Despite 2015 being my first year as a parent, this has been a good year for travel. We got the Little Person on her first international trip, in addition to numerous runs around the country; she may have even outflown me with a total of 18 legs to her credit.
In spite of my expectations, I have some really interesting thoughts about my travel highlights. So here's my Best of Travel, 2015 travel edition.
Considering that I flew two trans-Atlantic flights on a Lufthansa 747-8i, you'd expect Lufthansa to win this handily. All the Lufthansa employees I encountered were as polished as they were personable. They were excellent with our Little Person (let's not forget the onboard bassinets and stuffed animals), and the economy class seats were the best I've flown in.
But not so fast, says WestJet. This Canadian carrier was the surprise of my travels in 2015 – a likeable, eager-to-please, reasonably priced revelation that makes me wish it had a few US hubs. It's Boeing 737 fleet is honestly nothing special, especially next to the marvel that is the 747-8i or even a newer iteration of 737. But WestJet one me over by having modestly priced upgrades to its premium cabin, which also gets you free food and snacks.
I am bummed that I can't fly WestJet more. But you can bet that I will go out of my way to get on a WestJet intercontinental flight; they just added some 767s to the fleet. I'm eager to see what WestJet can do on a widebody aircraft on a long flight.
I expected Lufthansa to be great. And they were. I wasn't sure about WestJet – but they delivered a wonderful air travel surprise.
This is hands-down Orange County John Wayne Airport. It has barely any lines or queues to speak of. It has an open, airy design that makes the best use of natural light. It's easy to get around.
And in VinoVolo, it has terrific food. Skip all the the restaurants and hit VinoVolo. If you have time to sit and dine, they have an excellent charcuterie platter; though they pride themselves on wine, they also serve a small stash of bottled craft beer.
If you're in a hurry, go for the to-go picnic boxes. I got a Mendocino Picnic box before my last flight out of John Wayne, which they modified with some pieces of prosciutto for me. I made everyone on the plane jealous with a fine selection of cheese (including an amazing brie), fruit, nuts, crackers and dark chocolate.
My only quibbles were the terrible WiFi and scarcity of power outlets.
In contrast, Chicago O'Hare International Airport is nothing short of the worst of the worst, from taxi times to TSA. Avoid connecting at O'Hare if you can. It truly stinks. I've had a lot of things happen at O'Hare, and none of it is good.
When my family travels, we are on the lookout for great breweries. And by far my favorite is Iron Fist Brewing Company. It had everything I like – a warehouse/industrial vibe, a decent food truck and a stellar and varied selection of beers.
If you're visiting, a flight is the way to go. But do yourself and a few good friends a favor and grab a few bottles of the outrageous Pillow Mint stout.
I also have a lot of great things to say about Noble Ale Works. It's the best thing happening near the House of the Mouse in Orange County.
If you crack open a travel guide for Germany, you won't find any mention of SchwÃ¤bisch Hall. I wouldn't have known about it if I didn't have family in the area. So all those "follow the guidebook" people are missing out on a picturesque, storybook example of a German village (pronounced "willage" by my relatives, father included).
You can spend some time shopping in the town center. Or you can head out to the Einkorn ro hike – if you're there in fall, pick some apples! If you're a diehard fan of American football, you can also check out the – and I'm not making this up – SchwÃ¤bisch Hall Unicorns, which is one of the stronger gridiron teams in Germany. Be on the lookout for the very amusing sausage-dispensing vending machine.
Oh, and if you're near the village of Rosengarten and you notice some cool art hanging up in a public area, the odds are good that you're seeing my Uncle Johann's work.
So my family rolled into Stuttgart Airport on the German equivalent of a harvest holiday. Everything in the airport before security was closed with three exceptions: A convenience store, an electronics store and a sex shop. I don't know many people who hit the airport for a ballgag or a flogger – but if you're one of them, Stuttgart has you covered.
I figure the outfit pictured would make security searches a breeze, but I would want to accessorize with a nice gas mask ... which might cause difficulties at the security checkpoint. So I refrained. (Equality points to Germany for having a male mannequin in the window.)
We absolutely fell for the HÃ´tel BELVUE. But after the events in Belgium following the Paris terrorist attack, I wonder how this wonderful place is getting along. It’s right on the edge of the neighborhood that was a focus for the subsequent investigations.
If you can get past that, you’ll enjoy great architecture, a reasonable price and far more space than the European norm. A few other things add to the Belvue's cool factor: It's designed to be energy efficient, and is also used to train people for hospitality careers. I could go on about this, but the Hotel Belvue website says it best.
Best Travel Gear.
I have this Grey Ghost backpack that the company calls the “Lightweight Assault Pack.” So yeah, it’s largely aimed at the military crowd. But me? The only thing I assault is the mundane, the ho-hum, the boring. The Lightweight Assault Pack helps me in that endeavour ably.
I picked up a selection of MOLLE pouches to add to the outside of the pack for different purposes. That makes it really quick and easy to configure it for a pretty serious hike (complete with knife and fire-making materials) or as a perfect carry-on items (definitely minus the knife and fire stuff). It fits beautifully under an airline seat, it wears comfortably and it has plenty of space even before adding external pouches. Great stuff!
Best News Overall
My daughter made her first trip abroad at the age of nine months. She was just about perfect – excellent on the airplanes, willing to eat anything, constantly ready to go for a ride in her Ironman stroller. Here’s a little story about what we did and how it all worked out.
This post just might contain affiliate links. Fear not, they’re non-spammy and benign. Hey, I have to keep this thing running somehow!