10 Tips for Traveling with Kids

My Top Ten Favorite Travel Hacks for Vacationing with Kids10 Tips for Travelling with Teenagers

We just returned from our second two-week trip through Europe with our kids and although we had a few small mishaps (aka setting off the train station alarm in Brussels) we also picked up a few great hacks to share.

While making an adventure like ours (15 days, six countries, seven hotels, plains, ferries, trains and automobiles) work is helped by the fact that I travel globally about 100 days per year for work, I think these easy tips can make family travel with kids less stressful for any family.

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Visit the Google Information page to view the busiest days and times to visit.

  • Research, Plan, & Prepare: There are a number of times where spontaneity is delightful – an unplanned evening out, or day at an amusement park for instance – but an extended family vacation is not that time. Do your research, use tools like Google Flights, and Google localized business pages to plan for the best value on your airline tickets, or best time of day to visit museums and popular attractions.
  • Pack Light, Use Local Amenities, & Buy as You Go: When traveling with children use the rule of twos: only bring the amount of luggage and gear that can be carried with two hands per person: that means four people, no more than eight pieces of luggage or gear (that includes suitcases, carry on, purse, strollers, or diaper bags). Hotels offer cribs, rental car companies offer child safety seats, and diapers are available in every city of the world. Don’t let your luggage dictate your adventure!
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Everything we packed for four people on a two week trip to Europe.

  • Bring the Best: To help the packing light process along, CURATE! Only bring the best: the shoes you love to wear, your comfiest most fashionable clothes – not the T-shirt with the stain for lounging around bring the silk pajamas, and pack the makeup you use every day, don’t “try” something new on vacation. 
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    I like these cosmetic pot jars for skincare, hair gels, and liquid makeup.

    Consider repotting items into smaller containers if needed. Travel is not the time to bring your “good enough” items because you’ll find yourself feeling less energized and more weighted down, instead bring your best stuff and USE it. That’s the whole point. Marie Kondo your vacay and only bring the items that spark joy.

  • Book Flights Early and Reserve Your Seats in Advance: The time to save money is NOT by booking the lowest cost econo seats that give you seat assignments at the airport, that guarantees unnecessary stress (I’ll go into tips on saving money on travel in a later post).  Buy your way out of travel stress. Book directly through the airlines (more on that later) and select your seats, and potentially your flight days and times, based on the most desirable locations, get aisle seats, toward the front of the plane, and read up on the inflight amenities so you know what to expect.

Pro Tip: For the best prices, book flights mid-week, always including a Saturday night stay, six to twelve weeks in advance, and ALWAYS book seats that allow you to review the seat map and select your seats first.

  • Book Flights the Right Way: An airline snafu can throw your entire adventure out of order, and correcting that snafu becomes exponentially more complicated if you book through a third-party site because, if your flight gets canceled or rescheduled to an unworkable time and needs to be rebooked you’ll have to call the third party, who will then call the airline, and all that game of telephone wastes your valuable travel time. Trust me, it isn’t worth the $10 you’ll save, and you’ll have access to more perks (like travel apps and lower cost upgrades) when you book directly through the carrier. Airlines really are the best way to get the best deals, especially if you’re flexible about the time of day, days of the week, and when applicable the airports (I.e. Miami vs. Fort Lauderdale).
  • Understand Your Hotel Amenities: Read the fine print on your hotel booking, is there a resort fee? What does it include? Is there a free breakfast? What hours is it available, will you actually be at the hotel to enjoy it and make it worth the extra cost? The best way to maximize your hotel stay is to read all the little details on the “about” page, calibrate your expectations, and know all the little extras you’re entitled to, I.E. a welcome drink, free internet, complimentary coffee or happy hour reception. Today’s hotels offer a lot of little perks you’ll only learn about by reading the fine print. But, just as these little extras can really add to your experience, hidden fees can bump up the cost for parking, daily hotel taxes, and resort fees which can be as high as $60 a night!
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    Working on our “Daily Briefing” travel itinerary.

    Go slow to go fast: It can be tempting to go-go-go and try to pack every activity into your itinerary, figuring out your route on the way, but with Kids (and husbands) this can turn into sun-baked meltdowns. Instead, create a daily plan of activities you’d like to do, in order of proximity (remember transit times, lines, and security) and outline a rough but flexible time of day to hit each spot, then choose one or two as your “must do” and the rest as “would be nice”. That way, if you show up to the Churchill War Rooms in London to see a line around the block, you can easily decide to skip it and move on to the next, less crowded activity.

  • Skip The Lines: One way to derail a family vacay is to expect people to complacently wait in a line for some must-do activity, restaurant, or boat ride. Instead, book Activity Passes in advance that let you skip the line or the ticket window, research after hours your options (like visiting the Colosseum at night). Every time I walk out of the Vatican Museum to see people waiting in a three-hour line to get in I shake my head. Ten minutes of advanced planning can get you out of that line and into the Sistine Chapel without incident, and usually with only a nominal additional charge. Visit the websites for each of the locations you plan to visit and research if appointments are available for the sights you’d like to see – especially in Italy where reservations to the most popular sites are an absolute MUST and don’t cost extra.
  • Spring for Space: When booking hotel rooms, read the room descriptions that list square footage. Go for the larger room if possible, that extra ten feet, or with older kids, second adjoining room, can add so much extra luxury and comfort to your vacation.  I’d forgo an extra night of vacation rather than downgrade to the smallest most economical room available.  I know that people often say that “Hotel rooms don’t matter, you’re only in it to sleep” but, SLEEP is critical! Which leads me to my final tip.
  • Schedule Sleep: Tired cranky families fall apart on vacation, meltdowns, runny noses, forgotten passports, brothers throwing fisticuffs in Vienna hotel rooms – this all comes from being overtired.  When planning a trip it can be easy to overlook the importance of eight uninterrupted hours of sleep (at least most nights) but don’t! If you have a busy day the night before, arrange for a leisurely morning the day after.  I know that we all want to maximize our go-go-go fun-button-punching while on a trip, but getting that little extra sleep will ensure that you can maximize your travel fun and minimize mishaps that come when your brain is run down from too much going.

What did I miss?  What are your favorite travel tips to remember?

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Exploring the German and French Country Side with Teenagers: Our One Day Itinerary

Four years ago, my husband and I did a River Cruise down the Danube, starting in Nuremberg (following three days on land in Prague) and finishing in Budapest. The trip was beautiful, relaxing, and absolutely enchanting – we loved every second of it (which surprised me considering how I felt about our previous experience with cruising). So, as we started to plan this adventure we originally researched taking another River Cruise, but just couldn’t find the perfect combination of dates, lengths, and locations to satisfy our family. So instead, we decided to add a little DIY River Cruise on the Rhine for one day of our adventure, followed by one day driving from Rudesheim (the final stop on our journey) to Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland with plenty of stops to explore along the way.

Here is Our One Day Itinerary for Driving through the French Countryside into Switzerland

Exploring the French Countryside with Teens

Alsace, France

Rudesheim, Germany to Mainz

Hotel Lindenwirt, RudesheimStarting our Journey at Hotel Lindenwirt, Rudesheim

We started the morning by taking the train from Rudesheim to Mainz where we’d arranged to pick up our rental car at the Mainz Hertz Rental Car office, which turned out to be trickier than expected due to unpublished train schedules on the weekends. But, after a thirty minute delay, we were off on the roads of Germany

Maginot Line Bunkers, Fort Schoenenbourg (Ouvrage Schoenenbourg)Maginot Line, Fort Schoenenbourg

Visiting the Maginot Line

With 90 minutes worth of driving under our belt we decided to stop at The Maginot Line. With a family full of war and history buffs, there was no way we were learning about underground bunkers and NOT making a stop to visit the underground bunkers and picnic in the Forrest on a self-guided tour.

This French line of defense was constructed along the country’s border with Germany during the 1930s and named after Minister of War André Maginot. It primarily extended from La Ferté to the Rhine River, though sections also stretched along the Rhine and the Italian frontier. The main fortifications on the northeast frontier included 22 large underground fortresses and 36 smaller fortresses, as well as blockhouses, bunkers and rail lines. Despite its strength and elaborate design, the line was unable to prevent an invasion by German troops who entered France via Belgium in May 1940.History Channel Online

Visiting Strasbourg France

Following our stop for the boys in the family, mom wanted a charming little village in France and so our original plan was Colmar, France. But, time had gotten away from us in the morning and during our stop at the Fortress, so we called an audible and stopped at Strasbourg instead. Which turned into the biggest EPIC FAIL of the trip.

Strasbourg, France: Cradle Of Alsatian CultureStrasbourg, France, Alsace

Where we were hoping for dinner in a charming little village, Strasbourg (unlike the stunning Instagram photos) is a major city, with a City Center screaming with tourists from every stretch of the world, which made it a little challenging to find that Belle-in-the-Village moment I was seeking.

Which provides a great moment to reflect on what NOT to do on vacation: Do not let Instagram build unrealistic vacation expectations.

Instead follow to stoic advice of Epictetus

“Whenever you are about to start on some activity, remind yourself what the activity is like, … If you go out to bathe, picture what happens at a bathhouse—the people who splash you or jostle you or talk rudely or steal your things. In this way you will be more prepared to start the activity, by telling yourself at the outset, ‘I want to bathe, and I also want to keep my will in harmony with nature.’ Make this your practice in every activity.”

We trudged our way through hordes of humanity to tour the Cathedral, past throngs of tour groups through gift shops and the river front, up and down steps of historic corridors, accidentally following the ubiquitous umbrella-led masses, then stopped for lunch at the Aux Armes de Strasbourg where we patched together a dinner of French and German fair, a little Rose of Provence for me (the non-driver), and bottles and bottles of water and buckets of ice since it was about a million degrees outside.

Overall, not what I expected or wanted – we wished we had grabbed a snack at a roadside service station and kept with our original plan of Colmar, but live and learn. I’m sure so many people LOVE the Strasbourg experience … that person wasn’t me.

Driving from France to Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland

  • If Strasbourg disappointed, every moment of Switzerland delighted, starting from the moment we left Strasbourg and the Bernese Alps started to appear.
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    Jungfrau, Bernese Alps

    We drove through Switzerland past lakes and peaks, across Interlaken and into Lauterbrunnen where we dropped our car at the Lauterbrunnen car park, gazed at the amazing Staubbach Falls illuminated by moonlight and spotlight, then took the 10:30 PM train straight up the mountain to the car free village of Wengen, where we stayed at the charming Hotel Falken.

    Hotel Falken, Wengen, Switzerland

    Hotel Falken, Wengen, Switzerland

    We spent two days of cable cars, gentle mountain walks, mountainside meals, and gaping open-mouthed at the sheer beauty that is the Jungfrau Region. It was perfection!!

    Jungfrau, Bernese Alps, Switzerland

    Jungfrau, Bernese Alps, Switzerland

    Have you visited the Alps, as enchanted as we were, we can’t wait to go back? Where should we visit next?

    Additional Reading

    Rhine River Ferry: One Day Itinerary with Teens

    Our German River Cruise Experienceimg_1438-2

    Five years ago, as an extended family, we took an amazing two-week river trip down the Danube. While we were by far the youngest travelers on the ship we found the relaxed pace and force-fed charm was a perfect way to see the villages of Germany.

    So, you can imagine our delight when we learned that DIY single-day River Ferries for the more adventurous set are available as an alternative to the two-week leisure cruise.

    Correction: Now having done the river ferry, the set is not “more adventurous” apparently river cruising is something most often done by the senior set.

    About the Rhine a River Ferries

    Each morning, starting in Cologne and Mainz KD Ferry operates boats heading up and down the Rhine River. Most people prefer to start their ferry experience in Mainz and head north to Cologne (getting the prettiest portion of the route earlier in the day and taking advantage of the quicker speeds the follow traveling with the current). But, we were traveling from Brussels and Bruges, so beggars can’t be choosers.

    P.S. – the additional speed of the current once you leave Boppard is nominal, don’t believe the people who make it sound like disaster will ensue if you take the Ferry “upstream”.

    Rhine River Cruise Itinerary

    We started the day in Cologne and took an early morning train to Boppard, skipping some of the earlier but less high-impact stops so that we could allow our boys a little sleeping-in time (to ensure domestic tranquility) and arrived in Boppard at 11:00 AM.

    Boppard Along the Rhine PromenadeStarting the day in Boppard with a pleasant stroll along the Rhine Promenade

    Our day in the Rhine was made en-route from Belgium to Switzerland where we’ve planned to spend two nights and three days, so we were traveling with luggage; and although we are a carry-on family, we’ve decided to focus our Rhine stops in cities that offer luggage storage which meant St. Goar and Bacharach where we stowed our luggage at the Tourist Information offices.

    Tips for Luggage Storage in Bacharach and Saint Goar

    I did a lot of research before the trip and had a hard time understanding the logistics, so I’ll break it down for you for convenience:

    Saint Goar offers luggage storage (free) upstairs at the Saint Goar Tourist Information Center. They close for lunch from 1:00 – 2:00, and for the day at 5:00 PM, so plan accordingly. There is a convenient shuttle stop to Burg Rheinfels Castle, just a half block down from the TI (at the gas station) so it was super easy to hop off the Rhine Ferry, walk 1/8 mile to the TI, Store our bags, and go up to the Castle.

    Bacharach also offers Left Luggage services at the Bacharach Tourist Information Office just a few blocks south of the Cathedral on the Main drag. Once again, they close for lunch mid-day, and have a hard stop at 4:59 for luggage storage pick up, but it’s free (though the attendant is about as unfriendly as they come) and a convenient way to take the Rhine Ferry and still find workable luggage storage.

    Taking the KD Rhine Ferry

    I purchased our Ferry Tickets in advance through KD Rhine (I’m a fan of skipping lines wherever possible and tend to get a better conversion rate when I book in the USA). The process of turning in our voucher for tickets in Boppard was easy and painless.

    To cap off our exciting day on the Rhine we spent the evening at the Hotel Lindenwirt of Rudesheim am Rhein.

    TBH: I would have skipped Bacharach if I’d known Rudesheim would be so charming, but it was cool to see the Werner Cathedral Ruins.

    Hotel Lindenwirt, Rudesheim, Germany

    Photo: Courtesy Hotel Lindeniwrt

    Cologne to Mainz KD Rhine Ferry Schedule

    Favorite Rhine Travel Videoimg_1438-2

     

    Exploring Utah: Capitol Reef National Park

    imageimageIf you live in Utah you can, and should, explore the multitude of national parks, recreation areas, and monuments within just a few hour’s drive of Salt Lake City … and my favorite is Capitol Reef.

    Located just three and a half scenic hours southeast of Salt Lake City with hotels, developed RV facilities, and first-come-first-served national park campsites Capitol Reef is the perfect weekend getaway March – May and October – November. Avoid the summer months where you’ll bake in the dessert heat and hike nose-to-tail with European tourists in their black knee socks and trekking poles.

    Instead, pick an April Friday, reserve a hotel room in Torrey on Friday night, head out of town at 3:00, make good time, and enter the park just in time for a beautiful sunset hike. Then, grab a patio table for pizza, live music, a fabulous canyon sunset, and a beer at the Rim Rock Inn.

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    Although the in-park campgrounds are some of the best around, they fill up quick and don’t accept reservations. Fortunately, just ten minutes outside the park is the tourist (in a quaint way) town of Torrey and the Red Sands Hotel where for $100-$150 per night you can have two queens, wifi, pool and jacuzzi, and a view of the red rocks while you enjoy the included breakfast (coffee, waffles, eggs, and cereal). Or, you can do it up right at the less conveniently located but more charming Lodge at Red River in Teasdale for $150 – $250 per night.

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    Wherever you rest your head will be secondary to the easy and accessible hikes, scenic drives, board-walk petroglyph trails, canyon arches, and the Pioneer Register where pioneers from 1884 to 1962 recorded their passage through the Capitol Gorge.

    Head out of town after a delicious brunch at Cafe Diablo, flip your radio to The Splendid Table and enjoy transmission while you can. Arrive home in time for two loads of  laundry and a quick prep for the week ahead.

    It’s a vacation without the stress of planning.

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    Christmas in Berlin

    Planes, trains, and automobiles – I am in the midst of a 30 day journey that will take me from the red rock deserts of Southern Utah to the domed spires of the Milan cathedral, from the salty shores of the Adriatic sea to the warm Caribbean waters of Jamaica.

    I’ll pause and post when I return to civilian life, but for now, my greatest hits.

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    Ballin’

    Last week was definitely one for my adventure log, unfortunately it was also accompanied by context which makes it all sound far less exciting.  But first…

    Friday morning, last, I awoke at 6:00 am, showered, shaved, and shampoed, grabbed my trusty green carry on, my white patent leather Ted Baker tote, and a go-cup of coffee and headed to the airport for an 8:53 AM flight to Chicago.

    That’s when the texts started rolling in – cancelled flights, delayed departures, and nine of my colleagues, four models, and one celebrity spokesperson were all de-routed from our final destination, Chicago, due to one bozo’s breakdown.

    Undeterred, I pulled into the economy parking lot and dialed the Platinum Medallion line at Delta.  “Angelette” and I mapped the perimeter of Chicago and determined that a flight to Detroit, departing an hour after our originally scheduled flight, had six available seats, followed by a three and a half hour drive to get to Chicago.

    Doable, but not ideal, and who among us was expendable?

    That is the moment when the old adage kicked in, “It isn’t a problem if you can solve it with money.”

    Heads together, cell phones blazing, a plan was concocted: charter a jet for ten to Green Bay, Wisconsin and drive the rest of the way, then send the six least critical of the group to Detroit to drive the rest of the way to Chicago (knowing of the possibility that flight would be cancelled as well).

    wpid-20140926_143306.jpgLuckily, for my adventure bucket list, I am considered critical, and off to the private plane I went. Then the waiting started, the flight attendant cancelled, delays on the jet in Aspen, more waiting, as we left the six less critical at the main airport, with a destination of glamorous Detroit.

    After a quick freshen up in the private airport lounge, at 2:00 pm, and feeling rather baller, I climbed aboard a Bombardier, Challenger en route to somewhere in the Mid West. We were hoping for clearance to land in Chicago, but knowing that Green Bay and a long-ass shuttle ride to Chicago would probably follow. At 6:30 pm, when we touched down in Green Bay I consoled myself that “Hey, at least I got to fly private.”

    Until I got the email from the disposable-six that they had been able to secure seats on 2:00 pm Chicago flight, and were happily waiting at baggage claim for their luggage as I was climbing on board an 11 passenger van, bag of Chex Mix in hand, and no bathroom in site, in the middle of the Friday rush hour commute … my ball was feeling pretty deflated.

    When we drove past Milwaukee the collective bellies of the group started grumbling with hunger, and it was decided we’d grab burgers. Thanks to Yelp a burger house with great reviews was located, and in we tromped, a Mormon, a Model, a Millionnaire, and a Mix of Mumbling travelers who’d rather be sitting in our hotel rooms enjoying room service.

    That’s when we met Destiny … Literally … Friday night in Milwaukee means Drag Queen Bingo with Destiny … and I loved it!

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    Why I Don’t Lie About My Age

    Today I turned 36, and I don’t mind saying that one bit.  To my closest friends I’ve joked that my thirtieth birthday improves with every year I celebrate it, but the truth is, I don’t feel compelled to hide my age. If pressed, I’d say I look pretty damn good for 36, and there’s nobody in my life rude enough to tell me otherwise. Lately, I’ve felt so confident in how I look at 36 that half the time I find myself lying up (’cause if I look good for 36 I look AMAZING for 40).

    The biggest reason I don’t worry about my age is that I have earned every single day.

    I have been alive to witness 13,140 sunsets. I have seen the sun set on four different continents, during prayer call, after siesta, from the front seat of an ambulance whisking my baby to the trauma center, from the 6th Arrondissement while walking toward the Jardin des Tuileries, and in the most basic of moments while having my heart-broken, and while breaking a heart.

    Jardin des Tuileries

    Coco Chanel is quoted as saying, that as a woman ages, “youth must be replaced by mystery, prettiness by beauty” and to me, nothing is more beautiful, or more mysterious, than an accomplished woman who has been able to survive the constant request from the world that she dumb herself down for the love of some man. But, I’ve managed thus far to resist that pull, and now I can’t imagine a single man who’d dare ask that of me.

    In younger, more naive, times I dated men who needed to be made to feel “like a man” by being with a woman less accomplished than he … stupid, silly men who thought they could explain wine, or geopolitics, or Nietzsche.  Now I nod gently, and smile to myself that some man would have such a limited imagination as to think that I’d need his instruction. Thirty six years, and as many, if not more, boys, boyfriends, lovers, and a husband have taught me the art of nodding gently and smiling. But, of all those silly men, the only one invited to stay was the one who reacts with surprise when I request his explanation, so confident is he in my accomplishments and intellect, and to me that shows he sees my true and ageless beauty.

    I have watched the sky beneath a five hundred foot sandstone wall, stood on a stage to receive a national award, experienced laughter that made me snot Chinese food, meditated through a silent natural childbirth, clung to the bathroom floor while absorbing the agony of the death of a loved one, known heartbreak so raw I lost thirty pounds in a month, then loved so deep it took my breath, and I’ve seen rehabilitation from it all.

    If my face and body carry marks of age then each line, and scar, and memory was earned. Why would I limit my story to claim fewer moments than I have been given? Which of my years would I ignore?

    I’ve plucked gray hairs, sighed at the losing battle that is gravity, gained weight, lost weight, botoxed, detoxed, and unboxed thousands of dollars worth of “beauty” but I have never felt as confident in the skin sold to me by Madison Avenue as I do wearing the sun-kissed glow of an afternoon spent with my sons. With each year of my life that passes, those boys grow too, into toddlers, then boys, and now nascent young men of honor and intelligence; how could I possibly enjoy denying even a day of their lives?

    If my face shows age, then it also shows my story, of life, and love, and loss, and that story is mine. I would not trade a moment for the collagen-rich dewy glow of my 22 year-old, untraveled cheeks. And, when my face is sixty, I hope the lines have doubled, and strengthened, and broadcast a richer story than I can even imagine today.

    A life well spent, is far more intriguing than even the most perfect face, which offers nothing once it opens its mouth; and accomplishment and adventure can never be taken, or hidden by three-quarter moisturizing cream and a nylon-Spandex blend.

    Lunch with King Ding and Snotting Cat-Beef on a Shanghai Lazy Susan

    When Kingful Ding of Shanghai, China (no, I am not making that name up) asked me to be the guest of honor at a lunch in his villa I accepted the invitation with enthusiasm. It’s not everyday I get asked to lunch at a villa in Shanghai, and there wasn’t really a polite way for me to get out of it anyway. So off I went, head full of optimism, suppressing that inner voice that nagged about this being CHINA, and my palate being about as refined as a four-year-old’s.

    Throughout the meetings preceding this invitation I was suppressing a giggle every time I called him “Mr. Ding” with his bulbous face and puffy hair he looked a bit like a fat penis head, so I thought “Ding” was particularly fitting.

    Yeah, about that palate … now would be a great time to mention that I don’t eat anything that lives in the water, and really prefer not to even look at the ugly little critters, especially shrimp, the cockroaches of the ocean.  I’ll make an exception for steamed crab legs on occasion, only as legs, but that’s really just a vehicle for melted butter.

    I walked into the King’s “villa,” which was really just a private upstairs dining room at the clubhouse for his gated housing complex, and discovered a room full of dark heads – none of which were ever introduced to me.  I was the only woman in the place except for the lovely serving girls in their skin-tight cheongsam, but that comes up often enough as a woman doing business in Asia, so I was amused but not intimidated.

    The table was pre-set in typical Chinese style with small plates on a Lazy Susan in the center and water goblets and wine glasses at every seat.  I was ushered to a seat next to my generous host Mr. Ding.

    Now, I am traveled enough to know there are a lot of customs and expectations when dining in China (there are social mores for everything) but I am NOT traveled enough to know what those customs and expectations are … but I do know one thing: when the host is drinking, one is expected to drink as well.

    But does this apply to women, at 11:30 in the afternoon?

    Unsure of what would be required of me, I took my seat, set my napkin on my lap, and smiled and nodded through the first round of toasts, taking small sips between each speech that were translated for me to basically mean, “We’re excited to work together. Mr. Ding is basically awesome, and we like your yellow hair.”

    All was going well until my host began the dining portion of the meal. The sheer number of plates sitting before us was a bit staggering, and the fish eye that was winking at me from across the table kept creeping precariously closer than I’d like him to be.

    “Kindly” Ding picked a few morsels on the plates closest to us and placed them before me: vegetables, pickled cabbage of some sort, and a beef-ish looking thing, all fairly innocuous even for my childish finickiness. I somehow got the first bite to my mouth just as another toast started, took a sip of the worst red wine I’d ever tried, and looked down in horror just in time to see Ding place the fish head on my plate.

    The King of Ding seemed a fairly traveled fellow, or at least his translator had told me that the big Ding had visited Hawaii a few times, so I had to wonder, “Is he having a laugh at my expense, surely he knows Americans don’t eat fish heads!”

    The rest of the food on my plate was fairly inoffensive, so, undeterred by my American girl in the foreign city (pretending that everyone in the room wasn’t watching me) I dug in, “accidentally” moving my food around the plate to cover up my gill-breathing dining companion and contemplated spilling my wine on my plate.

    Lunch continued for a few moments, and then another batch of serving plates came out, another round of toasts, and the small rice bowl beside me was filled with a gelatinous stew of hairy crab.

    I resisted the urge to Snapchat a quick “Help!”  when I looked down at the ugly little fellas and was relieved that it was time for another toast, which by this point the translator had stopped explaining to me, having decided to fill his mouth with every manner of imperial cuisine presented.

    I discovered a great benefit to chopsticks … dropping.  Anything I didn’t want to put in my mouth accidentally got “dropped” a little at a time, and my serving girl swept it away before Ding noticed I had disposed of it.

    But, the wine was trickier.  The toasts and resulting gulps that followed them were getting more frequent, and lasted longer. We toasted the crab, we toasted the lunch, another toast to my yellow hair, if all this celebratory drinking didn’t stop soon I was at serious risk of falling off my chair – or taking off my top.

    Then my sister’s wise counsel from a night of too many margaritas came to mind, “If you start feeling drunk, just go boot and then you’ll be ready to rally.” Sweet, solution found! But, I was not going to waste a trip to the ladies just to rid myself of too much wine, this was too great an opportunity.

    I began taking lusty bites of the items on my plate then palming them into my napkin.  By the time I excused myself to the bathroom I’d nearly emptied my plate into my emerald-green cloth serviette, and I surreptitiously dropped it into my handbag.

    In the bathroom (which thankfully was NOT a squat toilet) I purged like a sorority girl, then unloaded the contents of my napkin into the toilet, cleaned up, and sashayed back into the dining room, feeling rather proud of my quick thinking.

    The Horror!

    In my absence an entirely new round of toasting liquids had been brought forth, beer. Chinese beer. Served luke warm. Shit! And, another round of who-knows-what had been placed on the Lazy Susan – more food than thirty people could eat, and we were only ten.

    More toasts, more helpful servings from Mr. Ding, and the greasiest soup known to man slithered down my throat: sautéed eel was swallowed without a bite, abalone was accidentally dropped onto the ground, followed by more beer, white fish, stewed spinach, more beer, until I looked over at the Big Dinger and saw that he was even more phallic now. His face had turned a bright red, and a glossy sheen of sweat was dribbling from his temples down his face, reminding me a bit of … sorry, I won’t go there, we’re eating here (though the gelatinous salty consistency of our lunch also reminded me of that a bit).

    The lyrics to hotel California started to play on repeat in my head, “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”

    Here I was, surrounded by men who were not really speaking to me, all of them starting to look a little intoxicated, pretending to eat/drop ridiculous amounts of food I didn’t even want to look at, and there was no end in sight.  And then, the laughter could no longer be suppressed.  I put my napkin to my mouth and pretended to cough as I regained my composure, and focused my eyes completely on the Lazy Susan in front of me, did that fish eye just wink?

    I reached out toward a plate of what in the U.S. I would call Beef with Broccoli and set it on my plate.  I took a bite and it was good!  Really! Tender, really, rich, deliciously good, what joy!

    Then, from three seats down I heard it, “Meow.” quiet at first, so quietly I thought I must have mis-heard, so I took another bite, and now it was louder, “Meow!”

    WTF!

    I looked around and caught the eye of one of the nameless young men who had not been introduced to me and saw a twinkle in his eye, at which point the laughter could no longer be contained. I tried so hard to hold it back I snotted cat/beef up through my sinuses and a tiny little piece flew out, onto the Ding’s plate. Before I could say anything (what would I say?) he lifted the piece, along with the gelatinous detritus surrounding it, to his mouth and swallowed, impervious to what had transpired.

    My second trip to the ladies for a boot and rally went down (or should I say “came up” much more smoothly having watched Ding swallow my eruption). Three hours later I made my way out of the villa and the young man who’d meowed at me rode back to the hotel with me, where he apologized in perfect English for teasing me, and explained that what I had eaten was “probably” not cat, but definitely not pork or beef.

    Business travel is just so glamorous!

    To Soar, To Fly,

    I will soar I will fly
    This world will know who I am
    And part of me will die
    I will succeed
    I will be what they tell me
    For the time being
    But I will be me at the same time
    I will not let myself lose my self
    The world will know who I am
    Through my intelligence
    Through my music
    Through some way some how
    That is what I have been told
    That is what I want!
    I will not be content with a normal life
    I will soar I will fly, and in the process this world will know my name
    Who I am
    But in that process part of me, my soul, will die
    Is it worth it, do I want to lose a part of my self
    Do I wish to let it die?
    But I do wish to soar
    I wish to fly
    I would not be content with a “normal”, “typical” life
    I don’t want to be another person just going through the motions of life
    But I don’t want to lose a part of myself
    If I choose that path I will soar
    I will fly

    But I won’t let part of me die

    – Aaron Burr

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