During the summers before and after I went to grad school, I spent the four months working at a helicopter company located next to Denali National Park in Alaska. It was glorious. I love Alaska; next to Idaho it is probably my favorite state. In …
Month: September 2016
A few weeks ago, B and I went and visited the North Cascades National Park, via the Spokane, Washington, airport. Upon landing, we made our way to the rental car desks. As you can imagine, the rental car section of the Spokane, Washington, airport is not particularly large. The fact that it took us a while to get our wheels and hit the road was a bit of a surprise.
The reason for the delay was the lone family in line in front of us; they were having a heck of a time sorting out their rental car. B and I were confused what the holdup was because we are so familiar with renting cars. If you are like the family in front of us, perhaps this post will give you some pointers so you don’t have to be the slowpoke in line next time you rent.
Paying for the Rental Car
We’ve talked before about renting cars. There are a bunch of places you can do so: conglomerate websites, the car rental company itself (they would especially love this), your credit card’s website and your automobile insurance’s website, just to name a few. When I am renting a car, I’ll usually go straight to Expedia or Kayak to see what prices pop up.
If price is my main criterion for picking a car, I’ll follow up with Hotwire since that is where I usually get the cheapest rates. Sometimes with Hotwire, you don’t know what agency you will rent with until you complete the transaction. This is only for deep discounts. For Hotwire’s regular rates, you see the agency name prior to making your reservation. Most of the time when I rent in the U.S., I don’t really care which rental car company I am getting. So I feel confident going with the cheapest option.
This rule only works if I am familiar with the rental companies at that airport. For example, when we booked our rental car for Puerto Rico, I didn’t know a few of the rental car companies and didn’t feel comfortable going with an company with whose policies I wasn’t familiar with. In this case, we decided to pay more and reserve a car through a channel where we could pick the company.
You can always rent cars right from the rental counter. But I’m a non-confrontational purchaser, so I don’t like to feel pressured to buy something when the seller is staring me down. I’ve heard the car rental industry is extremely subjective. Meaning if the person at the counter likes you they have the freedom to give you the best discount available, but if they don’t they will charge more.
I like the certainty of an impersonal electronic transaction. So even if I am getting an impromptu car, I’ll do it from a website rather than at the counter. When we flew into Honolulu, we heard the waves were uncharacteristically huge on the North Shore that day. Since we didn’t have anything else to do, we took a shuttle over to the rental car lot and en route, B rented a car for the day on her phone. Gotta love today’s technology!
Type of Rental Car
Cars come in a few different types (they might be named differently depending on the company): compact (real small), economy (better gas mileage but also small), standard/intermediate/full size (these are pretty interchangeable), luxury, SUV and truck. When I’m renting a car with B, we usually go with the cheapest option. If the standard is only a dollar or two more, I’ll go ahead and get it. But if they want $10 or so more, I will purchase the smaller car. The reason is that rental car companies sell out of their cheapest cars and all they have left are bigger ones. We often get a bigger car at the cheaper price. Win win!
A few car companies also have something called a ‘special car.’ You are guaranteed a compact or bigger, but they don’t let you know what it is until you are at the rental counter. I love a good surprise, so if this is in the price running, I’ll usually get it. (It feels like gambling, for some reason.) While renting at the Sacramento airport, the lady behind the Budget counter handed me the keys to a Chevrolet Silverado and said, “You’re from Idaho, you can drive a truck.” Both statements were true, so I drove in style that trip at the same price as a compact.
The Budget lady explained that their ‘special car’ is whatever car they happen to have the most of that day. A few weeks ago, we got the ‘special car’ and ended up with a Nissan Mersa. So it really is a crapshoot what kind of vehicle you get.
Rental Car Process
The rental car company will want to see your driver’s license and a credit card. Have these handy when you approach the counter. Most times it doesn’t matter if you give them the card you reserved your rental with; they just need something to use for a hold in case you jack up the car. If you decide to give them a debit card as your security, you should have enough money in your account that they can pull out as the assurance fee. It usually is around $250.
Below are a few things to note:
The rental car company will want to know who is driving the vehicle. The reason they care is because this is a nice little revenue maker for them if you want to have more than one driver. It usually costs around $25 to add a driver. Not worth it in my book. I’ve heard tell that it doesn’t really matter if others drive the car you rented because your automobile insurance policy will cover a rental in your name regardless of who is driving. I can’t speak for all insurance agencies, but when I chatted with my friendly insurance customer service agent, he told me my policy only covers relative residents. Upon further digging, relative resident means someone you are related to who lives with you. Sorry B. I suspect there is some gray line between live-in domestic partners, but I didn’t follow up on that line of questioning.
The rental car company will want you to get insurance in case something bad happens. The reason they do this is because this is a nice little revenue maker for them and usually completely useless for you to buy. I say ‘usually’ because each person should make up their own mind as to whether it is worth it or not. 99% of the time I decline because a) my car insurance covers rentals and b) the credit cards I use to reserve the cars have coverage on them also. I know this second point for a fact.
Several years ago I rented a car in Anchorage, Alaska. I was a travel rental newbie back then and while I noticed the crack in the windshield, I figured the agency surely knew it was there and so I drove off without telling anyone about the crack. I returned the car and about a month later I got a bill in the mail for $350 for a windshield replacement. The person who rented the car after me must have reported it and I got stuck with the bill. I contacted my credit card company and went through the process to get the bill paid. It was taken care of in full and I learned a few valuable lessons.
Always check out your rental car and say something if you see anything that is off. In Spokane, our rental had a few scratches on the bumper so I took some pictures on my phone and went and got the guy at the counter to sign off on them. Just in case.
The rental car company will want you to prepay for a full tank of gas. The reason they care is because this is a nice little revenue maker. The idea behind this one is that you can prepay for your gas and return the car empty. It seems good because you don’t have to worry about swinging into the gas station on your way to drop off the car. It also seems like a pretty good price on gas (most have these listed).
The money maker part of the transaction is that most people don’t return their cars on E. So even though you prepaid for a full tank, you really wouldn’t have needed to buy a full tank of gas. If time is money and your time is worth more than the hassle of filling it up, then feel free to prepay. I’m too big of a cheapskate to buy gas for the person who rents the car after me so I always decline.
The rental car company will offer you all sorts of upgrades or extra items. I decline these too; since I know what type of car I am getting when I rent it, there isn’t any reason for me to upgrade to a bigger one. If I wanted a big car, I would have rented one in the first place. Another big offer is GPS.
If you have cellular data on your phone, there is no reason to rent a GPS. Google Maps or Apple Maps does just fine. I have only paid for a GPS once and that was in a foreign country where we didn’t have access to our phones. In Costa Rica we decided on a whim to rent a GPS unit. It turned out to be worth its weight in gold. The roads in Costa Rica don’t have street signs like they do here. If we hadn’t had someone telling us when to turn, we would have been pretty much hosed.
Sign on the dotted line
Initial, sign, sign, initial…..the rental car company will have you go through several screens or pages of information that basically says if anything happens you will pay for it. Different companies ask different things: in Spokane I had to initial that I wouldn’t stand on the roof of my Nissan Sentra. Okay, sure thing.
Just after you check out your car for damage and throw your gear in the trunk, it is a good idea to prepare yourself for the drive. There’s nothing worse than merging onto an interstate in a strange car and realizing you don’t know where you are going and can’t see out of the mirrors. When I get into a car for the first time, I’ll get my mirrors ready, pull my electronic cables and iPod and phone out of my bag and either figure out my route (if I’m by myself) or make sure my co-captain knows where we are headed.
Most rental cars are new; they pretty much all have USB, auxiliary jacks and cigarette lighters. You should also check how many miles are on the car; if it is only a few thousand you might have free satellite radio if the Sirius trial period hasn’t expired.
You used to have to make sure you had unlimited miles on cars when you rented a car. In most cases, cars are unlimited. But if you know you are going some distance, you should just double check. In Spokane they had a limit of where you could take your car (most border states ask if you are taking the car into Canada or Mexico) but I haven’t ever come across that before. Good thing. When B and I did a road trip through the south, we hit 10 states and put about 2,000 miles on our rental car.
Returning the Rental Car
After you return the car to the designated area, the car rental person will do a quick walk around, ask you how your trip was and print you a receipt. Ever since the aforementioned Alaska incident, I always keep my receipts handy just in case I need to reference something. We’ve talked about the gas option above; if you opt to fill up the tank yourself, it is a good idea to hang onto your receipt. Some rental car companies ask to see it to make sure you’ve filled up within 10 or 15 miles of the airport.
Lastly, you should always always do a look through to make sure you haven’t left anything in the car. This includes sunglasses holders and jockey boxes (for you non-Idaho drivers, a jockey box is the glove compartment) as well as the secret place under the seat where items go to disappear. I left my iPod in a rental car not too long ago. Trust me, it is a pain and pretty expensive to get your stuff back…if you do at all (we left my Grandma’s handicap sticker in a rental car once and never saw it again.)
We love renting cars. Since B drives a truck and I have a station wagon, we will usually opt for a rental car if we are going on a quick weekend trip. They are cheap on the weekends and the money we save on gas mileage typically pays for the price of the rental car (and we don’t have to put miles on our vehicles). By following the ‘how to’ above, renting a car can be a quick and non-intimidating process and you won’t have to end up like the poor family in front of us in line in Spokane.
The Pendleton Round-Up has been on my bucket list for years and I have finally checked it off! I am going to tell you all about it, but first, let’s talk for a minute about bucket lists. Now you may not be quite as obsessed …
Last week I talked about the gear and tools that help in packing light. This week, I am going to talk about some specific packing light tips for women.
These are the tips and tricks I actually use while on vacation. There is a lot of advice out there and I feel like I am always learning something new when it comes to packing. Continue on to read 10 of my tips for packing light.
Packing light tips for women
Packing light is hard because there is no room for “what if” or “just in case” items. You have to evaluate each item carefully before you put it in your bag. It is much easier to randomly toss whatever you think you might need into your bag. Less stuff, in this case, means more work. However, that work is worth it when you are out on the road. So try out the following tips and see if they help make your bag a little lighter on your next trip.
1. Make a list
I am not a big fan of packing. I hate it, actually. But I love lists and making one helps tremendously with the packing process. Sometimes I jot the items I want to pack on a piece of scratch paper. Other times I use a pre-printed packing list. Then sometimes I use a packing app. It really does not matter how you generate a packing list, it just matters that you have one. This is especially important if you are new to travel. I promise that if you wait until the last minute and start haphazardly throwing stuff into your bag, you are going to over pack. Or you are going to forget something. A little planning goes a long ways.
2. Do not skimp on quality
Packing light means packing less…that means less clothing. For a weekend getaway, this is not too big of a deal. For two weeks in Europe, this is a very big deal. You will have to wear things more than once. You may have to do laundry. Your clothes will take a beating. Cotton, my friends, will not cut it. It is time to invest in performance fabrics. They help regulate your temperature, they dry fast and most importantly, they last longer before they start to smell.
There is a reason I love Icebreaker clothing. Yes, it is stupid expensive. Because of that, I only own a few pieces instead of an entire wardrobe. But those few pieces have been worth every penny. There are many brands like Icebreaker that make quality clothing and gear—the kind of stuff that will last you for years to come. I suggest you start with just a piece or two. Look for sales or check out a consignment store that specializes in performance gear (check out my post for where to find affordable travel clothes for women). Slowly build up your arsenal. Once you travel with quality gear and clothing, you will never go back.
Sierra Trading Post is a go-to for outdoor gear. You can get good brands and much steeper discounts after using the coupon codes. Boise is one of the lucky towns to have a brick and mortar store, but otherwise you can shop from their website.
3. Figure out your shoe situation
Deciding on which shoes to pack is definitely my biggest packing challenge. Shoes are bulky and heavy. You want to limit the number you pack which means you need to carefully evaluate each pair and its purpose. Why would you pack those heals unless you are positive you will wear them? If the unexpected happens and you need heals, you can always buy a pair. But it doesn’t seem worth it to haul them around just in case a heal-worthy event unfolds.
R subscribes to a three-pair rule: one pair of closed-toed shoes (e.g. trail runners, hiking boots, etc.), one pair of adventure sandals and one pair of flip-flops. I tend to stress a bit more because if I can get away with only bringing one or two pairs, then that is what I do. Take some time to figure out what shoes work for you. They are probably the most critical part of your wardrobe so it is worth figuring out.
If push comes to shove, wear your bulkier shoes on the ‘travel days’ while on your trip. For example, we knew Air Baltic was a stickler for the sizes our bags could be without paying extra. By wearing our bulkiest shoes, our bags were more compact.
4. Get versatile
Your clothes should all mix and match. If a top only matches one bottom, it is not a good choice. It does not matter if you are going on a cold-weather trip and all your bottoms are pants…or it is going to be hot and all you want are skirts…or you need to prepare for varied temperatures with a mix of short and long. Everything should still be interchangeable. And layer-able for that matter.
I try to pick a color scheme and then choose weather-appropriate pieces that fall within that scheme. That way I know all of my clothes will match in some way. (Note: scarves and jewelry make good accessories without taking up a lot of room.) Do not be afraid to wear things more than once—which is why you want to pack higher quality fabrics as discussed in item 2. No matter what you do, you are going to be tired of your wardrobe by the end of the trip. That is one of the downsides to packing light. But at least you will have more options if everything is interchangeable.
5. Minimize your routine
I am already a minimalist when it comes to a beauty routine (much to my mother’s dismay). I have nothing against women who enjoy themselves a good primp before they leave the house; that is just not my style. However, if it takes you two hours and a suitcase full of beauty products to get ready, you may want to think about how that affects your travel. Not only will all those beauty products make it difficult to pack light, but also the time it takes to apply them all will take away from time you could be out exploring. Places do not care if your hair is perfect. So do yourself a favor and keep your travel routine simple. You will pack a little lighter and see a little more.
Just as clothes can be versatile, so can makeup. There are several products out there that can work as blush, eye shadow and lipstick, all in one convenient package.
6. Beware lists on the World Wide Web
When doing research on the internet, be sure to take what you read with a grain of salt (and yes, I recognize the irony here). I love reading stuff about packing light, but it amazes me what some people recommend. I recently read an article about packing light that recommended two layering sweaters along with two jackets. Excuse me? This was not specific to a cold-weather trip. It was just a general list. If I am traveling somewhere tropical, when am I ever going to need two sweaters plus two jackets?
The same list also said to always pack a bathing suit. A long time ago, I subscribed to that advice. But no more. Nowadays if I am going on a trip and, for example, my lodging does not have a pool or hot tub, it is February in the northern hemisphere and I do not have time to hit up a spa, I am not going to pack a swimsuit. If my plans are a little more lose and there is a chance we might hit up a hot springs, then yes, I will throw in a swimsuit. But it should not be mandatory for every trip (few things should). A little common sense and some logic will help you decipher some of those lists floating around out there.
7. Leave room for souvenirs
Shopping for souvenirs is one of the best parts of traveling. We love to bring home unique items made by local artisans. In order to do so, it is important to leave room in your bag from the very beginning. Sure, a pair of earrings does not take up much room. But what about that cool clock R brought home from Tallinn, Estonia? It needed some space.
Even if you do not end up filling that space with bought goods (which I cannot understand at all), you will not regret packing less and having a lighter bag. In the event that you buy too much or too large, yes, you can always purchase an extra bag to carry your new stuff home in (I have done this more times than I can to count). However, it is far preferable and much easier all around if you space in your bag to start with.
8. Roll it
I am sure you have all heard that it is better to roll your clothes than to fold them. I myself am a roller and feel rolling is a good rule of thumb. Combine rolling with a couple of packing cubes and you are well on your way to an efficient and compact bag. However, there are plenty of other tips for getting your stuff well packed.
R, who tends to pack an entire pharmacy when she hits the road, likes to stuff several medications into one bottle (well labeled, of course) instead of packing multiple, half-filled bottles. You can also stick things, like socks, into your shoes. If you have some bulky or odd-shaped items, do a Google search to see if anyone else has a trick or two for packing a similar item. You will be surprised at how much space you can save with just a few adjustments.
9. Buy as you go (if necessary)
Guess what…the rest of the world does have stores. Many of them carry the same items you buy in your stores at home. Unless you are traveling somewhere super remote (and even then, you will probably fly into a major city that has stores), you do not have to pack everything you “may” need. In the event that something unexpected comes up or you forget an item, you can buy it on the road. That is not to say you should plan to buy what you need along the way, but keep in mind that you have options.
For example, I always pack a couple of bandages for blisters or cuts or whatever. However, if I end up needing more than the two or three I pack, I can always buy more. There is no sense in packing a whole box just in case. Here is a real-life example: on a trip to Ecuador, R forgot to pack a day bag. Luckily, there was a mall within walking distance to our hotel. R was able to purchase a cute, little backpack from an outdoor store that she still uses to this day.
10. Get Lasik
Okay, I realize this is not for everyone. However, if you are considering Lasik and you are a traveler, do not hesitate. Trust me on this. Other than getting my passport, this might be the greatest decision I have ever made in terms of travel (and life in general).
I hardly remember the days of having to pack extra contacts, saline solution, eye drops, regular glasses and prescription sunglasses—all “just in case” something goes wrong. And something always goes wrong on a trip. I have lost contacts in windy moments, stumbled blindly into the wrong room in the middle of the night (looking for the bathroom), and had unexpected allergic reactions that resulted in painful eye infections. But no more! I see better, pack less and express gratitude during sand storms in Morocco. Lasik makes life better. At least it did for me.
I hope you enjoyed these packing light tips for women. Overall, my message is that a little preparation beforehand goes a long way to packing light. Do some research and make a list. Avoid “what if” items and practice, practice, practice. Happy travels!
Related posts you might like:
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Last weekend I was feeling a bit nostalgic so I watched Roman Holiday on Netflix. In this movie, Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck spend a whirlwind day doing all the things Audrey wanted to do in the Eternal City. It made me think about my own whirlwind one day in Rome. I had joined my best bud and her family as they toured Europe and on a whim, a few of us decided to forgo one of our three days in Tuscany in exchange for a quick trip to Rome. Obviously, one day in this historic city is not enough. But like the Stones advise, when you can’t get what you want, you should get what you need.
We awoke at the break of dawn and hopped on a train heading south. The train ride was only two hours so when we arrived in the Rome transportation hub, it was still pretty early. We picked out five major destinations we wanted to see and hit the ground running. With just one day available, here’s where we went and what we saw.
Our first stop was the Vatican Museums. When we arrived, there was already a line but within 30 minutes we were able to get through security (remember, the Vatican is its own sovereign state). Everyone who visits the Vatican Museums should prepare themselves for what they are about to see. I was blown away by all the amazing art crammed into every nook and cranny. The Sistine Chapel is well known for art on the ceiling. But before you even get there, your neck will already hurt from looking up at the different paintings and frescoes on the ceilings all throughout the hallways.
When you get tired of looking up, look down because the floors are all intricate mosaics. Then there is the stuff on the actual walls–I was so excited to see many of the paintings I had learned about in humanities classes in college. The School of Athens in the Raphael Rooms was massive and might have been my favorite at the Museums.
After winding our way through 50 plus different rooms and hallways, we ended up in the Sistine Chapel and we got to take in Michelangelo’s little number (you may have heard of it?). The Sistine Chapel is big–it is a chapel after all–but I wasn’t expecting it to be so big and have so many other scenes to look at. The main wall has the Last Judgment painted on it, complete with scary scenes of hell and those iconic fingers touching. But beyond the main wall and the ceiling there are frescoes all on the walls. You are in the room with hundreds of other people of all different nationalities and languages, all taking in the famous art.
Advice: if you are into art history and plan on seeing the Sistine Chapel, you should read the Agony and the Ecstasy. It’s long but really good.
After exiting the Chapel, we made a short walk over to St. Peter’s Basilica. This building has been called the ‘greatest of all churches in Christendom.’ Not too shabby, right? Besides being important for religious reasons, let’s just get this out right now–this baby is huge. Like the biggest-church-ever huge. Like twice the size of the National Cathedral in D.C. It is shaped like a cross and has a huge dome that dominates the Roman skyline.
Work on the Basilica started in 1506 and names like Bernini and Michelangelo worked on the design and decoration of St. Peter’s. So it should come as no surprise that it is a work of art in itself, and is then decorated by more works of art, such as the Michelangelo sculpture, La Pieta. I am always amazed when I see sculptures and think of these life-like scenes were created from a chunk of rock. La Pieta is quite beautiful and depicts Mary holding Jesus’ body after he was crucified.
Seeing stuff like this makes you wish our Presidents and leaders would commission works of art the way the Popes did during the Renaissance. As we exited St. Peter’s onto St. Peter’s square where 80,000 people sometimes gather, I experienced one of those weird little travel moments that seem so improbable. There in front of me were some people I knew from back home. Even when you feel like you are thousands of miles from home, home can come to you. Maybe the world isn’t such a big place after all.
The next stop on our trek was the Roman Forum, culminating in the Colosseum. We learned a valuable lesson that jaywalking was unwise as we crossed several busy Roman streets. Unless you wanted to be hit by twenty or so angry scooter drivers. I would advise anyone crossing streets in Rome to only go when Italian-looking citizens (tight pants, lots of leather) do so. We survived though, as do the many structures that make up the Roman Forum. The Forum is a collection of the remnants of buildings, arches and statues, all left over from a few thousand years ago. As in thousands. How these people managed to build such large structures that have lasted so long is incredible.
The Colosseum looks just the way it is supposed to and after waiting in line for a while, we got to go wander around inside. There are three levels of arches that are built on top of each other into a large circle. The floor in the center is not solid; instead it looks a bit like a maze when viewed from above. There is a wooden bridge across the center (reconstructed) so you can get an idea of what it looked like when the floor was solid. The theory is that this floor was removable so if they were reenacting a water scene on that particular day, they could flood it and play real-life Battleship.
The Colosseum would have looked a lot different back in the day. In my mind, it is basically what a giant football stadium in present times would look like–except minus the plastic chairs and replay screens.
Trevi Fountain is located in the Trevi district of Rome. That seems like an easy enough destination, but alas…we got lost. We stumbled upon a fountain, and not remembering exactly what the fountain looked like, threw our euro coins in with a wish. We must have looked ridiculous and we certainly felt ridiculous when we eventually stumbled upon the actual Trevi Fountain.
There should be no mistaking this thing–it is the massive fountain on the side of a building that depicts Oceanus flanked by men and winged horses. Nothing like what we had found earlier. We threw more coins in, like so many others do. The coins are reportedly collected and buy food for needy Romans, so I was okay with buying another wish.
Advice: carry around a map or G.P.S. when exploring a new place. And not a lame one like you get at the hotel when you check in, which is what we were using.
The final must-see for our trip was the Pantheon. In 126. A.D. Hadrian completed the Pantheon, but for what purpose seems to be up for debate. After its first few hundred years it was dedicated as a church and has basically been that ever since. The building itself is circular with a massive dome and several columns at the front. The most impressive part of the Pantheon is its dome–it is the size of the one at St. Peter’s and has a big circle right in the middle.
The reason this is so impressive is because the engineers who came up with this did it using concrete–without any metal. Oh, and remember, they did this 2,000 years ago. I kind of get why these people took over much of the world with those kind of skills. Several tombs inside the Pantheon, most famously this is where Raphael was laid to rest.
After a very busy day, we headed back to the station to get on the train north. We were exhausted, but exhilarated by all we had been able to see and do in a mere one day in Rome.
At the end of Roman Holiday, Audrey and Gregory know that they shared a magical day in a magical city, but also that they would never again get to replicate it. As I think back on my own great day in Rome, it is also a little bittersweet because one of my dear friends is no longer with us. While that makes me sad, I am able to smile when I remember trekking all over this famous city. We’ll always have Rome!
I have no doubt that I will get to visit Rome again at some point. However, I will never regret squeezing one day in Rome into the trip to visit the five sites listed above. Have you been to Rome? What were your must sees?