Although I have been an international traveler since I was eight months old (when I got my first passport) after a very extended lull, the last several years have been very much ramping up for me. You know, despite the general awfulness that is the state of airline travel in the modern world. Ah, remember Pan Am? TWA? Continental how I never knew I’d miss you so! And we thought it was bad back then! At least there’s no more smoking on flights.
When it comes to finding flights, hotels, train routes, and general travel planning, I, am a crazy person. For whatever reason it helps me focus, and doesn’t stress me out like it does most people. I’ve been asked how I go about it all, so I thought I’d give a list of sites, apps, and products that I use. You might have other suggestions (please do comment!) but this is just what I have been using and what works for me when planning a trip.
Skiplagged: The first thing I check is this app, and not because I actually purchase anything. Skiplagged will tell me about airlines that get suppressed by other websites, such as regional Canadian airlines like Porter. Did you know that Albania has an airline that flies out of Boston to various European cities? Well, now you do.
Scott’s Cheap Flights: I’m pretty sure friends are sick of me forwarding them these emails. I signed up for the Premium subscription, but for ages I had the free newsletter; it was how I was able to go to Marrakech for so cheap ($420!) They even featured my trip on their subscriber list. Scott’s is a good jumping off point which will then lead you to…
Google: This is the most basic way to go, and make sure you do it incognito in your browser. The matrix for Google Flights is better than a lot of sites and you can view pricing by the day. Once I see or get an idea of flights — and especially multi-city flights I am doing — my next stop is to…
Airline website: Really, you are never going to get much of a better deal than from the airline themselves. A lot of pricing you see on Google or Kayak does not include bag fees, seat selections, taxes and all of that nonsense. You might as well sign-up for the rewards program and get down to searching the days you had viewed on Google. I have a stupid amount of memberships and I try to transfer points to partner airlines when I can. It is really annoying when points expire but sometimes that can’t be helped. Delta Sky Miles don’t expire which is nice.
Two Things I Love
TripAdvisor: I have been a contributor for over a decade with everything from a roadside motel in New York state to a luxury riad in Morocco. TripAdvisor also is good for picking excursions if you like doing those. The key is to be able to tell what bad reviews are from a crazy weirdo with ridiculous expectations, which are legit from seemingly normal people, and what good ones are fake. I can usually tell and I’m so glad to see traveler photos of a room versus the hotel photos. Sometimes hotel reviews are so bad they will literally change their business name (I’ve had 2 of my only 3 worst reviews ever deleted due to this). Reading between the lines sometimes takes a bit of work and research, but part of me is more concerned with location than anything and I like being able to see what other hotels might be on the same block or just a mile down the road. I won’t go into AirBnb because I had a bad experience in Lisbon, and won’t be doing it ever again after that. If you are a member of any hotel/motel reward program, be sure to book via their portal to get a better room or an upgrade. As a rule, going through any hotel website directly is going to get you a better room and price. For some of the smaller hotels or B&Bs, I’ve actually had little notes left on a dresser or desk thanking me for booking direct! I’m a Choice, Starwood, and Hilton Honors member, and my favorite budget chain when I can find them is Ibis. I also operate with the thinking that the fanciest room in a cheap hotel is better than the cheapest room at a fancy hotel. So far, so good!
Chase Sapphire Reserve: What can I say? I love this card! 50,000 miles as a sign-up bonus and the annual fee pays for itself in other ways. You get a $300 travel credit, your TSA pre-check fee gets waived, and you get up to 3 guests for Priority Pass Lounges around the world! I love me some lounges! In fact I will try to avoid airports that don’t have them if I can. Those long layovers or having a delayed flight are not nearly as painful if you are in a lounge. I’ve never booked a hotel via the Chase partner website, but I am planning on doing it in the future as it features benefits like food/beverage credits, free transfers to airports, and a room upgrade to the next level. You also don’t have to buy extra travel insurance, because it is always built-in when you book with the card.
Finding What To Do
Instagram: It’s crazy how this app has changed travel, and even crazier that I have to deal with “Influencers” and their sad photographer boyfriends in tow. I nearly shoved one out of my way at the YSL house because she was blocking the walkways doing the same pose over and over, and it has gotten so bad in Notting Hill that homeowners have roped off their stoops so girls can’t post in front of their doors. I hear Palm Springs is pretty overrun with signs in front yards that say “no photography”, too! Despite the annoying part of Instagram and what it has spawned, you can find cool little spots for coffee and whatnot if you do a location search and scroll around until something strikes you.
What do you dig? A way that I find out about the nightclubs or concerts I might want to go to is just by looking up bands I know have toured in recent years and seeing where it was they have played. Chances are they played a venue that will have other cool random bands you might not have known about otherwise. I do this with art galleries, too, and look up where an artist showed recently or is about to. Obviously asking friends helps, but if it is a city where you don’t know anyone this is how I find all the goth/alternative/indie nights that I want to go to.
The local Alt Weekly: There’s usually one in every city, try to seek it out if you can in print or online.
City Mapper: I love this app because it will tell me how long a trip in a car versus public transit will take, and where all of the stops are. Sometimes an Uber is faster than the tube!
Google My Maps: If you are a crazy person, like me, and have your cafes, restaurants, bus stops, goth clubs, and museums you know you want to hit, this will help you map it out and you won’t need to be on wifi (yay screen captures too). I’ve never had a SIM card and this was helpful even in a city like a maze. By the way, I get unlimited data from Virgin Mobile for $30/month and I love it. I think I have been with them for 7 years, and I get a strong signal everywhere I have been. Even in the depths of Mississippi!
Yahoo Weather: This app has been a go-to for a long time as it is more accurate than most. It shows a radar with weather patterns. Sometimes there are misfires, but I always check the outlook the day I am packing.
FlightAware: I don’t like having each airline app on my phone, so instead I keep up with any delays on this app if I am traveling in winter. I don’t do layovers or change planes anymore as a rule, so sometimes it won’t matter because you do get an email from the airline. But, it’s also handy maybe if you are picking someone up from the airport. How nice of you!
TripIt: Yes, I do write everything down in my Filofax, but sometimes I just need it on my phone. TripIt will import all email itineraries you get sent by an airline and it auto-populates for you. It is also great for adding in confirmation numbers for trains, hotel reservations, dinner reservations, or excursion reservations. It is essentially a timeline; you can share it with others you are traveling with or to anyone involved in your logistics.
All the Train Apps:
I download every train app possible for wherever I’m going, whether that is San Diego, Belfast, Glasgow, or Florence. Sometimes you still need a paper ticket depending, but I also like getting deal alerts and purchasing ahead of time for a discount. This is especially true if you are doing something like a train direct to an airport.
Stuff for air travel
- Air mask for travel in cool patterns. Because yes I am that person on the plane, and yes it helps make a difference in jetlag, too.
- Silk eye mask
- Back-up charger
- Sanitation wipes for the tray table and all the buttons — especially the air dial above.
- CBD oil so I don’t want to murder people if I have no leg room.
- Use an app like SideStep or take these precautions when in an airport or train station etc.
If you want to know more about how I go about packing, you can read and watch the video I did with my husband and cats over here. Also, I’m finding I do laundry a lot on trips, and if you love Rick Steves as much as I do, get yourself one of these.I hope you found this helpful, and if you have any other apps or tips please comment.
I was recently commissioned to do a few paintings and despite everything going on, I finished them in-time for all of the holidays! It’s still nice to take a break from painting drippy things and test myself with likeness and making a person look as they should.
It’s also nice when a client lets me go off on my own, and trusts me to come up with something cool, even with a photo reference. My work always turns out best when I’m not micromanaged or when changes occur as I’ve already begun. These were primarily done with Williamsburg oil paints.
“Sister and Brother” 14×18″ oil on canvas, and “Katie in Red” 14×14″ oil on linen.
Recently, I was selected as an Akron Soul Train fellow for March 2019. I’ve very exited and I still don’t quite know what I’ll be doing, so this winter is my time think about that.
The fundraiser Winter SOULstice is happening on Thursday, December 6th with lots of works up for auction, including this little 12×12″ painting of mine, Origin. You can attend in-person or bid on the website here.
Akron Soul Train is an artist residency program connecting and empowering the community and artists by granting fellowships that provide resources for all creative disciplines, thereby fostering a more vibrant downtown Akron.
Last month myself and Ben Vendetta traveled to London for the book launch of “Sunset Trip” which took place at an iconic music store, Rough Trade. It was great to met some members of bands I have always been a fan of, to see old friends, and to see people who came as far away as Newcastle and Birmingham for the event.
I think I packed as much as a could into my days five in London (boy how many co-working spaces do they have in London now, because it was a lot!) and I managed to do east, west, and everything in-between. This was a trip I allowed myself some touristy things; even a trip to Selfridges which was already playing Christmas music in mid October. I hadn’t been to London since 1992 if you can believe it. To me it was always the center of the world over New York City.
While we were planning the trip, we thought we would be going to Tangier after the book event. That didn’t work out for various reasons, so instead we opted for Lisbon. I’m so glad we did.
Kensington Palace, baby.
The lifestyle and fashion bloggers in Notting Hill were out in full force, lemme tel ‘ya. It’s so bad now that a lot of the front steps of homes are roped off to prevent girls from posing front all the time. I hear this has become a thing in Palm Springs for homeowners to do as well. A group of girls were posing on the hood of someone’s parked Karmann Ghia and Ben was tempted to yell at them to get off his damn car!
Ben and Ashley Norris doing a talk and Q&A at Rough Trade East. Get the book here!
Mel Butler came all the way from Middlesbrough to support Ben’s new book!
Can you believe this is a bowling alley!?
We did not order champagne but I did have a number of cocktails and the best Beef Wellington of my life at Bob Bob Ricard. Desserts were set on fire, and the ladies room were individual tiny full baths each with its own attendant.
Behind this door was a private event full of indie rockers that Ben was asked to DJ for. It was great because I got to meet Miki of Lush, and if you had told me 15 year-old self that I’d be in a private basement club in Fitzrovia talking to Miki of Lush about the US midterms and my president being Trump, well… yeah, I’d say you were nuts.
Then is was off to Lisbon. We stayed in the Santa Catarina area and it did not suck. So many restaurants and we didn’t get to try them all. We were also down the street from one of the film locations from “Night Train to Lisbon” which happens to be next to the Pharmacy Museum. They had a great outdoor restaurant overlooking the bay.
The Pena Palace in Sintra. So crowded with tourists even on a Wednesday (more in the video below) so I recommend avoiding it on weekends because wow wow wow. Thankfully I booked a private car and guide who got us tickets ahead of time and was on-call so to speak. He wore an incredible blue suit and it probably looked like we had our own security detail the way he walked us around in Sintra. He also took us to the most western spot in all of Europe and on a scenic drive along the coast. Since 2016 tourism has exploded in Portugal and I can see it being both good and bad. Lisbon will begin building a new airport in 2019, that’s how crazy it is getting. There were a number of hostels and AirBnbs on the street we stayed at. By the way this was my first and last time doing an AirBnb. I won’t go into it, but let’s just say the Ibis hotel saved the night we arrived.
Lisbon has a number of record shops, but our favorite had to be Groovie Records. Funny enough, the proprietor knew and has done business with some friends of ours. He has a record label as well.
I highly recommend the Military Museum in Lisbon, My God it was gorgeous and there were maybe only 3 other people in it. Did I mention it is free? I mean look at the ceiling!
Vices in tile.
I really wish I’d had more than really what was four days in Lisbon. Ah, hoping for another stop in the future. The cocktails, wine, and coffee were amazing.
Photos, oh-so many photos…
I’m going to London for the first time since 1992. It was Halloween, the first *legal* rave in London I got to dance at for a bit, on top of visiting various house parties. It was a whirlwind 24 hours and forgot all the purchases I made in Piccadilly in my hotel room. I also left my favorite raincoat on a chair in Heathrow. I still think about that raincoat!
This time I don’t plan on any of that happening (ok maybe a house party here or there) as I have a whole five days to spend while my husband launches his third novel at one of the best record stores in the world!
Rough Trade East on Thursday, Oct 18th 7pm to 9pm. Join us for the official launch of “Sunset Trip” presented by Obliterati Press. Q&A with Ashley Norris, and a DJ set by ‘Mojo’ Mills of Shindig Magazine.
Ben and Ashley will be discussing the demise of the record industry, L.A. bands circa Y2k, Cleveland punk, and writing about music. If you’re a fan of bands like The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Beachwood Sparks, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Smallstone, or The Warlocks, you might want to dig it.
The following Saturday Ben will be closing out the Everything Indie Over 40 extravaganza with a DJ set meant to make you dance! This has a lot of special guests — Miki is just one of many — and is something we’ve been excited about.
The US printing of previous books you can get signed here.
Both paintings are 30×30″ oil on canvas. These are currently part of the show “Illustrious Decay” which you can read a wonderful review of at CAN Journal.
Thank you to everyone who came from near and far and attended the “Illustrious Decay” opening at CWAL and 78th Street Studios. This was my first time since my days at CalArts I had done an installation piece let alone a collaborative one. Jen Omaitz led me through it because I kind of had zero idea where I was going.
The feedback we got from everyone was great and I think our pairing worked very well. There will be a closing party during Third Fridays on Friday, October 19th if you missed it.