How to Avoid Getting Stuck in Tourist Traps; My Tips and Thoughts

We’ve all been there. You just wanted to go see this one really cool, really popular place, but it’s surrounded by all these neat little shops! Oh, whatever shall you do!

It’s common to go to a place intending to see the main attraction, but instead, you end up spending half your time and all your money in the surrounding area. I’ve seen it all over the US. It may be good fun, but it takes away from the rest of your experience by hampering your time spent exploring your true surroundings. Plus, no one likes arriving back home with a bunch of useless knick-knacks and an empty wallet.

So how do you avoid getting caught in a tourist trap? Here are my tips:

Move quickly. If you’re just standing around aimlessly in the middle of a touristy area, you’ll feel an urge to go into the stores and buy things. It’s healthier to be walking instead of standing, anyway. Just keep moving, and you’ll get through the tourist trap hazard zone unscathed.

Set a time limitAlright, so maybe you really want to get some souvenirs, but you don’t want to go overboard. Set a time limit for yourself, and you can keep yourself from wasting the whole day away in the stores instead of sightseeing. There are a couple ways to limit yourself. If you’ve got decent self-control, just pick a reasonable time and monitor your watch or phone clock. If you need more substantial restraints, set a countdown timer on your phone. Turn it on vibrate to make sure not to cause alarm, but adhere to the timer when it goes off.

Setting a time limit for your souvenir shopping adventure will ensure that you have time to enjoy all the attractions your vacation destination has to offer. It’ll also help you indecisive folks to pick souvenirs faster since you’ll be time-constrained.

Pick one store. I’ve been to lots and lots (much too many, really) of souvenir shops. I can assure you that they’ll all be more-or-less the same. Pick the one which looks the most appealing, and purchase everything you need in that one shop. I suppose if you really want one particular item you could check another shop if it’s not in the first one, but it’s probably a better idea to ask someone where you could find that item beforehand rather than shop-roaming. If you roam, you’re likely to spend too much time in every shop and buy a bunch of knick-knacks to justify all the time you’ve just wasted. Don’t do that.

Buy food beforehand or bring your own. I’ve not mentioned food yet here, but dining is the other component to tourist traps. The food in touristy areas is generally average at best and overpriced. Don’t eat there unless you want to spend some serious money for mediocre food. I suppose I personally violate this rule a lot to eat at Hard Rock Cafes, but their Twisted Mac ‘n’ Cheese is a favorite of mine and actually quite good.

Just make sure to be smart. There are likely food options surrounding the touristy area that serve perfectly good food for a reasonable price. You can also bring food with you to wherever it is you’re going to ensure you save time and money.

My Top 5 Favorite Cities in America

As someone who’s been fortunate enough to travel all over the United States, I’ve visited numerous great American cities. I love many of them, but these 5 are, in my opinion, in a league of their own.

Portland, Oregon

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The Rose City is truly a beautiful place. On all sides and even down the city streets in Downtown Portland, there are trees everywhere. It carries the same Cascadian feeling as Seattle, yet Portland seems a bit calmer and a bit… weirder. But in a good way! It’s really a lovely place. They also happen to be home to Portland Timbers, formerly my favorite soccer team (although I have since dropped them in favor of my hometown club, Atlanta United FC). If you’re thinking about going to visit the PNW, don’t you dare pass up Portland. In many ways, I prefer it to Seattle.

Seattle, Washington

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The Space Needle, Pike Place Market, and the CLink. The home to thousands of avid fans who cheer the names of Seahawks, Sounders, Supersonics, and Starbucks to the heavens. Seattle is a magical town full of wonderful, intense people. Unlike Portland, Seattle is a bustling center in the middle of Caucasia. Flanked seemingly on all sides by volcanoes and a volcano of human activity in itself, Seattle’s Starbucks fueled energies create a beautiful blend of cultures. Unlike Los Angeles where I felt as if cultures merely coexisted instead, Seattle feels part-East Coast, part-Asian, part-Californian, and 100% Cascadian. The rain might discourage you from living in Seattle if you’re used to sunlight all the time, but don’t ever let it stop you from getting out there to visit.

Anchorage, Alaska

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I’ve talked about Anchorage before in this post, so I’ll keep this brief. Anchorage is a breathtakingly beautiful town. The culture (to me at least) seems like what would happen if someone took Dallas’ don’t-mess-with-Tex attitude and the laid-back lifestyle in Cascadia, then mashed them together. There aren’t many tall buildings and there’s not even a tenth of the people as there are in a city like Seattle, but it’s still a nice place to visit and take in the scenery.

Manhattan, New York, New York

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As far as *being a city* goes, NYC is the most city-like city there could possibly be. You can walk on the streets and be flanked by 60-floor buildings all around. The jungle is real, and it’s all around you while you’re in Manhattan. You could spend a year just in Manhattan–let alone the other boroughs which I’ve not visited properly yet–and never have reason to be bored. It’s a sea of yellow taxis. It’s an amazing view from the top of the Empire State Building. It’s the great universities of Columbia and NYU. It’s a calm day in the middle of Central Park, far away from all the noise and out of sight of the buildings. It’s NYC, and it’s whatever you want it to be. That’s what makes New York so magical for me.

Atlanta, Georgia

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Atlanta will always be home to me. I’m a suburbanite in truth, but this is the city I’ve always felt attached to. Soon, I’ll have my first address within the city proper, and I’m looking forward to getting to know it better (which I shall share on here). ATL or A-Town (just never Hotlanta), I’m proud to say that I’m from Metro Atlanta and I love it dearly. The skyline is one of the country’s best, especially coming in on I-20 Eastbound. Now more than ever, the town is becoming a melting pot of culture, and the city is–for the most part–embracing new cultures and peoples as they arrive. The city is even embracing soccer now with a near-religious fervor, something I never thought I’d see.

If you’ve never been before, come visit Atlanta. Eat at the Varsity (or just visit for pictures and eat at Chick-fil-A). Watch a Braves game. Come scream and yell with thousands of other Atlanta United supporters. Enjoy the city in the forest because it’s really quite a nice place to be. Just try not to mind the traffic.

Places to Visit: NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida

For those of you who have read some of my previous posts, you’ll see that I have a deep love and fascination for all things space-related. My recent trip to Kennedy Space Center on Florida’s Space Coast was a real treat. KSC is like a scientific amusement park of sorts, nestled in between spaceship manufacturing plants and rocket launch pads.

KSC is a sprawling complex of buildings which highlight the brightest moments of humanity’s time in space. One of the more awe-inspiring attractions is the so-called “Rocket Garden” which is home to numerous launch vehicles with plaques describing their name, flight experience, and specifications.Rockets KSC

There is also a bus tour with a tour guide and videos which takes you around the entire NASA complex to see views of all the modern day buildings where the nation’s scientists are engineers are hard at work constructing the future’s space vehicles like NASA’s long-awaited Space Launch System. This bus tour also leads to a separate KSC building which contains a Saturn V rocket, the launch vehicle which propelled mankind to the moon. It is still the only launch vehicle to have taken astronauts beyond Earth’s orbit.Rocket Garden

For me personally, the coolest thing at Kennedy Space Center is the Space Shuttle Atlantis. Following 33 missions in space, Atlantis was retired with the rest of the shuttle place and sent to be displayed in its own exhibit at KSC. Since this is the largest real spaceship (most of the ships at Kennedy Space Center haven’t actually been to space), it’s only fitting that it is displayed with distinction for all to see. There are also simulators in Atlantis’ building which let you practice landing and docking a virtual space shuttle.

Lunar Lander KSC

Seeing Kennedy Space Center gives me hope for the future of NASA. The American space program must continue onwards to continue advancing technology and bring humans closer to the stars. I’d encourage any interested tourists of all ages to visit Kennedy Space Center the next time you’re in Florida. If you add KSC to your to-do list along with the normal Central Florida staples of Disney World and Universal, you’re sure to have a great trip on your hands.

Self-Driving Cars Will Change the Way We Look at Road Trips

Technology is changing at a rapid pace. Fifteen years ago, we had blocky, number buttons-only mobile phones that couldn’t do anything besides make phone calls. Now we have sleek, slim cell phones with easy-to-use touchscreens and the computing power of yesteryear’s PCs. Times are changing.

Self-driving cars are coming, and there’s no stopping that. They make driving easier and safer. They will prevent crashes and help relieve traffic congestion. Someday, when everyone has a self-driving car and the technology has been thoroughly refined, automobile accidents will be seen as rare, freak occurrences rather than the everyday mishaps that they currently are. Some news outlets are reporting that multiple major car manufacturers plan to have self-driving cars on the market by 2020.

If self-driving cars are coming, what does this entail for the future of road trips? In America (and undoubtedly in many other countries across the world), road trips have a significant place in the national culture. With the advent of the Interstate Highway System in the 1950’s, Americans were able to connect to different parts of the country by driving across the nation’s great asphalt rivers rather than spending a fortune on airfare.

When you first go on a road trip in a self-driving car, I’d imagine that you’d find it a welcome experience. For the first few generations of self-driving cars, it’ll probably be a good idea for the “driver” to still keep an eye on the road, but they certainly won’t have to stare so intensively at the glaring pavement anymore. Drivers will be able to relax their muscles and pick their heads up to take in the views. They’ll be able to have proper conversations with their fellow travelers. Self-driving cars should have the power to open up interaction through technology, much in contrast to the way technology has generally drawn people’s eyes away from each other and onto a screen.

People will also be able to traverse vast distances because the indefatigable nature of the self-driving car will allow travelers to drive overnight to their destinations effortlessly. The only downside to this would be that highway-side towns with their hotels and restaurants will start to become drive-past towns, much in the way that some cities are seen as fly-over cities now. Still, there’s no denying that vacationers will benefit by getting to their destinations quicker and being able to spend more time there.

I would urge everyone to get a self-driving car as soon as they become reasonably proven and affordable. With the Tesla Model 3 debuting this month at around $35000 as an all-electric car with self-driving capability, the prices are sure to drop in the near future as more companies make their self-driving debuts on the market.

My Top 5 Favorite States in the USA and Places to Visit

I should preface this post by saying that I’ve physically been to every state in the US. Some states I’ve admittedly not spent too terribly much time in (namely Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Kansas, and Nebraska, all of which I was in for only a few hours), but most other states I’ve visited for at least a day. The following are my top 5 favorite states:

  1. Alaska. Alaska is a vast, beautiful state. It has a little bit of everything. There is a city–albeit a small one–in Anchorage. Then there is a vast wilderness with stretches for hundreds of miles in every direction. The people are friendly, and there’s some decent food around, too. When I went a couple summers ago, there was a bit of a heatwave, so temperatures were a cool 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit. The landscape was pristine, and there was wildlife everywhere you looked. As for places to visit in Alaska, Anchorage is a must-visit, and I say that quite literally since it’s the only major travel hub in the state. I also highly recommend driving/taking a train out to see Denali. If you’re from the East Coast or anywhere in the world with smaller mountains, then the ordinary-sized Alaskan mountains will blow you away… but Denali? My word, the thing is massive. I could see it from over 100 miles away, and that is not an exaggeration. Just go see it for yourself if you don’t believe me. I also think you should see the glaciers in Prince William Sound, which I already covered in a previous post.
  2. Nevada. Vegas, baby! But no, seriously… Nevada is beautiful. I already explained some of this in another post, but the city of Las Vegas is really just magical. I mean sure there’s gambling and lots of other sinful things, but c’mon! Neon lights in a desert with mountains in the background; who wouldn’t want to see that? Plus, if you love food, you’ll be in luck. Las Vegas has extremely good quality food from every cuisine imaginable. Some of the dining options in the casinos may seem expensive, but the portion sizes are MASSIVE. Vegas’ food is probably cheap in terms of dollars-per-serving. Vegas is also conveniently located near many great sites for nature lovers like Valley of Fire State Park and Death Valley National Park.
  3. Oregon. This may be the Portland Timbers fandom in me speaking out, but I really loved Oregon when I visited. The state is saturated with the unique culture of Cascadia. Everything is green. When you walk around Portland (an absolutely beautiful city, by the way), one of the things that stands out is all the greenery. The streets downtown are lined with towering trees. Much of the northern and coastal areas of the state, as far as I could tell, were just great big forests. However, the real gem in Oregon is Crater Lake. If you even remotely like nature, you need to go there. Just take my word for it.
  4. Georgia. Somewhat surprisingly, after visiting all of the other states in the country, I’ve come to really appreciate my own home state. Atlanta, especially, is an amazing city. Atlanta has a unique culture with a diverse blending from recent waves of immigration from Latin America and Asia as well as an influx of transplants from the Northeast and Midwest. The result? ATL is now the true cultural capital of the South, and most parts of Metro Atlanta have great, tight-knit communities within them. Elsewhere in Georgia, there are other nice places to visit, too, such as the old city of Savannah and Stone Mountain.
  5. Maine. I was somewhat hesitant to include Maine in at #5 on the list because there’s really not much to Maine other than small New England towns and the coastline with Acadia National Park, but yeah, Maine is here at #5. Acadia is really just that nice. The national park, centered on the strangely-named Mount Desert Island, boasts views of the bluest waters I’ve ever seen on the Atlantic Coast. If you’re ever in Boston or just New England in general, I’d highly suggest you pop on up to visit Acadia.

The Top 20 Places in Europe That I Want to Visit

1) Iceland. Iceland has been a very popular travel destination all-around in recent years, and I can see why. All the pictures I’ve seen of the country are simply breathtaking. Most of the country’s already-small population live within or around the capital city of Reykjavik, so the rest of the land is sparsely-occupied and filled with wondrous volcanoes and mountain scenery. I’ve never been to Europe, but Iceland will probably be the focus of my first European sightseeing trip.

2) The Scottish Highlands. Have you ever seen the movie Skyfall? Remember those nice, grassy valleys at the end when they’re at 007’s childhood home? That’s where I want to go see. Scotland has a unique culture which sets it apart from the rest of the Anglophone world, and I think it’d be a neat place to visit. I’d also probably pop by Loch Ness and see if I can spot that elusive lake monster… I’m sure that’d give me some nostalgia from watching Scooby Doo and the Loch Ness Monster as a child.

3) Venice. For a long time this was my #1 place I wanted to visit, and really it’s more of a tie for 2nd now instead of a true 3rd. In elementary school, I remember reading The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke and being amazed by the Venetian setting. My Venetian fascination continues to this day; however, I’m worried that my expectations for Venice might be a bit high at this point. Still, I think the entire atmosphere of alleyways intermixed with bridges and canals would be magical. I’ll probably go take a boat over to see nearby Murano whenever I finally make it to Venice.

4) Dubrovnik, Croatia. I mean… have you seen it? This town looks amazing! Dubrovnik is a Croatian seaport on the Adriatic coast. It was once the capital of the Republic of Ragusa, a country which some people may recognize from the game Europa Universalis IV. The city is walled and, from the looks of it on Google Maps Street View, seems a bit more tucked-away than you’d think in spit of its high visitation rate.

5) Finland. Now admittedly, all the Nordic countries have somewhat similar sights to see, but I’m placing Finland above the others mostly due to its culture. I mean a country that likes racing, hockey, and metal music? I’m down with that. The capital city of Helsinki seems particularly interesting as a place with a diverse history and lots of attractions to visit. The rest of the country is occupied by a sprawling countryside of forests, lakes, and mountains which seem as if they’d be very relaxing.

6) London. Well, what is there to say? London has everything. There’s the British Museum with its wide array of exhibits including an extensive Egyptian collection. There’s Big Ben and the rest of the government buildings of Westminister. There’s fantastic soccer (and yes I’m going to call it soccer) to watch with the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea, West Ham United, Spurs, and my favorite European club, the somewhat lowly but lovable Queen’s Park Rangers in Shepherd’s Bush. I’m also an avid Doctor Who fan, so seeing the beautiful cityscape with The Shard and the rest of London’s iconic buildings would be of great interest to me since I’ve seen it all so many times on a screen already.

7) Monaco. I suppose it’s wrong of me to claim that I want to visit Monaco for Monaco itself, as that’s not really the case. I just want to see a Monaco Grand Prix. The Monaco Grand Prix is perhaps the most prestigious automobile race in the world, and the city-state is said to come to life more than ever during the week of the big race. Monaco also has a host of luxurious resorts and casinos which could occupy my time in the lead-up to the race.

8) Prague, Czech Republic. A city rich with culture, Prague seems like just the place to visit if on a European road trip. Its iconic Vltava River and historic buildings make it an attractive destination, and, being a history nerd, I’m sure I could find tons and tons to do in a city with such a rich history like Prague.

9) Rome + The Vatican. I suppose it’s no surprise that Rome would make the list. The city, including its enclave state of Vatican City, are of immense and lasting historic significance. I’m interested in ancient and classical history, so seeing the ruins of the Roman Republic and Roman Empire, some of whose buildings are still in remarkably good condition, would be very fascinating.

10) Malta. This might be a bit of a weirder one, so hear me out. I’m a huge history nerd, and Malta is a great place to see historic forts and learn about great historical battles. Over the thousands of years it has been inhabited, Malta has been influenced by numerous cultures and thus is a sort of melting pot of all the Mediterranean cultures from history. It is also currently home to the oldest remaining chivalric order, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, a group which is directly descended from the Knights Hospitaller of the crusades and has in the past successfully defended Malta from foreign invasion.

11) Florence, Italy

12) Dublin, Ireland

13) Norway

14) Vienna, Austria

15) Bologna, Italy

16) Luxembourg

17) Svalbard

18) Zurich, Switzerland

19) Glasgow, Scotland

20) Aachen, Germany

 

Places to Visit: Anchorage, AK

Of all the cities I’ve visited, I can honestly say that Anchorage is one of my favorites. I don’t know what it’s like in the winter (a cold, dark, frozen-over hell, people in the South like to imagine), but in the summer, it’s absolutely amazing. I visited Anchorage two summers ago during the same trip where I took the pictures in this post, and I’ve missed the city ever since.

For me, cities are about five main things: the sights, the people, the food, the sports, and the skyline. Anchorage has it all. Well, okay… Anchorage’s only professional sports team is the Alaska Aces of the ECHL (also the league of the Atlanta Gladiators ~ Go Glads!), so they are somewhat lacking in that department. However, the rest of the boxes can be checked off easily.

Anchorage is a beautiful city surrounded by the towering slopes of nearby mountains and the blue-gray waters of Cook Inlet. I’ve seen mountains all over the United States, but Alaskan mountains are just something different. I think it’s because they’re so prominent whereas “tall” mountains elsewhere in the country tend to be perched on ground that’s already elevated. In Alaska, the mountains rise out of the earth and appear to be utterly enormous to anyone at sea level.

The people in Alaska are extremely friendly. I’m not sure if that’s just because they put on happy faces for tourists in the summer or because they’re jovial people, but I can’t recall any rude interactions during the entire week I was there. However, I must say that people need to learn how cart corrals work; I saw more stray carts in the parking lot of the Anchorage Walmart than I have seen anywhere else in the country.

As for food, I’ll just give the obvious choice: Moose’s Tooth pizza. Just go. If you ask the people at whichever hotel you stay at where to go for good food, that’s probably where they’ll direct you. Now admittedly, I hadn’t heard of it before I visited, so I wasn’t uber-hyped or anything for their pizza. I thought it was very good, but if I’d seen in a “Top Ten Pizzas in America” list like I did some months after my visit, I probably would have been disappointed… so maybe I’m hyping it up too much for you right now? I’m sorry. You should still go. It’s also worth mentioning that I ate at the Anchorage Hard Rock Cafe since eating at Hard Rock Cafe is one of my urban rituals. Anchorage has a small Hard Rock, but it’s still the same good food and good music you’ll be familiar with.

Anyways, this post is getting kind of long for a not-gallery. I’ll probably post a follow-up in the future detailing individual things to do in and around Anchorage.

(Photocredit to Mark Van Dyke at http://www.markvandyke.net/ under the license https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/legalcode )

Why I Love Las Vegas: The View of the Mountains from The Palazzo

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They call the place Sin City, but that doesn’t mean the views can’t be divine. I’m a big fan of cities surrounded by mountains, and the Las Vegas mountainline is one of the best I have ever seen. Most people seem too enthralled by the neon lights and the slot machines to really take a proper look around while in Vegas. The neon lights, the Luxor’s skybeam, and the towering Stratosphere are Vegas’ icons every night; I just wish people would take more time to find a window and look out during the day.

[The pictures were taken by me a few years ago. The view is from The Palazzo, looking west.]

Places to Visit: Tallulah Gorge State Park, GA

Tallulah Gorge State Park encloses much of Tallulah Gorge, a 2-mile long ravine in northeast Georgia. The park is notable for its breathtaking views of what I believe is the most spectacular canyon in the state of Georgia (yes, I have seen Providence Canyon. I like Tallulah better). As one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Georgia, Tallulah Gorge has a lot to offer. Down in the gorge, the naming pattern continues with the Tallulah River cutting a path through the Earth among a lush landscape of north Georgia trees.

Tallulah Falls is a set of waterfalls on the Tallulah River within the gorge. I didn’t get a particularly spectacular view, if I recall correctly, because I opted to just walk around the canyon’s rim trails rather than walking down the many steps to the canyon floor, but if you do aspire to get that perfect photograph or simply wish to see the river up close, there is a trail leading down into the gorge.

When I visited Tallulah Gorge State Park, I strung it together with a few other various north Georgia sites. I’d recommend visiting Helen, Georgia, while you’re up in the area (just for the novelty of the place), hiking around the nearby mountains, or travelling to some of the nearby lakes (Lake Rabun is really close). It helps if you have a nice, sunny spring or summer day when you visit; I imagine Tallulah gets quite a bit drearier in the wintertime. Just make sure you pack your camera!

Places to Visit: Prince William Sound, AK

Alaska is the biggest state in the United States, so it naturally has a great wealth of natural wonders. In 2015, I visited Alaska for the first time. I’d never been that for north before. I’d never seen a glacier before, up close and personal. I’d never seen so many mountains that made the “mountains” back home in Georgia look like little heaps of dirt. I’d never seen whales or seals floating on ice or great bird-covered cliffsides.

Luckily, Prince William Sound offered everything. I took a day cruise from Whittier (a very nice town, I might make another post about it in the future) and from there we began our tour of the sound. One thing about Prince William Sound: it’s enormous. On the map it already looks to be of decent size, but you’ve gotta remember that Alaska is gargantuan. Also the boat was slow… so this cruise took up most of the day.

The tour started by just chugging on by some assorted small glaciers, but eventually we got around the area of the big glaciers, the “College Glaciers”. The glaciers around there were simply stunning.Some of the glaciers seemed to be immensely tall, perhaps 150 feet. Littered around the base of the glaciers are massive icebergs, evidence of the chunks that fall off the ice sheets in a process called “calving”. As the icebergs break up and melt into more manageable sizes, they are sometimes occupied by seals which use them as personal flotation devices.

Prince William Sound is also a notable location for whale-watching. When I was there, I did manage to see a single whale, but I’ve heard that there are usually quite a few more than that. The wildlife that stands out the most in my memory, though, are the seagulls. So many seagulls. At one point, I could look out the ship and the entire cliff was coated with white — both seagulls and their post-meal belongings. It was a scene that would have been right at home in some bird-related horror movie.

Anyways, if you’re ever in Alaska or on a cruise of the Pacific Northwestern coast, make sure you get to visit Prince William Sound! As long as the skies are clear and you’re not paying too terribly much, it should be well worth your time.