Practical Tips for Traveling the World

Jodi Ettenberg, author of the Legal Nomads travel blog, offers some excellent travel tips in this blog post. She’s been traveling for more than four years, so she’s got some excellent tips/advice:

4. Everything else you can buy.

I didn’t believe it at first – “what if I forget to pack something!” But I’ve learned that most things can be bought abroad, from t-shirts to bras to new flip flops when a monkey throws yours over a cliff.

I like this tip about knowledgeable taxi drivers (my taxi story from my travels wasn’t nearly as pleasant):

6. Your taxi driver knows where to eat breakfast more than you do.

Swap this out for tuk-tuk driver, songthaew driver or rickshaw driver, where appropriate. When I go to a new place, I find the eldest cab driver possible and ask him where he ate breakfast.

And perhaps the best tip of all:

8. Oranges are the perfect public transportation snack.

I started bringing a bag of oranges with me for long bus rides, primarily because they quench thirst and smell delicious. I quickly learned that many Thai and Burmese busgoers sniff the peels to stave off nausea, and that kids love oranges. Really: kids LOVE oranges. So for those who want to bring something for the bus ride but rightfully worry about giving sweets to kids, oranges are your friend.

Read the rest of the tips here.

On another note: Jodi recently published The Food Traveler’s Handbook*, a guide on how to eat well (and safely) around the world (there is a strong emphasis on discovering great street food). I am about one third of the way through the book, and it is excellent so far.

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*Full disclosure: I helped Jodi with a few minor grammar edits of the book prior to publication.

The Silk Road and Carpet Making in Uzbekistan

The Wall Street Journal has a short piece on the dying art of carpet making in Uzbekistan. Profiled are the cities of Samarkand and Bukhara.

This was the most fascinating bit from the story, I think:

Out of the 300 or so carpets the Samarkand workshop produces by hand each year, around 40% are private commissions. These range from ancient Persian designs to hand-drawn images sentimental to the person commissioning the carpet. One Japanese client, intent on creating one of the finest carpets in the world, has commissioned a 90-centimeter-by-55-centimeter piece at a cost of $85,000, which will take seven years to complete. It is so fine it can only be worked on an hour a day, so as not to ruin the eyesight of the weaver.

Click through to see pictures accompanying the piece.

Wyoming and Yellowstone via Instagram

I just recently returned from a fifteen-day road trip out West. Along the way, I ate amazing barbecue food in Kansas City, saw the most gorgeous sunset in rural Kansas, crossed paths with celebrity mechanics in Colorado, and made way too many photography pit stops while getting to the ultimate destination, Yellowstone National Park (where we spent seven days). I have been slowly editing the images I have taken in and around the park with my primary cameras (Canon 7D and Canon 5D Mark II) as individual posts on my photoblog, Erudite Expressions; that Yellowstone gallery is now complete. Here, I wanted to highlight some of the mobile photographs I captured during this trip, most of which were taken with Instagram on my iPhone.

Stopping in rural Wyoming

Stopping in Rural Wyoming.

One of the most fruitful stops was this unassuming place called Cowboy Cafe in the town of Dubois, WY. Don’t let the tiny size fool you: the food here is spectacular. We met a group of people inside who said they’ve been coming to Dubois for fifteen years, and for every year they come, they have their breakfast, lunch, and dinner here. The TripAdvisor reviews aren’t wrong here. This hole-in-the-wall is a must when stopping in Dubois (or perhaps even making a special visit out of your trip if you’re in the Jackson Hole/Grand Teton area). The pies here, made daily, are to die for.

Cowboy Cafe

Cowboy Cafe in Dubois, WY.

A horse farm in Dubois, WY.

Tire tracking in Dubois, WY.

Population: less than 1,000. Amazing small town atmosphere.

Perhaps a better view of this scene on my photoblog, but…

The Tetons.

Fall approaching in Yellowstone National Park.

Crystal clear lake.

The most popular feature of Yellowstone National Park (also presented here in long exposure form)

The world-famous Old Faithful geyser.

Because of the wind gusts, it was a not-so-uncommon occurrence with people losing their hats at the park. Here, I document a white hat lost in the Grand Prismatic Spring area. Compare to the photo of “The Red Hat” lost at Mammoth.

The Lost Hat.

A hot spring at the West Thumb Basin (next to Yellowstone Lake):

At the West Thumb Basin.

Fall colors at Yellowstone.

An out-of-this world scene at Mammoth Hot Springs (compare to this photograph):

Mammoth.

We spent a few days in West Yellowstone, Montana. Among other things, the town is famous for these decorated bison found on its streets. You can read more about this initiative here.

Buffalo statue at West Yellowstone, Montana.

Sunset in West Yellowstone, MT.

I took a late evening bike ride to the far edge of the city of West Yellowstone. I wound up on this rural road and saw an incredible sunset in the distance:

End of the road. Remains of the day.

On the way back from Yellowstone, we took a different road: I-90 in Montana to I-25. We stopped in historic Sheridan, WY:

Old railroad. Sheridan, WY.

Exploring Sheridan, WY.

This was a peculiar sight. The word pharmacy spelled in Russian Polish on the back wall in Sheridan, WY:

Pharmacy.

And what would a trip to Wyoming be without a stop in one of its greatest store specializing in barbed wire?

The best store in all of Wyoming.

I have dozens of more mobile photos that I captured on this trip, but the significant ones I’ve profiled in this blog post. If you’re still curious to see more photos, I highly recommend checking out my Yellowstone Gallery and reading through the captions of each individual post. This was an amazing road trip, if my photos are any indication :).

On Success as a Travel Blogger

Chris Guillebeau, whose World Domination Summit I attended earlier this summer, gave a closing keynote at this year’s #TBEX conference in Girona, Spain. I didn’t attend the conference, but I appreciate his message about becoming successful at what you do. It’s not about followers, but becoming better at your craft:

I hear from a lot of people who want to “get noticed.” They write in to ask, “How can I become more known?” Whenever I hear this question, I’m reminded of something that John Mayer said in a talk at the Berklee College of Music. As best as I recall, the quote was:

“The world doesn’t need more mediocre musicians who are really good at Twitter.”

His point was that musicians should focus on honing their craft instead of working on getting followers or mastering social media. I’d say something similar: the world doesn’t need more mediocre bloggers or writers who are really good at Twitter. 

What the world does need is storytellers. We need people to challenge us. We need people to explain how travel can be a force for good. 

Chris’s point about skepticism on the Internet resonates:

Don’t tell a story that isn’t yours. You have to remember that we live in a world of skepticism, so our task is to be authentic and congruous. There are blogs about making money online from people who have never made money online. There are blogs about being “location independent” from people who live in their parents’ basement.

You should read the entire post here.

 

BAM: The Other Siberian Railway

This is a wonderful New York Times travel piece on the Baikal-Amur Mainline railroad, otherwise known as BAM:

When most people consider crossing Siberia by rail, they think of the Trans-Siberian Railway, the 5,000-mile-long rail line stretching from Moscow to the Pacific, which was finished in 1916. But two-thirds of the way through the continent from Moscow, the Trans-Siberian sprouts an artery — the BAM — that inexplicably darts north through a blank spot on the map with few towns or even paved roads, a mysterious and enormous railroad loop through nowhere.

Begun under Joseph Stalin as a northern alternative to the Trans-Siberian, the BAM was finished only in 1991 though it’s still being tinkered with to meet growing Asian demand for Siberian lumber, gas and oil.

The author posits that the BAM isn’t so tourist friendly, and that it doesn’t offer all the plush comforts of the Trans-Siberian. The BAM:

…[W]as built for freight and people who have business in the wilderness. The dozen cars on the first leg of our trip were half-filled with workers and managers destined for Siberia’s lumber camps and oil and gas fields, as well as people working on the train line itself. As such, it is more of a utilitarian train, with a nothing-fancy dining car that served essentially as a round-the-clock bar, a couple of packed third-class wagons with clothes draped across bunk beds crowding dormitory-like spaces, and a few second-class cars with four comfortable berths in separate minivan-size cabins.

My favorite portion of the article, the camraderie offered on the train:

Thanks to the dozen passengers who rotated into our coupe during the weeklong journey — among them an engineer heading to the oil fields north of Lake Baikal, a navy officer on leave, a college student who didn’t say a word — our table was a perpetual buffet of pirogi, boiled chicken, pickles, hams and lots of tasty things I couldn’t pronounce. Our contribution was whatever local snack we could buy from the babushkas during the 10- to 15-minute stops the train made at various stations, and the omnipresent, daily replaced bottle of vodka. 

I’ve added this piece to the travelreads collection on this blog.

On Ski Masks in China

The New York Times details a peculiar phenomenon in China, where beachgoers are shy about getting a tan at the beach, so they resort to specialty ski masks:

For legions of middle-class Chinese women — and for those who aspire to their ranks — solar protection is practically a fetish, complete with its own gear. This booming industry caters to a culture that prizes a pallid complexion as a traditional sign of feminine beauty unscathed by the indignities of manual labor. There is even an idiom, which women young and old know by heart: “Fair skin conceals a thousand flaws.”

With the pursuit of that age-old aesthetic ideal at odds with the fast-growing interest in beachgoing and other outdoor activities, Chinese women have come up with a variety of ways to reconcile the two. Face masks like Ms. Yao’s have taken this popular beach town by storm. In cities, the summertime parasol is a more familiar accouterment, many adorned with rhinestones, lace or sequins (and sometimes all three). Those who need both hands free are fond of the tinted face shield, the perfect accessory for riding a bike — or welding. The fashion-conscious favor a chiffon scarf draped over the face.

Since the masks only protect one area of the body, this is a booming business. Gloves, for example, are making a resurgence for beachgoers.

Hidden Tokyo

I don’t remember how I stumbled upon this five-year-old New York Times article profiling hidden Tokyo, but it’s a good one:

Tokyo, especially after dark, is notoriously hard to penetrate. With its winding mazelike streets, the city is a challenge for even seasoned taxi drivers. (Many bicyclists have GPS devices on their handlebars.) So imagine hunting down the restaurants, bars and clubs that are stashed away in patchwork alleys, nondescript apartment buildings, faceless office towers and basement stairwells illuminated by red bulbs.

Discreet, out-of-the-way bars have been a staple of Japanese culture for decades. Before World War II, Tokyo was filled with these pocket-sized dives — called nomiya (counter bars) — with space for just six or seven stools. Behind the counter was a proprietor, whose role was both confidant and caregiver to the regulars. When the city was rebuilt, however, most were bulldozed in favor of larger, glossier, more Westernized offerings.

Now a younger, postwar creative class is reviving nomiya culture — with a decidedly modern spin.

There’s a store called Not Found:

Not Found, an appointment-only clothing boutique that opened last winter, is among the latest to play this card. Wander down a main thoroughfare in Azabu Juban near Roppongi and you might stumble across it. From the sidewalk, it looks like just another concrete office building with a signless door. The rail-thin space, which carries only a few articles of precious clothing hanging behind thick-glass displays, was opened by the 33-year-old founder of a tech company as a sort of luxe closet for his closest friends.

“Imagine trying to find the words ‘Not Found’ on Google,” Ms. Fall said. “There’s about a million entries. It’s brilliant camouflage. Japanese are hobbyists and obsessives. They’ll trek to a little town so they can eat a certain type of asparagus or mushroom that’s only available a few days out of the year because that’s when it’s in season.”

Whenever I make my first trip to Tokyo, I’ll come back to this article.

The Record Frequent Fliers

The Los Angeles Times has an interesting article on Steven Rothstein and Jacques Vroom, who are above and beyond what one would consider frequent fliers. Both men bought tickets that gave them unlimited first-class travel for life on American Airlines. Each had paid American more than $350,000 for an unlimited AAirpass and a companion ticket that allowed them to take someone along on their adventures. Both agree it was the best purchase they ever made, and their life hasn’t been the same ever since they bought the golden ticket.

In the 2009 film, Up in the Air, the loyal American business traveler played by George Clooney was showered with attention after attaining 10 million frequent flier miles.

Rothstein and Vroom were not impressed.

“I can’t even remember when I cracked 10 million,” said Vroom, 67, a big, amiable Texan, who at last count had logged nearly four times as many. Rothstein, 61, has notched more than 30 million miles.

But all the miles they and 64 other unlimited AAirpass holders racked up went far beyond what American had expected. As its finances began deteriorating a few years ago, the carrier took a hard look at the AAirpass program.

If you’re wondering whether you can still get the AAirpass today, the answer is no. In 2004, American offered the unlimited AAirpass one last time, in the Neiman-Marcus Christmas catalog. At $3 million, plus a companion pass for $2 million more, not one sold.

Chicago via Instagram (Part I)

I recently took a trip to Chicago, IL. This would be my first trip in which I used my primary camera (the Canon 5D Mark II) alongside the camera on my iPhone. I’ve been posting images from Chicago taken with my dSLR on Erudite Expressions, but I wanted to highlight some of the images I captured with Instagram, one of my favorite photography apps on the iPhone.

The first day I arrived to Chicago, it was really windy and foggy.

Chicago fog.

On what would be the windiest day of my trip, I decided to face Lake Michigan at the Navy Pier:

Chicago's Navy Pier.

Walking along Bellevue Street.

The next day I took a walk to Lincoln Park. Along the way, this is what I saw:

Zen living.

Pink bike.

Tunnel view.

A stroll in the park.

Chicago skyline as seen from Lincoln Park.

Inside the Lincoln Park Conservatory.

During my visit to Chicago, I ate at three famous pizza places: Gino’s East, Lou Malnatti’s, and Giordano’s. This is the graffiti inside Gino’s East on 162 East Superior Street, near Michigan Avenue:

Graffiti at Gino's East, Chicago.

After a great lunch, I proceeded to Millenium Park and The Art Institute of Chicago:

Reflections in "The Bean" in Millenium Park.

No visit to Chicago would be complete without a stop at the Apple Store.

Monet's Water Lilies at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Stay tuned for Part II of the post coming later this week. In the meantime, check out my photoblog, where I am posting images on a daily basis that I captured with my dSLR. The dedicated Chicago gallery is here. You can also see a selection of my other Chicago photos on my Flickr feed.

World’s Longest (And Most Expensive) Taxi Ride

Over the past 13 months, Paul Archer Archer and two college buddies, Leigh Purnell, 24, and Johno Ellison, 28, have traveled more than 32,000 miles around the globe from London to New York in a hired London Black Cab—which they’ve christened Hannah. They want to set a new world record for world’s longest and most expensive taxi ride.

The previous record was a 21,691-mile, four-month taxi ride from London to Cape Town, South Africa, and back, set in 1994 by Jeremy Levine and Mark Aylett, of the U.K., and Carlos Arrese of Spain. That trip ran the meter up to $64,645.

The Wall Street Journal summarizes the trip so far:

Since leaving the U.K. in February last year, the team has plowed into a snow bank inside the Arctic Circle in Finland, dinged a fender on a lamppost in Dunhuang, China, blown the radiator at an Iraqi border crossing, dodged the Taliban, and ran afoul of police officers, military personnel and armed mercenaries from Moscow to Tehran to Texas.

They were also forced to take a thousand-mile detour around much of the Middle East during the height of the Arab Spring—avoiding Libya, Egypt and Syria for a “safer route” through Iraq, Iran and Pakistan…

By the completion of their trip, Paul Archer and his team will have traveled nearly 50,000 miles through 39 countries. They’ve already eclipsed the $100,000 barrier on their fare.

What an adventure they’re having!