If you’re a lover of kitchen gizmos like garlic presses but just haven’t enjoyed the clean-up factor, get yourself a big stone to use in your kitchen. Skip that gizmo that’s a pain to clean up, is going to eventually break, doesn’t give you all the garlic from that clove since it gets stuck in weird places, and simply use a pestle-shaped stone instead. I’ve used one in my kitchen for 10 years now and I couldn’t live without it. In Nepal, my friends use stones in their kitchens: One flat one and one cylindrical one for crushing, mashing, and grinding either garlic, chili peppers, whole grains or whole spices. I brought a stone home with me and would recommend you look for one, too. Maybe there’s a pestle-shaped on out in the woods, in your garden, or on the bank of the nearest river or stream. Think cave man, not Pottery Barn. One hit on the garlic and it’s peeled. Another smash and it’s crushed. Easy.
5 Planters Made From Everyday Objects
Planters are easy to come by. Whether you have little growing space outdoors, or want to beautify a patio or rooftop, pull your nearest receptacle or container from your trash and turn it into a planter. The more innovative, the more interesting and discussion-worthy for your friends and neighbors. Here are a few unusual planters we’ve come across in our travels in the Himalaya:
1) Thermos Planter
2) Styrofoam Cooler Planter
3) Paint Can and Bucket Planters
4) Gerry Can Planter
5) Barrel Planter
The Adventures of Blue Bear
There once was a time, not too long ago, when our children were very small but what some might call brave. They ventured (as they still do) each year to the other side of the planet, to the Himalayas, and those first years were precious because they didn’t know they were doing something special.
They thought everyone travelled to the base of Mount Everest to live the good life.
Their years spent over the winter months with our Sherpa family, Ang Temba and Yangin, in the village of Khunde at 12,600 feet, are among the happiest months of our lives. We had no distractions, committing our time to the children’s well-being up there, enjoying the simple pleasures of family company and the rhythms of Himalayan winter life. The life lessons the village taught us over the years are the reason why we’ve created this blog.
One of those winters, we met Peter Olander, who volunteered to join us in Phortse, a village just a few hours beyond Khunde, where we established our second Magic Yeti Children’s Library in the Solu-Khumbu district of Nepal. Peter’s patience with the quixotic movements of our children on the trail, sometimes like herding cats, and his selfless dedication to the families of Phortse, humbled us deeply. He came to know how important a little bear named “Blue” was to our children’s movement up the trail. Blue Bear strapped himself in with 3-year-old Finn on every journey, whether it be by horse or the back of his Mom, Dad, or a dzopkyo (a cross between a cow and a yak.)
We later learned of Peter’s talents as an artist and storyteller. Please join us in reading his book about Finn and Blue Bear. This tiny blue denim bear was a little boy’s purpose on the world’s highest mountain trails just a few years ago:
Peter caught the essence of the magic of the Khumbu, the mysticism, and a child’s imagination that can be sparked by books and stories about children like Finn and his intrepid bear. Peter is uploading the story page-by-page (it takes time) to his website, and his paintings are original works of beauty that we cherish deeply. Thank you, Peter, for this gift, and for capturing these moments that transcend time to a place and a people graced by the compassion of mountain deities.
Click this image to get to the story:
(Readers, please check back, on Peter’s website, to follow Blue Bear’s story!)
Clothes The Loop With The North Face
I’m excited to make a huge discovery, for those of us who ache when we throw into the landfill big chunks of plastic that could likely be repurposed into something else. The North Face stores will take not only your old clothes, shoes, and outdoor gear like backpacks and tents, but they’ll also take your old ski boots! Please read this article by my husband that tells you all about this great initiative.
By Pete Athans
Living on an island means we don’t have access to a lot of services and conveniences. We like that.
A 35-minute ferry ride delivers us into what feels like the bowels of Seattle, ejecting ferry-riders beneath a highway underpass, a continuous stream of cars, buses and trucks humming above. Just around the corner from the hum of the waterfront is one of The North Face’s first stores to open in the U.S.
I’ve worked for the company for nearly 30 years, and I still love walking into this special Seattle space. Behind the modern store facade, you still have a sense of the original post and beam construction, probably used for shipping or as a warehouse years ago. Today, I’m even more proud to step into the store with my family, carrying our used clothing, textiles, and gear that we aren’t able to sustainably throw away on our small island. In fact, most people have a tough time finding places to discard used clothing and specialized outdoor gear in this country. But every store in the US that The North Face operates now has a “Clothes The Loop” box where you can drop off your used and worn-up clothes, gear, and shoes. You’ll get a discount on your next purchase at The North Face store as a reward for your efforts.
Here’s how you can find a store near you that is participating in this program. Click on their Find A Store link. Then, at the bottom of the map, click on the boxes that say “The North Face Stores” and “The North Face Outlets.” Those are the stores owned and operated by The North Face that have this program.
The North Face has initiated this much-needed clothing, gear, and shoe recycling program, they call “Clothes the Loop,” in a partnership with I:CO an international textile and shoe recycler that breaks materials down into 400 categories for carpet padding, stuffing for new toys, and fibers for new clothing. I:CO currently processes about 500 tons of used items every day in 74 countries. They have collection points all over Europe and in the USA.
Here’s a list of the kinds of items you can take to your nearest store and put in their box:
We’ve taken samplings of just about everything on the list above to their store. It’s reduced our family’s solid waste significantly each year. According to the EPA Office of Solid Waste, Americans throw away more than 68 pounds of clothing and textiles per person per year, and this figure is rapidly growing. Add your outdoor gear to that figure and surely it’s over 100 pounds. We’re very excited to hear that they’ll take ski boots. Before this, there were no options in the Seattle area and most cities for ski boot recycling.
Before you take your items in to The North Face, if any of them are usable, please try to give them away to someone who might be able to use them, through a project like your local Buy Nothing group. When my family travels to the Himalaya, we always bring a few extra duffels of clothing and shoes. We work with communities in Upper Mustang who are in dire need of good shoes.
Since children grow so fast, it isn’t hard to pass on our own children’s lightly worn fleece, outerwear, hiking boots, hats and gloves to kids in remote mountain communities. It’s the least we can do in a high mountain environment where people only have access to poorly made Chinese apparel.
If we’re more mindful of our textile and outdoor gear waste, we can each make a difference. We know the textile industry adds tremendous environmental stress on our planet, but by giving away our usable our clothing and gear and then recycling what’s un-wearable, we can reduce the demand for virgin materials in new clothing and conserve the energy that goes into making fibers for fabrics.
For us islanders, this new drop box at The North Face will be a welcome destination for fabrics and apparel we’ve been stockpiling in our homes in hopes that a recycler would appear in our midst. Your jeans that have holes in the knees and gloves that are nearly shredded from outdoor use are welcome at the Clothes the Loop bin.
Hope to see you there, recycling your hole-y socks and dented hats.
A Wood-Foraging Workout
It occurred to me, last winter, when high winds blew down so many trees, that I could help clear the trails, rather than just hike them. The added benefit was wood.
Rather than carrying a backpack filled with random items to give me added weight for a pre-expedition workout, I realized the resource I could gather on my hikes was right at my feet. My friend, Yangin Sherpa, walks 5 miles a day to collect wood where she lives. Why couldn’t I?
We heat our home with wood and our property provides most of what we need. But I realized that every day, during the storm season, I was picking up and throwing aside big chunks of wood that had come down the day before onto the trails we hike on our hill.
I bring an empty pack after a windstorm and load it with large chunks blocking the trail that I would otherwise throw aside. There’s so much wood out there, areas where blow-downs outnumber the trees standing. I figure a small payment for my clearing of the trails are the few pieces I can gather to add weight to my gait, to give greater resistance to my uphill climb so I can prepare for the high passes and cliffside traverses we do each summer in the Himalaya.
I find joy in knowing what it feels like to walk 5 miles for a bundle of wood that will keep my family warm for one more day.
What are your simple pleasures?
DIY Bamboo or Stick Fence
This bamboo fence, in Kalopani, Nepal, is one of my favorite garden fences I’ve come across while traveling. It’s a simple construction of bamboo sticks and woven electrical cord to hold the whole structure together. Here, people use what they have at hand to create beauty in an unforgiving alpine environment at 7,500 feet.
Several 1-foot-high sticks are placed vertically in the ground about 5 inches apart and a long bamboo stick is split down the middle and placed horizontally across the vertical sticks, all woven together by an old electrical cord tied and knotted at the corner of the fence.
It’s a simple construction and quite attractive for a high altitude flower garden at the base of Dhaulagiri, the world’s 7th highest mountain.
If you’re looking for some more interesting ideas for fencing materials, we might have what you’re looking for in our Trash Backwards app.
What have you used for fencing?
Garden Glove Love
It all started on a bike ride. We kept seeing garden gloves along the side of the road. In fact, we had seen the gloves lying there for weeks and finally decided to pick them up. One by one, over the course of about 2 weeks, we had managed to collect 20 pairs!
We’re an island of avid gardeners, farmers, and a world-famous garden tour called “Bainbridge in Bloom.” Twelve months of gardening weather here on Puget Sound has afforded us 4 seasons of dirt digging. The problem is that the gardeners’ (or perhaps it’s the hired landscapers’) gloves too often end up along the sides of the roads, having fallen from the backs of landscaper’s trucks, farmers’ tractors, or islander’s cars. Being a food-grower myself, I couldn’t just let those gloves rot in the ditches.
My children and I have been collecting them: pulling to the side of the road, jumping out of the car, jumping back in, celebrating, for a year now and have 45 pairs plus about 50 singles ready for a mate. Do you have a single garden or work glove awaiting a partner? Don’t throw it out! Send it to us so we can marry it to one we have here because their next life is going to be GOOD.
All pairs of gloves we reunite will go to Kathmandu to protect the hands of the rag pickers there. Life as a rag picker is tough, really tough, and many are children in their pre-teens. These kids, and plenty of adults, make a living picking through other people’s trash to compile enough polyethylene plastic or PET plastic bottles to send to India for recycling. It’s a decent living, but the conditions are among the worst on the planet. We want to help by giving them the garden gloves we’ve found on our streets and in your garden sheds.
My children and I made a movie about the rag pickers in Kathmandu. If you have a few minutes, this film short will give you a brief look into the work they do:
Most rag pickers have no gloves at all. They pick bare-handed through broken glass and human excrement to find their quarry, and the best protection they can have, in my humble estimation, is for their hands (of course it doesn’t hurt to have a face mask, too.) We’ve seen some rag pickers with just one glove, as that’s all they have.
In August, we’ll be headed to Nepal again, to give gloves to Kathmandu’s rag pickers to aid in protecting them from the unsanitary conditions in which they work daily. Over two hundred rag pickers work at the city’s dump some 50 miles from Kathmandu. But countless children pick plastics from the Bagmati River as well as the streets of Kathmandu, and having a glove or two could save a child from infection, disease, and dysentery which comes with the territory.
Want to help us protect the rag pickers, those moving Kathmandu’s trash backwards into new goods, to help reduce the mountains of garbage in the foothills of the Himalaya? There are 3 things you can do to help:
1) Use our Trash Backwards app and indicate when you’ve done something good. By clicking the “I Did It” button on any individual solution, you show us that you’ve changed your behavior to help reduce waste. These simple clicks that show what you’ve done to reduce, reuse, and recycle provide us with data to indicate whether a social movement like ours that educates through social media can make a difference. Every “I Did It” click means we can do some good, too. It’s a one-for-one correlation between your action at home/in the office and our action worldwide. For every “I Did It” click in our app, we’ll do our own good: We’ll hand out a pair of gloves to a rag picker, we’ll remove batteries from a water source in a village, we’ll collect plastics from rivers and shorelines, we’ll conduct a village waste audit. Every action you do enables us to do our greater good and ultimately find the support to do even more! So, please visit us at TrashBackwards.com and find some solutions to our global waste that you can undo in your own small scale, then hit the “I Did It” button and we’ll do the same. The more you do, the more we’ll do in return.
2) Send us your odd (or pairs of) garden gloves. We’ll likely have a match and can then get them into the hands of someone in need. Please know that the conditions are deplorable for a rag picker. Gloves could save someone from infection and truly make a difference. Does one glove have a hole in the thumb but the other is fine? Send us the good one!
Garden Glove Love
6027 NE Baker Hill Road
Bainbridge Island, WA 98110
3) Simply help fund our efforts to improve the lives of Kathmandu’s rag pickers and kids in higher villages. You can do so by donating much needed funds to the Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation so we can get our duffel bags of gloves (we donate shoes and books too) over to Nepal and remove toxic waste from the highest watersheds in the world while also helping to increase literacy in local villages. As little as $20 can go such a long way in Nepal. We’ve been bringing children’s books by porter, yak, horse, and donkey up to the highest villages in the Himalaya for 7 years now, and have opened 7 children’s libraries called The Magic Yeti Libraries. We bring books up and toxics down. Our target this summer is to remove batteries, CFL light bulbs, and plastics from the rivers, streams, irrigation ditches and water supply of villages between 9,000 and 14,000 feet. We’ll get these toxic materials out of the pristine waters and bring them down to a municipal organization that can dispose of them responsibly. We all live downstream of these waters, but for those who live in the villages nearby, the battery and plastics-laden streams need to be cleaned up as soon as possible.
Garden Glove Love was inspired by England’s Glove Love campaign, a nationwide movement to rescue single gloves and give them a new life on the hands of eager people wanting to help reduce our overall impact on the environment.
Start today with your efforts to reduce your own impact on our planet by doing some good with the stuff you already have in your life. Reduce, reuse, re-gift, repair, and rethink your material assets as you use our Trash Backwards web app and you’ll inevitably help others and our planet, too.
How Underground Networks Can Outperform Aid Orgs
It was less than a week after the April 25th, 2015 magnitude 7.8 earthquake hit Nepal that we came to realize little-to-no relief had reached villages beyond Kathmandu. Roads were dangerous; But even worse, as time progressed, supplies for temporary shelter for the over 2 million now homeless had dried up. Tents and tarps were sold out in Kathmandu. Foreign governments and aid organizations were being shut down at the airport, their incoming supplies requisitioned by Nepal customs, and much-needed food, tents, tarps, blankets, and medical supplies were sitting on the runway, tied up in a confounding wad of red tape.
Our friends in Nepal were frantic, texting us asking for any means to get materials over to the remote villages. Aid organizations trucking supplies to villages were stopped along the roads by desperate, angry, and hungry people who lived right along the road who also had seen no relief. Supplies were ripped from trucks and middlemen sold them at high prices to anyone who would pay. These were the stories coming out of Nepal.
My mountaineering/photographer friend, Jake Norton, and I immediately set up a Facebook group with a few more friends who could brainstorm together to come up with a solution. We all had experience in Nepal or with disaster relief and we had a unique idea we wanted to test: Could we start a person-to-person underground railroad to bring relief to the blank spots on the media map, the forgotten corners of Nepal where people were in trouble, circumventing customs altogether? Through each of our own personal friendships and connections, we created a network of travelers to Nepal who could carry duffels as excess baggage with them on airlines. As tourists entering the country, they whisked right through customs and our friends, Nepali mountaineers, kayakers, and guides, could then get the supplies and health care up to far flung villages. They were local, knew the terrain well, and could take on any conditions or logistics thrown their way. The idea was bold, would involve a worldwide network, the complicity of some airlines, and some social media hacks to pull it off.
Through the help of The Buy Nothing Project, we immediately set to work in the major cities where we have thriving local gift economies. Seattle was our first test: Shelley Schwinn, the project’s coordinating admin, posted to some 500 groups in greater Seattle and through friends who own the Nepali clothing company, Sherpa Adventure Gear, we sent off 22 duffels in a private shipping container they were able to put on Northwest Airlines just as they would a regular clothing shipment to Nepal.
We then got word out through The Buy Nothing Project and our own social networks in all major cities that we were looking for anyone headed to Nepal, to add a few additional pieces to their luggage. We would take care of the airlines side of the equation, petitioning excess baggage departments and receiving waivers from them for humanitarian relief. United Airlines and Etihad were our most supportive airlines, waiving hundreds of bags through their systems as accompanied excess loads headed to the Himalaya with doctors, climbers, scientists, filmmakers, and relief volunteers. Our requests for donations through social media came with this preamble:
We’re a person-to-person gifting network working to provide temporary shelter for the marginalized people left homeless by the April 25 earthquake in Nepal. We’re a worldwide network of mountaineers, filmmakers, doctors, scientists, and Nepalis creating an underground railroad to the most affected villages, delivering pre-packed duffel bags filled with family-size tents and tarps into the hands of anyone willing to ship them or courier them into Nepal.
Friends in Boulder, Colorado networked in their climbing community for duffels, tents, tarps and medicines needed, while the Buy Nothing groups in San Francisco, Indiana, Ohio, Washington DC, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire rallied to find the same. It was a race against time, matching travelers with fully-packed duffels and a welcoming committee on the Nepal side who would pick them up at the airport, gather the duffels from them, and take them to their destination in Kathmandu.
Our Facebook group was mission control, the inner workings of our hacker culture we’d set up to circumvent all roadblocks. But new ones came at us every day, and we’d then have to come up with a counter-move, much like Minecraft. We built secret tunnels to get duffels into Nepal in broad daylight.
In the end, in 2 months’ time, our Person 2 Person 4 Nepal network, was able to collect, ship, and deliver 240 duffels, filled with over 700 family-size tents & tarps, 100 solar chargers, blankets, medical supplies, and hundreds of solar lights at little to no cost to us, all before the monsoon arrived. These supplies are valued at over $67,000.
We believe this kind of person-to-person worldwide network can make a difference in any disaster and is a viable alternative model to work in parallel with the larger aid agencies on the ground. When a landslide struck Oso, WA The Buy Nothing Project was able to get over 4 tons of food and supplies to the people of Oso, well before the Red Cross arrived. People naturally want to help. Harnessing that rush-to-help through local gift economies and social networks can have a huge impact when organized directly with those affected. Aid organizations always say, “Don’t give things, give money. And, don’t go there yourself.” In our experience, this advice is ill-given, as supplies and food in Nepal were scarce. Bringing the supplies there, in person, was necessary.
The individual stories of our Nepal efforts are quite wonderful: United Airlines pilot, Matt Murray for example, volunteered to fly for free as a passenger on his days off to singlehandedly jet 100 duffels of tents and tarps to Nepal.
An Everest climber, David Carter, took time off from work in Indiana to fly to Nepal with 2 of his friends, just to courier 100 solar chargers for us. These chargers have been instrumental in helping the people of Rasuwa and the Langtang village survivors in particular. It’s the individual stories that tell a broader narrative of how community-based sharing and gift economy networks can mobilize to make a difference in times of need. We’re using the connectedness we experience through social media to transform our professional and social networks of trust into action on the ground.
The blue stars on this map below highlight our distribution areas for temporary shelter and life-saving supplies compared to the people most in need, post-earthquake, in Nepal.
You’ll see the results of this effort in the NOVA documentary airing tomorrow night (Wednesday, January 27th, 2016) at 9pm. You’ll see the local hands-on rescue team of Nepali Nurses and outdoor athletes who took matters into their own hands to bring relief to people in the hinterland. You’ll see volunteer American doctor, Bruce Gardner, bringing simple medical care to those who might need it — wellness checks, follow-through care for those more deeply affected by the earthquake. And you’ll see the utter devastation wrought by a 7.8 earthquake that could have been much worse.
We have so many of you to thank. Please watch the film and share this graphic with friends and family as an example of what’s possible, to let them know that people can connect-the-dots to create an international gift economy, a social movement jetting, trucking, and hand-carrying supplies to people in need on the other side of the globe. If we had to do it again, we would, and we’ll keep working to bring what’s needed to our friends, old and new, in Nepal.
Give Books + Rebuild Libraries = Earthquake Relief
The girls at Tsarang’s ani school want to thank you deeply for the books you’ve donated to our Magic Yeti Library in their beautiful school. This is a well-loved library and put to use each day. Bringing new boxes to the girls is one of my family’s greatest joys and among the earliest memories for our children, who have collected their own books (and books from friends) and donated them here since they were 18 months-old. The girls at the ani school are such lovely inquisitive students who are in excellent health. Our expedition doctor, Steve Overman, checked them out and found only a few toothaches and common colds. They had many questions for us and couldn’t wait to dive into the new boxes of books.
Alas, the earthquake that devastated Nepal on April 25th, 2015 took a terrible toll on our Phortse Library in Solukhumbu and devastated the Thame library and school.
The Phortse building’s walls collapsed, but luckily no one was inside, as the earthquake occurred mid day on Saturday, when the library was closed (the library is open every day before and after school.) The books had to be rescued from the rubble, stored in the nearby school and our friends’ homes for several months until the walls and roof of the community building could be rebuilt.
Thanks to donations from you, our supporters, friends, and family, and also thanks to a grant from the Simon Family Foundation, the library is now intact and books are back on the shelves!
We deeply appreciate your donations of well-loved children’s books and cash donations through the Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation, enabling the rebuilding of the libraries and the children’s tomes to be read over and over again in Phortse, and our 6 other Magic Yeti Libraries. If you’re interested in helping to bring literacy to our remote village libraries in Mustang and Solukhumbu, please click on the donate button in the lower right hand corner of our Magic Yeti page here.
Checks can go to the Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation (ALCF):
P.O. Box 6666
Bozeman, MT 59771
And if you’d like to do a book drive at your school or work, we’d love to hear from you and help guide you. Since we no longer have a shipper for books from the US to Nepal, they’ll have to be sent, media rate, directly to our friend and agent, Jiban Ghimire, in Nepal:
GPO 6802, Panchakanya Chowk
Kapan 03, Kathmandu, Nepal
T+[977 1] 481 0373, 481 0387
F +977 1 481 1317
M +977 985 103 5161
Luckily, in the image below, in the second largest village in Upper Mustang that boasts the winter palace of the historic Mustang Kings, the girls and the library were all safe from the rocking of the earthquake.
If you haven’t had a chance to help us out in person, we welcome volunteers joining us on our trips to Nepal for our library projects and we can always use cash contributions to keep the books moving uphill to the rooftop of the world. We’ve seen such improvement in students’ performance when they have a small library of books at their fingertips, books that help answer their questions about the world, or enable them to learn the English language through stories written for their age levels. Dual language books written in their own language (Nepalese) are extremely popular, too. We set aside a good part of our budget to purchase local Nepali/English books from Room to Read, based in Kathmandu.
Thank you for your help in bringing literacy, and some of the greatest stories around the world, to the villages of Tsarang, Phortse, Khumjung, Thame, Kagbeni, Chhoser, and Samdzong!
How To Wash Clothes In A Bathtub
If you ever have a power outage and need to do an important load of laundry, consider the bathtub! We’ve done bathtub laundry all over the world, mostly because you can do it in any location that has a tub, and this simple practice saves a bundle of money if you’re traveling.
How do you do it and get your clothes dry in time?
There are 2 ways to tub-clean your dirty togs. If you’re taking a shower, you can always conserve water and throw your dirty clothes in the bottom of the tub to benefit from your shower water. I know it doesn’t sound glamorous, but it works if you just need to get your clothes clean quickly. Otherwise, here are a few steps involved in the bathtub method:
1) Run the water and plug the drain. Be sure to put enough water in the tub to just cover your clothing. I simply use the hotel soap, but you can always bring your own biodegradable laundry powder or laundry bar soap if you think ahead. On expeditions, we always have a little bio-soap on hand to hand-wash clothes in rivers.
2) My friends in Nepal let the clothes soak for a few minutes. Then you can rub it all over the clothing, and scrub around the really dirty areas.
3) Next, get your children in the tub and let them walk all over your clothing. It’s a fun game for them and massages their feet. If you have no children around, do it yourself or you can “agitate” your clothes by hand, too. One reader told me she does bathtub laundry at home and uses a spare toilet plunger for her “agitation cycle.” Be sure to hand scrub your dirty areas by hand with your soap.
4) Drain the dirty water and run more water over your clothes to fully rinse them out. You might need to rinse twice if you’ve used a lot of soap.
5) Wring each piece of clothing out and then hang them to dry over the tub. Depending on your climate, you should have dry clothes in a few hours, almost as long as it would’ve taken you to take your clothing to a laundry service to do it for you.
And the price is right.
I’m no fan of doing laundry, mostly because I know in developed countries we do way too much of it and our microplastic-laden clothes are contributing to our toxic shorelines. Hand-washing means you’ll really only wash those clothes if you absolutely have to, not just because you wore them once.
We like this system because it’s cheap, it didn’t require any plastic, we get a little exercise doing the laundry, and it conserves water when we use our own shower water for the first part of your washing cycle, to just get the clothes wet. For a family of 4 traveling in the Himalaya, hand-washing is a regular part of our routine. Try it for a week, and you’ll start thinking about the water, the soap, where it goes, and how often it actually needs to be done. Do you hand-wash when you travel? What tips can you share?