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Dispatches from the Road

September 08, 2010

Travel Photography Tip: Shoot from the Hip


As much as we all agree that the advent of digital photography made everything much easier when it came to capturing the epic images of your travels, the one lost element of the old film days that I occasionally lament remains the element of surprise. In the days of film speeds and a max of 36 exposures, you never really knew what you'd get until you had the film developed. Patience became a necessity. And when you picked up the pictures and negatives, flipping through the photos was like revisiting the trip days after you returned. The only rule of thumb: if you got two or three usable photos out of a roll, you did good. 

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Related Topics: Dispatches from the Road · European Travel · Travel Photography · Travel Tips

June 28, 2010

Au Pair Adventures: Living Cheap, Hostel Common Rooms

By Guest Blogger

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No_Vacancy_Sign(VisionsofAmerica,Joe Sohm,PhotoDisc,Getty)
(Visions of America/Joe Sohm/Photodisc/Getty)

I walked into Itaca Hostel at 11:30 p.m. tired, bruised, and rain-soaked. I had spent the past two hours trying to find the hotel, at which I had no reservations, while trying to avoid being robbed in an area of Barcelona known for pickpockets.

No, my flight wasn’t delayed, pushing me into night-time check-in. I’m just one of those youthfully ignorant people who did no research before showing up in Barcelona, so I had no idea that the airport is a trek from the heart of the city. I made up for the hours I should’ve spent in research doing “field detail” on the subway. Que bueno.

“I’m sorry but we have no beds available.”

Ah, the words no one at that point wants to hear.

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April 30, 2010

Great Walks of the World: The Inca Trail, Peru

By Guest Blogger

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Classic view of Machu Picchu
VIEW FROM THE TOP: Machu Picchu (Ted Stedman)

EDITOR'S NOTE: This post is part of a series profiling ten of the world's great long-distance walking trails. Thanks to The Wayfarers, with over 25 years experience out in the field, for their help in compiling these recommendations.

Such is the popularity of this enigmatic jungle mountain trek to the Inca's sacred and mysterious city of Machu Picchu that hikers are no longer allowed to tackle it independently. Instead, they must be part of an approved group that generally includes porters, a guide, and a cook with tented accommodation, including a dining tent. Each walker must also have a trek permit. Only 500 permits are issued each day, and 300 of these are for the guides and porters of the trekking companies. Advance booking is therefore required, and this is most safely done six months in advance for the May to September high season. Three days altitude acclimatization in Cusco (11,200 feet) is also recommended to ward off acute mountain sickness in preparation for the trail, with a high point of 13,800 feet. Though the trek is only 28 miles long, it commonly takes four days, cramming in an intriguing mix of the Incas' man-made roads, tunnels, agricultural terraces, and buildings and nature's spectacular cloud forests, lush, sub-tropical jungle, and stunning mountain vistas. The normal start of the “classic” trail is at kilometer 82 on the railway from Cusco to Aguas Calientes. Challenging (but do-able for the reasonably fit) ascents and descents are the order of the next three days, culminating in the memorable and moving climax of Intipunku, the Inca's Gateway to the Sun, which provides the first picture-framed look of the lost city of Machu Picchu.

Walking vacation experts since 1984, British-founded and -owned The Wayfarers offers hiking vacations with an emphasis on culture and fitness, exclusive entrées into homes and gardens otherwise closed to the public, graceful accommodations, outstanding cuisine, and meetings with local residents. Walks are rated easy to energetic and span 14 countries, ranging from 5 to 12 days. The Wayfarers is proud to be a member of Trusted Adventures, an alliance of independently owned and operated small adventure travel companies recognized for their mission to provide the finest active vacations around the world.

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April 28, 2010

Destination 3 Degrees: Blown Away

By Guest Blogger

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Destination 3 degrees
SMOOTH SAILING: Calm winds and water give the team an easy jaunt (Chris Aguilar)

Editor's Note: Jennifer Holcomb is an adventure writer and paddler who will accompany the Destination 3 Degrees team on their stand-up paddle adventure across Hawaii's legendary channels. The journey will benefit Algalita Marine Research Foundation, helping to protect the oceans from plastics contamination. This is the second in a series recounting their journeys. Catch up on the previous post here.  

After only about two weeks, 55 paddled miles, three islands, dozens of creature encounters, and 35-knot winds, we've been blown away.

Our original start date was Monday, April 5, from the Big Island. No real reason—we knew that nature would tell us when—we just needed a date to start and Monday seemed like a good choice. The gale-force winds whipping across the leeward side of the island were our first clue that we weren't going anywhere for awhile. Leeward on the Big Island is in the shadow of the volcano Mauna Kea, and normally quite calm as a result. The winds were cranking.

That first channel for the doomed April 5 start was the Alenuihaha, which links the Big Island to Maui. Mauna Kea (the tallest mountain in the world at 13,796 feet above sea level, and 33,000 feet from base to summit) is on one side, and Haleakala, another volcano, at 10,023 feet above sea level, is on Maui. The wind is funneled through the channel between the volcanoes and accelerates to nearly double the wind speed on shore. If we were experiencing 25 or so knot winds, the channel was pushing 50. So we waited. Every morning we'd check NOAA sites, and naval sites, buoy readings, and weather stations; we'd check in with a Professor Caldwell at the University of Hawaii and boat captains who made their livings in these channels, all in the hope that something or someone would tell us "go." By Monday we were sure (pretty sure) that the high-pressure system demolishing our channel was going to break down, giving us about a 24-hour window to make our move. And it did.

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April 26, 2010

The View of the Volcano from Scotland: Ashes Pass

A coy shot from Buchanan Street in Glasgow—a city unaware of the volcanic delays (Nathan Borchelt)

The clouds have parted and the skies are clear—and it’s odd to write that and mean it 100 percent literally. After endless chaos that had me at the airport in Glasgow at 4 a.m. based on contradictory information via phone, email, and the net; after the volcano issued forth another burst of ash into European sky the day before; after hearing that flights were still on, then all airports in the UK were closed, then that they opened; after packing for the fourth time in seven days and going to the airport to witness stranded families and irate patriarchs trying to find shelter for his family (which spawned three generations, all clustered around their suitcases); after seeing a boy of nine crying inconsolably about just wanting to go home and a U.S. traveler who drove from London to Glasgow only to drive back ranting about just wanting to “get off this damn rock”; I have an exit out.

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Related Topics: Dispatches from the Road · European Travel

April 21, 2010

In the Saddle: Biking the Americas Q&A


Working in the travel industry, I have the privilege to visit, explore, and read about some of the world's great destinations. I also have the good fortune to meet the people out there experiencing the trips and places we love. Witness 25-year-old Chip Albright, a Van Wert, Ohio, native who has been traveling the world for over four years and is currently over halfway through his quest to bike the Americas from north to south. We caught up with Chip via email in Baja, Mexico, on his way north toward the U.S. border after over a year in the saddle. You can follow Chip's progress toward his final destination, Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, at

Away: Where are you now?
Chip Albright: I am currently on the east coast of Baja, Mexico, in the small little village of Santa Rosalía, heading north on Highway 1. I'm about 600 miles south of the U.S.-Mexico border in Tijuana.

What's next on your adventure?
Next on the list is the United States, starting with southern California. Once I cross the border, I will head up through Joshua Tree National Park and Mojave National Preserve before traversing Arizona from the west and entering southwestern Colorado through the Four Corners region. Colorado is going to be a treat, with six mountain ascents ranging from 8,000 to 10,000 feet. I will also be biking through Rocky National Park and making my way up into Wyoming, where I'll stop in Yellowstone National Park before hitting Glacier National Park in Montana.

Tell us a bit more about your journey.
The idea to bike from South America's southernmost point (in Argentina) to North America northernmost point (in Alaska) started over a handful of beers with my roommate, Chris Foster, while we were enjoying ski season in Wanaka, New Zealand. Before we knew it, it was Christmas Day 2008 and we were starting this journey up the Americas from Patagonia in southern Argentina. The idea started with two guys shooting the breeze, which then turned from a "what if?" to a "why not?" Fourteen months later, I'm still trucking along toward Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.

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Related Topics: Central America Travel · Dispatches from the Road · Mexico Travel · Outdoor Adventures · South America Travel

April 20, 2010

The View of the Volcano from Scotland

Edinburgh...with some artistic license (Dan Busey)

I first heard about the volcanic eruption at 6 a.m. last Thursday in the dark hours of Glasgow, Scotland. A colleague called to say our flight to Newark International was canceled. After confirming that was true—and with little other info on Continental’s website—I stumbled, bleary-eyed from four hours sleep, into the hallway of the Radisson Blu Hotel and was told what now the whole world knows:  Volcanic ash from Eyjafjallajokull volcano’s eruption in southern Iceland now covered most of Europe in a dark shroud of glass, rubble, and soot.  It felt like something out a Hollywood in-flight, the first act to the attack of the zombies across Europe…

I’d been touring Scotland with a handful of other travel journalists for five quick days of hiking and cycling in the highlands and glad-handing at the Scottish Travel Expo in Glasgow.  All told, the convention drew approximately 800 worldwide visitors, and now all of them were stuck on the island, just like the rest of the globe was paralyzed from any sort of international travel to, from, or through most of Europe.  Flights were rescheduled, then rescheduled again as the days passed and the airports remained closed.

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Related Topics: Dispatches from the Road · European Travel · Travel News

April 19, 2010

Au Pair Adventures: Portofino, Italy

By Guest Blogger

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Portofino(Jason Chi)
Portofino, Italy (Jason Chi)

My enormous love of seaside towns normally bashes against my tiny travel budget, forcing me to the overcrowded and oversexed beach sprawls frequented by spring breakers. But as Europe slumps into the slow season for the transition from ski to sun, I have been able to see some of the continent's most beautiful places without paying the price.

Of my travels along Italy's Northern Riviera (can you call that the knee?) one area stands out beyond the rest: Santa Marghertia/Portofino.

I started my trip in Genoa where I stayed (finding a cheap hotel option in either of these towns is impossible, though with more planning I would have stayed in Rapallo). The nine-euro train (round trip) wasn't long, about 25 minutes, once the notoriously late train got going. When I stepped onto the platform it was like stepping into a surreal world; you can stand jacket-free on the sunny beach and look up to the snowy Italian Alps.

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Related Topics: Dispatches from the Road · European Travel

April 09, 2010

Colombia's National Sport: Like Darts, But With Explosives


In Colombia (and only Colombia) there is a sport that has become the national pastime. Think part darts, part horseshoes, and the most important part: gunpowder. Originally called "Turmequé" (for the town where it started more than 500 years ago) it is now more popularly known as "Tejo" (the Spanish name for the metal discus used). The object of the game is to throw your tejo, weighing roughly five pounds, at a target containing small paper pouches filled with gunpowder. There are several ways to score points, the most common being hitting a pouch causing the gunpowder to explode. The first person (or team) to a predetermined amount of points wins. Traditionally, the loser buys the winner's drinks, but most players drink as much as they can while competing in the hopes that they don't have to foot the bill. It makes sense that beer companies sponsor nearly all the professional teams.

Watch this video to see a couple of "gringos" play for the first time alongside locals...

Lisa Costantini is a writer/editor currently traveling the world with her husband working on a project about sport and culture. More information can be found on their website at Lisa will be blogging from the road for us as she and her husband travel through Africa, Asia, South America, and Europe over the next several months.

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Related Topics: Dispatches from the Road · South America Travel

April 01, 2010

Winter’s Peak Moments: My Top 10

Mieke with Bison-Gerry
Cross-country skiing in Yellowstone National Park (Gerry Wingenbach)

Almost anyone who loves skiing or snowboarding has over the winter season compiled a list of what might be termed "Peak Moments." Here are ten of mine:

10. 2010 Winter Olympic Memories
The US Ski and Snowboard Association hit a homerun at the Vancouver Olympics and Paralympics with terrific results in programs ranging from alpine to freestyle to snowboarding. But here's some news that might have slipped under your radar. Nick Paumgarten reported the following in The New Yorker:  "By the middle of the second week, there were news reports that the authorities (at the Athletes Village) were trucking in an emergency supply of condoms; they had provided a hundred thousand of them, for roughly seven thousand athletes and officials. But apparently that wasn't enough."

9. The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
It's arguably the finest alpine hotel in the world. The views look up to the extraordinary Canadian Rockies that form the Continental Divide. And across the valley is incomparable Lake Louise ski area where Lindsey Vonn won two, back-to-back World Cup downhill races in early December. On sunny, see-forever days, it is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. Every traveler, summer or winter, should experience The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.

8. The Canyons, Utah
Don't be fooled by the stylish cabriolet rising from the lower parking lot, the swanky ski-in accommodations or the spiffy, carless village. The Canyons Resort is all about extraordinary skiing. Located just four miles from Park City's historic Main Street, the skiing is the gnarliest and largest of the three ski resorts that border the best little ski town in America (Deer Valley and Park City Mountain Resort complete this trifecta of standalone resorts). The Canyons is both wide and tall, with a whopping annual snowfall covering wide boulevards, tree-lined steeps, off-piste bowls, and miles of sun-dappled powder shots that snake and splinter through drop-dead gorgeous aspen groves.

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Related Topics: Dispatches from the Road · Skiing & Snowboarding

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