Mini-Guide to Stress-Free Travel

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This a short post on how to reduce the stress of air travel. The content is taken from my latest addition to ‘Next Avenue C’bus’ a feature offered by The Ohio State University’s WOSU Public media for which I’m a regular contributor. This particular post is from October 11th 2016. For many more essays on the ‘third-third’ of life, and lots of useful retirement tips, check out Next Avenue

As recently retired expats, my wife and I are intent on doing as much travel as possible from our new base in the Republic of Panama.  Stress is a big consideration in any travel endeavor—the packing, planning and pre-plane airport chaos. We’ve discovered shortcuts to get us through TSA lines faster, and to minimize the uncertainty and irritation of modern travel. I focus on air travel here because that’s the preferred method for most people to get where they want to go beyond 500 miles.

 

Expedite travel with TSA-Pre-check

You’ve arrived at the airport with plenty of time, you think. Then your heart sinks as you see that the security line stretches into the parking lot. A better option? TSA Pre-Check, a great way to move through the line faster and easier. In addition to the prospect of a shorter wait in line at the airport, as a ‘TSA-Pre’ customer you don’t need to check laptops, liquids or belts, and you can wear your light jacket and shoes. The TSA-Pre Check program costs only $85.00 for a five-year enrollment.

Avoid checked bags

Using only carry-ons minimizes the headaches and the expense of air travel. The days of free checked bags has gone the way of the corded phone. Airlines charge for every pound of weight that burns aircraft fuel and charging customers for their bags is one way they recoup that expense. Unless you acquire a premium credit card with the airline, or have some other perk that allows free checked bags, prepare to pay extra. We have an “advantage card” that provides many perks, including a number of free checked bags. For shorter trips there’s no need for a closet full of clothes, so acquire clothing that can be worn again and again, then hand washed and dried overnight. High-quality recreational-items stores have a wide selection, and such apparel is surprisingly fashionable these days. A word of warning: if the airline offers to check your carry-on, remove passports, medications, car keys, cash and/or travelers checks and anything else you can’t afford to lose.

Global Entry Program

U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) offers several programs to expedite air travel. One is called Global Entry. Once your ‘Global Entry’ status is official, your Known Traveler Number, KTN, becomes part of every airline ticket transaction. The KTN announces to TSA & other security personnel that the holder has priority. My wife and I acquired Global Entry status a short time ago. On our recent arrival at Tocumen International in Panama City we zipped through customs and immigration far ahead of fellow travelers. The time difference was noticeable. Global Entry status costs $100 per person, lasts five years and is worth every penny.

Fly when the airport is quiet

Don’t fly when everyone else does. Retirees often have the luxury of traveling whenever they wish, so stay away from the airport on the following days: Christmas and Thanksgiving, Spring break, high-season at your destination and Sundays. According to airfarewatchdog.com, the best (and cheapest) days to fly are Tuesdays and Wednesdays, with Saturdays next in line. People typically return from vacation on Sunday, so airports are crowded and fares are higher.

Go hi-tech

When booking tickets, take advantage of the mobile app for the airline that alerts you to flight and other info. No one wants to arrive at the airport to learn of a cancelled or long-delayed flight. Download the airline’s app and use it.

Go low-tech

Try these low-tech tips: For long layovers, find a quiet spot at the airport and take a nap, read, do yoga or just people watch. Most airports have a ‘meditation room,’ or small chapel you can use. Eat snacks brought from home—cheaper, and likely better. Disappear into your iPod. Take advantage of airline-offered lounges. Find a dog? Yes, some airports now offer ‘therapy dogs’ that roam the concourse looking for stressed-out travelers. Another tip: make a habit of using hand sanitizer posted at airports, and pack one or two small bottles of it in TSA acceptable sizes. Also, take a minute to swab the tray tables and armrests on the plane. Getting sick is a real stressor, and clean hands help a lot.

Take advantage of what’s offered

One last tip. Don’t be afraid to use such things as early-boarding perks, traveler-assist offerings found at every airport, and the use of the ubiquitous golf carts to get between gates. Especially with close connections, such courtesies are a real stress reliever. And remember, as stressful as it may be, don’t be afraid to ask for upgrades, cheaper fares, vouchers for late flights and free baggage check. You worked hard all your life; you deserve to travel stress-free.

Bon Voyage!

When in Rome, do as… the Panamanians?

 

A very small part of our Spanish educational initiative

Caution: This post will sound a bit self-righteous & boastful. It’s not our intention, really. We’re struggling to learn Spanish, and consider it muy importante. If anyone reading this post has a different opinion, no problemo. De acuerdo que esta es su derecho. In that case, read this as light comedy.

Here’s the thing. We think it’s a shame that folks come to Panama, or any ‘foreign’ country, and shield themselves from the people and culture by avoiding second language skills. I’m the first to admit that learning Espanol is hard, hard work. Especially at our age, learning anything tougher than Old Maid is strenuous and discouraging. But we’re not tourists here in Boquete; we’re residents, and we happen to think that making the effort to learn Spanish is crucial to our success, and to the way we’re accepted in the community. Back in Ohio our neighbors from Ukraine brought their parents to live in America, to escape the instability and peril in their embattled country. Sadly, in our opinion, the elders made no effort to learn English, stumbling along and hiding from enriching daily encounters. Their example spurs us to learn the language of the culture we now live in. When in Rome…

As I say, this may read in a self-righteous, or self-congratulatory way. It’s not meant to at all. We’ve encountered expats, some of whom have been here for many years, with no interest in learning Spanish. We think that’s sad, but it’s their choice. There’s comedy in our efforts, that’s for certain, and here’s some of the light comedy parts. The pix below show just one of mi carina’s many mechanisms for aprendiendo Espanol.

Back in 3rd Grade

Remember the flash cards that Mrs. Ruble, your third grade teacher, pasted everywhere? Well…here at the condo it’s like we’re back in 3rd grade again, and Ms R has post-its for us everywhere we look. There’s no escaping the little note cards: want to fix a snack? Check out the note on the door of el refrigerador. Need to thaw el pollo por cena anoche? Don’t miss the note on the congelador. Ooops, there goes el electricidad again, better light una vela, it’s right by the note, next to the encendador. Necesitas un leccion en pronunciacion’? El abecedario es en el respaldo de la silla. Que hora es? Ve’ase la nota del reloj. See, isn’t this fun? And while we believe it’s all or nothing, that we either learn to speak Spanish or stick with English, we’ve learned that Spanglish is okay, just a stepping stone along the way to being Espanol-conversant, if not fluent.

No need for wallpaper

There’s nothing in our lease prohibiting wall decoration, so mi esposa has filled every nook & cranny with training aids. There’s no escaping her little notes. We can’t fix dinner, use el bano, take a shower, watch TV or leave the house without a Spanish lesson. Other methods of instruction include the following: Counting each step as we descend or ascend from our 3rd grade…I mean 3rd floor walkup. (There are treinta y seis escaleras, por cierto.) We chat with each other as much as possible en Espanol, read road signs as we drive along, try to write our journal to each other in Spanish and share palabras nuevas todos los dias.

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Van los Cachorros! Go Cubs!

We’ve begun watching el television en Espanol as well. We’ve heard that the simple act of listening to the tone, timbre and timing of a language can facilitate learning it. So we listen to Spanish radio, pay attention to public conversations and use our vitally important ‘Mas despacio, por favor,’ when engaging with mas rapido Spanish speakers, trying to make every encounter a lesson. If last night’s TV session, Cubs over the Giants, was any indication we’re on our way…as are the Cubbies. Yes, this might be the year! Van los cachorros! Ellos van ganar hoy!

We’ve enrolled in Habla Ya, Spanish language school as well, and lessons are proceeding apace. There are numerous options close by, language teachers & multi-lingual folks willing to help us learn, some for a fee, many for free.

Immersion is the key

The best way to learn any language, of course, is to immerse oneself in the culture, hanging out with people who speak that language. For example, Erick, the little guy above, is Mariah’s maestro favorito. In la biblioteca de Boquete, Erick listens to her con mucha paciencia as she struggles with his native tongue. (In the scene above, he explains that his hermano es mas viejo!   In the other scenes Mariah makes a purchase at BCP’s Tuesday market, tries out her Spanish with fellow bus riders from Albrook Mall Panama City and visits the vegetable stand, all great opportunities to learn a word or two, or three.

In her blog, Let The Adventure Begin, Holly Carter mentions other ways to learn, such as listening to the carpenters, as they work on the house she and husband Scott are building. Cindy Crawford Thomas in Loving Retirement writes about group lessons, another useful path to fluency. In their blog, The Panama Adventure, Kris and Joel Cunningham mention on-line language acquisition. A fellow named Jared Romey on speakinglatino.com even writes about how not to learn Spanish, in this case by, among other things, ignoring the gender attribution/agreement issue that often trips up students. Is it La dia, or El dia?  Los caballos, or las caballos? Los? …the hell! But they’re girl horses! Romey’s focus is, as he states, ‘Functional Spanish.’ Lindsay Dow in Lindsay Does Language offers an in depth collection of language-learning opportunities such as her blogs, vlogs and YouTube offerings.There’s no shortage of resources available for anyone wishing to learn a language. The only real dilemma is deciding which one is best, and that depends on time availability, method of learning, age, access to those resources and temperament. Plus motivational level, I’d say.

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The Friendly Duo-Owl

A free application for language acquisition is Duolingo. My wife has been an avid Duolinguist for a long time. In fact, one of the features of this free service is its tracking of students’ time & progress, and Mariah recently surpassed consecutive day number 325 of daily Duolingo attention.Woot!  Duolingo offers language training and simple vocabulary/verb/grammar exposure in several languages, all for free.

All the post-it notes, textbooks, shared new words and shortcuts in the world won’t result in fluency. So we try to dive in and use whatever fluency we’ve acquired. It’s not pretty, but folks seem genuinely pleased that we’re trying, and they immediately assume the role of maestros quien son felices ayudarnos.