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November 29, 2012

Why I Hate Patchouli

The lovely scents of Macau, before the patchouli invaded (Nathan Borchelt)

It’s impossible to over-exaggerate how much I despise the smell of patchouli. I would think the fact that it was used in the 19th century to repel moths and termites would be enough to keep people from spraying themselves with the stuff. Or that it smells like an ungodly mixture of wet earth and decaying flesh. Sure, it may cover the smell of marijuana smoke, but with medicinal use spreading (and Seattle and Colorado legalizing pot across the board), this seems like a fringe application. And yet, travelers still wear it.

My hatred of the stuff dates back to high school days, when a “hippy chick” (as the clique was called) poured some patchouli on a friend’s aviator flight jacket, the acceptable uniform of the hardcore music-lovers. The noxious smell never left (this is as low as a punk can get).

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Related Topics: Asia Travel · Travel Rants

June 01, 2012

Four Reasons Why I Hate Walt Disney World

Walt-disney-world-orlandoI recently took my family to Orlando's Walt Disney World, our first visit to the "House of the Mouse." For my two kids, this was certainly one of their trips of a lifetime, and they're itching to go back for more. The whole place is an incredibly impressive experience, and the Disney memory-making machine is certainly a well-oiled success. In 2010, almost 17 million people visited the Magic Kingdom alone; the company's worldwide parks and resorts generated a mammoth $11 billion in revenues in 2011. Big numbers aside, though, there were some areas where I left feeling a little disappointed. Here's why.

Food Fit for a Princess? Hardly.
I wasn't expecting gourmet food and knew that everything would be theme-park prices, but the food we had at both the Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios was a huge letdown. We even tried dinner at the Animal Kingdom Lodge's more upscale Kidani restaurant and left feeling that even its more exotic menu was dumbed-down for mass consumption. Given the huge demand and global clientele, I think Disney's missing a trick in introducing bolder, more imaginative flavors to its theme-park fare. Yell at me all you like about tasting the food at Epcot, but why can't this be a resort-wide focus? Perhaps then I might feel less aggrieved at parting with $40 for lunch for a family of four.

See a photo gallery of scenes from around Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom theme park

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Related Topics: Disney Vacation · Family Vacation · Travel Rants

March 18, 2011

Final Four Travel Plans

TX, Houston_TX skyline with Memorial Park in foreground_73068373 (VisionsofAmerica-Joe Sohm_Digital Vision_Getty)
Houston plays host to this year's NCAA men's basketball tournament (Joe Sohm)

Chances are, you're too busy hiding the NCAA Tournament video stream behind an Excel spreadsheet right now to read this, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little sleepy from staying out to watch the UConn-Bucknell game last night at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. But if your team is making a run deep into the tournament, here are a few places you might hope they wind up:

5. Tuscon, Arizona
Site of the first and second rounds (or, sorry NCAA, second and third rounds thanks to the miserably confusing "First Four" play-in games), Tucson is a great destination for early spring. Dry desert air and Spanish colonial architecture make you almost forget this is one of the West's greatest college towns and home to the Arizona Wildcats, a five-seed in the West bracket.

Tuscon Travel Guide

4. Tulsa, Oklahoma
Really? This host of early-round games gets its reputation from oil-derrick roots (and indeed, you'll find the 76-foot-tall "Golden Driller" statue in the town's fairgrounds), but spring brings rose blooms and cool temperatures to Tornado Alley. And the burgeoning area along East 15th Street is awash in new restaurants and boutique shops, including the trendy Rope Tulsa.

Tulsa Travel Guide

3. Anaheim, California
Home of the West bracket finals, families will find plenty to do in Orange County, from Disneyland to Lego Land to a land filled with great beaches and nearby mountains close enough to squeeze in a hike before the games start.

Anaheim Travel Guide

2. Newark, New Jersey
Ok, laugh. Make your Jersey Shore jokes or snide comments about crime rates. They're all somewhat valid in New York's largest suburb. But what's lost is that Newark has some legitimate attractions and fine hotels, including a superb art museum and a history rooted deeply in sports. It's the perfect place to catch the East bracket semi-final game and see if your team can make the Final Four. (And an easy train ride from New York if that's more your style.)

Newark Travel Guide

1. Houston, Texas
Of course, everyone wants to be in the final. And Houston, with its fascinating shipping port, resurgent arts scene, and excellent shopping and dining, is a mighty good host for the championship games. Of course, I think I might hold out until next year, when the finals will come to New Orleans and may even overlap with Jazz Fest. I'll just have to hope my Huskies can make the trip.

Houston Travel Guide

See's Top Ten College Towns.

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Related Topics: California Travel · New Jersey Travel · Travel News · Travel Rants · Travel Tips · Trip Ideas · US Travel

March 17, 2011

Honoring St. Patrick's Day


You can have your green beer and your Irish pubs today, America.  Gulping cheap brew polluted with food coloring while accessorized with plastic four-leaf clovers has always felt like the perfect example of the way us U.S. citizens “celebrate another’s culture”: by getting shamelessly wasted before noon at a much-hyped Irish brunch in the nearest mall-theme restaurant to the tune of the latest U2 song (which, for the record, sounds about as Irish as Justin Bieber). Go head…swaddle yourself in various shades of green, head to toe, underwear to overcoat, and let the Irish car bombs splash all over you.  But know that this does not make you Irish. Really—it doesn’t even make you seem as if you even like the Irish.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m the worst kind of Irish-American. I have just enough of Irish blood to have some red hair in my beard.  My deep affection for all kinds of Irish whiskey qualifies me as a functioning alcoholic. And I’m one of those guys who screams along in an off-tune warble whenever The Pogues grace a jukebox (and yes, I also close my eyes and mouth the words during some of their slower numbers—but only to Macgowan-era tunes, thank you very much).  I love a well-poured pint, and I love my Irish pubs (D.C.’s Irish Times and Nanny O’Briens, in particular), and I’m the bastard that reminds you that Guinness tastes better in Ireland than anywhere else—because it does.

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Related Topics: Culinary Travel · European Travel · Food and Drink · Travel Rants

September 09, 2010

Five Things Airlines Never Tell You

Air Stewardess Adjusting a Businessman's Blanket During a Flight(Digital Vision,Getty) 
(Digital Vision)

During a recent visit to Hong Kong, I met an Asian pilot who has flown for some of the world's largest airlines. We got to talking about plane food and seat sizes, and then he shared with me a few things airlines never tell you.

1. Free doesn't always mean free
When you meet someone who works for an airline there is always that initial feeling of jealousy. They get to fly anywhere in the world for free, when us regular folk can't get a deal half as good as that no matter how long we scour the internet. But apparently the green tint to our skin is unwarranted. "We are limited to flying only when there are open seats. Sometimes I've flown somewhere for free, but coming back nothing is available. When that happens I have to pay for a last minute flight. In the end I could've gotten a cheaper rate if I booked the whole thing online months in advance like everyone else."

2. Planes aren't like cars
I'm not sure why airlines don't toss this little tidbit around, as it would make those of us flying feel a lot safer. "As a pilot you can only fly one type of plane. Unlike cars where if you can drive a Mercedes Benz G-Class you could also drive the E-Class, when you get a pilot's license it only entitles you to fly one airplane model."

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June 03, 2010 Hosts Twitter's Traveler's Night In (#TNI) on Family Travel

By awayblog

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TravelersNightIn Today will have the pleasure of hosting a Family Travel-themed "Travelers Night In," a.k.a. #TNI, on Twitter. #TNI, is a weekly gathering of travel professionals, connoisseurs, institutions, and wayfarers, every Thursday from 3:30 PM to 5:00 PM EST using Twitter. #TNI was started by the travel team at, an online community-based travel website focused on destinations. The format is simple: A host is chosen to ask ten questions every ten minutes on a specific travel-related topic. Participants are encouraged to tweet their answers to the questions followed with the hashtag #TNI, fueling 90 minutes of lively discussion.

How it works
When we participated in our first #TNI on the Worst of Travel a few weeks ago, questions ranged from the resourceful (ex., your best travel tips) to the colorful (ex., your worst luggage disaster). Over the past few weeks of participating, one common theme has emerged, #TNI is less about broadcasting your "travel know-how" and more about sharing stories, tips, to-do's, must-see's and questions with a collective group of individuals who are keen on travel.

How to participate
To join in on this social-media goodness, follow the hashtag #TNI either on Twitter, TweetGrid, or using a third-party app (HootSuite or Tweetdeck, search for #TNI).

This week's topic: Family Travel
While the topic of "family travel" may not seem as spicy as some of the past topics (Worst of Travel, Adventure Travel, Sun and Fun), we've got some fun questions lined up to help de-mystify the good, bad, and occasionally ugly (screaming children, anyone?) of traveling with kids, as well as some helpful tips and lessons learned along the way.

Join us today (Thursday, June 3rd) at 3:30 PM EST on Twitter. Follow us @awayblog for more details!

... if we're not enough to get you jazzed, you can also win a trip to Cancun just by participating!

Yucatán Holidays is sponsoring this week's #TNI. Ten participants will win five days/four nights of hotel accommodation in Cancun for two adults and up to two kids. Winners have the choice of two beautiful hotels: Ocean Spa Hotel or Laguna Suites Golf + Spa!

More details on #TNI, its founders, and future events can be found on the website, here.

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February 10, 2010

Winter Storm Round-Up (Oh, the Irony!)

Bigsnow_(courtesy, Tristan Greszko_Jackson Hole Mountain Resort)
(courtesy, Tristan Greszko/Jackson Hole Mountain Resort)

The folks over at like to take pot-shots at Alanis Morissette, and I can't always blame them. This particular fan-submitted chart, which details what in the whining Canadian's megahit "Ironic" is actually ironic (versus what is just unfortunate circumstance), always pops into my head when I'm tempted to say "Well, that's ironic." Which is exactly what I was going to do having been a) confined to my home office in Washington, D.C., for nearly a week thanks to the 30-plus-and-still-falling-inches of snow outside and b) tasked to write a recent history of snowstorms for skiers heading out this President's Day Weekend. Seeing as the closest mountain to D.C. has just one double-black-diamond rated slope at 935 feet of vertical, I'm filing this one under "Snow, snow everywhere, but not a slope to ski." Unfortunate circumstance, indeed.

Nevertheless, regions of the country with actual mountains have been getting pasted by the same storms that seem to be attracted by magnets to our nation's capital. Here's a quick look for you President's Day Weekend ski travelers:

Wolf Creek, Colorado
Base Depth: 105"
Season Total: N/A
Recent Snow: 22"
The winners of the meteorological lottery over the past month, Southwestern Colorado and Northern New Mexico have been enjoying deep snows without a lot of fanfare. It might surprise many to find out that little-known Wolf Creek, a decidedly non-luxury mom-and-pop joint with no hotels, good-not-great terrain, and a nearby town (Pagosa Springs) that smells constantly of sulfur, actually gets the best snow in Colorado. Sure, neighbors in the San Juan Mountains like Telluride, Silverton, and Durango, get the same deep, light fluff, but something about this resort's position atop Wolf Creek Pass allows it to eat up the snow totals. As I was checking for totals, the inches kept piling up as I hit "refresh" on my browser. If you're heading to Telluride or Taos, you're in luck. If you're within driving distance of the southwest part of the Centennial State, start packing the car. Elsewhere in Colorado, Crested Butte picked up ten inches over the weekend, and it looks like Summit County is starting to get theirs, with Copper and Breckenridge reporting some, though not a lot, of snow over the weekend.

Continue reading "Winter Storm Round-Up (Oh, the Irony!)" »

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Related Topics: Skiing & Snowboarding · Travel Rants

December 19, 2008

Dumbest Outdoor Trends of 2008

By Brian Kevin

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Gourmet campfire cooking? Could be part of your next "glamping" trip. (Nathan Borchelt)

End-of-the-year “best” and “worst” lists are like marshmallow Peeps or trashy reality TV—everyone claims to abhor them, but year after year, we find ourselves weirdly compelled to see who People chose as the year’s best-dressed celeb and what obscure piece of avant-indie noise-rock became Pitchfork’s album of the year.

I’m going to be straight with you, though: I like these lists. I know they’re utterly arbitrary and meaningless, but I like them anyway. I look forward to arguing about them with friends and sometimes with strangers on the bus. So in that spirit, I present my own completely subjective and unempirical list of the Top Five Dumbest Outdoor Adventure Trends of 2008.

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Related Topics: From Around the Web · Outdoor Adventures · Travel Rants

February 08, 2008

Miami International Airport Survival Guide

After my recent experience at Miami International (my third within the last year), I'm convinced that if that place was inscribed with a slogan, it'd read: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free—and then torture them some more."

It's not that I expect immigration in a post 9-11 world to be a breeze. As a Washington, D.C., resident before and after the attacks, living with the hassles of this brave, newly-secure world is something I take in stride. But the level of chaos at Miami International is the traveler's equivalent of Dante's first circle of the hell. 

Of course part of this is due to the sheer volume of U.S. and international visitors that pass through this gateway—a mass of Caribbean, South and Central American, and European travelers teem through these international terminals. But places like Chicago O'Hare, Atlanta Hartsfield, and NYC's JFK rank higher in the list of portal airports—so Miami can't get off that easily. No, it's almost as if Miami International excels at making an already challenging task downright maddening. As one colleague put it, you should avoid the place till they tear it down and rebuild it (before muttering inconsolably about the revolting green-colored couches…).

If you can avoid the place, kudos. We envy you. For the rest of us, here are a few tips to make your next visit a bit more tolerable:

Continue reading "Miami International Airport Survival Guide" »

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