Monday, July 30, 2012

Best Tips for Keeping Track of Checked Luggage

Photo by Russell Lee via Library of Congress website []

It hasn't happened to me yet, but I am slightly paranoid about losing a bag while flying, especially internationally.

I take all sorts of precautions to try to prevent it from happening:

  • Before packing for a new adventure, I remove any stickers/tags that the airlines have placed on my suitcases on previous trips, since these direct baggage handlers where to send my bag. I really don't need my luggage going to Mazatlan when I'm now going to India!  Also, I always double check the new tags that are placed on my bags at check in, as well my claim stubs, to make sure they both have the correct destination listed.  
  • This may be overkill, but I place at least 3 identification cards in my bag, one visible from the outside in the little transparent pocket and another two inside.  Instead of listing my home address, I list my email address, a phone number--either my cell phone if I will have it available or a phone number at my destination, and the address of my destination (e.g. a hotel).  
  • I pack all essentials (medications, expensive items, a change of clothes, etc.) in my carry on.  Doing this is pretty much a given these days, but I continue to hear stories of people whose bags have gone missing and then they are left scrambling to get new prescriptions and clothes.  Not a fun way to spend the first day of vacation!   

I've seen lots of crazy ways of differentiating one's suitcase from everyone else's and I've tried a number of things myself, some with better luck than others.  A baggage-handler friend of mine cautioned me against tying anything like a scarf or bandana onto my bag, since apparently these are a frequent cause of luggage getting lost due to the fabric getting stuck in the conveyor belts.  

Some ideas for those who, like me, have black/dark colored luggage:

  • Write on the outside of your bag with chalk--wipes off easily once you arrive
  • For something more permanent, draw all over your bag with a silver Sharpie  
  • Stick colorful duct tape across the bottom or other hard surface on your luggage and write something creative on it 
  • I like to get my bag "shrink wrapped." for international flights and place a bright neon paper with my last name written on it in between the last few layers of plastic.  I first had this done when coming home from India and thought the idea of wrapping bags was genius!  I also put other identifying marks on the bag in case the plastic gets torn or removed.

I'd love to hear from you!  Please share your best ideas for identifying your checked luggage or preventing it from getting lost in the comments below.

Please visit Walkingon Travels and Suitcases and Sippy Cups for more great travel tips every Tuesday!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Hotel Review: Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay, Mazatlan, Mexico

From the very first sip of my complimentary welcome drink, I knew our stay at the Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay in Mazatlan, Mexico was going to be amazing.  The super-potent top shelf margaritas had our heads spinning after a long flight and no food!  After a very friendly check-in, my husband and I meandered happily around the grounds of the resort sipping our drinks while waiting for our room to become available.

We were soon whisked away to our room via golf cart. The resort is spread over 20 beautiful acres with guest suites located in eight separate buildings. Despite its large scale, we received very personalized service and never felt that the resort was crowded. 

View of the resort from the beach

Our room was a "junior suite," which at 425 sq. feet was plenty of space for the two of us.  With a kitchen, a beautifully tiled bathroom, a sitting area, a sleeping area, and a balcony overlooking the ocean (all rooms here face the ocean), we could really spread out and enjoy the room.  Honestly, though, we spent most of our time outside basking in the sun at the pool or the beach, as well as exploring the town.

View from our balcony

The resort is in an area of town called New Mazatlan, around 10 miles from Old Mazatlan where most of the town's hotels, restaurants, and shopping are located.  I was concerned that we'd feel a little too isolated being that far away from the main part of town, but it ended up being a HUGE plus since there were absolutely no beach vendors or annoying timeshare hawkers to deal with.  The resort provided a free shuttle into town throughout the day, and it was the perfect way to experience some hustle and bustle when we desired and then retreat back to our resort for some R & R.

Sunset from our balcony

Speaking of R & R, there are so many ways to do it at the PB Emerald Bay.  You can lounge by the "activity pool" and sip a drink or smoothie from the swim up bar, soak in the more remote"quiet pool,"  stretch out under an oceanside canopy and enjoy the amazing view, luxuriate in the spa with a massage, or enjoy drinks or a meal at one of several onsite restaurants.  We did all of these and more, and by the end of the week we were sun-soaked and completely blissed out.  

Early morning view of the pool and swim up bar

Some of my favorites at the resort:
  • Location, location, location!  It was perfect
  • The Pillow Menu:  Gimmicky?  Maybe, but I loved it
  • Our balcony overlooking the pool and ocean:  morning coffee has never been so enjoyable
  • The customer service:  friendly but not intrusive
  • Free airport shuttle and transportation to town
  • The drinks.  Wow, we're definitely not in Utah anymore! :-)
  • Lobster enchiladas at the onsite Le Cordelaire restaurant
  • The other guests:  A good mix of families and couples of all ages.  This was NOT a party resort
  • All water at the resort is filtered so we never had to worry about it

Sunset over the infinity pool

A few tips:
  • The only things I was not impressed with at this resort were the beds.  Our "junior suite" had two double beds that were slightly lumpy and uncomfortable.  At a luxury resort?  I expect at least comfortable queen-size beds.  The "master suites" come with one king-size bed, so if you are picky that way then definitely choose the master suite...I wish we would have.
  • Pick up groceries to stock your room's kitchen.  They provide a full size refrigerator, stove, sink, dishes, and coffeemaker.  You will definitely want to bring your own coffee along since it is not provided.
  • Rooms are completely tiled, and sometimes we could hear noise from other guests echoing in our room.  It really wasn't bad, but you may want to bring a set of earplugs if you are light sleeper.  We rolled up a few towels and placed them under the doors, which helped greatly.
  • As at many other Mexican resorts, you will probably be asked if you'd like to take a timeshare tour here.  We opted to do it and received free breakfast, drinks, and a $200 resort credit each.  Well worth it for a two hour presentation, in our opinion. (Timeshare attendance perks may be different now than when we attended, so please ask for details if you are interested)
  • The resort has recently added an all-inclusive option, which wasn't available during our visit.

Enjoying a late lunch at Le Cordelaire

 Have you visited Mazatlan?  Where is your favorite place to stay?

Please visit Budget Traveler's Sandbox and R We There Yet Mom for some wonderful travel photos and stories!

Disclosure:  This trip was taken at my own expense and I was not compensated in any way for this post.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

An Ode to the Victoria, BC Harbour

During my "spontaneous" visit to the city of Victoria on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, I could not stop photographing its beautiful harbour.  Seriously, I have hundreds of photos of it from various angles!

From my very first walk around the harbour after disembarking our ferry, I was smitten.  To me, the harbour felt like the heart of Victoria, and it drew me to it time after time, day after day, until it became a good friend.  Come take a photo tour with me!

We arrived aboard the Victoria Clipper originating from Seattle.  It was a pleasant ride...

But I really wish we had taken a seaplane instead!

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I was captivated by the Parliament Building:

We learned that the copper domes on top of the building have turned green due to oxidation.  Aren't they gorgeous?  Incidentally, the Statue of Liberty is green for the same reason!

This cute little ferry was available for tours of the harbour:

Notice the green domes on the Empress Hotel?  We saw this beautiful green copper patina all around Victoria.

Have you ever cried when you left a particularly special destination?  I did when we sailed away from Victoria!

For more amazing travel photos and stories, please visit Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Traveler's Sandbox and Friday Daydreamin' at R We There Yet Mom!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Visit to Singapore's National Orchid Garden

On my last visit to Singapore, I made sure to take advantage of as many of the admission tickets that were included with my Singapore stopover as possible.  One such ticket was for Singapore's National Orchid Garden.  I had seen beautiful orchids (the national flower) sprinkled around Singapore, including a miniature orchid garden at Changi Airport, and was eager to see more, so my husband and I boarded the Hop-on Hop-off bus and had a leisurely ride to the garden.  Incidentally, the city's MRT subway now has a stop near the garden, which would have been an even more convenient way to get there had it been available at that time.

A view of Palm Valley, Symphony Lake, and the Shaw Foundation Symphony Stage

The National Orchid Garden is part of the much larger Singapore Botanic Gardens, a beautiful setting that seems to attract many locals for jogging, rollerblading, and picnicking.  To get to the orchid gardens, we had a roundabout walk through most of the botanic gardens and up a gentle hill.  Back home this would have been a very easy walk, taking 15 minutes at the most, but Singapore's high humidity at the time of our visit made it seem more strenuous.

The Shaw Foundation Symphony Stage

En route to the orchid garden, we passed by Palm Valley and Symphony Lake (one of 3 lakes in the gardens).  The Shaw Foundation Symphony Stage was deserted at the time, but I could imagine enjoying a concert and a picnic there in the lush setting and tropical evening air.

The Crane Fountain

The National Orchid Garden is the only part of the Botanic Gardens that charges admission, but it is quite reasonable at $5 SGD for adults and $1 SGD for seniors.  Kids 12 and under are free.  

Ghost Orchid--(Photo credit: Mick Fournier, Pompano Beach, Florida) Creative Commons 3.0 License

Upon entering, we were amazed at the beauty and variety of orchids we saw throughout the garden.  There are an incredible 1,000 orchid species and 2,000 orchid hybrids in the garden's collection.  The amount of care this must take is astounding!  I was so impressed with how well maintained and beautiful everything was, particularly after I tried to take care of ONE single orchid in my home a few years ago and managed to kill it within a couple of weeks.

Why is there a giant, golden birdcage in the middle of the garden, and what am I doing inside of it?
 I have no good answer for either question.

There are so many gorgeous areas to explore in the Orchid Garden, and due to our late arrival we had to speed through them much more quickly than I would have liked. I realized after we left that I hadn't taken any close-up photos of the orchids, which is such a shame because their variety in color, size, and texture was truly stunning!

In addition to the many outdoor orchid exhibits, fountains, and waterfalls, there are also some indoor spaces that I would highly recommend checking out, including the Coolhouse (an indoor tropical forest and a welcome respite from the heat), the Misthouse (containing rare and award-winning orchid species), and the Bromeliad House.

What is your favorite garden to visit?  Please share!

Please visit Budget Traveler's Sandbox and R We There Yet Mom? for more travel photos and stories!