Jody Robbins | Travels with Baggage - A a freelance writer with bad hair, a loud mouth and a serious case of wanderlust

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been sick on the road. Well, I could, but you’d be totally grossed out. Let’s just say I’m pretty cautious about what I eat and drink and do what I can to avoid coming down with traveller’s diarrhea. Most of us have had first hand experience with Montezuma’s revenge and know all too well how it can wreak havoc on your holiday.

Beach or Bathroom: How to avoid the worst thing that can happen on vacation

Some resorts like Fairmont, offer filtered water and ice cubes. Others do not. (Photo credit: Fairmont Kea Lani)

Canadians love their winter breaks and many of these trips are to countries outside North America. As much as I love my snow sports, escaping winter if only for a few days is an annual priority of mine. That’s why tropical destinations such as Mexico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and other Caribbean hot spots are so popular with us Canucks. You’ve got your gorgeous weather, glistening sandy beaches, and poolside drinks – but for up to 70% of travellers, these vacation pleasures are interrupted….by travellers’ diarrhea.

The scoop on poop

 Traveller’s diarrhea is the most common travel-related illness. It’s often caused by E. coli bacteria that’s transmitted by contaminated food and water. However, according to a recent survey, most Canadians don’t realize the potential causes, symptoms and risks of contracting E. coli infections while on vacation.

travellers’ diarrhea

Tips for uninterrupted travel

Plan ahead

The Canadian government recommends consulting a healthcare provider six weeks before you travel, including discussing prevention and treatment options for travellers’ diarrhea. You may also need some vaccines you never thought of, so as soon as you book your trip, book in with your GP.

Prevention is key

Besides my doctor, I also chat up my local pharmacist about treatment options before tropical trips. This is especially beneficial if you’re pressed for time. One cool product I’ve recently come across is DUKORAL. It’s available without a prescription and is the only drinkable vaccine that protects against travellers’ diarrhea. Even at $100, it’s worth not losing any vacation days. Plus, if you have a plan you may be covered – you may need a prescription but it’s worth checking.  You take the first dose at least two weeks before departure and it offers approximately three months of protection. Score!

Be cautious

The main sources of E. coli include undercooked meat or fish, fresh salads, raw vegetables, unpeeled fruit, cold sauces and untreated water or ice cubes. I met a dude in India whose friend just died from eating an apple. Well, not exactly the apple, but because he didn’t peel it, he died of acute electrode imbalance. Scary stuff, man!

Trouble is, no food group should ever be regarded as safe. Contamination can occur during preparation (did the cook properly was their hands?) or when food is left at room temperature, and we all know how often that happens at all inclusive resorts.

Drink lots of fluids

The most important treatment for travellers’ diarrhea is rehydration. Bottled water is best, but you gotta make sure the bottle is factory-sealed to guarantee it’s safe to drink.

family of four beach vacation

You want to spend your time here, not in the bathroom….(Photo credit: Windjammer)

What to do

Go ahead and pack electrolyte powders, probiotics, and extra undies, but realize it’s far better to take preventive measures. One in five of us who get traveller’s diarrhea are bed-ridden for an entire day, and the symptoms can last up to seven days!! How crappy is that?

Thank you to Janssen Inc. for sponsoring this post. As always, my opinions are my own.

Where’s the worst place you ever experienced traveller’s diarrhea? (For me it was on a 26-hour bus trip across China’s Gobi dessert. Good times…not!)

The ironic thing about being a writer is having to write about topics you are clearly not an expert on. Take this blog post, for example. Do I normally look good? Nope. That’s why I wrote post on fashion mistakes moms (like me) make. I’m a lazy sort who only does hair and makeup when I have an event to go to. I do, however, manage to look OK in our Christmas morning photos. My secret on how to look good the morning after isn’t just having an eye for adorable winter pyjamas.

How to look good Christmas morning

The epiphany happened about a decade ago when I read a holiday interview with Cindy Crawford. She was lamenting how horrible she looked in her family’s Christmas morning pics. Her hair was flat (if we can believe her), she wasn’t wearing any make up and her white PJs made her look totally washed out. I thought to myself, if Cindy can up her game Christmas morning, so can I. As you know, I’m no expert in the looking presentable department, so I sought out my good friend and stylist Kim Flanagan to give me a few additional pointers.

Christmas morning style tips

I’m not grumpy, just wearing braces and not wanting to smile.

5 Tips for looking good

  1. Brushing your teeth and a little lip gloss never hurt any girl. Stash your toothbrush, some foundation and your make up must haves in the bathroom nearest the tree. Right after the kids have done their stockings, make a beeline to the bathroom for a little primping.
  2. For an updated twist on the Xmas PJ’s, Kim recommends pairing a denim shirt with any PJ bottoms. Another option is investing in some seasonal flannels or a luxe silk robe.
  3. Do your hair the night before. Yes, Christmas Eve is a looong night, but come morning you want to be playing, not flat ironing.
  4. Better yet, gift yourself a cute toque to don. You don’t want to be that mom who hides from the camera. It’s your family – be part of the memories!
  5. Throw on some earrings or any kind of festive jewelry you can easily stash in the living room (or on your tree).

5 Tips for feeling good

  1. Put on your undergarments, girl! You can not cook properly when you feel your boobs touching your stomach. Go ahead, I dare you.
  2. Get yourself a wax before the hols and treat yourself to a fresh panty.
  3. According to Kim, it’s the hair removal and the mani-pedi that’s more important than the clothing. “It’s not about one party dress nobody notices anyway. The season is about family, not one event for strangers – look the cutest for your people,” she advises. Hot nails and a ‘stash-free face are a better investment. When you feel cute, you’re in a better mood.
  4. Scent is a natural mood changer. Need to wake up? Pump up the peppermint. Want to feel cozy? How about using a decadent scented moisturizer (like this one) or lighting a luxe candle? Spritz on your favourite fragrance and you’ll immediately feel better.
  5. Champers and OJ. One little tradition of mine is going halvies with prozacco (I mean prosecco) and freshly squeezed orange juice from Sunterra. A few flutes of those and I’m not only the best mother in the world, I feel like it, too.

Do you care how you look on Christmas morning? How do you manage to pull yourself together while still being part of the action?

P.S. Check out Kim’s fashionable website here or better yet, subscribe (like I do) to her Style Box for quick tips that land in your inbox every Wednesday.

$100 giveaway to dine at Vintage Chophouse

Like every brilliant idea of mine, it’s not really mine, but copied from a girlfriend. Christmastime is so busy, it’s important to schedule pauses. One friend makes a point to get gussied up and meets her partner at a swish restaurant every December. It’s been awhile since our last date night, so I nicked my girlfriend’s idea and headed off to Vintage Chophouse with the hubs earlier this week. Want to dine at Vintage yourself? Read on for a chance to win a $100 dining card.

the steak date vintage chophouse

The Steak Date

Intimate and classy, Vintage sports a speakeasy vibe with exposed brick walls, deep booths and romantic lighting. It’s old school, but updated. Crisp, white linen napkins are folded into a cute tuxedo shape and the walls of our booth were blanketed with chocolate velvet, a nod to the classic steak house red carpet wall treatment of yesteryear.

Crab cake

For appies, we decided to splurge. First up was a massive crab cake, easily shareable with chunks of crab you can easily spot. It didn’t disappoint in the way many do, likely because it’s oven roasted, not breaded nor deep fried.

classic beef tartare

For our second app we went with beef tartare. Now I love my beef raw, especially when it’s classically served with a fresh egg yolk. Decadent and carnivore-ish, beef tartare tastes like victory (and obviously brings out the cavewoman in me).

Waiter with steak board

For mains, it’s gotta be steak. I mean, how can you not when the waiter trots out with a butcher board brimming with huge hunks of beef? So many amazing cuts, so little room in my stomach. I was tempted to go with the wagu beef (raised in nearby Brant by my Grade 10 boyfriend’s family!!), but the rib eye was a better sharing option for us.

Rib Eye sliced

Deliciously charred on the outside and sprinkled with fat flakes of salt, our steak was perfectly bloody on the inside. Accompanied by asparagus (which looked good, but had to be ignored since it was too healthy) and savory scalloped potatoes, it was all I could do not to lick the plate. I haven’t had steak this good in a long time. We fought over the last piece, but I graciously conceded to Dan since there was no way I was leaving without dessert.

Jody Robbins and husband

Obligatory pre-date pic

During our meal I thought we’d sort out important Christmas issues: who’s buying what, if I make trifle will anyone eat it, you’re sending cards to your relatives, right? But it just didn’t evolve that way and I didn’t want our lovely evening marred by shop talk. So we flitted around topics, such as heli-skiing vs cat-skiing and would we sink the money into sending Buddy to puppy physio? (Most definitely yes!)

Baked alaska

Our Baked Alaska arrived and it was a sight to behold. Truthfully it was my first one ever. The outer meringue whipped to marshmallow-like consistency was a beautiful contrast to the cool, almost tart ice cream underneath. But damn it, I was just too full to do it justice. Two bites and I was done, ready to be rolled out of the resto.

The food and ambiance were spot on, and our waiter was the icing on the cake. No squatting down to be at your eye level, no “how ya doin’ tonight?” like they want to be your best friend. No, these dudes interestingly donning butcher’s coats mean business. Polite, efficient and knowledgable, that’s all I ask for in a waiter. Fortunately that’s what we got, thank god or I would’ve annoyed the pants off of Dan with my whinging.

Do you pencil in downtime before the holidays hit? Let me know in the comment section below before midnight, Wednesday, December 17th. I’ll randomly draw a name and if picked, you’ll receive a $100 gift certificate to dine at Vintage Chophouse. Double your chances by liking Travels with Baggage on Facebook.

Months ago some friends gave me a hair intervention. It was need, for sure, which is how I wound up in a serious relationship with Charlie from Shag. My hair no longer has stripes and I can be super lazy and stretch out my visits as his cuts are so great. But  the best part about Shag besides Charlie, besides their awesome tagline (if your life isn’t working out for you, maybe you just need a good shag), is they have the most amazing shampoo dude. Yep, I’m calling it – the best salon shampoo in the city is found here.

Best Salon Shampoo in the City

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present Officer Osz. Otherwise known as Isaac Osz, soon to be full time student (he wants to be a cop, but he’s too sweet) and assistant stylist at Shag. Issac’s gone through all the hair stylist training, so he does his own cuts and colours, but you’ll often find him behind the sink at Shag.

What makes his shampoos so special? Well, for starters he gets the water temperature just right. It has never once gone into my ears, nor has it trickled down my back. Yes, this should be standard, but we’ve all gotten an earful from time to time, now haven’t we?

salon shampoo and massage

Oh, that’s the spot!

It’s Isaac’s magic fingers that really make his shampoo special. As good as any scalp massage I’ve ever had, Isaac works your noggin till you feel like a limp noodle.

One thing I hate is when my shampoo person has fake nails and they don’t want to get in there and give my head that really good scratching I crave. Isaac’s all over that, plus he’ll massage your temples and the back of your neck. I bet he’d even give me a foot rub if I asked really nicely.

Even though Isaac is headed to Uni in January, you’ll still be able to find him at Shag on Saturdays and the occasional weeknight. Just please don’t schedule your appointments for the same time as mine. I want that boy all to myself.

Have you ever had a great salon shampoo? Where did you get it at?

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Behind the Scenes at FAO Schwarz

You know that expression being a kid in a candy store? Take that feeling amplify it by 10 and that’s what it’s like being the only ones inside FAO Schwarz, America’s oldest toy store. When kiddo and I were in New York a few week ago, we signed up for a behind the scenes tour of FAO Schwarz. Yep, everyday an hour before opening, up to 30 lucky visitors can take a private tour of the city’s most famous toy store. Here’s a peek inside that experience.

Tours at FAO Schwarz

Toy Soldier Rich

Afflicted with a bizarre British-Queens (as in the borough) accent, Toy Soldier Rich welcomed Eve and I into the empty store. Dude stayed in character the entire tour and completely charmed the pants off of us, dispensing interesting factoids about the store and most importantly, the celebrities who visit. (Kim Kardashian insisted the second floor be closed for her private shop, while Angelina Jolie and Toby Maguire walk around like regular civilians.)

FAO Schweetz

Sweet Beginnings

Candy for breakfast? Why not? Tours begin on a high note with bags passed around, scoops pressed into your hand and encouraging words to filler ‘er up with the candies on display.


Is there a Muppet fan in your family? FAO Schwartz is the only place in world you can build your own muppet. Saddle up to the workshop, choose the body, the hair, personalize it and give Jason Segel a run for his money.

fortune telling machine

With so many movie memories made here, the store has obvious history  Eve got to meet Zoltar, the fortune teller machine made famous in the movie Big and suss out all the hidden crevices and secret areas of the store.

toy car workshop

Custom toy cars are built by kids on site.

Many of the toy departments are interactive. Build your own doll, build your own doll house (to match your actual house), build your own car…. the opportunities are endless.

glitter sign

There’s a fantastic selection of NYC vehicles and every current, cool toy you can imagine. Even older kids can have a blast, painting their own T-shirt, getting glittered or snapping up cool trinkets at Claire’s. Baby and toddler toys, plus posh clothing are also found here.

Big Piano FAO Schwarz

And yes, we got to play on the infamous floor piano. Going on the tour is ideal if this is on your bucket list. Way less crowds and you’re guaranteed time to play a diddy.

children's party room

Tours finish off with a continental breakfast and a one on one chat with your Toy Soldier in their party room. After the tour wrapped we raced back through the store trying to find those new Mindcraft characters. Along the way there were more experiences to be had. Fill a classic crayon tin with your favourite colour, test drive some toys or take in a live magic show.

Crayola crayon tin

If You Go

Sign up by phone or email (no online tickets just yet).Tours cost $40 per person and run every morning at 9am, but you must reserve your spot in advance. Tip: Tours begin from the side entry door – not the main door.

Have you ever been to FAO Schwarz? What would you go see first?

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