spreadsheets and suitcases

organization + travel = family fun

8:07-8:45a, 1/13/18

This screenshot from my cell phone, plus the message, “We just received this message from the Civil Defense.  We are all together in the house.”


That’s what my parents, my sister, and my daughter’s father received from me at 8:12am Saturday.  I had woken up due to the distinctive sounds of the cellular emergency alert- Hawaii residents have heard it quite a few times over the years, due to tsunami warnings, hurricane watches, and flash floods.  I opened my eyes and read it, then stared at the message uncomprehendingly.  It felt like minutes went by but it must have been seconds.  I yelled at my husband to read it, yelled for the children to come to my bedroom, turned on the TV, and sent that message to my loved ones.

After a few moments of chaos in the house, closing the windows and shutting the doors, we all settled into my bed.  We did a short explanation of what was happening to the kids.  I desperately searched the channels for anyone offering more information.  My brain was pushing forth random bits of knowledge: the local news said a few weeks ago that we would have about 15 minutes available if a missile was launched from North Korea and aimed toward Hawaii; that if it were possible to aim such a device precisely, they were split on whether it would head toward the Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor with all the military presence or toward Waikiki for maximum loss of life; that if it were nuclear, then all bets were off; that I hadn’t heard the new sirens that went into effect 2 months ago; that I needed to add some things to my “throw in our bag if we have to evacuate” list; that now nearly 10 minutes had gone by and no one was saying a damn thing on TV.  It was 8:22am.

I tried to quiet all these thoughts as I explained to my DD that we had the recommended amount of bottled water and canned food in the apartment, plus a crank radio and candles, and where all those things were.  I told her that our living trust and wills were updated, with my parents and sister having a copy of everything they would need to access our life insurance and other important documents.  I said all this and dimly thought that I could be proud of having done so without breaking down. At first I thought I had started crying, but it was DD.  Her phone was buzzing nonstop, her friends all expressing how much they loved her and each other.

I realized that I hadn’t said “I love you,” in the message to my family.  I decided to do so once some news outlet confirmed this nightmare for me.  I figured I would start with a voice message recorded on WhatApp so the “I love you” could be preserved and uninterrupted.  Then I would call, and go through the whole situation and answer their questions.  It was now 8:27am.

I was mentally writing a script when several things happened.  My husband’s phone started pinging with Facebook messages, screenshots of Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard’s tweet saying that it had been a false alarm.  My own phone started buzzing with texts to the same effect.  Finally, a local news network interrupted the college basketball game we had muted in the background to report on the story.  They were leading with Gabbard’s tweet, and also expressing surprise that no official retraction/correction had been made, well past the time we would have all been attacked.  People were floating stories of possible hackers to the system, Pearl Harbor-style early warnings that shouldn’t be ignored this time, and impact/fallout survival basics.

Finally, at 8:45am, we received the official “false alarm” message.  It made little impact to my state of mind.  OK, false alarm, but of what?  Had something been in fact launched, but shot down before reaching us?  Was it an asteroid headed our way that set off the warning system on some satellite?  How could this have happened?  Where we just supposed to have a normal Saturday now?

I decided that no one was leaving the house that day, and we cautiously left the bedroom.  I talked to my parents on the phone, and texted my sister on and off.  At one point or another, all 4 of us had splitting headaches.  I made chicken quesadillas for lunch, my son’s favorite “crispy fish” for dinner.  We watched our favorite funny movie, “Big Business,” which contains this line that makes me belly laugh every time.

My son was a little harder to settle for bed that night, needing some music and his sister to be in the room before falling asleep.  I talked to one of my best friends from college on the phone, and she made me feel better by saying that she’s trying to come for a visit sometime this year.  I did some trip research and booked our London hotel (Crowne Plaza- King’s Cross) with IHG points.  There is a Platform 9 3/4 store there in the terminal, plus a fun photo op!  This improved my state of mind.  But I knew the nighttime would be rough.

And I was right.  I was terrified to sleep, thinking about waking up tomorrow to same situation, Groundhog Day style.  I hadn’t cried yet, and was waiting for it to hit me.  I delayed as long as I could, and finally drifted off after 3am.

Today was Sunday, and as it happened, I had a rare weekend day to myself.  DD had a school event for extra credit, and DH/DS were off to watch the Sony Open (a golf tournament).  With my time, I made our weekly bread, cleaned the house a bit, exercised, read, worked on a puzzle, etc.  I was feeling OK.  But it finally hit me as I was washing the dishes.  Reader, I cried.  I sobbed.  It will take a long time for me to come back mentally from holding my kids and husband close while planning the last conversation I would ever have with my parents/sister.  And I was lucky- we were all home!  If this had been a few weeks ago, or a few weeks in the future, we might have all been scattered around town, at baseball games, theatre rehearsals, or work.

All this distress over a warning system that had to be put in place over what amounts to a dick-measuring contest between 2 imbéciles.  

It’s now been confirmed that the whole false alarm thing was down to human error, which occurred during routine testing of the system.  So, now we know it works, which is a positive.  But, should there be a next time, I wonder how many will take it as seriously as they did this time?

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Happy Anniversary to Meeeeeeeeeeeee!

So today is the 1-year anniversary of this blog! Some fun numbers:

  • I’ve published 54 life-changing posts <snort>
  • More than 1,700 people have Visited the blog, leading to over 2,500 Views
  • The most popular Categories are Planning and Theme Parks (posts tagged in those categories get the most Views)
  • Friendly people and evil spambots from over 60 countries have stopped by my teeny-tiny corner of the internet
  • I’ve paid the domain name renewal fee, so we’re good for at least another year!

Some blog goals for the next 12 months:

  • have my husband do a guest post after our Disney trip
  • be able to write posts from anywhere after I get a smartphone in a few weeks
  • continue to post about deals that truly benefit Hawaii residents
  • increase Views and Visitors!  I’d love to see more comments as well 🙂

Here’s a time capsule paragraph for when we look back at this post 1 year from now…

My family and I are less than 100 days away from my little boy’s 1st trip to WDW, and I’m putting the finishing touches on the planning spreadsheet as I get ready to make FP+ reservations.  Our next big trip will be to the East Coast in November 2016 for my daughter’s Quinceañera- planning on using miles for that, so expect blog postings re: redemptions beginning in December 2015.  I may try to sneak in a Neighbor Island trip in the spring, too, because I can’t bear the thought of a year going by without setting foot on a plane.  And we’re definitely due for a Europe trip within the next 2 years.  I will continue to accumulate as many miles and points as possible to make it easier to show my kids the world!

Thanks for reading!




So, even though this blog is on The Internet, I’m actually a very low-tech kind of person.  I own a film camera, only really started texting heavily within the last year, I use a paper calendar/daily planner, and I don’t own a smartphone.  I know!  Lest you think I’m actually stuck in the Dark Ages or tapping this out via Morse Code, I do own an iPod Touch, so I have access to some apps.  But I can only use them when I’m home and connected to my Wi-Fi.

I realize I’m missing out on some smartphone-esque ways to plan travel, like the TripIt app to keep all those confirmation emails in one place, or the AwardWallet app to manage hotel loyalty/frequent flyer memberships and expiration dates, and many, many, more.

The thing is, I really enjoy doing it this way.  Organization relaxes me.  Arranging and rearranging itineraries is one of my favorite ways to pass an evening (especially if some trashy reality TV is on in the background).  My trip process is usually as follows:

  1. decide where to go (can be a general region, such as D.C., or specific place, such as Disney World)
  2. begin a new spreadsheet and name the trip (remember to use a kicky font)
  3. go to the library for tour guides
  4. research and start spreadsheeting; this includes changing my mind eleventy billion times about every aspect of the trip, and complaining at least half that many times about having to fly over water
  5. begin to confirm hotels, rental cars, flights, etc. and print out the confirmations for my trip planning binders

    The lowest of all possible techs

    The lowest of all possible techs

  6. obsessively coordinate the information in the binders and spreadsheets (remember, I enjoy this process!)
  7. talk my husband’s ear off about my plans record my adventures on this blog 🙂
  8. print final itineraries for everyone on the trip to keep in their wallets (husband), crumpled in their pockets or forgotten altogether (the tween), neatly posted on the fridge (my parents), or carried in the binder like a huge nerd (me!)
  9. enjoy the trip, knowing I’ve done all I can to squeeze in lots of Fun stuff
  10. refer to previous trip planning materials so I can do it all over again for the next voyage


You, dear reader, can use whatever resources you wish to make the most out of each trip.  The nice thing is, there are lots of right ways to do it.  Even if all you do it create a new folder in your inbox (“Tour of Toledo 2014”) to contain all the confirmation info, you are ahead of the game organization-wise.  The most important thing is to go somewhere.  I’ll leave you with a quote that I love.

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”



Yay, first post!

Welcome to Spreadsheets and Suitcases!  My blog will focus on organization and family travel, with an emphasis on trip planning, travel options for Hawaii residents, and using points/miles to reduce trip costs.

Some background: I’m a married mom living in Honolulu and I have 2 kids who are 9 years apart in age, which is a challenge and also a lot of fun.  My unpopular opinion about living in “paradise” is that I mostly dislike it!  I hate being in the sun, I have never been interested in the beach, and it annoys me that I need to fly 2500 miles to see something besides palm trees.  Why do we live here then?  The simple answer is that my husband has a very secure job that he loves and is difficult to relocate while keeping the same benefits.  So, we are here, and I spend a lot of time figuring out ways to get us to South America, the US mainland, and Europe with minimal fuss.

I have a regular full-time job by day, so I’ll be writing my posts mostly at night, HST.  Follow along if you are interested in knowing:

  • how I set up my spreadsheet tabs and formulas for each kind of trip
  • special considerations for traveling with toddlers and tweens
  • how people in Hawaii can use airline routing rules and calendars to their advantage
  • all the details that are going into planning my next 2 trips: Ecuador and Disney World

And finally, a note about why we travel: so I can see my family and teach my kids to be proud of their South American heritage, so my husband and I can visit the East Coast where we both grew up, so we can all experience the magic of Disney time and again, and because I believe that traveling is the most effective way to learn how to be a good person.

Thanks for reading!

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