When you’ve only got one day in a new city, what do you do to make the most of it?
Maybe you pick one or two must-see attractions and concentrate your time there. Or you throw the itinerary out the window and let yourself wander from neighborhood to neighborhood, soaking up the atmosphere. Or maybe, as I did on a recent trip to Brooklyn, you take a tour.
In fact, I took two. As an independent traveler, I tend to avoid big coach tours — you know, the ones that have the canned narration over the P.A. system and only let you off the bus for two minutes at a time. I opted instead for two small-group tours that each focused on a particular aspect of the local culture — because even though my time was short, I still wanted a true taste of the place from a local’s perspective.
What Not to Do in a New City
In the morning, Matt Levy of Levys’ Unique New York led a “Graffiti to Galleries” tour with an emphasis on street art in both Williamsburg — Brooklyn’s latest “hot” neighborhood — and Bushwick, where crumbling factories are being reclaimed as canvases for young artists. The tour took us to places I’d have never thought to visit on my own.
Brooklyn native Dom Gervasi, founder of Made in Brooklyn Tours, focused his tour exclusively on homegrown shops and galleries, and the people who run them. We heard the stories of Dewey Oblonsky, who started her own colorful candy shop after being laid off after decades working in the fashion industry, and Lori Fields, who creates custom-designed sweatshirts at a place called Neighborhoodies. Forget the ticky-tacky tourist shops. For travelers who love to support small businesses and come home with souvenirs they couldn’t buy anywhere else, this is the tour for you.
Levys’ Unique New York offers customized tours for individuals and groups. Rates vary widely depending on the size of the group, but generally cost about $50 per person per hour for a private tour. Made in Brooklyn Tours cost about $35 per person for a half-day tour.
Want more ideas for exploring your next destination in depth? Check out Eight Tours for People Who Don’t Like Tours.
– written by Sarah Schlichter
Every traveler I know has a must-visit list a mile long. Back in college, I actually wrote mine out on multiple pieces of paper, with destinations neatly separated by continent. (Yes, I’m a nerd. Why do you ask?)
Honestly, there are few places I wouldn’t go if given the chance. But there’s a handful of destinations, trips, experiences that I can’t seem to get out of my head. Some of them I can’t afford — yet. Others are just waiting for me to make them happen. For your inspiration (and mine!), here’s a sampling.
Tibet, for spectacular mountain vistas and a gentle Buddhist culture:
Uganda, to see gorillas in the wild:
Jerusalem, for its rich culture and centuries of history:
Antarctica, for otherworldly landscapes and unique wildlife:
Prince Edward Island, Canada, to satisfy the young girl inside me that still loves the “Anne of Green Gables” books:
9 Places You Haven’t Visited — But Should
I’ve shown you mine — now it’s your turn. Which places and experiences top your travel bucket list?
– written by Sarah Schlichter
We all know one person who makes the yearly trek to, say, the Philadelphia Folk Festival or Burning Man. They wouldn’t miss the opportunity to pitch their tent in the Schwenksville mud or the Black Rock City dirt. It’s all about the music at Old Pool Farm or the — um — art in the Nevada desert.
However, we can’t quite wrap our heads around the Avon Heritage Duct Tape Festival in Ohio. Duct tape? Sure, it’s great for travel mishaps, such as securing a broken piece of luggage, and we’ve all used it around the house. We’ve even chuckled at the creativity of folks who fashion a wallet or dress out of the sticky stuff. But a three-day festival? Stick me to my seat! There’s even a parade that starts at the high school and ends at the cemetery. We might need a six-inch piece of the stuff to tape our mouths shut so we don’t scream.
The World’s Weirdest Museums
If celebrating duct tape is your thing, the ninth annual Avon Heritage Duct Tape Festival will be held June 15 – 17 in Avon, Ohio, the home of Duck Tape brand duct tape. The Father’s Day weekend event claims to draw more than 40,000 duct tape enthusiasts, likely helped by its lack of admission or parking fees. The first 500 attendees will even receive a free roll. (We’re just a bit concerned how that roll might be used by the end of the day when festival goers get tired and cranky with each other.)
The theme this year is Duck Tape on Safari, so there will surely be liberal use of the company’s zebra- and leopard-patterned tapes on the parade floats and at the crafts table. There will be a free animal show (live animals, sans tape). And to make the festival even more irresistible, an artist will display his duct-tape portraits of Bob Dylan, Mother Teresa and other celebs. We can’t make this stuff up.
If you’re looking to add a few more quirky events to your calendar, consider these equally intriguing festivals. The SuperHero Street Fair is held in San Francisco in August. Just imagine donning your Spider-Man jammies and joining all the other boys and girls in their Batman codpieces and Super Woman bustiers. We certainly hope they secure all rooftop access doors to prevent overzealous leaping of tall buildings in a single bound.
No super powers? Visit the Gilroy Garlic Festival in nearby Gilroy, California, and you’ll be able to repel people in a single breath. Or try another natural repellent by waiting until October for the Alabama Butterbean Festival. Either may come in handy at the Great Texas Mosquito Festival in July.
16 Ways You Know You’re Addicted to Travel
How about you? Is there an annual festival you never miss? One you’ve always wanted to attend?
– written by Jodi Thompson
I’m from Wales and I’m used to people not knowing where we are. We’re the geographical equivalent of your car keys. They’re around somewhere — in your trouser pocket? Down the side of the sofa?
So often, I’ve heard Wales described as being that bit in between England and Ireland or — worse still — just a part of England itself.
Ireland, England and Scotland are all popular destinations for travelers and have a lot of very different things to offer. But here are some reasons I think you should consider doing something different by visiting Wales instead. It’s not just the U.K.’s smaller brother — it has a lot of unique things to show you of its own!
Culture: The National Eisteddfod
March 1st is Saint David’s Day. Not many people outside Wales know that. Saint David (or Dewi Sant in Welsh) is our patron saint, and we like to celebrate him by wearing leeks and daffodils pinned to our clothes. It is a traditional day for holding Eisteddfods (cultural festivals and talent competitions), with Welsh poetry, literature, music and arts being exhibited.
A larger, National Eisteddfod is usually held in the summer, showcasing talent from the country that brought the world Dylan Thomas, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Richard Burton, Roald Dahl and, erm … Tom Jones.
History: The Castle Capital of the World
Wales has a rich history that’s reflected in some of the architecture that remains. Sometimes referred to as the “castle capital of the world,” Wales had, at one point, more than 400 castles. The Welsh’s reputation as a bit of a handful for occupying forces led to fortifications being put up by everybody from the Norman invaders in the 11th century to the English in the 13th and 14th centuries.
Copying this trend, Victorian businessmen commissioned their own “castles” such as the beautiful Castell Coch (the Red Castle) to impress their friends.
The World’s Coolest Castles
Wales was also home to the Romans for a time, and it has the ancient architecture to prove it — such as the 2,000-year-old amphitheaters, baths and barracks in Caerleon, South Wales.
Sports: Surfing the Severn Bore
Every year, a tidal wave sweeps up the river Severn, attracting surfers, kayakers, paddle boarders and other lunatics from all over the world, who attempt to pit themselves against the river’s tidal range (often cited as being the second largest in the world).
But if that isn’t your cup of tea, there are plenty of unrivaled hiking routes through the Brecon Beacon mountains or Snowdonia National Park, as well as some of the best rock climbing and abseiling in the U.K., to get visitors closer to the dramatic landscape.
Have a Welsh Cake!
And, while you’re over, have a Welsh cake. You won’t regret it! (They’re similar to scones.) And tucking into a bowl of lamb cawl (stew), a plate of lava bread (seaweed) or some fresh seafood might provide you with an excuse to tackle Mount Snowdon head on.
Scenery: Land of Contrasts
And the landscape itself? Wales offers mountains and waterfalls in the north and famous valleys in the South, carved out by thousands of years of glacial activity, with pristine beaches, forests and reservoirs in between.
12 Spots to Fall in Love with Travel
Even aside from the noted spots of outstanding natural beauty, such as the Pembrokeshire coast, Snowdonia National Park and the Lleyn Peninsula, Wales is a place where you are never too far away from something to see, do, eat or listen to.
Have you been to Wales?
– written by Josh Thomas
In addition to being Presidents’ Day, yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of John Glenn’s historic trip into space. Although there was some planning, he packed no bag and he didn’t have much choice in his travel wardrobe. And he certainly didn’t have an annoying travel companion. In 1962, Glenn boarded Friendship 7, not much more than a converted ballistic nuclear missile, and was blasted into space, becoming the first American to orbit the Earth.
There was no travel insurance. In fact, several earlier launch attempts were abject failures. NASA scientists weren’t even sure if Glenn’s eyesight would survive zero-G weightlessness. But NASA was in a hurry. There was a rush to get Glenn in orbit, whether it was safe or not, whether it was possible or not. Russia had beaten the U.S. in the space race five years earlier by launching Sputnik, a silver ball with a flashing light on it. National pride was on the line.
Now that NASA’s manned space program is idle, the only ride into space for an American astronaut is aboard a Russian rocket. Yet the demand by civilians for space tourism is growing. It’s a final frontier for those who have checked everything else off their must-see list.
Top 10 Undiscovered Destinations
The U.K.’s Sir Richard Branson began organizing Virgin Galactic in 2004 and began test flights in 2008. Virgin Galactic has its sights set on launching wealthy adventurers into orbit from the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport, currently underway in New Mexico. The space vehicles are “designed and built with revolutionary, but proven technology” according to Virgin Galactic’s Web site, with safety “engrained in the culture of our space line operation.”
To experience space travel, you’ll have to be age 22 to 88 at the time of the launch and endure two days of G-force and safety training. From 50,000 feet in the air, not the ground, you’ll accelerate to about 3,000 mph, nearly four times the speed of sound, and launched to about 68 miles above the Earth’s surface. The total trip takes about 3 hours, with only a few minutes out of your seat to experience weightlessness and the stunning views.
9 Destinations to Visit in 2012
Although Virgin Galactic has been taking deposits to hold reservations on SpaceShipTwo since 2005, the price has been reduced and will continue to go down. The current starting price for flights is $200,000 with refundable deposits starting from $20,000.
– written by Jodi Thompson
A few years ago, I traveled with my mother when she — and I quote — wanted to see the Grand Canyon before she died. We flew to Las Vegas, rented a car and toured the Valley of Fire and the Hoover Dam. Once at the Grand Canyon, we were able to see quite a bit of it despite my mother’s mobility constraints — and a spectacular glass-enclosed helicopter ride allowed us to view the rest. It was a wonderful trip. I’m not certain how many times I annoyed her, but I do know that I threatened to toss her off the edge of the canyon only once, so I’d call that a successful trip.
Turns out that my mom isn’t the only senior who’s got the Grand Canyon on her bucket list. “National Parks in the West” made a recent list of the top vacations for senior travelers in 2012, put together by YMT Vacations. Here’s the full top five:
4. Alaska Cruise and Train Tour
3. National Parks in the West
2. Rhine River Cruise
For all the seniors out there, do you agree with this list? What are your own must-see destinations this year (or before you die, if you tend toward the dramatic)?
For the younger set, have you ever traveled with a senior? Would you do it again? (Or are you serving time for tossing him or her over the edge of the Grand Canyon?)
Learn More About Senior Travel
– written by Jodi Thompson
When I touched down in Los Angeles for the first time, with only three days to sightsee and no car to get around, my first priority was to figure out how to make the most of my time. There’s no better way to get oriented quickly in a new place than by taking a tour — or, in my case, a couple of them.
As an L.A. virgin, I felt it was my duty to join the starstruck faithful on a two-hour Movie Stars’ Homes tour from StarLine, a well-established company that also runs double-decker sightseeing buses and a wide selection of other excursions around the city. It’s the kind of touristy-but-fun activity that’s practically a must-do for L.A. first-timers looking to snap a photo of the Hollywood Sign, wander amidst Spiderman impersonators on the Walk of Fame and gawk at opulent Beverly Hills mansions. (Get the details at StarLine.com.)
But I also wanted to try a tour that was slightly less traveled, so in the afternoon I made my way to the Larry Edmunds Bookshop, a quirky little place filled from floor to high ceiling with retro movie posters, actor autobiographies and photos of all things cinema. This was the meeting point for the Hollywood Tragical History Tour, which focuses on crime, scandal and death in the City of Angels. (See DearlyDepartedTours.com.)
Like the StarLine tour, the Tragical History excursion served up plenty of celebrity gossip (for example, both guides swung by Michael Jackson’s estate to offer an in-depth account of his demise). But I soon discovered that this tour wasn’t for the faint of heart. At one point, our guide read from a graphic police report about the “Black Dahlia,” a 22-year-old woman who was killed in gruesome fashion back in 1947. (The tour provides police photos of her body too, but after hearing the stomach-turning description I opted not to look.) They’ve also got audio of the panicked 911 call made by Joaquim Phoenix as his brother River lay dying of an overdose in front of the Viper Room nightclub. And the pit stop halfway through the tour comes at the public restroom where George Michael was arrested for soliciting a police officer.
Here are a few more favorite tidbits from the tours:
Movie Stars’ Homes: I had an immediate flashback to childhood when we stopped in front of the house featured in the sitcom “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”
Hollywood Tragical History: Our fast-talking guide was a font of fun (if useless) trivia. Where else would you learn that Billy Bob Thornton is afraid of clowns, bright colors and antique furniture? Or that Britney Spears once kept a 30-day loaner car for nine months and returned it with 120 cell phones in the trunk?
While there was some overlap between the two tours, I was surprised by how different the experiences actually were. If you’ve got the time on your next trip to Los Angeles, take ‘em both: there’s no better way to get the full L.A. experience, from the sublime to the seedy.
The StarLine tour is $49 per adult when prebooked online, while the Tragical History excursion will set you back $40. Don’t forget to budget an extra $10 per person for tips.
Our Favorite Los Angeles Hotels
– written by Sarah Schlichter
This weekend, I’ll be in the company of Arthur Frommer, Rick Steves, Lisa Ling and thousands of other avid travelers. I’ll be checking out music and dance performances from around the world, and learning how to cook exotic dishes like Taiwanese popcorn chicken. And I’ll have the chance to win a vacation to Belize or India or even beyond.
In short, I’ll be at the Los Angeles Times Travel Show — and you could be too.
Los Angeles Without a Car
What exactly is a travel show? It’s not a TV program on the Travel Channel. No, it’s a big, colorful expo featuring exhibitors from travel companies and destinations around the world. It usually includes vacation giveaways, expert panels and talks, tons of information and inspiration, and — of course — plenty of fun freebies.
The Los Angeles Times Travel Show has all of that and more, and it’s coming up this weekend. But if you can’t make it to the City of Angels, there’s probably a travel show coming to a city near you. Below is a sampling of upcoming events around the U.S. and Canada.
Chicago: Travel & Adventure Show (January 28 – 29)
Boston: Boston Globe Travel Show (February 10 – 12)
Seattle: Golf and Travel Show (February 10 -12)
San Francisco: Travel & Adventure Show (February 18 – 19)
Spokane: Golf and Travel Show (February 18 – 19)
New York: New York Times Travel Show (March 2 – 4)
Vancouver: Golf and Travel Show (March 3 – 4)
Washington D.C.: Travel & Adventure Show (March 17 – 18)
Miami: Miami Travel Show (May 4 – 6)
If you’re in the Los Angeles area, why not come on out to the show this weekend? Admission is just $10. Look for me at the Travel in Style Pavilion, where I’ll be speaking on a panel about travel and shopping. Hope to see you there!
– written by Sarah Schlichter
Home of the National Elk Refuge and Grand Teton National Park, Jackson Hole is one of the best places on Planet Earth to see wildlife in winter. This is not to slight nearby Yellowstone National Park. It’s just that the “hole” that is Jackson Hole concentrates a lot of animals in a relatively small, convenient space. So on a recent day off from skiing, my wife and I tried to see how many furry critters we could spot in one day.
Because we were staying at Spring Creek Ranch, which overlooks the town of Jackson, we took a wildlife tour with Kurt Johnson, Spring Creek’s chief naturalist. Armed with a BS in wildlife biology, an MS in natural resources and a van full of optical gear, Johnson knows wildlife better than Batali knows pasta.
Before we’d even left the ranch Johnson spotted some long-eared mule deer, including a 400-pound buck. Mule deer, like many animals in cold habitats, grow larger than their cousins in more temperate areas. But there are exceptions to every rule: We also passed a northern shrike, a tiny, innocuous-looking songbird that impales its prey on thorns until they bleed to death. Tough neighborhood.
Winter Vacations Without the Skis
Our first stop was on the eastern edge of the flat, rectangular National Elk Refuge,
where about 7,000 elk spend the winter. You see extremely healthy specimens here: elk cows that weigh up to 500 pounds and bulls of almost 900 pounds. Just 100 feet from us, a bull with huge antlers picked a fight with another bull. For a minute or two they banged heads, popping rim shots we could hear over the howling wind. But then, with the females long past their September estrous period, the boys suddenly forgot why they were fighting, and resumed grazing side by side.
To the north of the elk stood a few bison, notwithstanding signs indicating that this is an elk refuge. Johnson lends his clients binoculars and a telescope so powerful that we could see vapor from the bisons’ breath. Farther to our right, on a bluff near the road, four bighorn sheep watched us warily. That 200- to 250-pound animals with NFL chests can scamper up these cliff faces is an unlikely adaptation, but that’s why it works.
In less than an hour we’d seen four large mammals on our wish list, plus trumpeter swans and adorable Barrow’s Goldeneye ducks. “Think we’ll see any carnivores?” I asked. Johnson said, “Maybe.” Good answer.
Cozy Winter Getaway Ideas
He drove us to the Gros Ventre River, where two moose waded in the frigid water. I’d watched moose wading here in summer, green water dripping from their fur, but now it had started to snow, and these moose had iceballs clinging to their coats.
Moose weigh as much as 1,800 pounds. A huge bull moose rested on a bank near us, blinking stoically as icy flakes pelted its eyes. It’s their overlapping upper lips that make moose look dim-witted, but watching one of these hump-backed creatures wait out a squall, you understand its ability to survive without mastering rocket science.
Our return route led alongside the refuge again. Suddenly, Johnson pointed to a coyote on the field. Coyotes are elusive creatures: We hear them at night near our house in Pennsylvania, and we find their scat in the morning, but they never show themselves in daylight. This one paraded right past us, offering as good a look at Canis latrans as you’ll ever get outside a zoo. It was a big one, too. “Coyotes are so large here,” said Johnson, “visitors think they’re wolves.”
A local had told us about a pack of especially ambitious coyotes that had attacked an elk a few days earlier. This coyote, though, trotted toward an elk that was already dead. Just as it got there, a bald eagle swooped down to the carcass. When the food is this good, the most unlikely companions will do lunch.
Our 10 Favorite National Parks
– written by Ed Wetschler, executive editor of Tripatini
Long shadows flickered before me as I walked through the dank, subterranean passages of Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave. During my recent two-hour Historic Tour, I crouched and twisted my way through the cramped alleys of Fat Man’s Misery, checked out a massive block of rock aptly dubbed Giant’s Coffin, and faced the gaping maw known as the Bottomless Pit.
With more than 365 miles of discovered passageways, Mammoth Cave is the world’s largest cave system, and geologists believe there could be hundreds of miles yet to discover. Compared with caves I’d visited previously, Mammoth felt a little different — and not just because of its size. “It feels like walking through a big salt mine,” said my travel companion after we’d hiked more than an hour without seeing a single stalactite or hearing the trickle of water seeping down the limestone walls.
But this is a good thing, our National Park Service guide told us, at least for the future longevity of the cave. Mammoth does have some water-carved formations such as stalagmites and stalactites, but much of the cave system is actually sheltered from water by a “roof” of sandstone, which keeps it dry and protected.
Mammoth may not have the exquisitely colored formations that draw visitors to other caves, but it does have a fascinating history. Back in the 1800′s, African-American slaves were among Mammoth’s first tour guides and explorers. (Visit the cave’s Web site, NPS.gov/maca, to learn more.) I was particularly drawn to the story of Stephen Bishop, who began guiding visitors at age 17 and later was the first person to cross the Bottomless Pit and chart the previously undiscovered passageways beyond. After nearly two decades in the caves, Bishop was given his freedom — but he died the following year.
After you emerge, squinting, from the cool darkness underground, don’t forget to enjoy the other half of Mammoth’s ecosystem. Visitors can soak up some sun and fresh air on a network of wooded hiking trails.
The 10 Best National Parks
– written by Sarah Schlichter