I Think I’m Done With Airbnb

Your intrepid traveler is back at HQ safely and without incident … mostly.

I’ve come to view that booking Airbnb should be a last minute/everything is booked or “I’m broke and can’t afford real accommodations” situation. After this Vancouver and Denver trip, I’ve staid in ten Airbnbs, seven of them in the past three months. Now that I’m back to being gainfully employed, it’s time to pony up for a decent hotel.

Here’s my first complaint: that Airbnb builds community and promotes friendships between guests and hosts, according to founder Brian Chesky. I call bullshit on that. They made portray that in ads and on their website with professional looking photos and clip art, but the reality is something else.

Let’s face it, Airbnb is way for people to make money for as little effort as possible. You have a spare room? Put a few towels on the bed, a few local travel brochures and a spare key and expect money to come in.

I’m sure there are spectacular places for rent run by outstanding people who have made a difference in travelers lives. When I come across something like that I’ll let you know.

My experience on my past two journeys soured me on the Airbnb experience. I’ve told you about the owner’s cat escaping on my July road trip through the south. Also on that road trip, the Airbnb host asking me three times if I wanted to stay for breakfast. The first time I said “That’s nice, but I need to be on the road early and I’m going to check out the town’s baked goods, coffee, etc.” Second time, I said, “No thanks, but I really want to do my own thing tomorrow morning.” Third time they asked as I was packing up the car, I had to take a breathe so as not to sound rude. “No thank you. I’m good, but thanks you for the offer.” As a little background, the room and bathroom was filled with bible verses. I knew where that was going.

On this trip, I decided to pony up a bit with the Airbnb since the flights were free. One place I paid $100+ a night that looked like a large house in a “great, quiet neighborhood convenient to downtown.”  What it turned out to be was a glorified boarding house in a basement with little effort to details in their three rooms they were renting out. Let me rattle off the list — barely functioning wifi or none at all, no toilet paper holder, empty shampoo and soap bottles, no bathmat by the shower, a shower that ran that was either burn your skin off hot or freeze your nuts off cold, a showerhead that wouldn’t stay in place and just fell limp, no art on the walls, the cheapest pillows and duvet cover (No sheet or bed linear), a handy list of more ways I could give them more money,  constant noise from the boiler next door, a small window to let light in, no desk or chair and five cheap plastic hangers in the closet. The neighborhood? It was very nice … with nothing of note around and about 40-minute bus ride to downtown if you time it right. So a few late night taxis were in play (there’s no Uber in Vancouver).

Add in the fact that the hosts never bothered to me greet me and I never saw or spoke to them and this led to my first 3-star review on a 4.9 listing. It had to be done. On night two when the wifi wasn’t working, I looked on the Hotels Tonight app and saw I could be at the downtown Radisson for $119 a night. I just didn’t feel like packing up and ordering a taxi.

Then the other Airbnb I got, a very nice couple with a young son. Room and shower was nice, had everything a regular hotel would include. Again, far from downtown via a 45-minute bus ride or $20 Lyft.

This happened. I got back to the Airbnb at 11:15pm. Not that late, but not staggering home drunk at 2am. They gave me all they keys I needed, but THEY PUT THE CHAIN ON THE DOOR FROM THE INSIDE. They were all asleep. I didn’t want to wake the kid so I had to call the host. Second try she finally answered so she could let the chain off. They forgot I was staying there.

As you can see, I might be breaking up with Airbnb. The little inconveniences add up to a major hassle. At this point in my travel life, I don’t want to be sleeping in a stranger’s house just to save some money. I’m gainfully employed again and hopefully can plan out my next journey months in advance.

Hotels, especially those who offer a little style for not much more money, are always practically located, don’t have cats escaping, not trying to sell you on religion, having working wifi, 24-hour help and don’t put chains on your door. My best travel experiences include memories staying at great hotels.

While I  don’t think there’s a lesson to be learned, I think saving money towards accommodations is better than saving money with your accommodations.

It’s always been one of my travel guidelines — skimp on travel (air,bus,train,boat), splurge on hotels.

It Should Take You 20 Minutes to Pack If You Follow These Simple Guidelines

If your stressing out about packing for a trip, you’re doing it wrong or you have some deep seeded neurosis that you should consult your doctor.

I’ve detailed previous my folding techniques, toiletries checklist and thinking behind what clothes to bring, so let’s boil it down in some easy to follow paragraphs with bold text subheads.

Wear the same clothes for trip, based on seasons
For this trip Vancouver and Denver, I’ll wearing the same outfit I do on every flight — blue cotton stretch pants, denim/chambray shirt, blue blazer and black shoes. A slightly classier, but comfortable outfit will get you respected by crew and fellow passengers. Plus, I’ll have lounge access so I should look like belong.

In terms of what I packed, I have the same items from previous trips — blue jeans, black jeans, traveler khakis (pants cut like jeans), white shirt, blue-stripped shirt and black and white check shirt. I subbed out a green light jacket for a new camo shirt jacket that adds versatility, warmth and a little color. Sneakers are packed because they take up less rooms than the shoes.

Thus, I don’t have to decide. I’ve made the choice before, it worked and it will work again.

Pick clothes that match with each other.
Everything matches with jeans and beige khakis. The blue cotton stretch pants and blue blazer I’m wearing on the flight will go with anything I’m packing.

Keep it simple — solids, strips and simple patterns.
See above. If want to add something with some personality — add a fun scarf or sweater.

Blue is your friend
It’s the no-brainer color. It ties everything together and makes you feel comfortable. Light blue in the summer, dark blue in the winter and every shade of blue in-between.

Refresh your travel toiletries in your dopp kit when you return to save time when you go back out.
This is my best travel hack. All I had to do was throw my kit in my suitcase. When I returned from my roadtrip, I put in new toothpaste, replaced my razor blade, filled my tiny bottles and added more drugs and vitamins. The shaver, toothbrush, deodorant and comb all stay in the kit. Thus, I was all set.

Take no more than 10 pairs of undies, socks and t-shirts.
I’m out for 7 nights, so I went with the 7 sets. I could do four sets and do a quick wash when I got to Denver. If you’re out 12 nights, take 6 pairs and do a wash with a Tide Travel Pack.

 

Dubai Has a Robotic Police Officer, Just Don’t Call It Robocop

You’re about to feel a little but more safer walking the malls of Dubai thanks to your friendly neighborhood robot police officer. Images of Robocop or even ED-209 don’t apply here when you check out what this thing actually does.

It’s not going to carry a gun, won’t handcuff you or eat donuts. Basically, it’s a kiosk on wheels. The touchscreen on its chest is where you’ll able to pay fines, report a crime or get local information.

I don’t know much about emergency service in Dubai or if they have a 911 system, but wouldn’t it be easier just to call somebody or get a human if you see something bad happen?

“We are not going to replace our police officers with this tool,” said Brig Khalid Al Razooqi, director general of smart services at Dubai Police. “But with the number of people in Dubai increasing, we want to relocate police officers so they work in the right areas and can concentrate on providing a safe city.

I’m sorry Dubai, this is not a cop. This is not going to protect me if I’m getting mugged, which is rare in Dubai. If I need to know the nearest Jamba Juice at The Dubai Mall, I might ask this machine as a novelty.

Let me know when they start packing a taser or yells at me when I have 15 seconds to comply.

Forget the Ice Cream Museum, There’s an Ice Cream City in Tokyo

In the most New Yorky-ist thing of the summer, a pop-up museum has open in the Meatpacking district of New York City dedicated to ice cream. You can dive into a pool of rainbow sprinkles (or jimmies as I call them), which I’m sure is highly educational. Along with the ice cream related art and history, there will be tastings and sundae creations.

I yawn in their general direction, because I’ve been to an Ice Cream City. In my world, cities are much bigger than museums.

If you head to the Toshima area of Tokyo, you’ll find the mega-mall and entertainment complex Sunshine City. Inside here is a theme-park called Namja Town. As far as I could tell, Namja’s mascot was a carton ninja cat named Najavu, which what you should expect from Japanese culture. Looking at the official website, the cat also wear a top hat, so maybe there’s a lot of cosplay for this feline. There’s a section of this theme park called Ice Cream City.

If you want to find the hidden weird and wonderful of Tokyo, then this is the place to seek out. I had a lot of trouble finding Sunshine City to begin with. Then once I got to it, I went floor to floor trying to find this theme park. You would think finding a theme park in a mall would be easy. I was just about to give up when I finally found it the farthest away from the main entrance.

Like a lot of things in Japan, you have to buy your ticket from a vending machine. Once inside Namja Town, you’re greeted with several other food options like Gyoza Stadium, which is a misnomer because eight food counters  that just serve dumplings does not make a stadium.

A lot of the Namja Town defies description or explanation, mainly because the language barrier and the batshit crazy nature of a Tokyo playland designed by a 13-year old Japanese child high on sugar. As far as I could tell, kids played through a scavenger hunt-like puzzle game throughout the indoor park. They get a decorator ring of some sort, there’s a haunted forest and general obnoxious j-pop music for kids blaring through the whole place.

In any event, I was there for Ice Cream City. Like the Stadium, it was five counters of ice cream confections where you can get insane combination of sundaes. Since English was nowhere to be found, I didn’t want to start an international incident of chocolate sauce.

ice-cream-city-2 ice-cream-city-3As much as I wanted to buy something that Augustus Gloop would go to town on, I went to the Ice Cream Hall of Fame section. Here they had 100 variety of ice cream cups with every flavor you can imagine. When I write “every flavor you can imagine” I mean “use your imagination”. There’s goofy names like Vampire’s Blood and Happy Puppy’s Delight, but I aimed for a happy medium with the flavors. I went with Garlic, Cheddar Cheese Risotto, Scotch and Red Wine. Hmmm, I can taste the artificial flavoring like it was yesterday.

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I had read about Ice Cream City during my research of absurdly strange things to do in Tokyo. Obviously, you can seek out the cosplayers in Harajuku, the endless arcades, the pachinko parlors and the funky gadgets in the Akihabara section of the city. If you’re up for a little adventure and a “WTF is this?” diversion, then a land of ice cream is waiting for you.

TSA Will Always Suck and There’s Nothing You Can Do About It

Hope you enjoyed your Memorial Day holiday travels this weekend. With the tributes to our military, BBQs and kick off to summer, come more reports of increased travel and long lines at security. It seemed like last summer that everybody was raving about how great a job the TSA was doing … said nobody.

The headlines include mismanagement at the top where TSA Director of Security Peter Neffenger was fired for doing a shitty job despite getting $90,000 in bonuses. With budget cuts, the crew of screeners have decreased to 44,900 from 47,000 in 2013 while the numbers of flyers have increased steadily since. You can thank the better economy and cheaper flights for that passenger increase.

My sarcastically favorite aspect of this story is that the TSA failed to detect fake explosives and banned weapon 67 our of 70 times. On the bright side, they are doing a hell of a job confiscating bottled water.

It’s a sad state of affairs for all involved — passengers are missing flights, working for the TSA is a thankless job with little  advancement and airlines are losing money from delayed flights. Missing for the headlines are a couple of angles:

  1. TSA is a government agency along the lines of the DMV, Post Office, judicial system, the IRS and unemployment. All these agencies are needed, you don’t look forward to dealing with them and you have to live with it. The DMV is a soul crushing experience, the post office has one line with one person working the window, jury duty is a pain, understanding tax code is mind numbing and nobody wants to be on unemployment.
  2. Most airline passengers are idiots.

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Let’s focus on the idiot passengers. I’ve pointed this out that people are bringing way too much with them. On top of that, they are unwilling to check their bag in because of airlines fees or fear of having their luggage lost. Thus, going through TSA screening is a shit show when they have shopping bags, carry-ons, strollers and support animals. Meanwhile, they have to take their shoes off and metal out of their pockets while trying to put all their worldly possessions on the conveyor belt.

While the TSA doesn’t prevent terrorism, the screenings are needed because 2,653 firearms were confiscated in carry-ons last year. I’m sure those 2,653 people were ready to prevent the next terrorist situation like Liam Neeson in Non-Stop. Sorry gun nuts, you can’t bring it on board. Boooooo, we know, blame Obama.

Here are my tips on how to get through TSA faster:

Shut up. If you have TSA agent Jerky McJerkson giving you a hard time, just let it slide. I got picked for a random inspection once and the agent took out my passport case that keeps my currency and accidentally spilled all my money out of the floor. I didn’t flip out, I just said, “I got it” and picked up my cash.

Get to the airport 24 hours before your flight. I joke, but don’t wait to the day of your flight to pack. Get to the airport as early as you can, check-in, get though security, find a bar and watch Netflix on your phone.

Carry as little as possible. For families with small children, I get it. The rest of you, enough. Vacation is a not a trip to the mall. Put your stupid souvenirs in your suitcase and check it in. The airlines have never been better at getting your luggage back.

Pack better. You’ll have more room for things you bought while traveling so you don’t have to cram it into your carry-on. Here is my guide.

TSA Pre-check. Sure, but it’s not a cure all. I’ve had it for two years and I’ve been able to use it three times. The last time I got to use it, the line was 75 minutes long at JFK. I fly Virgin America and Atlantic out of Newark and pre-check is not set-up at that terminal. Most of the time, the TSA pre-check line is there but not staffed because there are not enough passengers or not enough staff. Weeeeeeeeee.

 

My Journey Didn’t Set Off Like I Planned

seinfeldMy first trip as an unknown, newbie travel blogger didn’t go off as I planned. Like Mike Tyson said, “Everybody has a plan until you get punched in the face.”

My overnight flight on Virgin Atlantic to my second home of London got delayed two hours out of Newark and airplanes switched to a Delta flight. Thus, my upper class reward seat was no more due to different configuration of the plane.

Before you make little violins with your fingers and throw a hashtag of #firstworldproblems at me, I understand that these things happen in aviation. You can’t be upset over something you have no control over. It’s the dickhead tourists and EuroTrash who throw a hissy fit. The common refrain is “Do you know who I am?”

I had three options presented at me at 3:30pm:
— Take that 12:30am red-eye flight out of Newark, be stuck in economy for six hours and get refunded the difference.

— Transfer my flight to JFK-New York for 7:30pm, be seated in Premium Economy,  get all amenities of Upper Class (lounge, fast track security and immigration) and receive a free round-trip economy flight to London or 40,000 miles.

— Take any number of flights the next day,

I took the second option even though at that time they called I was in my workout clothes while mopping my kitchen floor. I had three hours to get my ass to JFK at a reasonable time from Jersey in rush hour traffic.

This is exactly the reason why I stress not to put off packing and preparing until the night before or day of departure. Being a season traveler, I packed in stages over three days and prepped my house the night before. My day was stress-free of preparation … until Virgin called.

Like Batman seeing the Bat symbol, I had to spring into action. Freshen up, get my smart traveling clothes on (sportscoat, chinos, chambray shirt, tie, shoes and pocket square) and my suitcase and carry-on out the door.

Getting to the airport, I had to ignore my own guideline — be cheap with transportation. Taking the train to Penn Station-New York and then getting a Long Island Railroad to JFK would be cheap, but it would have been during rush hour. An Uber would put me back $100 and get me there about the same time (80-90 minutes), but I wouldn’t have to drag my crap around a bunch of commuters. As I’ve said, the worst part of traveling is the act of traveling with luggage.

God bless my Uber guy, he was a young college-age kid who had to deal with rush hour traffic on the George Washington Bridge and all various highways through the Bronx and Queens. He got me to JFK at 6pm, leaving 90 minutes to get through check-in, baggage drop off and security. I’ll be sipping fine wine in the lounge before I know it.

Cue sound of a record scratch.

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How To Pack Like a Man and a Woman — Shirts, Pants and Jackets Edition

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You are seeing four long sleeve shirts, four pants (two jeans, one khaki, one linen), three t-shirts, one sports jacket, one swim truck and one scarf in a 19″ x 13″ x 4″ large packing cube. Boom! Mic drop!

You too can accomplish this amazing feat in packing. As with my post about t-shirts, undies and socks, there’s no universal correct way in folding and packing. If you are use to one way, try looking into alternatives.

Here’s how I did my packing. The ultimate goal was to maximize space, while realizing clothes will get wrinkled. Mankind can only accomplish so much.

For the shirts, I did a modification from the below video from a Hong Kong tailor. He basically shows you how shirts are packed and shipped flat. At the end, instead of folding, I just rolled from the bottom.

I’ve looked at many pants and jeans folding videos, and what they fail to show is that come in different fabrics and styles. There’s not much give especially with my hard selvidge jeans, so I just do a tight roll. Jeans will take up the most space in your suitcase.

Finally, the sportscoat or jacket, like shirts, will wrinkle no matter how careful you roll. I’m bringing two, so I’ll wear one on the plane, the other I’ll pack. The turning inside and threading one sleeve into another is legit.

How To Pack Like A Man And A Woman — T-Shirts, Undies and Socks Edition

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If I had a ten commandments of travel packing, the first one would be “Thou shalt not pack more than ten pieces of either t-shirts, undies or pairs of socks.” The second would be “Thou shalt not pack a full suitcase when leaving.”

It’s simple math. If you’re going away for seven nights, bring seven of each. If you’re going way for 16 nights, bring half of that number, so eight items each. Fourteen = 7 of each. Twelve or 11 nights = 6 of each.

Those Tide sink packets will save up a lot of room in your luggage. Bed, Bath and Beyond, drug stores and Amazon sells them. Just finding room for drying in the hotel or where ever you are staying will take some creative maneuvering.

Since I’m maxing out for a month, I’ll be packing nine and wearing the tenth on the plane. It’s packing cubes to the rescue. If you’re a cheap ass, the compression/space saving bags are okay. I still bring one to separate the dirty from clean.

For folding , packing and maximizing space, I turn your attention to helpful internet videos. If you’re comfortable with how you pack, just give these a look and give it a try. You might, you know, learn something new! Just avoid anything that says “Hacks” or “The Way You’ve Been (fill in the blank) Is All Wrong”. I want to punch those arrogant clickbait articles in the face.

To rewind, I use to work with an ex-army ranger (think Christopher Meloni in Wet Hot American Summer), so he taught me the t-shirt folding technique. It makes a huge difference in packing for both sexes. The video below has been viewed 1.7 million times so it’s legit, obviously.

The only drawback is if it’s a graphic t-shirt, it’s hard to tell which is which.

For socks, it’s common sense to stick them into your shoes. If you don’t do that already, you might want to re-examine your life. I just roll them up. The roll up and folder over technique works just as fine, I just think they unnecessarily stretch out your socks.  A simple tight roll works just the same in my estimation.

The undies, I do a hybrid of folding into a triangle from the leg holes, then in thirds and roll from there. I’m not uploading pictures of my boxers, so just do your own research.

The end result is that I fitted nine boxers, six t-shirts and four socks into a 14″x 10″ x 3″ medium sized cube. Isn’t that much better than below?

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How To Pack Like a Man — Toiletries and Drugs Edition

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T-minus four days until I head out for the month. Time to pack, but in actually, I already started packing when I last traveled in April. Whaaaaaaaat? Yeah.

When I unpack for my last trip, I refill or replace what I need for the next trip. I store my dopp kit and when I’m heading out again, it’s already packed. Boom … like a boss!

For the guys, here’s a checklist of what you need. Break it down in terms of it in terms of parts of your body:

toothbrush capTeeth:

  • travel-size toothpaste. Since I’m gone for a month, I’m taking two. With toothpaste, you don’t need a big glob that covers the whole brush like you see in commercials. You just need a dime-size amount.
  • toothbrush with cap. Pack a new one. If you see a dentist twice a year, you’ll always get a new one. Just use a cap, not those long plastic cases. They are bulky, inflexible and take up too much space.
  • floss
  • mouthwash powder or Listerine strips

Hands:

  • hand sanitizer — I’ve read the stories about Purell not doing anything. I know, they just make my hands smell nice.
  • hand cream
  • nail clippers

Shave:

  • new razor with holder — those travel electric razors are shit.
  • mini shave brush
  • shaving oil or cream — those gel canisters are a huge waste. A small brush with Kiehl’s travel size cream will save space and give you a better shave. You don’t even have to bring the whole tube. You can squeeze some into a small travel jar.
  • Nick stick
  • small scissors — for noise hairs and to combat unibrow.

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How To Dress Like a Man for Travel, Not Like a Tourist

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With London, Spain, Morocco and South Africa ten days away, it’s time to prep for a month-long journey. I’m going to explain what I’m taking and why, and hopefully the gentlemen can take something away. Unfortunately, I’ve never dressed like a lady … when there was not cash involved.

Keeping in mind the weather is going to change for me from fall-like to a bit balmy and chilly at night and ending in summer temps. So this will be an all-weather wardrobe.

This is my tough-love advice for my brothers — if you dress like 13-year old boy at work, which is jeans, sneakers and whatever plaid shirt you can find that’s clean, you’re going to have to kick it up several notches. On the other end, it you are Mr. GQ smooth with the latest trends and high-end fashion, you’ll have dial it back. The key is striking a balance that mixes comfort, portability, practicality and versatility while not looking like a tourist.

Let’s start with the jackets.  Sportcoats will be your best friends. Inner pockets will keep pickpockets away from your wallet, cash and phone (when mixed with a shoulder bag). The front pockets can hold non-valuables like tissues, mints and your hands. They can be warn all-day and then blend into night-time for going on. In fashion, it’s called day-to-night.

With my two coats, I’ll bring my jean jacket if I’m going to a local pub/bar or if it’s a little more chilly. The light brown jacket is thin and unstructured so it can pack easily. My dark blue is a little more weighty, but all-cotton. I’ll wear that on the long plane trips for the arctic temperatures of the flights.

Then I’ll bring two scarves to add a little color and fit into London and Spain. The dudes love their scarves there. Remember my post about circular scarves and their multiple uses. There you go.

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With button-down shirts, you want to avoid loud colors and complex patterns. It’s all about simplicity so that you match everything with your jackets and your pants. Everything you see above are not dress shirts, but are slim fit. Europeans dress to fit their thinner frames in general.

Blue is the best color for traveling because it fits every season and can match easily with any pant and jacket. That’s why I’m bringing one dark and one light. The light chambray will be breathe easier and hold it’s shape for the whole trip.  Plus, all the sleeves can be rolled up so I don’t have to bring dorky looking short-sleeve shirts.

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