ATTN. I want to go to there.

I’m on the road this weekend, and apparently I had a lot of travel-type stuff to say, so this edition is geared toward travel and a little bit of adventure reading. Believe me, two letters in two days will be an anomaly. As always, thanks for your attention to Attn:

Travel tricks

I know some of you readers have serious road warrior credibility, but I’ve found a few little travel tricks and tips that are worth passing along. This breaks down basically into gear and tech. Gear first.

Years ago my old pal Dwayne Melancon turned me onto the Eagle Creek packing folders, and I’ve been using them ever since. These things really do keep your clothes from getting all wrinkled. Dwayne does long international trips, and I just do short domestic hops, but the folder has worked great for both of us. And speaking of containers for stuff, find an old hardshell eyeglass case, and use it to carry all your little cords, cables, wires, and dongles. I’ve usually got at least two of these floating around in my bag. Super handy. Last, I’ve done a few trips with a relatively new bag from Osprey, and I love it. It’s the Porter 46. I’m writing this while in Idaho, and I’ve just finished unloading 150 workbooks and trifold materials, plus shoes, laptop, cable junk, the above mentioned packing folder, and other clothes. Previously I’ve carried a weekend’s worth of clothes and shoes, plus a laptop and accessories, and I still had room for my big old wetsuit. I mean, I’m 6’4″ and the water is cold which translates to a thicker wetsuit, so my wetsuit really does take up a lot of space. Very impressive. And it all compresses to a size small enough for a carry-on. Of course that means the bag ends up with the density of a black hole, so there’s that. The best part is that it converts to a super-comfy backpack in a flash. The shoulder straps are padded, and they even included a decently sized hipbelt (no 1″ webbing here), and sternum strap. It’s a good piece of gear.

On to the tech stuff. A coworker recently mentioned that she’d gotten good results by using Priceline for her hotel bookings. That’s nothing new, but I’ve been burned by Priceline in the past and it’d been a few years since I used the name your own price thing. I’ve now done two bookings through them, and I’m hooked. I can reliably get a Jr Suite at a Hampton Inn for $50/night. That’s a pretty good discount. When I asked at the front desk if I could just book directly with them for the same price, they first asked what the price was because they don’t see it when it’s booked through Priceline. When I told the desk attendant, her jaw dropped and she assured me she couldn’t help me (I actually got the vibe that maybe she was a little skeptical about that price). I retired to my suite, and promptly booked my next visit for the same price. Use the “name your own price” feature, and check the 2.5 star option in your area, and start with $45/night, just in case. Note that it’s a total gamble on what hotel you’ll get, but by being aware of the area you’re going, you can manage it a bit.

I’ve been messing around with a smartphone app called OnTheFly (free: iPhone or Android). I like it because it helps me visualize how airfare rates fluctuate and if my schedule is flexible, I can aim for when the price is lowest. Of course Southwest and smaller regional airlines aren’t represented, so you’d have to account for that. Otherwise, the service does a killer job of finding the best fares. You can’t buy through them, though. Results are presented in a way that you can give them to your travel agent, so they can recreate the itinerary with all the mysterious codes. However, I’ve found that does a good job of recreating the itinerary, and it gives you links to purchase. For my most recent trip, I researched using the web version of OnTheFly, called Matrix, then used those results to recreate the trip with Hipmunk, which then gave me a link to buy through the airline. In my case, when I tried to recreate the Maxtrix/OnTheFly results directly through, I just couldn’t find the same price. When I pushed the search through, it matched the Matrix search, and sent me to AlaskaAir to purchase the fare with no trouble.

Just a couple more quick pointers re: travel. First, check out FlightFox if you have a more complicated itinerary. For a sliding fee, they’ll put your search parameters in front of a crowd of professional and amateur travel agents. If one of them can match the itinerary for a lower price than you could find, you pay the fee and the agent gets to keep 75% of it. I haven’t used it, but have read some good reviews. Finally, if you want to get very serious about travel, particularly racking up points for “free” airfare, check out the Travel Hacking Cartel. It’s a subscription service run by Portland, OR author Chris Guillebeau. I actually know people who’ve used the service and found it to be valuable. And I personally have read Guillebeau’s book, The $100 Startup and loved (LOVED) it.

Speaking of reading

I recently finished reading The Voyage of the Cormorant. I liked it so much I sent a copy to one of my cousins, and wrote a thank you note to the author. The book is by Christian Beamish, a former editor at The Surfers Journal (I subscribe). He built an 18′ sailboat and sailed it from San Diego down along the coastline of Baja Mexico. He’s a fantastic writer and halfway through the book I had noticeable cabin fever. His descriptions of solitude, weather, fishing, and surfing along the journey were engaging and evocative. Anyway, it’s a great book if you’re a surfer or enjoy adventure stories.

I’m currently reading The Dog Stars by Peter Heller. It’s a post-apocalyptic novel about a guy and his dog, living in the Colorado mountains and how they survive. Snippets of backstory are dripped out over time, but envision empty box stores, ruined airports, a dead wife, a mysterious blood disease, and the occasional roaming marauder. Despite how it sounds, it is an introspective tale. It’s told in the first person, and the main character has a lot of time alone. I’m about half done, and only put it down long enough to type this.

Happy travels

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