Cruise report: HAL Nieuw Statendam transatlantic with teens

The kids and I sailed with Holland America Line once before, when they were fairly young. Embarking on HAL’s Nieuw Statendam in August 2022 was my husband’s first cruise with this company. We spent 24 days together on this grand vessel, visiting four countries in addition to the United States, and briefly crossing into the Arctic Circle.Certificate signed by Captain Barhorst showing crossing Friday, 8/12/2022 at 20:25

The experience was good enough for us to purchase Future Cruise Credits (FCC)—a minor commitment to future travel with the same company—while still on board.

Link to explanation of FCC’s at The Points Guy site

Our transatlantic (TATL) cruise itinerary called for boarding the ship in Boston, calling in several Canadian ports, followed by stops in Greenland, Iceland, Greenland again, Canada again, France in the form of the island of St. Pierre, Canada third time, then Bar Harbor, Maine, and finally back to Boston.

The round trip itinerary—no flights required from our New England home—absolutely sold us on this particular itinerary. HAL transatlantic cruise itinerary round trip Boston

If we hadn’t had a credit to use from a scheduled 2020 trip cancelled due to the pandemic, it’s unlikely we would have gone anywhere during the rampant snarling of summer travel in 2022. If we’d had an international flight planned, I can guarantee we would have called off any trip as reports of hours’ long lines snaking outside of airports proliferated in the lead up to our departure.

While our cruise wasn’t perfect, the hassles were fairly minimal and we found the experience well worth the bumps in those road that we did encounter.Holland America line vessel, rear view

I plan to publish a series of posts covering ports we visited, but, today, I’ll begin with an overview of embarking on transatlantic travel on HAL as a family with teens. I hope this perspective is helpful to other potential family cruisers since Holland America has a reputation for catering to an elderly crowd.

My kids enjoyed the trip, but there were very few people their age on the ship. We socialized with each other and with adults with whom I’d become acquainted on Cruise Critic prior to the voyage.

In addition to a lack of youth-oriented trip reports, I also couldn’t find much information for travelers with special needs regarding Polar-adjacent travel in the North Atlantic. I live with a chronic condition that sometimes affects my mobility and energy levels. Here’s hoping I can offer relevant tips for future adventurers with similar limitations in this and future posts.

First impressions

As it happens, one of the first SNAFU’s of our trip occurred at its very beginning: embarkation from Boston’s Flynn (formerly Black Falcon) Cruise Port was a mess. More frequent cruisers than I commented later that they’d never endured such a poorly executed boarding elsewhere or in Boston.

Here’s the official Massport site for the cruise terminal.

It’s easy to mock social media and blame it for many of society’s ills, but the utility of crowdsourced information cannot be denied. If I weren’t an active member of Cruise Critic—and a participant in a Roll Call for our August voyage—my embarkation experience could have been even worse. Tips from passengers who arrived at the port earlier than we did saved us at least a couple of hours of unnecessary waiting on site since we could elect to leave our home later to drive to the terminal.

To begin with, HAL sent notification a day ahead of boarding offering a completely revised boarding plan with new times for each passenger, all of which superseded the information given on one’s boarding pass. By not updating boarding passes—offered in digital format for cruise passengers just like most of us use on flights!—Holland America missed an opportunity to reduce confusion instead of sowing it.

Screenshot of HAL's recommended cruise app, NavigatorHAL reaped what it sowed. Thousands of people waited outside for hours beyond the embarkation time on their documents.

Nowhere in their last minute, change-of-plans missive did HAL inform embarking passengers that their digital documents would fail to update to reflect the new instructions. It’s bad to have a communication system that can’t update digital docs in real time; it’s worse not to confess to this fact up front to help reduce confusion!

At least two ambulances were required to whisk away people who weren’t up to the physical demands of standing in line for so long. We were incredibly fortunate that a recent heat wave ended before this marathon queue, but even 80°F became uncomfortable to many, and, while much of the line was shaded by adjacent buildings, there was no other shelter. Almost no seating was available, either.

Purple aluminum HurryCane walking stick freestanding on a wood floorBecause my own mobility limitations wax and wane, I always register a request with common carriers at the time of booking for wheelchair assistance. I’m often well enough to decline the requested service upon arrival at a terminal, but it is harder to get help on demand when it is needed if I haven’t initiated the process in advance. At Boston’s cruise port, it was lucky I was having a pretty good day.

When we arrived at the port, I checked in with an employee and noted we’d requested wheelchair assistance. According to that agent, “So did 1/3 of the people here waiting to board!”

Massport was short by at least dozens of personnel to offer wheelchair assistance. I believe that the lack of “timely assistance” was in violation of U.S. law. It reflected poorly on the port and on the city of Boston.

While the kind Massport employee I’d encountered couldn’t do much for me or anyone else, this lady did find folding chairs for a few of us who were concerned about walking the length of the line that disappeared out of sight across at least two long city blocks. Later arrivals sat on the curb.

My husband and kids trekked to the back of the line, and I waited in tolerable conditions if not comfort with the “special assistance” crowd. It was from that vantage point near the entrance that I saw one woman collapse and get taken away by ambulance.

By the time I boarded, I had yet to see a single passenger escorted onto the ship via wheelchair pushed by port employees. That period of time extended for well over an hour. The fortunate disabled passengers were those traveling with their own mobility aids and friends or family members capable of providing assistance.

After about an hour waiting alone, my family made it to the front of the line where I was sitting. Since no wheelchair assistance passengers were being taken aboard the ship as far as I could see, I rejoined them. My kids took my carry on bag, and I walked myself carefully through the disorganized thicket inside the terminal building with an occasional hand from one of my able-bodied relatives.Embarkation crowdThe gangway with which we boarded Nieuw Statendam was set at a particularly steep angle, too. A fellow passenger said they’d heard that the usual “jet bridge” style boarding ramp for Boston was broken and awaiting repairs, but I have no confirmation for that rumor. I was glad I’d brought my cane to help negotiate boarding, though, fortunately, I didn’t need it much once we were at sea.

Again, according to people who have cruised Boston more than I have, there is a port building here with some features of a modern travel terminal. We were not in that space! Instead, the Nieuw Statendam passengers were being processed in an open, warehouse-like space that might’ve felt familiar to our forebears’ experience at Ellis Island.

The flooring was uneven asphalt, there was no climate control, and there was no reasonable signage to help anyone self-select the correct lines. With various levels of “self check in” one might have performed prior to arriving at the port, there were at least three different types of confirmations that might be required to complete check in on site.

Through dumb luck, we were in the correct line for those who had performed the maximum online steps ahead of time, and we spent only ten to 20 minutes finishing up the check in process before preceding to the gangway that led onto the ship. The new facial recognition software did speed up check in, and, interestingly, could identify ³⁄4 of us with our N95 masks still in place.

One member of the family had to remove a protective mask to be correctly ID’d by the computer.

Some of the confusing requirements befuddling our embarkation day may be laid at the feet of COVID-19. There are national directives demanding certain steps or paperwork, it’s true. Failing to post signage to correctly direct thousands of boarding passengers into the correct lines based upon the status of government and health requirements, however, was entirely the fault of the Flynn Cruise Terminal and its staff.

The communication from HAL that changed boarding times at the last minute stated that a mandatory Coast Guard drill was the cause of the adjustment. That is probably true, but the Coast Guard didn’t prevent HAL from updating information on our virtual boarding passes or within the cruise line’s own app which they tout as an innovation in cruising convenience.

Neither was the Coast Guard responsible for inadequate staffing on the part of Massport, the government agency that runs land-side port operations.

Once we made it on board, the giddy relief of dropping our bags in our beautiful staterooms quickly eased the frustrations of the long morning day. Running the gauntlet of Boston’s cruise terminal was sufficiently exhausting that all of us—even the teens!—spent some part of our first afternoon aboard napping instead of exploring or reveling.

We were told in advance that we would board at 11:40; the port actually seemed to begin embarkation proceedings closer to 14:00 from our vantage amongst the crowds. My first photos from our cabin were taken at 15:45. We were scheduled to sail at 16:00. Nieuw Statendam actually cast off from its Boston mooring at 19:31.

port employees releasing ropes holding Nieuw Statendam to dockI think I’m being generous when I say we experienced a delay of at least three hours. For those who view lunch on the ship as the start of their vacation, our embarkation must have been particularly painful. It was certainly debilitating to those of us with health issues, and proved tiring even to young travelers.

Aside from mentioning that disembarkation three weeks later was similarly hideous—with poor communication again being the element for which HAL itself should be held fully accountable—I won’t go into detail for the latter fiasco. Suffice to say that I will still sail in or out of Boston because “not flying” remains on my list of “good to have” vacation characteristics, but I will always travel through this port carrying as little as possible to preserve my energy, and I will assume zero mobility assistance will be offered regardless of what’s legally mandated or promised.

I cannot, in good conscience, recommend embarking on a cruise out of Boston’s port for anyone with severe mobility restrictions at this time unless that person can afford to travel with sufficient personal assistance to cover all boarding needs. I hope the situation will improve if staffing levels recover, but I wouldn’t bet a friend or loved one’s comfort on it personally.

Also, on the subject of advance communication, I think it is worth pointing out that Holland America Line mandated the wearing of masks indoors, when not eating or drinking, for all passengers as well as crew for the duration of our sailing. This was not announced in advance of embarkation, though it could have been. The captain announced the policy on board the ship, and reminders were broadcast by him and other officers once or twice a day over the public address system.Disposable surgical mask

Most destinations, and all excursions, appeared to have dropped all COVID prevention rules or requirements, though the majority of our fellow travelers opted to wear masks on the one tour bus we joined.

Our group enjoyed a much greater degree of relaxation and feelings of safety due to the enhanced precautions, but some cruisers felt deceived and complained bitterly about the unexpected need to mask. At least one Cruise Critic member in my Roll Call group bragged about “always carrying a drink” in order to intentionally and spitefully subvert the protocols as much as possible.

Most Nieuw Statendam passengers appeared to make a sincere effort to adhere to the mask rules, in our personal experience on the ship. We elected to exceed HAL’s requirements, and we all avoided catching COVID-19, testing negative on our own home tests multiple times during and after the journey. There were reports of viral spread on the ship, however, and visibility of guests in isolation increased over time.

We believe that it was possible for cruise passengers to make personal choices to increase the odds of avoiding getting sick, but that the mask mandate made it many times easier for cautious travelers to do than it would have been otherwise. For example, I would have felt far less comfortable without the face covering requirement when I squeezed onto any of the crowded ship’s tenders required to visit the smaller ports on which we called.

Our family felt fortunate that HAL mandated masks; other passengers felt cheated out of the freedom they thought they’d been promised on the same voyage. Continue reading

Bivalent COVID boosters are available & exciting

An article I read in the New York Times says that many Americans aren’t even noticing that the new, bivalent COVID-19 vaccines are now available. The public has lost interest in all things coronavirus, and the government is running out of funding for effective reminders or elaborate, coordinated delivery campaigns.

It falls to us, concerned citizens, to spread the word about how we can protect ourselves and others. In the interest of fighting misinformation, I will also share reputable resources for those wishing to do their own research.

The new boosters, authorized by the F.D.A. last month, are “bivalent” because they protect against:

  1. the Omicron subvariant still circulating in addition to
  2. the original version of the COVID-19 virus.

The Latin root bi– means two.

Merriam Webster dictionary page highlighting prefix definition of BI means TWOPut simply, a single shot now offers two kinds viral defense: more of the same protection from the original booster, plus, for the first time, the specific power to fight Omicron. That named strain of the virus, also known as lineage B.1.1.529, caused the enormous spike in coronavirus cases early in 2022. It’s estimated that the “mild” Omicron strain was responsible for killing 117,560 people in America. Source: MedRxiv.

More than one million Americans have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began. This virus has been far deadlier than any recent influenza outbreak. The worst annual flu statistics in the past decade saw 52,000 people die in the US, for comparison, while an average year sees  ≈34,000 flu deaths. Source: CDC.

Allow me to do the math for those who struggle with the subject: with COVID-19 having a major impact over the past three years, one million lost lives (1,000,000) averages out to roughly 333,000 American deaths in a single pandemic year. (1,000,000 ÷ 3 = 333,333 ¹⁄3) This means COVID kills 10× as many as an average annual flu does in the U.S.A.

  • 34,000 × 3 = 102,000 this is how many flu would probably have killed over three years
  • 102,000 × 10 = 1,020,000 this is how many flu would probably have killed if it were 10 times worse
  • 1,020,000 is close enough to one million to be considered the same for this kind of analysis

Flu vs. COVID death rate comparisons are usually the work of the innumerate… or liars.

It’s vaccination, not vaccines, that saves lives.

Personally, I’m with Zeynep Tufekci, whose opinion piece in the Times marveled at the awesomeness of vaccination’s potential… while exploring the inadequacy of current messaging to motivate our citizens.

Tukekci writes: “[I]t’s vaccination, not vaccines, that saves lives.”

And she’s right about that.

bandage on upper armThe most impressive technology can solve no problem if it isn’t deployed where it is needed and at the right time. Safe, modern, effective vaccine boosters against COVID are being provided at no cost by the U.S. government. Those shots are available today.

As of now, everyone over age 12 in America is entitled to a free bivalent booster shot as long as at least two months have passed since the most recent dose.

Boosters reduce your chance of catching Omicron, and they substantially reduce an infected person’s risk of being hospitalized with—or dying of—COVID-19. Sources: New England Journal of Medicine, CDC, United Kingdom Health Security Agency.

Boosters will also help you avoid long COVID. Source: JAMA.

Aside from spreading personal misery, long COVID is also costing our economy hundreds of billions of dollars, with just lost wages from the disease estimated between $170-230 billion annually. Note that this figure approaches 1% of the total U.S. gross domestic product. Sources: World Economic Forum, Brookings Institution, Federal Reserve Bank of MN

Getting vaccinated and boosted is a patriotic choice as doing so protects our faltering economy.

I was delighted to take my teen in for a bivalent booster dose this week. His previous shot was last winter, he attends classes in person while being the only kid in most rooms electing to mask, and our household includes a high risk loved one. A few hours with a sore arm and one long nap later, my child has no lingering side effects, but he can more safely spend time with his grandparent.

There’s no way to put a price on the value of those hours. COVID vaccines are a miracle, a blessing, and quite literally wonderful.

The rest of my family will be getting bivalent boosters soon, having had age- and risk-related doses more recently than a healthy teen.Redacted official CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card

Opting in for your bivalent booster dose is choosing life over death, wellness over infirmity, civic engagement over cynicism, and family values over selfishness. Vaccination protects our society by safeguarding both individual health and overall economic function; sick people are less productive.

I’m fully vaccinated—and boosted—because I love America, and because my religion teaches that life is a sacred gift.

What’s your reason?

When life gives you foghorns, count your blessings?

There are realities in every life utterly beyond anyone’s control. Consider the foghorn.

Under certain weather conditions, a ship has an obligation to blast its foghorn at regular intervals. It does so to keep the seas safe for other vessels.

When one sits on a deck in the vicinity of said sonic safety device, the resulting report can be… distracting… to say the least.

It startles me enough to make me jump the first several times at least that I hear a foghorn during any given hour. It is sufficiently loud that my instinct is to clap my hands over my ears like a toddler would. I tend to let out a nervous giggle with every sonorous report. Conversation must stop.

While on vacation, at sea, in the North Atlantic Ocean, we’ve encountered more than our fair share of fantastic conditions, but there have been plenty of overcast hours. As it happens, our favorite place to spend the non-wind-whipped ones has been a Retreat Cabana we reserved for our voyage. These amenities are situated on deck 12 of 14 of our temporary home-away-from-home.

From the sound of it, these otherwise luxurious rentals sit directly under the ship’s foghorn. Without a doubt, the source is nearer deck 12, forward, than our staterooms on deck 4, aft.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the frequency of the foghorn blasts was dictated by a ship’s speed or other specific conditions, but I know almost nothing about maritime rules. What I can say is that the foghorn sounds at an interval just long enough that one forgets it is coming, right up until it trumpets its way back into your ears and central nervous system.

My husband, it’s fair to say, is not a fan of the foghorn. He spends more time outdoors than I do, and he frequents the Cabana more often than I do. Thus far, he’s tried noise concealing headphones and foam earplugs to dull the noise and continue on with his work, but the distraction continues.

I’m absolutely sympathetic to the necessity and value of the foghorn, and all the other safety innovations that make a modern cruise safer than the maiden voyage of the Titanic. I hope this post comes across as something absolutely distinct from a compliant! That said, my heart kept stopping and my ears kept ringing on our foggy Cabana mornings, and I wasn’t sure that was optimal, either.

On about the third day that the foghorn menaced my peace of mind, I had an epiphany. It’s stentorian reverberations, after all, meant we continued on our way, all systems go, all of the important stuff quite right with our isolated little floating world.

I decided, with every foghorn blast, to adjust my reaction into counting my blessings.

Loud noises shut my eyes and often prompt me to clasp my hands at my heart. Why not follow that lead and take a moment in gratitude for the gift of safety, the ability to hear a warning offered with beneficent intentions, and the joy of my functional if reactive body?

I can’t say that the foghorn is my favorite aspect of traveling by sea, even so, but our relationship has improved.

I love the waves. I find the atmosphere and pace of cruising conducive to contemplation. I marvel every day aboard a ship at the luxury of having the time and funds to see the world this way.

And, now?

I hear the blast of a foghorn, and I’m reminded to count my blessings. They’re as myriad as the waves in the sea.

And, if occasionally obscured by the mist, my other faculties remain to offer clarity.

What’s a clarion blast if not a call to action?

What better action to take than finding the good in an inconvenience?

I still prefer a clear blue sky, but I’ll hearken to the value of the foghorn.

Travel laundry solutions, from bar to bottle

Every traveler should be prepared to do at least a little laundry before s/he reaches the end of the road.

Whether you’re a parent traveling with kids, a business traveler with a financial motive to look sharp, or an autoimmune sufferer like me whose arthritis causes you to unexpectedly fling things you’re attempting to hold in your weakened hands, a few minutes of immediate care can save a garment from destruction or at least degradation.

I have a few go to solutions for washing clothing away from my laundry room. It’s rare for me to leave home for even a single night without packing something I could use to attack a stain or wash out a pair of favorite socks to re-wear because they are the only ones that don’t seem unbearable in the moment.

Re-usable containers make every product travel sized

First, for anyone who keeps a cabinet full of reusable containers for lunches and leftovers, I respectfully submit that you can make your own travel size out of any preferred product. I think this is easily forgotten in our era of single serve options and packaging excess. Years ago, I bought single use packets of Woolite for travel because it simply never occurred to me to do anything different.

Obviously, one ought not put toxic chemicals into the same container used for food or drink. Either keep a dedicated set of bottles for cleaning supplies only, or, ideally, use non-toxic products to wash your clothes.

Those of us who deal with extreme sensitivities to fragrance or irritating contact dermatitis learn quickly that it can be uncomfortable or even dangerous to rely on products available in laundromats, at vacation rentals, or in friends’ homes.xyz toiletry kit Nalgene Pelican 1020 - 6

Nalgene bottles are dishwasher safe and can transport virtually any liquid used in the home. They’re pretty common in labs, too. I like to buy mine at REI because I’m a co-op member, but that sporting good store’s selection has narrowed of late probably due to pandemic supply chain issues.

The Container Store is another fine option for buying travel size bottles, especially if you live near one of these expensive but high service shops. I love that TCS has always offered curbside pickup service. For individual Nalgene bottles, their prices are competitive, but your eyes will water the first time you shop for closet organization accessories here.

Ranging from 1/2 oz up to 32 oz, Nalgene bottles run between $1.39 and $3.99 at The Container Store, the same as or similar to prices in sporting goods stores. I very much prefer the wide mouth version—shown below in its smallest size full of my SensiClean detergent—because they are easier to clean, but the narrow neck bottles are a usually few cents cheaper.

10¢ per bottle for the bigger opening is well worth it to me to make scrubbing out stubborn residue easier, but I also like to vary bottle styles to make it more obvious which is which when I’m packing a dozen products for my entire family. The multi-colored lids in Nalgene travel kits also make quick identification easier; Amazon seems to sell a kit of just colorful lids, though I don’t own that precise set.4 mL bottle as small as a pinkie, 8 mL is thumb sized around, and 1 oz Nalgene bottle with detergent, all held in one open hand

Here’s a perfect example of the more usual pricing level at The Container Store: a 2 oz travel size bottle of The Laundress Signature Detergent retails for $7.99.

Aside from my objection to even the fairly light floral scent of this particular product, why would anyone choose to pay more for a flimsy disposable bottle than a sturdy one made by Nalgene? If you like The Laundress detergent, refill your own Nalgene from a full size container at home! You’ll carry exactly as much cleaning fluid as you’ll need, spend less, and have a lower probability of awful luggage spills due to a crushed bottle or a flip-top malfunction.2 oz Signature Detergent trial size laundry soap in Ziploc in a woman's handWhy do I have a travel size bottle of The Laundress Signature Detergent, then, if I don’t care for it and it is so expensive? I received a mini set of their products as a gift-with-purchase, probably of closet organizers…

While a basic plastic sandwich bag—Ziploc or store brand—can be used to carry small quantities of detergent, I would advise anyone going that route to double bag it for obvious reasons. Disposable baggies aren’t really sturdy enough for this use, and detergent is gritty and abrasive. A disposable bag’s thin, flexible nature does make it superior to a reusable silicone* bag as an extra layer of security on top of a Nalgene bottle, though, in my opinion, when adding a bottle to a larger kit.

I also pack dish soap in a 1/2 oz. Nalgene Leakproof Dropper Bottle when I travel because, at a minimum, I always pack my own spork, coffee to-go cup, and a reusable water bottle. I like to keep them clean, and I often drop things. My mom told me once that using hand soap on dishes can make you sick, which I’m guessing is an urban legend or refers to antibacterial products that are no longer common, but I just plain prefer to wash stuff I’m about to stick in my mouth with my own brand of unscented dish washing liquid.

Dish soap can also work on stains; try it on greasy spills, ideally rubbed in with an old toothbrush. The amount of rinsing required can be frustrating while still wearing a soiled garment, however.

FYI: I sometimes apply a piece of tape to keep the Leakproof Dropper truly leak proof. I trust this style of lid less than I do a standard screw-top. I always carry Dropper top bottles inside a waterproof outer bag.

It is often possible to get a fair price on small Nalgene containers from Amazon, but costs vary from awesome to offensive; the good deals are almost always sets of a dozen or more and found in the Lab & Scientific Products category. The internet superstore has been my best source for my favorite travel toiletry choice: tiny 4 mL (1/8 ounce) and 8 mL (1/4 oz) bottles for short trips, carrying a few pills at a time, and for beauty products applied by the smidgen or drop.Cardboard box holding an assortment of small bottles from 1/8 oz to 4 oz in size

My collection of small travel containers includes brands other than Nalgene, but I don’t have perfect faith in all of them to resist leaks or breakage with reasonable care in handling.

How much laundry soap should you pack in your own container?

How much laundry soap should you pack for travel? That depends so much on the length of the trip, whether you will have access to machines, or whether you only intend to sink wash the occasional bit of lingerie.

As of July 2022, my two favorite laundry detergents to use at home are SensiClean liquid and Charlie’s Soap powder but only with the added Booster or a scoop of Borax in our hard water. Country Save detergent is another good brand for our sensitive skinned household, but it is less readily available locally.Small bottle filled with laundry detergent

For an upcoming multi-week trip, I’ll carry a small 1 oz bottle of SensiClean liquid detergent for occasional hand washing of delicate items.

My all-time-favorite cruise purchase is an unlimited wash-dry-and-fold package, but there are expensive delicates I won’t send to an industrial laundry unless I’m too sick to take care of them myself. For those, and in case my child’s eczema flares due to the ship’s laundry regimen, I’ll have a manual option to detox the layers he wears next to his sensitive skin.

If I were heading to a vacation rental with its own laundry machines, I would pack a roughly 1 cup/250 mL size plastic storage container of Charlie’s Soap for a stay of up to one month. A full load takes less than 1 Tbsp or ≅15 g of this highly concentrated detergent.

An added benefit is that, by storing concentrated, High Efficiency HE detergents in smaller containers after buying them in bulk, my family wastes less of them at home, too. The mere appearance of an industrial size jug seems to prompt people to take larger portions of everything.

For home use, I store a combination of Charlie’s Soap and Charlie’s Laundry Booster pre-mixed in a Lock & Lock HPL807 container that holds 1/2 a quart or 2 cups of powdered detergent. This will last two weeks for a family washing one load of laundry per day.

Fels-Naphtha laundry bar

If you don’t already have laundry detergent at home and you want to purchase one easy-to-travel-with product, consider a Fels-Naptha Laundry Bar & Stain Remover stick. It’s like bar soap, but for your clothes.

Though it’s often tucked away on the top or bottom shelf, I routinely find Fels-Naptha at local grocery and general merchandise stores in the laundry aisle. Amazon sells it, but mostly at a grossly inflated price or in large quantities since it is such a low cost item. At Walmart, it is listed for $1.20 as of July 2022 which is about what I’ve paid at a neighborhood shop.

The Fels-Naptha bar dates back to the 1890’s, though modern versions no longer contain toxic naphtha, a flammable carcinogen that was especially popular in cleaning products during the Great Depression.

Essentially a giant bar of soap/detergent in a paper wrapper, Fels-Naphtha can be carried on a trip by plane without the special handling required for liquids.Purex Fels-Naptha laundry bar in pristine new package

One of my kids has always claimed that Fels-Naptha looks delicious. It would be best to keep it—and all other cleaning products—well away from children too young or too silly to heed safety warnings.

Scanned directly from the package, below are the directions for use and ingredients printed on the wrapper for my perhaps ten year old bar of Fels-Naptha. One bar will last a very long time when used as a stain/spot pre-treatment!

Directions for Fels-Naptha

Stain Pre-treater:
  1. Wet stain, then rub with bar
  2. Wait 1 minute and wash as normal
Laundry Booster:
  1. Grate 1/16th into washer with detergent
  2. Wash as normal
Ingredients for (Modern) Fels-Naptha:

SOAP (SODIUM ALLOWATE* SODIUM COCOATE® (OR) SODIUM PALMATE KERNELATE: AND SODIUM PALMATE). WATER, TALC, DIPENTENE, COCONUT ACID*. PALM ACID*, TALLOW ACID* PEG- METHYL ETHER, GLYCERIN, SODIUM CHLORIDE, PENTASODIUM PENTETATE AND/OR TEIRASODIUM  TIDRONATE, TITANIUM DIOXIDE, TRICLOCARBAN, FRAGRANCE, ACID ORANGE 24. ACID YELLOW 73 *CONTAINS ONE OR MORE OF THESE INGREDIENTS

Like most detergents, you should avoid getting Fels-Naptha directly in your eyes or otherwise prolonging skin contact.

The Fels-Naptha bar was one of the first laundry products I taught my kids to use by themselves. Because you just wet the fabric with the stain then rub the wet spot with the bar, my kids were expected to rub some onto any grass stains on their knees when they came home from school. By the upper elementary grades, they did this unsupervised.

Because of endemic Lyme disease in our area and our primary school’s emphasis on time spent outdoors, my kids did a tick check and changed clothes immediately after getting home from grade school. There were a lot of grass stained knees during those years.Fels-Naptha wrapper and detergent in a Ziploc baggie with laundry stains scrawled on in

My Fels-Naptha bar has one end of the wrapper torn off and lives in a tattered Ziploc sandwich bag under the bathroom sink. Though I’m exquisitely sensitive to fragrance and one of my kids has severe eczema, I’ve never observed an adverse reaction triggered by Fels-Naptha as a spot treatment, not even when the eczema-prone kid spot-treats his own clothes.

I did teach my kids to hold the bar through the plastic baggie, though, and to wash their hands after handling it or any other cleaning products.Fels Naptha bar with a chunk cut off on a red cutting board with serrated knife in picture, scattered crumbs around the stub

For an upcoming trip, I finally tried something I’ve been meaning to do for a while: I cut off about an inch of Fels-Naptha from my big bar with a kitchen knife so I could pack the smaller sliver. It wasn’t the tidiest operation ever, but my arthritic hands managed the job, and now I have a perfect stain stick to pack for travel.

I saved the Fels-Naptha shards created by hacking away with a serrated knife. As indicated in the directions above, grated Fels-Naptha works as a laundry booster/additive. I dropped those bits of detergent in my front loader and used a bit less soap than normal in my next load of towels.

I can’t say for certain whether Fels-Naptha works better or worse than my mother’s old standby of Spray & Wash or the Shout Stain Removing Gel I use myself when pre-treating laundry right before putting it in the washer. The truth is, I wasn’t going to chase my kids every day after school looking for dirty spots, and the Fels-Naptha was the only product I felt comfortable letting them use on their own.

It was less that I feared a Spray & Wash injury, and more because I could imagine a mess if that liquid spilled, or if over-spray damaged a delicate item sitting nearby. My Shout Gel doesn’t have bleach in it, but it does warn about the potential to discolor khakis or brights, so passing it to the wee punks seemed like a bad idea.Baggie wrapped around Fels Naptha stump in wrapper in

Most families could make use of a Fels-Naptha bar for stains, and I find it much longer lasting and less likely to make a mess than other spot cleaning solutions. The Tide Pen form factor is great, but I’ve found those dry out or get lost before I use them up, and they cost more per pen than an entire bar of Fels-Naptha.

With the bar carved down to a small piece, I’ve got a travel sized stain stick that won’t leak, won’t irritate my family’s skin, and fits in the palm of my hand.

Reisetube detergent may be familiar to European shoppers

On a laundry forum once—and, yes, now we all know I’m the kind of slob who has the gall to visit laundry forums!—I read about a product one lady picked up every time she want to Europe: detergent in a Reisetube.Screen Shot German word Reisetube

The next time I passed through Germany, I bought some for myself. The brand I found was Burti Waschmittel Reisetube. This particular product is vegan.

My reisetube was inexpensive in a supermarket, but it isn’t obviously available in the USA so far as I can tell; Amazon.de has it. On Amazon.com, I found a similar product, Rei in der Tube which is also a German import. At $9 for only 30 mL, however, it strikes me as too expensive, and disposable tubes are inherently hard to refill, thus generating a lot of garbage if used often

It must be said that, aside from the environmental impact, this may be a perfect form factor for travel detergent. Gel seems more soluble in hard water than powder. Unlike liquid in a jug or bottle, gel also seems less likely to leak or drip out of its tube in transit.

My Burti Waschmittel Reisetube has a very slight scent, but it doesn’t bother me after my garments dry. I have not used this on my eczema prone child’s clothing enough to have an opinion as to whether it irritates his skin. I’ve found that most German detergents I try work very well, but have more fragrance added than I’m happy with.

What most people call perfume, I describe as “stink.”

As with a Fels-Naptha bar, a reisetube might be the best single purchase for a traveler who doesn’t stock a home laundry room with products to refill personal containers.

Final verdict on best travel laundry form factor for most

The best option for most travelers is packing one’s own usual preferred detergent in reusable containers. Unless you live in an area with exceptionally hard or soft water, actually necessitating a change when visiting places with different conditions, you’ve likely gone through the trial and error to find the best cleaning products for your own use.

You know what you like; you’ll probably prefer the same product on vacation or away from home on business.

People with a cupboard full of Tupperware or other lidded containers may well already have exactly the right size on hand to fill with detergent for longer trips. Those who travel often should probably invest in a few small Nalgene bottles or tubs to dedicate to liquid or powder detergent.

Another important piece of advice: an unlabeled container leads to waste, in my experience. No matter how convinced I am that I’ll recall what’s inside each bottle, I end up forgetting, sometimes discarding a product because I’m no longer certain what it is or how old it is. Even Scotch tape works; for best results, label everything immediately after filling!

Travelers who don’t do their own laundry at home would do best to purchase either a Fels-Naptha bar or a reisetube to carry on trips, depending upon whether s/he often encounters liquid restrictions at TSA checkpoints. The former is slightly better for spot treatment; the latter is easier to use in a hotel room sink for hand washing delicates.

*I like Stasher brand bags, especially the Stand Up- Mini and -Mid for travel, but they’re too thick to individually wrap separate bottles as I prefer for certain particularly messy liquids. I do wash and re-use disposable Ziploc bags for travel, however, and I would absolutely use a Stand Up Mini to store detergent by my washing machine at home for long term use.

SensiClean is also sold under the name SportWash. The maker is Atsko. I have purchased these products direct as well as from Amazon and sporting goods stores.

SportWash is available in more sizes than SensiClean, but both are “residue free” detergents. That benefits people with sensitive skin, but also hunters who have learned that common household products leave them with a distinctly unnatural chemical odor that chases their prey away.

I label mine with my beloved Brother P-touch PT-1400, but tape and a Sharpie work almost as well if you aren’t being graded on neatness. Standard TZ Tape labels compatible with P-touch printers last through at least a few dishwashing cycles in my experience; Extra Strength Adhesive Tape TZ Tapes persevere even longer. 

If buying a label maker for the first time, I suggest selecting a model that can use tapes at least 1 inch wide. I picked up a different Brother model at Costco as a gift for my mother years ago, and both of us experienced a lot of annoyance that hers could only use the narrower 1/2 inch TZ Tapes.Brother PT-1400 label maker with Extra Strength adhesive TZ-tape package

Is one’s first cane a milestone? My HurryCane story

Is it a milestone when one first acquires a cane? There’s no blank to enter that data point in my baby book. Should infirmity be an addendum to my wedding album?

Purple aluminum HurryCane walking stick freestanding on a wood floorWhat I wouldn’t give for the event in question to be possession of the sword cane—yes, exactly that object of awesomeness you are imagining, where a bona fide sword emerges from a carved wooden stick!—handed down from my paternal grandmother’s second husband’s estate to my parents…

But—alas!—no, the cane I’ve acquired is a modern aluminum number. I needed it because my knee simply would Not. Stop. Giving. Out. One minute, we’re taking steps as always, the next: a lucky catch at the top of the stairs that left my heart pounding.

Thanks for the excitement, autoimmune disease!

I opted for a HurryCane (Model HCANE-PR-C2) because it was the only purple option available for immediate delivery from the nearest chain pharmacy. With the heretofore reliable knee deciding to dictate for itself whether it would bear weight or not, I didn’t have time to wait for delivery by UPS or another common carrier.

Not even Amazon-speed delivery would do! I needed support ten minutes ago.HurryCane folds for carrying or storage

With effectively zero knowledge of canes aside from a firm grounding on correct usage on the side opposite the bad joint—thank you, television reruns of House plus sitting in on a single one of Dad’s PT sessions after total knee replacement—I worried that a collapsible cane would be wobbly or otherwise not sturdy.

This fear was unfounded. Once the elastic strap releases the HurryCane’s three sections and each narrow end slots into its wider receptacle, the interior elastic pulls the entire stick firmly together, and my not particularly insignificant weight is borne with ease.

There’s no wobble to my HurryCane.

Weighing in at exactly 1 lb (455 g), the HurryCane is less stressful on my generally tender wrists than I feared a stick might be.

Historically, I’d wondered if a walking stick might make getting around easier, yet I feared stress on my small joints from carrying one. My large joints have tended to behave themselves more often than my tiny ones. This week’s experience of sudden failure was a novel one. My fingers or my toes typically give out first.

I thought toting a stick would add to my hands’ burden. Since I can dangle it from a wrist by its strap—or leave the HurryCane standing alone on a firm, flat floor—it has been perfectly fine to use around my house. Until I take it on my upcoming trip, I won’t have any commentary about using it outdoors or on uneven ground.screen shot of delivery order showing Walgreens knee compression sleeve and HurryCane for $39.95

If I’d had time to wait for Amazon delivery, I could’ve spent a mere $34 there for my HurryCane (±$2 for alternate colors), whereas Walgreens charged $39.95 regardless of the choice of black, purple, blue, or red.

Ordering direct, the official list price is given as $69.95, but the actual direct sale price is also $39.95; they do sell limited edition colors and discounted bundles at HurryCane’s own site, so check there first if your favorite color isn’t one of the four standards or you if plan to buy in bulk and color coordinate your cane to all your outfits.

A knee compression sleeve was my doctor’s advice, and I couldn’t wait two days for that to arrive, either.

I did end up ordering a second knee compression brace from Amazon that fit much better than the simple black neoprene tube my pharmacy stocked… once the adjustable one arrived.

Since it cost $20 more than the basic Walgreens model, I’m very glad that it did exhibit superior performance. Following the doctor’s advice to use compression on the affected joint was the most important factor in healing my knee, however, and the Walgreens garment did do the job with an occasional need to tug it back up sooner than the mail order one ever could.Amazon sales page for Neenca knee brace costing $27.99 for size XL

If you have a heavy thigh and a distinct size difference between the leg above and below your knee, you might also prefer the Neenca velcro knee compression sleeve. The Neenca wears somewhat cooler during a heatwave than the tube style Walgreens brace, but both felt hot when temps topped 90º F. Suffering begets more suffering!

When a body part as integral to movement as a knee acts up, any immediate solution is often more useful than the late-arriving ideal one. I was darn near delighted to see the DoorDash driver pull up with my pharmacy package that day.

There’s little more to say about the HurryCane beyond it’s timeliness when I needed it and its suitability to my needs. I do enjoy the ridiculous wordplay of its nomenclature.

As if any aluminum stick has the power to turn those of us who need one back into a Tasmanian Devil style tsunami of energy and motion!HurryCane next to ruler showing it is a few inches beyond 12" long folded

Then, too, the HurryCane does come with a rather minimal “carrying case; I suppose that’s worth a mention. It’s a thin poly or nylon pouch, “secured” shut by an inch of Velcro on the open end. There’s no handle or drawstring for the pouch.

After a few days’ use, I feel confident I will soon toss the useless sack, but the wrist strap attached to the cane itself works well enough to drag the stick along if I’m not actively leaning on it. Between the compression brace and the cane, my knee did seem to recover quickly over the following few days, and I did not need to report to the doctor for a steroid injection this time.

Folded up, the HurryCane measures about 15″ long. The base is wide enough to stand on its own on even surfaces; its three points form an equilateral triangle about 4″ on a side. The handle is 5 long, feels ergonomically curved in my hand, and is more rigid than giving or spongy.

Standing about 5′ 3 tall, I use the HurryCane at its lowest setting. It turns out most female users of canes use the wrong size. Follow sizing directions on the packaging or online using this WikiHow article or get help from a physical therapist if using a stick for support for the first time.

Many people use the wrong size cane, and I read somewhere that women are more likely to fall with an overly long cane than without any assistive device at all though that appears to be an open question.

Speaking for myself, putting a compression sleeve on my recalcitrant knee and offloading some of my walking weight to an aluminum cane seemed to give my complaining joint the support it needed to heal. I hope I won’t need my HurryCane again for a long time, but I’ll find a place for it in my closet.

Autoimmune disease offers nothing so readily as new ways to be baffled by one’s own body.

In truth, my dad did use the sword cane to get around for a brief period after each of his knee surgeries. I lived in fear, because I was pretty darn sure going to the grocery store with a concealed sword is not legal in this day and age. Fortunately, Dad’s an introvert, like me, so he was happy for me to do all the shopping, and he didn’t take the cane/weapon outside the house much.

It is probable that Dad was just amusing himself with my horror at the idea of him using the sword cane in public. He’s an attorney, so more aware of the law than most, and that sounds like something he’d find funny.

The cane stands easily with no fiddly adjustment necessary on hardwood and tile. It will usually balance on the low pile carpet we have in a few rooms, but generally tips over on my plusher bedroom carpeting. In the bedroom, I hang it over the knob on the back of a chair to keep it in a convenient and useful position when I go to sleep.