Monday, December 29, 2008

Good experience with ABC

We picked up our car last night from ABC airport parking and we were very satisfied with the experience. It cost us $82 for the week, using a coupon we found on When we dropped off the car, a shuttle took us directly to the airport. When we arrived back at the airport, we called ABC to notify them of our arrival. We had to walk down one level from baggage claim and outside to a pick-up point. A van came by within a few minutes and took us back to the lot, where our car was waiting for us at the entrance, which meant we didn’t have to carry the luggage far.

We’d had to leave our keys, but the car was in good condition. Due to the ease of use, the convenience, the competitive price and the polite staff, we’ll be using them again.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Flying with a one year old

I was afraid of the four flights that made up our holiday itinerary. In the end, the travel wasn’t easy, but neither was it horrible. Here are some ideas I collected and tips I learned.

  • If at all possible, travel with someone else. Having my husband there made it very manageable, if at times challenging. Doing it alone would have been exhausting.

  • Pack a lot of diapers, drinks (milk) and snacks. Those are things you don’t want to run out of. If using cloth diapers, airport travel might be a good time to make a disposable exception, unless you have extra room for soiled diapers in your carry on.

  • Taking a carseat is a pain that is best avoided. However, if you must take one, as we needed to, it has a few benefits. One, if you can get an open seat on the plane, it’s easier to strap baby into a carseat with hopes that he’ll stay there than it is to strap her into an airline seat. You might get more hands-free time on the plane. Two, the Go-go kidz travel device is really as cool as I’d heard. It converts a carseat into a rolling piece of luggage, basically like a stroller. It’s lightweight and easy to roll through the airport and River was quite content being pulled in it. When you have to board shuttle buses and the like, you don’t have to disassemble a stroller, but instead just push down the handle, pick up the child in the carseat and carry it on board.

  • Waiting areas offer great entertainment. The space and the interesting people around were enough to captivate River for a long term, with little need for extra toys. Another benefit of traveling with another adult is that one adult can sit with the luggage while the second follows the child’s wanderings.

  • Do whatever you need to do to get that open seat available on the flight for baby. Two adults plus baby plus stranger in a row of three narrow seats = hell. Avoid it however possible. Also keep in mind that carseats generally are only allowed to be put in window seats.

  • To increase the odds of getting an extra seat, head for the back. If traveling with another, book a window and an aisle in a row of three and leave the middle open. Someone stuck in the middle is generally willing to trade. If you feel annoyed by the extra time or hassle it takes to head back and to get off last, remember that the survival rates in crashes are highest in back.

  • Try to board when they offer boarding to people who need special assistance if you feel you need it. If you don’t, board last and let baby run around as long as possible before having to be constrained.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Minnesota snowmobiling

Thanks to my father, who organized the trip, we were able to spend a whole day snowmobiling, MN-style, the way I did during my childhood. There are a lot of snowmobile fanatics in my family, including my father, brother, uncle and cousin. During my childhood, my father would go up to twice a month and he often took us with him. At one point, I even had my own snowmobile.

By the age of 13 or so, I wasn’t interesting in spending the weekend in the cold with my family and I stopped going. I hadn’t been on a real snowmobile trip since.

We traveled about 25 miles, from Faribault in southern Minnesota (known as the place of manufacture of the Tilt a Whirl rides) west to Madison Lake, then 25 miles back. The trail was straight and easy. Part of it went through the attractive Sakatah State Park, where we crossed many wooden bridges and drove along a tree-lined path.

The noise and gas-guzzling nature of snowmobiling goes against my generally eco-friendly nature. It’s not something I’ll engage in regularly. However, for an occasional event, it was fun. The roar of the snowmobile makes it almost impossible to talk, even if sharing a vehicle. So I fell into a meditative-like state, left alone with my thoughts as the scenery passed by.

My prior memories of snowmobiling center on the way that my snot would freeze to the facemask. This time, it wasn’t so cold which made the ride much more comfortable. My long underwear, snowmobile gear and facemask did their job, with the heated handlebars an added bonus. My dad said that the freezing snot is still a problem though.

“My glove can only take so much,” he joked. He’s thinking of using an antihistime before going in the future to reduce the drippage.

Part of the Minnesota snowmobile culture is frequent stops at the bars and restaurants along the route. We stopped three times, which was at least one more than I needed. Our first stop was my favorite. Tucker’s Tavern is a small cafĂ© decorated with bright wood and with a clear dog theme. The burgers, sandwiches, soups and salads were consistently good and the service friendly. The quaint little town of Elysian was also a sight to see.

Snowmobiling itself it easy. It’s more exercise for the fingers than anything else. The most difficult part is navigating narrow trails, taking sharp turns and getting out of a snowbank. It’s good to have an experienced person in your group if possible, or at least a couple of people strong enough to tug a snowmobile back into place.

If you want to try it, here are a few tips:

  • The best snowmobiling is up north, where the trails run through the forest and you feel like you are in the middle of nowhere.

  • Plan your trip for winter, at the time that maximizes the chances of cold and snow.

  • Be cautious at night, especially of other snowmobilers, who may have been drinking or may be speed demons. Also, be cautious crossing water, especially if temperatures have warmed up in recent days.

  • The Department of Natural Resources website has helpful information about trails and services along or near the trails.

  • These sites provide information about snowmobiling in their region (these are all in the north) as well as contacts for snowmobile rentals.
    The north shore
    Ely (this is a mecca for snowmobilers)

  • Remember that the speed limit is 50 miles/hour in state parks. Also, that driving a snowmobile while intoxicated is illegal and can get you an DUI just like driving a car drunk.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Riding out my elite membership in style

Today was my second to the last flight of my elite frequent flier status on two airlines. At the end of the year, my membership expires and I failed to rack up enough miles this year to qualify for next year’s membership. I will return to flying like every other average Jane out there. I admit I’m dreading it.

The short lines for check in are a real bonus, as are the occasional shorter security lines. Special number to call for assistance can be helpful, especially when, like this week, airlines just don’t answer their toll free number because of “heavy volume.” Most valuable of all, in my opinion, was Northwest’s policy of upgrading elite members to first class when there are extra seats available.

I LOVE that perk! Unlike American Airlines’ lame policy of a couple of vouchers to maybe be able to pay a supplement to upgrade, if Northwest has first class seats available, they will give them to elite members in order of ranked membership. This seems to me to be a real acknowledgement of appreciation for frequent fliers. The price of the meal or wine served isn’t all that much but it’s inspired a lot of loyalty in me. I’ve often flown Northwest over other airlines, despite service issues, despite a higher price, just for the chance of being upgraded. The fact that Continental also honored that policy was a double bonus. The experience is vastly different from being on the cramped American planes and seeing wide open spaces up front, but not even being offered a blanket, much less a larger seat.

Tonight, even though I was traveling on miles, Northwest upgraded me to first class due to a full flight. I had a seat and so did my infant son, who sat in his carseat. It was a short flight, but he enjoyed the milk refills and free bananas. I appreciated the Twix and the white wine. We both enjoyed the space.

I suppose we’ll see what happens to Northwest’s plans and services upon the merger with Delta. I hope the upgrade policy isn’t lost though. Even though I won’t qualify for it anytime soon, it’s enough to make me try to qualify again.

Whether or not I will depends on my employment status. If I find a job this year that involves a lot of travel, I’ll probably return to elite status by the following year. If not, I’ll have to learn to deal with long lines and poor seats.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Saving money on airport parking

After I saw the last charge from our stay at the economy airport parking lot ($15 a day adds up quickly) I decided to spend more time looking into the options for our next trip.

We considered public transport – but with a baby, bags, a late return flight and snowy, sleety weather, it’s possible, but not easy.

Then I looked into the shuttle buses. They are fairly convenient, but the price for two adults makes them less of a good deal than when a single person is traveling.

A taxi is easy, but the priciest of the options.

Finally, I googled “cheapest long term parking” and the airport. I found this cool site where several options near my airport were listed, as well as coupons with the best deals. These cost about 1/3 less than the airport economy parking.

I then googled the cheapeast options. The cheapest choice near Newark was EZ Way parking, but I found some pretty horrible reports from customers. On to the next ones: ABC Parking (which will cost $10.50/day including taxes) and AirPark (costs a bit more than ABC). Both came up pretty good after a Google search.

So we’ll try ABC Parking this time, which offers a free shuttle to the airport. The total cost of driving and parking in this lot will be cheaper than taking a taxi or the shuttle. While it’s less environmentally friendly than using public transport, it’s more convenient and we’re not at risk of being left out in the snow if our flight is delayed and public transport is slowed down.

This is one of those times when I want to say yay for internet research!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

the secret New York Chinatown

Yes, New York has its Chinatown, where tourists visit searching authentic Chinese food. But during a recent visit to New York, I accidentally discovered a secret Chinatown. In Flushing (Queens), there are no red arches and almost no visible tourists.

Almost everyone on the street is Asian. Almost all of the stores are Asian. Almost all of the signs are written in Asian languages. As Caucasians, we felt comfortable walking around. But we were the odd ones out. The services there were directed to the local Asian restaurants.

I wanted to find some Chinese baby pants that have the slit in them so a child can bend over, go to the bathroom, and go on with their playing. When I went into stores and asked where I could find a place selling baby clothes, I was directed to Children’s Place or Macy’s. They seemed to just assume I was lost there, that I couldn’t possibly be looking for Asian clothes.

“I’m looking for Chinese baby pants,” I’d say.

When I did finally find a Korean store that sold baby clothes, they showed me a pair of Guess jeans, with snaps down the legs. No authentic slits for me.

What brought us to Flushing was the raving reviews I saw online for Joe’s Shanghai Restaurant. I was looking for delicious ethnic food, I wanted to bring dinner to a friend who had just had a baby, and the descriptions of the steamed dumplings were irresistible.

Good thing we called ahead and ordered takeout, because the hole-in-the-wall restaurant was packed, and then some. Our order was ready at the counter though, so after elbowing through the crowd waiting to get in, I could pay and leave quickly.

I think the dumplings would have been even more delicious fresh at the table. But they were still wonderful – the dough just the right firmness, the pork sweet and meaty. The garlic eggplant was also especially good, with the eggplant slices just the right texture.

Flushing is accessible by subway. It’s the last stop on the purple line and Joe’s is walkable from the subway station. There is also a municipal lot that allows three-hour parking on the lower level and 12 hours on the upper level. This fills up quickly on the weekends though, so get there early.

I wish I lived where I could get food like Joe’s on a whim. Since I don’t, I’ll have to wait until my next trip to New York to enjoy the spices and flavors.