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Travel: Five Things You Should Always Pack

It shouldn’t cost a fortune to outfit your travel kit and many of the most practical items you can pack are things you may already have around the house. I sometimes fly out on short notice so my bag stays ready to go. Here are five inexpensive items I don’t like to leave home without:

Duct tape: I pick up small rolls in the hardware store $1 bin. The strong tape has helped me mend a broken sandal, patch a tear in my day pack and keep my sunglasses together long enough to make it home.

Small bar of hotel soap: The soap does more than lather up. I keep a bar of good soap in my my luggage to keep it smelling fresh and occasionally slide a bar along the zipper on my suitcase to keep it zipping smoothly. (My favorite scented hotel product has to be the Time to Chocolate line offered by the historic Sacher Hotels. Yum!)

Sewing kit and folding scissors: Buttons fall off, hems come unstitched. I’d rather do almost anything than sew, but sometimes a stitch or two is necessary. Most upscale hotels provide a tiny sewing kit. It there isn’t one in your room, just ask. The tiny pair of folding scissors can help with everything from opening packaging to a quick trim of the bangs.

Wet wipes: It’s been years since I changed a baby’s diaper on the road but I still keep a small packet of fragrance-free wet wipes with me to use for everything from wiping down the germy airplane seatback tray to cleaning mud off my shoes.

Extra reclosable plastic bags. The TSA isn’t the only reason to have a stash of extra baggies around. They’re handy for bagging up sandy beach souvenirs and separating prone-to-leak toiletries. Larger bags can be used to sort and compress clothing to create more room in your suitcase.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Travel: Five Tips for Travel with Teens

   Packing up the kids for a family road trip is one thing, but flying off to Europe with a teen is a totally different experience. With a little planning and patience you can share a travel experience that you’ll both cherish.
Here are five tips for international travel with a teenager:  

Think ahead: I ask my teen if she wants to sit with me or have her own space before I book the tickets. Then I pack a large ziplock bag with everything she will need to help her stay comfortable during the overnight flight. The kit includes an eye mask, a small inflatable pillow, a pair of lightweight socks and several sets of disposable ear plugs. All she’ll need is an airline blanket.

Take it easy:  Traveling on my own, I usually push on after an overnight flight and crash at the end of the day. But traveling with teenagers is different. Teens need a lot of sleep and you don’t really know how well he or she rested before departure. After checking into the hotel I usually suggest they nap for an hour or so while I unpack, go over guidebooks or catch up on emails.

Please feed the bear: We usually eat a good breakfast before we set out each morning (a hotel with a hot buffet is always a good thing) but I pack nuts, chocolate and fruit (dried or fresh) for those moments between meals when we need to sit down (sometimes in separate places) and recharge our batteries.

Be flexible: Give your teen (some) freedom to wander. They crave independence and it helps young travelers develop the skills they’ll need when they go out on their own adventures. Be sure your child knows the address and location of your hotel and can reach you in an emergency. (I keep the texting function open on my phone when I travel.) Bonus: There can be unexpected benefits to letting your teen pick the itinerary for the day. One of my daughters read about a small designer outlet on a side street off St-Germain.  She led the way and we spent an hour browsing with the oh-so-stylish locals and scored the jacket of her dreams.

Practice patience. Teens play it close. It might be a few years before you get to realize just how much they enjoyed themselves, but eventually the poker face will disappear and you’ll hear them admit it was the trip of a lifetime.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Travel: Fighting for Space on Crowded Flights

   I followed the thread of passengers though the 737 to my aisle seat. The man sitting in what my boarding pass indicated was my seat was a friendly giant. He was huge in that former-college-linebacker-who-has-put-on-a-lot-of-weight way, and he smiled up at me while I stood there looking first at him, then my seat assignment and then the number above the row of seats. Finally, I said “I’m sorry. You are in my seat.”
He looked confused for a moment and then when he realized the window seat was already occupied and I owned the aisle which meant he’d bought a ticket to the middle seat, he looked desperate. Beating back the polite Southern girl who still owns a good chunk of my brain and often insists I defer, I waited for him to slide into the middle seat and then took my own. Of course, he didn’t really fit in the middle and sprawled out into my space was well as the man on the other side.

   After a bit of shuffling, we silently sorted out our seat belts and the plane took off. I surreptitiously took a photo of the three knees, two of mine and one of his, in front of my seat.

   It was a long and uncomfortable flight. He immediately fell into a deep sleep, snoring loudly and sprawling even further into my seat.  I moved to lower the armrest between us but it was somewhere in the middle of his back. Unless I wanted to put my arm behind him, and risk either having it trapped there or waking him up, the armrest would stay up, removing what little barrier there should be between us.

   I felt a little guilty for not surrendering the aisle but the thought of sitting between the two men for a four-hour flight from Denver to Fort Lauderdale filled me with panic. I spent seven hours in a middle seat on two different flights last week. The thought of doing it again was like being asked to wear a plastic bag on my head.

   When our drinks and snacks were served, the man woke up and promptly rested his left arm against the edge of my tray and his right arm on his tray while eating his hamburger. After lunch he was was asleep again. The flight was full, there was nowhere for any of us to move, so I bit my tongue. But it seems personal space has become the weapon of choice for the airline industry. They count on our need—some of us need it more than others— to drive us to pay for the privilege of being the sole occupant of a seat. And that’s what I usually do. I’d tried to upgrade but both First Class and the expanded economy option were sold out. On this flight, an aisle seat was the best I could do and it didn’t do me much good at all.

   Some people will see my complaint as a dig at the man’s size, but it isn’t that at all.  My point is it’s not always about how much space we take up. It’s how we use the space we have.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and public radio stations across the country. She is the author of Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Travel: Searching for the Perfect Suitcase

I don’t want much. I just want the perfect suitcase.

I spend hours looking at suitcases and duffles and carry-on bags. I shop online, in department stores and at specialty shops. I read reviews and ask my friends for recommendations. I weigh the merits of outdoorsy rolling duffles, high-tech polycarbonate and ultralight nylon bags.

Occasionally, I make the sacrifice and buy the expensive bag and get my heart broken when it comes back to me with a broken zipper or missing wheel. Sometimes I make an impulse buy, snagging a bargain at an outlet or discount store and usually, but not always, after only a few flights, I’m disappointed.

Finding a good bag is no easy task. A suitcase has to be heavy enough to survive the battering it will take just getting through the airport and into the belly of the plane. But, it has to be light enough that I can manage it if I have to run through a busy terminal to catch a flight. It needs to fit in the overhead bin when I don’t want to pay a fee to check it. It has to be practical, with a place for everything. It needs wheels, but not just any kind of wheel. The perfect suitcase needs to roll in every direction, with only the barest touch. Oh, and I’d really like it to cost less than a week’s salary.

Of course, If I’m completely honest, there’s more than practicality involved. As with anything we wear or carry, a certain amount of vanity comes in to play.

I hate to admit it, but I think a suitcase can say something about its owner. Spend enough time in airports and you start to notice people and the bags they carry. You know what I mean. They don’t have to be in uniform; when you see men and women who have stacked and strapped their TravelPro bags into a tower of portable efficiency, you know it’s a flight crew.

Watching the older couple with the Avocado Green hard-body Samsonite you get the feeling they’re still using the suitcase they carried on their honeymoon, an investment that obviously paid off. And the woman who is holding the knockoff “Louis Vuitton” duffle while she scarfs down a Big Mac and waits with the crowd until time to board and squeeze into her economy seat? Well, she’s not fooling anyone.

I have a closet full of suitcases that promised great things and didn’t live up to expectations, but I keep on looking. Like I said, I don’t want much. I just want a travel companion that didn't cost an arm and a leg and won’t let me down. Oh, and if it happens to say to anyone who’s watching that “Here is a woman who
is really going somewhere,” well, so much the better.


Question: Have you found the perfect piece of luggage? I'd love to hear your recommendation!

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington, whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of 'Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons' and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Travel: Don’t Get Too Comfortable (Those aren’t pillows!)

   You hear a lot about how uncomfortable modern travel has become and it’s all true. Long lines, security screenings, cancelled flights and cramped seats can take the fun out of getting from one place to another. But, for the sake of argument, I’d like to point out things can go terribly wrong when we get too comfortable.

    It was the earliest flight out and we were a bleary bunch as we boarded. I’d scored an upgrade and sank gratefully into my first class aisle seat. Some people closed their eyes as soon as they sat down and you could already hear snores in the cabin even as the line of passengers was still filing down the aisle and fighting for space in the overhead bins.

     The woman beside me immediately opened her computer, her fingers flying across the keyboard. Across the aisle to my right, two men, dressed in suits and ties, were silently drinking cups of coffee and scanning emails on their Blackberrys. Finally, the plane took off and after breakfast was served the cabin was silent, except for the sound of my seat mate's typing.

   Later, folding back the pages of my newspaper, I glanced over at the two men across the aisle and realized they were both asleep. The thing is, they weren’t just dozing. They were deeply asleep, dead to the world and sort of folded toward one another. Not quite touching, but close. Very close.
    Smothering a laugh, I went back to my paper and it was some time before I glanced their way again. But things had only gotten worse. The two men were by then, shoulder to shoulder, face to face. They looked like an old married couple sleeping nose to nose, with eyes closed and mouths wide open. Still not touching, but close. So dangerously close.

    I tried not to stare but it was hard. I’ve flown a lot of miles and seen a lot of sleeping passengers, but I’ve never seen anything quite like the two men across from me that morning.

    The flight attendant came down the aisle with coffee and did a double-take when she saw them.  Startled, she looked over at me and then hurried back to the galley. Soon another flight attendant was peeking out. By this time the woman beside me had noticed and was laughing softly.

    Our flight attendant returned and, obviously thinking ahead to what might happen if one of the men woke first and, well, took offense, leaned in and asked softly if she could get either of them a pillow. At the sound of her voice their eyes opened, each immediately taking in the closeness of the other, and they flew apart, retreating as far as possible to the edge of the seats.

    The men sat up and with extreme nonchalance, straightened ties, checked wristwatches and brushed invisible lint off their trousers. It reminded me of the scene in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, where John Candy and Steve Martin wake up and realize they’ve been sleeping spooned together, hands tucked where they shouldn’t be, and try to shake it off with a lot of harrumphing and throat clearing.  I had to hide my face behind the newspaper in my hands again.

    When the plane landed the two men quickly gathered up their belongings, walked out into the crowded terminal and never looked back.  And I’m willing to bet that’s one extremely uncomfortable travel story neither of them will ever tell another soul.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington. Her audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

‘Barefoot Bandit’ email ridicule police

By GENE JOHNSON, Associated Press
SEATTLE (AP) — “Barefoot Bandit” Colton Harris-Moore ridiculed police and prosecutors in emails and phone calls from prison recently, undercutting his claims that he's sorry for his two-year crime spree, the U.S. attorney's office said in court documents filed Tuesday.

 The 20-year-old, who awaits federal sentencing, referred to Island County Sheriff Mark Brown as the “king swine,” called prosecutors who handled his case “fools,” and referred to news reporters as “vermin.” The self-taught pilot bragged about his two-year crime spree, during which he hopscotched the U.S. in stolen cars, boats and small planes before being captured in the Bahamas in July 2010 a hail of bullets.

“The things I have done as far as flying and airplanes goes, is amazing,” he wrote in one email last August. “Nobody on this planet have done what I have, except for the Wright brothers.”

Federal prosecutors included excerpts from the emails and phone transcripts in a sentencing memorandum filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court. Harris-Moore was sentenced last month to more than seven years in prison for a long string of state crimes, mostly on his hometown of Camano Island and in the San Juan Islands, but he is still scheduled to be sentenced on Friday for federal crimes, including stealing a plane that belonged to a Bonners Ferry cattle rancher.

Prosecutors are seeking a six-and-a-half year sentence, the most they can ask for under the terms of Harris-Moore's federal plea deal. His lawyers asked for a sentence of just under six years in their own memorandum filed Tuesday. The plea deal calls for proceeds from a movie deal to be used to pay more than $1.2 million in restitution to his victims, and the judge can issue a sentence outside the plea deal's suggested range.

Emma Scanlan, one of Harris-Moore's lawyers, said the excerpts were cherry-picked from more than 700 pages of emails and phone transcripts. None of the excerpts suggests that Harris-Moore doesn't feel sorry for the people he victimized, she noted.

“Maybe he doesn't the like the sheriff's office, maybe he doesn't like the prosecutors,” Scanlan said. “But he's recognizing the most important group of people.”

Prosecutors said the excerpts offered a striking difference in tone to the apology letter Harris-Moore wrote to the state and federal judges handling his case. In the letter, he said he did not want to glamorize anything he had done, and he apologized profusely to his victims, saying he learned only too late of the fear he was instilling in them. He said his childhood — with an abusive, alcoholic mother and a series of her ex-con boyfriends — was one he would not wish on his “darkest enemies.”

He also wrote in the letter that he wanted to apologize to the Island County and San Juan County sheriffs' offices, “who I know were only doing their jobs.” In a monitored telephone call Dec. 9, a week before his sentencing, he said he wanted his supporters in the courtroom because “the more people I have from my camp the better, because that's just one less seat that will be filled by the media vermin or the swine, the king swine himself, Mark Brown.”

The judge who sentenced Harris-Moore in state court emphasized his difficult childhood, called his case “a triumph of the human spirit” and suggested it's remarkable that he didn't commit worse crimes, given his background.

In an email a few days after the sentence, Harris-Moore recounted the sentencing.

“When all the acting and spreading of high propaganda on the part of the state was over and my lawyers argued the true facts, the judge gave me a much-appreciated recognition and validation, calling my story a 'triumph of the human spirit,'” he wrote. “She wasn't having none of the weak argument the prosecution tried to peddle, and ended up handing down a sentence that was the lowest possible within the range. … Once again, I made it through a situation I shouldn't have.

TSA: Man hid snakes, tortoises in pants

MIAMI (AP) — The Transportation Security Administration says a man tried to board a flight from Miami to Brazil with nylon bags filled with exotic snakes and tortoises hidden in his pants.

TSA spokesman Jonathon Allen says the man was stopped after passing through a body scanner at Miami International Airport last Thursday. Security officials spotted the nylon bags filled with seven snakes and three tortoises stuffed inside the man's pants.

The South Florida Sun Sentinel reports the animals were taken by the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife. The unidentified passenger was arrested.