What to do in Hawaii when it rains (and how to mentally prepare for it)

I’ve always been a big fan of expecting the worst but hoping for the best, and that line of thinking has served me well over the years. Especially during a recent trip to Hawaii.

Basically, it rained the entire time. Like, it never stopped. It was raining when I arrived, and it never let up. The only sunshine I saw over that 3 day period was during the taxi ride to the airport to fly back home to the mainland.

And you know what? It ended up being one of my best visits to Hawaii ever.

Scott climbing a volcano on the big island of Hawaii
Fun fact: climbing a volcano on the Big Island is just as much fun in the rain as it is when it’s sunny and nice. Yes, you’re still going to rip your favorite pair of shoes to pieces, but it’s all part of the experience.

First of all, yes, Hawaii is still fun in the pouring rain…

Guess what? It rains in Hawaii. Quite a bit actually. But don’t worry, there are still plenty of fun and interesting things to do when the weather isn’t cooperating:

  • Visit a museum: Oahu has several museums that are worth exploring, such as the Bishop Museum or the Honolulu Museum of Art.
  • Go to an indoor aquarium: The Maui Ocean Center or the Waikiki Aquarium are great options to stay dry while enjoying marine life.
  • Take a cooking class: Learn how to make traditional Hawaiian dishes like poke or kalua pig while staying dry indoors.
  • Visit a spa: Treat yourself to a relaxing spa day and enjoy a massage or facial.
  • Go shopping: Hawaii has plenty of indoor shopping centers where you can shop for souvenirs or new clothes.
  • Watch a movie: Catch a movie at one of Hawaii’s many movie theaters.
  • Visit a brewery or distillery: Hawaii has several breweries and distilleries that offer tours and tastings.
  • Take a yoga class: Many yoga studios in Hawaii offer indoor classes that can help you relax and stay active – even in the rain!
  • Explore a botanical garden: Hawaii has many beautiful botanical gardens that can be enjoyed even in the rain, such as the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden (my favorite) or the Lyon Arboretum.
  • Take a drive: Hawaii is beautiful no matter what the weather, and hopping in a rental car and seeing the sights is a great way to take in the beauty of it all while staying (mostly) dry.
Driving in the rain in Hawaii
Of all the suggestions I just listed, hopping in a car and doing a road trip around the island is my favorite wet weather activity in Hawaii. Note the the butt pucker factor can quite high though (so it’s not for the timid). It rains really hard here sometimes!
Rainy Hawaii shoreline
Hrmph. I can only imagine what this would look like under bright sunshine. Still, I guess I’d much rather be out here in the pouring rain than walking through the adult diaper section on my way to the Cheetos aisle at my local Walmart back home.

How I managed to have fun in Hawaii despite all the rain

1). I didn’t have an overly detailed itinerary

The ability to pivot and change directions at a moment’s notice is what allowed me to salvage this trip.

Yeah, I thought it might be fun to replicate some of the fun I had on my last Waikiki trip, but nothing was set in stone.

As a matter of fact, I had a mental plan for nearly whatever kind of weather I was going to experience. I basically stepped off the plane telling Mother Nature to bring it (however she saw fit). I was ready for anything.

Rainy Waikiki beach
By the way, this is what happens when you dare Mother Nature to “bring it” in Hawaii. She certainly delivers (especially if she doesn’t like your attitude).

Had I expected nothing but sunshine and blue skies the entire time, I probably would’ve been really ticked off when looking at the weather forecast.

Going with the flow and embracing the rain was fun. Would I have preferred sunshine blue skies? You betcha. But it also wouldn’t have allowed me to experience things that I did.

2). I focused on enjoying the moment

Every time I started feeling depressed thinking about all the rain during this trip, it didn’t take long for me to come to my senses and realize that this was still a lot more fun than a normal weekend at home.

Rainy Hawaii scenery
Yes, I was soaked right down to my underwear as I stood out here taking pics of the scenery, but it was totally worth it. I didn’t even swear once!

It’s not often I get the chance to jet off to Hawaii and leave the stresses of normal adult life behind. Just enjoying the fact that I was seeing things I’ve never seen before in the most beautiful part of the world was enough to keep me happy and pushing forward.

We take too much for granted in this life, bouncing from one thing to the next without thinking, so taking a moment to stop and look around was an incredibly refreshing feeling.

3). I learned to embrace the beauty of Hawaiian rain

Have you ever experienced a heavy Hawaiian rain storm? I don’t mean looking out at the pouring rain from the comfort of your 5 star hotel room.

I’m talking about being out in the rain without an umbrella, barefoot, and grinning from ear to ear as you feel every rain drop pelt you with a cold sting.

No? Well I’m here to tell you that you’re missing out on one of life’s amazing little pleasures.

Driving through big island Hawaii jungle
Pro tip: having the safety of a car to retreat to when you’re hearing scary jungle noises is highly recommended. Hawaii comes alive in the rain!

The rain in Hawaii just hits different. It sounds different as well. The mix of rain falling on large palm fronds with exotic birds singing in the background is something special. It’s a soundtrack you aren’t going to find many other places on earth.

4. I turned it into a scouting trip

One of my dream jobs has always been to be a location scout for the Hollywood movie studios. They essentially pay you to fly around the world searching for just the right location to shoot movies and TV shows, and for a traveler who needs a day job, it doesn’t get much better than that.

That’s why I always morph into “scout mode” whenever I’m on a trip that isn’t going as planned. I’m essentially giving up on the current trip, throwing in the towel on trying to make it the epic adventure I wanted it to be.

Instead, I start planning my return trip (the redemption trip, as I like to call it) because hey – I’m always looking for an excuse to travel and trying again always sounds like a good idea.

rainy Honolulu airport
< Arnold Schwarzenegger voice > I’ll be back. < / Arnold Schwarzenegger voice > You can count on that.

For the remainder of the trip, I’m mentally taking notes about the things I want to see next time. There will always be a next time.

A few final words about making the most out of a rained out Hawaiian vacation

Making the best of unfortunate situations is a completely mental process, and it does take practice.

I remember all too well the feeling of being an impatient 8 year old boy who never got to eat what he wanted for dinner. It wasn’t until I was in my mid 20s when I learned that expecting amazing things to happen every moment of every day was a sure fire way to be miserable.

Hope for the best, plan for the worst, and if at first you don’t succeed, you can always visit Hawaii again. It’s not going anywhere (I promise).

Six things every first time visitor to Munich should know

I recently went to Munich for the very first time. It wasn’t my first visit to Germany, so (like any “expert traveler” tends to think), I thought I knew exactly what to expect. It turned out out that my expectations were completely wrong – and that I really need to stop thinking so highly of myself.

Unlike Frankfurt (the only other German city I’ve been to), I found Munich to be extremely interesting. There was a wider variety of interesting architecture, and getting around was extremely easy.

I’m glad I got to experience it. Otherwise, Germany would have remained low on my list of places that I wanted to return to.

Marienplatz, central Munich
Marienplatz, central Munich. A place so beautiful that it will make you mutter obscenities such as “holy ****” to yourself (even if you’re squeaky clean and you never swear).

What I consider to be the 6 most important things to know about visiting Munich for the first time

Before going any further, I just want to say that what you are about to read are my opinions only. I’m just telling you what I experienced, that’s all.

1. The metro /subway system is extremely easy to use

As someone who was raised in the midwestern United States (where anything other than freight trains don’t exist), I tend to clench up at the mere thought of having to go somewhere by train. The mishmash of lines and schedules tend to confuse me freak me out, so more often than not, I’d rather just walk. Or drive.

Scott Leazenby looking at map of Munich Germany
I will admit that looking at the map of the Munich metro for the first time did give me a little heartburn. “I wonder how much it would cost to hire someone to drive me around all day instead?”

The metro system in Munich (U-Bahn and S-Bahn) is exactly what a proper metro system should be. Yes, it’s extremely complicated at first glance with many lines going in every possible direction, but I found it extremely easy to use.

Scott Leazenby looking at map of Munich train map
That moment when you think you’ve got it all figured out. Even I couldn’t believe it.

And yes – all instructions (and signage) are in both German and English, so it just makes perfect sense for uneducated Americans such as myself.

Munich Airport train station
Waiting on the S-Bahn to central Munich. Long story short, I can assure you that everything you’ve heard about the punctually of the German public transportation system is 100% true and accurate.
Munich Germany S-Bahn train interior
For a guy who has never really understood trains, the fact that I made it here (and was heading in the right direction) was nothing short of a miracle.
Munich Germany S-Bahn train
At least I hoped I was going in the right direction…

2. The city core is relatively small

Although Munich is interesting enough to walk and explore aimlessly for days, the central part of the city (which I found to be the most interesting) covers a relatively small area.

Marienplatz crowds of people
Marienplatz is basically where the red pin drops when you open up a map of Munich in Google Maps. The city thins out quickly from here in every direction.

Seeing the sights in Munich won’t take long on foot. You can walk from one attraction to the next without working up too much of a sweat – unless it’s the middle of July of course. In that case you’ll be sweating buckets.

3. April is a really nice time to visit

I was a bit apprehensive about going to Munich in April, as one look at the weather charts seemed to apply that winter isn’t quite over at that point. However, I found the cool(ish) temperatures to be absolutely perfect for walking around.

Munich architecture sightseeing
I don’t think I would have appreciated standing here taking this pic in the middle of July as much as I did in April. Early spring is prime sightseeing weather!

Yes, it can get a bit chilly if you’re just standing still looking at something, but you’ll be able to walk from one destination to the next (with purpose) without breaking a sweat.

Scott Leazenby resting on a bench in Munich Germany
Okay, “not breaking a sweat” was a slight exaggeration. Sightseeing with purpose can be exhausting no matter what time of year it is!

I would advise bringing an umbrella. There’s nothing that’ll ruin a European vacation faster than being stuck outside in the cold rain. That happened on my last trip to Paris, and it sucked.

4. English is spoken everywhere

You’ve got absolutely nothing to worry about if you can’t speak a lick of German other than “Volkswagen.” Nearly everybody within the central part of Munich speaks some English, and most signs and menus are in English as well.

That said, it would be rude of you to not make an effort to say common words such as “please” and “thank you” in German. It doesn’t matter if you think you sound like an idiot doing it – the people you’re talking to you will appreciate the effort.

Munich Germany side street signs
I’m still not sure if I was happy or sad that I travelled 6,000 miles to hear (and see) English every time I turned the corner. I didn’t even get the chance to practice my pronunciation of “Kraftfahrzeug-Haftpflichtversicherung!”

5. You have to pay to use public toilets

Actually, paying to use public toilets is common throughout all of Europe. I just thought it was worth mentioning since I can tell you how much it sucks to really have to use the bathroom when carrying nothing but a credit card.

Heck – even cash wouldn’t have helped me. Public toilets accept coins only.

6. It’s OK to stay at the airport

If you’re on a somewhat tight time schedule, I highly recommend staying at the Hilton connected directly to the Munich Airport. It’s extremely nice (probably the best airport Hilton I’ve ever stayed at), and getting to the city center is extremely easy via the train. FYI, trains depart every 10 minutes, it costs €13 per person, and the journey takes 35 minutes.

Hilton Munich Airport exterior
Looking for a good time? Tell your friends and family that you stayed at the airport on your most recent visit to Europe, and watch their heads spin.

I know. Staying at the airport isn’t anywhere near as cool as staying somewhere in the center of the city. However, the convenience alone is worth it if you’ve got an early flight out. Screw what everyone else thinks!

What to realistically expect when traveling to Paris in November

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).

rainy Paris
As you can see, Paris is still very much Paris in the middle of November. It’s just a slightly wetter (and sloppier) version of it.

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.

Scott Leazenby in Paris
Not only did I not bring an umbrella, a light hoodie was woefully inadequate for the conditions. Travel is fun!

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.

Paris tourists in November
“Just one last picture before getting on the train back to the airport!” Ha! If only it was that easy.

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.

Empty Paris streets in November
*crickets* (or whatever sound crickets make in France).

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 streets in November
If it was the middle of July, you’d have a hard time walking down this street without muttering “pardon” every 2 seconds (in an accent that immediately gives you away as American tourist). There’s room to roam here in November.

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.

motorcycles and bicyclists in Paris in November
You’re still going to have to deal with motorcycles and bicyclists though. Look twice before crossing the street!

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.

rainy Paris in November
Think twice about hiding under the trees to take shelter from the rain. You might will get shit on by a bird who doesn’t like American tourists.

Only 1 day in Doha? That’s plenty of time to see the sights!

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.

Omar Al Mukhtar street map Doha
This is the section of Omar Al Mukhtar St that’s most interesting (from an Instagram point of view, at least). Pics taken anywhere on this blue line will get you loads of “holy crap you’re in Doha?!” comments on your Instagram feed.
Downtown Doha
The magnificent skyline of Doha, with Omar Al Mukhtar Street slicing right though the middle of it. With all the glass a metal reflecting every ray of sunlight, all I can say is: wear gobs of sunscreen!
SANspotter selfie downtown Doha
Luckily, as a San Diegan, my sunscreen application techniques are on point and I was lathered up perfectly for my exploration through the city. I could have used a pair of sunglasses though…
Downtown Doha skyline
I wouldn’t go as far as to say that the downtown area has a lot of charm and character, but it is extremely photogenic. I came home from this trip with way too many pictures of silver buildings, as well as the realization that I’m not a talented enough photographer to warrant so many pics of the same 10 silver buildings in my archives.
Things to do in Doha at night
Doha looks best at night IHMO. Too bad I was so jet lagged that I couldn’t stay awake past 8pm…

My best suggestion for this walk is to start at the Marriott Marquis Hotel (Omar Al Mukhtar Street, Area 61, Al Dafna, Street #850) and head south towards the waters edge stopping along the way to check out anything that strikes your fancy.

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.

Don’t worry – visiting Iceland in October isn’t as stupid as it sounds

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.

Realizing the severity of the situation moments after booking the flight.

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.

Downtown Reykjavik iceland
Not exactly big city life, but there’s enough car traffic here to kill you dead if you don’t look twice before crossing the street.
Central Reykjavik
There’s even a chance of getting a rogue skateboard to the head here in central Reykjavík – if that doesn’t say “civilization” I don’t know what does. There’s lots to see and do here in town!
Downtown Reykjavik graffiti
Make no mistake about it – Reykjavik has just as much texture and character as any other big city I’ve been to in the world, and I felt really foolish to think that it’d be a deserted ghost town consisting of only a post office, a bar, and a church (all the things that a small fishing town needs to thrive).

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.

Reykjavik fishing boats
Oh – and if you’re wondering, I wasn’t wrong about the fishing boats. There were a few floating about.

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.

Iceland terrain
Somewhere between Keflavik and Reykjavik. If you’ve never been on the big island of Hawaii before, this looks nearly identical to the land surrounding Kona.
SANspotter red shoes Iceland
A brilliant explanation as to why I now refer to my black jeans as “my volcano pants”.

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.

Iceland weather and clouds
Mountains + wind = really funky clouds. This only lasted for a few minutes, but it was one of my most memorable moments of the trip. It also had me wincing for an imminent alien attack…

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!

SANspotter selfie Iceland
My sleepwear for this trip (minus the glasses of course). What you can’t see is the pile of bath towels on the bed (every dang one of ‘em) which helped to keep my body temperature high enough to avoid hypothermia. I’m a bit of a cold weather wimp, ok?

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.

Setting reasonable expectations for your first trip to Dubai

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.

my first trip to hong kong
Kowloon, May 2002 – complete sensory overload for a young guy from Michigan who had never been to Asia before!

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.

Dubai looks like Las Vegas
Imagine Las Vegas mixing with Star Wars, and you’d pretty much end up with Dubai.
Dubai resort
Come to think of it, I’d actually go as far as to say that Dubai looks like a mix of Vegas, Star Wars, AND Disneyland. You just can’t leave out the Disneyland part, because it’s essentially a city built to attract tourists.

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.

Walking around Dubai
There’s a very good reason why you don’t see many people in this pic. It seems as if everyone was smarter than me, and I was absolutely crazy for venturing outside in the middle of the day. I feel like even that little girl was snickering at me for being so reckless…
Walking around Dubai at night
Anyone wishing to see the sights on foot (like me) should know that the best time for that sort of this is well after the sun goes down. It’s still going to be really hot though, so don’t be a hero and push yourself too hard!

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.

Taxis in Dubai
Taxi cabs are super cheap in Dubai, so don’t be a stubborn cheap wad and think that you’re going to be ripped off using them as a primary mode of transportation.

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.

Dubai metro unlimited use pass
This unlimited use day pass for the metro system was the best $10 I’ve spent during this trip. I certainly got my money’s worth and it felt too good to be true – almost to the point where I was afraid they were going to cut me off and I was going to be “escorted” out to the desert (where I’d be left for dead) by two armed and angry security guards.
Dubai metro train station
Not only are the metro stations plentiful and super cool looking…
View from Dubai metro
The views while traversing one end of the city to the other are amazing! It’s totally worth wrangling your way to the front (or the back) of the train to get cool pics like this.

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.

SANspotter selfie Dubai
Would it be too stupid to make a Leonardo Decaprio “I’m the king of the world!” comment?
SANspotter selfie Burj Khalifa
In all seriousness, standing at the top of the Burj Khalifa was one of the most mind-cleansing experiences I’ve had in a good long time.
View of Dubai from Burj Khalifa
Tell me, how does that not look like a set from Star Wars? Dubai was by far one of the most interesting places I’ve ever been.

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.

Dubai beach
Since all the restaurants and cafés are closed during Ramadan, you might as well hang out the beach (snow-white tourists like me who burn easily beware).
Dubai indoor skiing
Or perhaps you would prefer to go skiing instead? Yeah, this is more like it!
 Skiing in Dubai
The fact that it’s possible to go skiing in Dubai (on real freaking snow) after nearly dying of heat stroke on the beach less than an hour earlier is what makes this one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Who cares if all the restaurants and cafés are closed when you have the totally fun option of freezing to death and dying of heat stoke in the same afternoon?

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.

Three tips to make your first trip to Zurich better than mine was

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.

Zürich cafés and restaurants
Even though I didn’t see very much on my first trip here many years ago, I knew that this city had a lot to offer and I was determined to see more of it this time. Hanging out in this quaint public square with cafes and restaurants was a fantastic way to kick things off and make me feel less bad about youthful mistakes of the past.

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.

SANspotter selfie Zurich Switzerland
Selfies in the sunshine! It’s amazing how much blue skies and bright sun can lift the spirits and fuel the desire to explore.

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.

Cycling in Zürich
For city that has such an amazingly good infrastructure for cyclists, I saw a surprisingly few amount of them here. Next time I come here I’m showing up wearing revealing spandex and a goofy helmet!
Cycling in the city of Zürich
Just look at those wide dedicated bike lanes! (ignore the car driving right through the center of it though)

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.

Cafés and chocolate in Switzerland
There’s a smell of chocolate in the air everywhere you turn, and it was difficult not to become as distracted as a bloodhound fixated on the scent of something good.

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.

In conclusion

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.

SANspotter selfie Zurich
I wish that I could caption this picture in a way that would suggest that I was heading out to the country for the day, but the truth is that this was just an Uber ride to the airport.

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…

3 awesome reasons why February is the best month to road trip through Arizona

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.

SANspotter selfie Dodge challenger musclecar
Yup, that Bon Jovi song about the cowboy and the steel horse he rode was strumming around in my head as I posed for this pic.  Thankfully I’m not wanted on any “Dead or Alive” lists, which is convenient at times like this so that I can wander as I please. It felt so good to be back in Arizona again!

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.

Arizona desert
Despite looking hotter than hell, the temperature was actually tolerable during my stay and I do believe I was shivering a bit as I was taking this picture.

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.

2017 dodge challenger in the snow
I was so proud of myself for finding such a nice place to get a picture of my cool rental car in the picturesque mountain snow! Embarrassment soon followed when I got it stuck trying to turn around out of this spot, requiring me to rustle up some help from an innocent Asian family who were just arriving in their minivan. I swear I heard them mutter profanities under their breath as they gave it all they had pushing this white boy and his behemoth of a car out of the snow…
Standing in fresh mountain snow Arizona
Did you know that fresh mountain snow is a refreshing distraction from painful cactus needles stuck in your hands and legs? It’s true! Two hours ago I was playing irresponsibly with large prickly cactuses, and here I am frolicking in freshly fallen snow. Only in Arizona!

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.

SANspotter selfie 2017 Dodge Challenger
Although Hertz couldn’t come through with the Porsche 911 they promised me today, it was still fun cruising around Arizona in this 2017 dodge challenger R/T. It was by far one of the best ‘Murica days I’ve had a good long while, despite me looking as serious as a midget in a nudist colony. This was fun!

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.

3 ways my trip to Beijing was exactly like the Apollo 13 mission to the moon

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.

SANspotter selfie JAL
Just a picture of me being forgetful and careless, oblivious to the fact that my iPhone charger is still plugged in between the seats. How was it even possible to forget about what was possibly the most important thing that I brought along with me on this trip?

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.

Apollo 13 movie
Assessing the situation. How crazy is it to think that our phones have more computing power than what was in that entire spacecraft?

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.

My dead iPhone 6
It’s pretty scary to think how dependent we have become on these devices. I felt embarrassingly lost without it!

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!

Busy Beijing city
Thankfully Beijing is a bustling modern city with electronic shops full of iPhone chargers for sale all over the place. Disaster averted.

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.

SANspotter in Beijing
OMG I’m really here! This place (Tiananmen Square / Forbidden City) was burned into my memory after the 1989 student protests, and to finally see it in person was kind of a big moment. Oh – and props to the college student who hustled me out of $30US for buying one of her paintings near here. Her sales pitch was good, and from one entrepreneur to another, I couldn’t help but to support her and make the purchase.

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.

SANspotter Beijing selfie
Everything about this China trip was fascinating to me, and it was hard not to just stand there like the tourist I was and soak it all in.

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).

Apollo 13 movie smoking GIF
Smoking the stress away at Mission Control.

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.

 Beijing pollution haze
The unmistakable haze of the Beijing skyline. Cigarette, anyone? Just step outside for a moment and inhale deeply…

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.

Cancun was nothing like I expected it would be. Let me explain…

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…

Beaches of Cancun
Can you believe that I’ve never had an overwhelming urge to visit a place that looks like this? Yup, I’m weird that way.

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.

Crowded Cancun
Yeah, it’s crowded here. Thankfully it’s mostly quiet and peaceful, and I never even saw one person puking on the beach. lol

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.

Cancun beach colors
The colors of perfection right there. Does that look inviting, or what?
Cancun sidewalks
The beauty of Cancun extends far beyond the beaches – even the sidewalks felt jungle-like!
SANspotter selfie Cancun
SANspotter, doing what he does best (looking miserable, even at the beach). Ha! I swear to God I was enjoying myself immensely…

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.