The Indestructo

11113261_10152957133221581_8044809352030848652_oIn the beginning, mankind needed shelter and food and in order to find sustenance often had to relocate to where food could be found. This was not unlike today’s type of travel where people journey to the grand buffets of Las Vegas or the all-inclusive resorts of Mexico and the Caribbean. However, the nomadic lifestyles of our earliest ancestors were more a matter of survival than of choice or search for entertainment. No doubt it involved choosing a new cave, repainting the hieroglyphics and learning where the closest watering hole was. Presumably, they also needed to relocate what few possessions they might have had, and therefore I submit to you my theory regarding the invention of luggage. Well it could have happened that way. No matter what the destination or reason for the journey, undoubtedly, everyone eventually will have cause to transport “stuff” so man (or woman) invented luggage. It started with gunny sacks on the backs of camels and eventually progressed to carpet bags. But, before we achieved Samsonite and rollaboards, we created a new type of travel trunk and it was more than good…..it was the Indestructo!  Questionable marketing aside, it is from a time in advertising when inspiring trust and confidence was the goal. I happen to have an original Indestructo travel case in my office. If you’ve visited us, you’ve no doubt noticed it and may have even commented on it. It’s hard to miss and is on display front and center near my desk. It wasn’t original to me or my family but was a gift from a long-time friend of the agency. It was manufactured by the premium trunk maker during that time, the Indestructo Trunk Makers. It is authentic and it’s quite old. “How old is it?” you might ask. Unverified online research indicates that it was manufactured in the very early 1900s. Those were the golden days of travel when it was it was mainly the domain of the rich and cultured. During that period packing for a trip was just as important as the trip itself. One often had to be prepared for a lengthy stay away from home. A stay that would likely include several changes of clothes per day based upon the activities one participated in and most likely, their social standing. Fortunately, a helpful instructional booklet offering pages of hints called “Householding in an Indestructo” was provided with each purchase. 11822916_10152965284206581_2905704669463274388_o.jpgI am fortunate that my case came with an original booklet.  In that manual you will find directions on how to pack frocks and dress vests and how to properly wrap your shoe buckles. Today, it’s unlikely that your shoe buckles would make it past the metal detector and you can forget about frocks, as most of America did when we hit the rock and roll 50’s. The Indestructo company manufactured trunks that stood as tall as the 7 year old boy wearing knickers who is pictured beside the trunk in an advertisement. Logically, the booklet starts with the instruction to “Always pack a trunk methodically.” Well, I wouldn’t have it any other way but there are plenty of “toss and go travelers” whose preferred baggage is more likely to be manufactured by Nike and often making cameo appearances in locker rooms as well. “Pack your shoes first” seems obvious to me but I was grateful for the directions on the distinction made between packing silver or gold shoes. It continues with a reminder that gowns with lace tops or trimmed with flowers require careful packing as well as the silk and organdie frocks you are expected to bring along on your trip. This was a bit unnecessary as my last few excursions have been basically, well, frockless. Next, is a section titled “Packing men’s garments is easy when you know how.” Since most men today, just smoosh everything into a duffle bag, I’m not sure how it could possibly be any easier than that. However, if you’ve struggled with how to pack a high crowned hat, fortunately, the Indestructo provides a “hatball” for just such a need. It also contains a drawer whose specific purpose is to hold ties, “each folded twice, loosely, laid one on top of the other,” collars, socks and gloves. This multi- purpose drawer could also hold “a small camera, field glasses and spurs,” whatever spurs are or were. I think one of the best parts of the instruction booklet are the personal markings made by the original owner. Pencil markings accompany sections that must have been of particular interest to them. ”Put extra shoes in laundry basket” was circled as was “Why you should insure any trunk.” Some of the instructions have stood the test of time and ring as true today as they did when the Indestructo was manufactured. Admonishments such as “Do not leave your trunk standing open unnecessarily” or “It is never well to allow just any transfer man to handle your trunk” appear in the booklet. I constantly remind my travelers to never leave their luggage unattended and to make a list of the items you pack in case your bag goes missing. “Keep a handy record of your trunk serial number, as well as the key number which will be found on the lock” has become “make sure you have identification both inside and outside your bags and if you wish to lock your luggage you must do so with Transportation Security Administration (TSA) approved locks.” I now suggest that people whip out their phones and take a current photo of their luggage while at the airport. You will have visible proof of the condition of your luggage and it helps you to recall small design details that could make all the difference in whether you ever see your lost luggage again. We’ve definitely come a long way from the Indestructo. The evolution of luggage has taken us from travel trunks to matching Samsonite pieces to gym bags to the rollaboards that further enforce the loss of stevedores and baggage handlers and I’m just not sure that you can call that progress.

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Huffin’ and Puffin

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about Iceland. You’re probably assuming that it’s due to the current cold front that we’re experiencing. While that’s partly true, it’s not the actual reason. Iceland has been top of mind because of its increasing popularity as a destination. A country that was previously as hard to sell to vacationers, as say, snow cones in the winter has suddenly become very popular. Dare I say, it’s even trendy. Recent temperatures in Dutchess County have seen lows as low as zero or below. It might surprise you to know that as I write this, Reykjavik, the Capital of Iceland is currently a balmy 36 degrees and I find that ironic. Iceland doesn’t sound so bad now, does it? My visit took place several years back during March. I was excited to visit a country that so many knew so little about, myself included. What I did know was that the island was populated with unique wildlife. Travel often offers a wonderful opportunity for me to see unusual animals in their local habitat. However, Iceland does not have an abundance of mammals. In fact they count fewer than 30 species as residents. By comparison, the United States is home to over 400 mammals. But, Iceland is home to Reindeer and the occasional polar bear floating past on an iceberg by way of Greenland. Unfortunately, I saw neither. However, my real goal was to see an unusual looking bird called a Puffin. These are birds that look like they were created by someone with a sense of humor, or perhaps a committee that couldn’t reach agreement. They are comical looking little birds that are stout with brightly colored short beaks found in the North Atlantic. As seabirds, they are adept at swimming and are probably most associated with Iceland. I bet if you do a computer search of photos you’ll find yourself chuckling. Even during that time the climate was more favorable than what we were experiencing in New York at the time. I did wear my coat but I didn’t need to fortify it with additional layers or with a hat and gloves. So, why then is it named Iceland? The most common story is that Vikings were the earliest visitors. In an attempt at deception they bestowed the undesirable name of Iceland in hopes of keeping others away. Conversely, Greenland supposedly received a more pleasant name in hopes of convincing settlers to come and populate that particular island instead of Iceland. Clearly, in those days, no one used a Travel Agent to steer them to their desired destination! Iceland surprised me in many ways. While the landscape is stark it’s also rustically beautiful. The landscape was formed by glaciers that left behind sculpted mountains and valleys that are now used for grazing for the many Icelandic ponies. As far as ponies go, these ponies rank pretty high on the cute scale. As far as the landscape goes it is rustic enough that the Apollo astronauts actually participated in geological training on Iceland. I assume that NASA decided that Iceland’s rugged terrain was about as close to a lunar experience as we could get before committing to a 230,000 plus mile trek. When travelling through the city of Reykjavik , you eventually notice the lack of wooden front doors. It’s not a style choice but a result of the lack of available wood. Less than 2 percent of the country is covered in trees thereby making any wooden front door an immediate status symbol. This is also the reason for the lack of wildlife on the island. Fortunately, Puffins don’t require trees for habitat. They feed primarily from the sea which is why you’ll find large colonies on coastal cliffs, predominantly by oceans. They can often be seen swooping down from cliffs and diving into the water. Since Iceland is surrounded by water, Puffins gather by the thousands. So I am told. I went to the coast several times in search of a flock or even a single Puffin, but no luck. I began to believe that the bird was far more elusive that the informational books indicated. You might be aware that Iceland is a volcanic island. If you hadn’t been aware prior to the eruption of Volcanoe Eyjafjallajökull in 2010, you probably remember the event. The eruption was so severe that many countries were forced to close their airspace for days, disrupting the travel plans of approximately 100,000 travelers. That was a challenging week for our office. However, the positive side of the ongoing volcanic activity is the heated thermal waters. Nearly every home and business on Iceland is heated by these waters making it an ecological pioneer. Many visitors travel to Iceland just to strip down and steep in the hot waters of the beautiful and well known Blue Lagoon. It’s actually a great way to meet the locals too. Nothing breaks the ice faster than sharing a hot bath with total strangers. The locals were very confident that I would be able to see the Puffins I sought. Throughout my stay I remained optimistic that I would finally spy the elusive Puffin. After all, Iceland is home to one of the world’s largest colonies of the colorful birds. With a population estimated to be in the millions, there were technically more Puffins than people. I assumed that with the sheer numbers on record there just had to be one flying by, around the next bend or perhaps relaxing by the ocean. Yet, as my visit came to a close I was forced to admit defeat. I would be returning to New York without finding a single Puffin. I brought the visit to a close by choosing a local restaurant. The ambience was lively, the décor typically Scandic. As I perused the menu I did a double take. Listed on the menu of traditional items was Roasted Puffin . The irony wasn’t lost on me. In case you’re wondering, no, I just couldn’t do it. I ordered a salad.

The Kindness of Strangers

My friends and I had arrived in York, England later than we planned. We checked in to a private Bed & Breakfast and were eager to have dinner and settle in for the evening. Fortunately, deciding what to have for dinner would be easy. When in York, you have Yorkshire pudding.  Accompanied, of course, by roast beef and gravy. It was paying for dinner that would prove challenging.  We were out of cash and the banks had closed for the day. We were also tired, hungry and out of options. Despite the commercials, one particular credit card is not as widely accepted as the company would have you believe. Unfortunately, we only had the one credit card with us. Upon learning of our dilemma, our host pulled out his wallet and handed us enough British Pounds to enjoy a lovely meal. It was the epitome of hospitality and though it was many years ago, I still recall the kindness. The first order of business the following morning was to visit a local bank to obtain some cash and settle our debt with the innkeeper. I doubt he remembers us, but I’ll never forget him. I believe that it’s these acts of kindness, the random interactions with the locals that transform a visit to a foreign country into a meaningful cultural exchange.  When I visited the Czech Republic for an educational tour with other Travel Agents, one citizen of Prague took the idea of cultural exchange and definitely elevated it to the next level. We were to be guests of the U.S. Ambassador who hosted a reception in his “home” at the U.S. Embassy. You may have heard that “it’s good to be the King” well I can tell you that it’s not too shabby to be the Ambassador, especially in Prague. As a diplomat they’re expected to entertain and perhaps even dazzle their guests. To both requirements I would say, “well done”. The ambiance and décor of the residence certainly exceeded my expectations and was definitely a Kodak moment for me to capture and share ( i.e. brag) via photos. It was then that I remembered that I had left my camera in the taxi that had dropped me off earlier. Realizing that I failed to notice the driver’s name or license number of the cab I berated myself for not being more careful with my belongings which included the loss of all the previously taken photos that were stored in the memory. I resigned myself to the fact that it was likely that the camera was gone for good and that I would be unable to record any future sights or events. Despite the loss of the camera, I had a wonderful evening and returned to the hotel rather late. As I passed through the lobby on my way to my room the front desk clerk was eager to speak with me. Had I misplaced a personal item, he asked. I told him that I had mistakenly left my camera in a taxi earlier that evening. It seems that the next passenger who entered the cab advised the driver that a camera had been left in the backseat and the driver correctly assumed that it was mine.  He returned to the hotel with my property and left it at the front desk for me. In a city that has a reputation for petty theft, I was beyond grateful that this gentleman went out of his way to reunite me with my camera. Sometimes it’s these little, personal gestures that make the most impact.  There’s also nothing quite as personal as a birthday. I was given the opportunity to travel to Hong Kong to attend another international convention for Travel Agents. I was excited about the destination but conflicted over the dates. The conference would take place at a time when I would also experience a milestone birthday. I know that it seems like the only dilemma I should have had was what to pack and how to get to the airport, but for that one day in a year that you get to feel special, the thought of having no one dear, near to me for the big day almost seemed sad.  When the day arrived, I spent it on the island of Kowloon exploring Tsim Sha Tsui with its mix of many shops, restaurants and museums. I may have even bought myself a commemorative present or two.  Later in the day when fellow convention attendees learned that it was my birthday they suggested we have dinner together. Happy to have company and an impromptu type of celebration, I accepted. They chose the Cantonese restaurant at the top of my hotel, The Intercontinental. It was a swanky, upscale restaurant with killer views of the city. We enjoyed good authentic food and good conversation and best of all it felt like a party. We ended the evening fairly late but with a final birthday toast they then picked up the entire tab. I returned to my room happy and tired thinking that the day couldn’t have been much better. But it could and it did get better. Hotel Management somehow became aware that it was my birthday and sent a birthday cake to my room. It was a cheesecake, not my favorite but at that moment it became the best cake I had ever had. It’s in moments such as these, that the kindness of strangers evolves into that of friends.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot?

It’s one minute past midnight and just like that it’s not only a new day but a brand new year. Celebrating the New Year offers us a chance to mentally wipe the slate clean and serves as an imaginary deadline for breaking old habits and starting fresh with new ones. Traditionally, a new year brings with it promises to do better in the coming months. It can be a time of reinvention, rebuilding and taking stock. Some will vow to lose weight, others to embrace changes to add to their quality of life. Travel falls into that second category and can not only improve the quality of your life but can often provide life changing moments. This time of year is also replete with top 10 lists, so I offer mine in reference to improving your life through travel.

  1. Try a new mode of vacationing: If you usually take a cruise, consider flying to an island that you haven’t yet visited. Try one that isn’t a port of call for ships carrying thousands of people. Enjoy the tranquility of an under crowded beach and an unscheduled day. If you often choose to vacation at an all-inclusive resort where your meals, drinks and entertainment are included in the package price consider staying at smaller local accommodations where only the price of room is included. You will have the freedom to try the locally owned restaurants and meet the islanders at a beach front bar.
  2. Visit a new destination: It’s great to find a place that you love. It’s even better when you revisit that same place because you love it so much. But, how will you ever be sure that there isn’t something that you’ll enjoy even more? It’s a bit like dating. Don’t be so quick to go steady until you’ve experienced a few different “types.” You can always go back to your first love if you wish. It will welcome you back and you’ll be confident in your choice.
  3. Try new foods: Cruises and all inclusive resorts are among the most popular forms of travel today. They offer a good value and an abundance of food, with enough options to allow you to try something different from your usual rote order. If you’re in an international city, sample the local cuisine. Try a different restaurant every day and be brave with your selections. One really good meal or one really bad meal will give you something to recall with pride or laughter, for years.
  4. Mix up your accommodations:  Standard options in a chain style hotel offer little variance from the common lay out of a large room with either two double beds or 1 king size bed and your separate bathroom and closet. Villas offer luxury and often private pools and a staff that cooks and cleans for you and condos offer lots of space. If you’d like something really different, today’s options can include something as unique as an ice hotel where your room and communal buildings are all made of, what else, ice.
  5. Travel solo: Do you usually travel with an escorted group? If you like the experience of an escort but dread the seat roulette on the bus or have found yourself waiting for that one couple that is late for everything, try a small group experience. You can downscale to a more upscale style of travel that includes no more than 20 people. If you wish, you can also travel just as a couple with as much or as little preplanning as you wish and if you really want to go solo, there are packages for you as well.
  6. Rock the boat: Ahoy, Cruisers: How about adding a bit of luxury to the high seas. If you usually reserve a standard cabin, you might want to try a room with a window that offers an outdoor view. Reserve a balcony cabin and grab some private outdoor “space”. Or for an extra nice experience, reserve a suite with all the extra amenities that might come with that category, such as a larger room, upgraded linens and, preferred service. Sometimes the room category offers upgraded restaurant options and depending upon the cruise line, butler service. It doesn’t get any better than that!
  7. Meet the locals: The best part of travel is experiencing new cultures, meeting new people and being introduced to different ways of life. Day tours often offer a limited overview of an area or a culture. Imagine if you participated in a program where you actually got to visit a local in their own home and perhaps share a meal with them. A hands on volunteer program would allow you to work side by side with locals as well as leaving behind a positive contribution to their continued well being.
  8. Add something new to your list of accomplishments: Have you always wanted to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu or attempt the summit of Kilimanjaro, Africa’s tallest mountain, locally known as “Kili”. Maybe you harbor a simpler wish like parasailing or taking cooking lessons in Tuscany. Interested in learning a new language? Many will tell you that it’s easier to learn to speak French while in France.
  9. Keep an actual written journal: it’s easy to whip out a digital camera or the ever present phone, but neither can capture the sensation of new tastes, smells or your feelings quite like the written word. Nobody has to read it unless you wish to share. Writing down your experiences will help you to focus on the day’s adventure, recall the highlights and capture your emotions.
  10. Make a new friend while visiting a new place: Resolve to stay in touch. Maintaining that connection allows you to relive your experience whenever you wish. It brings variety and an international flavor to your comfortable routine and maybe even holiday greetings from Argentina or the Czech Republic or some other far flung part of the world. Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind? Absolutely not! Always remember that peace starts with just one handshake across a border, one friend in another land and one shared memory.