Tag Archives: timothy baker

Uzbekistan Khiva wedding couple in traditional costume

What Made Uzbekistan Special

Note from Wendy:  Uzbekistan was a hard sell at first.  For seven years Zulya Rajabova, the Uzbekistan native who is the Silk Road trip-planning specialist on my WOW List, had been trying to show me her homeland. She was excited to introduce my teenagers to her cadre of youth ambassadors and teenaged guides-in-training back in Bukhara.  Finally, my family of four managed to get there—and it was the last trip we made together before the pandemic hit.  In the months of being homebound that followed, stuck around our kitchen table, we’ve spent a lot of time reminiscing about our exotic adventure. My photojournalist husband, Tim Baker, decided to write it all down. Here’s Tim, along with a few of the thousands of photos he shot: 

When people ask me my favorite place to travel to, I often quote travel writer and friend Bob Payne: “Someplace I haven’t been before.”  So when Wendy said we were going to Uzbekistan, I was thrilled.  I knew nothing about Uzbekistan, other than it was on the Silk Road and, along with a handful of other ‘stans, a former member of the USSR.

As I often do, I purposely avoided learning more about the country until we got there. Arriving with a blank slate is my own personal protest against all our modern travel information sources. You can learn so much about a place in advance, right down to the view you’ll have out of your room in your hotel, but all that info deprives me of the sense of adventure I love and actively seek. Uzbekistan: Here was a clean slate. What is there to see? What are the people like? What do they eat? What are the flora and fauna? What’s the weather like? How will Americans be treated?

What we found were warm and welcoming people, a fascinating culture, world-class historic sights, simple yet delicious food, and very, very few other foreign travelers.

If you are looking to sit poolside at a five-star resort and have umbrella drinks brought to you, Uzbekistan may not be for you. But if you are willing to endure a handful of bumpy roads and occasionally deal with Soviet-era logic and an early-stage tourist infrastructure, you will be rewarded with an unforgettable adventure. We certainly were.

What made it so special for us? The natural warmth of the people, for starters. We never had any reason to feel, anywhere, that we weren’t entirely welcome. In fact, we were invited into people’s homes and to family parties and celebrations. Our son Doug said we got a “firsthand look at the true culture” of the country. Our boys still keep in touch (through social media) with some of the young friends they made there.

A huge part of the education we got from the Uzbek people was learning firsthand the history of the Silk Road, the millennia-old overland connectors between Asia and the Mediterranean. The Uzbek people are rightfully proud of their history joining East and West.

While we had a number of meals in the finer restaurants, our favorite dishes were found at the simpler local bistros. Uzbek food—the quality of the ingredients and produce—was similar to what I remember from my childhood growing up on our family farm in northern California’s Sonoma County: Carrots tasted like the ones we grew on our farm, and the barbecued lamb chops were every bit as good as Mom’s!  The watermelons and cantaloupes were the sweetest and juiciest I’ve ever tasted. The biggest strawberries were only the size of quarters but exploded with flavor. The round national bread was among our favorite breads anywhere, especially when we got it right out of the oven in the markets. Which we often did, as nearly every town we visited had a market.

You might get a little “plov” weary. Plov is similar to rice pilaf and usually made in huge three- to six-foot diameter pans daily. Uzbeks put great pride in their plov. It varies slightly from region to region, with each region claiming that theirs is the best. And they are out to prove it, by making sure you get a plate full at almost every meal. The country’s nascent wine industry has nowhere to go but up.

One of our most adventurous experiences was spending the night in a yurt on the edge of the steppes next to the ruins of a centuries-old mud fort along the Silk Road. The yurt experience was questionable in terms of modern creature comforts, with blowing sand everywhere, but we all agreed that it was one of our most memorable nights in all of our travels. Other favorite places we stayed were a former caravanserai where long-ago merchants from the Silk Road slept and traded, and a centuries-old former madrassa, a school for the study of Islam.

As a photographer, I found the whole country rich in subjects to shoot, from the colorful festivals to the many fine examples of Islamic architecture. Unlike in many countries, the people in Uzbekistan actually liked having their picture taken. The lack of tourist infrastructure works to a photographer’s advantage too: Historic sights and landmarks had few, if any, signs or parking lots to shoot around or places you could not access for the best angles.

Would I go back?  You bet.  Tomorrow!  Before you and everyone else gets there.

Uzbekistan old woman smiling with gold teeth

I was rarely turned down when I asked if I could take a photo. Gold teeth are something of a fashion statement.


Uzbekistan military band dancing

Part of a military band in town for a local festival. We were encouraged to dance with the locals wherever we went.


Uzbekistan local family birthday party

A family invited us to a birthday party for a 63-year-old woman. 63 is called “Prophet Age,” since the Prophet Muhammad was 63 when he died. The family and friends invited to the party each took turns presenting a scarf to her and wrapping it around her head, on top of the other scarves. By the end of the party she probably had 30 scarves on her head, in a room that was hot and humid to begin with it.


Uzbekistan men praying Bolo Hauz mosque in Bukhara

Men pray during Friday services at the Bolo Hauz mosque in Bukhara. Uzbeks pray with their hands held open.


Uzbekistan Rabbi Abram Ishakov smiling

Interlacing his fingers to show unity between the overwhelming majority Muslim and miniscule Jewish communities, Rabbi Abram Ishakov of the oldest synagogue in Bukhara welcomes visitors. Once a thriving Jewish community, it’s estimated that only about 150 Jews still live in the town.


Teenage boy helping young Uzbeki boy with homework in clothing shop

Son Doug has a shirt custom-made and helps the shopkeeper’s boy with his homework while he waits.


View from airplane flying from Tashkent to Urgench Uzbekistan over desert

Flying from Tashkent to Urgench, the desert below resembled the skin of a cantaloupe. But along the banks of rivers and Soviet-era canals, the view was of lush, green farming areas.


Uzbekistan Gur-e-Amir Mausoleum

The 600-year-old Gur-e-Amir Mausoleum, the burial site of the country’s founding hero, Timur, who dominated central Asia in the late 1300s.


Uzbekistan Tilya-Kori Madrasa ceiling

The ceiling of the Tilya-Kori Madrasa in the Registan in Samarkand. Every ceiling of every mosque we visited had some special feature. I could do a photo essay of just ceilings.


minaret inside the city walls of Khiva at the Islam-Khodja complex Uzbekistan

The minaret inside the city walls of Khiva at the Islam-Khodja complex. Climb the circular stairway to the top of the 148-foot minaret if you are fit, unweighted by backpacks, and comfortable in tight, steep spaces where people squeeze past you on their way back down. You’ll be rewarded with a nice view of the city and its walls.


Uzbekistan Tashkent market

The main hall at the market in Tashkent. The mezzanine is a great vantage point for taking in the commerce below.


baker baking bread in oven in Uzbekistan

“Bread is Life” is a saying we heard many times on our trip. Get caught wasting even crumbs and you could get scolded by a local. The bread was best right out of the oven!


melon stack at Khiva melon festival Uzbekistan

We were lucky enough to be in Khiva for their melon festival. Being a foreigner at a festival had its advantages, as the local melon producers—proud of their work—offered us samples of their best.


beautiful fruit carving at Uzbekistan Khiva melon festival

A local chef shows off his carving skills at the festival. I have never tasted better melons, nor have I ever seen so many, in my life.


aerial photo of food at a familys table for a party in Uzbekistan

The spread at a family party we were invited to. Simple, fresh, and tasty.


Uzbekistan Men cook a truck tire sized pan of plov over a fire pit

Men cook a truck-tire-sized pan of plov over a fire pit made expressly for the dish.


camel stealing a pumpkin at a yurt camp in Uzbekistan

The manager of our yurt campground isn’t pleased that a free roaming camel has stolen part of tonight’s dinner off the wall to the kitchen. She got the pumpkin back after a couple of slaps with a dish towel.


tourists and locals dancing around a campfire at a yurt camp in Uzbekistan

Evening music and dancing around the fire at our yurt campground. Uzbeks love to dance.


two teenage tourist boys resting inside a yurt at a yurt camp in Uzbekistan

It was stuffy inside our yurt. But if you opened the flaps to get a little fresh air, you risked getting desert sand blown into your room and all over your belongings. Don’t ask how I know this.


Ayaz Kala fortress in the desert in Uzbekistan

Ayaz Kala, in the Karakalpakstan autonomous region, dates back to the 4th century BCE. The mud-built fortress on the Silk Road was just a hike up from our yurt lodge experience. Tourists can get a totally organic run of the fortress. The interior is almost seven acres. But not much to see other than a few walls and arches.


Toprak Kala palace ruins Uzbekistan

Toprak Kala, a fortified palace from the 1st or 2nd centuries, is visible from Ayaz Kala on a clear day.  It’s another example of the lack of tourist infrastructure. You get a truer sense of adventure, but if you don’t have a knowledgeable guide, you will be left with lots of questions. Some of which I was able to answer once I got home.


 farmer brings lively bull to a market in Uzbekistan

A farmer brings his spritely young bull to the early morning market. The market begins at 5:00 am. Being from a farm myself, I’m interested in markets and will set it up with a guide several days in advance.


Local Uzbek tourists pose in front of the Registan in Samarkand Uzbekistan

Most of the tourists we encountered were Uzbeks visiting from other regions of the country. Here, a group poses in front of the Registan in Samarkand.


The Registan in Samarkand Uzbekistan lit up in blue green and white for a music festival

One evening at the Registan, we were lucky enough to stumble upon a dress rehearsal for the opening of an international music festival. We were treated to live music, hundreds of costumed dancers, and a colorful light show on the 400- to 600-year-old structures. During the finale, the band played, and dancers performed the Uzbekistan national anthem. The buildings of the Registan were lit to represent the nation’s flag.

Transparency disclosure:  Most of our travel arrangements on the ground in Uzbekistan were complimentary, thanks to Zulya Rajabova’s deep connections there and the Uzbek people’s culture of hospitality. Tim paid Zulya back in photos!  Lest you think his reportage is biased, you can read your fellow paying travelers’ reviews of Zulya’s trips here.

tim holding trophy fish in Belize

Tim’s Tips for Fishing in Belize

On Wendy’s recent family trip to Belize, while she was road-testing Belize trip-planning specialists and her 14-year-old was learning to scuba dive, her husband, Tim, went fishing. Here’s his story:

“There they are, Mr. Tim!” Richard whispered with excitement. “Do you see them?”


“Just cast hard as you can to one o’clock.”

I reared back with the spinning rod and let my bait fly.  My bait was a small, live crab—with a total weight of about 40 cents’ worth of dimes—that was quickly rejected by the light breeze, as if I were taking a set shot against LeBron.

“Try again, Mr. Tim. Three o’clock this time!”

A Belize fishing guide, on the lookout for western Atlantic game fish.

Richard Quillan, Belize fishing guide, on the lookout for western Atlantic game fish.

This time I cast just barely better.  A blink later, I felt titch, titch, TUG!  Wham!  I set the hook!  I set it so hard I’m surprised I didn’t jerk the fish clean out of the water.  The fish pulled hard. Really hard.  It pulled in an arc, first to one side and then a quick turn to the other.  Like a metronome.  Click, click, click.

On its fourth arc, Richard reached in and loosened the drag on the reel.  Zizzzzzzzzzz!  The fish took off on a dead run in front of the boat, taking the line with it as it raced off.

“Mr Tim, tell me if you think it could spool out!”

“Okay, I’m telling you right now!”

I had about a dozen winds left on the reel.  More than 200 yards of 12-pound test line was gone in a flash.  Richard quickly started the 50 HP outboard, and the chase was on.  As we gained on the speeding fish, I was able to quickly recover a sizable amount of line back to the safety of the reel. If the line had come to a halt too abruptly, the fish could have snapped it.  Not only would I not have caught the fish, but I would have left a fish with a hook in its mouth, and—much, much worse—yards and yards of monofilament fishing line floating forever in the shallow flat.  And I would have felt awful about that.

Now that half the line was back on the reel, the give-and-take with the fish began in earnest.  The contest had been all fish, but now I was winning the pull-hard-reel-in-quickly battle.  The tiring fish even got close enough that I could see it.  It looked like a chrome hubcap from a 1960s Cadillac, flashing in the bright sun.  Just when I was ready to take the final pull to the boat, it took off again in full sprint.  Go ahead, I thought.  I have plenty of line restocked, and the boat is paid for until 4 p.m., and I know you are getting tired.

It took a full 20 minutes to get the line close enough to the boat, where Richard could land the fish.  One thing about a permit fish: The tail has a great place to grip.  Think of grabbing an hourglass in the middle.  Once you’ve got it, you’ve really got it!  I gave Richard a two-second lesson in how to use my camera, and he took two photos of me with my trophy.

Then, since fishing in Belize is catch-and-release (which I do anyway), Richard thanked the fish, gave it a kiss, and eased my catch of a lifetime back into the water.  Despite its ordeal, it was off, in a flick of a tail.

Belize fishing guide kissing fish before putting it back in the water

Richard thanks the fish, kisses it, and releases it back into the water.

Richard Quillan, my fishing guide, seemed genuinely as thrilled as I was.  High-fives all around.  Any professional guide wants the customer to be happy.  Which I sure was.  And this was Richard’s 26th birthday.

We reloaded a new crab and went in search of more.

Belize fishing guide looking for crabs for bait on the beach

Catching crabs for fish bait

Belize is world-renowned for its flats fishing.  Square mile after square mile of flats surround much of the country’s coastline and islands.  The water is only a couple of feet deep.

The Permit is one-third of the Grand Slam of Belize fishing: Permit, Bonefish, and Tarpon.  (Unlike baseball, golf, tennis, and breakfasts, it takes only three to make up a Belizean Grand Slam.  Maybe the fourth thing to catch is a sunburn.  And that’s guaranteed.)

The day before, I had hired Richard for a half-day bonefishing trip as a kind of warm-up.  We had caught a couple of small bonefish, but I wasn’t thrilled by their fight.  (I’ve had better battles with bigmouth bass in the lake I go to each summer.)  Initially, for my full-day trip, I wanted to go for 100-plus-pound tarpon—considered by many one of the ultimate sports-fishing trophies—but Richard suggested, based on conditions, that we would have better luck going for permit.

While I enjoy fishing, the sight-casting approach didn’t really appeal to me.  The hardest part was finding the fish.  That’s where a fishing guide earns his value: In addition to a decade of experience, Richard had top-quality sunglasses—made for anglers—that helped him see into the water.  With my regular glasses that darken in the sunlight, I felt like Mr. Magoo.  Only late on the second day could I manage to start seeing the fish that Richard was pointing out to me.

If you want to see into the water, you need a bright, sunny, cloudless day, with not too much breeze chopping up the water surface.  While a sunny day without a breeze is perfect for finding fish, be warned that under those conditions the sun is relentless.  Even with temps in the mid 80s, you are just baking.  These types of fishing boats have zero shade.

a fishing guide in Belize poles the boat into position to intercept a school of fish that would have been scared off by the engine.

Poling the boat through the flats to intercept a school of fish that would have been scared off by the engine.

When Richard found the fish, we cut the outboard, and he poled us into position to intercept the school.  Schools range from a handful to more than 50 fish.  The fish are extremely shy, and that’s their defense in the shallow water of the flats: shyness, and sheer speed.  Even our movements and voices on deck had to be muted.  A misplaced cast (and there were many!), and the fish would scatter, and we’d need to look again in a new spot.  In five hours of fishing, I landed three permits.  Each was smaller than the last, but I was grateful for them all.

Belize fishing guide with small permit fish

A small permit is jokingly called a “learner permit.”

Back at the dock, word got out, and I was hailed as the man who caught three permits in one day!  Others have gone out and come up empty.  But that’s fishing!

Next trip, bring on the tarpon!

Tim’s Tips for Fishing in Belize

Fishing in Belize is year-round, though some months are better than others.  (July, August, and September are best for tarpon, for example.)  My seven-hour day with guide, gear, and boat cost $500; the four-hour half-day cost $375.  I also bought a one-week fishing license online for 50 Belize dollars (US $25).  No one asked to see it, but I always support local fishing management programs.

I wish I had practiced casting at home before paying considerable money to scare away fish.  Besides practicing pre-trip, here’s my hard-earned advice:

• If your main goal in Belize is to fish, choose a hotel close to the flats. T wo hours of my day were taken up just getting from our beachfront hotel to the flats and back again.

• Book a fishing guide in advance to guarantee that one is available on the day(s) you’ll be there.  We arranged for Richard Quillan through our hotel.

• Check the weather report.  Cloudy days make it hard for even the guides to find the fish.  See how flexible the guide’s schedule is.

• Buy or borrow the best sunglasses for fishing you can find.  When sight casting, it helps greatly if you can see into the water to spot the fish.

• On a boat made for casting, there is no shade.  So cover up every part of your body with SPF protective clothing, and slather on the sunscreen.  Even the guides get sunburned.

• Last but not least, always use fill flash for your photos.

tourist fishing in Belize on a casting boat on the turquoise water

Covering up with protective SPF clothing is a must.

Be a smarter traveler: Read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter @wendyperrin, and Instagram @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Unclaimed Baggage Center Wendy with wedding gowns

Your Lost Luggage Is For Sale in This Store in Alabama

I can hear the screams of agony. I can see the tears flowing. I see the bridesmaid left out of the wedding photos because her dress never made it to the wedding. I see the road warrior shaking with rage because his laptop has disappeared forever. I see the zombie stares from the airline reps who don’t really care.  I hear them parroting the company policy you agreed to in the fine print on your airline ticket.

That’s what fills my mind as I walk through what is, for travelers like Wendy and me, the creepiest store in the world. Even though we drove several hours out of our way just to see it. Even though the place is light and airy—even cheerful. The merchandise, though used, is practically new and includes many top brands and designers. The store is as tidy as Grandma’s house, and the employees greet you with a genuine welcome and the hospitality that the South is famous for.

This is the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama. It’s 40,000 square feet of your stuff, bought in bulk from the airlines’ baggage equivalent of the dead letter office.

Unclaimed Baggage Center laptops

The laptop section is scarier than a Stephen King novel.

Unclaimed Baggage Center swimsuits

The swimsuit section scares too. For most women, a flattering swimsuit is one of the toughest items to replace when you’re traveling.

Think of the Unclaimed Baggage Center as a nice-smelling Salvation Army or Goodwill thrift store, full of stuff you had no intention of selling. In fact, probably some of your best stuff. Remember what was in your suitcase the last time you traveled? That’s what you’ll find in this store’s aisles and racks … along with displays of bizarre keepsakes discovered in lost luggage over the years.

Unclaimed Baggage Center religious objects

These precious religious objects, found in lost luggage, are on display but not for sale.

The Unclaimed Baggage Center started in 1970 when Doyle Owens bought a pick-up truckload of “unclaimed baggage” from Trailways Bus Lines in Washington, D.C., and brought it to Scottsboro for resale. Today, the store’s stock comes almost solely from the airlines. After an airline has spent 90 days attempting in vain to reunite passenger and bag, and after restitution has been paid, the Unclaimed Baggage Center buys the unlucky luggage sight unseen and hauls it to Alabama. The contents of each bag are triaged into 25 sub-categories: sell, donate, launder, trash, etc.

No different than any big department store, the facility is divided into sections such as men’s, women’s, and children’s fashion; jewelry; shoes; formalwear; swimwear; sporting goods; electronics (laptops, cameras, cell phones); office equipment; etc. Naturally, there’s a suitcase department too. Prices seemed a tad higher than thrift-shop prices, but good values were easily found. Camera equipment and sporting-goods prices seemed fair. All computers’ files have been deleted, and the software has been restored to operating systems only.

Unclaimed Baggage Center paddleboard

Passenger to baggage services staff: “Well, it’s a paddle board, it’s blue and gray, it’s 12 feet long…”

Unclaimed Baggage Center cell phones

Here’s a quick way to get over your smartphone addiction.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, fewer than three out of every 1,000 bags checked on domestic flights were lost last year. But the Unclaimed Baggage Center stocks 7,000 new items every day.

In a daily event promoted as “The Unclaimed Baggage Experience,” a lost suitcase gets “processed” in front of an audience. One lucky customer is picked to be the first to open it, with everyone else watching. It’s part archaeological dig, part gift-opening time at a birthday party, part slowing down to see an accident on the freeway. Items in the suitcase are divided into four categories, with the event emcee and the audience helping to make decisions to sell, launder, donate or trash.

The Unclaimed Baggage Center even offers a free personal shopper service: “Our top notch personal shoppers will help you build your summer wardrobe, spruce up your office style or create a look for a special event!” reads the sign. You can even become an “Unclaimed Baggage Insider.” Just text “UBC Insider” to 33233, and you can be the first to know about “Roll-out Tuesday Highlights” and more.

Unclaimed Baggage Center formalwear

The Formal Wear department

Unclaimed Baggage Center bridalwear

Bridal accessories

Unclaimed Baggage Center shoes

Formal shoes too—at a steep discount

I can understand the attraction of this store to non-travelers. The Unclaimed Baggage Center claims to get a million visitors per year. I’ve heard about this place for decades, and it was well worth the visit. If only I didn’t know the backstory.

The Mission: Return a Lost Item to Its Owner

Just a few minutes into the Unclaimed Baggage Center, I realized what I had to do: Sleuth out an item and glean enough evidence to help me return it to its rightful owner.

I found the sort of thing I was looking for in the Sporting Goods department: a lacrosse helmet bearing a Zurich Lions decal. That decal was a huge clue. Lacrosse is a North American sport. There couldn’t be too many Swiss lacrosse players. How hard could it be to track one down?

Unclaimed Baggage Center sporting goods

Tim found what he was looking for in the Sporting Goods department.

Unclaimed Baggage Center helmet

How hard could it be to find a member of a Swiss lacrosse team?

Standing in the Sporting Goods department, I did a quick Internet search on my phone and found an email address for the Zurich Lions lacrosse team in Switzerland. The tag on the helmet said it had arrived at the store on March 29, 2018. It was initially priced at $69.95 but had been marked down twice. I bought it for $35 and sent an email to the Zurich Lions.

The president of Zurich Lacrosse was amazed and connected me with the helmet’s owner, Johannes Lohner, now living in Vienna. Johannes had played for the Zurich Lions while studying in Switzerland—he got the helmet when playing at the European championship—and, after returning to his native Vienna, he played for Austria at the world championship.

The helmet was actually never in his checked luggage, Johannes says: He unintentionally left it at the gate in Vienna when boarding a Lufthansa flight to the U.S. (He’d spent the previous night celebrating his army promotion, so that may have been a factor.)  United Airlines took over the hunt for the lost item and never found it. Johannes, who also played for the U.C. Berkeley lacrosse team while pursuing his master’s degree there, says he’s been playing with borrowed helmets ever since.

So I shipped the helmet to Johannes … and, a couple of weeks later, received an ebulient thank-you note.  “I really enjoyed my time in Berkeley,” Johannes writes, “and your gesture is the best example to show how great and open you Americans really are.”  He also sent a photo of himself reunited with his helmet.  And my boys and I have been invited by the Zurich Lions to play lacrosse with them the next time we’re in Switzerland.

guy with lacrosse helmet

Here’s Johannes reunited with his lacrosse helmet in Vienna.

But Wait There’s More in Scottsboro, Alabama

Scottsboro, which sits an hour southwest of Chattanooga, Tennessee, and two hours northeast of Birmingham, has a charming, historic town square that looks like a movie set, with the county courthouse right in the middle. The town is known for the landmark “Scottsboro Boys” legal case: In 1931 nine African-American teens were falsely accused of raping two white women on a train passing through town. After several trials, the Supreme Court threw out the convictions— because African-Americans had been systematically excluded from the jury and the boys had not been granted due process—thus setting landmark legal precedents.

We visited Scottsboro in the early morning, so many shops were not open yet, but the Variety Bake Shop was. The shop is a blast from the past, and the maple glazed donut was the best I’ve had in years. Maybe ever. The Variety Bake Shop had no iced coffee for Wendy, though, so for that we went to Pine Bros. Coffee Co., a local hangout with an indie vibe.

Scottsboro’s other must-visit is Payne’s Sandwich Shop and Soda Fountain, which opened in 1869. Talk about a throwback movie set, complete with black-and-white floor and red-vinyl-covered counter stools. It’s the kind of place my buddies and I used to ride our bikes to.

How Not To Lose Your Luggage in the First Place

A trip to the Unclaimed Baggage Center will convince you to take extra precautions the next time you entrust your luggage to an airline.

* Make sure your name, mobile phone number, and email address are attached to the bag in a way that can’t get caught and removed in the machinery of the baggage systems.

* Put the same information on at least one piece of paper taped inside the bag too, so that it is the first thing someone will see when opened. I always put my name and mobile number on our kids’ carry-ons too, as well as on electronics and other valuables inside the carry-ons.

* If your luggage is the same color as everyone else’s, then affix something to your bag to differentiate it—say, a red ribbon, or a purple handle—so that other passengers don’t mistake your bag for theirs and run off with it.

* Use your smartphone to snap a quick photo of each bag you check. If the airline loses it, a picture of your bag will be worth a thousand words.

* Get to the baggage carousel before it starts disgorging bags. If you’re not there when your luggage comes out, it’s more likely to go astray.

Unclaimed Baggage Center Wendy parking lot

The Unclaimed Baggage Center can make for an interesting detour on a Deep South road trip.

Unclaimed Baggage Center store exterior

Be a smarter traveler: Read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter @wendyperrin, and Instagram @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

northern lights photographed from airplane

A Pro Photographer’s Solutions to the Airline Electronics Ban

Travel bans of any kind never come at a good time. But this latest one is coming at a particularly bad time for me. As a photojournalist, it’s my very job description to carry my cameras with me. Sure, iPhone cameras are fine for snapshots, but I make my living using professional-grade cameras that I am now forced to place in checked luggage if I’m flying to the U.S. or U.K. from certain airports. So this ban is going to hurt. I have an assignment in Morocco next week and another in Dubai this summer, and I’ll be flying through and from airports that are on the new watch list.

I always arrive at the security gate well before scheduled departure so that my gear can be scrutinized. In fact, I fly with so much gear, electronics, and cords that I get very suspicious if the security agency doesn’t check my bag with a fine-tooth comb. But this ban will seriously change how I work.

My biggest complaint with the ban is the vagaries of it. Okay, I understand laptops won’t be allowed, or iPads, or my kids’ DS. But what about battery chargers or the cell-phone-sized hard drives I use to back up all the photos I shoot on assignment? What are you supposed to do with a key piece of equipment you thought was okay to carry onboard when a security guard says you can’t take that onboard because…well…he says so. Your checked bags are already down the chute. Now what?

My other concern is theft. You might as well put a “Steal Me” sticker on the outside of a bag with your camera in it. Security staff and luggage handlers X-ray bags well out of sight from the public, so the theft rate could increase exponentially. I remember going through Heathrow years ago when a similar ban was in effect. I had placed my underwater video camera in a checked bag (because my carry-on was already maxed out with other— more important—equipment), and they brought it to the gate where I was waiting, and I had to show the security agents what it was and prove that it was operational. That was the last time I saw it. Those little TSA-approved travel locks? Sure. Why not? But they and your ballistic-material luggage can be breached in mere seconds. Or just stolen completely, little locks and all.

So what am I going to do about it?

I live in fear of a camera getting lost or stolen on a trip, but now I will be changing how I work.

•For starters, I will leave my top-of-the-line camera bodies (the part of the camera minus the lens) at home. Instead, I will use cameras that are a few years or models old. Though not the latest and greatest, they are still usable and more expendable than my best—which I will need back at home.

•I will never put more than one camera body into each piece of checked luggage. That will give me a better chance of arriving at my destination with at least one of them.

•I will carry more media cards on which to store the photos I shoot. Let me explain: Until now I’ve always carried my laptop on my trips, downloaded each day’s photos to it each night, and backed them up on a portable hard drive (if not two). This is so as not to lose the images I’ve shot during the trip. The system allowed me to reuse media cards once I’d transferred the images to my laptop. Since I’ll now be leaving the laptop at home (since I won’t entrust my laptop to checked baggage), I’ll buy more media cards on which to store my photos. I’ll simply save the photos on the cards and wait till I’m home to download them to my laptop. SD cards are actually cheap enough now to do this, but keep in mind that they are small, notoriously slippery, and easy to lose!

•On some trips I might bring an older laptop (from which I’ve erased my personal data) to use as storage and for transferring photos to a portable, cell-phone-size hard drive. Will I be allowed to carry the hard drive into airline cabins? I don’t know.

•I will probably invest in a product such as Western Digital’s My Passport Wireless Pro. You can plug your SD cards right into it (its USB slot handles other format card readers) and copy photos or data right to a 2 or 3 TB drive.

•If you place your cameras in checked baggage, make sure to remove the media cards from the cameras. My video camera was stolen at Heathrow, but at least I had the sense to take the tape out and hand-carry it.

You will also have to remove the batteries from your camera, as most cameras use lithium batteries. However, the FAA specifically says that lithium batteries can’t be in checked bags, so we’ll just have to wait and see how that catch-22 gets solved.

•So what about chargers? I’m going to have to carry extra spare batteries in addition to what I carry now, in case my battery chargers are banned from carry-on luggage and get stolen. I’ll get a second charger too—so I can put each into two separate checked bags, again hoping that both of my bags won’t be taken or violated.

•With the camera bodies in the belly of the plane, that will leave more room in my carry-on for lenses. But this worries me too. A security agent once probed his finger into my telephoto lens and not only made it unusable but did several hundred dollars’ worth of damage to it.

On a personal level, one of my favorite things to do is to take photos while I’m flying. That’s gone now. I will miss shooting sights from a 33,000+-foot vantage point.

I’ve lived with previous bans and increases in airport security since the days of D.B. Cooper and almost daily hijackings to Cuba. And I’ve dealt with higher-speed films being ruined by third-world x-ray machines. So this ban is nothing new. I just wish it weren’t so vague. I’m looking forward to hard-and-fast rules.

Stay tuned.


Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

We Had the Best Family Trip in Whistler and We Never Put on Skis

Even in summertime, there is still snow at the highest elevations. Photo: Tim Baker.
The Inukshuk rock statue on Whistler Mountain was created for the 2010 Winter Olympics. An inukshuk is a collection of rocks that may have been used as a navigation reference point for the Inuit. Photo: Tim Baker.
The family takes the podium outside the Roundhouse Lodge atop Whistler Mountain. This is as close as we’ll ever come to winning an Olympic medal. Photo: Tim Baker.
Mountain bikers from around the world cruise down the mountains. Photo: Tim Baker.
Bikes and bikers fill a gondola up the mountain. Bikers and hikers usually ride up in separate gondolas. Photo: Tim Baker.
Bikers and hikers are kept separate on the mountain too. Photo: Tim Baker.
Doug tries his balance on a teeter-totter in Whistler’s bike-skills park. Photo: Tim Baker.
Doug powers over the bumps at a park along the Fitzsimmons Creek in Whistler. Photo: Tim Baker.
A lull in the action on our Green River rafting trip. Photo: Tim Baker
The view from the summit of our RZR adventure. Photo: Tim Baker.
Blink and you can miss the bobsleigh. If you plan to shoot photos of family and friends riding it, practice on preceding runs. Photo: Tim Baker.
Connecting Blackcomb and Whistler mountains, the Peak 2 Peak gondola set multiple construction records. Photo: Tim Baker
The 20-minute ride travels up to 1,427 feet above the ground. Photo: Tim Baker.
Two of the gondolas have glass-bottom floors. Photo: Tim Baker.
We saw many signs warning about bears, but the only wildlife we saw was this hoary marmot posing for photos at Blackcomb. Photo: Tim Baker.
Charlie speeds through the last corner of the Westcoaster Slide in the Blackcomb Adventure Zone. Photo: Tim Baker.
The boys battle each other in floating circular rafts in the Blackcomb Adventure Zone. Photo: Tim Baker.
Whistler Village has plenty to offer families in summer. Photo: Tim Baker.
Kids at play in Whistler’s Olympic Plaza. Photo: Tim Baker.
The boys are attracted by a hand-operated water pump and race leaves down the sluice. Photo: Tim Baker.
The Whistler farmers’ market takes place Sundays from June through October and on Wednesdays in July and August. There’s plenty of fresh local produce and homemade snacks to fill up on. Photo: Tim Baker.
The mini golf course in front of the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, our home base for our trip. Photo: Tim Baker.
From the gondola, the Fairmont Chateau Whistler. Photo: Tim Baker.
At our table in The Grill Room at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, Charlie picks the size of his cut of Dry Aged Prime Canadian Rib Eye. Photo: Tim Baker.
Tomato Gin Soup being prepared at our table. The soup was as great as the presentation. Photo: Tim Baker.
Chocolate fondue with fruit and cake for dessert in The Grill Room at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler. Photo: Tim Baker.
One of our many “designer” hot chocolates in the Gold Lounge of the Fairmont Chateau Whistler. Photo: Tim Baker.
The Fairmont Chateau Whistler Golf Club is nestled into the mountains. Photo: Tim Baker
Even if you are not a golfer, the clubhouse at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler’s golf course is a nice place to enjoy a sunset cocktail or meal. Photo: Tim Baker.
At the Britannia Beach Mining Company, a mining drill is demonstrated inside a tunnel. Photo: Tim Baker.
Inside the ore-processing building of the Britannia Beach Mining Company. Photo: Tim Baker.
Shannon Falls Provincial Park is a perfect place to stop and stretch along the Sea-to-Sky Highway. Photo: Tim Baker.
Tourists have been visiting the 450-foot Capilano Suspension Bridge near Vancouver since 1889. Photo: Tim Baker.
Besides the Bridge, Capilano has many more suspension bridges and displays that explain the flora, fauna, and history of the area. Photo: Tim Baker.


Note from Wendy: If you need a vacation spot that’s gorgeous, uncrowded, not too hot, and not too far, Canada is a destination you should be seriously considering for this summer. Last summer, my family went to Whistler, and here’s what my husband, Tim wants other families to know about it.

Everyone knows Whistler’s reputation as a winter sports mecca. It hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics—and so far this season has had more than 32 feet of snow, with all 200 trails open. But did you know Whistler is an adventure-packed summer destination too? Wendy and the boys and I had a blast there last summer, and we strongly recommend it to other families. Here are ten reasons why:

1. The Peak 2 Peak Gondola

It’s not a thrill ride per se, but the Peak 2 Peak Gondola is a thrilling ride, to be sure—especially when there’s a light breeze. This gondola connects Whistler and Blackcomb mountains and holds world records for the longest (2.7 miles) and highest (1,427 feet) gondola, with the world’s longest unsupported span: 1.88 miles. The ride takes about 20 minutes. Two of the gondolas—the silver ones—have glass-bottomed floors; while that’s kind of cool, the view down wasn’t much better than the view out of the almost-all-glass gondolas. Be sure to watch the short video in the lodge atop Whistler Mountain on how the lift was constructed and its safety systems. You’ll want to ride this more than once to fully appreciate the engineering.

2. The Olympic Bobsled

The Olympic Bobsleigh at Whistler Sliding Centre has been adapted for summer use: Rubber tires have replaced the bobsled’s rails. You buckle your helmet and strap into the sled for a run that takes less than a minute. It’s sensory overload: You hold on tightly, blink, and it’s already over. One run is not enough. If you do a second run, you might have time to actually look out and enjoy it.

3. The Via Ferrata

We climbed to the top of Whistler Mountain, aided by steel rebar rungs drilled and epoxied into the mountain face. See I Can’t Believe We Did This: Mountain Climbing in Whistler. It was one of the most rewarding adventures we’ve ever had as a family. While often we’re just passengers in our adventures, this climb totally depended on you! We had a great feeling of accomplishment upon reaching the summit. Surprisingly, this 3- to 4-hour Via Ferrata climb is still under the radar. Even locals don’t know about it. You’ll work up an appetite, so I suggest the all-you-can-eat barbeque at the Roundhouse Lodge afterward as a tasty reward for your efforts.

4. The Sasquatch zip-line

If you need to add North America’s longest zip-line (1.6 miles) to your zip-line collection, the Sasquatch is for you. The first step is a true leap of faith, as you’ll be traveling about 60 miles per hour at up to 700 feet above the valley floor. It’s an adrenaline rush, but it’s not our family’s favorite. (This one’s our family’s favorite.) Next time, we’d like to try some of the other ziplines in and around Whistler. Here’s a video of the boys riding the Sasquatch.

Sasquatch from Timothy Baker on Vimeo.

5. RZR driving

Of all our activities, Dads, this one is for you! You race off-road up and down fire breaks on a nearby mountain in a four-seat, four-wheel-drive dirt buggy. Maybe I liked this RZR adventure so much because whenever I drive the kids on roads of similar condition to our favorite hidden lake in California, I’m always pulling a fishing boat, trying to avoid the potholes, ruts, and washboards. In these speedy little RZR buggies, though, you just power over them! Just hit the gas and hold on for dear life. Then back way off the gas because you’ve scared yourself to death. This was freedom and fun! Granted, I had the steering wheel and the kids just sat there holding on to the grab bars, but they loved it too. Full props to our guide, who saw us languishing behind a much slower tandem ahead of us and called base for a new guide just for us. I had a hard time keeping up with the new guide, but it sure was fun trying. Check out this video of our ride:

Wendy RZR from Timothy Baker on Vimeo.

6. Mountain biking

In summertime, instead of brightly outfitted skiers and boarders bombing down Whistler Mountain, you see brightly outfitted mountain bikers. Only trail dust subdues their colorful outfits and skid protectors. Speed is a must; control seems to be optional. We saw wipeouts but, fortunately, we viewed from a safe distance as we rode up and down the mountain on the chairlift. Lifts are designed to carry bikes up the mountain, and shops in town that sell and rent skis in winter cater to all sizes, abilities, and pocketbooks of mountain bikers. We saw groups of bikers from around the world posing for photos with their national flags.

Our resident biker, Doug (who was 11 at the time), wasn’t quite ready for the mountain, but Whistler Village has a free public bike-skills park that is perfect for beginners. We rented a mountain bike from one of the many shops (about $20 for a couple of hours) and rode over. Doug loved it and built up course confidence by handling all the obstacles (the teeter totter, the whoop-dee-doos) at his own speed. When we visit again, he’ll take advantage of one of the many classes available on the mountain.

7. Whitewater rafting

The Whistler area has a variety of whitewater rafting runs, ranging from beginner to advanced. We chose an easy one and had a few thrills and spills. Here’s a little sample:

Whistler Raft from Timothy Baker on Vimeo.

8. Golf

The boys and I played a few holes at the scenic Fairmont Chateau Whistler Golf Club. Designed by Robert Trent Jones II and nestled into the slopes of Blackcomb Mountain, the 6,635-yard course is Audubon Certified. That means that the operators appreciate their stewardship of the land. They’ve reduced water and chemical usage and are managing habitat for the wildlife living on or near the course, including a “hotel” (wooden nest) for bats. You can drink water from the glacier-fed Blackcomb Creek that flows through the course. Even if you don’t play golf, you can enjoy the scenery by having a drink or meal at The Clubhouse. We ate there at sunset.

9. Blackcomb Adventure Zone

Our boys are getting older (they’re now 12 and 13) and now require a little more adrenaline than what was on offer at the family adventure zone in our hotel’s backyard. The pint-sized race cars, Westcoaster Luge, and Kiss The Sky Bungy Trampoline are perfect for the younger set. The Mario & Friends Mini Golf was challenging enough to be enjoyed by all ages. We played several times, early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the crowds.

10. Our home away from home: The Fairmont Chateau Whistler

This is the grand dame of Whistler, and we loved it. The Fairmont Chateau Whistler rises from the valley the way Cinderella’s Castle rises from Disneyland. You can see it from many spots on the mountain, and it looks every bit the place you want to call your home. The staff was friendly and efficient, from the valet who opened our car door when we first arrived to the guy who brought umbrella drinks to us in the hot tub at 10:30 pm.

Our room was mountain-themed without being too heavy-handed or theme-parky.

The highlight of the hotel for the kids was breakfast in the Gold Lounge each morning, thanks to the amazing, artistic hot chocolates with whipped cream and chocolate shavings. Each morning the boys’ hot chocolate was decorated differently, as if the staff was having a competition to decorate each mug better than the last. Dinner in The Grill Room was another highlight for the boys. I devoured the dry aged prime Canadian rib eye, carved to order at our table. If there is a must-have, we all loved the Tomato Gin Soup, flambéed tableside. Be ready with your camera.

If there was one time I wished we were there in winter, it was when we were soaking in the giant Jacuzzis on the pool deck looking onto Blackcomb Mountain. I could imagine myself there after a day of skiing, just soaking for hours under the stars. But it was a wonderful summertime antidote for our adventure-weary bones too—an antidote made even sweeter by the late-night cocktail service.

Getting there from Vancouver

We drove the 70 miles from Vancouver on the Sea-to-Sky Highway at a leisurely pace. If I had any regret about the trip, it’s that the drive was too short and I just wanted to keep driving. The roads are easy and the scenery spectacular. We enjoyed trying to pronounce the Indian names for the towns and areas we passed, and we were always intrigued to find out what was around the next mountain.

En route to Whistler we stopped at Shannon Falls Provincial Park, right off the Highway, and the boys had a great time scrambling over rocks around the falls. On the way back we stopped at the Britannia Mine Museum; with a bright yellow 235-ton mine truck in front, it’s pretty hard to miss. The highlight for the kids was riding the train into the mine and seeing (and hearing) the drills and mucking machine being demonstrated. I was awed by the size, scale, and heavy-duty engineering of Mill 3. The fact that we learned so much about mining seemed almost incidental to the visit.

For the grand finale, as we neared Vancouver, we made one last stop at the Capilano Suspension Bridge, which has been a tourist stop since 1889. The 450-foot-long bridge itself is way cool, but the rest of the park was a perfect place to let the kids loose again before heading back to the city.

Planning the Ultimate Itinerary

We got indispensable itinerary help from Wendy’s Trusted Travel Expert for Western Canada, Marc Telio. If you’re looking for a British Columbia specialist to design a custom-tailored once-in-a-lifetime adventure for you, read Marc’s Insider’s Guide to British Columbia, and reach out to him via this trip request form so you’re marked as a WendyPerrin.com VIP traveler.

Disclosure: Tourism Whistler invited our family to Whistler and arranged for a complimentary stay at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, as well as a rental car. In keeping with WendyPerrin.com standard practice, there was no request for or expectation of coverage on Tourism Whistler’s part, nor was anything promised on ours. You can read the signed agreement between Wendy and Tourism Whistler here.

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.