Photo by Trey Ratcliff

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Gear Review: Tiny Convertible Backpack

Unlike most people, I didn't immediately jump on the Fjallraven bandwagon. Fjallraven is a Finland-based manufacturer of sturdy gear that now has a loyal following, including customers who would never set foot on a hiking trail or a ski slope. Nonetheless, I recently got ahold of one of their products, the Kanken Mini that, like many of their products, comes in a rainbow of color choices. I didn't choose this to make a fashion statement, however, but I wanted to test it out as a small convertible bag/backpack to tote along on the plane for the bare necessities as well as once I land as a backpack to carry a beverage, lunch and sunscreen once I hit the trail. It's exceedingly light (barely 8 ounces) and small, measuring just over one inch by five inches by just under eight inches. It's waterproof, which is more than I can say for most packs where you're still forced to wrap everything inside in a plastic bag to keep things dry. I wore it recently during a snowstorm in New York City, and found that it kept everything completely dry. The only downside I found: I literally had to watch a short video in order to figure out how to convert it from a hang bag to a backpack! But, once you follow the directions, you're all set.

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Sunday, December 10, 2017

Avoiding Extras on Budget Flights

A budget airline may sound like a great deal, until the extras pile up, whether it's the pricy food options or the minimal free carry-on baggage allowances. I get around all of these add-ons by doing the following:

1- I bring my own healthy snacks, such as hummus dip with red pepper and unsalted pretzels; shelled unsalted pistachios, low-fat cheese, high-fiber low-sodium crackers, non-fat plain Greek yogurt, red grapes.

2- I don't check any luggage. Instead, I have a small carry-on that fits the airline's dimensions. I wear my bulkiest clothing and, aside from the shoes I wear, I only pack one additional pair.

3- I don't pay extra for choosing a seat, opting, instead for the seat I'm given.

I was recently interviewed on this topic and my one of my biggest tips is gaining access to an airport lounge without having to pay the day rate. American Express gives its Platinum members free access to lounges all over the world. Not only are lounges a prime place to de-stress but they also have numerous food and beverage options. In some, you're able to take a shower, which is a real perk when traveling across numerous time zones internationally and then having to deal with a long layover. And you can check email without paying a surcharge. Of all the lounges available, its AmEx's own Centurion lounges that are some of the best. The image below reflects just one of the many placid spaces in their lounge at the otherwise horrid LaGuardia Airport in New York City.

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Thursday, November 30, 2017

Gear Review: Micro-Sized Toiletries

How much space in your luggage do your toiletries take up? I traveled with someone recently who had full size bottles of shampoo, body wash and conditioner, despite the fact that I told her to take travel sizes because we would be carrying everything on our back as we walked a trail day after day for a week. When I want to significantly cut down on the size of toiletries -- because I'm on a long-distance bike, hike or bike trip --  I can go even more minimal than travel sizes. I use products that fit in the palm of your hand. These are not liquid but rather dry leaves -- like the pages of a book -- and they come as shampoo, laundry wash, body wash, conditioner, and hand wash. I also can pack a small bottle of concentrated liquid soap that does triple duty as a body wash, laundry detergent or dish washing liquid. Trek & Travel or Sea to Summit are some of the brands that you can find on Amazon, REI (including in their stores) or in other outlets that specialize in sporting goods/camping gear.
When I'm on a trail, carrying gear in a backpack for 10 miles or so, every ounce counts.

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Saturday, November 25, 2017

Enjoy A Flower-Centric Menu in Bangkok

Anyone who has a love affair with flowers and gardens as I do will want to visit a new restaurant dedicated to edible flowers. Midnight Moon recently opened in Bangkok on the property of the Museum of Floral Culture. The latter museum is ringed by a stunning garden, and the museum honors Queen Sikirit of Thailand who has long been a proponent of preserving gardens. Reserve a table at Midnight Moon for the multi-course, flower-centric menu and you'll also be treated to a guided tour of the garden at night. Find out more about the Museum and Midnight Moon in the article I recently wrote for ForbesLife.

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Sunday, November 19, 2017

Gear Review: Performance Socks

For many travelers, socks are very much an afterthought. But, since many of my journeys involve biking, jogging, hiking or Nordic skiing, socks are a key item that make the difference between a pleasant trek and one laden with misery. Wearing socks with seams, those that are not able to wick away sweat, or that don't fit well or provide adequate cushioning means you may be suffering from blisters or other foot-related aches and pains. I recently tried several different pairs of Feetures, socks designed by a family-owned company in North Carolina. The company offers a lifetime guarantee for a replacement or a refund. And they give back to the community by sponsoring Let Me Run, a nonprofit based in Charlotte that coaches pre-teen and teenage boys not just in a running programs but also in other aspects of well-being and wellness, such as having respect for self and others. The socks, which have wickable fibers so sweat dissipates from the skin, come in different levels of cushioning, depending on your activity and needs. And, when I tried out the pair with max cushioning recently on a run, I found the compression on my arches quite comfortable. I’m bringing three or four pair on my next journey.

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Saturday, November 11, 2017

Gear Review: Slick Looking but Non-Slip Water Worthy Shoes

When I do a restaurant review, I’ve found that even top-tier restaurants often fail on the desserts. Everything from appetizers to entrees are creatively prepared with surprising flavors and textures, but the desserts almost always revolve around the tried and true: cheesecake, creme brulee, molten or a dense chocolate cake, and ice cream or sorbet. This analogy seems to hold for shoe manufacturers. Everything about shoe aesthetics, form and function seem to hold up until you deal with the sole. Specifically, I’m referring to soles that are constructed of materials with no traction whatsoever, making it unsafe to walk across a slick, wet surface. This can be a metallic embellishment on a pavement, or a marble floor in a hotel, or a wooden floor that’s just been mopped. In all these cases, even a good-looking, high-priced shoe fails, leaving the consumer off balance. As a traveler who walks exceedingly briskly, I’m always in the market for a fashionable, functional shoe with a sticky sole. Astral to the rescue.

I just found out about this company that manufactures shoes. which all have a sticky outsole made with a rubber that provides significant grip. And that’s the case even for their stylish Mary Janes and even their flip-flops. In addition, Astral’s shoes are designed to hold up even in a drenching rain. Another plus is that the company is committed to sustainability.

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Saturday, November 4, 2017

Chattanooga, Tennessee in Pictures

Say "Chattanooga" and the first thing most people think of is Choo Choo. Not me. I think contemporary art, beyond the Hunter Museum of American Art. Two sculpture gardens: one in the Bluff View Art District and the other is a short bike ride away: Sculpture Fields in Montague Park, are both worth a visit. But there's art whether sculptures or murals along Main Street or MLK Boulevard or in several smaller galleries all over town. This YouTube video slideshow is a window into Chattanooga's edgy art scene.

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Sunday, October 29, 2017

Artisan Chocolates in the Finger Lakes

Wherever in the world I happen to be, there are several things I make it my point to find: parks or gardens, coffee shops, wine bars and chocolate emporia. The Finger Lakes region of New York State has all of these. But, one of the most memorable experience of my visit was sampling the artisan chocolates Claire Benjamin creates at her shop: Rue Claire Lavender Farm & Artisan Chocolates.  It's such an atmospheric place inside and out that I felt I had momentarily been transported to France. This is my article I recently wrote for ForbesLife.

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Saturday, October 28, 2017

More Travel Health Myths

When I travel, I’m often shocked by the myriad old wives tales, myths and down-home health advice that persist, even among some of the savviest people. On one of my recent trips, when I sat down to lunch with my guide, I was a little surprised to see him order a shot of whiskey, something he ended up doing before every meal! I finally asked what was up with this? He replied: “I do it to prevent getting a stomach flu from eating bad food.”  I recently wrote an article for Berkeley Wellness, a collaboration with the University of California at Berkeley School of Public Health on travel health myths and misconceptions, including whether drinking alcohol can prevent gastrointestinal woes.

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