Travel Tips

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The Best-Kept Secret Spot in the Grand Canyon (Don’t Tell Them I Told You)

Shoshone Point

Enjoying a railing-free view at Shoshone Point

The Grand Canyon is a big place. Like, really big. In fact, it’s hard to describe just how big it is – almost as hard as describing just how amazing the view is. With all that space available, you’d think the last issue a visitor to this marvel of the natural world would encounter would be a crowd. But on the South Rim, especially near the visitor center, hordes of tourists from around the world can frequently be seen jostling for space at designated lookouts in search of the perfect canyon ‘selfie’.

The further you spread out from this epicenter of tourist activity, the more the crowds lessen. But if you’d like to have the entire canyon pretty much to yourself, allow me to share a little-known secret spot I discovered (after some ‘net research) that proved to be the highlight of my visit to one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

Shoshone Point

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Contemplate the solitude at Shoshone Point, Grand Canyon, USA

At the South Rim visitor center you can help yourself to a complimentary map – not that it will do you any good. Shoshone Point does not make an appearance. Right there, that tells you that they want this place to remain a secret – which is surprising considering that it is equipped with a picnic area and working restrooms. Apparently it’s meant for groups, but if you’re traveling as individuals there’s nothing to keep you from wandering over.

Getting There

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This is the only sign you’re in the right place

To get to Shoshone Point, it’s best to use your own private vehicle, though if you’re up for a long walk it’s not an impossibility. As you approach the visitor center, take a right on Desert View Drive. Not long afterwards you’ll pass a turnoff that’s only open to the free shuttle buses called Yaki Point Road. Just about a mile east of that is an unpaved parking area with no signage indicating where you are, located on the canyon side of the road. Pull in and get ready for a mild walk (approximately one mile) through pine forest to the lookout point. Alternately, you can take the bus to Yaki Point or the South Kaibab Trailhead (which is a great alternative and an excellent place to get down inside the canyon) then hoof it back down the road. Just a note: keep an eye out for wildlife. No sooner did I pull into the parking area when I came face to face with a coyote who decided my presence wasn’t his cup of tea and he skittered off.

When to Go

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View from Shoshone Point

Naturally, the heat in the middle of the day is less appealing to hike in, so for comfort as well as better lighting for photography, I recommend coming first thing in the morning, or for a great show, come around sunset. Just bear in mind that there are no railings and it is a long (long) way down, so watch your step in the waning light.

Can You Keep the Secret?

There’s no point in knowing a secret and not being able to tell it. I think this post embodies that. So feel free to share this secret spot after seeing it for yourself – that is if you have any words after witnessing that view – and you’ll still likely have the whole canyon to yourself. And if someone asks you where you heard about Shoshone Point…you didn’t hear it from me.

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Safety Tips for the Skittish Traveler

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Be safe wherever you go.

The world is a crazy, unsafe place. At times I too wish I could just bury myself in a hole in the ground and shut out all the insanity and insecurity. But the inherent problem with holes in the ground – the Grand Canyon not withstanding – is that they usually don’t offer a very good view. For that, it requires the courage to get out there and explore. Below I’ve listed 8 steps on how to travel safely and still maintain relative peace of mind.

1) The World is Just as Crazy Where You Live

Crime, terrorism and natural disasters are not limited to those on vacation. Sadly, such risks are part of the global human experience. This goes for visiting popular tourist attractions and traveling by air just as much as going to and from your job or school. Yes, it is possible something bad might happen while traveling, but statistically it is far more likely that you’ll have a car accident on the way home from the store than experience a terrorist attack while traveling abroad. By gaining some perspective on the risks involved, you can ease your worries and take comfort in knowing that you’re likely not at any greater risk than you are in your own hometown. That is, unless you’re visiting Falluja.

2) Be Shrewd, Dude

Taking practical precautions before embarking on your trip can do much to allay anxiety. Travel insurance is an increasingly good idea, not just for its practicality but also for the peace of mind. Thoroughly researching your intended destination can alert you to potential threats or dangers, both health and safety-wise, and buying a money belt or similar products can help lessen the your odds of being a victim.

3) Here’s Looking At You, Punk

Imagine for a second that you’re a pickpocket or any other variation of street criminal. Would you rather target the oblivious tourist that’s so engrossed in looking at the sights that they don’t even notice you’re there, or the wary tourist with the shifty eyes that are constantly scanning the surroundings? If you didn’t choose the former, then maybe you’re just not cut out for a life of petty crime. Yes, criminals prey on the easiest targets, and nothing says “I see you, punk. Try someone else” better than being aware of those around you and making eye contact. Sure, you might come off as paranoid but at least your message won’t be missed.

4) You’ve Got A Brain. Use It.

What you wear, bring, do and say can all have a direct bearing on your safety. Wearing expensive jewelry in poor cities is an invitation to potential muggers. Flashing costly electronics and camera equipment at inappropriate places and times can have the same effect as well. Even traveling through relatively safe areas and neighborhoods after nightfall may increase your risk, as might talking loudly in your native tongue, as nothing screams “tourist!” more than asking for directions. This is not to say that you should stay in your hotel room and not speak to anyone. Just use your head and the risks will be much lower.

5) If You’ve Got It, Don’t Flaunt It

Standards of dress and conduct vary wildly worldwide and to keep things on the up and up with the local populous it’s a good idea to learn what they are and then follow them. In many places in Latin America and India for example, women will at times draw unwanted male attention in direct proportion to the amount of skin they show. So ladies, be prepared to cover up if you don’t feel like being stared at by often not-too-subtle men. And don’t get me started on the Italians….

6) Make Friends, Not Mistakes

One of the best things about travel is the possibility of interacting with so many different people. While I heartily encourage all to mingle with the locals, this doesn’t mean drop your guard. Be mindful that some in bars and restaurants frequented by tourists may have their own agenda and be wary about what it is in (and how much) you drink. And sometimes (not all) that friendly local that just happens to strike up a conversation with you will eventually reveal that they want to take you to a “friend’s” shop where you can get bargains unheard of elsewhere. Again, you’ve got a brain, and don’t be afraid to say no. Most of all, don’t let the few bad eggs ruin the joys of cultural exchange.

7) Don’t Forget What Your Mommy Told You

As it turns out, your mom was right about a lot of things. While traveling, many of her adages still hold true if you want to come home safely: Look both ways before crossing the street (especially in London), be careful after dark, don’t walk through the woods by yourself and many more I’m sure. About the only one I would openly contest is the prohibition on going swimming for at least an hour after eating (An hour. A good hour).

8) Face Your Fears & Get Out There

With all the rampant insecurity in today’s society, it may be hard to overcome your fears to get out there and explore. But identifying your fears is a necessary step if you’re to experience peace of mind in travel or anything else. As I said in my 2015 humor/travel guide You Can Keep Your Adventure, Just Leave Me the Toilet Paper, “finding the root of your fears is like giving a prostate exam–uncomfortable even if you do manage to put your finger on it.” But once you do, and you’re willing to challenge yourself, enjoying the world – risks and all – will become a whole lot easier.

Summary

Of course, despite taking all these precautions you can still get hit by a bus, but hey, a meteor strike is a possibility as well. My point is that it is impossible to eliminate all risk in this world, so you’ll just have to do your best and relax. By taking practical steps you can lower your risk of danger while traveling, and I say that  if you have to accept a level of risk, it might as well be on vacation.

Do you have any safety tips you’d like to share? Leave a comment below!

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Cruising Advice For People Who Don’t Like Cruising – Tip#2

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Pick your ports wisely

In my first installment of cruising advice for people who don’t like cruising, I thoroughly – and with more than just a little scorn in my literary voice – debunked the common excuse given by reluctant cruise-goers of “There’s no privacy” or some other such nonsense. In this installment I shall refute another common excuse that comes in a variety of forms. I shall also do so with my trademark cunning and sarcasm (humility sold separately).

The excuses I deal with here all have to do with the ports of call: There’s not enough time in port/I hate the crowds in port/I really dislike some ports of call. While those might seem to be legitimate gripes on the surface, the truth is, they’re not. Don’t believe me? Read on for the explanation. That is, if you haven’t already closed your mind to logic and reason (yeah, there’s some of that scathing sarcasm now).

There’s not enough time in port

This complaint just begs to be answered with the retort: not enough time to do what??!! Is it really necessary to snorkel until your skin shrinks up like a prune? Must you lay out at the beach until melanoma sets in? Is it so important that you visit every single jewelry, souvenir and craft shop before weighing anchor?

The fact is,  the cruise lines have done a pretty good job ensuring that you have enough time in port to see what’s important. Stopping in Progreso, Mexico? Don’t worry, you’ll have time for Chitchen Itza. Calling on San Juan or Ocho Rios? You’ll have plenty of time for El Morro or Dunns River Falls. And while some major metropolises also double as cruise ports with all their attraction-rich diversions, even in world-class cities like Sydney, New York and Rome you should still be able to fit in a few of the main attractions before having to get back on board. At the very least you’ll get to see if you think it’s worth a return trip.

I hate the crowds in port

If this is you then know that I’m right with you. I can’t stand being trapped among the gluttonous hordes. But this doesn’t stop me from enjoying my time in port. The key lies in being willing to venture out on your own. Sure the cruise-run shore excursions are convenient and offer the safety net of knowing the ship won’t leave without you; but by arranging your own excursions in advance you have more control over your time, itinerary and the amount of elbow room. When safe to do so, I heartily recommend renting a car and exploring beyond the rows of souvenir shops that seem to follow you around (I’m talking to you, Alaska!). That’s where the best (and least crowded) travel experiences lie.

I really dislike certain ports of call

This may be true. It might even be fair. But it still isn’t an excuse not to cruise. The solution to this conundrum is twofold – either change your activity or change your itinerary.

It may be that you have no desire to visit a certain port or have already had a bad experience there. My advice is: Get over it! Find something else to do if what you did before was unappealing. Didn’t enjoy snorkeling in Belize? (FYI you’re a weirdo if you say yes) Next time go for the jungle tour. Not a fan of the pushy vendors in the Bahamas? Why not try parasailing next time? It’s unlikely they’ll follow you up there. And if you’re really just so very snobbish that you refuse to set foot in a certain port of call, my advice is: Don’t!!! Nobody says you have to get off the ship. Get your nails done, play Bingo or just lay by the pool. If that’s the worst case scenario, is it really something to complain about? And yes, I meant that sarcastically.

As for your itinerary, unless you’re stuck doing a family reunion at sea, there’s no excuse for choosing one you dislike. Even mainstream cruise lines offer “exotic” itineraries that veer off the beaten path. Personally I’ve found Princess Cruise Lines to be a good blend of value, comfort and interesting routes. But whoever you go with, it’s not hard to avoid the places you don’t like – just take a different ship!

I hope this rundown has cleared up a few common misconceptions (a.k.a. excuses) about cruise ports of call. I also hope that if you’ve used one of these, you feel a certain measure of shame. With a little foresight, preparation and a dose of daring, every port can be a good thing. So when you’re done whining, call me and we’ll book that cruise.


Do you have any port-related advice to share with your fellow travelers? Leave a comment below!

 

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A Wanderlust Wardrobe for the XL Seasoned Traveler

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Picking the properly-artistic souvenir t-shirt is an art unto itself

Just recently I participated in an internet challenge seeking the advice of seasoned travelers as to what it is that we like wear while galavanting about the planet. I consider myself a seasoned traveler. I’m also kind of fat. So I decided to share a post about my ideal “wanderlust wardrobe” from the perspective of someone whose total number of miles traveled is nearly on par with their daily caloric intake. In other words, the kind of guy you hope you’re not seated next to on the plane.

For me, the greatest trial when traveling isn’t the foreign languages or jet lag. It is all about trying to stay comfortable when crammed into a tiny airplane seat for ten hours or waiting for a train with a humidity level of over a million. Travel logistics can be uncomfortable and/or fatiguing even under the best of circumstances. Tight shoes and a rigid waistband don’t help matters. Below I’ve listed some elements of my ideal “wanderlust wardrobe” for achieving both comfort and style. Feel free to comment with ideas of your own.

1) Pants with an elastic waistband

I guess you can say I have a classic hourglass figure with between twenty to twenty-five minutes shoved in somewhere around the middle. OK, maybe I’m exaggerating (about the hourglass part), but for those of us with a little ‘cushioning’ located around the equator, an inflexible waistband makes the already-challenging act of finding a comfortable position while on a transcontinental flight a real nightmare. Loose pants may sound appealing, but unless they’re accompanied by a sufficiently-strong belt, they can make for some very embarrassing moments while running through the airport. And if you have to wear a belt (and take it off getting through security) you’re back to square one. With elastic waistbands, those who carry their share of famine insurance around the midsection can have the anti-gravitational support they need while still being able to properly contort into a coach class seat.

2) Moisture-wicking shirts that breathe

When traveling to tropical or warm weather locales, I have long suffered from being drenched with sweat – often on my way between getting off the plane and the terminal. With today’s technology, synthetic materials can wick away some of that self-produced moisture and allow your overheated torso to breathe without taking your shirt off. If, like me, you fit the description listed in the point above, then you’re probably doing everyone else a favor by keeping it on.

3) Slip-on shoes with comfortable insoles

Since I’ve already substituted my belt with an elastic waistband, I see no point in having any delays at airport security due to my shoes. Being able to slip them on and off at will also comes in handy while on the plane or upon arriving at the beach. As for the comfortable insoles, just consider the long walks between the terminal and baggage claim in your average international airport – and that’s before you even take a step outside. And if you’re traveling to a place with great vertical range, such as the Amalfi Coast and its endless stairs, buying comfy insoles will cost you less than a visit to the podiatrist.

4) The right t-shirt

When it comes to buying a souvenir t-shirt I admit to being a bit OCD. As I mentioned before, the right t-shirt would not be 100% cotton due to stickiness and shrinkage issues (I mean the shirt, of course), though it is in this arena that form outweighs function. The design should indicate where the shirt was purchased without looking like it was picked up out of the clearance bin. The image should represent a distinguishing element of the place visited without being tacky or overly-busy. Understatement works well in this tiny, under-served niche of the fashion industry. I’m actually quite proud of my collection of t-shirts from around the world, and in almost every case their purchase was the result of a protracted search and intense elimination process. Those who have traveled with me can attest to my scrupulous efforts to seek out the right t-shirt. They can also attest to the validity of points 1-3 while waiting for me to choose.

5) A wide-brimmed, crushable hat

My travel hat is one of my most prized possessions. Not only is it a vehicle to showcase my exhaustive travel pin collection, but it serves any number of useful purposes; like protecting my eyes and scalp from the sun or covering up my messy hair. You can also throw in looking like an experienced traveler to dissuade any charlatans who might be thinking about running one of their scams on the wide-eyed foreigner. Just be sure that your hat is wide, weathered and stylish enough that you come across as a traveler, not a tourist.

Form Vs. Function

Naturally, there’s a form versus function aspect to all this. A shirt can be the most comfortable article of clothing in the world, but if it looks hideous, I still have enough vanity not to wear it. And those mud-stomping, gel-filled, air-cooled, super-dope-looking hiking boots with 4.7 miles worth of laces certainly do have their place, but that place is not in the airport security line. I guess it all depends on the nature of the trip, how much you want to lug around, and of course, who you’re looking to impress. Personally, I go for the Indiana Jones & the Temple of Comfort look – part adventurer; part lazy bum – on travel days. After that I seek to return to my normal, style/weight-conscious self, who is happiest when filling in immigration forms and stretchy t-shirts around the globe.


Do you have an item of clothing that you won’t leave home without? Share it by leaving a comment below!

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