Her Packing List’s review of the Aeronaut

Have I mentioned that I’m currently obsessed with the Tom Bihn Aeronaut carryon/duffel/backpack?

A travel site for backpackers, Her Packing List, has recently posted a user review of the Aeronaut by Kit Whelan of Seek New Travel. Kit has used her Aeronaut bag heavily since 2009 and says it still looks almost-new. She calls it the Goldilocks bag, but warns that it’s not designed for carrying heavy loads for long periods of time.

Kit’s review makes me even more excited about the Aeronaut! Check out the full review for more details on how she’s used it and what her favorite features are. While you’re at it, check out Kit’s blog — she’s definitely getting added to my daily travel feed!


Summer vacations and relationship health

I’ll admit it: One reason that Hubs and I like weekend trips is that…well…we tend to squabble when we’re gone too long. 

We’re grad students. For us, that means our time together is feast or famine. We may spend nearly every hour together for a few weeks, then only see each for an hour or two per day the next week. We drive almost everywhere we go, even the 13 hour drive to New Jersey, so we bookend our trips with lot of time together in a cramped Honda Fit. So far, “quality time together” haven’t been a big priority on vacations.

But I know that will change soon. Very soon. Hubs and I will live apart for a year, and then we’ll both have “real jobs.” Reconnecting will become a more important goal during out shakeups and other vacations. The Gottman Institute, a leading research and intervention facility dedicated to strengthening romantic relationships, recently posted on their relationship blog about how to use summer vacations to make your partner a priority and increase intimacy in your relationship. Check it out!


We still don’t have solid plans for our roadtrip, which will hopefully include one night at the Indiana Dunes and another in downtown Pittsburgh. Hubs just got an opportunity for a consulting gig, which will require travel to Panama sometime in the next month. We don’t have hotels booked, so we can be flexible…but I want to know so I can plan!

And neither of my guide books have come in yet. I should not complain, given that they’re both being shipped for free (and Pittsburgh warned me it would take 3-6 weeks), but Amazon has forever changed my expectations for shipping and handling delays.

In the meantime, what am I supposed to do? Focus on things like packing and finishing my dissertation? Talk about your major buzzkill!

To thine own heart be true — no matter what the guide books say

When I started thinking about doing this blog, I wanted to find what resources were out there. I didn’t find much, but one thing I found was this Forbes article about the 10 best cities for weekend visits. I was kind of impressed that #1 was Indianapolis, a city we’ve visited numerous times in the 6 years we’ve lived in Indiana.

We’ve had some great experiences in Indy. Some of our great early dates were along the Indy canal and the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. We got married in a local courthouse a few weeks before our big family wedding, and we spent a long weekend at the historic Canterbury Hotel in May 2013 before our longer San Diego honeymoon in August 2013. We’ve enjoyed the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art and the Indiana State Museum. Hubs even took me to an Indianapolis Indians game the night we got married (they were playing the Scranton Yankees — quite amusing given that our allegiances are to the Cleveland Indians [the White girl] and the New York Yankees [the Brown guy]). We also love the malls around Indy, including Circle Center (inside beautifully preserved facades) and Keystone Mall. I love walking downtown and driving north on Meridian Street through historic neighborhoods. I’ve even been inside the beautiful Indiana Statehouse and always meant to take Hubs.

But I was a little embarrassed when I read the Forbes article. You see, with the exception of the Eiteljorg Museum, I’ve never done the things Indianapolis is known for, according to Forbes’ Larry Olmsted. We always said we’d do the Indy 500 while we’re here, but it’s always been too hot or too busy. I was only vaguely aware that Indianapolis had a zoo, much less that it was considered one of the top ten in the country. And while we’ve heard great things about the Children’s Museum, which is supposedly the largest in the world, we’ve never gone.

I decided that I couldn’t leave Indiana without having seen the Children’s Musuem. I mean, it’s just embarrassing to live so close to a place that others travel to, without seeing one of the big draws, right? Even if we don’t have kids with us, right? And costs almost $40 for the two of us? Right?

Hubs gets a total I-told-you-so on this one. Hopefully, I married a man who is too much of a gentleman to say it.

This isn’t to say the museum was bad or we didn’t have a good time. Hubs sucked it up like a champ, the crowds weren’t too bad, and we had fun together. The museum is really high quality throughout, and our favorite exhibits were Take Me There: Egypt and The Power of Children. We were both interested to learn how the museum teaches about life in other cultures and about dark moments in modern history.

In Take Me There: Egypt, exhibits nicely balanced showing differences without overly exoticizing. One hands-on part encouraged children to look through typical Egyptian children’s backpacks and think about what was similar and different from their own backpacks. It was interesting for me to see how Egypt, as depicted in the exhibit, was similar to my snapshot experiences of India. They even had a rickshaw, but it was still all black (India’s are going yellow/green as they convert to more environmentally friendly energy sources) and had much more legroom — no extra hip room, though!

The Power of Children described difficult events of the 20th century in clear, concrete ways and did not gloss over ways in which U.S. society and government contributed to problems. The exhibit highlighted issues of racial cleansing (Anne Frank), segregation and civil rights in the U.S. (Ruby Bridges), and the AIDS epidemic (Ryan White). We found the exhibit to be informative and interesting, though Hubs was happy to have Wikipedia at his fingertips each time we wanted more detail. The horror of the U.S. civil rights movement was made real yet again for me. When I’m exposed to that era of our national history, I become acutely aware that, for all the intersections of cultures, faiths, and backgrounds Hubs and I represent, we are seen first and foremost as an interracial couple. The U.S. civil rights movement is not “a Black thing” or “a minority thing,” but the flavor has changed for me as I realize that my marriage would not be possible without civil rights. My chosen soulmate, husband of my heart, rock, warrior, and helpmeet, is directly affected by the civil rights movement. And he’s considered a “model” or “privileged” minority. Today, the Children’s Museum helped me realize that these terrible events took place within our parents’ lifetimes. Ruby is just younger than our dads and just older than our moms. We started doing the math and realized that Hubs’s birth is closer to 1960 than it is to 2013, and my birth is smack-dab in the middle. That sense that these eras were so close to me, in the grand timeline of the universe, that I could almost reach out and touch them…that mistrust that we are as distant from these eras as we like to think we are…those will stay with me long after today. Although I do think that this exhibit appropriately “doses” the violence and pain of these events (with parent or class supervision), it is still powerful enough to move adults.

So we really did have a good time at the Children’s Museum, and I highly recommend it for families with children. But if I had it to do over again, I would go with my gut. Sometimes, you’ve lived somewhere for years and never done something because it’s not really your thing. We’re not Indy 500 people, and it’s too loud and crowded for us. That’s ok. I’m sure it’s a cool experience, but I highly doubt we’ll regret not going while we were here. But to say we went to a baseball game on our wedding night? And to know first-hand how community-friendly the Triple-A team’s Victory Field is? For us, that’s priceless.

I’m sure I’ll still do some things just because they’re famous. But part of developing expertise at the weekend shake-up is learning to be ok with our special flavor of travel. Our time would have been better spent visiting the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site, or even just walking from the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, through the Glick Peace Walk, to the canal once more. Maybe I’ll convince Hubs to give me one more chance at a last hurrah in Indianapolis. That might cost me an I-told-you-so.

Material to help you reduce, reuse, and recycle

One of the many reasons I’m difficult to travel with is that I get hot.

And sweaty.

And stinky.

But Hubs and I love exploring new places on foot, so what to do?

Our first line of attack is returning to the hotel in the early afternoon for a shower and fresh clothes. For travel, I generally wear tank tops or light-weight t-shirts with a thin cami underneath. I always overpack underwear (because there’s nothing I hate more than re-wearing undies after a shower!), but I’ve been thinking about just purposely packing two cotton tops per day, plus one or two nicer tops or dresses for evening. That should work fine for our weekend trips, even with my goal of packing for both of us in one maximum carry-on.

But what about when we start traveling for longer? From reading more backpacking-focused blogs, I’ve realized that you can buy clothing specifically designed for travel. And not just frumpy athletic clothes! You can actually find very versatile dresses, such as these from Ex-Officio, in fabrics that are designed to handle your sweat and be easily “refreshed” in a hotel sink.

I checked, and a store in my town does sell Ex-Officio products, but I’m not sure they’ll carry the more feminine pieces I’m looking for. I do hope to try out a specialty travel product from a store or online, but for now, I’m willing to just dress down a little and pack plenty of my lightweight cotton tops.

Tetris level: Expert

Tetris level expert
Shared on Facebook by George Takei

When I saw that picture, my first thought was: Yeah, I bet I could do that.

After 6 years of road trips from Indiana to Ohio, New Jersey, and countless other destinations, I am a packing ninja. I have a natural talent for fitting things into small spaces. My mom and I lived in some pretty tiny spaces (speaking from a small-town Midwestern perspective, where 500 square feet is unbelievably tiny for an adult woman and her teenage daughter). One place we lived required me to get a new, stripped-down bed frame for my twin bed! I used to credit those experiences for my tight packing, but I realize now that it’s something I’ve always been able to do.

My first job was working under my mother in a custom Western/Equestrian clothing company, and tracing trim because my signature task. I fit those pieces every which way until I squeezed every square inch out of leather. I performed minor miracles with odd-sized remnants and scraps. I was anxiously perfectionistic at the time, and I thought I kept getting that task because it was one of the least important things to do. Yes, that was part of it, but looking back, I realize that I was actually better at it than anyone else!

It’s been important for me to realize that I have a knack for arranging things. Whether I’m arranging a storage shelf, making room for new groceries in the previously-consider-packed freezer, or loading our hatchback, it just makes sense to me. Things look full, but I reassure Hubs that I can rearrange for more room. He’s reluctant to believe me, but lo and behold, I make everything fit — often with more apparent room than there was before!

On our first few road trips, I get extremely frustrated with his packing style. Why on earth would anyone do (insert perfectly innocent misuse of space)? I thought it was the man’s job to pack the car (oh, early-twenties-me who thought myself so liberated and feminist, who knew that getting married would bring out so many gender stereotypes?), so I repeatedly let Hubs pack the car while I did other things. (I don’t know why, but I always have a million things to do the morning of a trip, especially now that we have the guinea pigs, and Hubs is always waiting around for me.) And then I got mad about how the car was packed, and usually repacked it myself.

After so many trips together, Hubs and I have reached some understandings. I drive first thing, because he can nap anytime but I can never fall asleep until mid-afternoon. I also drive after meals, because he gets “the itis” and needs a nap. He doesn’t eat full meals when it’s just him, but I can’t go without, so I let him take a nap (but sometimes switch out after only 45 minutes or an hour if I’m sleepy, too). And, no matter what else is going on in the morning, only I can pack the car if we have more than 3 bags. (And even then I usually re-arrange them a little.)

Unfortunately, ninja packing skills come at a price. Namely, I can fit so.much.stuff into my bags. I have debated about getting the beautiful but pricey packing cubes for the Tom Bihn Aeronaut bag I have promised myself for graduation. Some bloggers (of course I can’t find any to link to at the moment) say that packing cubes are actually one of the lease efficient ways you can pack. But if my goal is to start packing more lightly…well, let’s just say, some external packing constraints aren’t a bad thing. Ninja out.


Another guidebook

I did a bad thing.

I ordered another free guide book, this time from Pittsburgh.

They didn’t want me to order it. The Indiana Dunes page practically begged me for my address so they could send me a hard-copy of their travel guide. Pittsburgh was happy to let me browse their guide electronically, but I had to hunt around for a hard-copy request form. (On second glance, I could have just scrolled down to the bottom of the welcome page, instead of my original convoluted path.)

I don’t like clutter or waste. I order almost all my books on Kindle, including professional books and even one textbook so far. I feel guilty every time I sign up for a paper catalogue or ad, thinking I could see it all online with just a little more effort. But, to be honest, there’s part of me that’s a hard-copy kinda girl.

And that part of me was so over the magazine-style visitor’s guide by, like, page 5. Out of 108.

I just figured out how to download the guide as a pdf, which is easier for me to read than the webpage-version. So I feel a little guilty again…but the pdf version of the guide is also 100MB, so it’s pretty clunky and slow on my usually-up-to-snuff MacBook. I may see if Hubs can take it down a notch so we can access it on our phones, if needed.

So, even though my tree-hugger conscience is bothering me, I’m not sorry that I ordered the guidebook. It’s absolutely gorgeous, and I can add pages directly to my Arc travel binder (I just bought all my travel binder supplies and will be posting about it shortly!). And honestly, it makes it easier for us to see what Pittsburgh has to offer, which means we can make a more informed decision. We only have time to do one or two things, so it’s not about doing everything or fully experiencing the city, but rather choosing something that we’ll really enjoy. (Hubs said that it would be a true test of my “shakeup” abilities!)

The biggest downside is that it takes 3-6 weeks to arrive, which means it may actually come after we leave…but I’m keeping my fingers crossed! In other news, on our morning walk I was telling Hubs about the cool Indiana Dunes trails I’d read about on their page. I mentioned that I thought we’d like that better than swimming, since “we’re not really beach people anyway.” He was disappointed to learn that there were actual swimming beaches at the Dunes, then relieved to learn that I didn’t want to swim. I’m a terrible travel partner in most respects, but it’s good to know we’re on the same page there.

An organizer’s heart

I have an organizer’s heart. I know not everyone does. I dragged my best friend from college into a Container Store once and she almost hyperventilated. She goes with the flow and is fabulous at it. When I try to go with the flow, everything stops flowing because my stuff explodes all over the desk/hotel room/house and I have no sense of what I want/need to do.

So I organize, whether it’s getting ready for a trip or making it easier to use my kitchen. I love looking through Pinterest, though I get overwhelmed at the level of “pretty” some organizers do. I can admire it, but I have no desire to get that pretty. My focus is function and tidiness. When things are in containers, they are “contained.” When I have a designated place for something, I’m more likely to pick it up and put it away. When I have a system and that system is easy, things get done on a more consistent basis.

These are all things I knew, but Nony at A Slob Comes Clean articulates these points in such a clear and practical way. I’ve shared her ideas and experiences with Hubs, and these principles have become integrated into the way we think about our stuff. You’ll hear echoes of them in how I pack for trips, but I try to apply them to many areas of my life. I’m excited to have an upcoming guest post on Nony’s blog about my novel approach to the dreaded-but-oh-so-helpful meal-planning task. (Of course I’ll add the link in once it’s live!)


One thing I’ve noticed about blogging is that it inspires me.

I started this blog after I fell in love with the Aeronaut maximum carry-on. This big little duffel made me think of Hubs and I working ahead during the week so we could dash off to Boston or Baltimore over a weekend. I dreamed of us traveling light, zipping back to our hotel for mid-day naps, and growing chummy with city after city on the Eastern seaboard.

Just after I started this blog, I decided to take the plunge and get an Arc notebook from Staples.  I started small — just a soft-backed notebook and the hole punch (which was pricey, but I planned to return it if I didn’t like the system). The beauty of the Arc system is that everything flexibly works together. It combines the ability to move things around like a binder and to flip it around on itself like a spiral notebook. They sell full-size and half-sheet notebooks in a durable hard-back or a lightweight soft-back, and you can punch any paper to add in.

So with my mind on my new travel blog,I immediately thought of how I could use this as a travel organizer. Translation: I can start being organized about our travel. 

I’ll write more soon about my history with travel organization, how I like to plan ahead, and whether I use travel books. For now, suffice it to say that I want a planning system that is light and flexible. I want it to fit print-outs without being too big. I want to be able to move things around and empty it out at the end of a trip (after transferring some notes to my digital copies in case we want to go back…because in my imagination, I’m that on top of things).

I also want to start prioritizing more clearly. I don’t want to plan trips down to the minute; I’m way too poor of a traveler for that. (One of these days I’ll explain just how bad of a travel partner I am, so you can appreciate Hubs’s patience.) I need lots of flexibility, and we’ve learned that life is better when we schedule rest in the middle of each day. Having lots of options printed in one place, plus the ability to take out and put back individual sheets, would be a great solution. Add a couple zipper pouches for room keys, transfer passes, money, receipts, and maps, and some flags to remind you of not-to-miss activities or restaurants, and you’re ready to go!

This seems to a be first comes office supplies, then comes organization situation. Now that I have such a customizable system, I find myself wanting to fill it! And luckily, I have a trip on the horizon to occupy me. I just ordered a free travel guide from indiana Dunes. We started off saying we’d hang out at the beach, but really, we’re not beach people. We only went to the beach once in Miami, and that was for 10 minutes to say we’d seen it. I’m excited about their Beyond the Beach Discovery Trail, and if I let Hubs know there’s butterflies, he’ll sure as shootin’ want to photograph them. Once Hubs books our hotel in Pittsburgh, I’ll be excited to start looking for things to do nearby.

Today I realized that I have the same kind of excitement about building a travel notebook as I used to have for scrapbooking. I recently gave up most of my crafty supplies part of our effort to consume less and de-clutter our household. I love scrapbooking, but I’m such a perfectionist that it takes me forever (and my pages look good, but not that good) and I find myself putting things off. I also stopped doing it because we have no “out of the way” space and I frankly don’t like to clean up after myself mid-project. I decided to embrace another hobby, knitting, that takes up less space and mental energy than scrapbooking, but I missed that focused time on recapping great memories.

Building a travel binder is like doing that, but on the front-end instead of the back-end. As I assemble information and maps, I can dream about the experiences we’ll have. I can think forward to everything, instead of thinking back. My efforts will be useful for making memories, not, well, remembering them. The entire time I work on my travel binder, my anticipation for the trip builds.

And really, isn’t anticipation always sweeter than reflection?

What are your best tricks for building and enjoying the anticipation of an upcoming trip?

Why weekends? Pet care.

Over several years of traveling together, Hubs and I have found that 3-day trips work really well for us. In the “Why weekends?” series, I share ways that weekend travel compliment our lifestyle, personalities, and travel needs. 

When we were thinking about getting pets, several people reminded us that travel would become more difficult.

And we heard them. We really did! But I don’t think we heard them. We thought we were solving the problem by getting a really low-key pet (guinea pigs). But we still stress about travel.

For family visits, the pigs usually ride along. (We visited my family in Ohio and left them behind because it was only a 5-day trip. First question in the door: “Where are the pigs?” My niece was crushed, and kept asking Hubs where they were in hopes that we were just teasing her.) But we haven’t [yet] tried to sneak them into a hotel, which means we have to leave them behind for most of our travel.

This is where weekend trips become convenient. Our pigs need to be fed once per day, but they’re pretty flexible on the time of day. If we go out for 3 days, we feed them before leaving on Day 1 and after getting home on Day 3. It’s usually not difficult to call in a favor to have a friend stop by on Day 2. We can even ask last-minute, because we’re literally only asking 10 minutes of our friend’s time. I make a reminder list of what the pigs need, package up their fresh veggies for Days 2 and 3 (so it’s easy to feed them if we get in late at night), and drop off a house key.

Some pets, like cats, can get by for a weekend with minimal accommodations. Other pets, like dogs, need a lot of attention and care. A cheap and low-guilt way to have dogs cared for is to trade pet-sitting with a friend who has a dog (assuming the pups get along well). Whatever your arrangement, keeping trips short helps you avoid wearing out your welcome.

I just went through the hassle of finding a pet-sitter in a city I haven’t moved to. After we get my apartment settled in Minnesota, we’re going to New Jersey for two weeks to get Hubs settled and celebrate his graduation with his family. I tried Care.com but found their fees unreasonable for a one-time care need, so then I tried Craigslist. I did find a lovely woman to care for my piggies, but it’s still a little scary for me to leave my pets with someone I don’t know for two whole weeks. As much as I love being in Joisey, I wish I could try out a sitter for the weekend first.