You are currently browsing the monthly archive for July 2011.

Here are some general updates.

The stay discussed in Not a typical hotel went very well. The place looked just like the pictures, there were clean linens, etc. I even learned that our host worked for my company until a month ago (not exactly a small world because it is a large company, but still a neat connection). I hope to use the site again with a bit more advance planning when traveling to expensive cities.

This week I had the pleasure of seeing a Cirque du Soleil show. This one. It was a really great show. The acrobatics and music were stunning. But I couldn’t help but compare it to the experience of watching the same show on tv*. I’ve always been biased toward watching performances on a screen. The camera angles, focus, zoom, and speakers just create such a perfect combination that I’m so spoiled. I hate it when I can’t see and hear everything that is going on, in perfect clarity. This isn’t an issue with the seats; I could practically touch some of the performers. Click on the link above and watch the video. Even with the energy of the crowd and the newness of everything, when would you prefer a performance in person?

A few years ago I had the pleasure of attending a restaurant pre-run, where they test all of the equipment, staff, food, experience, etc. It was really a lot of fun. The place buzzed with energy. Everyone was excited to be there, the staff were running around in every direction, and the food was, of course, delicious. In exchange for the free meal (if I remember correctly, it included everything for several courses except alcohol), we had to complete surveys about the food, staff, setting, experience, etc. What a deal!

So when my company invited me to a test of a new facility that will be opening soon I jumped at the chance to check it out (that was planned long before the trip above). Yesterday, I drove to the facility, and as soon as I stepped out of the car I was treated to a dizzying number of staff trying to help me. Did I need help with my bags? Do I know where I am going? Is there anything they can do for me? Would I like water? This was all said with extreme cheeriness (the way I assume Disney park employees are). Once I got beyond the hordes of people trying to help me, I checked out the facility. It was well worth the hype I had heard. The building and area were gorgeous, the food was delicious (oh, and there was so much that I just kept eating), the rooms were very nice (with lots of small touches to make them very comfortable), and there were interesting company features throughout the building (to make it both more functional and entertaining). I was so excited about everything that I couldn’t sleep until early this morning (although that might from the myriad of desserts I tried last night:)

Hopefully, there will be more interesting updates to my adventures in the near future. Keep your fingers crossed!

*I don’t actually have a tv, but this is easier than saying a wide-screen tv, computer monitor, or projector in each place.

If you want to travel, it’s easy to get fixated on finding cheap airfare, but as soon as you find a good deal you’re left wondering where to stay. One night at a typical hotel can easily cost more than your great airfare deal! (And don’t get me started on B&B prices!)

Luckily, there are tons of other options.

I’m a big fan of staying at hostels.  They are particularly great when you are traveling alone, want to swap stories about things to do, and/or are interested in meeting other people from around the world. However, some places don’t have good hostels (e.g. Spain). Many US cities have hostels (e.g. I stayed in the one in DC before I moved there for my job), but there can be a lot of exclusions (such as requiring that you live more than 100 miles away or that you meet certain age requirements). And you may simply want to stay somewhere with more than a bed.

Using an RV or camping have always been available for people willing to be off the beaten path. In the past 10 years, the marketplace has exploded with other options for whatever path you’re looking for.

Craigslist has more than one section to check for vacation housing. Just go to the city that you will be visiting and click through housing swaps, sublets/temporary, and vacation rentals. This is a great option if you’re going to be in town for a special event. For example, tons of people flooded into DC for the last presidential inauguration, while many residents were looking to get out of dodge (to avoid the traffic, road closures, security issues, and take advantage of the long weekend). That’s the perfect time to find a temporary residence or do a housing swap.

For an average vacation or weekend getaway, I think that sorting through Craigslist is time-consuming, especially when there are better options. If you’re just looking for a place to sleep, try Couchsurfing. This allows you to meet locals, who are likely to have quite a bit of knowledge about their area. While it may only be a bed, couch, or futon, you can select other features you want, and you have access to the kitchen and livingroom. The real advantage of this site is that you can read reviews from other travelers who have stayed at these homes.

Another site with similar options is airbnb. I really like the search options for this site, including a map to find places in just the right neighborhood, the type of room (shared, guest room, or entire home), etc.  There are pictures and a description (particularly helpful when they describe the parking situation, where the home is with respect to sites or public transportation, and even if there is a pet or if animals can visit). Some places even offered breakfast in the morning or toys for children to play with during your visit. Again, you can read reviews to find out if the place met other travelers’ expectations.

Last night I booked 3 nights at 2 different homes through airbnb. The prices varied quite a bit by location and amenities, but looking through the website was substantially easier than sorting various hotels on different webpages. Also, you can send the owners a message if you have any questions. The only drawback is that the system may say that a place is available, and then after you book it, you may get a message that it was just taken. This happened to me, but I’m not sure how often it happens.

So even though you may not have friends or family to crash with, you might stay in a reasonably priced home with some new people.

And who doesn’t feel good about their dollars going directly to another person/family (plus a fee to the website) rather than some corporate hq?!

I spent the July 4th weekend actually feeling like I am back in the United States, by enjoying our National Parks! I have to thank my desi friends for a great trip. While we had a few misadventures (like driving to the wrong place initially), the beautiful weather and amazing scenery couldn’t be beat. Unfortunately, 4 days were not enough time! I didn’t want to leave…

I learned one important thing on this trip. Look out for people who really know what is going on. There are often people around (besides park rangers) who can provide you with excellent information about what you are seeing or about to see. And the great thing is that most of these enthusiasts want to share what they know (and even their gear!). This is how we got to see the Grand Geyser erupt (the world’s tallest) and how we got to see a huge grizzly bear.

Other than that, I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Grand Tetons

Pink and blue sky reflected in the Yellowstone Lake

Bison using the road as their trail

Prismatic Spring

Elk grazing

Perfect walkway for skipping stones on the lake

Perfect place for a kayak

Wishing this was my view everyday

When is the last time you visited your local library?

I’ve made use of them a lot through the years, including fun and educational reading, school research in the stacks, and work for 2 semesters of grad school. But even I forgot just how great they are. I finally ventured to the nearby library a few weeks ago. In addition to picking up a couple dvds and books, I learned that there are yoga and spanish classes offered!!

While a few traditional libraries focusing on books do still exist, the majority of libraries are becoming community centers.

Different libraries focus on different things, usually dependent on the people who live in the surrounding area. You may find that a library a little further away is better suited for you. Don’t assume that all libraries in your city are the same.

You are likely to find:

  • DVDs (tv shows, movies, documentaries, etc.)
  • CDs (music, books-on-CD, etc.)
  • Current books
  • Magazines and newspapers
  • Interlibrary loan and borrowing privileges with other libraries
  • Classes (everything from languages, writing, finance, tax prep, yoga)
  • Book clubs
  • Lecture series
  • Children’s groups and story time
  • Youth groups
  • Computers and internet access
  • Movie showings
  • Artist exhibitions
  • Holiday programs and events
With all of these options, you may still want to simply borrow a book. Just before heading to Yellowstone, I picked up a guidebook, which came in very handy on the trip.
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