Ahhh.  That’s it.

These are the only words that usually escape my lips during a massage – as it should be. When on Maui, the main goal is to relax, and you just can’t do that with all your muscles still carrying the tension of the past year, or month, or week.  Whatever.  We make it a point to start off our vacations with a little body-work.

This year, Vlad and I elected to do an 80 minute couple’s massage at the Heavenly Spa at the Westin Maui Resort.  Before I get any angry emails from my readers, a couple’s massage is one room, two tables, and two therapists.   We chose it because we’re getting the same treatment, and going with the couple’s version saved us about $50.

I was highly disappointed they didn’t have the Island Body Butter treatment this year.  It was on their website, but when I called to book it they said they can’t get the product any more.  Rats – I was really looking forward to it.   My bank balance, however, was very happy with the situation.   Hmm – maybe I can get that extra pair of sandals after all…..

One of the things I usually like best about the Westin Spa is the steam room, sauna and jacuzzi in the Women’s locker room.   However, I was a bit disappointed this time.  The jacuzzi was only lukewarm, and the steam room had a moldy kind of smell in it instead of the usual eucalyptus.  It was very unusual, and it was strong enough for me to back out of there fast.  Pity – I really enjoy time in steam rooms.

This gave me more time to sit on the wonderful chaise, sip cold  cucumber-lemon water and watch the play on the ocean in front of the huge windows.   There was a pod of dolphins frolicking in the distance, followed by a bunch of tour boats.  I saw one punter in the biggest boat lean out for a photo and fall into the water.   I’m sure it didn’t do his or her camera any good, but that’s one way to swim with dolphins!  There was only one other lady in the quiet room (another unusual event – usually there are a lot of people at this spa!) and she and I enjoyed a quiet laugh at the sight.  Vlad and Alexei missed it – they came into the quiet room a minute later .  For a look at the spa, click here.

Alexei had the hot stone massage because he tweaked his swing a while ago, and it was bothering his back.   A few sessions with his favorite pro cured the tweak, and Alexei hoped the massage would bring him back to fighting form.  After all, he would be playing two rounds with his uncle in a few days, and he wanted to be in good enough shape to beat the tar out of him.  He really enjoyed the massage, but his uncle was still able to keep up with him on the golf course – but that’s a different story!

Vlad and I went in for our massages, and it was as good as always.   They’ve done some funky stuff with the aromatherapy choices (can hardly smell them!) but the massage itself was just what we needed.   Be sure to ask for Diana or Jeff (our two therapists) when you make an appointment.  They were both pretty awesome.

Back we went to the car, missing most of our brains, but with very happy muscles.    Hmm – nap or dinner?   Nap or dinner?   Which would you do?

(Yeah – we chose dinner too….)

Balm for the Soul

One of the nicest things about being on the west coast of anywhere is you get to see the sunset over the water. Sunrises, while lovely in their own right, are not the same. You can’t really relax with a glass of wine and watch a sunrise.  Well, I suppose you can, but if you do, you have another problem.

Sunsets over West Maui are some of the most beautiful I’ve seen anywhere in the world, and I’m not the only one who feels that way.   When talking to friends and readers who have been to Maui, one of the first things they always say is “and the sunsets are amazing”.  When you think that many of them live in California and see water sunsets all the time, you’ll understand these are something very special.  Look at these pictures and you’ll see why.  I have dozens of these, each wonderful in its own way.

Who watches sunsets?

It’s always fun to see how many people come out to watch a sunset when in a resort setting. It seems there are  days when there are more people on the chaises watching the sunset than there were during the day to enjoy the beach.   As a long-time people-watching fanatic, I love to classify the groups around me.

The Honeymooners can be spotted immediately.   Smooching and cooing are normal, but some go a bit farther.  There’s always the one couple whose antics prompt comments from the little-peanut gallery like  “Mom – what are they doing?”.   The laughter from the other guests at this innocent comment usually breaks up the action, and results in applause and calls of “encore, encore”.

Yeah – we’re a tough crowd.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Golden sunset

Children as a species are supremely indifferent to sunsets, and it’s fun to watch the thoughtful parents try to enjoy the view at the same time as preventing their MiniMe’s from disturbing the other guests. The smart ones bring out some sort of hand-held video whatevers and are able to enjoy in peace.

I’m not even going to talk about the idiot parents who let their kids disrupt the experience.  They deserve to live with the bratty kids they’ve raised.

It’s the Partiers that can spoil the experience for everyone. You know these guys – the loud ones who come out with pitchers of some green or pink tinted concoction and spend their time laughing inordinately at how Jim-Bob’s nose looks just like Molokai’s mountain.

Last year the rudest partier swam into a swarm of jellyfish the next day.   Karma.  Just sayin’.

An incredibly beautiful site

Then there are the Appreciators – the fellow guests chatting quietly on the chaises, watching nature at it’s finest.  And here, it’s very fine indeed.

We like to bring a glass of very nice wine, our cameras and our silence.

After a long year of the Daily Grind, I find myself fondly thinking about this sunset, and the peace it brings to my soul.

It’s time to plan another trip to Maui.  Now you know what I’m going to do this holiday weekend.  Jealous??

It’s dejà vu all over again.

A little over a year ago I was anxiously watching another volcano erupt and eventually disrupt my vacation plans.   Now I’m watching yet another volcano do the same thing, and my first thought was “glad I’m not traveling”, and my second thought was “how selfish!”.  I know some of my friends and readers are planning trips, and my disinterest is not particularly charitable.

I’ve learned that prior planning can make these kinds of natural disasters irksome, but not catastrophic for travelers.  Here are some tips to help keep the anxiety at a minimum.  If you’re looking for what to do if they cancel your flight, click here or scroll down to the previous entry.

1. Trip Insurance – If you’re booking a flight to or from Europe or Argentina/Chile, or within Europe or Latin America, it’s best to spend the extra for insurance.  READ the policy thoroughly to make sure ‘acts of God’ such as volcano eruptions are not excluded.  If they are, look at another carrier.    If insurance is not an option, contact the airline to find out what they will do if your flight is cancelled due to ash cloud problems.  Most will allow you to rebook with no change fees, but not all are so nice.   Best to double check ahead of time.

2. Hotel bookings – try to stay away from the hotels and booking services that require you to pay in full up front.  There are many lovely boutique hotels that you can book without having to pay in full weeks in advance.  Look carefully at their cancellation policies, and call or email them if it’s not on their website.  Many are run by caring individuals that will give you a break if you’re stuck because of the ash cloud.

3. Alternate destinations.  If you’re traveling to Europe or the Southern Cone of Latin America and it looks like you may have issues getting to your primary destination, have a backup plan switching your flight to another city or nearby country and then take a train, boat or rent a car to get you where you need to go.  If you’re coming to the US from Europe, Argentina or Chile, try taking a train to a country or area not likely to be affected and fly out from there.  Once you get to the US, you can take a flight easily from any airport to anywhere you wish to go, and there are pretty inexpensive fares available to most destinations.  Don’t be afraid to get creative.  If you’d like to see how I got around the 2010 ash cloud and got home after my flight was cancelled, click this link.

4. Pack clothes that can stand a few extra days.  If you do get stuck, you don’t want to have a suitcase full of clothes that are dirty and can’t be worn.   Pack a shirt and underthings that can be washed in a hotel sink and hung up to dry overnight.  You’ll be glad you did!

5. Have a fully charged mobile phone that works in the country you’re traveling to.  Most local phones will not function outside your home country.   Contact your carrier before you leave to see what needs to be done to make your phone work in your destination country.   A SIM card is usually all that is required.   If that option is too expensive, consider renting a phone when you reach your destination.   That way if you need to rebook a flight, or find another hotel in a hurry, you won’t be looking for an internet cafe.  You can also notify the car service, hotel, friends or family if you are late arriving.

6. Have the airline’s non-800 number written down in an easily accessible place.  If you have to change your flight, the 800 number that is on your ticket, or on their website is not accessible from mobile phones or many landlines in Europe or Latin America.   Don’t rely on the ticket counter at the airport to give you the correct phone number.

7. If you DO get stuck, stay calm.   Turn on that charged mobile, pull out the non-800 number for your carrier and start booking yourself another flight, and a hotel if you can’t leave until the next day.   Pack a few extra videos or toys for the kids along with an extra book or two to keep you interested while you’re stuck in the airport.

Best of luck to everyone traveling during this summer.   I hope the Travel Gods are kind to you.  If not, remember the best way to foil them is to be prepared with alternate plans!

After working within the airline systems on innumerable countries, with flight cancellations, re-booking and so on, I observed positive and negative behavior amongst my fellow passengers. I got first hand knowledge of what works and what doesn’t. Here are some tips for anyone looking to be prepared for the Wrath of the Travel Gods. I hope these are helpful.

1. Before you leave, get NON-800 number contact information from your airline carrier. The 800 numbers they hand out for US-based carriers do not work from mobile phones, and finding a landline in an airport is impossible.

2. When you check in, ask the desk agent what the procedure at that airport will be in the event of a cancellation due to weather or other Acts of the Travel Gods. Take notes – it’s different at each airport, and you want to know ahead of time to avoid the panic when the cancellation is announced.

3. When cancellation is announced, stay calm and don’t lose your temper. The ground staff for the airline are doing the very best they can, and in many cases, they are operating under strict guidelines. Don’t push them. They can’t clear the weather or cause a broken airplane to move, and they are not responsible for their airline’s policies. Start working on your own Plan B.  If you’d like to see how I got around the 2010 ash cloud and got home after my flight was cancelled, click this link.

4. If you are flying economy, you’re on your own for rescheduling. In some cases there will be no ground staff at the airport who can reschedule you, and if there are, the lines will be very long. Make sure you have a fully charged mobile phone with you, and call as soon as you can. If the line is busy, keep trying until you get in. Stay patient. The agent who finally answers your call will be able to re-route you. It may not be for a day or two, but they will get you on another flight. If you are flying in business or first class, go to the desk in the lounge and ask them for rerouting possibilities.

5. Don’t be afraid to get creative. Look into flying back overseas from a different country, or to a different country.  If Southern Europe is affected, try to reroute through Germany or England. If Northern Europe is affected, look into Madrid or Rome.  If you’re traveling to the US, try a train to a country not affected and fly to the US from there.   Don’t be afraid to fly to another city in the US if that is all that is available.  Flights within the US are plentiful and there are inexpensive fares usually available online.   If you’re in India, look to Singapore or Hong Kong.    If there is no connecting flight available and you’re traveling to a destination on the same land mass, look into high-speed or regular train option.

6. Be aware the airline may not offer you a hotel voucher, and if not, do not argue, do not get angry. There is nothing you can do about it. Quickly get on the internet and book a hotel before the other travelers do.

7. Don’t demand an upgrade in flying class as a result of a cancellation. You won’t get it by being demanding and argumentative. In most cases, there will not be any seats in the other classes available. There are a lot more seats in the economy section than in anywhere else – you’ll have a better chance of getting out flying in the cheap seats than waiting for an upgrade.

8. Try to calm down the passengers around you. The airline ground staff will bless you for it. You might even get an unexpected reward.

9. Finally, smile at the agent or ground staff and tell them how well you think they are holding up and handling this situation. They have an impossible job, with people yelling at them all the time, trying to make stranded, stressed-out people happy. In most cases, they get no thanks at all before moving on to the next upset passenger. Hearing a nice word from you will help lighten their burden. The grateful smile you get back will be the nicest thing that happens to you all day.

The above was learned first hand last year when my flight home was cancelled due to ash cloud issues. Yes, I did try to calm down the other passengers in my group. Yes, I was nice and patient and smiled. I told them I thought they were doing an excellent job in these trying circumstances, and in one case told a fellow passenger to get off the lounge staff’s back.

My reward – when I got my ticket re-booked on another airline, it was for First Class.

Remember the Golden Rule. It works.

It’s happened to all of us who’ve traveled across time zones.  Nausea, sleeplessness, drowsiness, achiness, and general brain-fog that turns a high IQ individual into Homer Simpson.  This dragging feeling can range from mildly uncomfortable to completely debilitating.  The farther you travel, the worse it gets.  If you’re reading this blog entry, the chances are you’ve been struck by this ultimate indignity inflicted on us by the Travel Gods.

I’ve read about all the special practices that I could find on the Internet.  I’ve talked to other passengers on Trans-Atlantic or Trans-Pacific flights, I’ve asked doctors, physical therapists, and heck – I’ve even talked to Chinese acupuncture and traditional medicine practitioners.   I’ve tried most of what was suggested, and if it didn’t make me sick, loopy, or just didn’t flat-out work, I incorporated it into my own routine, which changes depending on where I’m going.   The nice thing is I now have the jet lag effects down to a minimum, and I can function much better than before.  This blog will refer only to non-medicinal practices.   Discussions on sedatives is a whole ‘nother issue!  Read about that here.

Short-haul Travel (1-4 hours of time change):

  • If you’re traveling east, get up early – very early.   Try to wake up at the same time you would if you were already at your destination.  This way you are tired when you need to go to bed  once you arrive.
  • If you’re traveling west, try to take a later flight, and get up a bit later than normal.  It does help.
  • Get your stomach-clock on the new time zone immediately.  Eat breakfast and lunch on the destination’s time zone while you travel.  I’m not hungry at 4:30am, but I always eat something light while in the car on the way to the airport.  It really helps.
  • Set your watch to the new time zone as soon as the airplane takes off.  This gets your mind on the new time, and reminds you when to eat the lunch you brought on the plane with you.
  • Do NOT overdo the caffeine.  Take only as much as you are used to – a cup of coffee or tea in the morning.  If you load up on Coke or Diet Coke, you will only have problems falling asleep that night and your jet lag will be much worse.
  • Go to bed that night at the time you usually fall asleep, but in your destination time zone.  If you’re traveling west, stay awake and DO NOT NAP!  If you do, you’re hosed, and might as well admit defeat right there.   Follow your normal routine when going to bed, but try to keep noise down as much as possible.  Turning the TV on will just keep you awake, and really tick off your hotel neighbors.  A book or magazine will make you fall asleep faster.

Long-haul Travel (5+ hours of time change):

  • If you are  landing in the late-afternoon or evening, the most important piece of advice I can give is DO NOT SLEEP if you can, and if you have to, don’t sleep more than 2-3 hours on the flight.   I’ve learned through bitter experience that it increases that hit-by-a-truck feeling the next day, and jet lag effects last longer than if you stayed awake.  I bring books, videos, crossword puzzles and my ipod to keep me awake on long, long flights and layovers.  You want to be really tired when you land so you can get some sleep that night.
  • If you are landing in the morning (any time before noon), then get as much sleep as you can on the flight so you can stay up all day without napping.   At this point, caffeine is a good friend, and go ahead with the coffee, tea, and soda until about 3pm.  DO NOT imbibe any caffeine past 3pm in your destination time zone.  If you do, you will not sleep well that night.
  • Set your watch to your destination time zone as soon as you take off in the airplane.  This helps you wrap your head around the time change before you arrive.   If you have multiple destinations, I’ve found it helps to reset it on each flight.  It may sound like a small point, but I firmly believe that if you keep thinking “it’s _o’clock at home” your body will not accept the new time as readily.
  • Drink a lot of non-alcoholic fluids on the flight.  Keep hydrated.   Yes, it does mean more trips to the loo on the airplane, but as long as it’s not too turbulent, it also gives you an excuse to get up and get moving at times.  Dehydration will increase the severity of your jet lag.
  • Get up and do some stretches when turbulence permits.   Sitting in one position too long is not only uncomfortable, it can be detrimental to your health.
  • Go to sleep at an appropriate time your first night, and do not eat a meal just before retiring.  Stay away from that room-service menu!   If you eat a meal, you will not sleep well, and will be very muzzy the next morning.   If you are arriving very late, I usually bring some protein bars to nibble on the train or car to the hotel.
  • And this from reader Jaimie Goulding – “Having spent considerable time in the air myself “commuting” between West Coast USA and Asia/Pacific global region, I have 1 more suggestion to offer. Prolonged exposure to the pressurized cabin may be attributed to the flu-like symptoms some of us suffer (mild hypobaric hypoxia) upon landing, and I’ve found that a good long hot water soak in a deep hot tub or jacuzzi immediately relieves some of the edema, helps “rebalance” your cells and will certainly help you sleep better. Try to do the soak as soon after you land as possible. ”  –  Thank you, Jaimie!  This is an excellent addition.

And the MOST important piece of advice:

  • Get a massage as soon as you can after arriving, and definitely within the first 2 days.   If you land in the morning and have to work or sight-see the first day, then try to have a massage before sleeping that night.  This is the single most effective piece of advice I was ever given.   A massage will  decrease jet lag in a very simple way.  Tight muscles  prevent sleep, and wake you up at 4am.  Water retention and mild edema is uncomfortable.  Racy-brain and stress will increase the body’s reaction to the time change.  All of this is corrected by a 60 or 90 minute session with a good therapist.  Many good hotels in Asia offer special massages to reduce jet lag, and they WORK.   If they don’t have a Jet-Lag Special, then choose whatever service is most comfortable for you.

I have the routine set now so I can land after traveling for 23 hours, have a full day of productive meetings, a massage, a light dinner and a glass of wine, and then sleep for 8 or 9 hours and feel great the next day.  It’s a minor victory over the Travel Gods, but I’ll take it!

If you have a favorite practice that I have not addressed, please post it in a comment, or send me an email.  I will do a follow-up after I hear from some of my readers.

I acknowledge the complete mastery of the Travel Gods, and will no longer fail to give them their due when traveling to Maui.

After a lovely two weeks with the family on Maui, we packed up our gear and headed to the airport.  A nice smooth flight to Los Angeles (when flying on miles, United likes to make it as difficult as possible for you so you’ll throw up your hands and pay instead), and we thought we had it made. A two hour layover for the connecting flight to San Francisco was just enough time for a beer and some pizza at LAX. We thought we had the Travel Gods beat.

Right. The laughter in Valhalla must have been deafening as the Travel and Weather Gods teamed up for a real doozy.

After an ATC delay of 30 minutes on the LAX tarmac due to delays in SFO, we finally were airborne for the 55 minute flight from LA to San Francisco. It’s a nice flight, but as we approached the Bay Area, the captain came on the speaker to say we were in a holding pattern and should be landing in 15-20 minutes. Not unusual – even a strong breeze causes delays in SF.

Well, 45 minutes later, we’re still holding, and the captain comes back on to announce that we’re going to have to make an emergency landing in San Jose Airport to take on more fuel. It’s about 12:45am at this point, we’re an hour late landing, and now going to the wrong airport – with no ATC. The captain had to do a declaration landing, warning other pilots over the radio he was coming in for an emergency landing.  I could almost hear the Travel Gods having a jolly time over this one.

So, there we were, 2 miles from home, and stuck in a full sardine can of very unhappy passengers and flight crew, looking at the dark airport, and hoping someone came soon with a fuel truck. The captain was not too encouraging about when we would get to take off. With my luck, we could be stuck there until dawn.

Several passengers (Alexei being one of them) asked the crew if we could just get off here, but no luck there. The airport was closed, and we couldn’t get a gate to get to the terminal. Hey – I would have jumped the fence and walked home at that point.

After another hour of waiting, the guy with the fuel truck poured the equivalent of an emergency can into the tank, and off we rumbled back into the air. 7 minutes from wheels up in San Jose to wheels down in San Francisco. That’s how long it took us – has to be the shortest flight that landed on wheels on record since Orville and Wilbur. The passengers all wearily clapped their hands when we finally arrived.

Looking out the window as we landed at 2am, the reason for the delay was obvious. The Weather Gods conspired with the Traffic Gods once again.  SFO was socked in with fog that reached the ground. There was NO visibility pretty much anywhere at the airport. The funny thing was – there was NO fog anywhere else – 100 yards from the airport was clear all around.    We finally got home around 3am.

There is no way this was a coincidence.    It was clearly divinely caused.    No mere mortal can compete with the combined forces of the Gods.

Before my next trip, I will sacrifice an old suitcase to the Gods in the hope they will leave me alone.

Yeah, right.

 

 

I wrote earlier about my trials finding an appropriate swimsuit. It has become increasingly obvious I’m in the minority when it comes to appropriate beachwear. Some of the disasters we saw on Ka’anapali Beach made our eyes bleed. For those of you anticipating a visit to a beach destination somewhere, here are 10 easy rules we came up with on our last trip. I apologize in advance for the gruesome visuals, but since we HAD to see them, it’s only fair to give you a sample of the experience.

  1. A string bikini top is not meant to tie around your waist. If that is where your breasts are, you shouldn’t be wearing a two piece suit of any species.
  2. Speedos. Just Say No, gentlemen. People have a hard time taking you seriously when you’re wearing a banana-hammock.  Not to mention keeping a straight face…
  3. If your bikini bottom needs extender-strings, then perhaps it’s a bit too small, or you shouldn’t be wearing it at all. Just sayin’….
  4. Anything you stuff into your suit or pocket of your trunks may come dislodged while you’re in the water, and then you’ll have to dive to them to the intense amusement of everyone around you.
  5. White suits and surfshirts leave little to the imagination when wet and looks like you’re wearing milky Saran Wrap.
  6. Get to know your razor. Please. They have them at the front desk if you forgot it.
  7. If you’re tanning and have your bikini top untied, please remember that fact before you sit up or roll over.  There are children all around, and the looks you’re getting may not be as complimentary as you think.
  8. Wearing a wet swimsuit doesn’t mean you will catch a cold. Changing suits under a towel in public is rarely done well, and usually shows more than you think. However, it’s great entertainment for those of us watching you try to do it.
  9. If your teenage daughter is wearing a bikini, that doesn’t mean you can. In fact, it usually means that you shouldn’t.  Really shouldn’t…
  10. Guys –  your suit is loose at the waist, please don’t dive into the pool before you check the strings. Although watching you try to disentangle it from your ankles while under water is amusing, you could drown. Don’t count on anyone jumping in to help you. We’re all laughing way too hard…

So, here’s to all the people who gave us a laugh with their Good, Bad and Ugly swimsuit choices. Cheers and thanks for the chuckles – especially if that wasn’t your intention!

Lovely North Ka'anapali Beach.

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