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Posts from the ‘Travel Tips’ Category



I’ve been to Amsterdam a lot.  Most of the time it was simply passing through the airport, but often times I had several hours layover … enough to go into town for a visit.  So, oddly, I have accumulated quite a lot of time visiting this city without ever having stayed a single night. While this might sound somewhat silly, it actually a great idea when you consider that the alternative is to sit around in an airport.

Amsterdam is an easy train ride from the airport, and doesn’t take long at all.  I often would go into town for a quiet breakfast at one of the local cafes, before strolling along the picturesque canals, shopping if needed, and then jumping on the short train ride back to the airport.

Bikes along Amsterdam Canal

Bikes along an Amsterdam Canal, ready for the morning commute.

Many years ago I nearly moved to Amsterdam to live on a houseboat, but choices were made and other paths pursued (like many watershed decisions we make throughout life).  However, I think there’s something intriguing about the idea of living so close to the water, somehow separate from the very heart of the city where you may reside.  It seems peaceful in many ways (like on the quiet mornings I would visit), yet it also seems that it could be loud and noisy from a vibrant city life (I am speculating). Perhaps I missed my calling, or perhaps I would not have liked it at all – I cannot say.

Houseboats on a canal in Amsterdam

Houseboats on a canal in Amsterdam

Did I say that there were a lot of bicycles in Amsterdam?  What an understatement … they were everywhere!  I liked that there were so many different types, representing the different character of the local residents. If I had been staying for any decent amount of time, I absolutely would have planned on renting one!!

Everywhere you looked there were bikes parked - everywhere!

Everywhere you looked there were bikes parked – everywhere!

To some the city has a reputation for certain activities, however, I found that morning life in Amsterdam started much the same as anywhere else in the world – with promise of adventure.

Morning life in Amsterdam

Morning life in Amsterdam

Dad’s Recommendation:
Get out of the airport if you have time on your long layovers!  However, make sure you have enough time to get through any customs, immigration and security protocols … so check these things out ahead of time (if possible, ask someone who has done it before).

P.S. Don’t do what Matt Barnes and I did one visit – to take tons of photos, then lose the camera before downloading the greatest pictures ever seen!!


Bullet Proof Glass

In some parts of the world you must be much more concerned about safety than in others.  Generally it’s not a good idea to go into places where there’s conflict or danger unless you have a very good reason that can’t wait until after the smoke has cleared.

Bullet proof glass is a little extreme in most places - but don't hesitate to consider safety for the journey.

Bullet proof glass is a little extreme in most places – but sometimes it’s prudent to be prepared (this photo was taken in Baghdad at the height of 2007 internal conflict).

Security companies can be found in virtually every part of the world, and they usually will have various levels of protection (and associated cost).  These firms are likely to have several ‘hardened’ vehicles available if you need a high level of certainty that you can safely get from point A to point B.  That said, you probably want to be safe at point A and point B as well, so static security is also an important consideration in dangerous parts of the world (usually provided by higher end hotels – at various levels of rigor). I’m not going to write more about this today, but be assured that there are many more things that could be said.

One thing most people don’t realise about hardened car doors with bullet proof glass … is that they are very, very heavy to open and close.

Dad’s Recommendation:
Plan ahead – and consider safety before you journey.  Bullet proof glass really does work, but isn’t a substitute for good planning.  Safety is a sensible thing to consider, no matter where you travel.


Cuddle Class Travel

For those who can’t sleep on long airline flights, there is a solution.  Many of us have wished for a chance to lay down for a nap without having to pay 2-3 times the economy fare for one of those business class seat. It used to be possible back in the old days when flights were not jam-packed full – I can vividly remember the pleasure and comfort of having a whole row to myself (or the envy towards anyone else who won the gate agent lottery for a seat assignment like that).  Now, Air New Zealand offers ‘Sky Couch’ options (aka Cuddle Class), and this provides an opportunity for various seating configurations – all of which are more comfortable than a standard seat assignment.  On the 13 hour flight from LAX to AKL, my wife slept for the first seven hours … which is simply amazing since she can seldom sleep on a long flight.  She would have enjoyed stretching out for longer, except made the mistake of looking at our daughter and subsequently swapping seats with her.

Photo from:

The Sky Couch is a configuration whereby the seats are similar to Lazy-boy chairs, with footrests that come up to seat level (and fill the space where your legs would normally go).  When you do this for 2-3 of the seats, you have a nice wide flat surface where you can stretch out.  Each such row was provided two fluffy pillows and a duvet, so made for a significant improvement over the standard thin pillow and blanket. Additional seat belt components were provided for use in any of the various seating configurations (all very self explanatory once you got used to the idea).

On our flight, I remained seated on the aisle while my wife stretched out with her feet resting in my lap.  She also tried lying the other way, and said that both were quite comfortable.  Many other passengers on our flight seemed to follow this seating configuration, although several other options were clearly possible.  I stayed awake long enough to watch a few movies on what I would consider the most advanced entertainment system I’ve seen on any airplane flight (and I’ve flown extensively on several airlines in the past).

The following link takes you to the Air New Zealand site which further describes the Sky Couch concept:

In addition, here is an external and independent link to the Airline article which gave this revolutionary seat concept an “Awesome Medal”:

Dad’s Recommendation:
Take a long trip to the homeland of Air New Zealand, and pay the extra to travel in cuddle class … you’ll arrive more rested than otherwise, for a fraction of the cost of business class.  However, do stay awake long enough to enjoy at least one movie on the high-tech entertainment system.  This seating option is presently available between Auckland, Los Angeles and London.


Disneyland in one day

When you’re making an international move, a great way to get the kids excited about the adventure is to spend a day at Disneyland.  However, a much longer visit is needed to truly experience the many facets of the park and surrounding attractions.

Walt Disney's creativity was simply magicalWalt Disney’s creativity was simply magical

It’s impossible to see and do everything in one day, so for us it was easier to simply have each of the kids identify the 3-4 things that they most wanted to do, and then focus on those few things … although some flexibility is required when faced with an enormous line of people waiting for certain rides.  A Fast-Pass helps by getting you to the front of the line, but you can only hold one pass at a time for each ticket.

Our kids have quite different interests, but we elected to keep the family together most of the time – and made a particular meeting place for the few times that we divided up to pursue specific interests (the pizza place in tomorrowland).  While the teenage boys were not that interested in the spinning teacups, and our daughter wasn’t that excited about the ‘Star Tours’, they did find out that most things were fun for almost anyone.

Spinning teacups are fun, no matter your age

Downtown Disney doesn’t require a park pass, but certainly helps prolong the experience from the previous day.  It was a great way to fill our day before an evening international flight.  There are certainly lots of shopping and dining options for almost any taste or interest.  I would recommend the Rainforest Cafe if you have not been to one before, and most kids would think the Lego store was a pretty cool place (they’re in process of building a new place a few doors down the road)

Dad’s Recommendation:
Plan a few days at Disneyland if possible, but don’t underestimate the benefit of just a single day to break up a long journey.

Use the Fast-Pass system with care.  We would get Fast-Passes for the parents, then use those for the teenage boys in the family – so was one way to maximize the use of these passes.


Travel Tips when Moving

We are traveling across country as part of a move to New Zealand.  This type of travel is much different to the business trip where it’s all about the art of the carry-on, with micro-computers/media devices, ensuring no liquids, metal belts or lace-up shoes.  Our trip is more about maximizing the checked luggage (reference my previous review post about the luggage scale) … so we ended up with 11 checked bags for the five of us (plus 5 carry-on’s and 5 personal items – making 21 articles to keep track of).  The first rule when traveling with lots of people and bags, is that it’s important to keep a good count on everyone and everything – and avoid the ‘Home Alone’ possibilities.

The kids enjoying the Sky Club before departing home in Atlanta

I’ve often wondered what the absolutely most important item is for keeping in your hands for use during the flight.  I’ve tried many things over the years, and often find my iPod is the best since I can listen to some tunes during the long hours on a plane.  My son just bought a Nook colour and I really liked using that as an e-reader – even if it doesn’t provide the same texture, feel and smell of a good book.

Comfy sleep is possible on a plane

However, it’s hard to overlook a comfy eye-shade, blanket and neck cushion as my daughter demonstrates.  It reminded me that we need to consider the different needs of everyone in the family when we’re helping prepare for a long trip.  We made a point of stopping in Dallas Forth Worth (DFW) on our trip since she was born nearby.  There’s not much that compares with the contagious excitement of a young child about the simple pleasures of life – such as visiting the city of her birth.  Sometimes it’s worth making an extra layover instead of simply taking the direct flight.  Not only does an extra layover break up a long flight into smaller segments, but it allows you to experience the culture and atmosphere of a different place.   Each airport seems to incorporate the character of the city it serves, and DFW isn’t an exception – and truly feels like you have landed in Texas.

The boys with a Yukon full of luggage.

Getting a large group of people and bags to and from an airport isn’t a small challenge either.  Using a shuttle is usually the best option, whether a free service or on a cost per person basis.  We’ve used taxi’s and limo’s before, but there are limits about how many people and bags can be moved at one time.  When we landed in LA, we were able to get a GMC Yukon XL, and it was an ideal size for our family of five with all our stuff.  I shudder to think of how we would have managed with a smaller vehicle.  Of course, moving house and home is a much more challenging movement than a holiday, but it’s important to consider these things when planning out the trip.  In addition, with a family of five it’s important to choose a hotel room carefully.  In our case it made sense to get two rooms with a connecting door – the extra space goes a long way to avoiding the pressure cooking experience of sharing a room with a couple of teenage boys.

Dad’s Recommendation:
Plan your family trip so that there is adequate time to visit the Sky Club Lounge (or equivalent) at each of the airports you visit along the way.  Allow an extra 30-60 minutes so that you can relax in comfort, and don’t need to rush between gates.  It’s best to minimize anxiety and stress at every opportunity.

Also, make a point of visiting DFW – it’s also one of my favorite airports and is very well organized. The new SkyLink makes a fabulous way to see the airport from 50 ft above the ground, plus makes for a quick connection between terminals.