Archives for Travel
Returning home and back to work after a vacation usually feels like a punishment for temporarily ignoring your responsibilities. There is a mound of laundry to do, a heap of emails and regular mail to process, and a small crisis that must immediately be attended to and which could have been completely avoided had you not left town. If you’re lucky, you’re still riding the high of the vacation and can bear the mountain of tasks without too much frustration. If you’re not lucky, your vacation was a bust and you consider never going on one again.
To help ease your way back into non-vacation life, try some or all of these tricks:
- Clean before you go. Have your desk at work and your home as shiny as possible before leaving on your vacation. Even change the sheets on your bed so things will be fresh when you return. Doing this means that you will only have to deal with vacation messes when you get back. Ants won’t have attacked your kitchen because there were dirty dishes on the counter and your office mates might actually use your inbox instead of plopping more work down on top of an existing pile.
- Walk in the door and straight to your laundry room. The first thing you should do when you get home is start a load of laundry of your vacation clothes. Once the washer is going, then you can reset your thermostat to a normal temperature and check to make sure a tree didn’t fall in your backyard (or whatever it is that people do when they first come home from vacation).
- Take an extra day before heading back to work. I like to think of this spare day as the vacation from my vacation. It’s the day to get reacquainted with your routines. We typically return from trips on Saturdays so we have all day Sunday to recuperate.
- Arrive an hour early to work. You’ll want to get a solid footing on your day before you’re bombarded by co-workers asking about your trip and giving you more things to do. Scan your physical inbox and your email to search for any you-must-do-this-first-thing-when-you-get-back items. Quickly sort your mail and throw out or shred all junk mail. Review your calendar for the day and create an action list of the most important things you have to do. When other people arrive, you’ll be able to handle whatever they throw your way.
- Give yourself a free day the following weekend. Playing catch-up with your life can be exhausting, so take a weekend day to sleep in, leisurely drink a cup of coffee, catch up on items around the house, or do nothing at all. If you have kids, this applies to them, too.
What additional tips would you add to this list? Share your suggestions in the comments.
Do you have uncluttering or organizing projects on your mind? Consider one or more of these three easy projects:
- Pull a weed. You can do this either literally if you have a garden, or figuratively if there is a small task on your to-do list that will take you just a few seconds to complete. Do it and be done with it. There is no need for that pesky item to bother you any longer.
- Plan ahead. Many people in the U.S. have next Monday off from work in observance of Memorial Day. If you want to spend the three days relaxing and not tackling a giant list of to-do items, create a list now of the things you need to do before Saturday morning arrives. Then, make a plan for your week for how you’re going to accomplish these tasks. Three days without a giant list of responsibilities hanging over your head will be good for you.
- Pack a suitcase. There isn’t a reason to really pack a suitcase, but now is a great time to put together a packing list for the next time you head out on a summer trip. Having a checklist is a terrific way to pack wisely and not forget anything when you travel, and making the list now gives you time to get your list in shape. I have 10 packing lists saved on my computer: Romantic weekend with husband, 4-day conference for work, 3-day consulting with client in business casual environment, 3-day consulting with client in corporate business environment, 3-day trip with extended family, 7-day trip with extended family, 3-day relaxing trip with friends, 7-day beach/mountain trip with friends, 3-day sight-seeing trip, and 7-days as a tourist in a foreign city. The lists are all built on the same foundation (toothbrush, toothpaste, etc.), but each is tailored to meet the experience.
ScanSnap sent me a model to test a couple weeks ago, and I think it’s a great little machine. (It’s weird how I drool over scanners and their paper clutter-reduction powers … I may have a problem … ) It works with the same dependability and quality as other ScanSnap products.
It took me about four minutes to install the software, and I was able to use the scanner instantly after that. The software works with both PC and Mac.
My only complaint is that it doesn’t scan both sides of the paper you feed into it. However, since I have a desktop scanner that does duplex, it’s not such a big deal to me. This device is really built for lugging around in your briefcase or suitcase, so its compact size and convenience outweigh the lack of duplex scanning. If you attend a lot of conferences, you want a small scanner like this that weighs next-to-nothing (my home scale said it weighed half a pound) and quickly processes all the paper you collect. You could easily leave an event without a single piece of paper cluttering up your travel bag.
When ScanSnap contacted me to see if I might want to review one of the S1100 models, I asked if they might be interested in giving away a few units to our readers in celebration of Unclutterer’s fourth birthday (assuming I liked the unit). They were generously game (the units are currently retailing for $199 a piece), and later today we’ll provide details about the giveaway. Stay tuned if you’re interested in winning one for yourself. I think a lot of Unclutterer readers could use an ultra-portable scanner like this.
British officials have found that excessive street signage impedes driver safety, in addition to cluttering up a picturesque view. As a result, national-level British officials are writing to city council leaders across England demanding road signage be decreased. From a Reuters article about the uncluttering:
When busy Kensington High Street in central London was stripped of excess road furniture, for example, it helped reduce accidents by 47 percent.
Reducing the signage clutter also reduces the cost of making new signs and replacing old ones for a local government. Again from the article:
“Our streets are losing their English character,” [Communities Secretary Eric] Pickles said. “We are being overrun by scruffy signs, bossy bollards, patchwork paving and railed-off roads — wasting taxpayers’ money that could be better spent on fixing potholes or keeping council (local) tax down.”
Is your city or neighborhood cluttered with too many signs? My specific suburb isn’t, but downtown Washington, D.C., is a much different situation. It will be interesting to see if the signage uncluttering in Britain becomes a trend across the globe, and helps reduce accidents caused by signage clutter.
Thanks to reader Carol for this news tip.
Ever since airlines started adding extra surcharges for checked baggage, I’ve been working to perfect the art of jamming everything I’ll need when traveling into my carry-on bags. Unfortunately, overly-packed bags are difficult to access whenever I want to get at a personal item, like a book, while flying.
A few weeks ago, the folks at Scottevest sent me an Essential Travel Jacket with 19 pockets for us to review.
I’ve been wearing it since it arrived and I’ve taken it on a few trips during that time. It’s quite nice to be able to carry a book, my camera, an iPhone, my wallet, and sunglasses all close at hand.
I don’t have an iPad, but apparently you can even fit one of the front inside pocket, provided you wear a men’s medium or larger.
What impresses me the most about the jacket is that it is both fashionably simple and inconspicuous. Ordinarily, garments with an extreme number of pockets tend to make the wearer look like either Walter Sobchak or a pro bass fisherman. As you can see, this is not the case.
The garment seems very well made and my only real complaint is that it attracts and shows lint a little more than I would like. For that reason, you might prefer to opt for the red or beige version instead of buying it in black. I definitely recommend it.
A handful of interesting links related to uncluttering, organizing, and simple living from this week’s news:
- From today’s New York Times, “When Possessions Lead to Paralysis” about how the elderly can be prevented from taking care of themselves because they’re overwhelmed by their stuff.
- Jamie Lee Curtis shares her organizing and simple living tips in “Jamie Lee Curtis Comes Clean” in this month’s Good Housekeeping magazine.
- Rolf Potts travels around the world with no luggage in his no baggage challenge.
- Gretchen Rubin has a fun photo post on The Huffington Post today about “7 Ways to Avoid Procrastinating.”
Lifehacker has had a series the past couple weeks on how to be a good host and house guest in today’s society. Contained in their post “How to Be the Perfect Host in the 21st Century” is a wonderful section on how to be organized before a guest arrives. One of their ideas is to create a Guest Information Packet with details about your home and your area:
Whether you’re filling out the packet we’ve provided for you or you’re building your own from scratch you’ll want to include information that helps your guest be autonomous. Our guest packet includes spots for useful information like informing your guests about household quirks. It takes a few minutes for the hot water to get all the way from the basement of your apartment building? Make a note that they should run the hot water while they brush their teeth to get it shower-ready. Have a dog with a delicate constitution? Make a note that table scraps will make everybody miserable. Militant parking regulations? Make sure your guest knows their rental car will get the boot if they park on the street after 2AM.
They provide a detailed Guest Information Packet you can download for free and then fill in the information specific to your home.
Heading out on a summer vacation? Check out these wonderful packing tips from flight attendants in The New York Times’ “Packing Tips from Travel Pros.”
Now that nearly every airline is charging baggage fees, travelers are motivated to pack as efficiently as possible. And who knows more about packing than professional flight crews? In interviews with a dozen flight attendants and pilots, one theme emerged: to pare down and still have everything needed at the destination, think strategically.
Heather Poole, a flight attendant interviewed for the article, can fit more than 40 pieces of clothes and two pairs of shoes into her carry-on bag. She primarily rolls her clothing, but also “wraps” her nice clothes around her rolled casual items (which, are mostly 50-50 cotton-polyester).
Also, don’t miss the 12 image slide show that accompanies the article with step-by-step photographs showing how Heather Poole fits it all in her bag. It shows how-to instructions for even packing clothes you don’t want wrinkled.
Last July, Erin wrote “10 uncluttering things to do every day.” I was proudly doing a few things on her list, but as usual there were a couple I hadn’t considered. This got me thinking about what other things I could do daily to reduce the clutter around our home.
Here are 10 more uncluttering things you can do each day.
- Reset your home each evening. This doesn’t have to take long, but it’s really effective. Spend 5 or 10 minutes on a quick run-through of your home. Straighten books and knickknacks, return dishes to the kitchen, and hang up jackets. Don’t strive for perfection, this is just a quick pick up.
- Never leave a room empty handed. Look around you. Are there things that don’t belong? When you leave the room, for whatever reason, be sure to grab a glass and return it to the kitchen, or whatever the case may be.
- When you’re done with something, put it away. Right away. Clutter arises when we take something out, use it for awhile and neglect to return it to its proper home. Remember the Unclutterer’s gospel, “A place for everything, and everything in its place.”
- Hit the laundry basket. Every time. It may seem easier to simply let your clothes fall where they may, but this only creates clutter. Take 30 seconds to hang up your clothes or put them in the laundry basket. Erin recommends getting ready for bed an hour before you plan so you’re not exhausted when handling your clothes.
- Take out the garbage. Perhaps garbage day occurs only once a week, but emptying the garbage nightly, even if not entirely full, is a great habit start. Over-flowing bins are not attractive.
- Vacuum everyday. Vacuuming ensures everything is up off the floor. Essentially, you’re doing a nightly reset during the day making it even easier to keep on top of clutter.
- Clear out your e-mail inbox. Hundreds of e-mail messages in your inbox can be incredibly overwhelming. Take time at the end of each day to clear out your inbox. When you come back in the morning, it’ll be a lot less daunting.
- Cut out the non-essentials. Re-evaluate the necessity of your involvement in groups, clubs, committees or boards. Limit yourself to participating in things that are important to you and make you happy.
- Do just one thing each day. Pick a drawer, closet, or shelf that’s driving you nuts. Focus on doing one little thing to move yourself closer to the clutter free state you’re Seeking. Ask yourself: Is this really important? Can I get this again relatively easily?
- One thing out everyday. Walk through your home with a critical eye. Look for one thing you don’t need, use, or want. Keep a couple of boxes by the garage or front door for temporary storage.
I hope this inspires you to do a little bit every day to keep ahead of the clutter and move toward a calmer and simpler life.
Reader Jim submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:
My wife uses her mini van as an office for her process serving business, and a shuttle bus for taking our children to and from various events plus all the household shopping. Her process serving business involves carrying multiple files that need served and ones that have been served. She also uses duct tape to post papers on doors, flashlight, mace, and a gps. She uses a plastic grocery bag over one of the arm rests for a garbage bag and she carries all the coupons in her van since she never knows when she will need one. All of these items are kept in between the front seats, door pockets and overhead visors. Needless to say the van can get cluttered quite quickly. This drives me crazy when we use her van for family trips. What suggestions or gadgets have you come across for organizing a vehicle? Any suggestions would be appreciated.
The same rules you use to keep your home uncluttered should apply to your car. Specifically, I’m thinking of the Unclutterer motto: “A place for everything and everything in its place.” The reason the car is becoming cluttered is because none of your wife’s items have a “place” in the car.
I recommend that you and your wife look into getting an automotive mobile office. There are many different options, so find the one that works best for her specific needs. I like the AutoDesk Standard Efficiency model because of the additional storage space behind the laptop surface:
The prices might initially seem a little steep (most are between $100 and $200), but when you compare them to the costs of traditional office furniture, they’re incredibly less expensive. And, it is her office. Just because she works in a car doesn’t mean she has to sacrifice all of the benefits of a conventional office.
As far as posting papers around the car, you might consider using sticky tape to adhere a cork or metal strip to the front of the glove box. Then, either with thumb tacks or magnets she could hang the papers there instead of using duct tape throughout the car.
Thank you, Jim, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column.
Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.
Every Sunday morning there is a man in his 60s or 70s with a long white beard and even longer hair cleaning the underpass of the highway near my house. He has a large broom, a tiny dustpan, numerous garbage bags, and what I’ve decided is a battery-powered vacuum in a shopping cart from Trader Joe’s. I don’t know if he is there because he is an adopt-a-highway sponsor, is cleaning it as part of a court-mandated community service obligation, or if he has a compulsion of some kind. It’s an extremely dangerous area of road, so I’ve never stopped to ask him why he is there. And, I’ve never seen him around town other than when he’s cleaning up the underpass.
I mention this public-space unclutterer because apparently he’s not the only one randomly cleaning up the streets in my area. The Washington Post reported last week that there are more vigilante unclutterers out there cleaning up Virginia roadways. From Signs of a roadside crusade in Fairfax“:
Some people spend their Saturday mornings cruising yard sales or running errands. Juli Verrier spends hers ripping down signs.
Outraged over the bumper crop of ads that spring up along Fairfax County roads, Verrier dodges traffic and angry merchants in a one-woman fight against clutter, filling her car’s trunk to overflowing with signs hawking everything from sushi bars to massages.
It’s illegal to post signs along roadways in Virginia, and each sign is worthy of a $100 fine. The article explains, however, that because of budget cuts the state Department of Transportation (VDOT) no longer patrols for sign violations. In fact, “VDOT is so broke that if not for volunteers, no one would be cleaning up the signs.”
Budget cuts have also reduced mowing funds, which this past summer led one county supervisor to start mowing the shaggiest of medians with his push mower.
Have you ever felt compelled to become a vigilante road unclutterer? I’ll admit, I don’t have any desire to risk my safety and pull up signs. I also don’t own a lawn mower to care for nearby medians. It’s an interesting uncluttering hobby, though. Sound off with your opinions about these volunteers in the comments.
Back to Monday’s theme of “Wow, this is cool!” I want to introduce you to the MSR Flex 4 System Cookset:
If you’re a camping enthusiast (or even if you live in an apartment with a tiny kitchen), this incredible nesting cookset is perfect for you. I can’t stop looking at it. I may even be drooling.
Today we welcome a guest post from Chris Guillebeau. He is a writer and world traveler who publishes The Art of Nonconformity. He has an amazing plan to visit every country in the world (113 down, 84 to go) before his 35th birthday in four years. Follow Chris on Twitter @chrisguillebeau.
Here’s the basics: In a personal quest to visit every country in the world, I regularly pack up and hit the road for two weeks at a time. On any given trip, I’ll probably visit at least three places on at least two continents.
Much of my travel involves round-the-world flights, so I frequently have to think about going from Africa to Eastern Europe, Northern to Southern hemisphere, and other regions that are considerably different from each other. I also have to work wherever I go, so I can’t leave the laptop or paper notebooks behind.
I’ve been doing this kind of travel for a while, and I’ve noticed something interesting: less is more.
Yes, I know, this concept is hardly novel, especially for readers of Unclutterer. What I find interesting is the relationship between stress and stuff. After visiting more than 100 countries (I still have 80+ remaining, so I’m far from done), I’ve come to believe that the more I take with me, the more stress I’ll encounter along the way. To cut down on the stress without cutting out stuff I really need, I’ve learned to adopt a few principles.
The overriding principle is take less, but here’s how it looks in more specific terms:
- Fewer Clothes. Generally speaking, I need more shirts than pants. Most of them are t-shirts or polos, but bringing a dress shirt helps me out when I need to have a business meeting or talk my way into a hostile country without a visa. (You never know what will come up.)
- Nothing Big in the Bag. No matter what I have to take, I want it to be as small as possible. The only bulky items I bring along are my running shoes, due to my habit of trying to squeeze in marathon training at many of the stops. Otherwise, the smaller, the better.
- Travel Is an Art, not a Science. I don’t have a spreadsheet that tells me where to put each item, and my packing list is quite loose. Since I avoid the engineering approach, I try to take the less-is-more approach: if I don’t need it, it doesn’t go in the bag.
- Combine Items or Multitask Whenever Possible. I can charge my iPod while syncing, so why bring the wall charger? My laptop has a built-in microphone, so out goes the USB mic I used to travel with.
- Leave Things Along the Way. After I finish a book, I leave it behind for someone else. Hostels are great locations for drop-offs, but I’ve also left books and magazines in restaurants, airplanes, and buses. If I’m unable to do laundry, I’ll recycle an old t-shirt somewhere and buy another on the street.
Some travelers are anti-cotton, on the grounds that cotton is hard to wash along the way. This is probably true, but I don’t usually worry about it. For me, the most important quality for clothes is “easily packable.”
A Few Things That Help
I try to be low-tech, because if something doesn’t work, I’m not good at fixing it. That said, these technologies have been helping me a lot lately:
- Gmail Offline. I love the new Gmail Offline feature (it’s in Labs) so I can process my email no matter where I am. If you use Outlook, of course, you already have this option – but as a Gmail fan, this feature rocks my world. On a typical 10-hour flight, I’ll reply to 200 or more messages, which will then zip out the outbox as soon as I land and connect to wifi. To get it, check out this short tutorial from the Google team.
- Verizon MiFi. At least in the U.S. now, I have my own wifi hotspot wherever I go. I can also share it with up to four others, which I like to do in airports that don’t offer free wifi. Coming back to Grand Central Station from Hastings, New York recently, I was able to work online for 40 minutes, and I shared the signal with my friend Ishita so that she could work too. When I set it up last month, Verizon told me that an international version is in the works – something I’m deliriously excited about.
- MacBook Camera. I recently started making videos while traveling, and by using the built-in camera on my MacBook, I’ve avoided the need to get more gear. Once you learn to look at the top of the computer instead of the screen (it takes a few tries), it works great. My videos aren’t Oprah-quality – at least, she hasn’t called yet – but they’re easy to make and I try to have fun with them.
The more I unclutter, the less stress I encounter when traveling. Your experience may be different, but if you’re looking to see the world without lugging a suitcase, rest assured that it’s doable. Now, if only I could find a way to avoid leaving my iPod behind in the back of a taxi, I’d be set.
My husband and I love music. We devote more space in our home to storing instruments and their supplies than to any other type of object (including books, clothes, and food). Add to that recording and listening equipment, and music-related stuff easily occupies half the space in our house. (Even on my computer, music files take up the majority of space.)
When music is such an integral part of your life, you constantly look for ways to store and minimize what you own. The following are some of our solutions:
Frozen Ape Tempo. We got rid of our metronomes recently after discovering this iPhone application. It’s actually better than all the metronomes we had in the house. My favorite feature of the program is that I can plug my earphones into the audio jack and have the beats pulse straight into my ear. The program is 99 cents. Yet again, my iPhone replaces a unitasker.
Storage boxes for strings. A few years ago, we noticed that a CD storage box is the perfect size for holding spare strings. We buy strings online at a discount, so it’s nice to have a permanent place for them to reside until we need them. And, since 10 of our instruments have strings, we regularly need them.
Self-binding sheet music. After years of having sheet music strewn around the house causing a mess, we reached our breaking point. We sorted the sheets of music into piles and then used a CombBind C55 at the office to bind it all into nicely bound books. We created an index for the front of each book and store the bound music on our bookshelves. No more loose papers, simple storage, and it took us less than half an hour to create. If you don’t have a binder in your office, they do the same service at Kinkos for a minimal fee.
Repurposed decorative items. On a table in our music area we have some candles and a decorative jar. We purposefully bought a decorative jar that has storage space inside of it so that it can have multipurposes. Now, this pretty little piece of art holds my harmonicas, castanets, and a case for guitar picks.
What tricks do you use in your music room to contain the numerous supplies that come with instruments? We’re always on the lookout for solutions, so please share your ideas in the comments.
We love following trends in folding bikes because regular bicycles hog up so much space in our homes. This week, we’ve found Areaware’s IF Mode folding bike:
The clean and striking IF Mode is aimed at commuters of the mobile generation who, until now, may have not considered cycling or folding bikes to be an option. IF Mode avoids oily chains, complex tubes with hidden dirt traps, and the clutter of traditional bike features. Meant for city commuters rather than bicycle warriors, it looks at home folded up on a subway or in an office, like other well designed accessories in your life. It also performs on the street like any lightweight, well-balanced full size bike.