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2012 has been an exciting year – one that has taken me to 11 countries and six domestic cities. Here are the top five posts that you all deemed the most worthy of reading throughout the year. Allow me to get misty eyed and thank you for all the comments, “likes” and views this year. I look forward to more adventures in 2013 and cannot wait to share with all of you.
This journey from last January took us to Cancun of yesteryear, where girls strip down to the very bare minimum and beefcake dudes line up to drink tequila out of their belly buttons. It makes me smile that my readers found this to be the most popular post.
Not surprisingly, my encounter with my hero (and the hero of many of my readers, I’m sure) was worthy of your attention.
We all have been to the airport, so we all know just how much of a hassle they can be. Plus, everyone likes reading complaint pieces where they get to say, “oh yes, that is soooo true!”
I don my snark cap and tell you that those restaurants with the $$$$ rating just aren’t that worth it.
Every summer I make a list of the top 50 things in New York that I would love do between Memorial Day and Labor Day. You all came along on that journey with me this summer. I hope you were able to create some memories of your own!
In Moby Dick, Ishmael starts out by telling us that whenever he grows grim about the mouth, and he feels like knocking people’s hats off, he gets to the sea as soon as he can. Well, Ish, I hear you. Except for me, I take to the road.
It’s been a rough few weeks, friends. Yours truly hasn’t felt quite like herself, and frankly, has felt quite grim about the mouth. So, it seemed like as good a time as any to take to the road. I’m off to Stowe, Vermont for the weekend to clear my head, catch up with one of my oldest friends and to check out the Stowe Mountain Lodge. It promises to be full of mountain vistas, a touch of pampering, and some tasty eats – everything you need at the end of a long journey to make you forget why you left in the first place.
So here, my friends, is my essential guide for road trips. In my years of road trip experience, I’ve found that this is everything you need to make sure you get from Point A to Point B in true chilled-out style.
1. Perfected Playlist
There is an art to a road trip playlist. The key is to not try to impress anyone. Now is not the time to show off your alternative taste. I don’t need to hear your bootleg Velvet Underground track off the B side of a record that no one ever heard of. Stick to the classics: ’80s, ’90s, classic rock, and a few guilty pleasures. And you need a balance of fast and slow. It can’t be all about bringing the party up to speed. There must be a few sappy ballads or emo contemplative melodies to bring you and your companions into a pensive mood. Because what is a “find yourself” road trip without a little contemplation?
2. Physical Maps
I love my iPhone as much as the next girl, and yes, in the days of GPS travel has certainly become more convenient. But let me tell you: cell reception sometimes fails you, and your GPS does not have everything. Printing out or buying physical maps allows you to see the roads laid out in front of you. If you want to take a scenic detour, you can actually see where the two-lane highways join back up with the interstates. Let’s take a trip back to the Stone Age, friends. Join me. It’s quite comfortable.
Sometimes, sh*t happens, and when it does it’s always best to have cash on hand. That gas station in Eastern Middle of Nowhere may not have a pump that accepts credit cards. ATMs could be out of service. Anything, really, is possible. It’s always best to be prepared. Note: I’m going to lump “jumper cables” into this category as well. The point is, just be ready for anything.
4. Crank-Reducing Snacks
I can’t stress the importance of this. I could tell you about the time I got lost driving through the Battle of Vicksburg site in Mississippi, on the brink of starvation, and I almost tossed my companion out of the car until we made it through and found a Cracker Barrel. This could have been easily avoided by the presence of snacks. When on a road trip, you need something tasty that will stay delicious at room temperature, and not cause you to become overly thirsty (which results in numerous bathroom breaks). You also need to be able to eat it with one hand, assuming you are driving. Nothing sloppy or runny. Sorry BBQ chicken sandwich on a roll..you need to stay at home.
5. Comfy Clothing
If you are going to be sitting in the same position, possibly eating, for more than three hours, you can leave the skin-tight jeans and heels at home. A flexible material and flats (or go barefoot!), along with a somewhat baggy shirt is the optimal driving uniform. Guys have it a little easier, since they seem to dress more comfortably anyway.
6*: This addendum is for the true road tripper. I’ve said it before, but the book Road Trip USA is the ultimate driving companion. It has a list of America’s most picturesque two-lane highways, and where you can stop along the way for local culture, flavor and color.
Is there anything greater than a nice hotel? I mean a really nice hotel – the kind with 27 throw pillows on the bed and heated bathroom floors (because god forbid your feet get cold). Having said that, there are certain aspects to even the best hotel that, when lacking, can render the journey more of an annoyance than an indulgence. Here are my top five hotel pet peeves.
I understand that the vacation is supposed to begin immediately upon arrival - I really do, and I appreciate that. But perhaps the bellman culture is one that society can gracefully retire. My bag has wheels. It’s really not that much of an effort for me to drag it into the elevator and then into my room. If the bellman is insistent, I’m usually then waiting 25 minutes for my luggage to arrive and then on top of all of that, I need to tip the guy who brought me what didn’t really need to leave my sight in the first place.
2. Access Denied
It’s time to upgrade the technology of room keys. Some of these keys are so sensitive that they need to come with instruction manuals (and therapists). “Don’t put the key next to a credit card, or near a hot surface, or in your pocket.” Thank you for making the key so slim that it could fit into my wallet, but if everything in my wallet is going to deactivate it I’d rather just have a regular key. I’m not a fan of wandering to the front desk in the wee hours of the morning because my room key decided it didn’t like the way I spoke to it.
This may seem small, but no outlets near the bedside table is my number one pet peeve. I am sure that 90 percent of you bring your laptops into bed (for whatever late-night browsing you may be doing – I’m not here to judge). Having a spot to plug that puppy into that is close by is essential. And even if you aren’t a late-night laptopper, having your cell phone within arms reach is just a given in this 24/7 digital world. No one wants to walk across the room to respond to a text message.
This will surely receive a resounding “duh.” First and foremost, if a hotel doesn’t even have wi-fi I’m not sure I would even stay there (unless it’s one of those ‘unplugged couples-retreaty’ resorts meant for gazing longingly at one another. But I’m 24; that ain’t happening). So let’s assume that most hotels do have wi-fi, in which case, the problem would be charging for it. If it’s a luxury hotel, my issue is that I’ve shelled out an arm and a leg to be there. Certain amenities should be included. Even if it is your regular mid-market brand, how much does wi-fi really cost that you need to charge me $30 a day for it (at least)?
5. Ever-Present Housekeeping
I used to think I just had poor timing, until I chatted with other avid hotel visitors who share a similar gripe. Housekeeping is ALWAYS around! First they are knocking on my door at 8 a.m. (I’m on vacation…go away.) Then they come back around at 10 am. (I’m still not up.) When I do leave my room, perhaps to go to the pool, and then come back to change, there they are detailing my entire bathroom with a Q-tip. How dirty do you think I made this bathroom in the two days I have been here? I really just need the bed made and the trash taken out. That will earn you a lovely tip. No need for the above-and-beyond.
Call me crazy, but I genuinely enjoy an airport experience. Honestly, if you budget your time well, what’s not to like? Get there early, go through security stress free, park yourself at the bar to get your buzz and snack on before boarding. Boom. Easy…
…most of the time.
It’s a good idea in theory, but unfortunately for most, airports are a frenetic mess of neuroses and paranoia causing otherwise intelligent individuals to turn into bumbling, confused morons. Here is a look at some of the worst airport behavior. If you are a culprit, you have been warned.
1. Security Sh*t-Storm
This encompasses a myriad of behaviors, none of which will come as a surprise to most travelers. What in theory is a simple concept becomes a harried nightmare. The plan is simple: 1. Grab bin. 2. Remove shoes, outerwear, laptop and metal from your person. 3. Proceed through metal detector. 4. Grab your belongings and move on. It’s your basic assembly line mentality, and one that is uniform across all airports. But somehow, that guy leaves his iPad in its case, the fashionista is wearing shoes with padlocks that take forever to remove, and the little old couple couple doesn’t realize that belt buckles are made of metal. All of this said, the number one issue on a security line is the guy (or gal) who puts all of their belongings back together without moving aside, causing a backup through the metal detector of epic proportions. Please be kind and remove your bins to dress yourself at one of the numerous benches provided outside the screening area.
2. The Moving Walkway Controversy
I have nothing against the lazy. I am the lazy. But if you feel the need to stand on the moving walkway…I just don’t know how to deal with you. I understand that it may feel luxurious to begin your vacation at the airport, but seriously. Have a cocktail. Spring for the business lounge. If you need to stand still on a flat surface and be transported Aladdin/Magic Carpet-style across a 50-foot stretch, I will judge, mock and wish heavy delays upon you.
3. Respect the Zone
I know many of you feel that boarding with your designated zone is too much like living in a dictatorship. We’re all going to the same place, right? What’s the big deal? I’ll tell you. When people board outside of their designated zones, the overhead space fills up. When it comes time for those to board who actually waited until the appropriate point, there is suddenly no more overhead space and those that specifically packed carry-on luggage are forced to check their bags. Having said that, if you have already checked your bags then go ahead. You cut that line. You won’t hear a peep out of me.
4. A Solitary Activity
Is anyone else nervous when waiting to see who they are sitting next to on a flight? Do you wait with a strange anticipation to find out if the seat next to you will be occupied by the attractive, young stranger or the chatty elderly woman with a small phonebook of grandchildren? For me it’s always intriguing to see who I will be sharing the journey with. But that doesn’t mean I want to talk to whoever sits down next to me. I’ll make due with the pleasant “Hi, how are you?” with a nice smile. But beyond that, there’s no need for chitchat. Sometimes it works out well (like that time I sat next to NHL rookie Ian Cole). Other times…not so much (I’m thinking of you drunk business man with two failed marriages dating the “hot” Latina woman, whose picture you could not resist showing me multiple times). The bottom line: there’s no need to make new friends. In the words of the great, late Patrick Swayze in the classic film Dirty Dancing, “This is my dance space, this is yours.”
5. Aisle Denial
Undeniably the best seat in the house, the aisle seat comes with responsibility. It’s not all stretched legs and easy bathroom access. That guy next to you gazing out the window, marveling at how farmland can be so geometric will inevitably have to go to the bathroom as well. If you take the aisle seat and go to sleep immediately after take off, you will be interrupted at some point during the flight. Unfortunately, you just have to be okay with this. Grumbling is not an option. You are on the aisle seat. You are the gatekeeper. If beauty sleep is more important to you, forgo that leg room, my friend.
In 2006 I went to Ireland for six weeks and nearly brought down the plane with the weight of my luggage. Yep, talk about high maintenance girl. And truth be told, I used about half of what I brought. Now that I’m on the road at least once a month, I find that people tend to think less of you if you bring your entire wardrobe along. I’ve picked up some essential packing tips that I’m here to share so that you can shed those extra bags and still seem effortlessly fresh at every occasion. You know…like me.
1. Embrace Sophie’s Choice
It seems obvious enough, but you would be surprised. I’m sorry, guys. You cannot – I repeat CANNOT – bring everything. You can’t bring the boots, the heels, the sandals, the sneakers and the flats all on one trip. Men, this applies to you, too. You don’t need to bring every shoe or button-down shirt you own. If I’m going to a warm destination I opt for a dressy sandal (with a heel), flip flops for the pool and either sneakers or flats, depending on if I’m going to be active or not. If it’s a cold destination, dressy boots and a comfortable closed-toe shoe will do just fine.
2. Mix and Match
Try and pack items that are versatile. Those shorts you wore to the poolside cafe can be dressed up with a blazer, t-shirt, necklace and heels for a night on the town. Accessories are light and portable and can dress up any daytime outfit, making for light packing. Dudes, one to two pairs of jeans and a pair of dress pants are fine. A blazer goes a long way in dressing up a t-shirt, as well. The things you can never overpack on are socks and underwear. I try to bring double the amount of underwear I think I am going to need, and same with socks. Socks get wet, you may change your clothes multiple times a day, and before you know it, you’re going sockless and commando to the final dinner of your trip. Also, remember that many hotels offer laundry services, so you don’t have to pack a different outfit for every day.
3. Trust Your Hotel
When it comes to toiletries, you can leave a lot of it at home. This way you can carry your suitcase on the plane and not worry about having to wait for it at baggage claim. Items like shampoo, lotion and toothpaste your hotel will most likely have. If you’re really worried, invest in some 3 oz. travel bottles and keep them on hand to take your favorite bath products away with you. Most drug stores sell these in their toiletry section. Hotels usually come equipped with their own ironing boards and hair dryers, as well. Note: Most European hotels do NOT have conditioner, as I learned the hard way. Some of the newer American brands now carry it in their hotel bathrooms, but this is a rarity.
4. Bag It
While many hotels offer plastic laundry bags, it is always a good idea to bring one of your own. Some of the fancier hotels have just cloth laundry bags, which you cannot take with you. Others have none at all. It’s always a good idea to have one on hand to keep your dirty clothes in. When it is time to unpack at home, all of your dirty clothes are all ready to go into the wash and you don’t have to waste time smelling your clean clothes to see if they have been contaminated. Also, if you’re like me, you went to the pool one last time before packing and you don’t want that wet bathing suit mingling with your clean, dry clothes.
5. Guidebooks and Gadgets
Guys, the point of travel is to…travel. Yes, you should be as comfortable and informed as possible, but for the most part, you can leave your guidebooks and gadgets at home. I’m not saying the books and research aren’t important, but in the day of modern technology and wi-fi, you can look all that sh*t up once you get to your destination. Try and do as much research beforehand as possible and write down the things that look most appealing to you. Remember to ask the locals what they recommend, as well. A hotel employee is a local, don’t forget. As for gadgets, you can leave your portable DVD player and water purifier at home. You want to feel at home when you travel, but be realistic in seeing what you can live without. A laptop should more than suffice.
For those of you who aren’t aware, on April 12 the Royal Thai Government declared a State of Emergency in Bangkok and the surrounding areas. I thought I’d take this opportunity to fill you in on what has been going on, seeing as Asia is the beat I was “assigned” at work. (I use assigned loosely because I don’t actually get to travel anywhere. I’m thrown press releases from Asia’s tourism boards and get to write them up under the guise of an Asia reporter. I’ll take the bone I’ve been thrown, but I’m not bitter or anything.)
Anyway, back to a real problem. Thailand.
The state of emergency was declared following demonstrations by protestors from the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (or the “red-shirts”). On Saturday, April 10, the red-shirts and the Royal Thai Government met head to head in the Phanfa Bridge area, which resulted in 21 deaths and over 800 wounded victims. And the demonstrations continue.
If you really want to look for a silver lining, it is important to note that the violence has been contained to the Bangkok region. Travel outside of Bangkok seems to be safe.
But tourism officials, while trying to remain upbeat, are concerned about what this means for Thailand for the rest of 2010.
“Our concerns are two-fold,” says Mark Siegel, CEO of Golfasian Co. Ltd., a Bangkok-based golf tour operator. “While 99 percent of the country’s hotels and golf courses and restaurants are operating as normal, the more important concern is that we continue to have dozens of clients in country. We have to look out for their welfare and assure them that their safety isn’t an issue because, in my view, it isn’t.”
Still, Russia, South Korea and China have warned their citizens to postpone their trips to Bangkok. It is predicted that tourism numbers could drop 20 percent this year and some analysts are even predicting that up to $500 million could be lost from the economy.
But economy and tourism aside, the number one concern is citizens, visitors and tourists. Siegel says, “It’s disrespectful and simply untrue to assert that things are going forward as normal, and will go forward as normal. This is the worst political violence in 20 years.”
Thailand is the #2 place in the world that I want to visit (a very, very close second behind Bali). My thoughts go out to the people in Bangkok. I hope I can get there some day.
I head off to Sundance Film Festival on Friday. Until I have a report from that five-day frenzy, here is a little something to get you started. I wrote this for my good friend Joe Pike’s blog. The scene: Spain in August of 2009…
In my short 22 years I have visited over 200 cities in 17 countries. I’m still working out my list of top five cities but I have it pinned down to New York, Dublin, Paris, Venice and No.5 is to be determined. I like to think of myself as the anti-tourist, and arrogantly so.
I laugh to myself when I hear tales of woe from people who make classic mistakes: being lured to the world’s largest ball of twine or buying that ring for grandma from the guy who swore it came right off the Pope’s hand. But hubris is a tricky friend and I certainly got what was coming to me on my most recent trip to Barcelona.
My passport was stolen.
Yep, that’s right. Magellan over here had her most important document swiped, leaving me panicked in a foreign city running around like a moron trying to get help from anyone and looking a lot like those people I mercilessly mock.
I was traveling with my family and while I was watching the car with my brother and stretching our legs someone rode up to us on a bike and started speaking in Spanish and French. We don’t speak either and I’m pretty sure this guy picked up on that as I was sporting my Minnesota Twins (Joe Mauer to be exact) t-shirt.
As he pedaled off it dawned on us that this guy was a clever decoy. We had been duped. His henchman opened the other side of the car and swiped my mother’s purse, in which were all three passports.
To be polite I’m going to censor the stream of expressions that spilled out of our mouths. Brother kicked off his Birkenstocks and took off barefoot after the thief. But it was too late. There would be no heroic end to this tale of woe.
And all I saw of Barcelona was the inside of the police station waiting room and interrogation room.
As for the locals, I met Phillip, the six-language-speaking, delightfully sarcastic tourism officer assisting the drunk, hysterical and impatient tourists who were also taken for a ride. I also became acquainted with some of the city’s finest as I looked at mug shots.
The Barcelona cuisine? Well, that chocolate bar and Fanta from the vending machine certainly exceeded my expectations.
After three hours we left the station with a police report. What was supposed to be a long, relaxing weekend turned into a disaster and we were out of there before 10 a.m. the next day. Sorry Barcelona, you didn’t make the top five cut but you definitely took me down a few much-needed notches.
It Could Happen to You
In all seriousness, if you should find yourself in a similar situation the first thing to do is file a police report. The US consulates cannot issue new passports without an official report. Second, locate the nearest Consulate General because only these can print new documents. Call them and get their hours of operation and any other information they require from you. For us, our passports could be reissued within a day but not all are the same so make sure you have all the info from the specific U.S consulate in the country you are visiting. And third, don’t freak out. People are much more inclined to help you if you aren’t in hysterics – and trust that it will all get taken care of.
You’ll get home. And a good tip is to travel with copies of your passport because this expedites the process at the consulate and many hotels require your passport number at check-in.