Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

There’s No App for Experience

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

I am tech-savvy and totally, completely old fashioned. I have, use, and work daily with really complicated, blinking, sleek computers and software. I have meetings on a virtual calendar, a device that streams movies straight to my tv, three computer screens on my desk at work. And when I travel, I cannot wait to leave it all behind. Way, way behind.

I came across this little guide on Budget Travel, a rundown of the four foreign apps you need. Guess, what…I don’t need them. I say it defiantly because even if these little guides make your life easier, I also think they trample on the experience of being a lost, clueless tourist. Oh, and that’s such a good experience. You ask the locals, you fumble, you get lost and find your way back. You overspend, you over-tip, you miscalculate but it all evens out. You pack a bag with layers of clothing since you don’t know what the day might hold — or how cold or hot or rainy it might be — and there’s no “globaltemps” app to clue you in.

If there’s ever a time that life should not be automated — I think it’s got to be when you’re abroad and every synapse is firing with “this is new!” Part of that experience is doing it by your wits and through good old fashioned face to face interaction.

I’m sure there’s stories to tell of when access to an app saved the day. You need a new hotel in the middle of the night or you’re stranded waiting for bus in the pouring rain. But I’ve had that happen too — and I’ll never regret having to wing it and even having a bit of a disaster that could have been avoided “if I had only known.” Prove me wrong!!

-VC

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Friday, February 18th, 2011

Still Life of Wanderlust

Back when I was traveling all the time, it felt necessary to keep up on all the good gossip (“dude, Gabon is the next Namibia”) and the like. And I’ll confess I had a wicked travel magazine addiction. I read about such-and-such game reserve in western Tibet or this-and-so classic train trip in Mongolia the way lots of other ladies read about eyelash extensions and how to feel sexy naked. I was greedy for travel porn.

I had ‘em all: Wanderlust, Nat Geo Adventure (RIP), Budget Travel, Traveler, Travel & Leisure, Backpacker. I couldn’t resist loading up whenever I was working in London—their newspapers have the best travel sections—where I’d sit at the Virgin Atlantic gate and plan my next trip before I’d even boarded the plane back to NY.  I’d bring home stacks of travel rags, which I left on our coffee table, in the bathroom, on my nightstand. And I never, never threw them away. When I was traveling they were reminders of how much else there was to see.

And then I wasn’t traveling, and…they were just reminders of how much else there was to see. A super stressful monster job and rapidly dwindling funds had grounded me. I was trying to make my token two weeks’ vacation go as far as they would and at the same time there wasn’t money for me to go anywhere. So I let all of my subscriptions lapse. Instead I read beauty trash, skipping over the inspirational stories of volunteer tourism, of course. I just couldn’t be reminded how limited the world felt.

But I’ve recently been feeling more optimistic. And Budget Travel’s soliciting me again (like I’m still one of the tribe!) So, I’ve been thinking, does reading travel press inspire or make you feel defeated? Are travel mags just a reminder of all the aspirational destinations that won’t ever see the soles of your Nikes? Or can we page through and find people like us trying to travel like us?

Think I’m gonna re-subscribe. In the end, as long as travel press survives people can dream about where to go. And as long as people are dreaming about where to go, we keep the conversation alive. And that, my fellow wanderers, is how we get there.

Have You Seen this Show?

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

So, the Science Channel isn’t usually a destination. But on a recent frigid Saturday night, after having willed my last $5 into beef stroganoff, the Science Channel felt about the right speed.  How could I have guessed that in return for agreeing to be the only person on earth watching the Science Channel at 9:30 p.m. on a Saturday, I would be rewarded with untold travel foible treasures?

If you’ve ever been privy to the Ricky Gervais Show podcast, Karl Pilkington is already a bona fide celebrity in your mind. If you haven’t done Gervais, lemme give you the short hand: this guy is supposedly just some guy who worked for the show. Sure, he’s a former radio producer and podcaster, but he’s also…just some guy armed with quirky quips and stoic, detached (and very English) observations about the world. If you haven’t had the pleasure, please do. Now, enough about him. Moving onto his new show.

An Idiot Abroad is advertised as the brainchild of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, who thought it’d be hilarious to send this guy off to explore the 8 Wonders of the World, basically, so we could laugh at his pursuits. The result? A sometimes-accurate, sort-of-earnest reflection of what it’s like to wander off with only your wits in tow, and rarely for Pilkington, even that. I’m absolutely positive that earnest isn’t what the producers had in mind.

Karl Pilkington, Idiot Traveler Extraordinaire

I’m going to ignore for a moment the questions about whether Pilkington’s routine is manufactured. He’s got a slightly-below-average everyman quality. That’s what makes him funny. But this isn’t a fish out of water show (you know, drop a dummy into the wild and watch him fend). It’s a show about going off to see the big, hyped shit, and running into your own limitations along the way. Whether they’re in the form of some gross-ass local fare, a tourist-infested cultural wonder or gnarly accommodations, this is truth in travel. Well, sorta…

It helps that Pilkington has an endearing what just happened? quality in his every reaction. It helps to see him melt down at Petra carrying a wheelie suitcase. And it helps that he goes off to see the life-altering stuff and kinda-sorta-doesn’t-have-the-best-time. Whether it’s real or well-fabricated, this show has tapped into my own memories of some pretty heinous travel meltdowns: a dying pigeon, for instance, that sent me into a tailspin in Dubrovnik. An entire night spent wandering around the Opera district in Paris looking for a “typical café”…the list goes on.

As much as I don’t want to admit it, sometimes travel (or sometimes me traveling) is an utter failure. And I like watching those failures as they really are, brutal and beautiful and completely fleeting. Real or not, please sir, I want some more.

-KC

The Beauty of the Short Getaway

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

Here’s an interesting exercise.  Think of three fun places about 2 hours — or 100 miles — from your home. Places you’ve never visited but really, really keep meaning to see.

Here’s mine:
Shawgunks, NY
Great Falls National Park, NJ
Providence, R.I. (seriously, I’m curious)

Now, ask yourself why you haven’t ever been there?

When I look at my list, I can’t believe I haven’t gotten myself on a train or bus upstate to hike the Gunks and spend a night in New Paltz or some other cute Catskills town.  It’s RIGHT THERE, plenty cheap to go…so what’s the deal?

At some point I let most of my mental energy about travel get channeled toward just the big vacations, the whirlwind work trips or required jaunts for weddings, family visits and holidays.  I spend my weekends doing errands, scrambling up plans for dinner or drinks, sitting comatose on the couch trying to reload after a long week and sneaking in a run or yoga class so I feel like I did at least a little something for myself.  I lost track of what “weekends” are really for — and how easy it is to take a totally rejuvenating, inspired and dirt cheap trip just a few miles from home.

There’s actually a lot of great resources on how to take a quick, affordable weekend getaway — no plane required.   Check out Trazzler.com, a whole site dedicated to local travel. IndependentTraveler.com has a growing list of fun itineraries.  One of my favorite travel sites, TripAdvisor.com breaks down a string of great ideas for every city you can think of.

But don’t forget the power of blind exploring, using just word of mouth and a map (digital or old school). Get in the car and go.  That said, we would love to know any great tips or photos or recommendations you might get along the way.  I’ll have updates from Rhode Island any day.

-VC

How to Talk Travel with Those Who Don’t

Friday, January 21st, 2011

Funny thing, talking travel with those who don’t. This week someone asked me for tips on how to make the most of a short trip to Denver. Now, aside from the fact that I haven’t been in the real know on the mighty mountain city since its hip strip was one long avenue with a used record store and slightly sketchy 7-11, the person who asked for advice doesn’t travel. Not really. Unless you count a trip to Illinois once to visit some family.

This got me thinking, how do you approach the OTR philosophy with someone who could generally take travel or leave it? Some folks would say you don’t. Bow out, make an excuse, blow it off. But I think inside every curious person lives someone who could go out and sleep on a dude ranch in Honduras – if they felt it were possible and they had a couple of insider secrets under tucked into their cowboy boots.

I say start the convo in the shallow end of commonality pool. What is one thing every traveler will seek out, one way or the other? Food. Green chile, Denver-style. Done. Nobody makes it better than Tacos de Mexico on Santa Fe. Next! What’s the destination’s signature attraction? In Denver? The mountains. Duh. So, how do you get a glimpse without driving far enough for your ears to start popping? Well, to start, open your eyes. And after that, take your chile to City Park, Denver’s massive central green space. See that growing skyline dwarfed by the big, beautiful blueish ones. If you didn’t do anything else in Denver you’d be done.

Denver's City Park: moutains meet megalopolis

But there’s so much more, of course. For traveler and non-traveler alike, food and features can be shared language.” Hey, here’s how to have one great meal and see one great thing” – we all want that. I think the best part about talking to people who don’t travel is getting to tap into what you know…and all that you don’t.

I’ve asked her to come back and tell me everything I’m missing back home. Then the conversation can continue. And it can continue to make travelers of us all.

Ode to my Aging Passport

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

In 25 days my passport is going to expire. On February 11, 2011 I will slip it into a plain kraft envelope and send it back to our government. I’ve had the renewal paperwork for months. But, in the first place, $110 to renew is just bananas. I could fly to Buffalo and back for $110 (I’m not suggesting Buffalo’s got shit on passport renewal fees) or finally buy a pair of ear phones that won’t slip out of my ears every time I yawn. But back to the point at hand. Besides being too expensive to renew, I didn’t want to let go of my passport.

When I was twenty one my father sent me a check and a note that said “everyone needs a passport”. I had just moved to New York and was content to see the world from my fire escape. I spent the money on cigarettes and rent. But four years later I had the opportunity to visit Ghana. I went to the little passport photo booth on 57th and Lex and then spent two hours in line at the FDR post office. And six weeks later, my little blue book arrived adorned with a photo of me doing that whole Tina-Fey-flip thing. It’s such a good picture.

And now, ten years later, the back of my book bears sixteen Virgin Atlantic security stickers (best airline ever), page after page of entry and exit stamps, and a million tiny memories between its signature blue covers. I went. I saw. I was changed. Bosnia border! Ten days on the island of Eleuthera. Two years’ worth of commuting between New York and London, Fiumicino honeymoon, Honduran customs hassle, and my very favorite stamp: Lyon-Saint-Exupery. Two hour layover and the best cappucino of my life. The book isn’t the only thing I’m surrendering.

Someone is Virgin Atlantic's bitch

Someone is Virgin Atlantic's bitch

I suppose a fresh folio filled with empty blue pages should make me feel hopeful. But we don’t have a relationship yet. I haven’t worn it close to my upper thigh at a strip club in Paris or under my shirt through every metal detector in Heathrow.

So, I’m gonna write that check. And after I hold this beautiful blue book in my hands for a short time longer I’ll send it back to our government in an envelope of gratitude for all the places I’ve slipped – and sometimes fallen – into. Guess I’ll have to hold off on Buffalo after all.

-KC

The Bus to Anywhere: An Ultimate Off the Radar Experience

Sunday, January 16th, 2011

On my third day in Cusco, Peru, I set out to explore the Sacred Valley (a sweeping expanse of fertile valleys, Andes peaks, historic towns, Incan ruins and microclimates) without a plan, a destination or a clue.

I think I might have been influenced by a piece I read in the New York Times just weeks before taking off for Lima.  If you haven’t read “Lost in China,” by Matt Gross, please do so. Now.  It’s an incredible peek at a nouveau mega-city too immense to contemplate through photos or numbers – and it is also an engulfing read on the incredible power of getting lost, relying only on the advice of locals, in a totally foreign place.

Gross writes: “I was [also] overwhelmed, just as I’d hoped. It had been a very, very long time since I’d felt so dominated by a city — if I’d ever felt that way at all. Years of living in New York had inured me to the challenges (and wonders) of urban living, but years of travel had taught me that other people were still intimidated by cities: their size and density, their crowds, their dirt and chaos and almost arbitrary rules of conduct. Recently, I’d begun to ask myself: How would it feel to be a migrant abandoning the countryside for the urban unknown, or a small-town tourist facing off against the metropolis?”

peru 085

This in the back of my mind, I boarded a collective taxi-bus out of Cusco, paid $4 for my ticket, was given the only remaining seat (the captain’s chair!) and we took off down winding dirt roads, climbing higher and higher in the Andes.  It wasn’t until 30 minutes into the ride that I finally thought to ask the driver where the bus was headed?  The day unfolded from there…I was swept up in getting lost, miles and miles from our hotel in Cusco, and then, hours later, figuring how to get back again.

VC

Some Thoughts on Machu Picchu: Doing it Right When You Can’t Really Go Wrong

Monday, January 10th, 2011

There are a few places you have to experience before you die. A bucket list of sights and occurrence, if you will, and though there’s certainly room for argument and opinion, some world treasures are simply ON that list. This includes Machu Picchu (without argument, thank you) and I’m happy to say I’ve now (after years of dreaming, longing and false starts) finally seen that glorious Incan city perched in the sky and abandoned for reasons still unknown.

It was all that I had expected. Just as pristine and magical as depicted in all the photos we’ve all seen a million times. But what I didn’t really understand about Machu Picchu before my three day whirlwind tour through Cusco and the Sacred Valley is that it’s an expensive ($200 just to get there…so budget it), complicated trip that is better served in courses than as feast.

Yes, I’ll explain. You don’t just “go” to Machu Picchu. You make a pilgrimage there – even if that’s not what you expected to do. But the rub (I learned) is that you don’t fully decide how you want to get there…or how much it will affect you…unless you’ve done copious research, which (sigh) I did not.

So you shall learn from my mistakes.

The first thing to know is that there’s exactly TWO ways of getting to Machu Picchu, and both require a mother%%$$ amount of stamina. You can hike there (with a guide and group, the trail is heavily regulated and secluded) or you pay a minimum of $130 for a train ticket from Cusco to the town of Aguas Calientes. From Aguas Calientes (where you can buy a ticket to enter Machu Picchu, if you haven’t pre-purchased – and that runs about $40) you take a bus ($30 rt) up the mountain to MP. There, your ticket is good for one calendar day. But that’s just not enough time.

Now, it’s important to mention here that the train ride from Cusco to Aguas Calientes is four hours. So if you’re staying in Cusco, as we were, and you plan to do Machu Picchu in one day, this involves a 4:50 a.m. wakeup call, a 6 a.m. train, the aforementioned four hour ride…a 30 minute bus trip up winding switchbacks to the ruins….the ruins…another bus and another four hour train ride back to town.

Now it’s doable. I did it. But I kicked myself the whole time for a lack of planning…of foresight…I had spent so much time dreaming of SEEING it that I didn’t realize how much I wanted to savor getting there or how I would want to digest it…and it wasn’t on a timetable.
The minimum change I would have made (and something I would recommend to anyone going ) is to spend the night before you ascend in Aguas Calientes. Or, maybe, the night after and then buy two tickets to enter – and try to hike Huayana Piccu—a crazy tall Andes mountain trail that allows you to peer down on Machu Picchu. There’s a million other archeological and historical treks around the actual ruins—and give yourself time to know what and where they are.

Here’s my next piece of advice: If you physically can do the four day Inca Trail hike….do it. How could I have missed this? Pre-conquistador, this trail was how kings, Incans, supplies, moved from the Sacred Valley up to MP. At every step, through thin oxygen and narrow Andes trail, you are walking the steps to one of the most astounding markers of human history. Like if you had to hike miles uphill, at five-thousand meters, to see the pyramids. It is an almost too great reminder of this mysterious world, our smallness, and the relentless march of time. And it’s weird to get there by bus.

It is a tough hike, for sure, but do it if you can. Plan the time and PLAN ahead. Even if you have a week in the region, you don’t just “sign up.” Find and research reputable companies or even independent guides. I have some recommendations, too, so email me if you want them.
Now, the hybrid of the two (bus or trek) is the one-day hike. You do the final four miles, camping the night before and entering the park the way former residents did. So you see it the way Incans saw it…how they somehow built it. I believe this choice also gives you time mentally to prepare for what you’re really doing. Oh. And why.

Have you been?  Do you want to go?  Advice for our fellow trekkers? Please, please share.

-VC

On Being Part of the Conversation

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

I’m going to admit something I’m not very proud of: I’ve never been to New Orleans. Now, obviously this pales in comparison to, for instance, not knowing that the White House is on Pennsylvania Avenue. But, still. It’s becoming a kind of moral imperative. It’s…down there, you know? A breathing, throbbing part of our own land that I have nothing to say about.

New Orleans from above

See, back in the day, I had this assumption that if all my Goth friends were going, I could pass on a visit. Totally not true. Also, there’s the whole Bourbon Street thing to consider. I was doing plenty of drinking and eating in my own little cow town, so it just didn’t seem to apply.

But this is the way a destination sneaks up on you. First, Katrina. Second, the aftermath. Third, the oil spill. Fourth, the aftermath. I’ve spent so much time watching the people of the Gulf states defend the honor of their national treasures, I’m starting to feel, well, left out of the conversation. This place is in America! The cultural pride, the food, the music, the land. There’s a whole population of people living in this country that I’ve never spent a night with. Just imagine that.

The fact is, I have nothing to contribute to the dialogue about the above until I’ve gone there and know for myself what’s at risk. I just finished Spike Lee’s second ode to the area, If God is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise. And through the entire documentary I felt a rising tide  — a pulsing, urgent sense that I need to know about New Orleans. I need to visit a place in our own country where there are parishes, and presidents of parishes. I just need to see a place like that.

This is travel: a conversation. An ongoing, eternal dialogue between people and place. And you know — I mean, really know, when you’re being left out.

When it kinda goes awry

Monday, June 28th, 2010

So I had a week last week….like one of those weeks when some things go really right and some things go really wrong and it’s all, somehow, deeply transformative because you’re on the road.

I took a trip down to Cape Hatteras. I’m working on a feature piece on kiteboarding. This is a project that got its start in the late winter when I went to the BVIs. It has now flowered into something where I am both personally and professionally obligated. That’s ok…I’ve become hooked on the sport even if I can’t quite DO it yet. That said, after a few starts and stops, I finally arranged to go down to Hatteras, widely known as the best spot on the East Coast (or the country…or the world…) to kite. I filmed at REAL, widely known to be the best kideboarding school in the states. I had a gracious, helpful contact whom I had met in the BVIs and who happens to be a pioneer of the sport and ridiculously adorable and who literally made me feel totally at home during my stay.  Even with a nebulous concept on the full segment (hey, let’s make it a household name!…let’s show that the average Joe can do it!), he paved the way with shots, interviews, even grabbing his pro friends to ride for me as I stood on a small island, being devoured by mosquitos while gripping the camera and monopod, just watching the marvel (and it’s a marvel) unfold. It’s a beautiful sport, so absolutely made to be filmed, and so full of exactly the opposite kind of people you might expect…everyone was just so darn…nice and down to earth.  So it was perfect. Until it wasn’t.

I got a phone call from work right when I was on a high point of execution…my first day. It basically took the wind out of my kite and left me (forgive the lame metaphor) flailing beneath it. My mojo was gone and all I could do was scramble to get as much work done as possible with the help of my friend/contact, and then…well, I had to leave early and figure out just how to do that. To make matters worse, I got some fairly disappointing news about something Kate and I have been working on for a while, and with home several hours (and a million miles) away, I was picking up pieces on a remote Atlantic beach.

Now, the seasoned traveler (and woman) in me says, “suck it up,” or “stay present.”  But it got me wondering, why does life sometimes throw the most disruptive curve balls at us when we are far away — literally and figuratively?  I had A LOT of hopes for this trip….more than I can really divulge — but mostly I just wanted to melt into something new for a few days and come back with my awesome story.  Seems simple.  But somehow, the travel goddess (it just must be a woman) really tested out my inner spiel about “No expectations. No expectations.”  All the bad news…well, I just didn’t expect it.

Leaving this post a little esoteric and slightly hippy dippy (I’m from Colorado, can’t shake it), I’m wondering if you, dear reader,  have noticed that travel out of our comfort zone seems to throw our entire little universe into a tailspin?  Are these things connected…the revelations and experience with the difficulties and challenges — or is it a coincidence?  How do you internally get back to a place of focus when traveling and something from home starts tugging at your heel?  Does it put the good and the bad in a clearer light?  Let me know….Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I’m going back to Hatteras in 3 weeks to finish the piece for air shortly after. VC