Tips for traveling to and from Chicago during the holiday season

Terminal 3 at O'Hare Airport decorates for the holidays and often has trees done by Chicago cultural institutions. (J Jacobs photo)
Terminal 3 at O’Hare Airport decorates for the holidays and often has trees done by Chicago cultural institutions. (J Jacobs photo)

 

If you heard that Thanksgiving was busy at Chicago’s airports so decided to drive to grandma’s house in a 6 or 8 horse-powered sleigh but will fly for the holiday season, OK, but be prepared, patient and smart. And let the decorations and music bring out a few smiles.

The Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA) says that O’Hare and Midway International Airports are expected to be among the busiest airports in the country for Christmas-through-New Year holiday travel with nearly 5 million passengers expected over the travel period from Dec. 19, 2019 through Jan. 6, 2020.

Pointing out that Chicago is a top holiday destination, CDA Commissioner Jamie L. Rhee said, “On behalf of Mayor Lightfoot and the Chicago aviation community, we are excited to be a gateway for holiday travel – and holiday cheer – for so many. CDA and its airline partners are well prepared to provide a safe and efficient experience for millions of travelers during this holiday season,”

A couple of significant points were made during a press conference Dec. 20 that bare noting.

First is the forthcoming legalization of cannabis in Chicago Jan. 1, 2020. “To ensure safe travel for all residents and visitors, we’re encouraging all travelers not to bring cannabis through Chicago’s airports as it still remains illegal under federal law.” Said Chicago Police Interim Superintendent Charlie Beck.

That means that travelers cannot expect to pass through the Transportation and Safety Administration (TSA) or Customs and Border Protection (CBP) checkpoints with any amount of cannabis because it remains illegal across state lines, and possession of cannabis may be illegal in the state or country to which you are traveling.

Secondly, even though Chicago’s airports are proud of the smooth passage to airport gates, the CDA and the TSA strongly urge passengers to arrive at the airport two hours before domestic departures and three hours ahead of international departures to allow for ticketing, baggage checks and security screening.

Third, according to the TSA passengers should not bring wrapped gifts through the checkpoints, as they are subject to closer inspection by officers.

Fourth is to know about facilities. Traveler-friendly upgrades have been happening this past year including restrooms in O’Hare and restaurants in Midway.  There are better infant care areas including a new Mother’s Room in Terminal 3 near Gate L6 and a new family assist restroom, also in Terminal 3 on the H Concourse.

Midway has 23 new restaurant and retail locations with more planned. The Midway Central Express Market, features hot food as well as a variety of garb & go items such as fresh sushi, tasty parfaits and more. Visit flychicago.com for a map of all dining and retail choices at both airports.

At O’Hare, Winter Wonder, a new family-friendly entertainment, activity, and retail activation is in Terminal 1 near Gate C11. Fly with Butch O’Hare Family Lounge is in Terminal 2 and also in Terminal 3 (near Gate K2).

Last, but not least, is to take time to see the holiday trees decorated by Chicago’s cultural institutions and enjoy the music provided by the CDA.  Santa and Mrs. Claus will be at Midway this week and at O’Hare on Dec. 23, between noon and 2 p.m,

For more information visit Fly Chicago. . The Website also contains real-time information on flights, regular updates on traffic and weather, real-time taxicab wait times, and other special alerts for the traveling public

Where to keep travel notes

 

My Travel Journal illustrated by Katie Vernon. (Photo by J Jacobs)
My Travel Journal illustrated by Katie Vernon. (Photo by J Jacobs)

Just cleaned out the cabinet over my kitchen desk and found a travel journal I used years ago when going around Spain, later what was then (Josip Broz) Tito’s Yugoslavia, and even later, around Italy and Switzerland..

There was no way I could go back to my computer to finish a current travel article I started until I read through the whole journal.

From delightful Spanish Paradores (restored castles, monasteries) where we stayed to fascinating town of Rondo on a scary drive up a precipitous mountain road and from driving around the Kotor fijord in Montenegro to meandering through ancient walled city of Dubrovnik, reminiscing past adventures took up the rest of the day. And that was not counting reliving the Italy-Switzerland trip.

Continue reading “Where to keep travel notes”

My Itchy Feet: Part 3

Like window seat to enjoy peaceful, artistic cloud formations while flying. (J Jacobs photo)
Like window seat to enjoy peaceful, artistic cloud formations while flying. (J Jacobs photo)

In her mid-seventies, guest travel writer Arlene Davis shares her travel solo tips.

Be aware and trust your gut

While I talk to strangers all the time, and encourage you to do so, you must always be aware of your surroundings. Never give out your hotel name. If you wander into an area that makes those little hairs stand up on the back of your neck, don’t worry about being the “ugly American.” Just turn around and leave.  I’ve never had any safety issues anywhere I’ve been, but I consider myself a smart single traveler. I’m not walking around late at night, I’m careful what I say to strangers, and am always aware of anyone who just ‘gives me the creeps.’ Don’t hesitate to walk into a store or restaurant if someone seems to be watching you a little too closely.

 

Luggage and pocket safety

I’ve taken the pants that I plan to wear on a trip into a tailor shop and asked them to attach Velcro to the insides of the pocket openings. That way, I can keep my credit card, hotel key, etc. in those pockets and I’m sure to feel it if someone were to try to “pick my pocket”. On the occasions where I took a train from one city to another, carrying my luggage, I stand on the platform with the luggage between my feet, not to the side of my leg. That way I know it’s safe and no one can grab a small bag and take off running.

 

Learn the lingo

I learned the hard way that European hotels have different definitions of what is the “first floor”, and what constitutes a “single room”. Through emails I ask how many flights of stairs to get to the room I’m asking about, and also clearly state that even though I’m traveling alone, I do NOT want a small, single-sized bed (what we would call a ‘twin’).  After some back-and-forth (and sometimes with the hotel sending a photo), I am assured of the accommodations I want. Of course I always ask for “ensuite” bathroom facilities, as I don’t want to share.

 

Bathroom amenities

I use what the hotels provide. I manage very nicely using whatever shampoo, hand lotion, etc. is provided. That way I don’t have to weigh down my luggage bringing it from home. If my hair isn’t quite as shiny as it usually is, who cares?

 

Eating alone

Most locally-owned European inns/hotels provide a full, cooked breakfast that carries me through the day. When having dinner alone, I always bring a book. However on many occasions if the adjacent table is close, and they have already received their meal and I haven’t yet ordered, I will casually ask, “Is that as good as it looks?”. This starts a conversation that has frequently led to my being invited to join them rather than sit alone at my table. Many wonderful meals have been spent this way. If they don’t speak English, or don’t ask me to join them, I’m no worse off than when I first sat down. Asking that question is a great ice-breaker and without exception every time I’ve asked, it’s led to some wonderful conversation and a lovely dinner experience.

 

Pace yourself

If you’re going to 14 countries in 8 days, ignore this paragraph. I would rather put a trip off for a year or so until I have enough money to avoid the “If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium” syndrome.

 

Read everything

Every city has its collection of statues, obelisks, monuments, etc. They almost all have a plaque or some identifying marking. Read every one of them! You come away with such fascinating information and a feeling for the mindset of the locals who helped get it built.

 

My Itchy Feet Part 2

 

 

More tips from guest travel writer Arlene Davis who enjoys traveling alone at age 76.

Pack light! (J Jacobs Photo)
Pack light! (J Jacobs Photo)


Decide what kind of trip you want:  Are you a theater-goer, a sports nut, a walker? I spent 3 weeks in London never went to the theater; that just doesn’t appeal to me; I would rather be out walking. By deciding on your type of trip, you can pack accordingly (see “Pack Light”).

 

Pack light:  You don’t need a fresh t-shirt every day. If it’s warm, your shirt may need to be hung outside the closet so it ‘airs out’ a little. A day or two later you can wear it again. While you might not be “out of the shower fresh”, who cares? At some point that shirt will need to go into the outside pocket of your suitcase to be laundered at home, but on this trip it can be worn for several days. The same is true for shorts, slacks, etc. Coordinate tops and bottoms so every top can be worn with whatever shorts or slacks you are taking.

 

Disposable underwear (don’t laugh):  The smartest thing I pack is disposable underwear. They are individually wrapped (look like Tampax) and fit easily into all corners of your suitcase. It’s wonderful not to worry about finding a laundry in some out-of-the-way place. Wear ‘em and toss ‘em. When you add the cost into the total cost of your trip, the expense is negligible.

I purchase mine from the Magellan’s Travel website.  If I’m on a trip lasting more than 4 days, disposable undies go with me.

 

Soap your shoes:  Small wrapped hotel-type bars of soap are perfect to keep your shoes smelling fresh. Place 2 bars of soap (still wrapped) into each shoe overnight. You’ll be amazed at how your shoes are ‘ready to go’ the next day.  I’ve used the same bars of soap for several weeks. This way you can pack only one pair of sturdy walking shoes. My trips never include ‘dress-up’ days or evenings, so my one pair of cross-trainers is enough to carry me for the whole trip, without having to pack more.

 

Talk to (almost) everyone:  Standing in line in a market, waiting to be seated in a restaurant, waiting for public transportation, etc., start a conversation with someone else in line. While on a bus in a small village in the Costswolds (England), I met a woman who has become a close, valued friend over the last 11 years. Of course, language can be a barrier, but it’s surprising how many travelers know enough English to have a conversation. It makes waiting much more pleasant, and it’s fun to talk to someone from another corner of the world.

 

‘My Itchy Feet’ Part 1

American Airlines at O'Hare International Airport. (J Jacobs photo)
American Airlines at O’Hare International Airport. (J Jacobs photo)

Here are five tips  from guest travel writer Arlene Davis that make up Part I:

Arlene Davis is a 76-year-old world traveler who took her first trip overseas at the age of 65 where she was clearly hit by the travel bug. These days she loves to explore alone and has picked up quite a few savvy rules of the road along the way. She’s now sharing her best travel trips for women who would like to “go solo.”

 

 

Do your homework

Request brochures from travel companies, tourism bureaus, use the library, etc. Decide what you want to see and how much time to devote to each. Figure out what attractions are near each other so you can see more than 1 each day. Have your days planned out, but leave lots of time for unexpected finds along the way.  If you’re lucky enough to have more than just a few days, try not to exhaust yourself. You can start out at 10 a.m. after a leisurely breakfast, and plan to be done sightseeing by 4 p.m. Then you have enough time to rest and relax before going out to dinner.

 

Plan ahead 

Prior to my first trip to England, I purchased tickets online to many of the most popular tourist attractions; i.e., Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, etc. I was able to walk past long lines of people waiting to purchase their tickets and be admitted immediately. Most tickets have a 5-7 day window of time to use them. I also had all my train and bus tickets between London, Bath, and the city where I stayed in the Cotswolds.

 

Be flexible

In addition to advance planning, be sure to remain flexible. I can’t count the number of times I was headed to a particular place and en route something else caught my attention and it was hours before I reached my original destination. These little diversions are one of the great joys of traveling on your own and not being locked into anyone else’s schedule.

 

Live like (and with) a ‘Local’

Name brand chain hotels are pretty much the same the world over. Try to stay in a small, family-owned hotel/inn. The desk clerk at the name hotel will steer you to all the typical tourist-y places, while the local owner will know exactly what restaurant serves the food you are craving.  The accommodations may be a little “quirky” and not what you’d expect in a typical name-brand hotel, but isn’t that one of the reasons you travel?  I rely on books by Rick Steves, available at your local library, for recommendations to local inns.

 

Go with the flow 

When things aren’t exactly up to the same standards as in the U.S., remind yourself that you intentionally left the U.S. to absorb a different culture. When the shower’s water pressure feels more like someone dribbling on you, don’t tell the front desk “Back in the U.S. we have …” Delete that phrase from your vocabulary for the entire trip.  If it takes an extra two minutes to rinse out shampoo, so what? If the bathroom is so small you have to turn sideways to get into the minuscule stall shower, so what? Enjoy each and every experience, no matter how different from back home, they make wonderful stories to tell.

 

 

Travel tips during the holiday season

 

First, the hard to believe news.

You don’t need half the stuff in your closet and drawers. Emulate travel writers.

On a recent trip to South Padre Island, none of the four of us travel writers had more than a roller board carry-on plus handbag.

The spinner (four turning wheels at the base) is best for easy walking and the handbag strap fits easily over the suitcase’s pop-up handle so you are basically hands free.

Ladies, you probably, strongly disagree but you don’t need to travel with six pairs of shoes. Pare down to a pair of walking/running shoes, a casual pair of sandals and a dressy pair of shoes/sandals.

The carry-ons out nowadays are roomier than you think and they look. There is room for a hanging bag which means you will already have the tops/dresses you like on hangers, ready to hang in the closet when you get there. If you carefully fit at least two tops inside each other they don’t wrinkle as much and you can fit six tops that way into the hanging bag.

Fit makeup (or shaving kit) and underwear on the bottom of the case between the wheel bars, shoes on either side with and then fold the hanging bag with its hangers on top. Really, try again. It does fit.

If not TSA approved, put liquids in the outside zipper compartment for easy access going through airports.  You should be TSA approved. If not, apply. You won’t have to take out liquids from your suitcase.

Don’t forget sunscreen. No matter where you’re going you will be outside sometime. Also, pack or wear a hat. Skin cancer is real.

spinner carry-on, hanging bag and cell-phone wallet on a strap. (J Jacobs photo)
spinner carry-on, hanging bag and cell-phone wallet on a strap. (J Jacobs photo)

Now, for the easy stuff you think you know but often forget. You likely have a smart phone with everyone’s info on it but have you left your itinerary with contact information with friends, neighbors and family back home?

I know people whose basements have flooded when the electricity went off and the sump pump stopped working and people who have had a tree topple on the roof from wind or heavy, icy snow.

Now the handbag/ briefcase know-how.

Make a copy of your driver’s license and or passport. Also make copies of your credit card info and phone numbers to call. Keep it in a zippered compartment attached to your handbag/briefcase, not in a separate wallet that could easily be slipped out.

Wallets are taken out of pockets and purses more often than you may think. The time spent doing this is well worth the time. Even if you don’t need any of that this time you might need it back home because holiday shopping season is also pick-pocket/purse season.

Two examples: In Prague, the American Embassy has a stolen-wallet desk and there are warning signs on public transportation. In Chicago, a friend just had her wallet stolen downtown.

It doesn’t hurt to be old-fashioned and wear a money pouch/belt. It used to be common for travels outside the US but it is still a way to safeguard foreign and US currency.

Or be new-fashioned. Look for a Bandolier or Goldno cell-phone wallet on a strap. I wear one whenever I go downtown Chicago. My buss and train pass fit as do a credit  and and couple of dollars.

And guys, you may think your back pockets are so tight a thief can’t access your wallet. Wrong. They are adept at bumping people in crowds and often work with an accomplice.

Because you’re smart and do only carry-ons you shouldn’t have to worry about what happens if your luggage is lost. But if you do check luggage through, put an extra pair of underwear/shirt and small make-up, sewing/ shaving kit into your handbag-briefcase.

 

If you have a tip to share, please put it in comments. Travel tips are welcome.

Have fun and travel wisely.

Jodie

 

 

Shoe boots made for traveling

Shoe boots ready by the door. (Photo by J Jacobs)
Shoe boots ready by the door. (Photo by J Jacobs)

Sometime a travel product is so good it should be mentioned on a travel site.

I admit I have bad feet. My high arch, wide foot, poor balance, bunions and hammer toes make it hard for me to find comfortable shoes and even boots.

But upon a recommendation I tried a pair of Arcopedico stlye L19 in black. Oh my. I’m not sure what is in the arch but I feel these shoe-boots were made with me in mind.

When I told a friend I was going to wear them downtown Chicago to cover an event, she said I was nuts to try something that I would not be able to change if it didn’t work out because I was an hour train ride from home.

Not only did they work just fine but for once I could forget what I had on my feet.

After checking on the product I found out that they are machine-washable even though they are water resistant. I also learned that this style is made of Lytech, a blend of Lycra and Polyurethane, that is a bio-degradable, vegan material unique to Arcopedico.

That info is fine but as someone who is always traveling I like that they are lightweight and pack well.

When I first tried them on I thought they looked too small, particularly with my wide foot. Maybe they expand but they fit fine. So I checked out the Arcopedico ® brand further. It features a Techno-Elastic upper section, an anatomic foot bed and a twin arch support system. Wow.

When I took a cruise to South America last spring, I went to a lecture in the spa about foot problems. The expert handed me a pair of arch supports to try which I liked a lot but lost on the plane home. These shoe-boots seem to have a similar arch support so now I have to look for more Arcopedico footwear.

Gues that shouldn’t be too hard because I learned they have been around since a Professor Elio Parodi created them back in 1966.

I will look for them next time in a store’s shoe department but I also found them on Zappos and Shoes.

 

Five fall getaway tips

A back road drive in Door County.
A back road drive in Door County.

The itch to getaway to a colorful scenic vista is upon us. The weather is showing signs of fall with warm days and cool nights and some trees in the neighborhood are beginning to show tinges of gold and orange. But before you throw a suitcase in the car and drive off there are a few tips that could up the fall color experience.

 

1.Don’t use your neighborhood color changes as the definitive guide. Colors in states or area of your state to the north and west may be in full fall color palette or just beginning to change south or east. In the US check fall foliage map or weather map for where the foliage is turning. Some states have color reports. Among the best in the Midwest is Wisconsin.

2.Make accommodation reservations ahead of time. You’re not alone when looking for a fall destination but to avoid bumper-to bumper traffic go during the week, not om the weekend.

3. Take advantage of local Visitors Bureaus to find the best place for what you want. . As an example, Door County in northeastern Wisconsin, and Traverse City in northern Michigan (below the Upper Peninsula) and Brown County (Bloomington and Nashville) in central Indiana keep tabs on what is available and know price points and type. The visitors centers’ websites also show where pets are welcome. Also stop at the Visitors Center for a map, brochures and suggestions because GPS will work some places but not all.

4. Because you are driving, not flying, throw those extra boots, hiking shoes, jackets, sun protector hats and sprays, water bottles, first-aid kits and backpacks into the car. Don’t be afraid to bring your own pillow for a good night’s sleep.

5. Don’t forget chargers for phones, ipads, cameras or whatever other electronics you take everywhere. Also check your accommodations before you leave, they already have enough chargers from previous visitors.

Enjoy!

Jodie Jacobs

 

Visit Great Smoky Mountains for fall color and terrific crafts

 

I love all parts of Tennessee but if you only have time for a color drive through one section you won’t go wrong choosing the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Great Smoky Mountain National Park offers more than 800 miles of well-maintained hiking trails and wonderful fall color. (Tennessee Tourism photo)
Great Smoky Mountain National Park offers more than 800 miles of well-maintained hiking trails and wonderful fall color. (Tennessee Tourism photo)

BTW if you see bear cubs, pull to the side to take photos because “bear jams” instead of ordinary fall color “peeps” make it hard for people merely driving through the park from Nashville to get to Ashevill, NC.

Put Sugarlands Visitors Center (above Gatlinburg) into your GPS to start the color drive. It’s a short drive south of Gatlinburg on US 441.

Ask there about road closures. You should be able to continue up to Clingman’s Dome for an amazing view and a fun picture op

At 5,048 feet you can stand with one foot in Tennessee and the other in North Carolina. The Tower is closed but the parking lot which also has great views is open.

After going back down to Gatlinburg, drive the eight-mile Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community loop on Glades and Buckhorn Roads.

The art in the studios complement the park’s natural wonders.

You are likely to return home with great photos and probably a well-turned bowl or gorgeous painting.

For more information call (865) 436-1200 or visit the park headquarters at 107 Park Headquarters Road Gatlinburg, TN 37738.

 

Five fall trips where color is just part of the draw

 

Now that leaves on a few trees are changing is the time to figure out where to go to see spectacular color in a few weeks and next month.

 

Ephraim in the fall in Door County, WI. Door County Visitors Bureau photo
Ephraim in the fall in Door County, WI.
Door County Visitors Bureau photo

But if you don’t want to merely drive some place for fall color and then head back home then consider a vacation destination with great views, hiking, biking, fun shops and lots of lodging and dining choices.

 

 

 

 

 

Where: Door County, Wisconsin, near Green Bay

 

Why:

 

    • ·         Good hiking and biking in state parks
    • ·         Really good art galleries
    • ·         Fun crafts and clothes shopping
    • ·         Excellent dining choices
    • ·         Beautiful views of Lake Michigan and Green Bay

.        Lots of lodging choices

More information at Door Vacation and Door County

 

 

Where: Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois

 

Why:

  • ·         Scenic overlooks, hilly terrain and interesting stone formations
  • ·         Good hiking, biking in Giant City State Park
  • ·         Shawnee Wine Trail tastings
  • ·         Makanda, a delightful artist comunity

More information at Shawnee National ForestShawnee Wine TrailGiant City State Park and Makanda.

Explore the back roads of Brown County in the fall. Brown County photo
Explore the back roads of Brown County in the fall. Brown County photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where: Brown County, Bloomington area

 

 

 

Why:

  • ·         Good hiking, biking and horseback riding in Brown County State Park
  • ·         Fun crafts shops in Nashville
  • ·         Scenic hills and Hoosier National Forest
  • ·         Renown architecture in nearby Columbus
  • .         Indiana University has a beautiful campus (go on a non-football weekend)

More information at Brown County State ParkHoosier National Forest and Columbus.

 

 

Where: Wisconsin Dells on the Wisconsin River

 

Why:

  • .     Good river boat scenery
  • .     Nice hikes
  • .     Fun water-parks for kids
  • .     Interesting photo museum in town
  • .     Circus World in nearby Baraboo

More information at Fall colors Wisconsin Dells, Baraboo,  and fall color advantage.

Traverse City area puts on a color show each fall. TC Visitors Bureau photo
Traverse City area puts on a color show each fall.
TC Visitors Bureau photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where: Traverse City/Sleeping Bear Dunes  in northern Michigan below the UP

 

 

Why:

  • ·         Good hiking in a scenic national park
  • ·         Excellent wine trails
  • ·         Wonderful dining choices
  • ·         Beautiful views of Lake Michigan and Traverse Bay.

More information at fall color trip, Traverse City/Sleeping Bear and Traverse

 

 

Fall color tips:  For current Midwest color reports go directly to a state’s tourism site.

Wisconsin’s suggested scenic drives are at Travel Wisconsin.

Michigan is at Michigan.org and at Fall Color Tours.

Minnesota is at MNUS and Explore Minnesota.

Illinois is at Enjoy Illinois and ILUS.

Indiana is at Visit Indiana and Hoosier fall color. http://www.fs.fed.us/r9/hoosier/docs/fallcolor.htm

 

Have a fun, safe trip!