Farewell to faithful friends: Our rolling backpacks

You have carried us around the globe more times than we can reckon,

You were our perfect bags: Lightweight, rollable, presentable enough for a decent hotel, equipped with sturdy backpack straps that allowed us to haul you up the stairs of a Santorini cave house on our honeymoon and into a raw wood hut on our trek through Cameroon. When flights were delayed, you served as backrests, card tables, pillows. Your dusty exterior belied your value, thwarting theft.

From Irian Jaya to India, Mali to Mongolia, Uzbekistan to Alaska, you were our unfailing companions. In your caring folds you hauled eaglecreekbagstrekking boots and little black dresses, underwear and socks, dry sacks and charging chords, carpets and ceremonial crowns from Tibet and and Ethiopia. The handicraft gifts so carefully chosen from far away places came home in your canvas holds; you kept them safe despite the knowledge that the relatives who would receive them would scratch their heads and wonder, why?

Airlines did their best to rend your wheels, your straps, your handles. You held steadfast, with the aid of rare visits to the Eagle Creek infirmary. When Eagle Creek declared that your lifetime guarantee was not a warranty for our lifetimes but some arbitrary “lifetime of the bag,”  we were forced to relegate you to storage. There,  humidity and mildew wreaked the irreparable damage that no chicken plane or baggage conveyor belt ever delivered.

Today you go to rest, For decades of dreams and miles of memories, you have our enduring thanks. Fare thee well.

Tips for getting the 2016 vacation you want: No. 1

May, 2009: Canal barge cruise through Burgundy, France. Photos by Jane Wooldridge / ONE TIME USE ONLY.

May, 2009: Canal barge cruise through Burgundy, France. Photos by Jane Wooldridge / ONE TIME USE ONLY.

Tip 1: Update your 2016 travel datebook. 

Family wedding? Conference? Business trip? Get the dates and places onto the calendar.

Once you know when and where you’re already going, you can figure out if you want to add additional time to any of those trips, so you can leverage your travel time and airfare.

Or not. If you’re of the school that fish and family both have a three-day limit, or your annual professional conference is in West Boringsville, you can save those precious vacation days for a trip that really makes your heart sing.


Return from Antartica’s Big Ice

ushuaiaUshuaia appeared on the Beagle Channel, calm and lulling. Our trip ended where as all such trips should: late at night, in a raucous Irish bar.

It was barely fortification for the day to come. We know now why penguins don’t fly. And while that’s a bad joke, so was the two-hour wait in line for the sole person working the security computer at the Ushuaia airport and the additional two-hour line for check in at American Airlines in Buenos Aires, for which there is no excuse. If executives and board members had to suffer the long queues, insufficiently staffed counters and hard seats in coach that their customers are tortured with, American — and other companies — would clean up their act. It ought to be written into the FAA code.

If there was one rosy side to the frustration, it was the attention it diverted from parting with new friends. Most of those you meet along the way are simply bypassers, but a few strike close to your soul. We hope to see you again on the next journey into the unknown.



Mugged in Buenos Aires

Yes, it happens! Two blocks from our nice hotel in Recoleta, a block from the shopping center of Patio Bullwich. We of course should not have been wearing our good watches.

But there we were, wandering jet lagged on a national holiday, 10 in the morning.  But before we could blink, the robber had this arm around the husband neck and was pulling at his watch. And before I could get close enough to kick him between the legs, the band broke, the husband went down on the sidewalk and the robber was gone.

Several people stopped to help, appalled. A taxi driver took us to our hotel gratis. Luckily, injury was limited to scrapes and abrasions and sore muscles. We were lucky.

BA is still a great city. But it hasn’t been the best of times here — hence the impending change in government and rising crime.

Our incident is a reminder to keep a sharp eye when we travel, pack our brains and leave valuables behind.

What you need to know before you book a river cruise

A view of the Rhine

A decade ago, river cruising vacations weren’t even on the radar. Today they’re high on the wish list of nearly 60 percent of North American travelers, according to an industry survey. Why the shift? A fleet of sleek new ships, a growing list of itineraries – and attention-grabbing ads shown during Downtown Abbey – have brought inland sailing front of mind. Travelers who previously traveled only by land are now turning to the waterways, says A-list cruise agent Scott Kertes of Long Island’s Hartford Holidays. “The newest river cruise ships are well appointed with new amenities and levels of food and service that have come way, way up.”

Rhine river cruise

Our Emerald Waterways ship

In 2015, major river cruise companies are adding even more routes on a worldwide flotilla of more than 200 vessels. Most carry guests to the medieval villages of Germany’s Rhine, the Danube’s Imperial cities of Vienna and Budapest and the wine-producing regions of France. and Portugal. A handful navigate through the rainforests of the Peruvian Amazon, while ever-more ships are returning to the Egypt’s Nile. The newest river journeys explore the Far East, taking guests to untrammeled villages and ornate temples of Burma’s Irrawaddy and Chindwin rivers, Indochina’s Mekong and India’s Ganges.

Rothenburg on the Rhine

Rothenburg, one of the towns visited on our Rhine River cruise

Wherever they travel, river voyagers sail on boutique vessels sized for narrow rivers and locks; most carry a maximum of 190 passengers, and some accommodate as few as 36.
Though prices are higher than on many ocean cruises, amenities such as city tours, onboard wifi, tips and wine and beer with meals are included in most river fares. And while multi-service spas and elaborate show lounges don’t fit onboard, most river-going ships moor within walking distance of towns. Expert local guides leave travelers raving about the experience, says Morgan Scully of McCabe World Travel in McLean, Va. – and coming back for more.

To find out more about river cruising, see my story in this month’s issue of Travel + Leisure magazine.

On the Rhine