From Travel for Fun

SUMMER BREAK! WHOOO!!!

I’m not on summer break–I’m hard at work. But everyone’s favorite kitchen accessory, Sugar Duck, is on vacation, and he’s having a blast! All these postcards were “delivered” to me by Peter.

Hi guyth! I'm in Mexthiko, and I jutht made a new friend. His name is Mithter Thombrero-Head!
I thoooo like my new amigo, Theñor Thombrero Head! He is from Mexico. Here we are in the land of thun and fun!
3 with tequila
Why, thank you, Theñor Thombrero Head, I would like thome tequila. Whoooooo!
Aw, come on Theñor Thomero Bread, let me try on your bromthero! Por favooor!!!
Aw, come on Theñor Thomero Bread, let me try on your bromthero! Por favooor!!!
5 wearing
Graciass. Don’t I looook jutht thmashing?!
6 drinking otro bitchez
Yo quiero otro, bitchethz!!!
7 more
Whoooo! Thith ith going to be my lasthtest! Whoo! Whooooo!
8-11 collage sugar and thombrero
Then everything got a little hazy…

[The next morning...]

12 morning
I’m really not thertain why I feel so bad.
I think maybe the lime wasn’t washed or thomething.
13 bloody mary
Gosh. That Mexican sun thure is bright. Maybe a Bloody Mary would help…

………..

In other news that makes me feel hung-over, Lonely Planet appears to have been gutted in the name of the new digital era. (Much like, oh, Frommer’s and Zagat–and that worked out so well.) More on that later. Sigh.

1 More Counterintuitive Travel Tip (in process): Be Uncomfortable

I know, last week I gave the master list of counterintuitive travel tips. But, whaddya know, I thought of another one.

And that is: Discomfort is good.

You could say this is a variation on the idea of taking impractical transport. But there’s a greater sense of this, in which it’s generally a good idea to avoid typical luxury, even if you can afford it.

But don't get too carried away!
But don’t get too carried away!

There’s a little treadmill of travel style as you age and get a little more money to play with: you’re meant to go from hosteling to midrange hotels with air-conditioning to, phew, finally you’ve made it, some rambling resort in Thailand.

It’s a trap! Jump off! (Or, more realistically: Don’t seethe with envy over all those rich folks eating in them fancy dining cars, drinking coffee and smoking big cigars.)

Money just creates a buffer between you and the people you’ve come to visit. Money, if spent without thinking, buys space and distance: bigger rooms, bigger cars, private compartments on trains. But for that travel magic to happen, sometimes you need to be forced into proximity: in the cheap seats, on the sidewalk, at the public market.

“Discomfort” can also connect us to the past. I just spent a few days at Los Poblanos, hands down the best hotel I’ve ever stayed at (proof: this was my second visit, for vacation). Part of the reason it’s better than any typical “luxury” hotel is the physical reality of the place: the windows crank open; the thick old light switches are a little hard to flip; the door latches are intricate and don’t shut immediately behind you; the farm animals make noise. Of course nothing is truly painful: The beds are sumptuous, and I could turn on the a/c if I wanted to. But the irregularities haven’t been sanded away, as money tends to do, and the place is still filled with little reminders of how life used to work.

Then again, I’m writing this from a suite in Las Vegas, and I’m perfectly happy to be safely swaddled in a/c comfort, away from the masses (Masters of Beer Pong tourney happening downstairs!).

Oh, those wacky masses. (Sign in Albuquerque.)
Oh, those wacky masses. (Sign in Albuquerque.)

This trip, in which we’re going across the Southwest without a car, was an experiment in applying travel strategies I use in other countries to more familiar turf. But on this trip, I’ve found myself choosing the more “comfortable” option frequently: the parlor car on the train to the Grand Canyon, the flight to Vegas instead of the long bus ride. Which may say as much about the United States as it does about me.

So: travel wisdom is a work in progress–and at least I have gotten my share of discomfort walking in 115-degree heat!

Your thoughts? When is comfort worth it? When did you feel like it was unnecessary or just got in the way?

9 Tips for Counterintuitive Travel (the master list)

I thought long and hard about this list...
I thought long and hard about this list…
Last fall, I wrote a series of blog posts about the rather cranky, not-immediately-logical way I have come to travel.

Here’s the master list of tips, with links back to the posts. Employ on your summer vacation, and tell me how it goes!

1. Go to the bad part of town.

Like nice families, nice neighborhoods are all the same. Money creates global culture and same-everywhere cappucino.

2. Go to the ugly places.

Learning to love the not-immediately-lovely is a skill. And fewer tourists go to nondescript spots, leaving more room and space for you to meet normal people.

3. Go where the tourists are.

I know, I’m contradicting myself. But sometimes it’s great to hang out with tourists–especially if they’re from the country you’re visiting.

4. Be lazy.

Slow down. Do less. Skip the sights, especially if they might make you so cranky you’ll resent the whole country.

5. Travel by inefficient transport.

Like they say, man, the journey is the destination.

6. Drink the water.

Actually, it’s probably safe in many more places than you think. That ice cube won’t kill you (probably).

7. Don’t negotiate with taxi drivers.

Click through to understand why.

8. There’s no shame in sleeping.

Enjoy the siesta–it’s a cultural experience.

9. Bonus: Get older.

This wasn’t in the first series, but it came up after. Travel just gets more fun as you go along.

10. Second bonus: Be uncomfortable.

Edited to add this item, just thought up: “Luxury” can be synonymous with isolation. Money can be a barrier between you and what you’ve traveled so far to see.

Any other tips to add? What have you learned through travel? Share in the comments.

Dubai: Ibn Battuta Mall

Following up the runaway success of my post on Terminal 21 in Bangkok, I think I might become a specialist in theme malls. I admit I felt a little thrill at going to the Ibn Battuta Mall in Dubai not so much because I admire the 14th-century traveler (though I do), but because I was hoping for some really tacky things to take pictures of.

It certainly looked promising. The idea is that the mall’s various sections represent the major places Ibn Battuta traveled: Egypt, India, Persia and China.

Next to the mall is a hotel–that’s the place with the Morocco theme. (Because IB was from Morocco, I guess–so that’s his home base, where he rests his head?)

Louvre-ish pyramids have something to do with the next couple of photos, I think.

The entrance closest to the metro is the Egypt-theme one. Check it:

Actually, seeing how sites in Egypt are managed, I almost did feel like I was there.
But this gave it away.

So I’m sauntering in, thinking it’s gonna be super-cheesy…but this is some kind of crazy educational mall. There are all these displays about medieval Arab mathematicians and their assorted genius inventions.

Er. Except I can't remember what this was for. Astronomical readings of some kind.
"As soon as we're done here, we can all go get some new barrettes at Claire's. So, c'mon, everybody, let's focus."

In the Persia court, there was a touchscreen game to play, involving some surprisingly tricky geography and history questions. I got killed by the Black Death before I could make it to the Far East. Story of my life.

Climb on your donkey, bid farewell to your loved ones and begin your great journey!

One display even explained properly how all these Arab-invented navigational tools, like astrolabes and quadrants, work. I'm used to just seeing them in dusty museums. Here, you could play with them and line them up with fake stars and things. My actual retention of information is poor, but at the time, I certainly thought, “Wow–I finally get it!”

Astrolabes--you can't swing a cat in the Middle East without hitting one.

The coolest thing was this, in the India wing. Even though the explanation panels weren’t working, nor was the device itself. Guess what it is?

OK, I'll tell you: it's a clock.

I didn’t know it was a clock at the time–I only read about Al-Jazari’s elephant clock a couple of days later in a museum. But, still. I love that there’s even a bit of grass in the elephant’s trunk. For authenticity.

And the mall is just remarkably beautiful.

The dome in the Persia wing.

(If that green font is looking kind of familiar…yeah, it’s Starbucks.)

By the time I got to the China wing, I was genuinely agog.

That's a whole Chinese junk in the background.

The funny thing is that, despite all this lavish detail, the mall is just not a very good mall. It doesn’t rate a special air-conditioned tube entrance from the metro, so you have to trudge across the pavement in the heat. And if you look back to see how far you’ve come, you see a whole mass of power plants and smokestacks.

It’s all on one floor–no fancy escalators to take in the view from. And the shops aren’t particularly great–in fact, the whole place smells like vinyl from all the cheap shoe stores. (Not complaining–I got some much-needed new sneakers.) There’s a ‘Marble Slab Creamery’ (the much nicer Mall of the Emirates has a real Cold Stone) and other various not-quite-right businesses, like Borders books. Which I thought shouldn’t exist anymore.

And the clientele is a little more downscale. Which means that, instead of tourists in I’m-on-holiday getups and Emirati ladies in rhinestone-studded abayas, there were lots of people in sort of average clothing from wherever they were from. Which was frankly a bit of a relief after all the other Dubai craziness. And, in some cases, it meant they fit in nicely with the decor.

Which way to the Foot Locker?
Granny carts are an Arab invention too. Didn't you know?

If you’re curious about Ibn Battuta at all (Google did a doodle for his birthday on February 25), do yourself a favor and read Tim Mackintosh-Smith’s books about traveling in his footsteps. The series starts with Travels with a Tangerine, in which TM-S arrives in Dubai and visits this very mall. Hijinks ensue. Truly, it’s great travel writing–hilarious and edifying. You might even be able to buy it at the Borders.