Tag Archives: Travel thoughts

travel thoughts

How to spice up your next museum visit

1. Find the nearest informational plaque and stand right in front of it.  If your siblings can still almost read it, lean on the plaque.


2.   Step in front of the interactive touchscreen.  Instead of clicking on the “next” screen, drag your finger across the screen and enjoy the cloud that forms behind your finger.  Start doing faster and faster loops.  Keep doing this until the museum guard asks where your parents are.


3.  Sit on the low brick wall placed in front of the preserved section of the underground city wall with your coffee.  Let the same guard who spoke to your child come tell you that you cannot sit on the perfect-height-for-sitting wall.


4.  Bounce the coin in your hoodie pocket over and over and surprisingly violently, for fun.  Accidentally bounce it out of your pocket and let it roll across the suspended walkway you are standing on.  Watch as it rolls off the walkway and into the ancient city excavation below.  Try to help your dad apologize to the guard in a foreign language.  Don’t be surprised if the guard tells you that you are not going to get your coin back.


5.  When the museum seems to drag on FOREVER and ever and you are hungry for a snack just drape yourself across your parents.  Any bag or backpack they are carrying is actually designed to also be a handhold.   Transfer as much of your weight off of your feet and onto their bag.            Alternative method–Link your hands up around their arm or shoulder.  Hang like a sloth on a tree branch.


6.  Get really excited about the arms and armor exhibits.  Ignore any suspicious stares from museum guards.  Pick your weapons and suits of armor since you are actually living in a Ranger’s Apprentice book.  Try to figure out which one looks like a saxe knife.  Point at the suits of armor over the railing but neglect to notice the laser beam you are breaking.  Pretend you don’t notice the audio alarm that is going off (again).  Do this three times.  Try not to make eye contact with approaching museum guards.


7.  Max perform the audio guide.  Make sure you know how to turn it on and off, rapidly.  Then see if you can break your record.  Continue till it powers down and won’t come back on.  Then, give it to your parents.


8.  If any of the material seems a bit slow paced, get as far ahead of your family as you can.  Go several rooms ahead in the museum.  Consider it a challenge.


9.  As you tour the underground salt mine, really get into enjoying the salt.  Lick your hand, drag it along the mine wall for yards and yards then lick it again.  Any wooden beams that are painted white should be similarly enjoyed.  Do this as long as possible or until your parents notice.


10.  When the guided tour is in the relatively small confines of the king’s bedchamber, strike.  Employ a silent, but deadly, attack from your GI system.  Take note of others’ faces to see why anyone might be avoiding that area of the room.  Prepare your defense ahead of any possible recognition contingency–“whoever smelt it, dealt it.”




Fly your family “free” to Europe

8 Aug

All you have to do is join the military, accept the risk of getting stranded enroute and the flight’s free!

[please forgive the tardy post as we are working through wi-fi access challenges]

The military space-available (”space-A”) travel system allows military members (and retirees) and their immediate family to fly free on military aircraft that have extra seats.  If you are active duty, you can sign up as soon as you are on leave.  Then, show up for roll call prior to the flight.  Roll call is a published “show-up” time that occurs anywhere from 2.5 to 4 hours prior to departure.  You must show up at the passenger terminal prior to roll call to have your leave paperwork, military ID cards (for kids 10 and over) and passports checked. At roll call, pax terminal personnel call out the names of who made the cut for the flight.  The list is adjudicated based on what categories travelers are in and the date they signed up for travel.  For instance, a family member returning to Europe to rejoin their military spouse would be in a higher travel category than a military retiree.  When kids are out of school, the demand for space-A flights explodes and many “signed-up” travelers are left without a seat in this game of musical chairs.  If you are manifested onto the flight, you still run the risk of a maintenance issue canceling the flight completely or a maintenance or weather issue causing an in-air divert.  You also run this risk with an airline but the difference is that the US military does not owe a space-A traveler any transportation to their actual destination.  Any subsequent flights will require your action.  Overall, space-A travel is not quite equivalent to the contract one has with an airline ticket but it is a fantastic benefit.

Some aircraft types are more reliable or passenger-friendly than others.  Many aircraft have web seating along the sides of the aircraft (read “uncomfortable” for long flights) or have airline seats similar to what you’d find on a domestic airline.  Some have cruising speeds superior to airliners but others are famously unreliable due to maintenance issues.  Amongst many other types of aircraft, are C-21 Learjets and Army C-12s (King Air aircraft).  Propeller-driven C-130s are sometimes available but require several stops to get to further destinations.  I flew on a C-130 as a cadet and remember a red vertical line inside the cabin illustrating where propeller blade fragments would enter the aircraft during a materiel failure.  Far more prevalent are the KC-135s, KC-10s, C-17s and C-5s.  “Patriot Express” rotators are contract carrier aircraft that depart out of places like BWI airport in Maryland.  The Air Force’s Air Mobility Command (AMC) even has its own terminal gate at BWI.  Companies, such as Atlas Air or World Airways, compete for the government contract to carry troops throughout the world.

A wonderful resource to explain the ins and outs of space-A travel is www.spacea.net.
Our family’s hope was to maximize our chances of getting a flight by targeting four different East Coast bases—BWI in MD, McGuire in NJ, Andrews in MD and Dover in DE.  We also signed up at a dozen American and European bases in case of contingencies.  The travel schedule is published only 72 hours out.

As early August arrived, we watched carefully for those flights that would be easy to access with rental car return and allow us to arrive in time for our August 9th reservations in Bavaria.  McGuire had two flights on August 8th so we set our sights on that date.  The first flight of the evening was on a C-5, which is famously unreliable.  It is one of the largest aircraft in the world and can carry truly outsized cargo.  Passengers fly in the windowless “upper deck” above the cargo in airline-style seats facing backward.  I write “airline style” because the seats appear to be 1960s-era airline rejects…

On August 8th, we packed our duffels and backpacks at the Witkops’ beautiful home.  Frantic searches for a Kindle, boy shoes, jackets, and a T-shirt turned up their respective subjects and a pair of dirty socks in a bookshelf to boot.  We took some photos then loaded up in the rental van.



Three different traffic jams on I-95 cut deeply into our planned buffer in NJ.  We finally arrived at the Enterprise location outside McGuire and were grateful for a ride to the pax terminal.  We were fortunate to be the first ones called at roll call as we’d signed up weeks prior and our passports and IDs were checked again.  Our wonderful friends, the Simonsens, picked us up and graciously fed us a quick dinner.  We got just a few minutes with our dear friends, the Prices.  Both families were so kind to look out for us and deliver us back to security.  Our travel documents were checked one last time and we entered the gate area.  Our kids immediately began searching for pre-flight power outlets for their Kindles.


We loaded into one of the two buses that delivered all 73 space-A travelers to that behemoth sitting on that ramp. The passengers were nearly all young families. The C-5 was operated by the West Virginia Air National Guard and at least two loadmasters proudly displayed their WV ball caps.


As a passenger, you board the C-5’s “top floor” troop compartment via the longest air stairs walkup you’ve ever seen.   From the airstairs, we observed the pilots returning to the aircraft with several Papa John’s pizzas for the crew.  The troop compartment looks like it was taken from a Soviet-era warship.  Lisa termed its aroma as being “old gym”.  Perhaps Old Spice is taking notes for their next men’s grooming product.   Loud, motorized sounds were likely related to the stabilizer repositioning, the flaps being set, the APU (auxiliary power unit that supplies aircraft power prior to engine operation) operating and who knows what else.  Lisa looked to be wondering if she should be very concerned or mildly terrified.  With its maintenance reputation, I’ll admit to being somewhat dubious we would actually takeoff.  The loadmasters provided the requisite safety briefs including descriptions of both emergency oxygen systems.  But we taxied out smoothly and took off with no issues.  We were on our way!


Soon after takeoff, the loadmasters turned the lights down low, made sure the cabin was warm and the passengers settled in for the short night of an eastbound crossing.  Sleeping bags and loveys were quickly deployed by many families.  We kept our earplugs in due to the deafening engine noise inside the aircraft.  You had to lean within a few inches of someone’s ear to be heard.  Water was available in huge, plastic jugs tied to a metal railing. To fill your water bottle you stood on a large, metal grate suspended over the cargo floor some twenty feet below.   The kids slept well.  Lisa and I slept the best we could.  A few hours into the flight, the aircraft began to increasingly rumble.  The aircraft began to moderately pitch up and down due to turbulence and the loadmasters shouted for people to “buckle up”.  I was distinctly aware that we had our whole family tucked along the spine of this beast over the dark North Atlantic.  I’d experienced the feeling of remoteness over the ocean many times before but it had been barely a passing thought when I’d been a member of the crew and had radar and weather information at my fingertips.  The underlying uneasiness made me think of the intrepid crews and passengers that crossed the Atlantic by ship over the centuries.  I found myself praying that we’d find our way safely through these thunderstorms and make our destination of Ramstein Air Base without a divert.  Ramstein is just outside Kaiserslautern and about 90 minutes southwest of Frankfurt.

After a total flight duration of about 8.5 hours, we landed safely and exited the aircraft to enjoy the cool, fresh air of Germany on our faces.  The horizon was studded with rolling, tree-covered hills and the sky held grey and white clouds.


It was a gorgeous day to be in Germany and we were so grateful for the free flight!

How do you pack for a year on the road?

6 Aug, 2014

How do you pack for six people (some of them rather small) for a year on the road?



Of course, our answer is that we really don’t know.  We have spent some time recently trying to get to an 85% solution.  We’ve enjoyed finding a few lists that others have posted online.  Rick Steves’ website had a helpful suggested packing list for short trips to Europe.  We heeded his “pack light” mantra for our 10-day Italian honeymoon and really enjoyed those backpacks.  We have discovered a few families that are blogging while doing the traveling nomad thing.  There appears to be a disproportionately large percentage of them from the Northwest.  Must be where the crazy people come from…

I seem to recall it being a bit easier when we were all 21-year-olds and jaunting around.   A few friends and I had a blast backpacking across Australia after college graduation.  We spent nights in hostels and even one in a schoolyard on a beautiful evening.  We played spades on the grass until bedtime.  A local police officer came by to make sure we were fine (and to check that we weren’t moving into the area for good).  Well, I am thinking this may be a different kind of trip.  Now our packing involves iPad minis, kindles (and requisite chargers) and at least eight “loveys”.


Everyone is taking a backpack and a rolling duffel.  The kids’ duffels fit into an aircraft overhead bin but are not nearly as wide as your typical roll-aboard.  Lisa and I splurged on a couple 28″ REI Wheelie Beasts (fancy name that means ‘rolling duffel’).  We did have a pretty serious discussion about taking a guitar that we don’t normally play.  It is definitely a delicate balance between wanting to pack items to refine our family’s education and taking so much that the airline baggage fee people break into cheers when they see the prow of our luggage cart swinging into their rope line.

Part of packing up was Lisa organizing this small sweatshop of a an assembly line.  I wasn’t sure if it was to get our change of address cards out or to expose them to parts of Asia.  We are so blessed to be staying with our friends, the Witkops, as we near the big departure for our Grand Adventure.


In the interest of packing light, we’ve tried to limit our clothing items.  Even when I try to be light, I still tend to pack too much.  We are trying to stay organized through using the packing cubes put out by Eagle Creek or ebags.

Partial list

Shoes–Flip-flops or sandals for all.  Running shoes also.  A pair of decent walking shoes for those that are not small boys.  However, Lisa will not admit to how many other pairs she may have.  I’ve learned not to ask.


Pants–2    Skirts/dresses for ladies.  I had to order some zip-off convertible pants to really complete the “hey, check out the rad tourist” look that I’m going for.  Lucky for Lisa I ran out of time to order in my American flag pants and my ‘Merica shirt.

Shorts–2 or 3 and at least a pair of running shorts.

Swimsuit– Just for the ladies, boys’ shorts serve both purposes


T-shirts & workout shirts–4

Nice shirts, long-sleeve & short sleeve–2

Sweater or fleece or sweatshirt–1 or 2

Scarf for ladies to dress it up

Yoga pants or jammies–’nuff said

And 1 of the following: Baseball cap or visor. Warm hat. Pair of gloves.  Rain shell.  Down jackets.  Thermals.

We had a mad scramble of buying necessary items as we prepared to craft our luggage in Texas and get ready to launch out of the States.  I think Amazon Prime might be from heaven.

PASSPORT–the ultimate textbook

An international credit card since we were previously just debit card people to avoid debt.

Several utility items also.  For food prep, we have a tiny cutting board, knife and mini spice jars.  We have two clotheslines for drying clothes in the room.  Also swimming around are a small sewing kit, earplugs, duct tape, knife, leatherman, sunglasses, small flashlights, etc.

The Electronica is legion.  It’s ubiquity seemed to earn it the right to be capitalized.  Since we’ll be homeschooling on the road, we’ve got three Apple laptops for the family.  We’ll be as paperless as possible to save weight by using our iPad minis (a generous Christmas gift from family).  Shameless plug for Apple products, as I’m sure they will be picking up sponsoring this blog, quite soon.  I know they need the publicity.  Two sets of worldwide electrical adaptors, two small power strips for rooms with too few outlets, and an amazing wireless, external hard drive for backing up the digital extravaganza and streaming music to multiple mobile devices. A bluetooth, mini-Jambox for tunes in the room and while traveling.  Cables upon chargers upon adaptors and enough to choke a mule.

Lisa has been reaching out to various curriculum publishers for digital copies.  We’ve met with various success thus far.  I am really excited to get the chance to be more involved in teaching the kids as well.  Math will be a lot of fun.

For our security conscience, we’ve got baggage locks all around and a cable lock to be able to lash our bags to something, or just all together.  We’ve begun to discuss the methods of some of the talented pickpockets in European train stations.  Neck pouches and foil for foiling RFID thieves are in the mix.

For the many photos we’ll be taking to show you, kind reader, and to record this journey I’ve purchased a ThinkTank CityWalker camera bag.  It is designed to look less “camera baggy” and perhaps, like less of a target.  I’ve got a Canon EOS Rebel T4i and a telephoto lens.  A mini-tripod still needs to be more fully tested but should allow some family shots.  Similarly, we each have a journal to keep track of our thoughts.

Lisa has a year’s supply of disposable contacts jammed into her bag and we have a packing cube full of medical supplies and first-aid kit items.  Shot records.  Digital copy of medical records.

We normally have the kids in sports or ballet so it will be a big adjustment to have them out of those activities.  We plan to do family workouts to keep everyone in shape and have brought tennis racquets.  I was amazed that they fit.  At least it’s something for the hand-eye coordination.  Will’s got a baseball.  The golf clubs I wanted Lisa to lug around for us did not seem like the best idea.  Not really, but we’ll see if car travel will allow a soccer ball and small pump.  My GPS running watch is with us to keep track our family’s running improvements!

For music, we discussed bringing a backpackers’ guitar or ukelele.  Nothing as of yet but we’ll see if we end up ordering something from the road.  And I’m sure we’ll be singing The Sound of Music in the Austrian alps.  “The Hills are alive, with the sound of…”   C’mon, admit you know it, don’t judge me.

The kids have not forgotten the really important items; Legos, small plastic animals, sketchbooks.  Whew!  Now does anyone have any experience with putting a European SIM card into their Verizon iPhone 5?