Air Crates For Birds: Specifications

Many of you know I am relocating to the United Kingdom so I can do the work of historian-researcher better and offer you the best information possible in the Legendary Women of World History and Legendary Women of World History Dramas. This means flying international with my two precious cockatiels whom I absolutely ADORE.

Arwen-4 2017 17 February

Arwen is ready to fly!

But getting a bird from the USA to UK is an annoying challenge — and it has nothing to do with UK immigration law nor with the USDA’s rules for taking a bird out of the USA.  Rather, the annoyance of this process comes from the circular information you receive when trying to answer that straight forward question:  what kind of cargo crate do I need and how do I get one that will be accepted at both JFK (the main airport birds fly to Europe from) and LHR?

The last several months I’ve been driven crazy in circles.  I consult one website which directs me to another page and another and another and not ONE BIT is about flying WITH BIRDS. Even the pages that say they are giving you information about flying with birds inevitably re-direct you back to something that only applies to cats and dogs. (Example pg 1 to pg 2. Note how general this gets (at best) for animals other than dogs/cats).  Messaging on social media doesn’t help either, nor does email or even phone calls.  No one seems to know anything and what they do know is to refer you back to the same pages you’ve read several times before that only talk about cats and dogs. It’s the customer service runaround that drives everyone crazy when planning a big trip.

Finally today I heard from IAG Cargo which handles air cargo for British Airways and is ultimately the company that off-loads animals from BA planes and brings them to Heathrow’s animal terminal for customs clearances.  What they gave me was a pdf of the following three pages from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) which sets all the standards for all crates for all animals traveling internationally.

IATA container info pg 1IATA container info pg 2IATA container info pg 3

Does that look overwhelmingly complicate to you?  It sure does to me.  Which brings us to what it all really means:

When travelling with birds a custom crate needs to be made that meets IATA rules for your bird species. While you can do this yourself, the best way to make sure the crate conforms to that maze of rules is to buy one from a professional.

The first company I priced was Pet Relocation, a big company based in Austin, Texas.  However a better deal is to be had by shopping around. West coast based O’Brien Animal Transportation Services offers custom crates for birds and help with pet moves (avian, canine, feline) with personalized and personable customer service that far surpasses what I’ve experienced with Pet Relocation. A sweet lady at O’Brien referred me to Sally at Newark/New York City based Airborne Animals which offers exceptional customer service for pet moves beginning on the East Coast.  What I love about Airborne Animals: they are very upfront about what goes into moving costs actually TELLING YOU what the average fees are for each part of their service.  That’s something the competition DOESN’T do and why I’ll be flying with Airborne Animals’ help.


Review: TravelPro Maxlite 4 tote & spinner

If you follow this blog you know I move around a lot and I travel as often as I can to visit historical sites and sample delicious food I don’t get to eat regularly.  I travel by primarily by train and plane for most trips over 10 miles from home and use public transit for shorter distant trips.  I also use my luggage for shopping via public transit, a trick I learned after canned foods spilled out of my shopping wagon while crossing a busy Brooklyn street several years ago.  So I need something lightweight, durable, and flexible, bags that can handle grocery trips to Walmart as easily as a cross country or international flight as easily as a move to a new home.

American tourister carry on bag

Gifted to me when I was 18, this soft-sided carry on bag has been with me on every flight I’ve ever taken. It readily fits under the seat in front of me on even the smallest plane.

After twenty six years of use and abuse with all of the above I have FINALLY retired my American Tourister shoulder bag carry on I’ve used for every move, every flight, every Amtrak trip I’ve ever taken.  Indeed, it’s still a great bag — if you don’t need something with wheels on it.  That’s why it will still be used for moving, for packing day one items, but for regular travel it’s been retired.

Why the sudden change?  Simple!  I found something better than my shoulder bag and much better than the Skyway brand bags I’ve used for nearly 20 years, bags which rarely come off the baggage claim carousel without some sort of damage.

When shopping for luggage this summer (partially to take advantage of summer sales) I fully expected to buy another American Tourister, a Samsonite, or other major brand bag.  Fortunately for me I consulted Consumer Reports first and discovered that in 2016 the big name brands have performed much worse than lesser known brands in their tests. So it was time to expand my search and find something affordable that also scored well with Consumer Reports.

That is how I discovered the TravelPro brand, a $$ priced brand that is durable, flexible, and easy to use. Among their many collections, the MaxLite 4 bags caught my eye for being reasonably priced and having the features I want most in both carry on and checked bags. An added plus:  it comes in blue, black, and a very eye catching and fashionable purple.

maxlite 4 tote frontmaxlite 4 tote open

After looking at nearly 100 different bags marked “under seat” on I decided upon the MaxLite 4 tote which (minus the wheels) is 15.5″ x 13″ x 8.5″.  Ebags sells it for $85 which is also the price on  But ebags is deceptive:  they claim the MSRP for the bag is $200 — making you think you are getting a sale price and an incredible deal when in fact every competing website offering this bag sells it in the $82-$89 range.

As you can see, this is a very simple, flexible carry on.  It has a front pocket for your travel documents and an open interior space with a mesh pocket on the lid.  Unique to this bag are the velcro fastened side gussets which enable you to access the bag contents without opening it all the way (and having your belongings spill out onto the floor). The bag rolls very smoothly and the handle is the perfect length for easy navigation around an airport or on a train. Best of all:  it holds a LOT of stuff while still fitting neatly under the front seat on most air craft.

travelpro maxlite 4 29 spinnerI love this bag so much I just had to get a matching checked bag. I chose the 29″ spinner (which technically is slightly oversized because the wheels are not part of the listed 29″ x 20.25″ x 12″ dimensions; with the wheels it’s 30 7/8″ x 20.25″ x 13″) and I am so glad I did.  I am also very glad that I bought mine on where it sells for $153 compared to ebags $167.  As with the tote, Ebags deceives you into thinking their higher price is a great deal by claiming the MSRP is $360.

The interior on this bag is very basic and therefore very flexible with two straps for securing your belongings, a small mesh pocket, and a full size lid pocket.  Unlike most bags I’ve owned, the lid pocket zips around three sides, allowing you to lay flat choice clothing items.  The exterior has a single, full size lid pocket.  The handle is short — it’s designed to be used on all four wheels instead of tilted and rolling on two wheels.  The handle makes navigating airports easy, but it is about four inches too short for stacking the matching tote onto it which is really my only criticism of it.

After taking a test run to Walmart I must say I am extremely happy with my spinner, so happy that I would very much like to get the 26″ bag to complete the set.

No matter how you travel or where you are going to, you cannot go wrong with the TravelPro MaxLite 4 series.  I hope you will check out the entire collection because this is a very durable, easy to use, and flexible collection, especially for someone like me who prefers to organize with my packing cubes instead of a bag forcing me to organize a certain way.  It is hands down the best bags I’ve ever owned.  Just be certain to shop around for the best price because deals are to be had if you do.


I love Ebags Packing Cubes

I move around a lot.  I also enjoy travelling (as long as my birds are well looked after).  I’m an old-school historian who prefers to physically be where history happened before I write about it.  This means I’ve packed a lot and have learned what works really well.

ebags packing cubesBar none, the best tool for moving or traveling are Ebags brand packing cubes available (no surprise) exclusively from  These cubes have been out for a while — I bought my first packing cubes circa 2002.  Though the buying options have expanded and there are some new sizes available today that were not available when I first purchased them, the quality has remained consistent and they’ve handled the abuse I’ve put them through over several moves since really well.

The classic packing cube (there are now ultralights which have slightly different features) come in slim, small, medium, and large sizes.  These can be purchased as a single four piece set (see left) or in sets of three of the same size.  There’s also a new slim set of slim cubes in three different widths (14″, 10″, and 6.5″). Since my wardrobe is primarily skirts and dresses, I do not find the slim set all that useful.  Most of what I wear fits into the medium and large bag sizes with the slim and small sizes working best for socks, underwear (bras fit very nicely in the standard 14″ wide slim cubes), and accessories. Since they come in several colours, you really can colour code for each family member, making it easy to organize and locate every thing for every one.

ebags shoe boxFor those situations where I’m actually packing shoes, there’s a nice shoe bag that holds a lot!  Depending on how you pack and the type of footwear, you can actually often put two pairs in the same bag and keep everything else nice and clean.

These essentials (standard slim, small, medium, and large cubes, plus the shoe bag) are the core of the product line and bags I’ve had for nearly ten years.  The classics are the best!

But there is a new member to this classic line that does really get me excited as a traveller: the pack it flat toiletry kit.  It’s the essential I didn’t know I needed.  After all, I’ve been very successful in keeping my toiletries in the slim cubes.

This toiletry kit is not bulky.  I use a designer brand toiletry kit for my cosmetics at home.  You know the type:  it’s basically a slightly elongated cube that is as high as it is wide and a little longer on one side.  I never take it with me on trips because it is so difficult to cram into my checked bag — and why would I when I have my slim cubes for the purpose?  This new toiletry kit lets me save my slim cubes for other things.  It’s very organized with a plastic lined left compartment and a slim compartment on the right.  In the middle is an expandable compartment perfect for putting my non liquid cosmetics and of course the main centre compartment that has two zippered compartments and plenty of storage for almost anything you can think of (see photo above). There’s a hook in the top for hanging on a towel bar which I don’t use; I prefer to lay everything flat.

Once closed, this kit lays VERY FLAT. It’s designed to cram into that tiny space we all struggle to find and it works really well.  I don’t have a trip coming yet that I know of and yet just a few hours after receiving my toiletry kit in the mail I feel compelled to fill it up and get it ready for the next trip — grab and go with only a few small additions needed — like medicines where it’s important to pay attention to use by dates.  I am really surprised how much it will hold.  I haven’t figured out the best place for my toothbrush yet — maybe you have some ideas for me?  If you do, just comment below!

As much as I love these for travel, I really love them for moving.  The cubes are DURABLE and you can put so much more than clothing in them though I don’t suggest abusing them; they are still made of fabric and their are limits to what they can do. But for organizing the small “day one” essentials (I pack these in my luggage sets so I can find them among all the boxes) they are fantastic. Cutlery, can openers, and basic utensils fit in the slim cubes with ease so you can find them immediately. Slim cubes are also great for tea cups and most coffee mugs. Layer a couple plates between clothing items in the medium and large cubes.  And of course pack these breakables with small clothing items and kitchen linens.  The same skills that make you a world class traveller make you a world class re-locator.

Where ever you are travelling to this year, I hope ebags packing cubes are part of your travel organization strategy.  Bon voyage!




UK Holiday: UK rules for personal foodstuffs less strict than USA rules

The count down is on for my flight and the excitement is building.  I am making my food shopping list, checking it twice, and going to find out who is naughty and nice! (Couldn’t help the pun).


You can’t bring the beef jerky into the UK nor bring UK origin beef jerky into the USA. The trail mix is fine going into the UK, but must be declared at customs returning to the USA.

Time to really look at government websites and see what is and is not allowed.  Fortunately my post from yesterday seems to be spot-on with regards to what you can bring into the United Kingdom from outside of Europe.  As specified on, the main restrictions relate to meat and dairy.  If you go through the page, HM government is very detailed and very explicit on the matter — which is good because no one wants problems at customs.  You can consume meat and dairy to your heart’s content on your flight from USA to UK — at long as you throw away the leftovers before you land.

The USA is apparently much more strict about food coming home from another country.  Looking at the US Customs and Border Protection site and their FAQ for travelers you cannot bring ANY fresh food of any type into the United States.  Anything you do bring with you (aka you didn’t throw away before you disembark from your plane into the USA) must be declared OR YOU FACE a $10,000 FINE.

$10,000 for not saying “I have some crackers in my bag.”


These apricots are allowed into the UK without any issues. But if I don’t eat them while on holiday and try to bring them back into the USA, I must declare them at customs — or face a $10,000 fine!

Absolutely NO fresh food is allowed into the USA at all.  According to the FAQ, most dried fruits and nuts ARE allowed — as long as you declare them.  Likewise, as long as you tell them, it’s not an issue if you save your pretzels from your flight to eat while you are waiting to change planes.

But it is a bit telling.  I really never expected the flight back to the USA to be more risky than the flight to the United Kingdom.

Well, maybe this is just the universe’s way of telling me something I already know about myself — and where I am happiest!

British holiday — the cell phone adventure part two

london-flagEarlier today I expressed the dizzying complexity I found when investigating how to obtain cellular phone service once I land at London’s Heathrow airport from the USA later this summer.

After all that frustration and nuisance I found more information for the weary traveler who despises needless complication and hassle: most terminals at Heathrow include a SIM LOCAL STORE just METRES beyond the immigration check point.

The shop sells unlocked phones and sim cards.  I have emailed them to see what else is available and how they suggest I handle all of the cellular needs for the trip — the micro SD card, power adapter, airtime, etc.

Sim Local seems to be the little secret that USA electronics stores don’t want you to know about and T Mobile especially doesn’t want you to know about.

As best as I can discover, the reason for the $2/minute airtime fee is ROAMING, something I’ve not encountered for a very very long time.  Of course I have not used TMobile since my first cell phone back in 2003.  That lasted just a year or two since T Mobile had TERRIBLE coverage in New York City compared to competitor Verizon (which can only be used in USA).

I am still looking for more information and emailed SimLocal to learn more for my trip.  But by all accounts I will save money by simply not adding any airtime to the T Mobile phone and using it just for this trip when in the USA to phone my taxi cab.

Yes, the new Sim card will cost me to purchase — about $20-$30 USD.  But for a card that will give me local phone charges to use — it’s worth it!

And oh yes — Heathrow has PAY PHONES and seems to really offer a lot for international travelers!

I will of course continue to update everyone on my British holiday adventures.  Now if only I had been able to find this information BEFORE I bought anything at Best Buy!  As a matter of fact, I’m wondering if I should ever shop Best Buy again!

British holiday — the cell phone adventure

Watch out England, I’m crossing the pond!  Yes, finally this summer England will move from the realm of dreams and legends and finally become a real place that I can touch, taste, smell, hear, and see!


As I plan the trip there are two pressing issues on my mind:  how manage the 12-18 hour long trip (from the moment I leave my flat to the moment I arrive at my final destination) and 2) how to get in touch with my friends if something in the process goes wrong (which it could).

unlocked cell phone

In our ever connected world I feel (as I am sure you do) rather naked without a working cell phone when I’m not at home, especially traveling.  I’m not a smart phone person; a phone is about phone calls to me.  But I need that phone working and close at hand when I’m away from home.  Should be simple, right?

Oh no! And in trying to work this out, I’ve found myself in a hornet’s nest when all I want to do is be able to call someone and ask for directions or re-structure a meeting because something messed up the timeline or “what does your car look like” when I get to the train station.

So let’s start with part one:  getting an unlocked phone.

When you are traveling overseas from the USA, that’s the first thing you need:  a handset that is unlocked, meaning the handset can be used with any carrier.  Okay fine, I found one at for $25.  But you know there had to be a catch and there is one.  I bought a SIM card for TMobile (which research says has roaming into the UK) and a $10 prepaid card which should have been enough.  Yeah, you know what is coming next.

Except the phone description says nothing about needing a MICRO SD CARD in order to use even basic features like an address book IN ADDITION TO the Sim card the chat clerk told me to buy.  Did I mention yet that has PISS POOR TRAINING on their products?  This is supposed to be a place that KNOWS electronics.  As of now I think it more likely I will grow feathers and fly myself to the UK without an airplane than find a rep who knows anything about anything.

So I get the phone, the sim card, and $10 airtime card.  When it all arrived Friday night, it took me FORTY TRIES to just open the damn phone — and another forty to figure out how to use the TMobile SIM card kit and get the card in there!  Then you must activate the card on TMobile website.  Okay, this is getting tiresome.  Now I know why bestbuy doesn’t sell these phones in store — people would be flooding Geek Squad beginning for help!

So finally the phone is activated and charged.  I contact TMobile this morning to ask “how do I place a call?”  Simple question.  Annoyingly complex answer.

Because what BestBuy DIDN’T SAY on the website was that the 10 cents a minute rate for pre-paid is JUST for calls to USA numbers with the handset in the USA.  Well I have a tracfone for that that costs MUCH LESS.  I bought this for INTERNATIONAL calling and INTERNATIONAL ROAMING.

AND there is another fine print part about this TMobile sim card and pre-paid service:  it costs $3 per month to keep it active.  So placing NO CALLS uses up the $10 card in 90 days.  And if you let the balance go to zero and don’t re-up within 90 days the SIM card deactivates and cannot be used again (according to TMobile this morning).

At this point I’m feeling stuck in a Mission Impossible movie!

I finally get that “how do you place a call” information out of TMobile:  dial 011 44 plus the ten digit UK phone number.  So, for example, if I wanted a test call to my skype phone, I call 011 44 208 144 1662.  You delete the zero that you usually see at the front of UK numbers. This is how to dial the number whether the handset is in the UK or USA.  If the handset is in the USA, it costs $2/minute.  If the handset is in the UK and calling a UK number the cost is $1.49 a minute.

If the handset is in the UK and I’m calling USA number (perhaps to check on my birds), dial 011 1 ten digit number.  The rate is $2/minute.

At this point I’m feeling frustrated and oh yes, there was a DIFFERENT SIM card advertised on  H2O.  Since I hate the T-Mobile costs, let’s look into that.

I go back into a chat with  MISTAKE.  Because immediately the representative tells me the T-Mobile card WON’T WORK the second I cross out of the USA.  AND he tells me that neither would an H2O card.

In essence:  the $50 just spent for that emergency phone is a COMPLETE WASTE OF MONEY (and Best Buy expects to stay in business?).

At this point I am feeling confused.  Why is something so SIMPLE as the means to place basic phone calls so bloody complicated?

Solutions anyone?  Please post your thoughts.  I cannot be the only American who has suffered angst over needing the protection of a nearby phone when traveling overseas!