There was an error in this gadget

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

TRAVEL TIPS: Safety and Security

Follow Me on Pinterest


Fear and insecurity keep many a would-be traveler firmly ensconced at home.
What if I’m mugged? What happens if I’m trapped in a disaster? …I get lost?...robbed? …or worse?
Yes, security is a concern and I’m not going to say bad things will not happen to you. I will say that even everyday life is a game of playing the odds. Can all these bad things happen to you on a trip? Yes. Can they happen to you at home too? Yes. Is there a great chance that they will happen? No.
It is rare that anything bad happens to you while traveling but it can crop up. Keep in mind that I travel a lot more than your average tourist, but all of the following have happened to me at one point or another in my 50 years of traveling…riot, terrorist attack, pickpocket attempt, lost in the wilderness, injured, taken to the emergency room for sickness, car accident, blizzard, tornado warning, and floods.
…but I still travel, still enjoy it, and still go with little to worry about. Why? Because these were very rare occurrences and by being prepared and level headed, I was able to emerge unscathed.
Here are some tips I’ve come across over the years to keep my family and me safe when traveling…
BEFORE YOU LEAVE HOME…
Secure your house when you leave. Don’t let the world know you’ll be gone.  If you have a trusted family member or friend, ask them if they can house sit for you.  If not, have a trusted neighbor keep an eye on your place. Ask them to check for any fliers or newspapers left on your doorstep. Have an order at Amazon on the way? Ask them to watch for that too.

Visit your local post office and have them suspend mail delivery while you're gone. You can also do this online at usps.com but that has never worked for me, an in-person visit is better.
Get some timers from the hardware store. They’re not expensive and you can program the lights to come on and off at various times while you’re away.
Leave a radio tuned to a talk radio station and turn it up loud enough so that someone outside might think someone is home.
If you have two cars, park one up against the garage door so that it would be impossible to open without moving the car.

AT THE HOTEL…
If the room assigned to you seems like it’s in a sketchy area…say way in the back, next to a stairwell…ask the hotel to move you to a room you are more comfortable with.  Unless the hotel is completely booked, management should accommodate you. I have yet to run across a hotel that wouldn’t work with you if there is some reason you don’t like your initial room.
While you’re in the room, always latch the dead bolt and hang up the “Do Not Disturb” placard.
When you’re out of the room, leave the “Do Not Disturb” placard on the door unless you’re expecting housekeeping to clean the room while you’re out. Leave some lights on. Leave the radio or TV on. Make it seem like someone is in the room.  Either lock your valuables in the safe (if there’s one in the room), have the front office lock them in their safe, or take them with you.
If you have a car, park it as close to the entrance as possible unless you really need it by your room. A car in a populated area is less likely to be broken into.

WHILE OUT AT YOUR DESTINATION…
Travel in numbers. Families traveling together are great because they’re a readymade group. If you’re going solo, try to be where there are a lot of people...think Times Square, not some quiet street in the Lower East Side. I’m amazed when traveling to see young, attractive women walking alone along quiet streets or through parks after dark. That is the one thing you don’t want to do…always have someone else nearby.
Avoid dark, lonely places. Seems like a no brainer but sometimes when you’re out and about you might be confronted with the choice of dark and lonely or darker and lonelier. Again, try to at least be with a group if you can or go back the way you came to find a better route. We had this happen to us in France where we ended up walking by a small park after dark where a man was shooting up heroin with his big dog by his side. Fortunately, we were a group of five and felt a bit more secure in our numbers.


Keep your valuables out of sight and out of the “usual” places. Men seem to keep their wallets in their back pockets 99% of the time. Put it in your front pocket to keep it away from pickpocket fingers or use a money belt. On a very crowded Metro in Paris I felt someone reaching into my back pocket. With my wallet in the front pocket, all they got was the used Kleenex that I had just blown my nose with.
Make copies of your passport, credit cards, travel vouchers, and any other paper work you might need along the way. I will depart with many of my travel expert brethren and say DO NOT bring these copies with you. If they fall into the wrong hands, you might as well hand them the credit cards to begin with.
Instead, leave a copy with a trusted family member or friend that you can call if needed. Also, I scan this information, put it into a Word document that I have encrypted with a password, and e-mail myself a copy…that way I can retrieve that e-mail anywhere in the world when I need it.
Some people also recommend you keep a twenty dollar bill in your pocket in case you are robbed. Give it to the robber, or toss it at them if you can, and beat a hasty retreat. Whatever you do, don’t try to stand your ground…it’s just money and not worth getting hurt or killed over.
If you’re going to have a car, make sure you have valid insurance at your destination. American insurance is not valid in much of the world; call your agent before leaving to see if you are covered. If not, procure coverage either before you go (cheaper) or at the rental counter (expensive). If you’re in an accident, contact authorities immediately or have a local do it for you. Keep cool, calm, and collected. If there are any injuries, focus on the injured getting help before anything else.

DISASTERS AND SUCH…

I remember very well the July morning in 2005 when we were turned away from the Underground in London due to an “electrical malfunction” and no bus would let us board outside. After returning to our hotel, the BBC let us know what really happened…terrorists had set off a number of bombs in the Underground and a bus killing many people. The city was shut down.
Luckily, we were near our hotel and had a home to return to.


When disaster strikes, if you are in or near a safe place…stay there. Wait for official word to tell you what to do. If you are not in a safe place, seek out other local people to find out the best route to safety. If you’re in a wheelchair, keep in mind that many people will not be automatically thinking of the most accessible route…you may have to depend on the kindness of strangers to help you. Fortunately, in our experience, locals around the world tend to be kind to strangers in need.


This shouldn’t need to be said but always go away from danger, not toward it. Don’t go to the waterfront to see the tsunamis approaching, or outside to see the twister, and stay away from buildings after a big earthquake.
If you are injured, let someone know you need help.
In extreme cases, look for someone in authority or a relief provider and stick with them until you are safe.
INSURANCE…
What about travel insurance to help you in these situations? Be aware that insurance only helps afterward and does not prevent. Balance the cost of the insurance versus the benefit.
Our car and medical insurance is valid throughout the United States and we usually go without travel insurance when we’re in country. The hotel and airfare won’t cripple us if we need to forfeit it so the risk doesn’t balance out with the cost for us here.
When we’re traveling internationally, however, we always get insurance. A good policy will include emergency medical, auto accident, trip interruption and cancellation, medical evacuation, personal item coverage and more. We like the peace of mind and rarely have to use it but it’s nice to know we have it if we need it…it did help one time when we had a fender bender in France.
Always read the policy details very carefully before purchasing. Note that many policies won’t cover things like trip cancellation if it is because you just changed your mind or your office cancelled your vacation time.
Now that we’ve covered many bad things that can happen to you on vacation, know that it is an extremely rare occurrence. Yes, some of these things have happened to us over half a century of traveling but, usually, they just make for a good story when we get back. Don’t let the fear of the unknown keep you at home. Manage it and use these and other common sense tips to minimize the chance that anything bad will happen to you and enjoy the world.

-Darryl
Copyright 2012 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

ROAD FOOD: Finding Good Food on the Road

Dragon fruit, Munich

Welcome to the start of another new year here on The World on Wheels.  Let's start off with an appetizer.
Chili Cookoff.  Coachella, California


For us, one of the main highlights of traveling is food.  We always look for great places to eat, especially local favorites that we can’t get at home.  A bowl of she-crab soup in Charleston, a dirty-water dog in New York, and barbecue in Kansas City are a few examples.

Picnic, Amador County, California

The question then becomes, how do you find a good place on the road?

Lunch.  Nimes, France

A friend of mine from Croatia gave me some advice when I was heading to France.  “When you are driving through the countryside!...”(you must understand my Croatian friend always talks as if there is an exclamation point at the end of each sentence) ”…when you see a restaurant on the side of the road, pull over!  It will be the best meal you’ve ever had!  It is like this throughout France!”

Dinner.  Grasse, France

And, in France, that is not far off of the mark but in other places you’re really taking your chances if you just dine somewhere at random.  One time, while staying in Asheville, North Carolina, we went out at night looking for dinner.  It was nearing 9:00 and most places were closed.  We saw a barbecue place on the road to Spindale and thought “hey, North Carolina is supposed to have good barbecue.”

Pizza, mussels, and wine.  Monaco

It was open, we had dinner, and would have enjoyed it more if we went to bed hungry.

Grilled meat in Kansas City

OK, so what to do…

Happy hour.  Sutter Creek, California

First, while on the road, the Rachel Ray trick of asking locals can find you some good places.  The happy hour bartender at the Homewood Suites in Seattle let us know of the neighborhood bar around the corner that served a mean bacon mac ‘n cheese.  Buckley’s is now one of our must visit places in the Emerald City. 

Buckley's.  Seattle, Washington

At a training class in San Francisco years ago, one of my classmates that lived in the city told me about Capp’s Corner in North Beach where I’ve had some of the most memorable Italian meals I’ve ever had…sometimes served by an ex-stripper named Magnolia Thunderpussy (really!).

Los Tacos de Huicho.  Bakersfield, California

Next, before I head to a destination, I’ll look online for highly rated restaurants in the area.  Two sites I use religiously are Chowhound.com and Yelp.com.  I’ve found some really good restaurants using those two such as Passionfish in Pacific Grove (near Monterey) that blows everything else around it away.  A passing comment on Yelp led us to our all-time favorite road stop restaurant, the incredibly good Los Tacos de Huicho in Bakersfield, California which serves the most incredible al pastor tacos you’ll ever find at only 99 cents each.

Biergarten.  Munich

Lastly, TV shows can sometimes lead you to great food destinations.  Although most travel and food shows just lead you to all the usual suspects, I like to follow Anthony Bourdain’s suggestions and I also have to give a shout-out to that bleached-out goofball, Guy Fieri.  Although he can be hard to take in large doses, we’ve yet to find a bad recommendation from his Food Network show, Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives.

Smoked jalapeno poppers.  Plymouth, California

It can really help to do a little research and make a list of restaurants you’d like to visit before you get to your destination.  Your stomach will thank you.
Dessert.  Seal Beach, California

-Darryl
Copyright 2011 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

TRAVEL TIPS: What if there is no accessible transit available?

Though we fly to about half of our destinations, most of our trips turn out to be road trips once we get there.  We'll also end up in places that have no decent accessible public transportation, usually in rural areas.  Places like Montana, Kansas, Maine, etc. 


Watch the Video!

At that point, we recognize that we need to have a rental car.  Accessible vans are available from companies like Wheelchair Getaways and Wheelchair Van Rentals but the cost...with mileage, tax, gas added...can come up to around $200 a day.  That's a big budget buster.

In our case, we decide before we leave if the local transportation at our destination will be friendly for a power chair.  If it is not, or we have any doubt at all, we'll leave the power chair at home and take Tim's manual chair.  When we do that and we need a car, we'll rent a standard car, put the manual chair in the trunk, and Tim will ride in the front seat.


The major drawbacks to this are that a) Tim needs to be lifted in to and out of the car; b) we need to get a large enough car, meaning it costs more than a basic rental; and c) I need to push Tim everywhere...he loses his independence with the manual chair.  The tradeoff is that we are free to come and go as we please (not dependent on transit schedules) and the cost is less than half of the wheelchair van.

The video above demonstrates how we do this on a trip.  I'm not saying it'll work for all disabled people, but this is how we solve the problem.


-Darryl
Copyright 2010 - Darryl Musick

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Cocktail Hour: Chicken Soup

Image courtesy of Wikimedia
Gunkarta under CC BY-SA 3.0 license

Let's face it...I'm sick...so this week's cocktail will be something that makes this flu go away. Chicken soup?


If not that, maybe some TheraFlu...


Top it off with some of this..

Maybe next week I'll be feeling like something a little more refreshing. Until then...

Che...cough....snort...sniff...eers!

Darryl

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

TRAVEL TIPS: Getting Sick on the Road

No one likes it but if you travel frequently, at some point you'll likely end up getting sick at some point.  It could be the food, the weather, a bug you pick up from a local, or even an injury.  Hopefully, it won't be something that will kill your vacation like the time my wife wrenched her knee on the very first run on a long-awaited Utah ski trip.

Below are some products that have helped us along the way when we've gotten sick to our stomach, maybe they can help you to.




For mild indigestion, a little Pepto can be a Godsend.  Keep a pack or two of chewables in your luggage for those episodes of spicy food.



When we took a day trip to Monaco last year after a couple of days of rich, delicious, and filling French food, I got stuck in a train car with no air conditioning on a 100 degree day.  By the time we arrived, I was not feeling well at all and immediately got sick in the bathroom at the train station.



To try to save the day and not ruin it for the rest of our party, I went into the first pharmacy I saw and described my symptoms.  The lady inside sold me these chews, which did wonders for me.  I ended up buying a case and bringing them home.  From now on, whenever I get a really upset stomach, I reach for what we call to this day "Monaco Mints."



Of course, when you got it real bad, you just need it stopped as quick as possible.  Imodium is what you need for a real bad case of diarrhea.  If it doesn't stop it, then you've got real problems.  Of course, the resulting constipation is not real comfortable either but it beats living in the bathroom.

These three products are tried & true by your World on Wheels team and have the added benefit of being able to travel in your carry-on because they are not liquid.  Give 'em a try on your next extended adventure.

-Darryl

Friday, January 4, 2013

LOS ANGELES - The Getty Museum

If you're in Los Angeles, a great day trip is to the Getty Museum in Brentwood overlooking the Santa Monica Bay.

DISCLAIMER: Right off the bat, let me tell you as a disclaimer that I am no art expert. I know what I like, but that's about it. Please excuse me if I don't go into enough detail about the art exhibits at the Getty or show any expertise in the displays.



At one time, J. Paul Getty was the world's richest man. The Bill Gates of his day, Getty died in 1979. Earlier, he had established the Getty Art Museum in Malibu. He left an endowment worth billions to the museum and a new, ultra-modern state of the art facility was built in Brentwood on a hilltop with a commanding view from Hollywood to Malibu. There is so much money in the endowment that the Getty does quite well living on the earnings and interest alone. The museum is so rich it doesn't even have to charge an admission fee.

It's a hazy, summer Sunday as we head north on the 101 toward our destination. A quick left on the 405 and a couple of exits later we're at the Getty's parking structure. Being a weekend, reservations were not necessary. If you're driving in on a weekday, a reservation for a parking space is required. You can get them online at www.getty.edu/visit/forms/parking.html or you can call (310) 440-7300. There is a $15.00 parking fee.

MTA bus line 561 and Santa Monica Big Blue Bus line 14 also serve the Getty with accessible transportation for those who don't drive. A taxi can also be taken here. No reservations are required for those who don't drive.

The handicapped parking fills up quite fast here. In fact, for a huge parking structure that extends seven levels underground, the number of designated handicapped spaces seems inadequate. I drop off my wife and Tim at the first level and descend five levels underground before I find a place to park in a non-handicapped space. I take the elevator back up to meet them.



Up on top of the parking structure is a tram station. An automatic cable driven tram takes us up the half-mile to the top of the hill. The tram is accessible and is built with such tight tolerances that the gap between the platform and the car is less than a half-inch.

After the short ride, we arrive at the hilltop campus. The center is huge. It's a bit like the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., in that you would be very hard pressed to see it all in a day.

An information counter just inside the entrance gives us several brochures to help us plan our visit and find our way around. A very pleasant courtyard with fountains, benches, and snack bars greets us after we exit the entrance lobby. As this is our first visit, we are a little overwhelmed so we sit for a few minutes to get our bearings and decide which way to go.



Downstairs is the Ancient Art exhibit where sculptures, vases, and jewelry that are thousands of years old are kept. An amazing gold crown of leaves and flowers astounds me with it's intricate detail. Tiffany's would be hard pressed to created such a beautiful piece today.


Tim's bored...even with a Van Gough behind him.

Across the courtyard, we enter the South Gallery where decorative arts (furniture) are displayed on the ground floor. It's like stepping onto the set of a particularly good episode of Antiques Roadshow. The German furniture with all its hidden drawers, knobs, and many utilitarian features is what really impressed me here.

Outside, we take a walk over to the colorful main garden with its waterfall and pond maze. It's all ramped so wheelchairs have an easy time getting to every level. The Travertine marble that all the buildings and walkways are clad provide more entertainment as people hit them to hear their different chiming melodies.



The garden itself is a great place to sit, meditate, and maybe just recharge your batteries for awhile. A grotto-like sculpture with ever dripping water drains into a small stream which makes its way down the hillside. After going under a small bridge, it cascades down a waterfall into the pond which has a planted maze as a centerpiece. Surrounding the pond is an explosion of colorful flowers.

On this note, we head back up to the patio above the garden and enjoy a cool drink before heading back to the tram station. We'd been here four hours and had just scratched the surface.

-Darryl

2010 UPDATE: Tim took a couple of art classes since the first trip and is now much more amenable to art museums.  We went back to see a Bernini exhibit, here is his take on that...

The pieces from the Bernini exhibit: The Birth of Baroque Portrait Sculpture, has a couple of classical art influences that comes to mind. In the sculpture, the busts are very similar to the Roman bust we saw in the first room with just the shoulders and head. In the Bernini pieces, however, more detail is added. The clothing is still very fancy and elegant, which shows a connection to having wealth and power. The one key difference between Baroque and the earlier periods is that it shows much more personality and character in the portraits and sculptures.

The Portrait of Thomas Baker shows him with wild, wind blown hair, which gives it a sense of a carefree, happy-go-lucky guy. The portrait still shows signs of wealth with the nice clothing and the fancy embroidery. The museum card on the piece says that Baker paid Bernini directly to make this piece, suggesting a bit of ego, but Bernini portrays him as a guy you might want to go drinking with. I would like to think that Bernini enjoyed making this piece and the time he spent with Baker. There is also a bit of a smile on Baker's face, which brings out his happy-go-lucky personality. Baker's hand can also be seen peeking out from the cape. This shows him to be somewhat of a relaxed individual who wouldn't let the little things in life bother him.

This statue is full of life. This is not something I saw in the Roman bust or in the Faces of Power exhibit. You can really imagine Baker being a real person with a real personality.

The Portrait of King Louis XIV shows us the Sun God who thought he was divine. This is a more serious work by Bernini, showing him in armor surrounded by billowing (wind-blown) fabric, like being on top of a cloud. The lace the king is wearing shows wealth, and the armor shows power. Yet his hair is immaculately groomed, in comparison with the Baker portrait, as if he had curlers (probably did) and a blow dryer (definitely not). He also has a precision trimmed moustache. This shows the king was concerned about his looks and probably was a bit narcissistic. The piece on display at the Getty Museum is a bronze copy and the original piece is in France.

In this instance, I get the feeling that the king needed to feel he was above everybody else. Bernini captures this egotism by seeming to have the king in a spotlight, above the clouds.

The Portrait of Pope Urban VIII is the last piece I looked at in the Bernini collection. This painted portrait shows the pope's clothing is disheveled and wrinkled. His hat is not perfect. It is a relaxed and informal portrait. His eyes are slightly glazed over. He looks tired; unlike the stern power the medieval art seems to try portraying. This portrait humanizes the Pope. It makes it seem like he is an average Joe like anybody else.

When I went to the Getty, I felt like I was climbing a mountain to a temple, much like the Acropolis in Greece. The architect of the Getty Museum is Richard Meyer. He seems to have tried to replicate that Grecian temple experience with all the Travertine stone inside the museum and the magnificent gardens. I think Meyer was trying to capture the essence of what it's like to be in an ancient temple or a palace where some of the art on display might have been originally housed.



Most of the art displayed at the Getty is at eye level, which makes it easier for people to see. There are some areas, such as the Faces of Power exhibit, where I think it could have been more accessible. For a person in a wheelchair like me, all of the art except for the portrait of Mr. de los Cobos y Molina was out of view above my head. I would like it more if they took that into account. The art is also shown the way it is intended to be seen because there is just the right amount of light needed for a person to see the art displays.

-Tim

Copyright 2002 and 2010-Darryl Musick

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Best of 2012 - Accessible Destination

Bleeding over into the New Year a bit here to bring you our final "Best of 2012" award. Today, it's the best destination.

The three of us here at The World on Wheels debated this one for quite awhile before coming up with the winner. Although Minneapolis has superior accessible transit, Milwaukee is just a ton more fun so we're going with Milwaukee, Wisconsin as this year's best accessible destination.




No light rail or subway here (although a trolley is in the works) but the bus system goes everywhere and is wheelchair accessible.The very nice Riverwalk along the Milwaukee River downtown takes you to most of the destinations you'd like to see and is completely accessible.



We never had a bar or restaurant we went to where the chair wouldn't fit and an accessible restroom was always nearby.


You can see our reports on Milwaukee here.

It helps that the people here are very nice and accommodating. It's a friendly town and you'll quickly make some new ones.



Congratulations, Milwaukee...you're our pick for the best wheelchair accessible destination for 2012.

Darryl
Copyright 2013 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved