Friday, October 31, 2014

Hanoi, Vietnam In Pictures

My week in Hanoi was wrapped up with visits to contemporary art galleries and bucolic parks and gardens. (All of these were steps away from an ulta chaotic traffic scene where crossing the street was  an adventure that I preferred to avoid.) The little visited Botanical Garden was a delight with the web of roots emanating from a 19th-century tree becoming a magnet for both people who want meditative solitude as well as those who just want to snap a selfie. The coffee culture is vibrant with whitewashed shops displaying edgy art, such as giant ants crawling up columns. A trip to expansive West Lake reveals a section blanketed by lotus blossoms as well as a shoreline mostly ringed by a pedestrian path. Pagodas and anchored boats acting as a combination restaurant, coffee shop,  and bar dot the periphery. And when I wanted to get above Hanoi's often frenetic vibe, I took the elevator to the twentieth floor Summit Lounge at the Sofitel Plaza Hotel. This short YouTube video slideshow provides a window into my one-week trip in Hanoi. 

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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Gear Review: Light, Mosquito-Repellant Clothing

Health and safety are always major concerns when I'm traveling alone around the world, but my month-long trip to Southeast Asia, including journeying along the Mekong River in Laos, presented some particular concerns. For one, I would be traveling during the rainy season which meant malaria was a big risk. Sure, I was taking medication -- doxycycline, an age-old drug with a long safety record -- as malaria prophylaxis. But I still needed to protect myself from other mosquito-born diseases, such as Dengue Fever, and preferred not to use any insect repellent containing DEET.

My second concern was that the weather was going to be in the high 80s with sky-high humidity. Because I would be visiting Buddhist temples and traveling to small villages where the local women dress modestly, wearing tank tops and shorts was not an option to stay cool. Whatever I wore had to be light, breathable, offer protection from insects and pack well because, of course, I wasn't checking luggage. Luckily Ex Officio came to the rescue.

I wore Ex Officio's Bugsaway Damselfly Lumen hoody with matching Bugsaway Damselfly pants that rolled up to mid-calf. Because both were manufactured with fabrics impregnated with Permethrin, no mosquitoes alighted on me during my entire trip. But the fabric also repels flies, chiggers, ants, ticks and no-see-ums. It was odorless and would last for 70 washings.

The pants have snaps so that I could easily roll 'em up. But with the mesh panels behind both knees, the pants provided plenty of ventilation even on the hottest, most humid days. The nylon fabric was extremely light-weight -- it was paper thin -- yet sturdy. (I snagged it on many a thorny bush or tree trunk when hiking and the fabric resisted it perfectly.) It easily wicked  away sweat and dried quickly.
I didn't need to wear a belt because of the secure Velcro closure. And, unlike so many adventure pants I've purchased in the past, these were stylish and fit my petite frame extremely well. I only brought two pair of pants -- only one was the Ex Officio product --  for my entire month on the road and actually ended up wearing this one almost all the time because it was so comfortable.

Constructed of a mesh weave, the hoody was cool and comfortable. Often I would wear a tank top underneath or, occasionally, when it got breezy at night, a light long-sleeve shirt. The thumb loops offered additional hand protection from the intense sun during the day. Whenever I washed it or got stuck in a rainstorm -- which was most afternoons -- it dried rapidly. The hoody itself was rather large but, given all the other fab features, this didn't detract from my love of this top. This shirt has a flattering cut and, like the pants, I wore it pretty much every day. 

I just returned from a one-week trip to Spain, where mosquitoes and intense heat and humidity clearly were not going to be a problem,. And yet I packed the Bugsaway hoody and pants in my carry on.

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Friday, October 10, 2014

Laos In Pictures

Journeying along the Mekong River that courses through Laos, and driving along the rough roads that rise and dip through the lush interior, I found a wealth of treasures: riverside villages where women wove traditional textiles, wonderful coffee shops in Luang Prabang, the UNESCO World Heritage city, charming waterfront chalets and restaurants in the town of Vang Vieng that's noted for its adventure sports and much more. This short YouTube video slideshow provides a window into my two-week trip in Laos. 

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Friday, October 3, 2014

Gear Review: My Favorite Socks -- Blisters No More

      The stifling weather in Southeast Asia where I spent a month recently dictated the clothing I carried along in my carryon-only piece of luggage. And that included the kinds of socks. They couldn't promote blisters, especially because I'd be walking and hiking all day long. Since it was ultra hot and humid, I couldn't tolerate socks that warmed up my feet even warmer than they were from the ambient temperatures. Nor did I want socks that retained moisture, especially that I'd be wearing them all day long. I wanted something cushiony but one that didn't bunch up. Plus, I was only packing three pairs which meant they had to dry quickly when washed. I found the perfect socks that felt like a cloud on my feet: Balega.
       They fit my feet like a second skin which is, in fact, how the company described them. They were neither tight nor loose, with no sagging. The fabric was ultra soft and light, a blend of a synthetic that allowed my feet to breath, plus it wicked away moisture and dried quickly, along with mohair wool that was cushiony and blister-proof. Now that I've been home, I'm still hooked on these socks.

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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Gear Review: Perfect Hot Weather Shirts

With temperatures in the high 80s, and the humidity soaring above 80%, I walked around Hanoi, Siem Reap, Luang Prabang and Bangkok in perfect comfort. It wasn't because I was so well acclimatized to the hot, rainy season in Southeast Asia. (I wasn't.) I was wearing shirts that allowed me to briskly race around these towns without becoming a damp mess. Of course, I hadn't checked luggage on this month-long journey, necessitating frequently washing my clothes. Again, these shirts dried quickly and didn't wrinkled when packed in my small backpack. 

I only carried two of these Travex shirts manufactured by Eddie Bauer: One was the Adventurer Convertible shirt that allowed me to roll up the sleeves, thanks to the button tab. (I did find that the sleeves kept on unrolling despite the tab, but this was a mildly irritating problem that didn't detract from the comfort of wearing this shirt.) The second was sleeveless, referred to as the Gingham Sleeveless Camp shirt. 

They come in an array of colors and paired so well with pants, skirts and shorts that some Westerners I met on my travels wanted to order the exact same shirts. The Adventurer and the Gingham come with a sunscreen factor of 50+, are constructed of a soft, polyester/nylon fabric that easily wicks away sweat, and both have venting in the back to reduce the sweat factor. But the real surprise was the hidden zippered pocket; so hidden that it took me three days to stumble upon it.  It's perfect for some bills, credit cards or a hotel key. 

Now that I'm home, I'm still turning to both these shirts when it's hot here in New York City -- it was a humid 80 degrees F today. Because when you find high performance shirts that not only function well but also look appealing, you don't want to leave them in the drawer. 

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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Shoes That Make Carry-On-Only Packing Easy

Most women love shoes. I'm not one of those women -- one reason why I have no trouble traveling for a month, as I recently did in Southeast Asia, with only one carry-on bag. But it also means I have to be very picky when selecting the two pairs of shoes I choose to bring on my trips.

Both pairs -- I wear the bulkier of the two on the plane -- have to multi task. One has to look good with a dress but also be comfortable for long strolls on the beach or all-day walks on city streets. And, it should also serve as a light sports shoe for cycling or low-key hiking trips. The Chaco ZX2 Yampa sandal that I blogged about recently fits the bill.

The bulkier shoe should be lightweight, comfortable for longer walks or hikes, provide good traction on the trail, be ultra breathable because my feet hate being in closed shoes to begin with, dry quickly when wet should I go kayaking, and not suffer from odor problems with daily use. The Chaco Outcross Lace shoe met all these criteria. I wore this shoe with or without socks and never ended up with blisters nor did my feet get sweaty. The foot bed cushioned my foot so well that arch fatigue was a thing of the past. They slipped on and off easily because this model doesn't rely on a traditional lacing system. And, though I have huge (for my 5'2" height) size 9 feet, these shoes didn't exaggerate the silhouette of my feet.

Now that I'm back in New York, I continue to wear these shoes. In fact, there're comfortably on my feet now as we speak.

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Monday, September 8, 2014

Avoiding Accidents + Injuries on Vacation

What's a vacation without more than a few surprises? But my idea of the unexpected includes mountain biking through a pine forest and coming upon a hamlet where I can do a wine tasting in a small cellar. Or hiking to a craggy peak where I discover a farmer selling fresh sheep and goat's milk cheese. Or kayaking to an island where I find an expansive and little-visited botanical garden. When I travel, surprises should not include a visit to an emergency room or several days laid up because of illness or injury.

I just returned from a month in SE Asia and had no illness or injury to show for it -- unlike almost all the Westerners I encountered who, at the very least, ended up with traveler's belly. Is it because I'm lucky? No. Actually, I'm the model of caution whether I'm on my home turf in NYC or traveling far afield.

But many vacationers leave common sense at home. Do you also suffer from
vacation mind? Find out more in this article I recently wrote on the subject.

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Thursday, September 4, 2014

Thailand In Pictures

Bangkok and Chiang Mai are both cities that embrace the ancient and the contemporary. Ramshackle wood huts teeter on stilts beside tree-lined canals. And a forest is home to a unique Buddhist temple built around massive tunnels. Down many an alleyway can be found avant garde art galleries exhibiting the works of both emerging and established Thai and international artists. Both cities embrace coffee connoisseurs who can find a cafe that suits their taste in creamy lattes, delectable pastries or playful interiors. I recently spent one week in Thailand and this one-minute YouTube video slideshow is a window into some of my discoveries, both serene and dramatic.

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Friday, August 29, 2014

Gear Review - My Favorite Travel Notebooks

Travel writers employ a variety of methods to record their experiences. I favor small, lined, bound notebooks. But, while the market is crowded with these products, I found that few fit my needs. My ideal travel notebook has to easily fit in the pockets of my pants, shorts, jackets, dresses and skirts. The notebook should have an elastic band closure. The pages should be of high quality from an archival perspective (acid and lignin free) and my pen - I don't use a ball point but, rather, uni-ball type pens in a medley of colors, of course - should not bleed on the surface. The notebook should be soft cover and come with an expandable interior pocket where I could stash receipts or other miscellaneous papers during the day. And, because I'm fond of bold colors, I favor notebooks that come in  a rainbow of hues.

For my month long trip to Southeast Asia, I brought these soft cover Poppin notebooks, which did not disappoint. Unlike some other popular notebooks I've relied upon in the past, the elastic bands never came loose, despite repeated use. And their bold colors attracted a lot of attention during my travels, especially from designers and other creative types. That would've hardly been the case if I took an oh-so-serious approach with an austere black notebook that many writers favor.

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