Unclaimed Baggage and Coming Back Home: Part 2

This is what happens to your lost luggage!

Have you ever wondered what happens to your lost or unclaimed baggage?

For the first part of my trip around my old stomping grounds in North Alabama with Unclaimed Baggage click here! 

After a beautiful morning on the river we packed up and went over to Unclaimed Baggage’s huge retail facility. 

Growing up less than a half hour away from Unclaimed Baggage, I thought I knew more or less how it worked. But it’s so much more detailed than you’d think! Cayla and Brenda did an amazing job of walking us through how they process all the lost, mishandled, and unclaimed baggage they receive from airlines and bus lines across the country.

Photo by Matt Pittman

Approximately 99.5% of airline customers’ bags make it to their intended destination, but that other .5% goes through a months-long process. The airline first tries to get it back to its owner, and in most cases they are successful! But for that other small percentage, a claim is paid to the owner, and the baggage itself gets sold to Unclaimed Baggage. 

Once UB has its hands on it their expert processors  sort through it all, and all sellable clothes and accessories are laundered and/or dry cleaned. Some items are donated, and some (think used toiletries) are trashed. Only the best makes it out to the retail floor!

This is what happens to your lost and unclaimed baggage!
Photo by Matt Pittman

Unclaimed Baggage was merely a local treasure until 1995 when it was featured on Oprah, and since then it has become a travel destination.

One of the things I learned about Unclaimed Baggage that makes me love it even more is how big of a steward of the community they are. They donate lots and lots of bags, unused toiletries, and merchandise not designated for the retail floor. 

So you want to know about my haul, right? 

After LOTS and lots of deliberation and help from the awesome guys at the electronics counter I purchased my new carry everywhere camera! This Olympus OM-D E-M10II does replace my beloved Nikon D7000, but it is a LOT smaller and lighter, making it perfect for throwing in my purse. I got it used, but in great shape with a GREAT lens for less than I would have been able to buy it used on eBay, which is saying something.

My other awesome purchase was this pair of incredibly cute Dolce and Gabbana sunglasses. Millennial pink with gold??? Yes, please. 

 

Like I showed in the first post, there is so much in northeast Alabama to see and do during your trip, but I hope next time you’re up that way you’ll stop in at Unclaimed Baggage! They know how to do southern hospitality right! 

This is what happens to your lost luggage!
Photo by Matt Pittman

Thank you Unclaimed Baggage for the great shopping trip and tour around northeast Alabama!

All of the photos on this post are by Matt Pittman, Unclaimed Baggage’s awesome content marketing manager. Check out some of his great work at his website, http://www.matt-pittman.com/

Unclaimed Baggage and Coming Back Home: Part 1

Why you need to visit Northeast Alabama this summer

Last month after a fantastic three days of learning more about the travel writing community at TBEX, I was invited by Unclaimed Baggage to come spend a day and a half in northeast Alabama exploring the beautiful area and learning all about how Unclaimed Baggage works. 

(Click here if you want to read my story about our day at Unclaimed Baggage!)

One of the fun things about this particular trip is that it was really a trip through my own backyard; I grew up 20 minutes away from Scottsboro, where Unclaimed Baggage resides. 

The beauty of northeast Alabama is the of kind people should write about much more often. The foothills of Appalachia intertwine with the wide Tennessee River, dammed up in the 1930s to bring electricity to the area and creating the happy byproduct of a large lake swimming with bass and boaters.  

Tiny mountain towns like Mentone and Valley Head have become artisan enclaves, while state parks and national preserves have ensured the region’s rare, precious, and in some cases, endangered species of flora and fauna. 

Alabama has a range of beauty, from the sugar sand shores of the Gulf to river-laced shoals, but this little corner of it will always have my heart. 

We were treated to lunch at the Wildflower Cafe (tomato pie, y’all) before a quick stop in a Kamama art gallery, incidentally where my sister-in-law’s father-in-law’s (John Miller) beautiful abstract paintings are sold! 

Wildflower Cafe in Mentone Alabama

Tomato Pie from the Wildflower Cafe in Mentone Alabama
Tomato Pie

An unimpressive picture of three impressive paintings by John Miller

Next we drove up the mountain a little bit to stop in on Valinda Miracle at Miracle Pottery in Valley Head. She shared with us her incredible story while she did a quick pot-throwing demonstration. 

Photo by Matt Pittman

More than thirty years ago Valinda was in a devastating car wreck, not only nearly killing her, but causing severe damage to her short-term memory function. No longer able to continue her previous career of commercial real estate, she threw herself into art. In pottery she found not only calm and focus, but also a form of creative expression she could do without worrying about her memory loss—the wheel keeps going ’round and ’round. 

Today Valinda and her husband sell her beautiful stoneware all over the world, and her injuries have healed far beyond where her doctors ever said they would. 

A piece Valinda made depicting the artist coming out of her. (Photo by Matt Pittman)

Next it was time to go chasing waterfalls! We went to DeSoto Falls in DeSoto State Park and Little River Falls in the Little River Canyon National Preserve. 

 

After dinner at the Preserve’s lodge we took the drive back down from the mountains to Scottsboro for a night on the river at Goose Pond Colony. It was already dark by the time we got there, but that didn’t stop me from going down to the water and trying my hand at a few long exposure shots. I didn’t have my tripod, so my only option was setting it on the dock. 

I held the shutter open while I moved the camera in front of the moon in this heart shape <3
Moonflare?
A car moving across the causeway

The next morning I woke up early to catch the sun’s earliest rays, and while the direction of my cabin (facing west over the water) was not conducive to a stunning sunrise shot, I did get to catch the perfect pastels of this temperate Spring morning. 

A Grey Heron was out on the dock with me the entire time, one eye on my and one on the large fish swimming lazily in the shadow of the pier. 

The fresh air and calming ambiance of the wide, lazy river woke me up gradually, but more completely than a cup of coffee ever could, and by 7 it was time to load up in the van and head over to Unclaimed Baggage. 

Read the rest of my story in Part 2!

Thank you to Unclaimed Baggage for hosting our TBEX group!

London Literary Tour in an Afternoon

Book Lovers: Follow along an afternoon literary tour of central London!

 

Book Lovers: Follow along an afternoon literary tour of central London!

In a city as old as and historically and culturally rich as London it should come as no surprise that it is also one of the densest literary destinations in the world. 

If you’re a reader you can almost certainly find something in London to suit your fancy. 

Some of it is free, and some locations will set you back several quid. During our trip we spent an afternoon chasing this book lover’s whimsy, and it was so much fun! This London literary tour only took a few hours and kept us around central London, so it’s easy for a quick trip.

The British Library

Just wow. This was one of the most undersold, but most exciting (for this book nerd and her equally nerdy husband) museums we experienced in London. 

From the Magna Carta to Jane Austen’s glasses to lyrics scrawled on a loose piece of paper by John Lennon to the world’s oldest known Bible, this small museum just inside the unimpressive brick British Library a five minute walk from Kings Cross/St. Pancras station. 

Sup, Beowulf manuscript. (Wikipedia Commons)

After you’re done gawking at the beautiful foundations of the English written word pop into the library’s cafe for locally roasted coffee and a pastry. My lemon tart was fantastic! We enjoyed our snack in the shadow of this huge bookcase, which kind of took my breath away. 

There were no pictures allowed in the museum, but believe me when I say it’s worth the trip if you’re a reader. Like all public British museums, it is free but has a great gift shop 🙂 

Visit Platform 9 3/4s at Kings Cross Station

Book Lovers: Follow along an afternoon literary tour of central London!

(Oh hey, I’m wearing my favorite travel shoes! Learn more about them here.)

Harry Potter is one of those magical stories (pun fully intended) that is simultaneously universal and extremely personal for the people who have read and loved it. 

It is truly difficult to find a person between the ages of 13 and 35 who hasn’t read the seven books in the series, and even rarer to find someone who has read it and didn’t love it. 

Platform 9 3/4s captures a little bit of that magic, and it’s evident that every person who works there is 100% bought into it. 

It was a little piece of the fictional Harry Potter World tucked into a very real London. 

We stood in line for about 20 minutes with lots of other fans waiting our turn for the perfect picture. 

I’m a sucker for a picture, so we bought the professional ones, as well as having the opportunity to take our own. Then we ambled around the gift shop (where they conveniently funnel you after you have your picture taken). James bought me this beautiful gold-plated silver time turner ?

Book Lovers: Follow along an afternoon literary tour of central London!

Overall, this was definitely worth the time, but particularly if you’re already going through Kings Cross/St. Pancras station during your travels!

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson’s Apartment at 221B Baker Street 

Book Lovers: Follow along an afternoon literary tour of central London!

Next stop on our London literary tour was the most famous address in the world! From Kings Cross jump on the Underground and take either the Circle, Hammersmith & City, or Metropolitan lines over to the Baker Street Station. The whole area embraces the fictional consulting detective, from the murals in the tube station to the dry cleaner across the street from where the Sherlock Holmes museum resides. 

Book Lovers: Follow along an afternoon literary tour of central London!

We didn’t actually drop the £15 per person that the actual museum costs, but we did go into the good shop right next door. All the employees are wearing period garb, and there are some really cute souvenirs and interesting Sherlock pieces you likely can’t find anywhere else in London. 

Book Lovers: Follow along an afternoon literary tour of central London!

PS, you’ll actually have to purchase your ticket in the gift shop before you go next door to enter the museum. 

Hatchard’s Bookstore – Piccadilly Circus

Book Lovers: Follow along an afternoon literary tour of central London!

From the Baker Street Station get back on the tube and get on the Bakerloo Line down to Piccadilly Circus. 

Now, the evening we spent walking around Piccadilly Circus was probably the only time in London I felt a little wary because of the crush of tourists. There’s so much to see in the area and it’s a very popular place for some very intense shopping. 

(I got some great teas from Fortnum and Mason, whose big main store is also in Piccadilly Circus!) 

You won’t find any clowns or talented elephants here, though! It’s called a circus because of its circular shape. It’s kind of an equivalent to Times Square, with lots of souvenir shops, talented street performers, and bright electric signs. 

But we trekked down Piccadilly to Hatchard’s Bookstore, the oldest bookstore in the UK.

Book Lovers: Follow along an afternoon literary tour of central London!

It opened in 1797, meaning they’ve been selling books in this spot for nearly 220 years! I picked up one book, but only because I didn’t have room in my luggage for all the ones I wanted to buy…. There are FIVE stories of books! 

Book Lovers: Follow along on an afternoon central London literary tour!

 

For us this was the end of our afternoon London literary tour, but there are so many other spots to see! You can probably spend an entire London trip just visiting the haunts of British writers and settings they wrote into their books. 

Buzzfeed has some more ideas 🙂

OR if you’re really ambitious, check out this gorgeous typographical map of London I found!

Book Lovers: Follow along on an afternoon central London literary tour!

Keep Calm and Bagpipe On

Keep Calm and Bagpipe On

Keep Calm and Bagpipe On

2017 in Photos Day 84

This Bagpiper was on Westminster bridge every day while we were in London, and I could help but think of him when the news began spreading about the terror attack at the Palace of Westminster last week. 

Was he safe? Did he witness the incident? Was he one of the Londoners who helped pull others to safety as the madman was plowing through the crowds of tourists and workgoers? 

I do know one thing, Britons are not easily budged. Keep Calm and Carry On is more than a slogan, it is a reality that was hammered into their fibre over centuries of defending the islands we now call the United Kingdom. 

Immediately after the attacks I began seeing people I know in the UK say the only way to respond was to keep going about their business. One person even commented the Underground was just as busy on the way home that day as it ever was. 

What a message to the people who would do harm! It’s hard to terrorize a group who refused to submit to terror. 

I learned this afternoon that the dear bagpiper is still out there on Westminster Bridge today. 

Keep Calm and Bagpipe on, my friend. 

My 100% Unbiased eBags Professional Weekender Review

eBags Professional Weekender review

 

eBags Professional Weekender review

While we were planning our trip to London I found myself continually being fed ads from eBags for their professional weekender backpack

I was instantly intrigued… Space for two days of clothes, a laptop, tablet, and all the other gizmos, wires, and accessories I need for a weekend trip? It sounded too good to be true!

eBags Professional Weekender review

Now, while eBags in no way solicited this review, I have signed up for their affiliate program, so if you decide to purchase a bag from them after reading this (by clicking this link!) I will get a very small portion of that sale. 

James and I each decided to get the eBags Professional Weekender, and I’m so glad we did. Mine is heather grey, and he went with the black :).

The backpack itself is pretty big, and on first glance I was a tad afraid it wouldn’t be comfortable enough to wear. But the quality construction of the bag and its components actually made it very comfortable, even when I had it packed completely full!

eBags Professional Weekender review

While this is perfect for a weekend getaway or a quick road trip, I’ve found that when I travel internationally or am otherwise checking a bag on a long flight, I like to be able to keep a change of clothes with me in case any number of fashion emergencies happen. 

I also want to make sure my precious laptop is kept nice and safely padded! 

Speaking of padding, there is a hardshell case in the lumbar region that I found perfect for putting snacks and sunglasses in… No smooshing! 

For our London trip I packed my laptop, iPad, DSLR, extra camera battery and charger, a change of clothes, a toiletry bag, fuzzy socks, eye mask, passport, neck pillow, computer charger, and my phone/iPad/Apple Watch (what can I say?) chargers. 

Phew! That really is quite a bit. And it was still comfortable, and just as importantly, it fit very easily into the overhead bin both in our large transatlantic jet and the smaller regional one that took us from Birmingham to Atlanta. 

Another great perk is that in most airports you can unzip the bag in half and put the whole thing through the x-ray without having to take out your laptop! It also comes with a clear zip bag for all your teeny tiny liquids. No one enjoys the security line, and I’ll take any travel hack that makes getting through easier! 

This is me being happy because security is simpler with this backpack!

Bottom line: I am extremely happy with the eBags Professional Weekender and can’t wait to take it on dozens of adventures. 

The Very Best Tower of London Tour

The Yeoman Warders Tower of London Tour is the best way to experience the Tower!

The Yeoman Warders Tower of London Tour is the best way to experience the Tower!

I love it when the stars align and you’re unexpectedly given a gem of a travel tip! That’s exactly what happened when our boat tour guide told us how to experience the best Tower of London Tour. 

Every 30 minutes a Yeoman Warders, also known as “Beefeaters,” leads a behind-the-scenes Tower of London tour

At no additional cost over the price of admission to the Tower, you will be treated to great stories and a few peeks at areas other tourists aren’t allowed to go, including the Church of St Peter ad Vincula, where Anne Boleyn is buried. 

The Yeoman Warders Tower of London Tour is the best way to experience the Tower!

The Yeoman Warders Tower of London Tour is the best way to experience the Tower!

Did you know there’s a legend that if the Ravens ever leave the Tower of London the Crown will fall and the British Monarchy will be no more? As the story goes, 6 Ravens must guard the Tower at all times… And the Yeomen take it very seriously, there’s a Rookery where 7 Ravens live the life of kings, just in case!

The Yeoman Warders Tower of London Tour is the best way to experience the Tower!

 Another fun fact: Ravens often mate for life! Awwwwww!

The Yeoman Warders Tower of London Tour is the best way to experience the Tower!

This little monument stands where Anne Boleyn, the mother of Queen Elizabeth I, was executed by a French swordsman under orders from Henry VIII.

Inside the White Tower, which was built in 1076(!), there is lots of cool armor and other historical artifacts… Including this suit of armor that belonged to Henry VIII. 

The Yeoman Warders Tower of London Tour is the best way to experience the Tower!

As is obvious from so many of his other life choices, Old King Harry was really preoccupied with his… manliness. 

While I can’t show you any pictures of the Crown Jewels (they take the whole no photography thing in there very seriously), they were great!

Appropriately, right next to the Tower of London is the Tower Bridge, one of the most iconic bridges in the world. 

The Yeoman Warders Tower of London Tour is the best way to experience the Tower!

This was the perfect way to spend 3-ish hours on a beautiful London Day. Just don’t forget to get a Tower of London Tour from a Yeoman Warder!

My very favorite shoes for travel

My favorite travel shoes for winter

Having the right shoes for travel meant I got to see all of London without achy feet!

One of my biggest anxieties when I travel is whether or not my feet will be able to keep up with the pace my heart wants to set in a new place, so my shoes for travel have to be perfect. 

There are a few criteria I have for footwear, particularly anything that is lucky enough to make it into my suitcase for a trip.

  1. I have some arch issues, so I need a good supportive shoe that won’t have my arches screaming after just a few miles.
  2. They need to be CUTE.
  3. They need to be versatile… Can I wear them with shorts and a t-shirt AND a cute dress AND jeans and a blazer?
  4. Will they hold up to several days of walking 8+ miles and being on my feet for 10+ hours at a time? I’m not interested in shoes that will fall apart after one season of wear.

Thankfully, after spending more money than I’d like to admit trying out different sneakers, sandals, tennis shoes, and boots I’ve finally found the two pairs shoes for travel I love the most: one for summer and one for winter.

Shoes for Travel in Summer

Naöt Gladiator sandals are my favorite summer shoes for travel!

I wore these Naöt gladiator sandals a lot last summer in Italy and they check all the boxes for me. I did run into some blister situations when wearing them on an impromptu hike through Cinque Terre. So for the record, I DO NOT recommend them for hiking. But if you’re going to be walking around the city all day then these are your shoes. 

They’re a little pricy, but they have held up beautifully through a full year of use and abuse. 

Read more about what I packed for 10 summer days in Italy (and what I wish I hadn’t!)

Shoes for Travel in Winter/Spring/Fall

My favorite winter shoes for travel

I wore these Jack Purcell leather sneakers almost every day during our trip to London, and on the days I didn’t wear them I wished desperately that I had. They provided the perfect amount of support, were pretty dang water resistant, and kept my tootsies warm without getting sweaty. While these are pretty casual, sneakers are having such a moment right now that I was able to get away with wearing them in even some of the nicer restaurants we went to without feeling the least bit out of place. 

There's something about having the right pair of shoes for travel that makes it feel like you can take over the world.

There’s something about having the right pair of shoes that makes it feel like you can take over the world. 

There are a few other shoes I’ve found (including the über popular Adidas Superstars) that I can wear all day with no problems, but these are by far my two favorite. Do you have a favorite pair of shoes for travel? 

Please Mind the Gap – 2017 in Photos Day 69

Mind the Gap while in London!

Mind the Gap while in London!

It’s our last night here in London (SAD FACE :().

I snapped this picture on my phone while boarding an underground on our way to a pub near the Tower Bridge where we’re meeting up with a new friend. It’s really fun to me just how real of a concern the whole “Mind the Gap” thing really is. It isn’t consistent across all tube stations, but in some places there is a good 8 inch gap between the coach and the station platform!

I’ll be writing up a first timer’s guide to public transit in London here soon, but in the meantime, please do mind the gap!