Shhh. We’re Spilling Secrets

Recently, as part of the Tripbase Blog Tag game, we were tagged by Lisa of LLWorldTour to share our top three travel secrets with the blog-reading universe. I’ve been sitting on this post for over a week now, because honestly I just don’t know what to share. Do I share a place, a restaurant, a hotel, a person, a moment, an idea, a tip? And is it possible there is anything secret I have left, anything I haven’t yet shared? Yes, I have a tendency to over think things. So, before I change my mind again about what to post, here it is, our top (for the moment at least) three travel secrets.

1. Take Trains…And Not Just in Europe

I love trains. I love the hustle and bustle of rail stations. I love the constantly changing arrivals and departures board that makes it seem you could go anywhere. I love the way that trains force you to slow down, sit back, and enjoy the scenery. So whenever we found a train, we opted to take it, even if that sometimes met hanging around a town a day or two longer than we had planned in order to align our schedule with the train schedule. And in exchange for going the old fashioned way, for taking the time to take a train, we were rewarded with authentic travel experiences that stuck with us far more than any flight ever has. On a train from Mbeya, Tanzania to Dar Es Salaam, we were treated to an impromptu safari as the tracks traversed Selous Game Reserve, allowing us to spot zebras, giraffes, wildebeest and more from our bunks. And as we made our way from Hanoi to Hoi An, we made fast friends with the family sharing our cabin, learning from them all the places we had to go, gaining insight into local life, and tasting all kinds of food we’d never seen before but that they’d brought with them and insisted on sharing. This happened over and over, on every train trip we took. And that’s why I like trains. It’s slow travel. Travel that gives you a more intimate look at a place and its people. Travel that is as much about the journey as the destination.

2. You Can Go On Safari on a Budget

Safaris have a reputation for being expensive, primarily because the industry has somehow tricked us into thinking that the only way to go on safari is on a fully catered operation. But that’s not true. It doesn’t have to be expensive, and you can do it on your own. In fact, almost all the parks in southern Africa–from South Africa’s Kruger to Namibia’s Etosha–allow for self-catered safaris. Rent your own car, pack your own tent, and bring your own food (or eat in the very nice park restaurants) and a safari can in fact be quite inexpensive. And don’t even begin to worry whether you’ll be able to spot any animals without a guide. From our tiny little Kia (not even a 4WD), we spotted lions, cheetahs, rhinos, elephants (they’re pretty hard to miss!), giraffes, hyenas, and all sorts of other amazing creatures. Heck, more than once, we even had the guided safaris pulling up to where our lone car was trying to figure out just what we had found. I resisted requesting a finder’s fee 🙂 And if you’ve always wanted to do an Okavango Delta safari, the most notoriously expensive of all African safaris, don’t fret, that too can be arranged. Just get yourself to the village of Seronga, in the far northwest corner of Botswana (accessible by rental car from Namibia), and hook up with the Okavango Polers Trust, a co-op of local mokoro polers who will guide you on an overnight or multi-day delta safari at backpacker prices.

3.Skip the Bus and the Boat and Hike into Torres del Paine

Most information about hiking Torres del Paine will tell you that there are two options for getting to a starting point at Torres del Paine: you can take the bus to the lodge at the end of the W closest to the Torres, or you can take the boat to Paine Grande. There is, in fact, a third option, and this is the one you should take: get dropped off at the Administration Building and hike the 17 km to Paine Grande. Though this may sound a bit crazy, considering you’re going to already be hiking 80 km to complete the W (and much more if you plan to do the full loop), it is the absolute best introduction to the park. The hike is relatively flat, and the views are stunning. Spread out in front of you is the entirety of the park, allowing you to take in the awesome grandeur of the place that you will soon mainly be seeing in macro. Though there are splendid views throughout the park and the hike, only on the 17 km hike in will you get the panorama, and that alone makes the walk worth it. Plus, being relatively flat, it’s a good warm up for the hiking to come.

And to keep the game going, I’m supposed to tag five fellow travel bloggers. So you’re it: Sean & Dawn at Wandering Why, Craig at The Wide Wide World, Cindi at Blowfish Vodka (formerly Bubbles & Bugs), Kimberly & Elizabeth at Go Green Travel Green, and Steve at Asian Ramblings (who’s finally back!).

February Doldrums

The February doldrums have got me in a headlock, and they show no interest in letting go. Every so often they’re throwing in a noogie to add insult to injury. I’m defeated. Come evening I have no struggle left in me. There’s nothing I can do, but throw myself onto the couch, snuggle under a blanket, and test my knowledge against the contestants on Jeopardy. Yes, my life has been reduced to that.

But the good news is I’m apparently pretty smart. Or else know a lot of random facts. I’d consider going on Jeopardy myself, but then I always consider how embarrassing it would be if you were in the negatives when Final Jeopardy rolled out and you got the boot. Mortifying. All the senior citizens I know would see it.

Anyhow, I usually intend to get off the couch after Jeopardy, especially seeing as it comes on here at 7 p.m. (what the heck is that? does this happen anywhere else or just in NC?), but for the past week the Olympics with their tragedy, triumph, and tear-inducing biopics have sucked me into a bottomless pit of television watching. What is it about the Olympics that does that? Is it that they allow for overt patriotism, the kind that ends with chanting things like U-S-A, U-S-A? Is it witnessing first hand that we all really can get along (at least for the most part)? Is it seeing the enthusiasm and exuberance of the athletes as they march into the the stadium, photographing and videotaping the whole experience? It is a morbid fascination with crashes and last-minute meltdowns, proving that these athletes are human too? I think it’s probably a little bit of all of this (and honestly, from a marketing standpoint, they know what they’re doing holding the Olympics in the most boring month of the year), because any other time, if I turned on the TV to find a bunch of guys cross-country skiing around a course and then stopping every so often to shoot their guns, I’d find something else to do. This week, though, I’m all “Ohhh, biathlon. Got to watch this.” I can’t explain it. I’m just accepting it.

So yes, you’re now realizing this post has dippity-do to do with travel. Sorry. This rotten weather cancelled my planned trip to Kentucky, so I don’t have any interesting stories to tell about covered bridges or barn quilts or the other fascinating sights of Northern Kentucky. But I didn’t want you to think I’d forgotten you. Thus this post.

And here, you can have a photo too.

It’s from the Galapagos. Look at the color of that water. Look at the sunshine.


I’d give you a few more, but they’re taking forever to upload, and I’ve got to run. It’s time to watch people sweep the ice (aka curl).

(Check back Monday for a real post… I promise.)

Travel Plans 2010

Topping 2009 travel-wise is, well, pretty much impossible. At least at the moment, with our mortgage payments and book contracts and post-doc positions. It just ain’t going to happen. Sadly. But that doesn’t mean we’re not going to at least try to have a little adventure. There’s no way we’re going to pass the year without going somewhere we’ve never been before. That’s just plain unthinkable. I mean, seriously, the travel bug does not just disappear. Oh no, my friends. It infests. And multiplies. It simply can not be killed. Not that I’d want to kill it anyways. It’s no worm.

So though it’s plenty safe to say that our 2010 travel plans aren’t nearly as grand as our 2009 plans, I don’t think they’re at all shabby. And to say that I’m looking forward to them is like saying that Durham did a lousy job plowing the 7 inches of snow we got on Saturday. (In case you’re unclear, it’s a huge understatement.)

With 2010 now all the way in the door and not looking a bit like it plans to retreat, I think it’s safe to go ahead and unveil the plans. So without further ado, here’s what’s on tap for us.

The first trip of the year and the biggest is a 16-day trip to Colombia in March. As we traveled through South America in 2008-09, we kept hearing over and over that Colombia is the place to be. Rumors of its beauty, friendly people, and affordability barraged us. While in Ecuador, we pondered making the trip across the border, but we just didn’t have the time. I’ve been haunted ever since.

As for what we’re planning to do in Colombia, I’m not yet sure. All we know is that we land on the Caribbean coast and depart from Bogota. I’m definitely going to get a few dives in, and I want to enjoy the beaches of Parque Nacional Tayrona and the colonial ambiance of Cartegena, but beyond that I can’t choose. Do we take on San Gil, the adventure capital of Colombia? Do we spend a few days on a finca in the world capital of coffee? Do we taste city life in Medellin and Bogota? Do we jibe to the Afro-Caribbean Beat of Providencia? The only thing I know for sure is that we can’t really go wrong. But if you have some tips, we’re all ears.

The second trip we have planned is a domestic roadtrip that will take us from Chicago to Yellowstone and back in late May. We’ll be traveling with my brothers (or at least Gregory and Mark, as unfortunately last I heard Matthew doesn’t think he can make it), so it will certainly be full of funny moments. We plan to ditch the interstate system for the old highways and see what kind of nonsense we can find along the way. We’ll be taking a northern route there and a southern route back and should have time for the Badlands, the Black Hills, and other awesome scenery along the way. On a family roadtrip in 1993, my brothers and I covered much of the same ground, so it will be cool to see what we think 17 years later. And to find out if in 17 years the photos we take on this trip will be as embarrassing as the photos taken on that trip.

And well, that’s it for the year’s big trips. Apparently when people hire you around here they expect you to work. A lot. I can’t say I’m a fan. But I’ll survive, especially since we also have a slew of small trips thrown in to keep our cabin fever from turning into cabin swine flu.  We’ll be hitting up Bloomington in early May to watch my baby brother (that’s right Mark, I called you baby) graduate from Indiana University, and in August, we’ll be in the Seattle area for the marriage of Jeff’s sister. We’ll also get to say hello to Charleston, SC, when our friend Kristi says I do to our other friend Ziga (who we hear will be saying I do back).

And though I guess technically it’s work, I’ll be spending a lot of time exploring the Bluegrass State as I work on the Moon Kentucky guidebook. It’s a cool state, I tell you, and I’m going to be covering it top to bottom, inside and out. Diving into Appalachia has definitely got me excited. The culture completely intrigues me, and I have to admit that I really, really, really want to see a blue person.

Finally, we’ll be dedicating any free weekends we have to exploring our brand new home state. That is if they can figure out how to get the snow off the roads before, say, April. I definitely intend to make it to the beach a time or two…or three or four. And I’m committed to adding a few more miles to my Appalachian Trail in pieces project, with the 30-mile Art Loeb Trail in Pisgah National Forest looking like it might be my first NC leg.

You know, I think it just might end up being a pretty darn good year. I really do.

But gosh, enough about me, let’s hear about you. What’s on your travel calendar for 2010?