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Last November, according to New York City’s Department of Consumer Affairs, 14% of luggage scales at the airport were wrongly calibrated. So, if your airline tells you your bag is too heavy (and charges you an even heftier fine), it could be their mistake. Here’s what to do to prevent overweight charges: ** 1. Weigh your bags at home. Either put them on your bathroom scale, or get a hand-held luggage scale (like the Travelon from Bed Bath & Beyond). Try to stay more than a pound or two below the limit. ** 2. Be polite and stand your ground. If your bags were under the limit at home but the airport scale disagrees, don’t lose your cool. Ticketing agents deal with a lot of stress over the holidays and an attitude isn’t going to win you any points. Kindly say that you weighed your bags at home, and they were under the limit. Then, ask the agent to use another scale. ** 3. Take something out. If the second scale says your bag is still overweight, try taking out a piece of clothing, like a jacket or something else you can wear or take in your carry-on. — Bonnie Bonnie Caton Great Escape Publishing P.S. When I went to Ecuador last August, I brought an empty suitcase with me to stock up on gifts for myself and my family. I had this idea that I’d bring back enough stuff to start my own little import/export business, too. But I ended up filling my entire bag with things just for me (oops). You can see pictures of some of the things I bought below, but you should know that: 1) Import/export is a great way to earn money from your travels; 2) you don’t need to start a “real” business to fill up a suitcase full of goods and make enough money to cover your airfare; 3) Ecuador is a great place to start because everything is so cheap; and 4) if you end up filling your bag with goods just for you, it’s not such a bad thing (right?). And here are some pictures of the kinds of things I brought back with me from Ecuador. Just to give you an idea of what you might pick up yourself if you’re thinking about joining us in Ecuador this February for our Photography & Spanish Immersion Expedition… MY FAVORITE: Here’s the piece de resistance of my trip. I bought this wool poncho in Cotacachi from the woman who knits them: She had boxes overflowing with her hand-made sweaters, ponchos, zip-ups, baby clothes, hats, scarves, gloves, etc. in different colors. This poncho is soft, thick, and very warm… perfect for the cold fall in Oregon. And the best part is… you can find an “Haute Hippie Chunky Wool” poncho for sale at Nordstrom.com for $495. I got this one for around $17. FOR MY KITCHEN: I bought these three small (3” x 4”) paintings, again, directly from the artist: Done in the traditional Latacunga style, each painting tells a story and includes important elements to the Quechua people of the area — like the volcano, the condor, the alpaca, plants used in medicine and daily life, the flute, and family. They’re a colorful accent to my kitchen and a fun reminder of my trip. $5 each. FOR EVERYDAY WEAR: I bought this silver bracelet in the Otavalo market from a man who makes them by hand: The design on the clasp represents a rain drop (fitting for my life in Portland). Other designs included trees, mountains, ocean, and other natural elements. I bargained around $11 for it. GREAT GIFTS: I’m partial to scarves, so I bought these all for myself. They make nice gifts, too, though: One is sheep’s wool, one is alpaca, and one is cotton/synthetic. I get lots of compliments on the blue one. And I paid $3 to $12 each. AN EXPERIMENT: The woman who sold me this cheery frame in Otavalo learned the traditional painting style from her father: I turned it into a kitchen chalkboard with some pressboard and chalkboard paint from Home Depot. You can get hand-made chalkboards on Etsy.com for around $100. This one cost less than $25 and I spent more on the pressboard and paint than I did on the hand-painted frame. Between the fun I had talking with the locals, the amazing countryside and villages I photographed, the natural foods I enjoyed, and the once-in-a-lifetime shaman ceremony I experienced (and got amazing photos of), Ecuador blew my expectations away. I hope to go back. [Editor’s Note: Learn more about how you can turn your pictures into cash in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.  Sign up here today and we’ll send you a new report, Selling Photos for Cash: A Quick-Start Guide, completely FREE.]

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