I won’t pass for an emotional support reindeer

Trying to wrap up travel for the year so I can hunker down in the TravelCommons bunker outside of Chicago and not worry about any forecasted snow. But for those of you who are traveling, here’s an episode to keep you occupied in the airport, train, or car traffic. We talk about some travel tips that didn’t make my Top 10 Tips blog post, the great experience of flying on Thanksgiving day, losing my tablet on that flight but soon recovering it, storming Las Vegas with 50,000 other Amazon Web Services users, and some thoughts from our trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico. All this and more at the direct link to the podcast file or listening to it right here by clicking on the arrow below.

Here is the transcript of TravelCommons podcast #147:

  • Intro music — Warmth by Makkina
  • Coming to you today from the TravelCommons studios outside of Chicago, IL, trying to wind down the year’s travel. Was in Santa Fe, New Mexico for Thanksgiving, and then headed up to Las Vegas the next week for Amazon Web Service’s big annual conference, Re:Invent. Then did what I hoped was my last trip to Dallas, but we couldn’t corral all the cats, so I’m back down there next Weds for what will definitely be my last trip of the year.
  • Irene and I flew out to Albuquerque 10am Thanksgiving morning and I have to say that it was one of the least stressful travel experiences I’ve ever had — no traffic on the drive to ORD, no lines; I didn’t even have time to pull out my driver’s license before I hit the TSA podium. I walked straight through to a screening line. There were agents hanging around just looking for people to screen. The only line I stood in was the Starbucks. We even scored 1st-Class upgrades; the plane was only half full. I even think we left early. A very pleasant change from my ORD-DFW commute.
  • The only real downside I noticed was when we hit the Hertz Presidents Club aisle in Albuquerque. It was pretty picked over, leaving behind an odd selection of Dodge vehicles — the choice was between Dodge Challenger muscle cars or fully tricked out Ram Hemi king-cab pick-ups. I can’t say that I’ve ever faced quite that choice. The Challenger, with rear-wheel drive, wouldn’t be great if we got snow at elevation, but the Rams were just huge, and trying to parallel park that in Santa Fe would be an event. It took me a bit to decide. I went with the Challenger and hoped for clear skies.
  • Well, there was one more downside that I didn’t discover until we unpacked in our little casita in Santa Fe that night. I’d left my Samsung tablet in that nice first-class seat. Not in the seat-back pocket; I always check there before leaving. There was a side compartment along the middle armrest that I’d put my tablet in when I folded up the table to hit the lav. Bad mistake. That compartment was deep, I couldn’t see the tablet; and I didn’t think to check it before deplaning.
  • I hit Twitter, sending United a direct message asking about ABQ lost-and-found. I wanted to ping them to see if the cleaning crew had turn anything in since I’d be back at ABQ for our Monday morning flight to LAS. I’ve done this before when getting back coats that I’ve left in overhead compartments. The Twitter customer service agent instead sent me a link to a web form to fill out. I cooled my jets over the weekend and on Monday morning, swung by the United Baggage Services office to see if they had my tablet. Walked past the American Baggage Services office — open; the Delta Baggage Services office — open; to the United Baggage Services office — closed. It was supposed to open at 9am. I waited for 15-20 minutes, and then had to head up to catch my Vegas flight. I wasn’t happy.
  • Which changed that afternoon when I got a call from an unknown Cleveland number on my mobile. Robocallers have found my mobile number, so I usually let unrecognized numbers go straight to voicemail, but I remember Continental having a Cleveland hub before the United merger, so maybe this was a United person calling. And it was! “I think I have your tablet; could you verify your screensaver” It’s a wall painting of pink flamingos. “Yup, that’s it; we’ve got it” (Actually, it’s street art from Paris’ Montmartre neighborhood; you can see the picture on the TravelCommons’ Instagram feed). She told me that they no longer keep found items at the airports; they ship them the next day to centralized lost-&-found centers for sorting and processing. So, even if the ABQ baggage services office had been open that morning, they wouldn’t have had my tablet; they probably shipped it to Cleveland that weekend.
    After I got off the phone, I got an e-mail with a link to pick a shipping method and pay. The day after I got home from Vegas, my flamingo’d tablet landed on my doorstep.
  • Bridge Music — God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen by copperhead (c) copyright 2012 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license.  Ft: Admiral Bob, Javolenus , Sackjo22

Following Up

  • Couple of listener notes on the last episode. Nick Gassman wrote:
    • “When you were talking about car rental collision damage waiver, I took it to mean that that you pay the rental company for the insurance. It’s much cheaper (at least in the UK) to purchase this separately. You can generally get it on a per-trip or annual basis, just like regular travel insurance.”
    • Nick, good point on that. You get used to accepting the waiver on business travel because, for many corporate rates, it’s all rolled in or you’re just going to expense it. And for US domestic travel, at least for me, my regular auto insurance covers it. So that leaves international travel. Chase did a good job of handling the accident in the UK. But looking at a separate company is a good idea. May try that out the next time I rent in Spain.
    • “And about BlueTooth speakers, you mentioned about using the speaker as an accessory for your phone – I assume you know that the Jambox can do this. I’ve often used it at work in rooms with no speakerphone. I’ve also now upgraded to the Bose Mini 2 Soundlink. It is heavier and slightly larger, but when going on holiday the difference in sound quality is significant and more than makes up for it.”
    • Yup, I’ve used the Jambox for many conference calls though I’ve never checked the quality difference between it and the speaker, or maybe I should say the microphone on my iPhone. I’ve never swapped between them on a call and asked the person on the other end which is better. Something to try out on the next call where we’re waiting for the last person to join.
  • Steve Frick picked up on something when I was talking about notebooks in last episode’s Traveler Gift Guide segment
    • “It sounds like you’ve also entered the “Fountain Pen Zone” as well. They’re like tattoos, you can’t have just one. I had used a Mont Blanc rollerball that I purchased in 1991, it’s been broken and repaired several times and it had been my go-to pen… until someone gave me a fountain pen. Now several years later I have a collection on fountain pens, as well as inks. Ughhhh just what I needed another obsession. Great episode!”
    • Yup, I started with a plastic Waterman fountain pen that I bought many years ago on a business trip to Brussels. I just had that one pen for the longest time. But then I discovered the Internet, or more specifically, fountain pen forums and blogs and podcasts on the Internet. And, as you might guess, it went downhill pretty quickly. Sometimes my biggest decision of the morning is which color of ink to use that day. Which itself says something about the state of my daily choices…
  • I said earlier that I was in Vegas a few weeks back for the big Amazon Web Services convention. It was huge; 50,000 attendees, mostly pudgy, pasty-faced guys power walking up and down the strip, backpacks strapped down, ignoring the showgirls offering pictures so they wouldn’t be late to, say, the sold-out tutorial on best practices for ingesting streaming data from IoT devices into AWS’ new time series database. For me, that nerd-meets-baller dichotomy hit one morning at 7:30. I was in a marching nerd stream weaving through the casino floor of the MGM Grand when out from behind a slot machine a woman with a half-filled plastic glass shouted “Very impressive that you all have some place important to go this early.” No one broke stride. She shrugged and went back to her machine. There was a lot of walking, though, for that show. It was spread out from the MGM Grand up to the Venetian. The Health app on my iPhone clocked me at 10 miles of walking a day. Glad it wasn’t in the summer.
  • I mentioned in an earlier episode that I’d found a box of old European currency when cleaning off some shelves. It was from the late ‘80’s/early ‘90’s — the pre-Euro days. I have some Belgian and French francs, a Deutsche mark, an Irish pound note, and an Italian 1000 lire note that I started using as a bookmark in my notebook. After one of these Amazon sessions, a young Italian woman looked over and commented on my lire bookmark. “Oh my God! I haven’t seen one of those in forever,” she said. She talked about her grandparents never really accepting that the lire was gone. “It’s good that we have the euro,” she said, “but it’ll never be the lire.” Which, remembering back 20-30 years ago, I thought might be a good thing, but decided not to say it; didn’t want to break her nostalgia. “I forgot how small it was!” she said.
  • I was trading notes with friends a few weeks back after the Marriott hack was announced. It really is no longer a matter of if your personal data will be breached, but how often. A common theme across many of those Amazon talks was that mistakes will happen, so your cloud design should “limit the blast radius” of those mistakes. If I apply that same concept to website breaches (travel and otherwise), I’d freeze all my credit reports, have a unique password for each site, provide just the minimum amount of information required for a transaction, and I wouldn’t store/save credit card or other information with them. Indeed, if I really burrowed in, I’d use virtual credit card numbers from a bank that provides them. I’m pretty good except for the last one; I haven’t found a good bank that easily provides virtual card number. It all comes down to your personal trade-off point between resilience to a breach and convenience.
  • With the Christmas season officially clicking in the day after Thanksgiving, TBS and TNT seem to have “Love Actually” on power rotation every weekend. I like it; it’s a good Christmas movie. But picking up the end of it night while channel flipping in Santa Fe, I just couldn’t buy that scene toward the end when Liam Neeson encourages his stepson to breach Heathrow Airport security in the name of true love. I might be a bit of a Scrooge, but how does a 10-yr old kid commit a serious felony and not get gang-tackled at the gate and thrown into juvi? I dunno. Maybe I should stick to A Charlie Brown Christmas…
  • And if you have any travel questions, a story, a comment, a travel tip – the voice of the traveler, send it along. The e-mail address is comments@travelcommons.com — you can send in an audio comment; a Twitter message to mpeacock, post your thoughts on the TravelCommons’ Facebook page or our new Instagram account at travelcommons — or you can always go old-school and post your thoughts on the web site at TravelCommons.com.
  • Bridge music — O Tannenbaum / Oh Christmas Tree by Martijn de Boer (NiGiD) (c) copyright 2014 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial  (3.0) license.  Ft: Admiral Bob (admiralbob77)

Holiday Travel Tips

  • I posted my kinda annual Top 10 Holiday Travel Tips a few weeks back. It feels like something I’m required to do to keep my status as a semi-professional travel blogger and podcaster. Not a lot of the flying tips have changed over the last few lists — pay a bit extra to fly non-stop, don’t take tight connections, catch an early flight if you can, carry your luggage on if you can — because not much has changed regarding air travel — it’s a time when a huge bubble of travelers hit an infrastructure that is, for the most part, already operating near capacity and at the time of year when much of that capacity could get disrupted by weather. This year, US plane loads were over 80% — as if you didn’t already know that hearing the constant refrain of gate agents and flight attendants – “This will be a completely full flight…” And no new airport or runway capacity has been added in the high traffic areas — maybe since ORD finished spending a billion dollars straightening out its runways. The LGA renovation will hopefully eliminate the leaking roof and give us better food options, but after spending $8 billion dollars, there won’t be any new runway capacity.
  • Having said that, I think the aggressive roll-out of TSA PreCheck has helped everyone — the TSA, frequent travelers who’ve bought PreCheck (signing up for PreCheck moved up to #2 on this year’s list), and even the infrequent ones who haven’t — by increasing security capacity by increasing “thru-put” for lack of a better term. Security seems to, on the whole, move along a bit brisker. Yes, there are still too many times when it doesn’t, but it’s been a while since we’ve seen a full-scale TSA meltdown causing people to miss flights.
    Bringing your own battery pack cracked the top 10 for the first time this year at #7. It followed Use Twitter as a Concierge Service and Use Multiple Flight Tracking Apps at numbers 5 and 6 respectively. The more we rely on our smartphones for travel information, the more important power is. And when the holiday crowds are hovering over those Samsung or Verizon power towers, you want an alternative.
  • A lot of the Top 10 lists I read end with a second list, of those things that didn’t quite make the Top 10. For me, some of those are:
  • Travel on the Actual Holiday – Our Thanksgiving flight out to Santa Fe reminded me of this tip. It didn’t make the Top 10 because not everyone can pull it off. Tough to fly or drive out Christmas morning if you have young kids, or if you have Italian in-laws who do the whole Feast of The Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve. But, if you can, it’s a quantum level decrease in travel stress. You’ll probably just glide through your travels.
  • Take Mass Transit to the Airport – Everybody worries about TSA lines, but just getting into the airport to be able to get into the TSA line can be a hassle. Airports with a single access road that goes past all the terminals — think ORD, LAX, LGA — can have 15-20 minute backups. When the construction at LGA first started, the backups were so bad, people were getting out of their cabs when they were still on the Grand Central Parkway and walking up the off ramps. Now, LGA doesn’t have mass transit access — some of that $8 billion if for that — but most airports do — ORD, ATL, EWR and JFK, DCA,…. If it’s available, use it to skip at least one line.
  • And my last “almost made it” tip, Bring Cash — way back in episode #136, last December, I talked about what seems to be a generational split, maybe right around 30 or 35 — old Millennials/youngster Gen X’s — about the need to carry cash. No matter which side you sit on that split, it’s a fact that cash can get you out of a packed airport bar quicker than a card if you need to bolt for your flight — maybe a delay got pulled up, your gate got moved to the next terminal, or you just misread the boarding time. Being able to lay down, say a twenty and 3 ones, on the bar with your check is a whole lot quicker than waiting for the waitress to show back up, take your card, walk to the back to run it, and then bring it back again for you to sign. This is where the Europeans with those mobile terminals are light-years ahead of us. But until we catch up — which means we have to be trusted to remember a 4-digit PIN code — bring cash so you can dash.
  • Bridge music — What Child is This (Instrumental) by Doxent Zsigmond (c) copyright 2013 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial  (3.0) license.  Ft: Jeris

Notes on Santa Fe

  • As I mentioned earlier, Irene and I headed out to Santa Fe, New Mexico for the Thanksgiving holidays. Since both kids were gone, we figured “Why not?” And since I had to be in Vegas on Monday, it just made sense to head west.
  • I’m going to do a full write-up on our trip in a blog post in a week or so; the first of a new series of Road Trip posts, where we’ll break the TravelCommons format a bit. Road Trip posts will be more about the destination than the journey — things we did, places we stayed, ate, drank beer…. But here, just some notes.
  • It had been a while since we’d been in Santa Fe — maybe over 10 years; I haven’t paged back through my calendar to check — but getting out of that Hertz Dodge Challenger that we’d blasted up I-25 — the speed limit is 75 mph once you’re outside of Albuquerque — I was immediately hit with the piñon smell, that unique pinewood smoke smell I only get in Santa Fe. I’ve been around a lot of pinewood fires in, say, Colorado and Arizona, but the piñon smoke billowing out of a kiva fireplace is a unique smell, and one that I love.
    Visiting Santa Fe, there’s an interesting mix of highbrow and lowbrow — doing the Georgia O’Keefe museum and a run up Canyon Road through all the art galleries, or hunting the best green chile cheeseburger and then burning it off on a hike in the Sangre de Cristo mountains. This visit was all lowbrow.
  • Friday, we did 1,700 vertical feet up the Atalaya Trail. The parking lot at the trailhead at St John’s College was pretty full, but the trail wasn’t crowded once we got going. It actually came in handy at times to see people – let us know we weren’t lost. There were some trail markings, but not to the extent we were used to in, say, the UK. 5 ½ hours later, we were sitting at the bar at Second St Brewing’s place in the Railyard district, replacing whatever calories we’d burned off with a green chile cheeseburger and a side of green chile cheese fries. Double lashings of american cheese, which I know is just a processed cheese food, but the creamy gooey-ness of it blended well with the chile bite, and a pint of one of the better American-made bitters I’ve had.
  • Saturday, after hiking through Tent Rocks National Monument, we ended up on Guadalupe St, which feels like the lowbrow counterpart to the plaza or Canyon Road. We stopped in at Cowgirl BBQ for margaritas. During our last visit, I stole/borrowed their margarita recipe for my own. We worked through their margarita menu while listening to a group of local guys talk about taking dancing lessons and a woman at the bar telling us that, back in the ‘70’s when she moved to Santa Fe, cowboys still rode horses through town — across the plaza and down Canyon Rd — throwing cash down in Canyon Rd bars to buy rounds for the house.
  • On Sunday, we walked down Canyon Road, looking into the sculpture gardens of all the art galleries. It seemed a popular Sunday morning stroll. I’d see some older couples — older than me; at, say, the beginning of retirement, walking in high-end Western garb — nice flat-brimmed hats, fur-trimmed duster coats. Kinda California money does cowboy. Would be interesting to see how those ‘70’s cowboys would fit in today.


  • Closing music — Pictures of You by Evangeline
  • OK, that’s it, that’s the end of TravelCommons podcast #147
  • I hope you all enjoyed this podcast and I hope you decide to stay subscribed.
  • Find TravelCommons on Stitcher, SoundCloud, TuneIniTunes, and now on Spotify
  • If you have a story, thought, comment, gripe – the voice of the traveler — send ‘em along, text or audio file, to comments@travelcommons.com or to @mpeacock on Twitter, or post them on the TravelCommons’ Facebook pageInstagram account,  or website at travelcommons.com. Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to send in e-mails, Tweets and post comments on the website
  • Bridge music from dig.ccmixter.org
  • Follow me on Twitter
  • “Like” the TravelCommons Facebook page
  • Direct link to the show