Monday, February 21, 2011

Advice For Travel Disappointments

This weekend was like a comedy of travel errors.  It took three attempts at the local market to get the Belgian waffle my nephew was craving.  Parking issues, crowds and shop closings all stood in the way - yet we tried and tried again (and again).  The Jurassic Journey exhibit at the fair grounds was a complete bust.  The exhibit was amateur and the playground was riddled with sick kids so my nephews couldn't play.  Forty minutes in and 50 bucks in the hole we cut our losses and bolted.  And then the airplane movie at the science museum was a total disappointment.  Yet with all of the errors, I had a great weekend spending time with my family.

That got me thinking about the times where my travels didn't go exactly as planned or even worse, did go as planned but were utter disappointments.  For starters:

  1. The Mona Lisa.  You go to Paris, you need to go to The Louvre.  You go to the Louvre, you need to see the Mona Lisa.  And the Mona Lisa, well.... it was... OK.  Yeah, just OK.
  2. The Washington Monument.  Truth be told, I've never been to the top so can't judge it. But that's just it.  I lived in Washington, DC for 4 years and never went to the top.  And then this past Fall I made a trip to DC - mostly to take a peek from the top of that mysterious obelisk.  But when I arrived tickets were sold out all weekend.  (Who knew there were tickets?)
  3. Las Vegas.  Yeah, pretty much all of it.  I'm not a gambler.  I'm not big on 'cheese'.  And as far as Vegas goes, the bang for the buck is small.  So other than some great restaurants (and my friend Tara), I'm not a fan.

Despite these disappointments, I still managed to enjoy myself on each of these trips.  That's because disappointments don't have to mean travel disaster.  And I don't know about you, but I'd rather be disappointed from seeing something than regret never seeing it at all.  (That's talking to you Mona Lisa.)

So here's my best advice when travels go awry:

Bring your guidebook for backup.  Turn lemons in to lemonade and find another nearby site to visit.  There are lots of small museums and attractions that often get overlooked by the big ones.  Or use the maps to wander the streets and take in the architecture of the city.

When all else fails, eat.  Find the nearest cafe, bar or restaurant.   Grab a drink or bite to eat and regroup.  Devour a local temptation and people watch.

Justify, justify, justify.  I must say I'm pretty brilliant at this one.  I have a closet full of shoes and handbags all of which I can justify ten times over.  So if something goes bust, find one good, simple thing to focus on and make you feel better.

Keep positive.  A sense of humor goes a long way.  And being angry and annoyed takes more energy than putting on a smile, having a laugh and moving on to the next thing.

Remember nothing beats planning.  If something is so special and important that it will ruin your trip if you don't see it, make sure you do your homework.  Research hours of operation, how to get tickets and dress code to avoid being turned away or finding yourself face-to-face with a closed sign.

How do you turn disappointing travel experiences around?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

5 WAYS: To Experience Your Own City

When most people refer to traveling they usually mean going to a place that isn't home.  With no big trip planned in the very near future, I started to think about the city I live in and how much of it I haven't experienced in my 3 years here.  I haven't been to the art museum.  I haven't spent an afternoon people watching on the Ohio State Oval.  I haven't hiked Hocking Hills.  So why haven't I 'traveled' my city?

When I travel I love to eat, wander and watch.  Sounds kind of boring.  But with all of that eating, wandering and watching I'm actually taking a place in, pretending like I'm a local.  So here's the hitch. I don't experience my own city because I'm too busy.  I'm running errands, I'm thinking about work.  I've got places to go, people to see.  Blah, blah, blah.  Plus it's all too familiar.

What I came to realize is that in order to experience my home city, I need to break from my normal routine.  Thinking about what makes a culture interesting (its people, history, food, music and events), I came up with this short list.  Now I realize my ideas  for getting to know your own city better are pretty much no-brainers.  But for some reason, when Saturday morning rolls around and I think about what I'm going to do, I always seem to overlook them.  Maybe you do too.

5 WAYS: To experience your own city

  1. People watch.  One of my favorite things to do when I travel is to sit in a cafe and people watch.  But when I'm home I never seem to make time to do it.  Pick a part of town you don't normally visit (if you live in small town visit one nearby), find a bar or cafe and take an afternoon to watch life pass by.
  2. Local landmarks.  Take a drive or go for a walk and pick a landmark, building, park or monument that you're drawn to and get to know its history.  Taking a tour is a start (make sure to ask lots of questions), but also read books on local history, research it online or talk with local historians.  
  3. Local eating.  Skip the grocery store and go shopping at a farmers market.  Instead of eating at a chain restaurant pick a locally-owned one (look for ones that use local foods in their menus).  Eating local foods keeps you connected to your community and will open your eyes to how rich it is.
  4. Local music.  Big music acts don't become big overnight.  They start in local music scenes.  Check out local radio station websites for upcoming events.  Pop in to a music shop (yes they still exist) and ask the staff about up and coming local bands.  Try something different.  If alternative music is your thing, look for concerts for local choirs or acapella groups.
  5. Community events.  Pumpkin festivals, chili cook-offs, pancake breakfasts, bingo.  These are all great ways to experience and support your community.  Search for local events online and add them to your personal calendar as a reminder.  Your newspaper, city magazine or community website will have event ads and listings.  Libraries and coffee shops often have community boards with event postings too.   
BONUS WAY (5 +1):  More local eating.  If you're new to a city, I can't think of a better way to get to know it than trying the local favorite dish.  Philly Cheese steaks, cheese curds, hot dish.... gooey duck.  Try it.  You might like it.

If you're looking to challenge yourself to get to know your home city better, is hosting a weekly Travel Your Own City contest.  Every Thursday they will post a new idea to explore your city and encourage you to add photos and comments.  And of course feel free to share your ideas here.  The more the merrier.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Inspiring Travel Quotes

  • "The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page."  - Saint Augustine
  • “Experience, travel - these are as education in themselves." - Euripides
  • “People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home.” – Dagobert D. Runes
  • “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” - Henry Miller  
  • “Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” – Miriam Beard
  • "Don't tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you have traveled."  - Mohammed
  • “The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.” - G. K. Chesterton
  • “Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson