Thursday, November 7, 2013

Our Travel Nightmares

RHYS BOWEN: Today we were going to chat about becoming an accidental expert as we write, but real life intervened. There was an awful shooting at LAX, taking the life of a TSA agent.  Red Hallie got stuck on the tarmac for hours at LAX on the day of the shooting and the Red Lucy found bedbugs in her hotel bed. So I thought we'd better chat instead about what we hate most about traveling and any survival tips we'd like to share.
I used to love to travel. My husband worked for an airline and we'd stroll down to the airport and hop on a plane going to Hawaii. The kid would be invited into the cockpit. We'd stand by the gate waiting excitedly for relatives to emerge from the jetway. And now: stand in one line to check in. Another line to check bags. Pay to check bags. Another line to take off shoes, belt, jacket, take out laptop and toiletries. Be xrayed patted groped. Put on shoes etc. Stand around while flight is delayed. Get no food or pay for food that is so refrigerated it's like eating sawdust. Ah, the joys of travel.

We Reds travel a lot. We have each developed strategies to survive all the little annoyances and to STAY SAFE. Mine are: I always stick a couple of those little gouda cheeses in my purse, plus a nut bar, some dried mango. That way I can avoid airline food.
2.Kindle. Have Kindle loaded with several books from my TBR pile. If flight is delayed whip out Kindle and read happily.
3.Pashmina. I always have my pashmina ready because planes can be horribly cold. (So can convention centers/rooms where I'm going to speak)
4. Shoes. I wear shoes that slip on OR undo with Velcro.
5.Survival gear. Have spare white top in carry on because there will be turbulence as soon as I sip coffee/orange juice.
6.Taxi/shuttle. I always go online ahead of time to book a shuttle or know how much a taxi should cost.
7.Hotels. Check room. Lift up bedding to see signs of bedbugs. Never put suitcase on the floor. Never make coffee without rinsing coffee maker jug really, reeeely well. (I've seen the video where the maid cleans them with same cloth she cleans toilet) Never sit on the comforter unless it has a new duvet cover.
8.If you don't like your room--noisy airconditioner, too near elevators, noisy neighbors etc never be afraid to go back to the desk and say "This room is unacceptable. Please find me another one."
If you make it clear you are not going to accept the first room, they have to find you another one.
9: Restaurants. As a single woman you tend to get shoved in the corner near the toilets. If you are taken that way veer off and say "I prefer this table, thank you." and select a table in the window for yourself. Then ask for a complicated wine. Tell them to as the kitchen to hurry up as you have to make a speech in an hour's time. This makes them realize you are not going to be easy.
10: Strange cities. Never stand on a street corner with a map, looking like a tourist. I always study the route ahead of then walk with purpose to my destination. If in doubt have route on Google Maps on phone. It's quite acceptable to pull out a phone for a second. And having been in situations where we've had a bag stolen or someone has attempted to steal my purse, the one most important thing I can pass along:
So Reds, do share your tips and warnings.

HALLIE EPHRON: My trip to LA started off so auspiciously! I zipped through TSA in 10 seconds, literally -- I guess I've flown SO often they whisked me through the line where you don't have to remove anything, just walk through. Wowza! Arrived early in Denver. We'd heard about the shootings at LAX but our connecting flight took off for LA on time. Landed at LAX early. SIX black choppers circling ominously.
And then... tick tick tick. At first the pilot announced a half hour and we'd get a gate assigned. Three hours later... we finally got a gate and were free... to deal with a zooish airport, of course. What amazes me is how much we all take these kinds of situation in stride, we are so well behaved. And I made new friends because you talk to people so much more when you're in pain.
My survival kit: 1 apple, almonds, at least 2 books, my fleece coat which doubles as an air mattress when pressed up against the window. And a RIGHT side window seat near the back of the plane. For sleeping, and they board you early enough to score overhead space for the wheelie bag without having to gate check it.

RHYS: I always have to be at the front of the plane. I even pay for economy plus to get those extra inches and to get off first. I hate waiting forever while everyone gets off ahead of me.

LUCY BURDETTE: Hallie likes to tease me about this, but I always, always check for bedbugs first thing when I get into a hotel room. Here's what you do: Strip back the sheets and mattress pad in the corners at the top of the bed. This is where the little rascals show themselves. Inspect the seams of the mattress along tops and sides. If you see any signs of bugs or the little rusty spots that are their droppings, high tail it out of there. Last week was the first time I ever actually saw the red spots in the mattress seam. We had just unloaded the dog, the cat, the litter box, and all the luggage. Sigh. It would have been so much easier to stay--but they're very hard to get rid of, and would love to transfer to YOUR home, so don't take the chance! I informed the hotel and they quickly moved us to another room. After inspecting that bed, we moved. But none of us slept very well that night....

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh. Listen to this. I arrived at my hotel room in (city deleted)  and there was a note, xeroxed, on the nightstand, from the hotel management. It had a photo of this bug, (!!)

and it said something like--you may see this little guy in your room but if you do, don't worry, it is just looking for a warm place, and it is friendly. It then said--if you have any questions, please call the desk.  I will tell you Reds, if I saw this baby in my room, you would not need a PHONE to hear about it. Can you believe it?
My travel secrets? A black pashmina, (useful as a blanket or a coat, pillow, or a bathrobe. And almonds and apples, readily available, non perishable and suitable for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and drinks
And , sidebar. Let's hear a big cheer for TSAPreCheck. However I got on it, I am thrilled. NO shoes off, no cosmetics out, no coats off. I am infinitely grateful.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Great tips, all. I ALWAYS carry bottled water.  And some kind of high-energy snack like dried fruit and nuts. Tablet loaded with books, check. A paperback, check. Scarf/shawl/pashmina, check. Warm socks, check. I also have a fabulous travel blanket made by Coolmax.  Here's the link. I can't recommend this highly enough: You can cover up, head-to-toe. It's warm, it's amazingly light, packs to nothing, and can double as a shawl or wrap.  Nice for naps in hotel rooms, too.
I didn't know to check for bedbugs!!!  Ack!!! Never sleeping in a hotel room again without lifting the mattress!  Lucy, thanks so much!
And Hank, how do you get TSAPreCheck?  I WANT IT!

RHYS: I WANT IT TOO! I'll do anything.... anything.....
John is over 75 so doesn't have to take off jacket or shoes BUT last time they patted him down all over, just in case. Ugghh.  I know that Red Julia is traveling at this moment, on book tour for THROUGH THE EVIL DAYS. We wish her safe travels and no bed bugs!

So do share your own travel nightmares and tips.  And the copy of The Twelve Clues of Christmas goes to Joan Emerson. I loved her comment that the holiday was all about family and that they'd kept up the decorations while her nephew was deployed with the navy. So true, Joan. Email me at to get your mailing address.


  1. So horrible about the shooting at Los Angeles; it truly gives you pause to wonder what is happening in the world. It used to be that airline travel was so much more enjoyable than it is now. These days I always feel like a sardine; there’s no place for your feet and the seats are so scrunched together that even the Princess complains about being crammed into tiny spaces and my claustrophobia threatens to ramp itself up into something close to complete panic. I find it quite annoying to be expected to pay extra to check a suitcase or to get an aisle seat. So I never travel with more than I can get in a carry-on suitcase; I always wear comfy clothes on the plane, I always take my Nook [cheers for the new ruling that says I can have it out throughout the flight], I always bring cheese sticks, protein bars, and that sort of thing, then get over-priced water at the airport because TSA won’t let me bring my own from home any more. I bring a backpack and wear comfortable slip-on shoes.

    As far as hotel rooms go, I’m pretty easy to please, but I always have coffee bags [they look like tea bags, but they make coffee] just in case there’s not a coffee pot in the room.

  2. I borrow a pill from a friend and drink a lot in the bar first. Chemically induced stupors are the only way to fly.

  3. Ack. Will be checking corner of mattress in hotel from now on!

    One rule - always wear socks with my shoes, never sandals. Can you imagine standing barefoot where hundreds of other bare feet have stood before?

    I also bring my metal water bottle empty, then fill it up from a drinking fountain after security. What everybody else said about almonds, pashmina, Kindle. Plus Dove Dark minis - must have a few bits of chocolate.

    Hope everyone stays safe and bug free on the next trip. (And see some of you tomorrow at Crime Bake!)

  4. The idea of bed bugs just creeps me out. Ewwwwww

    I can never travel with just a carry-on. I have a credit card with an airline that allows me a free checked-in bag and early boarding. I totally agree with everything that's been said so my suggestions are some travel accessories.

    Ever since my suitcase ripped open coming onto the carousel - total disaster - I have a black and white checked "Luggage Hugger", a spandex strip about 7" wide that slips around my suitcase. Not only does it prevent the bag from opening if the zipper breaks open but, more importantly, it identifies my black suitcase on the carousel.

    My second accessory is a BagBungee that fits on the top of my suitcase and attaches a second bag with an adjustable bungee cord. It helps walking through airports with carry-on bag firmly attached. It works well for car trips, too, because I always carry a small cooler with me and this frees up a hand going to and from the hotel.

    And thank goodness for Baby Bel cheeses.

  5. Edith, I'm with you — a few bits of chocolate never hurt!

  6. Marianne, those are great ideas! But I still won't check a bag--too impatient to wait for it, plus the worry about whether it will even arrive. We did lose a big suitcase years ago coming home from Hawaii--all my best clothes, of course.

    And really, you should hear how lightly Hallie travels. I'm a piker, compared with her.:)

    see some of you at Crimebake!!

  7. I too used to love to travel. I worked for a large airline for a few years in the late 60s, then a much smaller regional airline (which I adored) for a year or so. Flying wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted was a luxury I, unfortunately, took for granted. Now, I just get sick even thinking about getting on a plane, let alone the whole security thing. If driving isn't an option, I take the train. But right now I'm going to check out Travel Smith for this cool blanket Debs is talking about.

    Never again will I crawl into a hotel bed without following Lucy's bed bug inspection tip. ugh.

    We have had some crazy experiences in hotels. The one everyone fears - the fire alarm going off at some crazy hour in the middle of the night, leaving the room to find the hotel full of smoke and firemen and hoses. It was a hotel with kitchenettes and someone had fallen asleep while cooking. The second night the alarm went off AGAIN! This time it was because it had not been reset properly.

    We've come back from dinner to find our room flooded because the person over us had left water running in their tub.

    We've been woken by two very drunk men having a fight in the corridor outside our room. If you're going to get into a drunken fight it might behoove you to be dressed in more than just your underwear. just saying.

  8. I go carry-on whenever possible (even for a week to Japan! that was my personal triumph). But my most important travel item is a 20-pack of wet-wipes and a plastic baggie or two. I wipe down the tray table, seatbelt, and arm rests on the airline. I wipe down the TV remote in the hotel (and other areas). And I wipe my hands down frequently. The baggies are for disposing of the (often smelly) wipes. That kit was invaluable in Egypt a few years ago where good hand-washings were few and far between. But even on a regular flight, I do the same.

  9. I traveled for almost 20 years for business, so I've developed a lot of the same routines, including taking an empty, reusable water bottle through security, then refilling it before the flight. That's because we got stuck on the tarmac in Salt Lake City once, in 93-degree heat, and they would not serve anything. Sometimes there is turbulence on a flight and they can't drag the drinks cart around, too. Staying hydrated, especially on long flights, makes the difference for me between being healthy on a trip and getting constipated--not a fun thing.

    We just got home from a trip to Africa, which is a long darn way from Cincinnati. Since we would be sleeping on the plane both directions, I made up a little bag for use in-flight: Benadryl/Ambien, eye masks and earplugs, neck pillows (but isn't it great that most planes now have adjustable headrests, even in economy?), disposable toothbrushes and toothpaste, aspirin (to combat deep vein thrombosis), little towelettes for face washing and hand sanitizing, moisturizer, and lip balm, plus wool socks for the flight. I would also add some concealer and blush if I were to go again.

    The pashmina came in super handy on the longest flight, from Amsterdam to Killimanjaro, because is was utterly frigid on the flight. I had it, plus both my own and my husband's blankets, and was still a block of ice. One of the stewardesses made up a hot bottle for me--she took one of the big water bottles and put some very hot water in it so I could hold it. Worked like a charm.

    The other thing about traveling is I always, always sleep in pajamas that look more like yoga clothes, I keep shoes next to the bed, and my handbag and phone are always handy to grab in a hurry. This summer I was visiting my daughter and there was a fire alarm at 5 AM. Once I figured out that it wasn't the alarm I leapt out of the bed, shoved my feet into my shoes, and grabbed my bag to head down the steps. Luckily, it was a false alarm, but if it had not been I'd still have had my phone, ID, and rental car keys.

    This guy is a friend of ours, and he has some engaging video on how to check for bedbugs on his website:

    It's really worth learning the signs, which are pretty obvious once you know what to look for.

  10. I also do that same mattress check that Lucy does. Bed bugs just creep me out.

    I prefer to drive or take the train as well, but will fly when there is no other options.

    I have been luck that Bouchercon has been on the East Coast for a few years, so I have been able to drive. Next year, Long Beach, will definitely be a flight. ;)

  11. Yup, sarong, book, toothbrush, water, and lots of food. Including a bag of junk food (but be sure to stick a hole in the bag before take-off, or it will resemble a pillow when you wrangle it out of your carry-on.

    We've always filled up our water bottles in washrooms(warm water) or drinking fountains (awkward), until my latest trip when we saw the Drinking Water Dispenser (free) in the departure lounge. Holy cow! An airport with a Good Idea. Who knew!

    Incidentally, I always travel with a sarong or two, not just for the plane, but for the entire trip: scarf, shawl, beach blanket, sit-upon, bathing suit, head covering, beach wrap, post shower wrap. Etc etc.

  12. Kaye, I've had fire alarms go off twice in hotels and had to stand on the sidewalk in my pjs (that's another time the pashmina comes in useful)

    And after the airline lost my bag for two days I always have a change of underwear and all the necessary toiletries in my carry-on. Like others here I have a credit card that allows me a free checked bag.


  13. Great read with many helpful hints today! Deborah, your Coolmax travel blanket is Travel Smith's deal of the week, on sale in 8 colors for only $22. It looks like an excellent Christmas gift. I use many of your hints, but would add to include a clip or two to hold drapes together (even some clothes pins or large binder clips will work). Always carry some extra zipper plastic bags for all sorts of things. Probably the most important thing of all is to stay hydrated, and get up to walk at least once an hour. Happy Travel!

  14. So many more great tips--some of them I already do and forgot to mention. I carry wipes, teabags (always!), extra ziplocks. Also, because I'm short, I always have a carry-on that will fit under the seat in front of me. That way I have a footrest, which, especially on long flights, makes a huge difference in comfort.

    And, like Karen, I always sleep in yoga clothes and a sweater. You don't want to get caught in your nightie, and who wants to travel with a bathrobe?? The clothes also double as lounging in the room gear, and are presentable enough for room service or going to get ice.

    I'm assuming Hank hasn't told us about the TSAPreCheck because she's traveling:-)

  15. Many good tips, some of which I'm going to adopt. But the one thing no one mentioned that I always take with me--a "zen" attitude. Sometimes things happen you just can't do anything about, and an attitude of acceptance will help you arrive a little less frazzled. I don't mean you should be a sap, but if there's nothing to be done...go with it.

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  17. I feel very fortunate. We left Terminal 3 at LAX less than 2 hours before the shooting - my 4 year old nephew had been playing in the very spot the last shooting took place. I've been thinking about it a lot - there is no way to prepare for something like this. But what it reminded me to do is enjoy the journey, no matter how small the seats are, no matter how expensive the food (if there is any at all), and no matter how annoying the person is next to you. To be able to travel freely and go wherever we want to go is such a luxury, and one that I am grateful for. That said, a bag of food (turkey jerky, dried fruit, etc.) and a good book that doesn't have to be shut down during take-off and landing are essentials!! Safe travels to you all.

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  19. OH, smiling...not traveling today, and let me say, feeling kind of weird and at loose ends.

    ANYWAY. TSA precheck? I have NO IDEA. It just started appearing on my boarding passes, and I happily embraced it. Strange, huh?

    ANd you cannot believe how many times I've gone down to the breakfast buffet in my jersey nightgown, a Levi jacket and a scarf. And a very confident attitude.

  20. HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN! okay, the first thing that popped into mind was "with what shoes??!"

    What does do you wear to breakfast with your nightie, Levi jacket and a scarf? (Honey - there is only one you).

  21. what "shoes" do you wear, not what "does" do you wear. aaargh!

  22. Deborah, thanks for the tip on the Travel Smith site. I love it and will use it in the future for sure. Lucy, I'm glad to now know how to check for bed bugs properly, but it gives me the willies just thinking about doing that.

    There are lots of great tips in this post. For me, habits include always packing medicine and jewelry in carry-on or large purse that stay with me. Of course, my books go in purse or carry-on, too. I, like most of you, pack a large sweater or such. My go-to snack is usually Zone bars, yogurt blueberry or yogurt strawberry. You usually find these bars in the medicine area of drugstores or Target-like stores or in health food sections of groceries.

    My daughter is like Hallie. She travels light, with everything in a carry-on. I've never seen anybody that packs as efficiently as she. She even has special travel underwear (you can order it), which you can wash out and it dries very quickly. So, she takes like 3 pair of underwear for a week, maybe 2. She went to Europe for a month in college and took only a backpack. Me, I need to go back to the old days of a steamer trunk. LOL!

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  24. Oh, Kaye, my black Toms! They are terrific for travel..I wear them on the plane, and also as slippers. They pack completely flat.

    And I NEVER check bags. What I can't carry on, I don't take.


  25. I don't check a bag either.

    Hank, let's have breakfast at Malice. I'll wear my yellow duckie pajamas.

  26. I don't fly but I used to take the Greyhound bus. One time an illiterate baggage handler took my luggage out in Pittsburgh. I was going to Williamsburg, Virginia, and later on someone said they probably thought my luggage was going to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, so that's why they took it out! When I left home in Toledo it was after 11:00 p.m. and the ticket counter was closed so they handwrote the baggage claim and that's why someone didn't read it correctly. My luggage arrived a day late so I went to the outlet centers and bought a bath set with shower gel and some nightgowns. I also bought some shorts, bubble bath, and deodorant in stores near the Colonial area. The motel I stayed in wouldn't use the van to take me to pick up my luggage so I had to spend the money on a taxi and then the driver said he couldn't lift my heavy luggage because of his back. And the funny thing is that I saw them take my luggage out in Pittsburgh but didn't say anything because I thought they took it out to get to other suitcases and I didn't want to make a fuss. I recognized my luggage by the neon pink or green luggage tag on it.

    I don't own a tablet, e-reader, or other computer, but when I traveled I would listen to music (C.D., radio, or minidisc) or books-on-tape, which I found relaxing. I tried listening to the books-on-tape once on the city bus but that doesn't work because you have to keep adjusting the volume because the bus slows down and speeds up. At least with the Greyhound bus it kept going at a steady speed. I also took a book and puzzle book with me. Maybe I took a light jacket in the summer. I always carry one (or a fleece jacket) when I go to a restaurant, etc., because you can freeze in the air conditioning! I had a travel pillow too.

    I love my Eagle Creek travel purse (which sort of looks like a small backpack and is made from that kind of material) which I bought around 1997 and it's still around. My Columbia shorts are made from a material that dries quickly (polyester or nylon?) and would be good for those who backpack around the world (except they do wrinkle).

  27. Here's my tip: remember that the weather where you are going is NOT the same as where you are coming from. I once left Key West wearing light clothing and sandals. It was January 20th and I was heading to Boston. Where it was snowing and sleeting. Worse: The plane was freezing and my toes were not happy. The steward (is that the term to use these days?) took pity on my after she saw that I had put air-sickness bags over my feet for "warmth." She gave me some socks from the kits they give first class passengers - and a blanket for free. I must have looked pretty miserable, which I was. And then I got to Boston. No taxis available -- but the dispatcher had me wait in his little hut until one finally came along. See, there are nice people all over, you just have to do something stupid and they come out to rescue you.