Travel

Pack Your Bags

So, we arrived in Seoul a couple days ago.  (For all my blog followers:  We’ll be living in Seoul for the next couple years due to Derrick’s job.)  The flight was brutal (6-hour delay–when you’re traveling with two toddlers, that feels like a lifetime!).  We’ve been living in hotels for the past two weeks (thankfully, we’re moving into our apartment tomorrow!) and these eBags packing cubes are fantastic.  

Up until this past trip, my usual method of packing has been rolling up all of our clothes and putting them into clear trash bags.  The reason I’ve done it this way is because I have a theory–the more TSA/luggage handlers can see (at arm’s length), the less likely they are to touch/manhandle your things (goodness knows where their disgusting gloves have been!).  And, being the germaphobe that I am, I refuse to use the dressers in hotels–we keep everything in our suitcases (with the exception of our toiletries).  The problem with this is that every time we grab something out of the suitcases, things get unrolled and jumbled up.  If you’re on a 2-day trip, that’s not a big deal.  But any longer than that (and if you’re a family of four), the disorganization becomes ridiculous. 

Well, color-coded packing cubes to the rescue.  With the four of us, each person was assigned a color.  And with the see-through mesh, it makes it easy to see the contents of each cube.  These things were a godsend–they helped keep us well-organized and, hopefully, will help you, too! 

Traveling with Baby Must-Haves (International)

Our trip to Tokyo was fantastic.  With that said, we did learn a lot in terms of what to pack for future international trips.  Domestic travel with a baby is easier (traveling with a baby is never EASY) because you can almost always stop by a local Target at your destination to pick up any items you didn’t pack and/or forgot to pack.  Unless you are traveling to see family and/or friends (which usually makes it easier to access baby items as things will probably be ready for you upon your arrival), international travel (especially if your destination is one where you don’t speak the language) can be tough on finding the right baby supplies for your little one.  Here are my must-haves for international travel:

(1)  Cell Phone Case with an Attached Clip–A cell phone case with an attached clip may not seem very useful when you’re at home but when traveling with a baby, anything that can facilitate being hands-free is a winner.  Since I usually don’t wear outfits with pockets, my case allowed me to attach the phone onto the stroller (and that’s how I carried my phone during the entire trip).  Having the clip also made my phone very accessible for taking photos and pulling up any necessary apps (like currency converter, Google Maps, etc.).

(2)  Travel Stroller–Unless I am mistaken, the only travel stroller on the market that is able to be compacted into a carry-on small enough to fit into plane overhead compartments is the Babyzen YOYO Travel Stroller.  This was a LIFESAVER.  Light enough to be carried with one hand and yet sturdy enough to hold a child of up to 50 pounds.  Many people would argue that it’s easier to check a stroller with your other large pieces of luggage rather than lug it around as a carry-on.  I would agree with that if you have a non-stop flight, are traveling extremely light, and are unafraid of your luggage getting lost during transit.  Since I prefer to have one layover per flight (easier to grab a bite to eat, use the restrooms, stretch your legs, etc.) and have had my luggage lost a couple times during previous trips, I was unwilling to risk any mishaps by checking our stroller.  Plus, it felt great to be able to put Max in it right way after holding him during our entire flight (each way).

(3)  Organized Diaper Bag–I’ve tried several diaper bags and, by far, the Skip Hop “Chelsea” Diaper Bag is the best for traveling.  With the usual baby stuff compartments, this bag also has two zippered compartments (one small and one large–perfect for things like your wallet, house keys, passport, flight itinerary, etc.).  An added bonus: handles AND a crossbody strap.  Need I say more?

(4)  Baby Toiletries–In general, diapers and baby powder/cream are easily accessible in most places (especially if you’re traveling to another developed country) via full service drugstores (ones that have pharmacies).  So, packing just enough of these items (plus a few extras) for the flight should be enough until you reach your destination.  However, for things like baby shampoo, baby soap and/or body wash, it’s best to pack more than you’ll need for the entire trip.  This will minimize your baby having any allergic reactions to other cleansing products.  Plus, using (and smelling) familiar products will likely be a comfort to him/her in an unfamiliar environment.

(5)  Double Amount of Formula and/or Baby Food–If you’re breastfeeding, you can cross this off your list.  I initially wanted to pack just enough baby food for our flight but after doing some research on Japanese brand formulas and packaged baby food, I discovered that a couple brands had recalls due to radiation contamination.  That was enough for us to pack enough formula and baby food for the entire trip.  Packing your own ensures that your little one will avoid any food allergies.  For travel, I’m a big fan of packaged food brands like Plum Organics and Ella’s Kitchen (as they’re disposable, easy to feed, and don’t spoil as easily as homemade food).

(6)  Pacifiers–Max does not use pacifiers on a regular basis because I’m afraid they’ll make his teeth come in crooked.  However, pacifiers work wonders on a plane!  They serve two purposes:  help to calm your baby and lessen the pain in his/her ears during flight.  Enough said.

(7)  Washable Toys–Bring several toys that are easy to pack and easily wiped and/or rinsed clean.  This one’s self-explanatory.

(8)  Baby Wipes–You can never have enough baby wipes.  Ever.

(9)  Anti-bacterial Surface Wipes–These wipes come in handy for wiping down public changing tables, toilet seats, airplane seats/headrests/tray tables, etc.  You get the idea.

(10)  Extra Change of Clothes–Self-explanatory

(11)  Inflatable Baby TubThis was also a lifesaver during our trip.  In addition, be sure to pack a plastic cup to use as a rinsing cup.

(12)  Tissues–What would you do without them?

And last, but certainly not least, a kid-friendly hotel.  What does that mean?  That means that your hotel must, at bare minimum, be able to provide a safe and clean crib.

Death of REDbird

In the process of preparing for our trip to Tokyo, I discovered the Target Prepaid REDCard from Jared at ThiftyTraveler.com.  Apparently, this reloadable card has bill pay features that allow one to pay bills that typically require check payments.  Translation (for credit card point lovers):  you can now pay your mortgage and utility bills using this card and earn points that you otherwise would have left on the table! 

But there’s a catch–in an effort to close this loophole to discourage “churning”, as of May 6, Target no longer accepts credit card loads for its Prepaid REDCard.  However, card holders may still load via gift cards that have PINs (which will be processed as debit cards).  In other words, there’s now an extra step.  You’d have to buy a VISA gift card (that has a PIN), go to a Target store in person, and then load the REDCard (and likely have to “split tender” the transaction).  More on this at ThriftyTraveler.com.  Also, FrequentMiler has an excellent site on how to find a REDCard as not all states have them.  For most people, it’s probably too much work.  But if you’re a stay-at-home mom who goes to Target regularly for baby stuff, anyway, this is worth the extra ten minutes.

The Final Frontier

finalfrontier

Forbes came out with an article on the top 15 countries to retire in this year and it included one that I’ve set my sights on for quite some time–Malaysia.  Unfortunately (and fortunately), hubby and I have a long way to go before retirement but if there is ever an opportunity for us to visit the country (for fun or work), we would jump at the chance.

Fantasizing about retirement isn’t all fun and games.  It also forces you to consider more serious matters such as finance, healthcare, and lifestyle.  It’s widely known that retiring in a developing country (especially one that is non-US dollar based) stretches your pocketbook.  That’s an easy one.  In terms of healthcare, that requires a bit more due diligence.  According to International Living, Malaysia is one of the top destinations for retiree healthcare.  And, in terms of lifestyle, it’s attractive to me because it offers a variety of choices in terms of food, shopping, sightseeing, and other activities.  In a nutshell, it offers the holy trinity of the best retirement destinations:

(1)  Choice of city or country living–City-living means having access to state-of-the-art medical facilities, shopping that is on par with that of developed countries, variety of culinary cuisines as diverse as most major cities in the world, and cultural institutions such as theaters, museums, and concert halls.  The beauty of living in a country like Malaysia (so I’ve read and been told) is that you have the best of both worlds.  In addition to having the choice of living in a sprawling city, you may also choose to live in a rural village or quiet corner by the beach.  Serenity at its best.

(2)  Stretching your dollar–Again, this part is widely known.  One of the primary goals of searching for the perfect retirement destination is to find a place where you can live like a king without spending like one.

(3)  Sunny daysStudies have shown that low barometric pressure can adversely affect our bodies (joints, sinuses, etc.).  Because of this, it’s not surprising that many retirement homes are located in warm and tropical locations.

And, as countries like Malaysia get more expats as residents, we’ll see that great minds do, indeed, think alike  :).

Pack Light

packlight

Since many people I know are out and about for holiday, I thought I would recommend the best toiletry and cosmetics bag I have ever used (a Chanukah gift for myself, as a matter of fact).  It’s the Tumi “Monaco” Travel Case.  Amazing, really–lots of compartments, easy-to-wipe-clean nylon, interior and exterior pockets, and it has a metal hanging hook.  Great for travel.  Plus, if you get it from Nordstrom, it has a lifetime warranty.  A great gift for anyone and everyone.

Wondrous World

las-vegas

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.  Especially to be in Las Vegas.  I’ve been coming to Vegas every Christmas since my mother moved here about a decade ago.  The shows, the glitz, the glamour, the shops, the restaurants, the sights–there’s no place on earth that compares to this city.  Whether you’re a shopaholic, wine snob, casino player, restaurant connoisseur, show lover, or spa goer, this town has something for every one.

Hotels.  My favorites include the Flamingo (family and dog-friendly; great location), Rio (newer than many of the other hotels, has fantastic restaurants, and houses the Penn & Teller show), and Caesar’s (most convenient location overall for food/shopping/entertainment).

Shopping.  Where do I begin?  Other than the magnificent Fashion Show Mall on the Strip (which houses Neiman’s, Saks, Nordstrom, Macy’s, Dillards, Louis Vuiton, and other familiar stores), there is a myriad of options.  My other favorites include the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian and Palazzo (which houses Barney’s, Christian Louboutin, DVF, Chloe, etc.) as well as the shops at the Wynn (Chanel, Bottega, Fendi, Manolo, etc.).  Did I mention that all the shops and boutiques in the hotels are open on Christmas Day?  Yes, you heard correctly, my friends.  Designer shopping (and discounts) on Christmas Day.  Happy holidays, indeed.  A shopper’s paradise, really, especially during Christmas time when many markdowns are up to 60% off.  Need I say more?

Entertainment.  Vegas gives New York a run for its money.  Jerry Seinfeld, Celine Dion, Britney Spears, Bette Midler, Rod Stewart, among other big headliners have always come to Vegas this time of year (great minds think alike, you know).  All the shows, concerts, and other entertainment here are everything the Big Apple has to offer but on steroids.  This place is a well-oiled machine that knows how to please all the senses.  Every show I’ve seen here is ten times better than the same show in New York.  You have to see it to believe it.

Food.  This town is a mecca for foodies.  Whether you’re craving cheap eats or high-end dining, Vegas offers everything in the spectrum.  The diversity and variety of the city’s cuisines reflects that of its residents and visitors.  What ever you want, it’s there (on and off the Strip).

If you’re planning a trip to Vegas, Christmas time through New Year’s is the best time to be there.  Travel tip:  Book your flight early and (assuming you’re staying at one of the larger properties–Caesar’s, Flamingo, Bally’s, Planet Hollywood, etc.) your hotel room through a casino host.  Why?  The flight is self-explanatory.  Booking your hotel room through a casino host has several perks.  First of all, it’s a free service.  Secondly, a casino host is your “inside guide” on anything and everything going on in your hotel and its sister properties which means if you’re staying at Caesar’s and there’s a show you want to see at Planet Hollywood, he/she may be able to get you free tickets.  Loyalty pays off so find a casino host you like to work with and stick to him/her.  If you need help finding one, I’m happy to recommend one I’ve worked with for years (she is a professional and truly a veteran of the gaming industry).  Also, always sign up for the hotel’s rewards program/card (even if you don’t play in the casinos).  You receive points on your rewards card every time you play in the casinos and at many of the restaurants (just don’t forget to present your card before playing and/or dining).  The points are then redeemable for discounts and/or freebies (depending on the number of points you accumulate, you can earn anything from free hotel suites to free breakfasts).  And with the number of opportunities to spend money in Vegas, those points can add up.  Bottom line:  start booking your (first or next) trip to Vegas for Christmas time via a casino host now!