?
  • They also suggest checking out travel supplier Magellan’s for finds from a case to keep all their electronics organized to a talking translator.
  • is another traveler fave, and far more fashionable than old Magellan’s.
  • And lastly, I’m a particular fan of the digital luggage scale, great for over-packers like myself, especially as the airlines make it more and more difficult (and expensive) to bring everything you need and/or want to on a big trip.

The Travel Tools That Make You Crazy (and How to Prevent It)

22 11 2009

I’m coming to realize more and more how terrible it is to be a procrastinator. And yet I continue on that path. Mostly, I think, it’s a fear of committing—something else may be just around the corner that is better, cheaper, or what-not.

This is how I got into the mess of not buying my Christmas ticket until far later than I should have. I, who pressured my sister two months ago to let me know for certain if she was indeed going to be in the Bay Area for the holiday so that I could get to purchasing a ticket if I needed (I’m terrible, I know).

But things happened: work and not knowing how much time I’d have off, and then there is this little thing called Bing, and its blasted flight predictor. I warn you now: use at your own risk. It looks innocuous enough, charming even, with its little colored arrows pointing every which way, notices telling you “Buy Now, prices are going up!” or, worse, “Wait! They’re going down!”

This is how I fell. I waited, trusting Bing. And then I began the game of obsessively checking every flight search engine Bing had to offer, plus several more from BookingBuddy, which links from Bing but is a beast unto itself. I could count the number of flight search engines that BookingBuddy links to, but I’ve already lost countless hours checking over half of them for flights to California, so I really don’t want to sacrifice any more of my time to such silliness.

And so, since I went slightly insane before finally settling on a ticket (after, of course, thoroughly evaluating the timing, price and mileage earning possibilities of I’d say thousands of flights over the course of several days), I feel my readers should benefit from my new-found wisdom. So here it is:

1) Trust Bing, to an extent. They tell you right on the site to way your risk tolerance (mine, it appears, is rather high). I find that for the most part, in the past at least, it’s been pretty accurate, though over the much-fluctuating holidays it kept telling me to wait when prices were steadily creeping up. There comes a time when you go with your gut, but Bing is a good place to start.

2) Compare a few search engines, but not to many. Pick five good ones (max!) and stop there. I’ve found I have the best luck with Expedia and Cheap Tickets. But Orbitz, my old faithful friend, remains my favorite, for the crucial aspects of flexible date searches and the ability to include nearby airports. (With the others I found my “must know all options” side trying every possible combination of airports in New York and San Francisco. I’m not a mathematician but I know I don’t like that probability.)

3) Stay away from Priceline. I tried multiple times to book the different versions of a given flight, always to get the answer that it was no longer available no matter how many times the screen refreshed to show my desired flights still there. All the while I lost valuable time that I could have been trolling other search engines.

4) Make a decision! At the end of the day, whether it’s because you took too long in evaluating your options or waited too long for something better to come along, you’ve ultimately wasted time, and likely lost the original best case scenario flight in the process. (Some day I will learn to take this piece of brilliant advice myself.)

Shameless Self-Promotion: Gift Guides!

11 11 2009

After months of holiday shopping—and finding millions of things I want (and millions of things you couldn’t pay me to have)—the Hearst holiday gift guides are here. And I’m pretty proud of how great they look. Gifts for everyone!

There are thousands (literally) of gifts for everyone on your list. Check them out!

Marie Claire gift guides for The Working Girl, The Men You Love, Stocking Stuffers, Charitable Gifts, The Domestic Diva, and more…

Redbook gift guides: Gifts for Best Friends, Great Gifts for Difficult People, Kid Glossary, Unforgettable Gifts, Gifts that Give Twice…

Esquire: Gifts She’ll Never Forget, Gifts That Will Get You Laid, Toys No One Else Will Get Them, Worst Gifts!…

The Daily Green: The Complete Green Outfit, Green Gadgets, Gifts Outside the Box, Safe Toys…

Good Housekeeping: Housewarming Gifts, Gifts for Teens, Stocking Stuffers…

Country Living: Go-To Gifts, One-of-a-Kind Gifts, Gifts for the Hostess, Gifts for the Farmer’s Market Foodie…

Seventeen: Gifts for Moms, Dads, Twilight Lovers and more…

Cosmopolitan: $20 Gifts That Look Way More Expensive, Gifts for People Who Have Everything…

Washington Square’s Latest “Ghost”

5 11 2009

All this talk of ghost stories and history seems to be (pardon the pun) haunting me. After thinking, just two days ago, upon the literal layers of a historic house in New Hope, this morning I read in New York Magazine about the headstone unearthed last week in Washington Square Park. It’s no secret that the lively park has had many incarnations in its long history, one of which as a “potter’s field.” Last year, the first phase of a renovation project led to the discovery of intact skeletons.

The second phase is now under way, and last week a neighborhood resident reported seeing a crew dusting off a headstone. The stone dates back to 1799 and marked the grave of James Jackson, a grocer who died at the age of 28. Now the quest is on to figure out who James Jackson was. Given that the park was a Potter’s Field, there would not have been headstones in it, but there was also a church cemetery in the park at one time, or, as this blog suggests, some rare yellow fever victims did have tombstones.

Whatever the case, I will be following it, not only because it’s a fascinating sliver of New York history, but because, yet again, it underlines my vision of the city as palimpsest (which, it turns out, is not a vision unique to me), where life and stories are layered upon one another, like the paint covering John Pickett’s landscapes in New Hope or the park covering a former resting place for the city’s poor.



Historic Haunts (and Hauntings)

2 11 2009

I did not dress up for Halloween this year. Not surprising given my dearth of creativity when it comes to costume ideas (and general dislike of the tradition as a result). What I did celebrate, however, was my favorite part of the holiday, the focus on ghosts and hauntings. While I’m not so much obsessed with ghosts, the whole historic aspect of it I find thrilling. Last Halloween, I did a pub crawl of some of New York’s favorite haunted hot spots.

This year, I’m thinking of some of the other haunted places to visit. Every major city, it seems, has its own host of ghosts, and every place worth its salt as a travel destination has a tour to explore them. I’ve been on ghost tours in San Francisco and Edinburgh and New Orleans, to name a few. They are often cheesy but always fun, and the beauty of them lies not so much in the scary factor (for me at least) but for the glimpses of history they provide.

Most recently, I visited New Hope, one of Pennsylvania’s oldest (and arguably quirkiest) towns, where they have their cadre of spooks and spirits who add a little local color to an already colorful place. On a ghost tour of the town we learned about Joseph Pickett, a painter who only received acclaim following his 1918 death, after his wife had auctioned off much of his work. The quirky Mr. Pickett is said to have shown those who made fun of his work but painting one of his landscapes on the outside of his home. While the building has been painted over today, his ghost is said to remain. This is the sort of local color I love, and the ideal ghost story, one that unearths a bit of a place’s history in relation to its sights.

For more fun “haunts” check out Budget Travel’s list of haunted walking tours.