Twitter accounts to follow for summer travel

For many of us, summer means travel. Those with a smartphone have a real advantage when it comes to keeping your travel plans organized. There are apps available for smartphones that include a tour guide, language translator, travel service, camera, and so much more in your pocket. Additionally, one way to receive wonderful travel tips and advice, information and inspiration is from helpful Twitter accounts. By installing a Twitter app on your phone, you can have a wealth of information available, no matter where you are.

From airlines to travel bloggers to services, the following are some of my favorite travel-related Twitter accounts to follow:

Airlines

Summer storms can disrupt your travel, and spending the night on the floor of an airport is no fun. A great way to stay on top of the latest alerts, changes, and notices from the major airlines is to subscribe to their Twitter accounts.

In these situations, being connected to your airline on Twitter can offer more than simple news delivery. In 2011, brutal winter storms left hundreds of thousands of people without a flight. Many stranded travelers who shared their predicament with their airline via Twitter (along with the reservation number) were rebooked faster than those who waited in the customer service line or called the 800 number. The following is a list of Twitter accounts as used by several major airlines:

Choose a Twitter app for your smartphone that supports notifications (I use Twitterrific, but there are many others available). A day before you travel, enable notifications for mentions. That way, if you send a message to your airline’s account, your phone will let you know when you’ve received a reply.

Travel Bloggers

Who better to offer travel advice than someone who is constantly on the move? There are many travel bloggers online, and the following are some of my favorites. They all offer tips, ideas, photos and more, but each with his or her unique spin:

  • Nomadicchick: Jeannie Mark is a travel writer and the blogger behind NomadChick.com. Her Twitter account is full of beautiful photos and videos, as well as links to her insightful articles. You an search her Twitter stream and her site for information on your destination.
  • Adventurevida. This account is for the adventurer traveler. You’ll also see tweets on gear and, of course, beautiful photos.
  • Heather_Poole. Heather Poole is a former flight attended and author of The New York Times bestseller, Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama and Crazy Passengers. Follow her Twitter account for, among other things, hilarious stories from the flight deck.
  • GaryLeff. For those of you who are serious air travelers and who are always on the lookout for the best point deals, Gary Leff’s Twitter account and his travel column ViewFromTheWing are an enormous resource of information.

Travel Services

I’m continually amazed by the variety of travel services there are to help you get organized and moving before, during, and after a trip. The following are three I love:

  • TravelEditor. The official Twitter account of The Independent Traveler routinely shares great travel tips.
  • FlightView. FlightView, based out of Boston, is not associated with any airline but offers real-time travel information. As the service’s description says, it offers “real-time flight information you can act on.”
  • Budgettravel. Budget Travel offers super tips for getting where you need to go without spending a lot of money. You’ll also see area-specific deals and destination suggestions like these five classic American drives.

Happy traveling!

Unitasker Wednesday: The Beer Holster

All Unitasker Wednesday posts are jokes — we don’t want you to buy these items, we want you to laugh at their ridiculousness. Enjoy!

There was a time when I owned a sweatshirt with an insulated pouch in it to hold a bottle of beer. I lived in a college town and tailgating before football games was a nearly weekly event. When that phase of my life ended, I got rid of the sweatshirt and simply relied on my Sküüzi. (Just kidding, though the Sküüzi still makes me laugh.)

In the same tipsy and unitaskery spirit, I present this week’s selection — the Beer Holster:

Strap the Beer Holster to your leg, and you’re ready to do whatever it is you do with a beer strapped to your leg. Which, I guess, only includes standing? You can’t really do much else or you’ll spill your beer. So, strap it on and stand! (At least with the sweatshirt and Sküüzi you can sit down … this thing is somehow even less functional than those unitaskers …)

If you want to get all fancy, you can even get a monogramed beer holster from Red Envelope. Oooh, la la!

And, if you like to drink beer from cans, you’re in luck! You can buy a camouflage fanny pack that holds SIX cans. (The camouflage fabric is obviously necessary to keep deer from stealing your brew.)

Thanks to Unclutterer Dave for finding the Beer Holster unitasker for us.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2013

2010

  • Unitasker Wednesday: The can grip
    Some weeks, I need to write a great amount of exposition about our featured unitasker because some folks might not be aware of how a product lacks utility. This is not one of those weeks.
  • Office upgrade: An extraordinary project for Wired magazine
    I was standing in author Steven Levy’s office holding a trash bag and asking him if I could throw away a crumpled business card I’d found at the back of his closet. Turned out, the card belonged to a current executive at a major tech firm, but was from a time when the guy was a nobody at another company. I told myself that if Levy decided to trash the card, I’d slip it into my pocket instead.

2009

Organized meetings: agendas and minutes

I spent two years as the secretary of an organization whose board met monthly, and during that time I thought a lot about agendas and minutes. Based on this experience, the following are suggestions for creating agendas and minutes that are organized and both easy to write and easy for others to read and use. With an agenda, your meetings will be shorter and have a defined purpose for all the attendees.

Using a template

Use a template where you can just fill in the spaces. I used Microsoft Word with a series of tables and there are also Microsoft designed ones you can customize. There are many advantages of using a template, saving time and remembering recurring agenda points among them.

Creating an agenda

Not every agenda will need these specific items, but consider including:

  1. Logistics: This section often includes the meeting location along with the meeting date and time. Because WiFi access was an issue for my group, which used hotel meeting rooms, I always noted if WiFi would be available in the room. If WiFi was available, I’d also list the price.
  2. Attendees: This is a simple list of people expected to be in the meeting, and their titles.
  3. Meeting preparation: If meeting participants are expected to do anything before the meeting, these items can be noted in this section. In our case, there were always documents that needed to be reviewed before the meeting.
  4. Agenda items: These are the points to be discussed or have action taken upon them at the meeting. Each of these items should have the name of the person leading that part of the discussion and the anticipated start time for that part of the agenda. Noting the time allotted to each item was critical to our group for ensuring we stayed on schedule. In the meeting, we sometimes chose to run overtime on one item, but we realized that meant something else would need to run shorter, or be cut entirely.
  5. Open to-do items from the prior meeting: Review of these items should be an agenda item if you have any previous or unfinished business.

Email the agenda to people a number of days before the meeting, so everyone has time to prepare. Include attachments along with the agenda for items that will be distributed so that members don’t waste time reading the materials during the meeting.

Writing meeting minutes

Your minutes may include the following sections:

  1. All items from the agenda, with updates: The attendee list notes who actually made it to the meeting. The agenda is adjusted to show the actual time each item started. Also, update the to-do item status (more on to-do items below).
  2. Decisions that involve formal motions and votes: This includes motions and the number of people voting yes and no (as well as how many abstain). Not all decisions require an official motion and a vote, but record those that do.
  3. Other decisions: This section notes anything that is decided that doesn’t need to be put forth for an official vote. I often just captured the decision itself; in some cases, it was useful to also capture the reasoning behind the decision.
  4. To-do items from the current meeting: This includes the item, the owner, and the due date. To-do items without an owner and a due date tend to not get done, so be sure to clarify these points during the meeting.
  5. Critical information that is shared: Relating to our group, as our annual conference was being planned, I might have noted the venue, the date, the keynote speaker, the price, and the registration period as each of these points were finalized and reported by the head of the conference committee. If something was important enough that our members would want to know about it, I captured it in this section.

One thing I did not include in my meeting minutes was all the deliberation that went on in the meeting. If someone prefers to organize minutes around agenda items, and capture more of the discussion, I’d suggest still specifically calling out the decisions and the to-dos, and making them easy to find by using something like bold text for the words “decision” and “to-do.”

Family calendars

When we had young children, it was important for us to have a large calendar on the wall so that everyone could see and prepare for upcoming engagements. It was a good teaching tool for the kids. They learned the days of the week and they learned to count down days until a big event.

We had the calendar posted on the wall in our dining room. This allowed us to see the upcoming day during breakfast, and at dinner we would discuss upcoming events plan for the following days. We used Command picture strips to mount the calendar on the wall. We also had a decorative wall-hanging the same size as the calendar. Whenever we had adult guests for dinner, the calendar came down and the decorative wall hanging went up.

We used a 60-day perpetual calendar. Everyone could see two months. When one month was done, we could add the next month so we would not miss things as one month rolled over to the next. It also allowed us to do longer-term planning.

Before the children could read, I used the computer to print various clip-art drawings for things like dentist and doctor appointments and holidays. I printed the clip-art drawings on removable stickers.

We assigned each person in the family a different colour for his or her events. We decided that because our last name is Brown, we would use a brown marker for events involving the whole family. Using the computer, we printed each person’s repeating events on removable coloured stickers in their assigned colours to save time writing each event over and over.

I included many things on my calendar that fellow Unclutterer, Jeri Dansky, suggests including community events, school events, and when to water and fertilize the houseplants. I also write garbage and recycle collection days on my calendar as well as household hazardous waste and electronics collection events.

As the children grew older, they were encouraged to write their events on the calendar themselves. They learned about budgeting time as well as coordinating with other family members.

I used a paper-based purse-sized planner that mirrored the wall calendar. On Sunday evenings, I would ensure that I had transferred the upcoming weeks events from my planner to the family wall calendar and visa versa. I used the printed removable stickers to quickly and easily put repeating events in my paper planner.

As technology improved and the children got older, our family moved to a shared, online calendar. Because we have Mac computers and iPhones, we decided to use the Mac Calendar app through iCloud. We subscribe to each other’s calendars and have given each other permission to add events to our calendars. Google Calendar is a good alternative. (Mashable has an article on how to set up Google Calendar for your family if you wish to learn more.)

There are several benefits of using an online calendar. Repeating events are easy to add. Any family member can add events to the calendar of other family members anywhere at any time. For example, if one of the children has an appointment and I am not able to take the child, I can add the appointment to my husband’s calendar so he knows he will be busy at that time.

Additional information can be added to an event. If you have a meeting scheduled, you can add the contact information of the person you’re supposed to meet, the address of the meeting venue and a list of documents required for the meeting. Events can have alerts and alarms to remind people where they need to be and when. This is important for teenagers whose eyes never seem to leave their phones.

Using a calendar to which the whole family has access is important in keeping everyone organized and on track. It doesn’t matter if it is a paper-based or electronic system, simply choose what works best for your family.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2013

2012

  • Unitasker Wednesday: The Grillion
    My friend uses an onion on the end of a barbecue fork to clean the grate of his barbecue grill. I use a metal grill brush. Neither of us turn to the Grillion to melt plastic onto our grills while we clean.

2011

2010

Being organized about charitable giving

We’ve often talked on the site about donating things you’ve uncluttered, but what about supporting charities in other ways? The following is an organized approach to making other donations, if you feel so inclined.

Decide how much to give

Include charitable giving in any financial budgeting process you have. If you want to donate your time, make sure that time commitment fits into your time “budget,” too.

Decide where to give

I’ve selected a few charities I give to every year, and I sometimes support friends I know doing a charitable walk, run, climb, or bike ride.

Having made this decision, I don’t waste time evaluating all the solicitations that come my way in the mail; they go straight into shredding and recycling. They may be for good causes, but I can’t personally support them all.

When deciding what charities to give to, you may want to look at Charity Navigator, GuideStar, or the BBB Wise Giving Alliance to learn more about the organizations you are considering. All three of these organizations agree on what’s important in selecting a charity, as they say in a joint statement:

The percent of charity expenses that go to administrative and fundraising costs — commonly referred to as “overhead” — is a poor measure of a charity’s performance.

We ask you to pay attention to other factors of nonprofit performance: transparency, governance, leadership, and results…

That is not to say that overhead has no role in ensuring charity accountability. At the extremes the overhead ratio can offer insight: it can be a valid data point for rooting out fraud and poor financial management. In most cases, however, focusing on overhead without considering other critical dimensions of a charity’s financial and organizational performance does more damage than good.

Decide when to give

You may want to spread your donations out over the year, or you may prefer to sit down once a year to do all your donations.

You might also want to consider making ongoing automatic monthly donations. Charities love these because they have a revenue stream they can count on — and probably because people seldom change or cancel these donations. If you go this route, make sure you know how to adjust your donation, and don’t hesitate to do so if your financial situation or your donation priorities change. I have one such donation, and I recently called and reduced the amount; it wasn’t difficult at all.

Keep track of your donations

If you itemize deductions on your U.S. individual tax return, you can deduct qualified donations. If you do this, make sure you have proper records of your giving. Those records can include cancelled checks, credit card statements, and acknowledgement letters from the organizations that received your donations. If you give small donations at the along with your purchases from grocery stores or places like PetSmart, be sure to keep those receipts, too. A simple manila file folder, envelope, or even a gallon-size zip-top bag labeled with the calendar year on it can suffice for keeping all your receipts in one location.

Did you make a donation via text message? The IRS says “a telephone bill will meet the record-keeping requirement if it shows the name of the receiving organization, the date of the contribution, and the amount given.”

Also remember that you can deduct “any unreimbursed out-of-pocket expenses, such as the cost of gas and oil, directly related to the use of your car in giving services to a charitable organization.” If you’re donating your time and this involves the use of your car, you’ll want to keep the appropriate records to claim that deduction.

Unitasker Wednesday: Jonny Glow

All Unitasker Wednesday posts are jokes — we don’t want you to buy these items, we want you to laugh at their ridiculousness. Enjoy!


My wife and I live in a rural home on a dirt road with no street lights. Most of our neighbors are “summer people,” meaning their houses are empty for eight or nine months out of the year. All this to say that, when the sun goes down, it gets dark. This can make it difficult to, among other things, find the bathroom at night. Fortunately, Jonny Glow is prepared to light the way!

Meant to “help you see where you are going,” Jonny Glow adheres to the inside of the bowl and is powerful enough to “glow all night.” You can buy one or even a five-pack if you’ve got a large home with several bathrooms. Sure, you could simply install a nightlight or just turn on a light, but whatever. Plus, I bet it really freaks out the cat.

Of course, if you’re the DIY type you easily make your own! Buy a roll of glowing tape, as is often used in theaters, and save a few bucks. Plus, 30 feet of tape should let you do just about every toilet, kitty litter box, doggie door in the house.

A year ago on Unclutterer

2013

2012

  • Getting a handle on your craft supplies
    Guest post author and professional organizer Janine Adams gives seasoned, practical advice for keeping your craft and/or hobby supplies from taking over your home.

2011

  • Searching for inspiration for a multipurpose guest room
    I’m looking for ways to make our guest room into a fabulous guest room and a practical hobby room in one. The solution will have to include storage for the hobby supplies that can be completely closed up when guests are present and using it for their retreat. And, I want it to be extremely practical as a hobby room when guests aren’t visiting.

2010

The Pile of Index Cards (PoIC) system

Two weeks ago, I started an exploration of lesser-know filing systems with the Noguchi system. This method, devised by Japanese economist Noguchi Yukio, utilizes manilla envelopes and the frequency with which you work on certain projects to organize your projects. Today, I want to delve into a system close to my heart, a system that uses index cards.

Image credit: Hawk Sugano

Hawk Sugano (you’ll find him on Flickr as “hawkexpress”) has devised a system he calls Pile of Index Cards (PoIC). It’s a combination of a “brain dump” (emptying one’s mind of all important information by writing it down), long-term storage for reference, and David Allen’s GTD method. It’s all managed by a “dock” of 3×5 index cards, and the result is tidy and searchable. The following are instructions for how to set up and use the system.

What you’ll need

The list is a short one. Get some index cards, which you can find almost anywhere (or grab some fancy ones here), a favorite pen, and a storage box with customizable tabs. That is all you need to be ready to use the method.

How it works

Hawk describes four types of cards in his system:

  1. The Record Card. He describes it as “a diary, note, account, health, weather, cook, any kind of records about us belongs to this class.” I’d say this is the incoming “stuff” of the day: appointments, notes to follow up on, etc.
  2. The Discover Card. Hawk describes the Discover Card as “Things from my brain, mind, spirit, anything emerge from inside me, are classified into this class.” This is the result of a mind dump. Don’t worry about classifying when filling out a Discover Card. Just get whatever is on your mind out and onto paper.
  3. The GTD Card. Here he combines the title of a project and several actions that pertain to it (here’s a look at the template in English). This reminds me of the “Hipstper PDA Template” I used religiously about 10 years ago.
  4. The Cite Card captures other people’s ideas that warrant attention. He says, “Important here is distinguishing ‘your idea (Discovery Card)’ and ‘someone else’s idea (Cite Card).’ Source of the information must be included in the Cite Card. A book, for example, author, year, page(s) are recorded for later use.”

Each card is stored in a box, or “dock.” Note that Hawk makes a mark on the top of each card. It’s position indicates the type of card, so you can easily identify each one while it’s in the dock. Finally, he uses the tabs to keep the types of cards sorted.

Is PoIC for you?

I’ll admit that this method is a bit labor-intensive. For example, Hawk does not throw any cards away. Instead, he buys another dock. One person took steps to improve upon this by adding what he calls the “43 Tabs” system. Basically, older cards that are no longer pertinent are moved to the back of the dock, while those still in action are moved to the front.

Being an organized executor

An executor is the person appointed to administer the estate of a person who has died. Being named as an executor is a privilege, but the title also comes with a significant amount of responsibility. Sometimes it may take several years to finalize an estate if it is complicated or if there are disputes among the beneficiaries.

If you feel you cannot adequately perform the duties of the executor (perhaps you live across the country or you have extensive personal commitments), it is important that you do not start. You will need to speak with the lawyer handling the estate as soon as possible so a new estate administrator can be appointed.

If you have chosen to act as an executor, organization and careful record keeping will keep the task from becoming overwhelming.

It is important to set up a good filing system. You will need to keep copies of everything you have sent to and received from banks, the government, creditors, and beneficiaries, etc. It is a good idea to use a small portable filing box to set up the estate’s filing system so it is separate from your own house and business.

The folders should include the following:

  • Vital Records. This includes birth and marriage certificates, citizenship status, divorce decree, social security card, passport, etc. of the deceased.
  • Legal Papers. You will need the original and multiple certified copies of the death certificate. Also keep copies of the will, codicils, and living will, etc.
  • Employment Documents. This folder would contain all of the documents relating to the deceased’s employment and employment benefits. If the deceased was retired at the time of death, retirement and pension documents would be stored here.
  • Financial. The estate must have its own bank account, separate from your personal account and separate from the deceased’s accounts. Keep all deposit and withdrawal records, as well as statements. You will also need to keep proof of account closures and receipts for any debts paid (e.g. for the deceased’s credit cards).
  • Government. This folder would contain all documentation relating to the deceased’s income taxes, government pensions or other benefits.
  • House. If the deceased had a home, it should be made secure and the home insurance company must be notified as soon as possible. Keep all bills and receipts pertaining to the house in this file.
  • Automobile. If the deceased had a car, it should be located and secured. The car insurance company must be notified as soon as possible. Beneficiaries should not use the vehicle until it is clear that they are entitled to use it and that appropriate insurance is in place.
  • Other Assets. Keep records of other assets. You may wish to have a separate folder for larger assets such as a cottage or recreational vehicle. Smaller assets such as art or jewelry could be combined in the same file.
  • Estate Management Costs. If you have used any of your personal funds to administer the estate, such as purchasing postage stamps or paying for parking while at the lawyer’s office, keep the receipts. You may be able to claim this against the estate.

If you will be doing much of your communication via email, create an email address specifically for the estate. You should also set up a separate section or even a separate account on your computer, specifically to deal with the estate. To simplify organization, the names of the folders on your hard drive should mirror the names of the folders in your filing box.

Remember to save all email attachments to your hard drive especially if they are receipts or proofs of account closures. If the receipt is in the body of the email itself, print the email or save it to permanently readable, but non-editable format such as PDF.

Keep a journal documenting the work you have performed for the estate. A notebook is ideal for capturing this information. Record the dates and times you visited or phoned lawyers, bankers, and other estate advisors. Take notes during meetings. This will help when you need a reminder of what was discussed. You should also write down when death notices were sent and when accounts were marked closed. This alert you to outstanding tasks. Should there be any question about what you did and on which date, you’ll have your notebook to refer to.

Patience is crucial as an executor. You may be held personally liable if you rush and miss crucial legal steps. Many people wish to distribute the assets quickly, but it is usually against the law for you to do this until you have proper legal authorization. This authorization, or probate, varies widely across jurisdictions so it is very important to get advice from the estate lawyers before proceeding.

Although many people think they should pay bills as soon as they come in, they should not necessarily do this. In most cases, creditors (e.g. the electric company) are notified of the death and must wait for payment until the probate court prioritizes the list of creditor claims. Additionally, it’s important to remember not to let Cousin Bertha even take her favorite salt and pepper shakers from the estate until the authorization process is complete, and creditors have been paid.

Having an attorney who knows the rules in the deceased jurisdiction is essential. Attorneys can also help mediate beneficiary disputes, which can sometimes become unpleasant.

The role of executor can be challenging but working with attorneys and other professionals as well as keeping organized and detailed records, can ensure that the estate will be settled smoothly.

Have you had the experience of being an executor? What organizational tips do you suggest?

A year ago on Unclutterer

2013

  • Unitasker Wednesday: Unplastic Tray
    The Unplastic Tray, especially for people who want to look like they’re serving store-bought cookies in a plastic tray but who are really duping their guests by serving store-bought cookies in a glass tray.

2012

  • Six simple ways to gain more time in your day
    Six simple steps you can do every day to save a little time in your schedule.
  • Unitasker Wednesday: Corn Desilker
    In all of my years of shucking, cooking, and eating a ridiculous amount of corn, I have never once thought I needed a device to remove the silk from an ear. However, someone out there apparently thinks I am wrong and believes a special tool is necessary for doing a very simple task that your hands can do. Exhibit A: The Corn Desilker.
  • Breaking projects down into simple, achievable steps
    When you break projects down into simple, achievable steps, you set yourself up for success. You are more likely to complete a project when the steps to “done” are clear.

2011

  • Organizing advice from classical Greeks
    More than 2,000 years ago, famous Greek philosopher Socrates and a man named Isomachus were having a discussion about how Isomachus wished his wife would run their home (the conversation is recorded by Xenophon in chapter eight of his writing Oeconomicus). Isomachus told Socrates he had asked his wife to keep house by finding a place for everything and having everything in its place.
  • Unitasker Wednesday: Coffee Grinder Brush
    Sadly, this specialized brush can’t do the job of getting particulates out of your grinder any better than a pastry brush (which you probably already own if you’re grinding your own coffee and spices).

2010

  • You are not your stuff
    I was recently captivated by the article “The mess he made: A life-long slob decides it’s time to get organized” by Michael Rosenwald in the June 7 issue of The Washington Post. As the title of the article references, the piece is a first-person narrative of a diagnosed hoarder who went to see Randy Frost for help to change his ways. During Rosenwald’s visits with Frost, he came to the following inspiring conclusion:
  • Organizing your home and family with notebooks
    Notebooks are great because they keep all of your important papers in one place and they are easily portable. In our home, we have a recipe notebook, appliance notebook (instruction manuals, purchase receipts, maintenance and repair receipts, and warranty information), and important information notebooks for all four of us (our cat even has one).

2009

  • The Uniform Project
    We’ve recently stumbled upon The Uniform Project and are amazed at the variety Sheena Matheiken is getting from a single dress and a lot of accessories.