Use Exciting History Podcasts To Revolutionize Your Travel

Exciting history podcasts. That’s right. I used those three words in one sentence without a hint of sarcasm or satire. They’re few and far between, but they do exist and holy smokes will they surprise you and revolutionize how you understand world history and the destinations you’re visiting.

Unless you were a history major (and even then), chances are good that you haven’t done a deep dive into a specific region or civilization’s history since you were a kid.  The history you got as a kid was useful, but also likely full of holes and deeply biased. Upon landing in a new city, it’s common to do a very shallow and cursory dive into the city/country/region’s history but that rarely goes beyond “This wall was built by the Roman Emperor Hadrian in 122 AD.”  Who was Hadrian?  Where does he fit in the greater Roman history?  Why was he building a wall? Who the hell knows. For most of us those are the mysteries that are lost to time – both in the sense that even if we did know the answers we likely forgot them, and if we didn’t …. well, time is precious and even those of us with a desire to read historical texts like Meditations or in-depth period histories rarely find (or make) the time for them.

Biting Back – Bed Bugs, Treatment, Hostels and Hotels

How to treat bed bugs

Over the years travel has left me with a few scars.  Small injuries, cuts and scrapes from various poorly thought out misadventures are responsible for a few but by and far the most prolific culprit is the common bedbug.  These dastardly creatures are often almost too small to see with the naked eye, prolific, devious and have left a trail of small scars across my hands, elbows and legs. While most travelers have a passionate dislike and hatred for bed bugs I truly loath them.  In no small part because I harbor an unfortunate allergy to them which, if not treated immediately, results in significant swelling and possible infection. The downside to this allergic reaction is obvious but the upside is that I now know almost immediately when I’ve been attacked by bed bugs which helps identify exactly where they came from and treat them before there’s a risk of taking them with me to my next destination.

Bed Bugs Are Everywhere

While only talked about in passing (it’s a taboo topic after all) it appears that bed bug infestations have really gotten bad over the last few years.  The common traveler’s wisdom is that you’ll only get hit by bed bugs in cheap and sleazy accommodation. The first thing most of us check for when booking a hostel is the fateful “I got bed bugs here” review.   For my part, I avoided entire hostel chains because they still allowed people to bring in outside linens and sleeping backs for use – a practice the majority of modern hostels did away with a long time ago explicitly to help combat bed bug infestation. But, if this past year has shown me anything, it has shown me that bed bugs are everywhere. They’re not just in dingy sleaze pits, they’re in the best hotels and the cleanest hostels as well. This past year I’ve been hit by bed bugs three times, each months apart and each occurred on a different continent.  The first time it happened I was in a mid-level hostel in a historic city. The hostel went out of its way to be clean…in fact, it even had custom toilets in the bathroom rigged with automatic plastic seat covers that changed with each use. The second time it happened I was in one of Europe’s flagship hostels. A hostel that goes out of its way to keep its rooms spotless, custom packages all of its sheets in plastic wrap after washing, and carefully cleans its rooms each day.  The third time?  At a popular and well respected five star hotel. The take away?  Bed bugs are everywhere. You can get bed bugs anywhere.

How I Treat Bed Bug Bites

Before I continue let’s be clear that I’m not a medical professional and that I’m not providing medical advice.  This is what works for me after a series of trial and error experiments, nothing more, nothing less. I’ve found that the key to dealing with bed bug bites is to treat them immediately. As soon as I realize I’ve been bitten I take a strong dose of Benadryl and Ibuprofen.  Over the following several days I’ll continue to take the maximum recommended dosage of both. I’ve also found that about the worst thing you can do is itch a bed bug bite.  The combination of these two medications helps reduce swelling and discourage infection while simultaneously helping to reduce itching.  Unfortunately, I find that bed bug bites are extremely slow to heal and that even up to a week later scratching or disturbing the bite releases agitatants that can cause swelling and itching.  When available I’ll also apply bug bite lotion.  While these vary widely from country to country they’re usually a fast drying white or beige liquid which includes (in part) Zinc Oxide and Talcum.  If needed, just ask the local pharmacist what the best local option is for treating severe bug bites.

Preventing Future Bed Bug Bites

After taking my initial (strong) dose of Benadryl and Ibuprofen I immediately take the hottest shower I can stand and then change into clean clothes. Make sure to keep whatever clothing you had on, and which may be infected with bed bugs or bed bug eggs, separate from your bag and other clothing.  Place the potentially infected clothing in a plastic bag and then either have the hostel/hotel wash the clothing at high heat (at least 60 degrees C, though I prefer 90 when possible) or do it yourself in a local washing facility. Hopefully your jacket, bag and/or backpack were never in direct contact with the bed or another bed-bug prone area.  These items are the hardest to clean because they’re the most difficult to wash and/or to expose to sufficient heat to kill the bed bugs.  My understanding is that bed bugs have about a two week life cycle though they can live much longer so you’ll need to be extremely vigilant.  When doing spot checks for bed bugs remember that they dislike bright light and are often found inside pillow cases, along seams, and love mattresses.  Luckily, they tend not to travel very far and unless you’re looking at a major infestation will have fairly limited mobility. Remember: Don’t just assume that because you’re staying in a hygienic  room at a nice facility that you’re safe from bed bugs.  It’s always worth taking a few minutes to spot check the bed, sheets and pillows. Especially if you’re somewhere where the bed is pre-made for you. Not sure how to identify a bed bug?  They actually vary quite a bit in appearance, size and shape depending on their age and how well fed they are.  Young bed bugs tend to be red/pink in color and almost look like small ants while older bed bugs tend to be brown in color and rounder in shape.

International Airports and Luggage Storage (Short and Long Term)

Tempe Sunset with Landing Airplane

When I arrived in Copenhagen to begin my two year study abroad program my flight got in at 10PM, I had a backpack and three 50 pound suitcases with me.  As a lone individual it was way too much for me to get into the city on my own.  Luckily, I was able to store two of those suitcases at the airport which brings me to today’s topic: luggage storage.

There are a wealth of reasons for why you may need to store your luggage at the airport. From simple logistics (like mine) and extended layovers to more complicated reasons.  I’ve seen people who were spending time in two vastly different climates and needed two sets of clothing.  Instead of hauling extra weight and bulk which they had no hope of using, they got a locker and stored it at the airport.

If you’re like me you may be wondering A) Are luggage storage/lockers affordably priced and B) In a post 9/11 world, do they still exist?

Is Post 9/11 Storage Possible?

Surprisingly, the answer seems to be yes for most major airports.  The trick is that they’re no longer (if they ever were) a stand alone department and operation.  Which means you’ve got to be slightly creative when researching if the airport you’ll be using offers luggage storage services.  The most common place to store luggage is actually at the lost luggage counter.  They have the facilities and infrastructure in place and for a daily fee will usually keep an eye on your bags for a few days, weeks or in some cases months.

Many airports also maintain coin operated luggage lockers. However, these tend to have been isolated and reinforced for security reasons. At the Copenhagen International Airport there was one set of mixed size lockers located across from the main terminal structure along a side wall of parking garage 4.  Unlike the lost luggage counter, these lockers were completely automated and had a 72 hour usage limit.

Since arrivals and departures can occur at all hours of the day make sure to do your research.  I did not and by the time I arrived in Copenhagen the lost luggage/luggage storage office had long since closed.  If not for the outdoor luggage lockers, I’d have been left stranded until the office re-opened 6 hours later.

Keep in mind that your airport may have storage services, but those services may be located in/near another terminal. Plan accordingly.

Is Airport Luggage Storage Affordable?

This is always a subjective topic. One person’s affordable is another person’s daily budget. That said, I’m inclined to say that depending on how you intend to use the luggage storage service it is typically well worth the cost.  In reviewing pricing across several airports the standard cost per day seems to be around $6-15 USD.  Depending on your needs and the airport you’re using many of the lost luggage storage services charge on a per item basis, while the luggage lockers tend to be based on size. When I used the “large” luggage lockers in Copenhagen one cost me 60DKK a day, or about $12 and fit two full sized suitcases with room for a third.  Quick online research suggests that large lockers are available at the Barcelona airport for 5.60 Euro, and in London Heathrow  lost luggage storage is 8 GBP a day per item and items can be stored for up to three months.

While you’ll almost always be better off storing your luggage at your hotel or hostel when possible, if you find yourself in a pinch or need the added security of a monitored/longer term/on site storage service there are still great options available to travelers.

Have a favorite resource for finding up-to-date information on an Airport’s luggage storage facilities and pricing? I’d love to know about it.

Don’t forget to pick up several TSA friendly Combination Luggage Locks for use on your baggage as well as securing your hostel locker.