Wednesday, March 28, 2012

My Hotel Room "Fix-It" Kit

First, let me just say that I LOVE staying in hotels.  Big hotels, small hotels, luxury hotels, budget hotels--I've had great stays in all of them.  There's something so carefree and luxurious about a hotel cleaning, no cooking, and often a nice pool or hot tub to relax in!

That said, you may have noticed in a previous post that I am pretty particular about certain things in hotel rooms.  So, at the risk of sounding completely uptight, I thought I'd share the contents of the hotel room "fix-it" kit that I carry with me while traveling. :-)

Minor fixes were done in my beautiful bathroom in Singapore (and yes, that's a bidet, and a phone!)

I pack most of these items in a quart-sized ziptop bag, replenish needed items when I get home, and always keep it stored in my suitcase so it's not forgotten on the next trip.  In no particular order:

1.  Disinfecting wipes--I read somewhere that TV remotes are the germiest items in a hotel room, so after my arrival I wipe those down, along with door handles, countertops, and the toilet seat.

2.  Earplugs--You just never know how thin the walls are going to be!

3.  A few pieces of black electrical tape, stuck on a piece of wax paper-- Is there some reason that the folks who make hotel smoke detectors thought it was a good idea to put those ultra-bright green lights on them?  And must they be mounted directly above my bed, spotlighting me with an eerie green glow while I sleep?  My fix--cover the light with a small bit of black electrical tape.  Don't forget to remove before you leave!

Yes, even this room in one of my favorite hotels in Kauai needed a few fixes

4.  Flip flops to wear only in the room, unless there are slippers provided. 

5.  Small alligator clips to hold gaping drapes together.  In a pinch, I've also used the clamps on a pants hanger.

6.  A scarf or shawl to cover any mirror I can see from my bed.  I've heard it's bad feng shui. And there's something discombobulating about seeing my own reflection right after I wake up. :-)

7.  And now that I'm a mom, a babyproofing kit with outlet plugs and zip ties for securing loose cords and closing off unneeded cupboards.  

But a view like this definitely makes it easier to relax

So now I must know, do you have items that you take along to fix your hotel rooms?  Please share!  

For many awesome travel photos and stories, please check out Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Traveler's Sandbox and Friday Daydreamin' at R We There Yet Mom.

Friday, March 23, 2012

A View From My Tent in Moab, Utah

After posting recently about Moab, Utah, I started thinking about all the camping trips I used to take there when I was in college.  I began digging through my old photo albums (this was pre-digital camera) and discovered this:

I snapped this photo from the doorway of my tent.  I can still remember how lucky I felt when we discovered this camping site along the Colorado River (on Hightway 128, AKA the Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway).  Seeing this view every morning was the perfect way to start a day of outdoor adventures in Moab!

For more information about camping along the Colorado River, please visit here.

To see many wonderful travel photos and stories, please visit Delicious Baby's Photo Friday and R We There Yet Mom's Friday Daydreamin'.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

An Inadvertent Holiday in Victoria B.C., Canada

I'm usually quite meticulous when planning a vacation.  Spontaneous, I am not.  But a couple of years ago I set a goal for myself: take a trip with minimal planning and obsessing over details.  

Since my husband and I had never been to Seattle, we decided to spend a few days there and then take a ferry to Victoria on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. I allowed myself to book our flight/hotels and get ferry information online, but everything else would be done off-the-cuff.  We were even planning to take advantage of public transportation instead of renting a car. This was a huge accomplishment for me! 

Gorgeous bay in Victoria

We arrived in Victoria just before noon.  Disembarking from the ferry and getting through immigration and customs took almost two hours, definitely not the Canadian efficiency we were used to!  We admired the bay and some of the beautiful architecture surrounding it, then decided to walk to our hotel to continue enjoying the sights. A small cafe caught our eye, so we stopped in for a quick bowl of clam chowder to tide us over before dinner.

The streets seemed quite empty, but we thought nothing of it as we continued our stroll.  We checked into our hotel, took a quick nap, and freshened up to go out for dinner.

View of The Fairmont Empress Hotel and promenade around the bay

We'd seen a number of eateries on our earlier walk, so after some debate we headed for one that had looked interesting.  Hmm, it was closed.  So we walked to another, and still another, but all doors were locked.  This was weird.  Every shop and restaurant, closed at 6pm on a Monday?

By this time, we were absolutely famished, and finally! we found a convenience store that was open and ducked inside.  Fearing that we wouldn't find any open restaurants in town, we gathered up the makings of a (very sad) little meal--some noodle cups, chocolate milk, cheese sticks, and a bag of chips.  While she was ringing us up, we made a comment to the cashier about all the early restaurant closures.

Laughing, she said, "Um, it's Thanksgiving. That's why everything is closed."

The lesson:  Even when traveling (somewhat) spontaneously to another country, at LEAST check the calendar to plan around national holidays :-)

For many awesome travel photos and stories, please check out Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Traveler's Sandbox.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

My Favorite Airport

Over the years, I've been to more airports than I can count.  Some of them were not so great (but we won't speak of those!) and some of them were awesome.  I've really liked the simple charms and open air design of Kauai's Lihue Airport (LIH), the sleek, modern vibe of South Korea's Incheon Internation Airport (ICN), and the dining at JFK's JetBlue terminal T5.

But the one airport that has captured my heart over and over is Singapore's Changi Airport (SIN), and so I am officially dubbing it My Favorite Airport!

The beautiful Orchid Garden, one of Changi's many gardens
I always have a 6-8 hour layover at Changi on my way to India. I've been there six times now, and each time I go, I am so impressed by the many things to do and see.  Changi Airport, like Singapore itself, is modern, warm, and ultra user-friendly.  There are three terminals, all connected by SkyTrains (free), and each terminal is packed with resources for the weary traveler.

After 20+ hours of travel, the first priorities on my list when the plane touches down in Singapore are a SHOWER and a NAP, and Changi doesn't disappoint with options for both.  Scattered throughout the airport are free "nap areas," with very comfortable leather lounge chairs on which to stretch out and sleep.  Some of them even have a massage feature!

Relaxing in the Rainforest Lounge
There are a number of lounges and transit hotels within Changi that you can use to freshen up. On our last visit, we went to the Rainforest Lounge, where for around $20US we were able to take a refreshing shower  and then relax in the lounge area with snacks, non-alcoholic drinks, and tv/movies/magazines for entertainment.  For additional fees, they also have a jacuzzi, massages, and private "slumberettes."

On our next visit, we may forgo the lounge in favor of using Changi's rooftop pool.  For around $10US, you can use the pool (or snooze in a poolside lounge chair), sip an included drink, and grab a shower.

Garden and Koi Pond

Here are a few other things that I love about Changi airport (notice how frequently the word free appears!):

  1. Free, fast wifi.  If you haven't taken your laptop along, they also have free internet kiosks you can use.
  2. Beautiful indoor gardens, including a butterfly garden, orchid garden and koi pond, sunflower and light garden,  and more.
  3. If you have a layover that is more than 5 hours long, you can sign up for a free 2 hour tour of the city.  I would definitely recommend this one!  Tour is subject to visa requirements, but no visa is needed for citizens of the US and many other countries.
  4. Awesome entertainment, including a free movie theater, free Entertainment Deck with Xbox and Playstation games, and live music. 
  5. Relax with a free foot massage at stations throughout the airport.
  6. Fantastic shopping and dining opportunities all over the airport.
  7. Customs and immigration are a breeze.  I don't think I've ever waited in line more than five minutes, and the folks are some of the most polite and pleasant I've encountered (just like in the rest of Singapore).     

There are so many fantastic things about this airport that I can't begin to cover them all here, but Changi's website has all the information you'll need to plan your layover.

So now I'm curious...what is YOUR favorite airport, and what do you love about it?  

This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Traveler's Sandbox.  Please visit them for more great travel photos and posts!

As always, I do not post sponsored links or accept paid insertions.  All places are mentioned here because I have personally experienced and enjoyed them.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Vegas with Kids

The fountains at Bellagio, with a view of the Paris Hotel
A few weeks ago, my husband, toddler, and I were in desperate need of a getaway after too many cold, gray winter months in Utah.  Our getaway requirements?  Somewhere south for sun and warmer weather, and somewhere close enough for just a quick weekend trip.  We mulled over and discarded a number of locations, but one that kept coming up was Las Vegas.  But Vegas?  With a child?  We weren't sure that it would be fun, let alone appropriate, but decided to give it a shot since it met all our requirements.  Although I still wouldn't call Vegas "kid-friendly," it was definitely workable and turned out to be just the break we needed.  Here are some highlights and tips:

We stayed at Staybridge Suites, which is located just west of the freeway and the Strip.  We liked that it was a non-smoking hotel without a casino.  Our one bedroom (king) suite was the perfect size for our little family, with a sitting area, dining table for four, full kitchen, spacious bathroom, two flat-screen TVs, a washer/dryer, and a small balcony.  There was a sofa that would pull out into a queen-sized bed, but rooms probably wouldn't fit families with more than one or two kids.  Our daughter's playpen fit well next to our bed.

Floor-to-ceiling windows provided a panoramic view of the Strip (on the other side of the hotel rooms overlook the pool).  A large breakfast buffet, great pool area, ample parking, and a shuttle to the Strip (all free!) rounded out the hotel's amenities.  After a couple of housekeeping snafus upon check-in, which were fixed immediately, the rest of our stay was very pleasant.

We decided to avoid dining out, which is often overpriced in Vegas and can be a challenge with our 16-month-old.  Instead, we stocked our suite's kitchen with groceries and cooked simple meals there.  We also ordered pizza one night (get recommendations from the front desk).

Bellagio's Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
While we wanted to avoid the Strip for the most part, I did want to see the Bellagio hotel's Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, which at the time were spectacularly decorated for Chinese New Year.  We also stepped just outside the Bellagio to see the fountain show--our daughter loved it!

Speaking of the Strip, I would highly recommend that you avoid walking it with kids, especially the south end.  There are countless folks in neon-colored shirts passing out ads for non-kid-friendly Vegas activities.  Although they tend to avoid those who are walking with kids, the ads (with pictures your wouldn't want your kids seeing) are dropped all over the sidewalk and street, making for an inappropriate walk with the little ones.  A slow drive down the Strip during the day or early evening is a more family-friendly way to see the sights.

Off the Strip, there are a surprising number of activities that kids and families can enjoy in and around Vegas.  Here are a few:
  1. Spend a day at Springs Preserve.  Explore two museums, botanical gardens (desert-themed), hiking and biking trails, a cafe, and more.  Admission prices are more expensive for non-locals, so it might be worth it for you to purchase a family membership, which is currently $60 (for 2 adults and up to 6 kids).
  2. Take a day trip to the beautiful Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, about 30 minutes west of the Strip.  You can drive the 13 mile scenic loop, check out the visitor's museum, or hike on several great trails.  I would recommend packing a picnic and enjoying it there.  Don't forget to take sunscreen, hats, and lots of water! 
  3. Spend a few hours at the Las Vegas Natural History Museum.  It's small compared to museums in other cities and doesn't look great from the outside, but once inside, kids seem to have a good time here.  Visit their website for info and a coupon.
  4. Enjoy outdoor recreation activities at nearby Lake Mead or take a tour of the Hoover Dam (for kids age 8 and up)

Have you visited Las Vegas with kids?  What activities do you enjoy doing with them while you're there?

This post is part of Tuesday Travel Tips at Suitcases and Sippy Cups and Walkington Travels.  Please visit their sites for more great travel tips!

Also check out Six Suitcases Family Travel Blog Hop!
Family Travel Friday

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

8 Things That Take a Hotel Room to The Next Level

The Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Singapore--a truly great hotel
Ok, I'll admit that this list is completely subjective and that I have some very particular (my husband would say peculiar) ideas about what makes a hotel room great.  For the purposes of this list, I'm taking it as a given that the room has a comfy bed/pillows and great staff, and that it's clean and in a decent location.  So here goes!

  • Local flavor. I like to feel that I'm in a certain city rather than just an anonymous hotel room, so local artwork or design influences, as well as info about recommended dining and nearby attractions, are always appreciated.

  • A comforter sandwiched between two clean, white sheets instead of those very suspect bedspreads.  Enough said!

  • Free wifi.  There's no excuse for charging for wifi.  Ever.

  • A small welcome gesture.  A small note or phone call to follow up on the room after check-in is so nice, as is a "Welcome back" or a "Thanks for staying with us again" if applicable.  Bonus points for champagne, flowers, or fruit baskets :-)  

  • An electric teakettle is much more versatile than those tiny coffeemakers.  Perfect for making tea, instant coffee or oatmeal, and even noodle or soup cups in a pinch.

  • A robe and slippers.  Just feels so decadent.

  • An in-room safe so I don't feel like I have to haul around all my camera equipment everywhere I go.

  • An iPod dock--great for charging and for enjoying music in the a.m., a must for me! 

Now that I've shared my odd hotel room preferences with you, I'd love to hear yours!  What are the things that you love to have in a hotel room?

This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Traveler's Sandbox.  Please visit them to see more great travel photos!