I recently went to Paris in the middle of November. It was cold, rainy, and many shops and restaurants were closed. Even parts of the Metro were shut down due to construction. Despite all that, it was a really good time (and I’d totally do it again).
Setting realistic expectations for a November trip to Paris
Paris (and France in general) is going to be miserable in November. As long as you can accept that fact, and you know what you’re getting into before you go, you won’t have any issues. Based on my recent experience, here’s what you can expect:
The temperature swings are going to be wild
Packing for a trip to Paris in November is going to be challenging. It won’t be full-blown winter, though summer will be long gone. Making things even more difficult will be the inevitable unseasonably warm and cold days you might experience.
The best way to prepare for this is to dress in layers. It’s going to be extremely cold in the mornings and evenings. It might reach T-shirt weather mid day though, so be prepared to shed clothing when necessary.
Winter is Metro maintenance and repair season
I didn’t even occur to me that parts of the Metro would be inoperable when I purchased my round trip ticket from the kiosk at the Charles de Gaulle Airport. My plan was to hop on the RER train and head into Paris for a couple hours before returning back to the airport to catch a flight.
Unfortunately, the train was only running one direction that day (away from the airport). The kiosk didn’t tell me this as I was purchasing the ticket.
I made it into the center of Paris without any issues. It was only when I was ready to return back to the airport that I learned that there was a large chunk of track that was out of service.
Long story short, I paid $55 for an Uber back to Charles de Gaulle. I also learned a valuable lesson about doing research ahead of time.
Not everything is going to be open
Visiting Paris in the summer versus visiting in the winter is a completely different experience. Things are much quieter in the winter.
Many shops and restaurants have winter hours, which is basically a reduction of summer hours. As long as you pay attention to win things open and close in the winter months, you won’t have any issues.
Walking the streets will be a blissfully peaceful experience
I’ve been to Paris during peak tourist season, and quite frankly, it can be challenging. It’s hard to go anywhere without literally bumping into and tripping over other tourists, and it just ruins experience.
Paris in November, on the other hand, is a much different thing. The trains aren’t as crowded, the streets are quieter, and it won’t be as difficult to find a seat at a café or restaurant. Just being able to walk down the street without dealing with thousands of other tourists makes it all worth it.
It’s probably going to rain
Unlike packing for a trip to Arizona in February, packing for a trip to Paris in November requires leaving space for your umbrella. It rains a lot in Paris during the early winter months. Even if the forecast is for sun, I promise it’ll rain buckets on you at least once.
If you’re an Instagram addict looking for things to do in Doha, you clicked on the proper article.
I recently returned from a 1 day trip to this amazing city feeling overwhelmingly sure that it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to. I cannot wait to go back and experience it again!
Um…I only went to Doha because I found a good deal on a flight
It’s true. I’ll go anywhere to take advantage of a good deal, as long as I can get there in an way which allows me to create interesting blog and video content. I’m also a photography nut (photography phreak?), so this trip to Doha was satisfying on so many levels.
Once on the ground, the beauty of Doha was so overwhelming that I couldn’t resist capturing it in pictures. It was exactly the kind of trip I love so much. And it may have never happened if I didn’t find such a good deal on the flights!
All of this is especially good news for you. How? Well, if you’re looking for things to do in Doha in a short amount of time, I’m here to tell you that 24 is all you need to really see the place.
I love travel, and I love photography (I also love corn chips and salsa, but that’s not exactly relevant so I’ll save that for another post).
The point is that I love to photograph the places I travel to, and I’ve got very strict criteria for doing so. All you need to know is that these 5 Doha photo-spot ideas come straight from the brain of a photo-obsessed travel geek.
The best way to see Doha is to take a late afternoon walk down Omar Al Mukhtar St
One of the most interesting things about the city center of Doha is how sparkly and new everything is. The architecture is spectacular, and from what I saw, it’s one of the cleanest and best-maintained city cores I’ve ever strolled through.
Omar Al Mukhtar St cuts right through the center of the downtown area, and it’s a spectacular walk in the late afternoon when the sun is low and reflecting off all the glass and metal like a disco ball.
Oh, and just so you know: if you’re a history buff who is looking for things to do in Qatar that are especially “old world”, you’re not going to be satisfied with this walk. All you’re going to see is business people yammering and tapping on their mobile phones (as well as beautiful modern architecture). You’ve been warned.
Is 24 hours really enough time to see Doha?
Doha is an interesting place. It’s a city rich in history and culture, yet you’d be hard pressed to see any of it while walking though the downtown corridor in between the glitzy steel and glass skyscrapers.
It takes a bit of work to uncover it‘s past, but once you start peeling away the layers, you’re likely to find yourself becoming more and more enamored with Qatar both past and present. It’s fascinating.
However – if I’m being completely honest, there isn’t a whole heck of a lot of things to do in Doha. It’s definitely not a destination where you could spend a week in and feel like you didn’t see anything.
While vibrant and energetic, the footprint of Doha is relatively small (and much easier to consume than a first time visit to Dubai for example). 24 hours is more than enough!
It certainly has it’s own style of charm though. I can’t wait to return, phone in hand, bombarding all my Instagram friends once again with the beautiful sights.
I couldn’t help but to wonder if I made a huge mistake by booking a trip to Iceland for the middle of October.
There’s usually a catch involved when airfare is so cheap, and I was starting to think that the reason for getting such a good deal was because the entire island would be frozen solid and there would be nothing to do but to dig in the snow and climb on icebergs. It had me worried.
Booking a hotel and trying to figure out how I was going to get from the airport in Keflavík to the city of Reykjavik put my mind at ease (slightly), but I still had some doubts considering that ground transportation and hotels seemed horrifically expensive.
All of a sudden I wasn’t feeling so proud of myself for nabbing such a good deal on airfare, and I wished that I could have backpedaled a little bit to do some research before plowing ahead with the flight reservations.
It was too late for that though, so I had no choice but to go and deal with the consequences of being a spontaneous spaz who can’t resist a good deal on airfare.
My first impressions of Iceland
Arriving at Keflavik (KEF) at 6 AM under complete darkness and a driving 35°F rain wasn’t very fun if I’m being honest, as I was faced with the conundrum of trying to figure out what I was going to do until 3 PM (the time at which I could check into my hotel).
It was far too cold and rainy to head into Reykjavík, since I was pretty sure that I would’ve been miserable trying to stay warm and dry until the mid afternoon. If there’s one thing that puts me in a sour mood, it’s being cold and wet.
Sprinkle a little boredom into the mix, and…well…that’s when I usually start having thoughts of wanting to throw in the towel and go home.
I ended up staying in the airport until 12 noon, which worked out well since I was able to get a lot of work done before heading into town and transforming myself into tourist mode.
I was still very unsure about being in Iceland in the middle October as I sat there pecking at my keyboard and looking out the windows at all that driving rain, but once I stepped out of the airport for the first time and onto the Flybus headed directly for Reykjavík, my mood changed. Quick.
First of all, it was neat to see that Iceland is a populated and bustling place – not that I was totally expecting it to be all fishing boats and icebergs, but I quickly realized that my worries about coming here in October were hilariously ignorant.
Everywhere I looked there were the comforts of home: cafés, restaurants, schools, office buildings, pedicure salons in nondescript strip malls – all the same stuff that we have back at home, and they were all open and eager for business.
Being in Iceland doesn’t mean being cut off from the rest of the world and being forced to rough it out in the wilderness with dry leaves (and sticks) instead of toilet paper.
I’ve always considered Iceland to be an outdoor destination to the extreme, assuming that people only came here to go camping and hiking. I am a little bit embarrassed to admit it, but I really wasn’t expecting to see so much urban development and activity in both Keflavik and Reykjavík.
There’s no need to worry – Iceland doesn’t shut down in October, and as a matter of fact it’s still thriving and open for business just as it is any other time of the year.
Iceland is like a colder version of Hawaii
Even though I returned from this trip over a month ago, I’m still getting asked (nearly daily) about it. Nearly every question I get (whether it’s about the landscape, the food, or the weather) can be answered with the same reply. “It’s a lot like Hawaii!”
Both Hawaii and Iceland are islands built from volcanoes that grew out of the sea, so therefore, you can expect to see black volcanic rock nearly everywhere you go.
As a matter fact, there were moments while on the bus between Keflavik and Reykjavík that I could’ve sworn that I was on the big Island of Hawaii. Rich black volcanic rock lined both sides of the road, with bushels of dry brown grass on top blowing majestically in the wind.
Seriously – if I was dropped here blindfolded on a decently warm day, it would be darn near impossible for me think that I wasn’t in the land of Aloha.
The food is also eerily similar. The residents of both Hawaii and Iceland are proud meat eaters, and you won’t have to look far for a decent roast beast or seafood plate in either place.
Of course the local flavorings are unique to each, and you might have a bit of difficulty finding fresh mango and pineapple in Reykjavík. But then again you’re not likely to find reindeer meat in Hawaii either. Despite the differences, I do believe the locals from either island would be happy to eat the food of the other.
Comparing the weather of Iceland to the weather in Hawaii is a bit more of a stretch, but the tall mountain peaks on both islands are large enough to affect the weather in the same way. There’s always something magical about seeing misty fog and rain hugging rugged mountaintops off in the distance.
No, you’re not going to freeze to death in Iceland in the middle of October
Don’t let the word “ice” in Iceland fool you. I’m actually quite disappointed to tell you that I didn’t even see one crystal of natural of ice during my three day stay. The temperature in Reykjavík was hovering just above freezing the entire time, and the only precipitation that I did see was rain. Quite a lot of it actually, and much of it was horizontal thanks to the high winds.
I had never in my life ventured this far north of the Equator so late in the year and I honestly didn’t know what to expect. All I had were visions of ice hotels for accommodations and dogsled teams as the primary mode of transportation. I
f I’m being honest, that’s kind of something that I have to be in the right mindset for. It’s not easy to get me (a warm weather guy) to that level!
Anyway, the point of this entire post is just to let you know that traveling to Iceland in the middle of October is not a completely stupid idea and this trip worked out pretty well for me actually. Everything is open, the shops and stores are thriving, and the weather is fairly decent if you don’t mind a little rain.
Is October the best month to go to Iceland? Not by a long shot! It’s such a unique place that it’d be foolish not to experience it in both of it’s amazing extremes.
Go in the middle of January if you want to experience a winter wonderland of glaciers, ice hotels, and cold temperatures brutal enough to flash-freeze any exposed skin solid in seconds. The summertime is when you want to go for outdoor activities such as hiking and camping.
October isn’t all that bad though – you’ll likely get really good deals on airfare (just as I did), and you’ll still get to experience much of what Iceland has to offer. Not totally everything, but enough to say that you’ve seen the place and got a really good sense of what it’s all about.
My recent trip to Dubai was significant. As a matter of fact, it was only the second time in my entire life where I felt more nervous than I did excited in the days leading up to departure, and I couldn’t help but to have vivid flashbacks of my first trip to Asia way back in 2002.
Keep in mind that I was a very inexperienced traveler back then, and thought of hopping on a plane and flying 15 hours to Hong Kong took every bit of courage I had. Would I be able to handle the food?
What if I couldn’t read the signs and understand the language? What if I lose my passport and…I know. I used to worry about some really stupid and irrelevant shit when I was younger, so doing something adventurous like going to Asia for the very first time put me into anxiety overload.
Thinking back on it, it was easily one of the best trips of my life and I’m so glad that I had the willingness to step outside my comfort zone and do it. And even though I’m not anywhere near as much of a worrier as I used to be, I was still feeling a twinge of anxiety on the 15 hour flight from Los Angeles to Dubai which kicked off this entire trip.
I didn’t have any worries about not understanding the language or being able to handle the food, but it was mostly political thoughts and how a snow-white American dude like me (Midwest represent!) would be perceived by the locals.
I know. Dubai is one of the richest and most extravagant cities in the world, diverse and multicultural, and really not all that much different than anywhere else.
So even though I knew that wasn’t going to be complete culture shock, it was going to be my first ever visit to the Middle East and I just couldn’t help feeling a little bit nervous about what the coming days would bring.
Those of you who have been to Dubai before are most certainly falling out of your chair and laughing hysterically by now. I know this because it only took me all of about 10 minutes of being there to make me realize that all of my worrying was for naught since it’s essentially just a huge tourist trap (and a stunningly beautiful one at that).
The entirety of my three days on the ground in Dubai were spent mingling with tourists from the US, Europe and Australia – not that I was trying to mingle with them, but they were everywhere and after a while it kind of felt like I was at an amusement park – or perhaps Las Vegas on steroids.
Setting reasonable expectations for your very first trip to Dubai
The somewhat disappointing realization of Dubai feeling like an amusement park was the inspiration for this post, and I hope what I am about to write will help first time visitors to this glitzy desert oasis get the most out of their trip.
Dubai is not a walking city
One of my favorite things to do as a traveler is to strap comfortable shoes to my feet and spend entire days walking around and checking things out. I generally try to avoid taxicabs or other public modes of transportation as much as I can, because I really enjoy taking my time to slow down and see the sights.
I realize that I don’t see as much by doing it this way, but getting some exercise while sightseeing is a total win-win.
Unfortunately, as beautiful and modern as Dubai is, it’s so bloody hot that walking outside for longer than 10 minutes in the middle of the day will kill you dead (or at least put you in the hospital).
Seriously – you have to ignore the fact that even though they built some really nice bike paths all around the city, they are completely useless for at least 16 hours of the day due to the heat.
Maybe it’s possible to go cycling or running at 11 PM, but even then you still have to be a total badass because it will be above 90°F (32°C) with oppressive amounts of humidity.
Thankfully, shopping seems to be a national sport in the United Arab Emirates, and there are two ridiculously huge shopping malls in the city which you can spend entire days in walking around in air-conditioned comfort if you really feel the need to put some miles underneath your feet.
Public transportation in Dubai is plentiful and cheap
As I mentioned above, I’m not normally the kind a guy who likes to use public transportation so much when traveling.
However, Dubai was a complete exception because of the oppressive heat, which ended up being kind of a good thing because it made me realize how plentiful and cheap public transportation is in Dubai.
Of all the cities that I’ve ever been to in the world, I found taxi fares to be quite reasonable within the city limits of Dubai.
Fares are normally so expensive that it’s a last resort option in most places, but I was able to go from one end of the city to the other several times spending less than US$50 total – which is really impressive considering how much of a large area it covers.
Another nice thing about taxi service in Dubai is the fact that they are literally everywhere and I never had difficulty finding one ready to take me wherever I needed to go.
I’m sure that one of the main reasons for this is the fact that it’s so hot and most people don’t normally walk from place to place, so there needs to be enough taxes to cover the demand.
The other option for getting around Dubai quickly and cheaply is to use the elevated rapid-transit metro system. For roughly US$10, I was able to get a day pass for unlimited use which covered the entire network.
The elevated metro is obviously a better deal than using taxis when it comes to getting from place to place, and it’s what I would recommend as your primary mode of transportation in Dubai. Go get that card (officially referred to as a “Nol Card”) and save yourself a ton of money!
It’s not always necessary to make reservations for the Burj Khalifa observation deck
One of the things that all first-time visitors to Dubai must to do is to take a trip to the top of the Burj Khalifa. It’s the world’s tallest building, and a very impressive one at that!
Even better, it serves as a very good way to get your bearings in this amazing city since you will be able to see all of it from such a high vantage point.
A trip to the top of the Burj Khalifa was my only goal for this trip to Dubai, and I tackled it the very first morning after my arrival the evening prior.
Unfortunately, I got too busy and distracted, and I forgot to make reservations online ahead of time like so many other websites and travel guides suggested that I do.
Fortunately, despite my forgetfulness leading up to this trip, I was able to make a reservation online the morning of, and even though not all timeslots were available, I showed up an hour early and they were still able to let me in (they were also allowing people to walk up and purchase tickets for immediate access as well).
Keep in mind that this was a Monday, and you may not have much luck showing up without a reservation on a weekend. But from my experience, weekdays are a much better time to go.
Nearly all restaurants in Dubai are closed during Ramadan
I’ll be honest when I say that I felt kind of stupid for showing up in Dubai not knowing that it was Ramadan.
For those that don’t know, Ramadan is a holy month of fasting and avoiding impure thoughts (which may be the most simplistic definition ever – there’s much more to it of course, and Wikipedia is a good source of info if you’re interested).
Muslims are not to eat from sunrise to sunset for each day of Ramadan, which means that most restaurants and cafés are closed. It is also disrespectful to eat or drink in public whether you’re Muslim or not, so as you can imagine, eating will be challenge for non-Muslim tourists in Dubai during this time.
That being said, I did run across a few cafés that were open to non-Muslims only, but they were very few and far between. You’ll have to creative with your dining habits if you show up in Dubai during Ramadan having no clue like I did.
While I did find the food options to be limited, room service was available in my hotel room 24 hours a day – so I had that as a last resort option if I couldn’t find anything else.
I did find that as long as I ate a really big breakfast and a really big dinner, I was able to skip lunch altogether, so it was never really an issue for me. But still – if you’re not expecting it (or you have small kids who eat like elephants), it can be kind of a big deal.
Final words of advice
My biggest take away from this trip and the final point that I would like to leave you with is the fact that Dubai felt just as western as any other city that I’ve ever been to.
Additionally, if it wasn’t for the Arabic script on all the signs, I would’ve never been able to guess that I was in the Middle East at all.
Dubai is an engineering masterpiece that needs to be seen to be believed, and it is a very fun and easy destination for travelers on any level (even those with very little experience exploring countries other than their own). Heck, If I can do it, anybody can.
I recently went to Zurich. It was actually a “revenge” trip of sorts, as my first visit (many years ago) wasn’t all that much fun thanks to the miserably cold weather. Which is unfortunate, since it’s an amazing city with rich culture.
I’m happy to report that my most recent visit was much better. Yeah, it was cold, but at least I arrived prepared this time.
Now that I’m “experienced” on all some things Zurich, I’m chomping at the bit to give you some advice about how not to be like me and make sure that you get the most out of your next trip to this amazing city:
Do NOT go in the middle of winter
It was the middle of January first time I visited Zurich, and I’m going to be blunt: it was a miserable experience. With temperatures hovering just 1° above freezing the entire time, all I really wanted to do was stay inside and plan my next trip to someplace warm.
It was a struggle to get myself feeling like I wanted to go outside and do any sightseeing, and I really tried, but I gave up less than an hour into it. What a waste to travel all that way and not see anything!
Thankfully, the weather was much better on this trip and it was easy for me to spend an entire day walking around and checking things out.
There were also many more people outside enjoying nice weather as well, which made it a much more entertaining experience and made the city feel more alive and energetic then I remembered from last time.
I’d actually recommend going in May or September. I was there in late April this time, and the weather was so close to being perfect – but not quite as nice as I would have liked (a little warmer would’ve been better).
Avoiding the heat of summer and the freeze of winter will ensure that you’ll have no excuses to not get out there and get your travel on.
Rent a bike for free and see more of the city
Yes, you read that right. All kinds of bikes (e-bikes, kids bikes, city bikes) can be rented for free in Zurich providing that you have a valid ID and 20CHF for the deposit. Note that this is limited to visitors only, and you can register at the main north or south bike stations.
As an avid cyclist myself, I found the city of Zurich to be very bike friendly and I wouldn’t have any issues riding around on two wheels as my main mode of transportation (except in January). If you’re a visitor on a very tight time limit, getting around the city via bike for free is the best way to do it!
Do a proper chocolate tour
Even if you don’t like chocolate, you’re going to have to bring back a few bars the stuff for friends and family as souvenirs. But who doesn’t like chocolate?
I’m going to go right ahead and assume that you can’t get enough of it (like me), so making sure you have enough time to visit some chocolate shops should be a mandatory part of your visit to Zurich.
Unfortunately, I did very little research before my trip and I felt really lost once I arrived due to the sheer number of really nice looking chocolate shops and factories all over the place. It wasn’t until the very end of my trip when I discovered a really good solution to this problem: an in-depth guided tour!
It was actually a hotel employee who told me about the Sweet Zurich tour just as I was checking out, and it sounded so good that I was kicking myself silly for missing the opportunity.
What’s not to like about a very in-depth tour of some lesser known (but amazingly good) chocolate producers? Tours of large factories mass-producing well known brands of chocolate wouldn’t be as interesting to me as something like this, and I’m totally going to do it the next time I’m in Zurich.
If there’s anything that you can take away from this, it should be the fact that Zurich has a lot to offer and you’re going to need to slow down a bit and make sure that you have the time to experience it properly (and don’t go in January).
I’d recommend at least a week for first-time visitors, as that would be plenty of time to explore all the nooks and crannies while allowing for the opportunity to venture outside of the city limits a bit as well. Switzerland is an amazingly beautiful country, and it would be foolish not to head out into the greenery at least one day during your stay.
Focusing on the country is going to be the goal of my next trip to Switzerland. I feel like I’ve got a pretty good sense of what Zurich is all about now (finally!), but the Alps and I need to get acquainted in a very big way. I’ll bet there’s some amazing chocolate out there in the hills as well…
My fascination with Arizona began way back when I was around 7 years old or so, when watching Wile E. Coyote chase the Road Runner around on TV became my Saturday morning addiction.
Nothing in the world was better for this Michigan boy than waking up ungodly early on a Saturday morning, pouring half a box of Cocoa Puffs into the largest bowl I could find, and then running out into the living room to gorge myself on an unhealthy amount of sugar and hours of mind-numbing cartoons.
Of course Mom and Dad did not approve of this, but I quickly learned that the earlier I got up, the less chance there was of them stopping me (especially if I kept the volume on the TV very low). They loved to sleep in on Saturday mornings, that’s for damn sure.
As fascinating as the American Southwest was to me, I didn’t make my first visit until I was 22 years old and just out of college. I was living in Ohio at the time, and the company that I was working for sent me on a business trip to San Diego to meet with a client. That was the first time in my life I had ever been in that part of the country, and it was a mind-altering experience that changed my life forever.
Even though San Diego isn’t as rugged and baron as Arizona, there are deserts and cactus here – and seeing that kind of stuff for the first time completely blew my mind. Long story short, I moved to San Diego one year later, and made my first ever trip to Arizona exactly one year after that. San Diego is my true love, but I will admit that Arizona tugged on my heartstrings a bit on that first visit.
Basically, Arizona in February is awesome for three main reasons…
Choosing Arizona as a destination for this short trip was the obvious decision. It’s a nice and easy destination from San Diego, different than my day-to-day life at home, and I don’t think I’m ever going to get tired of wandering that state from corner to corner just like the cowboys and frontiersman did way back in the day. There’s just so much open land!
Fortunately, advancements in technology have made it possible to see all of Arizona in air-conditioned comfort, as opposed to riding on the back of a smelly horse for months on end like they did way back when. Arizona is an awesome place for sightseeing and aimless wandering – especially in the winter months. Here’s why:
1. The temperature is actually tolerable
You will never experience heat like you would if you arrive in Arizona in the middle of August. It’s not uncommon for temperatures to reach 120°F, which is borderline deadly. Scratch that. It IS deadly!
It’s the kind of heat that will melt the paint off your car if you leave it out in the sun too long, so it goes without saying that you be crazy to consider coming here in the summertime looking for fun hiking trails. That’s pretty much a death sentence, and a fantastic way to win a Darwin award of your own.
Unlike how it is in Paris in November, February is simply amazing in Arizona. The average high is 72°F which, according to my snobbishly high standards, is absolutely perfect because it’s not too cold and not too hot.
By comparison, January has a chilly average temperature of 68°F. That’s cold – especially if you’re only wearing shorts and flip flops (because you thought only idiots bring warm clothes to Arizona).
2. It isn’t like Florida
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the winter months are considered high-season in Arizona, meaning that it’s the time when all the tourists and snowbirds descend from the north.
However, in my experience, I’ve found that Arizona doesn’t suffer from the kind of wintertime “snowbird gridlock” which cripples Florida during the same time of year.
It seems the entire East Coast drops in on Florida from December through March, and it can be miserable at times dealing with all of the traffic and congestion from the mass of people who have no idea where they are going.
Arizona seems to have avoided that mess – at least for now. It truly is a wintertime oasis for the Northerners to come and defrost themselves, and since it’s the tourist season, everything is open for business all across the state (even the parts of the state which are mountainous and snowy). And that leads me to point number three…
3. Deserts in the morning, and mountain snow in the afternoon
It wasn’t until my 7th grade geography class when I learned that there are mountains in Arizona, and that it actually snows quite a bit up there on those peaks every winter.
You have to understand how completely astounding it was for me to learn about it – after all, up until that point in my life, the only thing that I knew about the state of Arizona was that there were really cool looking cactuses everywhere with lots of coyotes chasing roadrunners around (while trying to blow them up with dynamite).
Who says Saturday morning cartoons aren’t educational? However, they failed to teach me that wintertime snow in the mountains of Arizona is something truly magical.
The best part about the snow is that it’s not far from the deserts – yeah, the ones filled with all of those cool green prickly cactuses and terrifying deadly insects. As a matter fact, in the month of February, it’s possible to go from rugged dry desert to deep mountain snow in less than two hours. Amazing!
This is the first time that I have ever made it a goal to see a desert and mountains snow in the same day while in Arizona, it was a very interesting experience.
Now, if you’re originally from this part of the country, it may not seem all that exciting to you – but keep in mind that I was raised in the Midwest far away from anything remotely similar to this kind of landscape.
Michigan is basically the opposite of Arizona in every way possible, and even though I’ve been living in San Diego for over 20 years now, it still blows my mind to see deserts and snow in the same day.
So there you have it. My top three reasons why you’d be a fool not to hop in the car and do a road trip through Arizona in the middle of February.
Yes, you could do the same thing in the middle of August, but I’d only recommend that for Red Bull guzzling adrenaline junkies who live life on the edge. If that’s you, have fun and fear not – boring people like me will find your smoldering remains and notify your family when we come through next winter.
I just got back from a trip to China. Based on everything that happened, I came to the conclusion that the best way to explain my time in Beijing was to compare it to the 1969 Apollo 13 mission to the moon.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with that mission, all you need to know is that it was a mission that didn’t go quite as planned, and it was the result of rapid creative thinking which helped to bring the astronauts home alive.
Now, I’m not saying that I was in danger of losing my life at any point during this trip (except maybe for the taxi rides to and from the airport), but I couldn’t help but to laugh when I realized that everything that happened was kind of like a lot less serious version the 1995 Apollo 13 movie directed by Ron Howard.
1. Saving battery life became the number one goal
Unfortunately, I had a momentary lapse of intelligence which led me to completely forget to unplug my iPhone charger from the outlet between the seats as I walked off the plane in Beijing.
It wasn’t until I had arrived at the hotel later that evening that I realized the mistake. I frantically dug through my backpack, all the pockets in my jacket, as well as the pockets of my jeans 10 times each. It was a sinking feeling to realize that the lifeline to my world (my phone) was just about dead and I had absolutely no way to recharge it.
Everything was on that phone. My itinerary, communication with friends and family, and important things like maps which would help me explore the city the next day. Without my phone and that precious data, things could’ve become very difficult very quickly.
Compare that with the astronauts of Apollo 13 (who admittedly had it horrifically worse than I did): they were stuck floating around in a powerless craft in outer space, and thier only hope of returning home safely at that point was fully dependent on a very limited amount of power from damaged battery packs.
hose batteries were all the astronauts had at that point, and they knew that they needed every single ounce of energy from them in order to make it home. But they also needed things like communication with Mission Control, heat, and small bursts of thrust to keep them (somewhat) on course. Without battery power, none of that was possible.
They kept their spacecraft completely powered down most of the time, and only powered it on when absolutely necessary for communications and slight course corrections. It became a delicate dance of turning it on, quickly doing what needed to be done, and then powering off as fast as humanly possible in order to conserve valuable power.
I found myself doing exactly that with my iPhone for the first 12 hours of this trip. For example, letting my family know that I had safely arrived was very important because I didn’t want them assuming that I was lying dead in a ditch somewhere if I didn’t check in.
So I turned on my phone, fired off a quick text message, and then quickly turned it off as fast as I could.
I was down to 30% power that point, and it needed to last me two more days at least – which would typically only last about four hours or so in normal use.
I thought long and hard about each time that I needed to use it for something, and I only turned it on for the most important things. Never since 2007 (when I got my first smart phone) have I ever understood the importance of being connected more than I had at this moment.
Part of me actually wishes that I wasn’t able to find an iPhone charger the next day in a store less than a two minute walk from my hotel (lol). I mean, think of the stories I’d be able to tell right now about the adventures of making an iPhone last an entire weekend on a single 30% charge. Now that would be entertaining content!
2. Finally, after many years of preparation, it was time to go to the moon China
I’m not sure exactly what it is about China that makes me think of it so highly, but for my entire life I’ve considered it to be a destination synonymous with “world travel”.
If somebody would’ve told me that they were going to the Bahamas for vacation, it wouldn’t have impressed me nearly as much as saying that they were going to China instead.
For example, when I was in my teens, I considered visiting China as some really serious shit – people who went to China were hard-core travelers and the ones that I looked up to the most.
There’s just something so exotic and different about Chinese culture that has always fascinated me, and I had always thought that if I could visit China and get around OK on my own, I’d be a bonafide world traveler myself. Sounds cheesy, I know, but those are the kinds of things going on in my brain.
My fascination with China was similar to primitive man looking up at the moon from earth long ago. They could see it, they knew it was there, but it seemed so far away and impossible to reach.
The astronauts of Apollo 13 had all of that same curious excitement as well – stepping foot on the moon was their ultimate goal in life, and it would have established them as part of a very elite group of explorers in the history of mankind.
They had been preparing many years for that exact moment, just as I had been preparing (and dreaming) of a trip to China since my teens.
Visiting China didn’t do anything for me in terms of establishing myself as part of an elite group of travelers, but it did make me pause for a moment and feel immensely satisfied for achieving one of my biggest lifetime goals.
Even if nobody else cared about my accomplishment as much as I did, I felt so proud to return home a “bonafide world traveller.”
3. The stench of cigarette smoke everywhere
One of the things I remember most about the movie was the fact that everybody was smoking.
And I do mean everybody. whether it be in Mission Control, at the dinner table, in meetings, or gatherings with friends – there was a thick haze of smoke filling every scene, which almost seems comical in this day and age when smoking isn’t so widely accepted anymore (at least here in the US).
This is not the case in modern-day Beijing. I didn’t necessarily witness very many people smoking, but the stench of cigarette smoke in the air was strong wherever I went.
Especially in the taxi cabs. Based on my extensive research of riding in two completely different taxicabs during this trip (ha!), I’ve come to the conclusion that Beijing taxicab drivers are serious smokers – and if you’ve got a sensitivity to cigarette smoke all I can say is that you best be prepared to deal with it.
Smoking is very much part of the culture in China, the same way it was part of US culture back in the 60s during the Apollo space missions. I almost felt out of place for being a non-smoker, and who knows? Perhaps I would’ve enjoyed my stay even more if I burned through at least a pack a day.
I’m going to start this by being flat-out honest and letting you know that Cancun has never been the top of my list of places that I must see before I die. Of course everything I’ve heard about the place has sounded really nice, and all the pictures that I’ve seen have looked stunningly beautiful and inviting.
However, I think the fact that it’s a popular spring break destination for US high school and college students is what has cheapened my image of the place over the years. I’ve never been a big fan of the “party-till-you-puke” (and/or end up dead) spring break thing, and it’s the primary reason why I naturally stay away from places cater to that kind of crowd.
Daytona Beach Florida gives off that same kind of vibe to me (whether it deserves it or not), and I’ve yet to step foot in that town. No offense to anyone who lives there of course…
But now that the trip is over and I’m sitting here at home writing this trip report, there’s a lot I’ve got to say about Cancun. Some of it good, some of it bad, but overall the biggest point I want to make is that Cancun wasn’t really what I expected it would be.
What exactly is Cancun like, anyway?
Sure, there were plenty of palm trees and lots of beautiful beaches, just as advertised, but it didn’t really have the feeling I was expecting. I realize that’s super vague way to sum everything up, so allow me to explain…
Cancun is not the party town I thought it was
As I was stepping out of the airport and into a taxi, I began mentally preparing myself having to deal with all the drunk American tourists crawling around on all fours, screaming obscenities into the wind, and puking uncontrollably all over the place.
I have a vivid imagination don’t I? And while I actually did see some of that in certain spots, it wasn’t like it was happening all over the place.
Most of the tourists (who were Mexican by the way), were courteous and friendly – and most importantly, very well-behaved.
The wildest parties that I saw were contained to individual bars or boats away from the general masses, so not having to deal with that kind of crowd (if you’re not feeling up to it) is a huge plus in my opinion.
Cancun is exactly the party town I thought it was
Wait…what? Am I contradicting myself by saying the exact opposite of what I just wrote above? Absolutely not. I think it’s important to expand further on the point I made about the party spots being very localized and sheltered from everything else, that’s all.
While it is true that there isn’t a party on every corner, the parties that I did see were some of the craziest in loudest I’ve seen in a very long time. At least not since my college days! Ahh, to be young again…
For example, there was a large party boat floating around in the bay right outside my window on both nights of my stay which was both highly annoying and highly entertaining at the same time.
Annoying because it was a party boat with loud music and obnoxious DJs right outside my patio window, but entertaining because it looked like one heck of a good time.
Imagine being downwind of high-intensity Mariachi music mixed by a hyperactive Mexican DJ blasting over the loudspeakers just a few hundred feet off your patio when all you want to do is just sit and relax and listen to the crashing waves, and you can understand exactly what I was dealing with.
Good God. Couldn’t they have sailed a little bit further out to sea so as not to annoy all the boring old white tourists such as myself?
Cancun is more beautiful than I thought it would be
Have you ever looked at a travel poster for a tropical beach destination and thought that it looked far too good to be true? I’ve seen a lot of pictures of Cancun over the years that made me have those kinds of thoughts, so I’ve always been a bit skeptical as to what the place really looked like.
Long story short, now that I’ve seen the place with my own eyes, I can vouch for the authenticity of all those ridiculously good-looking travel posters.
That’s not fake news ladies and gentlemen – palm trees, white sandy beaches, and beautiful sparkling-clean turquoise water is abundant in Cancun and you never have to go far to find any of it.
I’d go as far as to say that this was probably one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been – once I got away from the tourist spots, that is. There’s a reason why people flock to Cancun, and I’m now a believer.
Cancun is growing into a very large metropolis
For some reason or another I was totally expecting Cancun to be contained to a very small area with one centralized street with the typical (cheesy) tourist shops. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
Cancun is actually a very large city, very spread out, extending well beyond just the tourist spots and hotel zones.
Every cheap American chain restaurant/brand you can think of (I’m talking about you, Applebee’s and Krispy Kreme) is well-represented here and to be honest there were times when I just lost my train of thought for a moment and felt like I had been instantly teleported back to Florida.
I’m serious – I’ll bet you could drop anyone there blindfolded, right in the heart of a really dense area, and they’d have to think really hard for a moment or two about whether or not they are actually in South Florida or Mexico.
For this reason alone, I wish I could’ve seen this place 30 or 40 years ago. I’ll bet it was real nice (and actually a bit Mexican).
I’ll bet you’re just dying to know whether or not I would ever visit Cancun again (voluntarily)
The answer is, without hesitation, yes. Despite the few negative comments above, I really like Cancun! However, in order for me to go back and enjoy myself to the fullest, it would have to be far away from the hotel zones or the main part of town.
Give me a quiet villa in a remote resort far from the hectic activity of central Cancun (plus a margarita) and I’d be very happy gringo. As a matter fact, I’ve actually started looking into something like that already for a future trip. As long as I don’t see – or hear – one party boat, it’s sure to be one heck of a good time.
I have a newfound love for the city of Lisbon – despite my only reason for going being the business class award availability that I found for the return portion of this much-too-short Euro trip.
There weren’t all that many options available, but it was hard to resist turning down the opportunity to fly TAP Portugal across the Atlantic for the very first time. Basically, I went into this trip most excited about the flights, but after returning home the only thing I was thinking about was how much I loved having the opportunity to explore Lisbon for a couple days.
Suffice to say, I arrived in Lisbon having done very little research and not having a clue as to what I wanted to do or see during my time on the ground. As a matter fact, I was simply thinking of Lisbon as a necessary layover between two awesome flights.
The time spent there would simply be my recharging time, allowing me to get rested for the return portion of this very aviation-centric journey. The thought of doing a lot of sightseeing never really crossed my mind actually.
Of course this all changed soon as I got there and I experienced firsthand the beauty and culture of this amazing place. It hit me instantly – all I wanted to do was walk down every street and pop my head into every little restaurant and café just to soak in as much of the local vibe as I could.
I wasn’t prepared for the beauty and laid-back energy of Lisbon, and right away I felt really stupid for focusing so much on my attention on the flights and not the destination.
All was not lost though – I still had two full days to wander and explore and I immediately started pouring through Google Maps on my phone trying to figure out a plan.
It turned out that I wasn’t alone in my feelings about Lisbon. After returning home, I spoke with many other travelers who had the same feelings as I did – not expecting much going in, but having strong feelings of not wanting to leave.
There’s just something about this place that makes people fall in love with it in an instant, and because of that I encourage you to go and see the place for yourself. Go ahead, put it on your bucket list. It’s totally worth it.
Now that I’ve convinced you to go (I hope!), I’d like to take this opportunity to share with you 4 things that I feel each first time traveler to Lisbon should know. Hopefully these tips will save you time when it comes to planning your own trip.
If I would’ve known the stuff beforehand, things would’ve gone so much smoother and I would’ve felt like I could have seen so much more due to not having to figure it all out when I got there. So without further ado, here we go:
1. You need to be in fairly good shape to walk around Lisbon
I was actually quite surprised how hilly it was, and if it weren’t for the fact that I’m in pretty good shape myself thanks to regular cycling and running there’s no way I would’ve been able to see as much as I did just walking around.
There are some very steep hills in the heart of the city and if you want to see everything you’re going to have to climb.
It also goes without saying that comfortable shoes make a world of difference. There’s so much to see here, and you’ll be tempted to turn down every street, so hit the treadmill a couple months before your journey to prepare yourself for all the climbing you’re going to be doing.
2. The hop-on hop-off sightseeing buses are totally worth it
One of the very first things that I did in Lisbon was to get on one of the hop-on hop-off sightseeing buses that go around the city. I’m not really much of a tour bus kind of guy, but it was really hot out and I had three or four hours to kill before my hotel room was ready, so I figured that a three-hour bus ride would be a great orientation. And it was.
For roughly US$20, I was able to see more of the city than I could have by simply walking on my own while trying to decipher maps along way. There are several buses to choose from, each focusing on their own section of the city, and they all meet at the Bus Terminal (Marquês de Pombal) in the heart of the city.
Simply go into to the ticket office, look at the map, and choose the route that is most appealing to you. That ticket will allow you to ride the bus for an entire day, hopping on and off as you please at all the stops.
3. The city really comes alive in the early evenings
I spent a lot of time outside trying to see as much as I could during my short stay, so I got to see what Lisbon is like at all hours. My favorite time? The early evenings. It felt like everybody poured into the streets around 5 PM, and there was a definite feeling of energy that I didn’t feel during the morning or afternoon hours.
It almost felt Carnival-like with music, dancing, laughing, and playing all over the core of the city, which was a completely different vibe than what I had experienced in the first half of the day.
I’d recommend you work your schedule around these early afternoon hours, saving enough energy during the day so that you’ll feel like pounding the streets when everybody else comes out to play.
4. Lisbon may look rough in spots, but it’s a very safe city
If I’m being honest, I was a little bit surprised how different two adjacent streets could be all around the city. It wasn’t the case everywhere, but sometimes I felt like I was walking down a street which just oozed money (Gucci and Rolex shops), only to turn down the next one and find myself surrounded by decaying architecture and graffiti on every surface.
It was a bit offputting at first, but after walking around for a while and talking to the locals, I came to the conclusion that these differences are all part of what makes Lisbon so charming.
Lisbon is very safe, so don’t feel hesitant walking down that dark alley covered in graffiti and decaying cobblestones. These sidestreets we’re actually my favorite part of the exploration that I did, and I’d recommend checking them out for yourself. This is the real Lisbon, and I’m willing to bet that you will find it as charming as I did.
So there you have it. This is by no means an extensive list covering all you need to know about the city Lisbon, but I hope it’s a helpful guide which will prepare you for your first time visit. I would also be very curious to know what you think of the city.
Feel free to leave a comment below and let me know what your experiences were in Lisbon and Portugal in general. I’m planning to go back for sure, and I would also love to hear some suggestions for making my second trip as immersive as I can. I’ve already got the basics, but I’m looking for your help to tell me what I need to see next time!
Finally. After an entire lifetime of postponing a road trip around the great American southwest, this was finally going to happen. Years of years of procrastination had been weighing on me quite heavily – the Grand Canyon has been at the top of my travel list for as long as I can remember, but it’s so close to San Diego that I kept putting it off in favor of other (bigger) trips all the time.
When you only get a few weeks of vacation a year, you have to use that time to your advantage. Why take the time to see something close to home when I could hop on a plane and fly around the world instead? You can see why it hasn’t been so easy to scratch off my list.
I really hate having things linger on to-do lists, so you can imagine how much of a relief it was when my sister finally laid down the gauntlet and volunteered to plan everything if the entire family agreed to go along. Of course I didn’t hesitate for an instant to agree, and it was game-on as soon as my parents said they would like to go too.
There were only two things required of me in order to be a part of this: first, I had to send my sister cash to pay for my portion of the rent for the houses we were going to rent. Second, I had to be in Las Vegas the morning of March 26th. The rest was all up to her, and I just had to say “yes ma’am” and follow her lead for the entire week.
Day 1: The Hoover Dam
Yes, it’s true. The most common thing you overhear from others while walking around and looking at the Hoover Dam is, “daaaamn”. It’s really funny the first one or two times you hear it, but it gets old fast and I’ll admit that it didn’t take long before I was rolling my eyes every time I heard someone say it.
The staff are probably completely immune to it, but I imagine they have their own little joke about the amount of times they hear it every single day. I’m sure of it.
Jokes aside, the Hoover Dam really blew me away. The amount of engineering, ingenuity, and human perseverance that went into the construction of this thing is beyond words.
It’s the kind of structure that makes you feel small and insignificant when you walk around it, and it’s an awesome feeling to stand on top and think about the raw power and strength this dam has to hold back such a large amount of water pushing on it from behind. Daaaamn!
Day 2: The Valley of Fire
The Valley of Fire was the place I knew the least about on our itinerary this week. My sister and her family are avid hikers, so spending at least one day hiking around some of the beautiful landscape of the southwest was a given.
We needed to be careful not to choose something too rigorous though, as my mother’s knees aren’t what they used to be and we wanted to be sure that she could participate in everything we did.
Luckily, there are a wide variety of hiking trails located all around the Valley of Fire and we were able to find some breathtakingly beautiful terrain that wasn’t so difficult to traverse.
Day 3: Route 66 from Las Vegas to Parks, AZ
In order to get from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon, it was going to involve some driving. Interestingly enough, remnants of old Route 66 still exist for a majority of this drive, so we decided to make a day of it and take our time to see all the sights.
Google Maps said that it would only take three and half hours, but somehow we managed to stretch it out to 7 and I was absolutely wrecked by the time we arrived at our rental house in Parks.
I’m not really sure what the rest of my family thought about this drive, but for me (the car guy), I enjoyed it the most out of everything we did this week. There is absolutely n o t h i n g out there but desert for some very long stretches of road between little towns, and that’s what made it so interesting for me.
It may have well been 1850 and not 2017, as I’m sure the landscape hasn’t changed at all over the years.
My Kia Forte rental car wasn’t giving me the same feeling that the old-time cowboys and explores must have experienced crossing that land on horseback, but I did appreciate being able to cruise along at 70mph in air conditioned comfort.
Day 4: The Grand Canyon
I’ll admit it. I wasn’t really looking forward to the Grand Canyon as much as all the other things we did this week. Heck, we saw a pretty impressive canyon at the Hoover Dam, so I did feel kind of “canyoned out” and I wasn’t expecting much.
Remember the scene from National Lampoon’s Vacation where they make a stop at the Grand Canyon on their drive across the country, look at it for all of two seconds, and leave? That’s totally what I was feeling like doing as we were making the drive to the south rim that morning.
Thankfully, I was truly blown away when I finally saw it. It’s really true – all those pictures you’ve seen of the Grand Canyon on TV and in magazines your entire life don’t do this thing justice.
It is simply breathtaking (and HUGE) in real life and I was literally at a loss for words when standing on the edge for the first time and starting out at that big hole in the ground. It was then that I understood why they named it “Grand” – and I think I may have even said “daaaamn” a time or two as well.
A big “THANK YOU” goes out to my sister for making this a completely stress-free trip on my part. She’s not an event planner by profession, but I keep telling her that she could make an epic career of it if she really wanted to. She says it would be too stressful, and I totally agree – the amount of work she put into making this trip happen was incredible.
One of these days I’m going to scrounge up as many airline points as I can and put her on a plane in first class to anywhere in the world she wants to go. It’s the least I could do for helping me scratch that lingering southwest road trip off my travel to-do list in a most magnificent way. Thanks sis!