I love my morning coffee as much as anyone else, and I love it brewed in about 30 seconds by a Keurig. In fact, I try not to stay in hotels that don’t have a Keurig in every room.

Keurig’s are great machines, and I have no problem with them. What I do have a problem with is looking into the water receptacle of a Keurig in my hotel room and seeing that it is full of black mold. That is not Keurig’s fault.

It’s the fault of the hotel and the housekeeping staff. I know the picture above isn’t very clear, but I’m sure that you can imagine the queasy feeling I had when I discovered that mold in the coffee maker that I had already used once.

A word of advice, look into the water receptacle of your hotel room Keurig before you use it.

Safe travels  ~Phil

Picture credit: livingmividaloca.com

As I’ve done with other Top Ten lists, one of these is fake and the first person to pick the right one can have a paperback or Kindle version of one of my books. (Yes, I realize that’s not a big incentive and might in fact scare some people away)

10. Wearing Colorful Underwear: In many Latin American Countries, as well as Spain and Italy, wearing different color underwear is supposed to bring different kinds of luck or prosperity in the new year. White is thought to bring peace and harmony, and red obviously is for love and romance. I wonder what purple does for you? (asking for a friend)

9. Plate smashing in Denmark? Apparently people in Denmark smash dishes and plates on their neighbors doors to bring good luck. Really? That sounds like vandalism to me. I wonder if I could get away with doing that here in the States. I’d just tell the police that I’m Danish.

8. Ecuador Effigies: In Ecuador they burn effigies, called año viejo, of public figures like actors, music stars or politicians at midnight in order to banish any bad luck or ill-will from the previous. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that I’d love the idea of people burning a scarecrow of me. I’d be worrying what comes next.

Picture rights: Imaginative-Traveller.com

7. Beware Falling Furniture: At midnight in South Africa people throw their old appliances and furniture out the window. Man, what I wouldn’t give to be a furniture salesman on January 1st!

Picture rights: Imaginative-Traveller.com

6. April New Year’s in Thailand? April 13th-15th is the start of the New Year in Thailand because that is the start of the New Year for their religion, Theravada Buddhism. They celebrate by having a big water fight, believing that symbolically throwing water on each others washes away bad luck. Now that’s a New Year’s tradition I’d enjoy! Where I live, if we threw water on each other on New Year’s Day, everyone would get frostbite.

Picture rights: Friends-Family-Food.com

5. In Bangladesh, Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is: The New Year is celebrated by everyone in the family eating a pastry, with wine, at midnight and if you find a coin in your pastry, you will have good fortune in the coming year. Yikes! That sounds dangerous. I hope they’re chocolate coins!

Picture rights: DW.com

4. The Psychic Germans! In Germany they melt small pieces of lead in a spoon over a flame, then pour the melted metal into cold water. The shapes formed by the Bleigießen (lead pouring) reveal how good their coming year will be. If the lead forms a ball, luck is going to roll your way. If it’s the shape of a crown, that means good luck with money, while a star signifies happiness and a cross will bring death. Wow, that is kind of terrible isn’t it?

3. Travel Insurance in Colombia: In Colombia you might think that once the clock strikes midnight everyone is trying to flee the country because you’ll see many people running around their house or even their entire block with a suitcase. They believe that doing so will ensure good travels in the coming year.

2. All The Single Ladies in Ireland…are hoping he’ll put a ring on it. Apparently the single women in Ireland put mistletoe (which apparently wasn’t effective at Christmas) under their pillows and then burn it in a fire the next day hoping to lure the love of their life. Geez, I hope they take it out from under their pillow before setting it on fire. If I’m in Ireland and I meet a girl who likes to set things on fire, I am probably going to run the other direction.

Picture rights: Casa Bay Villas

1. Some people Like their grapes in wine…: This one was contributed by my friend, international travel writer Bel Woodhouse (follow her on IG @thetravelbag.guru) In Mexico they eat 12 grapes at midnight. Some eat them one with each toll of the bell to bring good luck in the coming year. What happens if you have a grape allergy? Are those people just out of luck? That doesn’t sound like a fair tradition. Personally, I’ll just drink enough wine to ensure that I’ve taken in 12 grapes. That’s at least one bottle, right?

Ok, remember that I said one of these was made up? The first person to guess it in the comments gets a free paperback or Kindle copy of one of my books. Happy New Year to each and every one of you. I’d better get going if I want to squeeze all ten of these traditions at midnight! ~Phil

Picture courtesy: PlanetWare

This is my first in my 50/50 challenge to myself to write a travel review of every state in the United States. 50 states in 50 days is my goal. One down, 49 to go!

The rest of the world knows Alabama for two things: A song by the band Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1974, and the Alabama University football team. If you’re a sports fan and planning to visit Alabama during football season, you’ll want to go to a ‘Bama game if you can score tickets. Don’t worry though, there’s plenty of other things to do in the Cotton state if you can’t.

If you don’t want to hike and climb mountains, Alabama has a little bit of the gulf shore all to itself, so you can tan and swim in the beautiful, warm blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Alabama also has a rich musical history with blues and southern rock. If you want to get in out of the sun,  you can tour the Muscle Shoals recording studio where many a hit record was created. If you’re a destination activity vacationer you can also plan your trip around one of the many music festivals that occur almost year round.

Regardless of you’re taste in vacations, Alabama has a little bit of something for everyone. Next up tomorrow, Alaska!

Safe travels! ~Phil

I have never seen Snakes on a Plane, but I often see jerks on a plane. Here’s the story of one of those flights…

Oh it’s a big pretty white plane with red stripes, curtains in the windows and wheels and it looks like a big Tylenol~ Johnny in the 1980 movie Airplane!

 Travel is always good fodder for a blog post and my trip this week was no different. Here are some things I learned waiting in the security line:

1) If you’re over 75 you don’t have to take off your shoes or jacket. Apparently TSA believes that there is a mandatory retirement age for terrorists.

2) TSA also believes that only medical professionals wear scrubs and the rest of us are completely unable to obtain these super secret garments. While waiting in line I noticed a guy behind the cordoned off area in scrubs. Then a few minutes later I noticed he was well ahead of me going through the scanner.

In summary, I’m going to dress up as an elderly physician next time I have to fly. I’ll be through security in minutes.  Unless of course I have to get my hands dusted. When I went through the scanner, an alarm pinged. I quickly checked my pockets thinking I might have forgotten some change. No, I was informed, I had been randomly selected to have my hands checked for explosives. I flexed my biceps and replied, “If you want to see something explosive check these out!” Needless to say, after hearing that line the entire security area, passengers and TSA, broke out in lighthearted laughter. Lighthearted laughter in the security line? Just kidding, that would be a first.

Almost as soon as my plane left the ground chaos ensued. We weren’t given permission to move about the cabin but suddenly people were getting up and running willy-nilly in the aisle because it was a little chilly. It looked like an elementary school hallway at dismissal time.  Overhead compartments flew open up and down the plane as panicked passengers grabbed coats and blankets. The captain came on the p.a. announcing he was turning up the thermostat. Holy crap, I thought to myself, what a sense of entitlement these idiots have if they think it’s ok to violate FAA safety regulations because they might be a little chilly for a few minutes. If I was the incognito federal marshal on that plane I’d have been tempted to stand up and point my gun at these dolts telling them to sit down and shut up. Or maybe I’d just show my biceps again.

The worst offender of fashion and airline etiquette was Captain Denim. He was a roughly 60 year old gentleman with greasy hair receding  in front but long enough to reach the collar of his denim jacket in the back. He was also wearing denim jeans with the elaborate, bright stitching that draws your attention but also makes you think This guy really doesn’t have the kind of ass he should be drawing attention to. As soon as our plane touched the runway Captain Denim popped out of his seat and took down his Volkswagen-sized suitcase and planted it in the middle of the aisle. The flight attendant  had to tell him very sternly three times to put it back in the overhead compartment until we reached the gate. Again I thought about pulling out the biceps but I figured this wasn’t the place for my particular brand of vigilante justice. And I didn’t want to get laughed at.

Seriously, I do want to thank TSA and the airlines for getting me safely from place to place. They do a tough job and do it well. Writing a blog is tough too and if you like what you read here please hit the Facebook share button below.

Have a great weekend! ~Phil

Happy Tuesday everybody. Well, I guess it’s more of a happy Tuesday if you’re getting ready for a trip this weekend. I’m not traveling this weekend, but I just returned from a trip (which you’ll hear more about on Saturday) and I’ve already got my next trip planned.

As we all know, travel is fun and exciting, but it can be a little less than fun when things go wrong. So, to kick things off for my new site, I collaborated with freelance travel writer and International Living magazine/website contributor, Bel Woodhouse , to give you some things to think about before you leave home.

10. Have a “Go-bag” You know who has go-bags? Criminals & smart travelers. (One of those two are my target audience. Which are you?) What I mean by a Go-Bag, is when you travel, don’t take your home phone charger. Don’t take your entire medicine bottle from the cabinet, and for cripes sake, don’t take your toothbrush from home! Buy an extra phone charger, travel toothbrush, tiny tubes of toothpaste, and a weeks worth of your meds. Put them in your suitcase and leave them there! ALL. THE. TIME. That way, you’ll have less things to remember to pack, and if you leave those things behind at your hotel when you’re heading home, you won’t be out of luck until you can replace those items. As a man that has bought and lost my fair share and your fair share of phone chargers, having a Go-bag is a smart move.

9. (From Bel) Always have a good old fashioned paper map. Don’t rely on technology. Batteries go flat, coverage gets spotty, phones are stolen. Paper doesn’t let you down. I’ve had one in 30+ countries and have never been lost, mugged or had anything bad happen. EVER.

8. Count your kids: Traveling as a family? This ain’t your local shopping mall. Don’t take your eyes off your little ones. If there’s anything Home Alone taught us, it’s that you need to count your kids wherever you go. MacCaulay Culkin was left home alone and look how he turned out:

7. (From Bel) Know where you are, where you shouldn’t go and how to get back to your hotel, accommodation or nearest taxi.

6. Do the Math! Growing up, I hated mathematics. When you travel, it comes in handy. Just because it seems like you have plenty of time to get to your gate, don’t be fooled. If you show up at the airport Friday through Monday, four days of the week, you need to factor in extra drop off luggage line time and extra security line time. On those four days there’s a higher volume of travelers and lines will be longer and slower. Also, if you have connecting flights, book your flights with at least a one hour and ten minute window between the first flight landing and the second flight taking off.  Trust me on that one.

5. (From Bel) Keep the majority of your money on your person, not in your wallet in case someone lifts it.

4. How to tip the housekeeping staff: If you’re staying in a hotel or resort with daily housekeeping, tipping them is customary, but how and when you tip makes a difference. $5 a day American is pretty standard, but should vary depending on the hotel you’re at. Let’s say you’re staying five days, do you dole out that $5 each day or wait until the end of your stay? Don’t wait until the end of the stay. Leave at least a $10 tip the first morning and spread the rest out over the week. My reason? Sometimes if you tip well early, you get better service, like a few extra coffee pods, extra towels, chocolates on the pillow, or just a generally better room cleaning. These folks work hard. Don’t be stingy!

3. (From Bel) Have situational awareness. Take note of what and who is around you. I was in a market in Nicaragua and made eye contact with a guy, then held my camera close until he moved past me only to push over another young woman and steal her camera. Know who and what is around you and keep an eye on your stuff.

2. Talk to the hotel/resort staff before going out: Not every hotel has a concierge, but the staff at every hotel is knowledgeable about the surrounding area and they always have tips and tricks to make your adventures safer, less costly, and more fun. Ask them if there’s some not so well known restaurants that are secret gems.

1. (From Bel) The biggest thing -Always be polite, manners get you everywhere in every country. Show respect. You are a guest and you’re not entitled to everything you want. I have seen many tourists be invited by locals on free tours and into their homes for a meal just by being polite. It opens doors and means the world to people no matter what country you’re in. It is the difference between a traveler and a tourist.

Thank you Bel for visiting #ThePhilFactor and thank you for being part of my Philliver’s Travels blog launch this coming Saturday.

Bel: “I love helping any way I can when someone has the courage to reach for the stars and try to achieve a new dream, project or just have a creative outlet. If you have the courage to try, you can enrich your life in so many ways. I used to be in the Navy, now I’m living my dream life in the Caribbean. Anything is possible when you have the courage to try.”

I couldn’t have been luckier to find Bel on IG (@thetravelbag.guru) and she couldn’t be any nicer. Come back on Saturday for the Philliver’s Travels blog launch and my interview with Bel. Have a great Tuesday! ~Phil

Phil: Bel, thank you for being part of my blog launch. I’m thrilled to be able to ask you a few questions. From Instagram, it always looks to me like you’re living the life so many of us want; waking up to warmth, sunshine and sandy beaches. So, I thought you’d be a perfect guest for the launch of my new travel blog. You grew up in Australia, which I’ve heard is a pretty nice place. How did you catch the travel bug? And what made you decide to live somewhere other than Australia? 

   Bel:   I love Australia and have seen most of it, so decided I wanted to see the rest of the world. I got the travel bug after spending a month in Bali as a 40th birthday present to myself. The trip was spent contemplating and deciding what I wanted my life to be. I speak Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian language) and after talking with locals and enjoying tours, I realized that I loved being immersed in another culture. 

What made me decide to live somewhere else? That’s easy, life, food, culture, festivals, different landscapes, nature and everything another country has that is different from Australia. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a proud Aussie, but I wanted to see the rest of the world. I wanted to see grand European sprawling oak trees, explore all seven oceans, slide down jungle rock slides while jaguar spotting in Belize, learn Spanish, learn how to cook like a Mexican … the list goes on. I wanted to see and experience so many other cultures.

Phil: Once you decided to be a world traveler after you got out of the Navy, where did you go first? 

 Bel: Straight to the top norther half of India, then onto Cambodia, which I have dreamed of since I was a little girl. To see those amazing huge trees spreading over ancient ruins as the jungle reclaimed temples was one of the most beautiful spiritual experiences of my life. I adore Cambodia.

Then I went on a month-long trip through Central America which included Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. From there I went back to Belize, intending to stay and settle, but I preferred Guatemala, so I popped next door to Guatemala and lived in Antigua for 2 years. 

Phil: How did you become a travel writer?

 Bel:I did the  Travel Writer’s Program through Great Escape Publishing and that taught me how to write, what editors look for, how to pitch a story, how to build my professional profile etc. Basically it taught me how to  become a travel writer. Then a lot of hard work. I write for them now sometimes and it’s such a wonderful feeling. They class me as a success story and all I did was read some pages and put into practice. Easy peasy.

Phil: In your books about Guatemala and Mexico, why 21 reasons? How did you choose that number? 

Bel: The number came from David Anicetti, who was the original author of 21 Reasons to Visit Antigua, Guatemala. I was doing ghostwriting at the time and re-wrote a few chapters for him. He liked my writing so much that he sent me the whole book and made me co-author, and a partnership was born. Now, we have four books in the series. I write them and do the photography, and he does the formatting, publishing, marketing side of things. Together we are 21 Reasons book series. 

Phil: Where are you currently writing aside from your blog?

Bel: I am a full-time writer, photographer and videographer. I freelance and write for publications world-wide on a broad range of topics. I do a lot of writing for International Living, Great Escape Publishing (about writing and photography) and am a presenter for their photography workshop next month. I’m speaking about how to make $$ with your smartphone photography and also how photography can be a force for good in the world.  

Phil: As a seasoned world traveler, do you still have any bucket list places that you haven’t been to yet?

Bel: Geez Phil ask a hard question … I have so many. I want to explore Spain, and do the El Camino (a huge walk across Spain) to see it’s quaint villages and golden churches. I want to swim in the beautiful Greek isles, stay in a Scottish castle, hug the largest trees on Earth in The Grove of the Titans in California where the giant old sequoia’s and redwoods are. I want to be lost in the striations of orange, terracotta and red ochres of the Antelope Canyons delicately curved caves and tunnels. I want to see the lake of lightening in Nicaragua, I want, I want, I want … you get the idea. 

My bucket list grows daily and is longer than my street. I can’t wait to see it all. I honestly believe I will spend the rest of my life experiencing the magical cultures and peoples of this world. There is so much beauty to be shared.  Languages to learn and amazing food to learn how to cook. It is a thirst that will never be quenched. My wanderlust delights in tormenting me with places to go next. 

Phil: Bel, thank you so much for your time and for being a part of the launch of my new travel blog. I would encourage my readers that if you thirst for travel adventures please find Bel all over the internet. You can check out her books on Amazon and follow her colorful life on Instagram.