10 Tips for a Successful Road Trip


My 15 soon to be 16 year old son recently got his drivers permit.  Now that he’s behind the wheel, there’s a lot of interest on his part to get behind the wheel.

Here are a few tips to planning a road trip:

1. Getting from Point A to Point B: GPS Device, Maps, Smart Phone with GPS, USB on Mappoint, iPAD with GPS, Road Signs, etc… – I have used any number of ways to get across state lines.  I like having the turn by turn directions, and if you do, you will either want a GPS like Magellan.  The times have sure changed but many still prefer the maps for planning and executing their routes.

2. Plan a Route with some Fun destinations, It’s not about speed between A and B – Today I planned our road trip using RoadTrippers.com it worked great.  I put in Salt Lake City, UT as the source and the destination.  Then I added the places where I wanted to go.  I really want to see Devils Tower from the Close Encounters of the Third Kind movie, then Crazy horse and Mount Rushmore, and then Teddy Roosevelt Park.  The plan was to get me into North Dakota, the last state in the lower 48.  I’ll be visiting my last state in the Union, Alaska next month.  You can use Bing Maps, Google Maps, or various tools to see what the roads are between you and your destination, but how do you plan your route?  I like to have things I want to see.  Seeing something cool every day with a little hike or some fresh air is nice to plan out when doing 10 or 12 hour drives.  You really shouldn’t plan to drive more than 12 hours in a day.  Longest I ever did was somewhere around 15 hours back when I was in college, but usually it’s not about getting as fast as possible to the destination, but rather enjoying the road trip and seeing sites along the way.  The RoadTrippers app allows you to display attractions, historical, and photo areas.  As a result I added a couple of additional stops, Independence rock, Sturgis (home to the biker gathering), a Mesa falls, and 1800’s Smith mansion.  Normally I’d go through Yellowstone National Park, but I have visited the park nearly every year for the past few years.  So while I am a fan, I need a break.

If you’re traveling during the winter, watch the roads as is be sure to keep track of the pass weather, just in case it’s closed!

Mount Rushmore Road Trip

3. Be willing to stop along the route, Mix it up! – You do need to think about stops along the way that will break up the day and make it enjoyable.  Maybe it’s the world’s largest ball of twine, or Wall Drug, or even just getting slurpees for the kids, but when doing big family trips, the kids memories aren’t just about the destination.  They will remember the 6 legged cow, and the albino skunk more than they may remember the St. Louis Arch.  Same with Disneyland. If they drove 14 hours the day before they get to Disney, they will be exhausted.

4. Use the Pool – You may feel like you need to get on the road as early as possible, but an early dip in the pool will serve to wake you up, and will give you energy you didn’t know you had.  The kids will thank you for it.

5. Break it up – Rush day, chill day, Busy Day, Relax day.  When I plan a family trip, I am use to doing it my way, which is cram the days full… Packed days.  I thrive off of the destinations and adventures.  I’ve found the family prefers to spend more time on the beach and less time at the pyramids.  Less time in the caves, and more time in the pools.  Less time on the Hike and more time chilling at the cabin.  To keep everyone happy I try to mix it up so we can both be happy.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

6. Get fresh air – Seems there are less and less rest stops.  I push myself when I do long road trips, and often stop only when I need more gas.  That’s not a great practice.  You need to get the blood flowing.  There are conditions that can happen.  You’ll notice a lot of the attractions on this trip will involve some decent hikes.  I’m looking forward to doing some father and son bonding.  Hikes are a great way to get to know the others on the trip.  Often up in the hills there’s no 3G, no Wifi, and the power on the devices in the car are likely drained or having been used for the last 6 hours are now a bore.  Walking, hiking, or simply exploring around national parks, or around the downtown… there are ways of keeping the blood flowing and supporting your goals.  Think about all the junk you’re eating along the way minus your normal exercise routine.  Feels good to find balance between the long drives with a good walk or hike.

7. Plan for snacks – Gas stations ultimately are limited on the quality of food you can get.  Granola, nuts, fruit, aren’t popular in gas stations.  Pop, candy bars, and circus peanuts, and peach rings… now you know what we end up with.  Much better to plan for snacks so you can mix in some healthy stuff.  It shouldn’t be hard to find a grocery store.  They really are all over the world.  The convenience of the gas station is just too easy.  Learn to enjoy water.  May make sense to bring a water bottle and just fill up with ice.  Takes serious discipline.  I’m not all there yet, but I know I should be doing that.  Think about how you want to carry water and keep it cool.  You do need to drink plenty of water.

8. Plan your hotel, B&B or camping strategy, get a good night’s rest, if you’re feeling pain get an adjustment or massage – You may be pushing through to arrive at your destination.  Just because you arrived late doesn’t mean you need to be up at the crack of dawn.  If you do need to be up at sunrise keep your drapes open.  Natural light will help restore you and help you make up more naturally.  Careful on doing anything dangerous.  8 hours of downtime is good.  Remember it’s about regeneration.  After I’ve done some horrible thing to my body… those other side of the world 40 hour flights, I reward myself with a massage.  Easy to get in Asia, it’s becoming more and more common in many countries around the world to get a massage.  I love space tanks as well for their restorative qualities.  I bet that’s another post.

Plan your Hotels and know what you’re getting into.  Consider Bringing Your Own Pillow and a Spare Blanket.  If you’ve got the room in the car, you may want to toss in a pillow and blanket.  Great for naps, and your neck is use to your pillow.  Consistency.  There’s a lot of stress on your neck during the drive, so taking off that stress at night may really help.

Hotels – Quality *

  • Motel 6 – 1-2 stars
  • Super 8 – 2-2.5 stars
  • Holiday Inn Express, Marriott Fairfield, Hilton Garden 3+ stars
  • Holiday Inn, Residence Inn, Hilton 3-4 stars
  • Hyatt, Ritz, Intercontinental 5 stars

International folks may enjoy the http://VRBO.com and couch surfers the http://airbnb.com which both have a huge variety.  The B&B’s can be a way to combine the destination as part of the tour.  A lot of them are online these days, and it takes some research.  Top travel sites for planning include http://kayak.com http://expedia.com http://orbitz.com http://hotels.com http://priceline.com http://Travelocity.com http://tripadvisor.com they all have their pros and cons and expose most of the major chains.  Trip Advisor has attractions in it’s database.  If you can figure out which hotel you want and then call them directly, you may be able to simply make the reservation without having to pay.  They may be able to hold it with a card.  As well, lot of opportunities to collection hotel points for free nights or double dip on frequent flier miles like at Hilton depending on your loyalty.

9. Packing & Keep the Car Clean – I always pack light as a world traveler, but when I’m in my own car it’s easy to get sloppy.  I count out the days and pack minimalist, but since I’m in the car I will pack the snacks and water separate.  Putting the snacks in a small box will keep things from rolling around.  If you can think modularly of those things that are for the car can stay in the car and then only what you need for the night has to go into the hotel.  You may be driving an RV or Staying at Camp grounds.  This use to be so much easier back in the 70’s and 80’s.  Now the camp grounds are really spread out and they definitely don’t have the marketing budget of the hotels.  For cheap hotels there are those little magazines that mention the walk in rate discounts.  There are a lot of strategies to employ here.  I’ve used a dozen different strategies and I do a lot of hotels.  A lot of it is tolerance around cost, and tolerance around conditions.  In the US there really is a hierarchy on national and world wide brands.

10. Tune up the car or consider a Rental – You may end up being focused on the agenda and packing, but ultimately what can make or break a trip is the condition of the car.  Remember the vehicle you may be driving has often not been driven long distances, and may need fluids antifreeze an oil change and more.  Get that tune up that you’ve been putting off, not on the day you’re trying to get out of town, but instead a few days prior.  In road trips in the past I’ve encountered flat tire, overheating car (ended up dying), and transmission issues that cost me thousands.  Even cleaning it out and having it vacuumed can help to start off on the right foot.  Some may want to consider renting a vehicle.  In some cities the daily and weekly rate may be worth the wear and tear on your own car.  Big road trips can add a lot of miles all at once.  These road trips can be fun with the top down, and in a sports car.  For some, that is the dream.  For others, it’s about a camper or RV to get on the road… Make sure you’ve got plenty of accessing to funds.

Enjoy!!

Yosemite Valley Natural Wonder

Yosemite Valley

I’ve been to California many many times, but it wasn’t until I explicitly planned to go to Yosemite that it happened.  I’ve seen pictures, and heard stories about it’s beauty, but it never popped until this summer.

Our family had a family reunion in Lake Tahoe, and with an open weekend, it took a little convincing, but we were all in.

I knew I wanted to have a full day in Yosemite and not just plan to drive through.  This was smart.  You really do need to plan to spend a full day to take advantage of what is there.  Imagine Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon… it’s one of those type of places.  You’re essentially 3-4 hours from civilization in any direction.  The good news is, there are options, but planning is important.  I found that common travel sites would easily put you 2 hours away from the park when booking a hotel, so you have to be careful.  The hotels, motels and lodges in the park go quickly and are quite expensive.

We stayed at the West Entrance to the park at Yosemite Riverside Inn.  It met our needs, and even included breakfast.  We were most happy with the distance to the park and being able to wake up and begin our journey into the park.  The first sight of Yosemite valley was incredible.

Yosemite valley

Half Dome in the Distance… My first view of it. Inspiring!

Personally it only took this one view, to know that I had found what I was looking for.  Yosemite was a natural wonder.  This was an ancient canyon with God’s fingerprints on it.  This place has serious earth history and a magical valley that would attract earths inhabitants all over it.  This special valley would awe and inspire and enchant anyone who sets their eyes on it.  In many ways simply traveling through this valley can bring one closer to God, because it makes man feel small.  In so many ways the pride of man can be stilled by standing on one of these rocks.

yosemite

El Capitan – What a Serious Megalith

While I didn’t really take the opportunity to climb these mega stones carved out of the valley, I did spend hours driving around them and went on a couple of easy hikes up to the falls, and one to a lake.  I spent most of the day in the valley with a bunch of other people I was trying to ignore.  You can see a few of these insignificant creatures in my picture.  Ignore the crowds, it’s still worth it. There are times of the day when you can get there ahead of the crowds, but still you have to do it anyway… It’s amazing and it does bring one closer to ones creator.

yosemite bridal veil

Yosemite Falls is 2,425 ft.  The highest waterfall in North America and in the top 10 in the world.  I’m going to be visiting the highest in the world, Angel Falls, in Venezuela and planning to spend 3 days to see it.  Had I known how amazing this was and how many of the top waterfalls in the world are in this park I would have given it more priority.  When I think of falls in the US, I think of Niagra, but that’s a volume thing.  Here you can plan to go when the run off is at it’s highest in the spring and get a real show.  Remember this park reminds man, that he is insignificant.  Some people get hurt or worse, trying to prove they can conquer these things.  With over a dozen falls, and hikes to nearly all of them, there are tons of things that people will do.  I would have liked to have tubed the river, or rode horses… lots of great activities in the park.

Things to do:

  • Horseback riding
  • Rafting
  • Hiking (Falls, Trails, Loops)
  • Rock Climbing
  • Biking
  • Tours
  • Loops Drive
  • Walking

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If anything Yosemite reminds us that there are things bigger than us in life.  Anytime you want to feel small. Visit the Yosemite Valley and it’s 1000 square miles of National park.  While you may feel like you weren’t alone while you were there.  You won’t regret it.

Bahrain – Top 5 Things to See and Do


  Bahrain Architecture

Formula one

Bahrain is your oyster.  You’ll likely start your travels of Bahrain in the capital of Manama.  Manama means “Sleeping Place” and while it may seem quaint, there is some fascinating places to see and visit.  Bahrain has changed a lot in the last decade, and is poised to change even more in the decade to come in competiting with it’s neighbors to be the Next Dubai, or compete for fans of Forumula one.  People come to Bahrain to relax and have fun.

Many may plan their trip to Bahrain around a race, or football competition.  The stadium is huge, and the infrastructure is designed to host a very large crowd.  There’s also a lot of international food places that will surprise you that they’ve got.  You likely didn’t know some of these places made their way to a place like Bahrain, but that’s also important in understanding the future of Bahrain.  Once you think you’ve got it figured out… it will surprise you.  There will likely be more struggles in this country in the future, it is a place of change.

1. Manama Souq

Manama Souq, known for it’s pearls and gold in the warren of streets behind Bab al-Bahrain.  The souq is the place to go for electronics, bargains, spices, sheesha bottles and a other Bahraini essentials.  It definitely isn’t just a tourist destination.  You’ll see all types of people shopping Most shops in the souq are open from about 09:00 to 13:00 and 16:00 to 21:00 Saturday to Thursday, and after evening prayer on Friday.  It’s a great way to people watch and see a great variety of people from the well dressed upper class Bahrainy to the working class folks.  May I even entertain the idea that you can see Shiite and Sunni doing business together in the market?

2. Mosques: National Mosque – Al-Fatih Mosque

Muslim Mosque GuideBahrain National Mosque

The national mosque is open to visitors.  Happy to share information about the life of the Muslim and more of the faith of Islam this grand mosque has very informative guides. The Al-Fatih Mosque is the largest building in the country and is capable of holding up to 7000 worshippers. The mosque was built with marble from Italy, glass from Austria and teak wood from India, carved by local Bahraini, and has some fine examples of interior design.

 

 

National Mosque of Bahrain

3. Tree of Life

The Tree of Life BahrainTree of Life

Before and After pictures of the Tree of Life… out in the desert.

Located in the middle of the desert, the Tree of Life, a 500 or 800 year old mesquite tree, stands alone. It is a mystery as to how it stays so green and alive in the waterless desert.  Standing alone in the desert about 1.2 miles (two kilometers) from the Jebel Dukhan.  It’s quite large and has huge branches. It looks too old, but the leaves still fresh green…

The tree source of water remains mystery, some others believe that it gets nourishing from the underground but no one knows why this tree still surviving.

It was quite the trek out of the city to go track down the tree, and I was disappointed to find someone had tried to burn it, and vandalized it.  I found a lot of what’s going on in the region in the appearance of the tree and it’s treatment.  It seems to represent life.  It’s undergone some rough times, and this tree has seen a lot and despite all of that it has continued to persist.

While we were out there looking at the tree, we could see a group of tanks doing military exercises.

3. Dilmun Burial Mounds – A’ali Burial Mounds

Bahrain Burial Mounds Archeologist dig

As far as the eye could see, thousands and thousands of mounds dating from far back as 4000 years ago.  Not the size of the normal burial plot, but the size of a small house.  Over 350,000 ancient burial mounds covering spanning over 1000 years.  Some think it’s where Adam and Eve came from.  Could be the largest pre-historic ancient burial plot in the world covering many square kilometers.  There are so many that even today the locals are debating what to do with it.  If they excavate they can reuse the land, but some debate there isn’t much in them beyond pots and modest means, but some have copper and bronze weapons, jewelry, pottery that could tell the story of Dilmun civilization, an ancient trading hub that connected Mesopotamia, South Arabia and India, is believed to have inhabited Bahrain during the Bronze Age.    While I was there I saw an archeological team digging, finding bones, and pieces of pots, and so on.  The national museum has an exhibit on these strange mounds.

If you think there are a lot of mounds now, there’s only 1/5 of what use to exist, cleared for housing or already looted.  UNESCO has considered adding some of the burial mounds to it’s list.

4. Bahrain National Museum

Burial Mound

The most popular destination is the National Museum.  (It’s nearby where the Pearl Monument was located were recently (Mar 2011) it was destroyed during the civil unrest in uprisings that occurred there.  Bahrain is still known as one of the more liberal countries in the Persian gulf.)

This Museum Bahrain National Museum is the best place to start for an intriguing, well-labelled introduction to the sights of the country.  It’s also walking distance to the waterfront. The museum showcases archaeological finds from ancient Dilmun and includes beautiful agate and carnelian beads and earthenware burial jars – used for the body as well as its chattels. It also outlines the local history of pearl fishing including information on the boats the dhow, complete with pearl divers.

Read more about this and other attractions on Lonely Planet guide to Bahrain.

5. Fort, Bahrain

Fort Bahrain

A UNESCO World Heritage, Fort Bahrain is a remnant of a former time when the port was controlled by the Portuguese in the 15th and 16th centuries.  This was during the times when they dominated trade routes in the Indian Ocean  One of the more important historic buildings on the island, the Bahrain Fort (or Qala’at al-Bahrain in Arabic). This fort is one of several built in Bahrain and around the Persian Gulf to protect these trade routes.  You can climb all over it and there are great views of the water from there.  Nearby there are some more ancient ruins (4000 years ago) of the Dilmun capital referred to in Sumerian writings (bronze age) surrounding the fort.

There are a couple of other forts as well in Bahrain worth seeing if you liked this one:  Arad Fort (near airport) and Riffa Fort (near Riffa).

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As you explore Bahrain you will continue to find things to see… there are some older sites to see including this ancient Mosque no longer has its roof and a few remaining walls.  You can still climb the minaret in the old mosque from 1400’s.

Enjoy exploring this fascinating country that isn’t going to stay still… it’s a progressive place and modernizing like crazy.  Expect Bahrain to be the place to be with the likes of Doha, and Dubai.

10 Simple Tips for Travel Around the World


Planning for global travel can make a big difference in how smooth your trip goes when something goes awry.

Jet over water

1. Pack light – Avoid Check in bags, they are getting increasingly costly and can prevent you from getting on early flights, and can slow you down.  Even if you pay $0 for your check in, now you’re wasting time when you arrive and for potential connections and stops along the way.  You’ll also find that compact cars in most places around the world don’t have much room for a big check in bag.

2. Pack for ultimate flexibility in weather and comfort – I like to bring my hiking pants that zip off into shorts.  They also wear really well.  I can often go for a week in these and did so on a trip to East Africa. If I need to dress up, I can do that in a wrinkle free button up collared shirt, or for work trips I’ll wear a sports jacket that doubles as a coat.  Look at the materials and avoid cotton.  There are some amazing clothes that roll up very tight and don’t wrinkle. I rarely bring more than 1 pair of shoes, because I look for shoes that work in a wide variety of situations.

3. Money and Cards – There are a lot of strategies around this.  Some of the most important are having a good backup plan.  You don’t plan to get mugged, but you should plan to get pickpocketed. I consider myself very aware and I’ve been pickpocketed four times… once on the Train in London, once on train in Rome, once on train in Barcelona, and once in a religious parade in Guatemala.  All this and across 100 countries from the best to the worst across the extremes of economic conditions.  In all of those instances I never felt anyone pulling something out of my pocket.  Of all of those times…. three times it was phones, once my wallet.  Thank goodness I had a strategy.  On that trip I took a dual strategy of storing cards in two places.  One on my person (in my wallet) and the other in my bags.  I had travelers checks and my passport.  Traveling with friends I was able to get some cash and use paypal to quickly reimburse my friends.  Amex was incredibly fast. I had an AMEX replacement card in 36 hours in Barcelona.  As I suggested there are lots of strategies…

Having a fake second wallet with convincing but old cards to provide in case of mugging with minimal but enough to satisfy cash desperation. The primary one could be a money belt or alternative safe location.

  • Money belt or storing it in your sock or shoe – I find the inconvenience of having a place that’s hard to get to… well… inconvenient.
  • Travelers checks – These are great for 1st world countries especially Europe and North America.  Cash them as often as you need to just stop by most banks or money changers.  Only sign them when ready to use them and keep the stub in another location such as home or in your bags.  This will allow you to get the cash back if stolen.
  • Hard Cash Money Euros and Dollars spread out – I don’t want to admit it, but in Africa and places with fewer banks often the easiest thing is to have cash distributed across multiple bags in strategic places.  Never too much in one place, but allows you to dip into your reserves and saves you on ATM fees. Bags do get lost, that’s why I’m referring to carry on in this case.  Don’t ever put large amounts of money in outside pockets of large suitcase even with a tiny little lock.  As well, just because your bag is wrapped in plastic doesn’t mean it won’t be messed with.  It’s a nice deterrent, but basically you should never fly with anyone you can’t live without in a check in bag.  Must haves should be in carry on bag, especially in overseas trips with stopovers.
  • ATM Card – There are way more ATMs than McDonalds around the world.  I have used and abused the ATM machines.  I’m sure I’ve paid a few thousand dollars in ATM fees alone.  On top of that I’m sure I’ve paid hundreds if not thousands in conversion fees as well, but don’t let anyone convince you that you get a better deal dollar for dollar.  If you convert $100 cash vs. pull out $100 from the ATM you will get a better rate with the ATM machine 80% of the time.  The trick is to visit the ATM machine as infrequently as possible without having a bunch of foreign currency at the end of your trip, especially Argentinian Pesos.  In 95% of the cases, you can fly back and transfer your money in the US (at the airport NOT your bank) and get better rates than local.  Your local branch bank most of the time will not take your foreign currency… EVEN EUROS!!  That is unless they are an international bank and unless they are big head quarters.

6. Online backups of your Identity – You should have a scanned copy of your passport as well as copies of both sides of your credit cards online in a safe place that you trust. That’s step one.  It will be handy for all of your future travels as well.  I also carry extra copies of my picture which is great for border crossings and border visas, you never know.  You’d be surprised as well how much a business card can buy you in your story even if you are on vacation.  SkyDrive, Corporate email keep folder, or Digital lockers with high encryption… you get the idea.  It’s not hard to add a password to the file if you’re going to send it to yourself in email and then store it.  Remember you’re going to need to be able to get at it to print it out so you can call the 800 numbers on the cards to report them as missing… oh yeah, 800 number doesn’t work foreign right?  That’s why you want the card, so you can look it up and see if they have a foreign number for contact and for the country you’re in.  800 numbers are a pain in Europe, but I’ve found often my personal at&t cell phone finds a way to get around it.  Any in country phone will give an error.

Don’t be afraid to contact your country Embassy  if there’s not one.  If you are ever concerned about a trip.  Register ahead of time with the Embassy or Consulate.  Many contain really good travel details.  You can get

7. Don’t pack too many just in case items – It’s amazing how huge some people’s toiletry bags are.  Beyond toothpaste, toothbrush and a minimal brush or comb, some tiny travel sized deodorant… girls I understand… but minimize remember where you’re going and work to reduce and reduce again.  Those three extra pairs of pants and 2 extra pairs of shoes or boots make a huge difference in weight and size of your bags.  Minimize… think… Hey I’m going to pick up a shirt in Vietnam or South Africa or where ever you’re going.  I find it fun to collect football/soccer shirts in the countries I’m visiting.  At least that’s the plan, if I start to feel low on clothes.  The other thing is those type of shirts pack well and don’t wrinkle.

8. International Data plans, Global Cell Plans, Unlocked Phones and Sim Cards – Depending on how much time you plan to stay in one place.  Getting a sim once you arrive may do the trick to get you both data and voice for your unlocked phone.  Yes UNLOCKED is the key if you’re going to be swapping sim cards.  Talk to your cell provider to find out what type of international calling plans they have.  There is a HUGE difference between providers.  When I travel, I often hop from country to country either by plane, boat, car or ferry.  So I don’t want to lock myself down with a sim and it’s a pain to track them down if others are traveling with me and don’t want to wait while I check the various telecoms when I arrive.  The easiest I’ve found is having a good cell provider that provides good global plans that provide some data and some text and a little voice. 

If you don’t prepare you will feel extremely disconnected or end up with a HUGE bill.  There are some important strategies of being aware of what you’re using along the way and then making sure you turned it off when you get back so you can get a pro-rated rate.   Think about Voice, Data, and Text as well as sending and receiving.  Make sure you reset your usage meter on your phone just prior to leaving as well as applying the service right as you leave.  There’s an app for that in many cases.

  • $10 – Global Messaging 50 – send 50 text messages. $.40 for ea message beyond that
  • $30 – 120MB Data Global Add-on – 120MB of data in 140 countries (I laugh at the list of countries since I’m not even that liberal in counting countries.  Many of the countries they list are simply islands of other countries.)  Even countries like South Africa are not on the At&t list so be sure to check.
  • $30 – 30 minutes of Europe Travel Minutes / $60 – 40 Rest of World minutes
  • Total $70-100

So for less than $100 USD you can stay connected while on the go.  Those are the cheap packages, and another reason I say… if you’re going to stay in one place like Germany or South Africa for 3 weeks… get the SIM card.  Way cheaper.  Go to 4 Countries at $29.99 a pop and you’re better off with the data plan, and oh yeah… is our phone unlocked?

9. Travel Mobile Apps – There are some great language apps that you’re going to want to pack ahead of time… meaning don’t use your precious bandwidth to download the apps that you could have done at home on your high speed connection. 

  • Free Currency converter app (sync it before you leave so it works offline)
  • Language / Translation apps – I use to collect them all and have top 10 language apps.  Now I simply add them to my phone prior to leaving and keep them on my home screen, but it is handy to have Spanish, French, Russian and German one click away.  The English to other language partial sentences around common scenarios can be handy for getting my order right.  Pointing at menus works fine most of the time.  I am in the process of testing “verbalize it” a new app that gives you access to human translator.  Simply start the app (requires data) then connect to a translator and they can be your interpreter.  They are just getting started, but they already do Chinese, so it’s already becoming interesting.  I also favorite/bookmark google translate, but again requires data.  Unfortunately
  • Good alarm clock app – good for your iPad you might bring for entertainment. Always good to have a backup incase your wake up call fails or that converter that was charging your phone disconnected from the wall and your phone is dead when you wake up.
  • Maps and CIA Factbook – CIA Factbook can go offline, and google maps caches fairly well if I know what I’m doing to optimize my data strategy.  Even Waze has been useful when bing and google maps chokes for directions.  Often with directions you can go online put in the directions and then go offline.  Even works somewhat with turn by turn directions on Mapquest, until it looses you.  Wish I could say bring your GPS, but the lame GPS companies still don’t understand global travel.  $100 per country does not scale.  Often you can get GPS for your rental car.  I’ve stopped doing the $7 per day GPS and using that money toward my data plan.  It’s an interface I’m familiar with and most of the time, you can get a basic map from the rental car company for free.  This is a comfort level thing.  I may not be like most people where I feel fine relying on the Internet and apps in most places around the world.  Where I don’t I make friends and contacts.  I’ve never hired a guide company that would meet me at the airport.  Instead I prefer to make friends with Taxi’s and tuk tuk drivers or leverage my global social network.
  • Travel books as Apps and PDF – The lonely planet and various travel guides and books are available as apps and as PDFs these days… Much smaller, but sometimes it’s cool to carry the book on the way to your destination so people ask you about where you’re going.  I understand.
  • Skype or Facetime for voice & video calls home – I use Skype a lot.  Whenever I’m on wifi I’m connecting with home.  Well maybe not that much, but at least I try to on a daily basis.  The skype to phone is something you want to hook up ahead of time.  This allows me to simply dial from skype and call home at $.02 per minute.  That’s my preferred way of using voice minutes.  It’s way cheaper than the $1-$2 it will cost you otherwise.  A global calling card is an alternative, but I haven’t even thought about one of those in 10 years.  You’ll have to see if they still make sense.  Trying to find a telephone booth will be another challenge and another reason I elect to avoid that scenario.

10. Travel Power Converter/Adapter – I’m still waiting for the uber dense universal converter.  It’s amazing to me how many of these there are out there on the market and none of them are perfect.  My friend Michael Noel carries the converters that he knows he’s going to use… I carry two of the universal converters (different shapes and sizes) with a power converter on it plus a small travel three outlet extension cord with 2 USB ports.  Power is something that is very important.  Power can mean the difference between getting to my destination on time and safely.  The extension cord also means if all the plugs are taken, I can courteously ask if I can plug my extension cord in and unplug and replug them in.  Never once been denied! (Assumes the power works!)

Traveled Anywhere “Dangerous?”

Tunis in Razor Wire Tunisie

I knew I had been to some sketchy places, but I didn’t realize in our small world that I had been to some of the most dangerous borders and places on the planet.  That being said, to a large extent dangerous places aren’t always what they are made out to be.  Your bias and perspectives based on news, history, among biases and other things will be incorrect until you visit.  It’s amazing how wrong I’ve been some times…

Last week I visited Tunisia, currently on the hot list of places that would be considered dangerous.  We were planning on avoiding the hot areas, but just a couple of blocks from the medina we came across a roll of razor wire that was stretched around the block in front of the French embassy.  They are trying to discourage people from gathering in large numbers around the embassy.  I think they saw the movie Argo.

Tunis cathedral with razor wire

Tunis has a rap for being the first in the Arab Spring.  The first to overthrow their leader and attempt to start a new government.  Trying to find the right balance of religion in the government is a tough call for the Tunisians.  They don’t want it too hot or too cold.  Egypt is trying to figure the same thing out.  They have a hard time figuring out what model to use, because there aren’t a lot of successful Islamic government models to fashion themselves after.

I really really enjoyed my time in Tunis, Sidi Bou Said, and Carthage.  Beautiful cities, incredible people, and tons of history.  In many ways I find people who have to deal with this kind of stress are either fighters or leaders.  The people that Tunis has created are real movers and shakers.  Tons of passion.

Sidi Bou Said

The same could be said for some of the other amazing places around the world where conflict ultimately creating a generation that will rise above the conflict and help us all.

Here’s a list of my favorite places where recent conflict leaves behind a city and a people who cry to be visited.  Some of the most beautiful places on the planet with darkness that is parting to light.

1. Lebanon – Beirut is one of my favorite cities in the world.  It’s incredible.  The food is fabulous.  If you eat much Mediterranean food you will find that it’s either influenced by Lebanese or is actually Lebanese food.  Lebanese… they rule in food in the middle east as well, that’s where is at it’s best.

Visiting some of the old historical sites you’ll find that this area of the world has been in conflict since the time of Cain and Abel.  I jest, but really since man has been sentient there have been battles for this fertile land with awesome sea access.  Byblos pictured,  has 10 different kingdoms that have claimed it over time and built it up.

2. Sarajevo – One of my favorite cities in Europe.  Beautiful Sarajevo, Bosnia.  In Bosnia you also have to visit Mostar.  A tragic past, which you can research before, during or after. It really redefines the way you travel.  Sarajevo is not dangerous today.  The same people who fought against each other live together.  They have been forced to find ways to move on. A visit to the very historical city library in Sarajevo makes this all very fresh.  A walk over starimost the bridge in Most will also bring the highest of highs and lowest of lows as you see the land mines and research the tragic history of the bridge.

Sarajevo bombardment
History is visible

3. Egypt – I still consider Egypt one of the safest places on the planet.  The people are so kind and caring.  Yes, Cairo is a large busy dusty city, but the people really do care about their future and are having a challenging time finding the right balance for the majority and minorities in the country.  Still find that Luxor is one of the places in the world where I can truly relax riding in a felucca letting the wind take me where it will.

I wrote all about how I feel about visiting Egypt post revolution.  I have friends who have recently visited within the past 2 weeks and they love it as well.

Relaxing on the nile

4. Nicaragua – This third world country has a tough rap.  Due to bias from leaders in the US government this poor country has had a rough time.  Definitely some of the poorest conditions in the Americas, but the beauty and simplicity is incredible.  I’ve felt very safe and the amount of crime isn’t what you might perceive.  Outside the capital, Managua it’s a very incredible country with much to offer the adventurer and for incredibly cheap prices.  I stayed at a villa on the lake for $30 with the shores lapping right up near the doorstep.  Sitting out on the balcony watching the waves… listen and you’re likely to hear monkeys just as birds, and look up to see incredible volcanoes, just beautiful.

5. Zambia & Zimbabwe – What happens when money becomes worth nothing… when 100,000,000,000,000 (100 trillion) notes are worth more as a collectible?  I’ve found desperation a scary thing.  I once ran into someone who said they would never go back to Africa.  To me Africa is the place that keeps giving back.  Every trip I go on is incredible, because it’s so raw.  It’s primitive.  As an anthropologist at heart, and Indiana Jones as my example, there’s no better place to explore than deep dark Africa.  Believe me, there are some dangerous situations, but again even these seem safer than many of the large cities in the US where most wouldn’t think twice to visit.  Victoria Falls is worth it.  Amazing place.  We ended up travelling around the whole area and really connected with locals, and it was one of my favorite trips ever.

There are some people who like to visit where natures destructive force has made impact.  As a child I remember going to Bountiful Utah after a flood.  It was fascinating to see rivers going through people’s yards.  A fascinating juxtaposition.

Now seeing buildings that were bombed by Clinton during the Lewinsky scandal in Belgrade, Serbia…  Modern history is pretty wild.

The irony here in all of this, is the *real* most dangerous places I’ve visited would not be where most Americans would think.  I have felt most unsafe in Detroit, Orlando an some parts of Chicago & LA.  There are a few places in Mexico that aren’t so safe, but even Mexico city has felt more safe than some of the large run areas in the US.  People outside of the US, may think so too.  Johannesburg does have real dangers based on desperation.  Many who live there carry a second wallet.  There are techniques for traveling safe and a lot has to do with keeping your wits about you.  Having local contacts can really help in visiting these WILD places of the world.  Travel brings perspective and erases prejudice.

Road Less Traveled: Top 5 Travel Destinations of Armenia

Crazy Foot bridge

Rickety Old Foot bridge

Armenia view Mt. Ararat, the site where Noah’s Ark landed, according to Genesis 8:4. In addition, Armenia has the distinction of being the first country to adopt the Christian faith (301 A.D.) and being evangelized by two of Jesus’ apostles (Bartholomew and Thaddeus). The landscape is dotted with ancient churches and monasteries.

Armenia may not currently be a top of tourist destination due to the challenge of getting there, but my experience is there is a lot of hidden gems and may be one of the top emerging religious tourist destination yet to be discovered, it’s off the radar for most.  It’s definitely an ancient kingdom that has been passed from empire to empire until it gained it’s independence from the Soviet Union.  Since that time it’s had a hard time with a couple of it’s neighbors.  There’s some disputed Territory that was a gift from Stalin to Azerbaijan and another to Turkey.  The Turkish relationship isn’t as strained it appears, but the Azerbaijani relationship is still strained with land disputes.

Khor Virap Monestary

(Above: Khor Virap Monestary)

There are some amazing destinations in Armenia.  The history of Armenia is fascinating.  I do think it’s worth visiting and not one to overlook in your visit to the former soviet union and in your visit to the Caucuses.  You really have to plan your routes through this region of the world.  For example simply flying into Armenia is a challenge.  We found getting from Georgia to Armenia was a great way of seeing the region and there were many more flight options into Tbilisi such as through Istanbul (one of my favorite cities for extended layovers).  Both Georgia and Armenia are Christian nations.

1. Where Noah landed the Ark – Mt Ararat viewing from Khor Virap Monastery – The Khor Virap Monastery is a 17th century Church provides a spectacular and majestic view of Mount Ararat and one of the most visited church and tourist spot of Armenia.  Saint Gregory was imprisoned in a pit for 13 years and as the story goes came out and the miracle of surviving this pit resulted in a conversion of the King and further prostylting led to the country converting to Christianity in 301 AD.

Khor Virap - The pit

The Pit – Climbing down these steps is a freaky experience.  It feels like the latter isn’t straight up and down.  It feels like you’re leaning backward.

Khor Virap in the shadows of Mt Ararat

Khor Virap Monestary with the Bible famous Mt Ararat in the Background.  There were some farmers burning their fields that day, so the mountain isn’t as looming in this photo.

2. Garni Temple – The oldest and best preserved Pagan temple in the world.  This building plays a significant role in the establishment of Armenia as a country and hence has been preserved where a lot of pagan temples around the world were destroyed with the rise of Islam and Christianity.

Garni Pagan Temple in Armenia

The nearly 2000 year old temple has some older structures around it including some interesting mosaics and likely one of the most incredible views of river valley which remind me of the Ihlara Valley in Turkey and have similar looking basalt columns of the Giants causeway of Ireland.

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(View inside of the Garni temple)

While we were there, some pagans were holding a ritual for one of their members who was off to join the military.

3. Etchmiadzin Cathedral is the oldest state-built church in the world.  While meditating in the old capital city of Vagharshapat, Gregory had a vision of Christ’s coming to the earth to strike it with a hammer. From the spot rose a great Christian temple with a huge cross. He was convinced that God intended him to build the main Armenian church there. The Etchmiadzin Cathedral is the oldest state-built church in the world. The original vaulted basilica was built in 301-303 by Saint Gregory the Illuminator with the Kings help when Armenia became the first officially Christian country in the world.He renamed the city Etchmiadzin, which means “the place of the descent of the only-begotten.”  This UNESCO herritage site is a 4th Century church with a rich history of the Christian nation of Armenia.

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Courtesy Wikipedia

There was construction going on on the turrets while I was there so my photo didn’t turn out this great.  The church is part of a greater complex of religious buildings including religious seminaries.

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Above: Seminary Students and Armenian Priests in the greater complex

4. Armenian Genocide Complex – Memorial Complex of Tsitsernakaberd

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Right near the national stadium is the Genocide memorial with an eternal flame and a pillar pointing toward heaven.  My friend Marvel told us stories of his families making the experience very personal.  The Government of the Ottoman Empire ordered the  destruction of Armenians in Anatolia (Eastern Turkey) in an organized expulsion and extermination of Armenians. Women, children and elderly were from February 1915 sent on death marches towards the Syrian desert.  Some 1 million to 1.5 million died.

Apparently there is controversy in the use of the term “genocide” as Turkey and Azerbaijan choose to say these events were part of the war.  It’s very sad.

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Armenian Genocide Memorial 1915-1922, the flowers pile up in a circle around the flame.  Online there’s a 3-D video of the Armenian Genocide complex including the ability to place flowers.

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5. Yerevan Republic Square – The Republic Square is the place where ceremonies and meetings are held. The statue of Lenin used to be located in the southern forehead of the square, but when Armenia regained its independence, the statue was brought down.  Now you’ll find dancing fountains in the summer.

The square is surrounded with seven major buildings:

  • The National Gallery and the History Museum building (north).
  • The Ministry of Territorial Administration (north-east).
  • The Government House: holds the main offices of the Government of Armenia (north-east).
  • The Central post-office of the Republic of Armenia (south-east).
  • The “Mariott Armenia” hotel (south-west).
  • The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (north-west).
  • The Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources (north-west).

Republic Square Yerevan

Republic Square Yerevan

Christmas in central republic square

Vernisaj Market in Yerevan Armenia

Vernisaj Market in Yerevan, this is a must see on the weekends.  Lots of fun things for travelers.  Lots of crafts involving Noah and the local landscapes.

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This is the Old Yerevan Restaurant Band.  There were tons of fun.  Lots of great food to eat.  The food was one of my favorite things about Armenia.  Lots of great food.

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Zombies on Kilimanjaro – My Trek on the Marangu Route

Mt Kilimanjaro Zombie

I left off the story of the Kilimanjaro Ultimate Hike at the end of Day 4 as we were going to bed at 6pm.  You should read that post before you read this one to really understand where we were.  We had just retired to our hut, and you could tell people that had stayed at this hut were mental.  It wasn’t unusual to see carvings all over the room of people who were out of their minds.  Some would talk about how sick they were, others how they were hopeful, but concerned.  These out of place carvings were all over the beds and walls, with stories of people from all over the world.  It really was a very global moment.  The Russians were down the Hall, the Japanese we had left behind at the last camp, and the Netherlanders were on their way down. It was actually the Canadian couple that were Bosnian immigrants really represented the mood of the camp.  The wife was feeling great and couldn’t wait to get started, the husband on the other hand couldn’t keep anything down and was feeling awful.

As I lay in bed, I wasn’t really tired.  Yes, I was exhausted but my head was really hurting.  I have had some really bad headaches in my life.  In fact one such headache made me wonder if I had a tumor or brain hemorrhage.  In my dream that night, I dreamt I died.  This headache was nearly that bad.  I had images of my head exploding on the mountain, but also thought about my son at home that had doubts that I could make it.  If you’ve ever heard that Kilimanjaro was a mental hike… it really is.  You have to dig deep and this was the night where the head game started.

Before I fell asleep I went through my bags and took 3 Aleve and a few high doses of vitamin C.  As well I took one more trip to the toilets.  The toilets at Kibo hut are the worst on the entire hike.  They really don’t want you to spend much time here.  The turkish toilets (non western) were non flushing hole in the ground style latrine.  They stunk and people who had been using them were sick… really sick.

When I got back in my sleeping bag, I was cold.  Really really cold.  I felt like I was freezing and started shivering.  I put on my thick socks and put on my coat which I had taken off.  Even then I was still feeling cold and my neck felt like it had a kink in it.  It was at this point I was starting to get a little worried.  What if I can’t get any sleep and everyone wakes up in a few hours and I haven’t slept at all.  I can’t do this hike with 2 days of no sleep, but I also can’t NOT do it.  I felt like I had to put it all off and get out of the mental games I was playing with myself and after a little prayer I was feeling relaxed again and closed my eyes.  What seemed like less than an hour later, the door was getting knocked on and I was closest to the door.  It was our wake up assistant cook bringing in the hot drinks.  No fresh water at Kibo.  Only that which was hauled up from Horombo hut and boiled.  My head was feeling some better and after eating a little something I started getting ready.  I had heard it was going to get VERY cold.  So I started putting on the layers, from the thermals, pants, to layers of shirts short and long, and then a rain coat which I’d shed in the first half kilometer.  My snow coat was good enough for me, I actually had to open it a little to get a little relief.  My hands were cold despite the gortex snowboarding gloves I was wearing.  They weren’t the best gloves, but I had a second pair on my waist if I needed them.  None of us bought the glove heaters.  There were some for sale at the bottom of the mountain, but none along the way.  I may have been tempted otherwise.

Day 5 the hike to the Summit 

After getting all our gear on, we gathered around for the details.  It was midnight and we were starting day 5 nice and early.  Our guide discussed that we would make it to Gilman’s Point by around 5 or 6am, and watch the sunrise from Uhuru, the highest point on Kilimanjaro.  He explained there would be 3 of them for the 5 of us, which seemed different than what I had overheard another group say where there were 2 porters for every person.  He did go on to explain our water would be frozen by 3am, and that they would be carrying boiling water in thermoses, and would get us water refills as we needed it after that point.  After not hearing any details about whether we were ok or not, I asked him what the warning signs were and what was NOT ok like a headache?  He explained that headaches are normal, even bad ones and that we shouldn’t be worried about a headache that goes away with medication.  What we should worry about are passing out, dizziness, but even vomiting is ok.  “Just vomit and you’ll feel better.” was his advice.

After the great pep talk we all turned on our headlamps and headed out into the dark.  The night sky was incredible.  A foreign sky with unfamiliar constellations minus Orion.  He stuck with us all night.  Very comforting to Mark, as his son is named Orion.  Polo, Polo something we had heard every day up to this point really sunk in.  Slowly Slowly they would say in Swahili.  This was the steepest trail we had experienced up to this point.  The switch backs were long, and the rocks and bouldering we did was long.  I never felt threatened at all.  No jumping from rocks where I felt I might die, but I did feel sore and tired, and cold all night, but to keep that off my mind we sang local Tanzanian hiking success songs we had heard at camp, and we dug deep and sang Reggae songs.  It felt very appropriate to sing our hearts out… “So, Don’t Worry, About a Thing… ‘cause every little things gonna be alright.”  Bob Marley would be proud.  I think the Bob Marley himself was listening to our prayer as only 2 nights later we would be greeted like brothers at a Rastafarian celebration in the fort in Zanzibar, but that’s another story.

As we trudged slowly up the mountain, all of us kept our spirits up while some went a little quiet.  It wasn’t unusual to see someone in another group as we passed, vomiting (so they’ll feel better).  As well, there were some other unsightly smells and things we saw that were unpleasant that made hiking that much more challenging.  Every couple of kilometers we would stop for a few minutes to catch our breath, get some new energy bar, or pure energy.  Up we went, no plants, lots of dust, lots of dirt and rocks, with only our headlamps to light things in our path.  As we’d look ahead we’d see strings of lights like a christmas tree with very visible switchbacks like the strings going back and forth on the tree.  It also seemed like prison gangs trudging along in the night at an even pace.  On this night we were determined to push ahead against all odds.  All of us were going to make it, we were sure of it.  Every so often we’d see someone heading back, with serious failure in their eyes.  They were just so sick and in such pain.  It tore at my soul.

With Gilman in our sights the horizon was starting to change colors.  The sun would soon be coming up.  We pushed ahead and what seemed close was still much further away.  It was important to focus on closer things than the top.  The next big rock was a much better goal.  After going from rock to rock to rock, we finally made it to the top of the mountain, just not yet the highest point.  We had arrived at Gilman’s point. 

We stopped to take pictures and take in the view.  It was incredible.  It felt great.  On the other side we could see the crater, and we could also see Uhuru, the ultimate destination and highest point of the peak.  As I was taking it in, many in the group thought they could make it to Uhuru for the final sunrise shot.  I wasn’t in a hurry and found Paul was of the same attitude.  Why rush it?  We have spent the last 6 hours getting to this point.  Let’s enjoy the view, watch the sunrise and then push on.  Gilman’s point started getting really crowded and after the other guys left, I encouraged Paul to push on a little further for a less crowded view where we could find a comfortable place to relax.  We found a great place on top with a couple of strategic rocks.  It felt great, and the sun definitely was warming things up.  It had been minus 6 on the way up and the wind chill made it feel like minus 20.  The two hats I was wearing up to that point weren’t enough to keep my ears warm, so I was really welcoming the sun.  We could see all the way to Kenya and I imagined the animals roaming around the Serengeti in the distance. (Not suggesting I could see anything, but our friend John was down there or at the crater… somewhere).

After a break, and having some prodding from the assistant to the assistant guide try to convince us to move on, we finally were ready and had what it was going to take to get us to the top, but what we were about to see I wasn’t ready for.

Zombies

As we moved along the top now at over 19,000 feet, I had seen and heard individuals along the way crying and digging deep, but I hadn’t noticed until now that between two porters I would see a person… limp, and often the eyes rolled back and barely a little bit of life.  I had heard of temporary blindness, and dizzyness, but what I was seeing was scary.  There were some people traveling along the trail that didn’t seem human.  They must have committed their guides to take them the rest of the way, or the guide must have felt the hike was that important.  Either way I was seeing people feeling the elevation in pretty serious ways.  Days earlier I had seen a stretcher being run down the mountain at top speed with the person’s face looking reddish purple.  Now I was seeing people that were nearly passed out and barely walking.

I’m so glad none of us got into that state.  It was cool to see our guides and porters taking anything we wanted to give them, from packs to coats, and such. 

Uhuru – The Peak

It was on this leg that I most appreciated everything that our Guide Daudi had done for us.  He had set a pace that really paid off on this day.  We knew that pace and all crept closer and closer.  Paul and I finally caught back up to the group and kept trudging along.  A couple of hours from when we left Gilman’s point we were at Uhuru the top of Africa and the top of the highest free standing peak in the world.  As well, it was all of our highest peaks by thousands of feet and all of us felt incredible.  At the peak at Uhuru at 19,341 ft (5895 m)!

The way down was painful, but I’m not going to be as wordy.

After we arrived at the top, I laid down for a little nap.  30 seconds into it, I got yelled at.  You can’t sleep!  Not at this elevation.  So I sat up.  No, get up!  They didn’t want to see me laying down at all.  I think they were worried I would turn into one of the zombies.

On the way down, the pace wasn’t as important.  No polo, polo was shouted out during the descent.  In fact I think they appreciated that we wanted to get down.  Getting back to Gilman’s point took half the time, and after that point, the world was changed.  It was no longer dark.  It was light.  What we saw were strange sights.

The strangest thing was all these switch backs took on new meaning.  We didn’t have to honor them.  We could simply dirt ski or slosh through the sleuss.  The dirt, rocks could almost be parallel skiied through.  The style was to slide and push ahead with each foot and lift at the end and start again.  It was a lot of fun actually for a while until my right knee really started taking on the stress.  It was getting painful and even trying to do the switch backs didn’t offer relief.  It was a steep trail and my mind was made up to simply get back to Kibo in hopes of getting a nap in. 

After a couple of hours of dusty rocky dust clouds of sluess we made it back to Kibo and were greated with our first and only flavored drink.  Tang! The drink of champions.  It tasted great.  Then we took off our boots and relaxed.  It felt great.  In two hours we were back up and told the beds were no longer ours and that we’d sleep in Horombo.  Yes, it would be the longest day in my life.  Another 7.5 miles after what I just did… 10,000 feet (5000 up and 5000 down) was what I had just done, and how I’d do another 4000?  I didn’t push back too hard.  I knew it was part of the plan.  After the nap, I took two of Mark’s magic 800 MG IBU profen hoping to take away some of the pain in my knee.

Below: Kibo at midday.  We were in the stone hut on the left.

Another 4-5 hours and we were back in Horombo… our home away from home.  That night 3 of us didn’t get up for dinner.  Popcorn, cucumber soup, and spaghetti with vegetables in red sauce sounded awful.  Two showed up for dinner and they made grilled chicken… the only night they had it.

The next morning we walked 20 miles to the bottom of the mountain to complete our trek.  We saw 2 more monkeys… It’s always a great day when you see a monkey…

At the bottom we gathered for one last picture under the A frame that began our trek.  We did it… 51 miles in total to and back to Mandara gate 2743 m

Who was the mystery mountaineering company?  We went with Ultimate Kilimanjaro, run locally by Zara Tours.

Thanks Colligo our SharePoint iPad app sponsor.  Their help it made this possible.

Also, my phone camera gave out on day 3, so this last couple of days photos are thanks to Michael Noel…  be sure to check out his extensive write up on climbing Kilimonjaro on the Marangu Route

Passport Horrors: Avoiding Chaos – Passport Rush Options


One of the most horrible things that can happen to a traveler is loosing your passport.  The horrors!!!

Last week we were packing for a simple trip to Canada.  We were headed to Lake Louise, Banff and Calgary in Alberta, Canada.  I had bought a safe for our important papers and the passports are always put there immediately when we return from a trip.  Horror strikes and my wife’s passport is missing!  We tear our room apart and the closets.  We can’t find it anywhere.  We call the US passport after hours number and choose the missing passport option.  From here you can report a missing passport which immediately invalidates the passport for travel.  My wife was ready to do this, but I wanted to make sure we had checked everything first.  It was hard accepting our fate.


 

My wife then started researching RUSH Passport options.  The best we could do locally was a 2 week minimum, but the office wasn’t even comfortable saying it would be able to guarantee that.  One friend suggested that the 2-3 weeks you hear about is a conservative estimate and that it could be quicker.  Basically the local passport offices say if you’re traveling sooner than 2 weeks you need to go to a regional office in person and bring your printed itinerary or business justification letter. For $300 we could use RushMyPassport.com, which she did and discovered they collect payment before you even start working on the paper work.  We did get someone assigned to help us, but the within 24 hours doesn’t start counting down until they receive ALL of your paperwork including forms, pictures, birth certificate etc…

The Regional Passport Offices are critically important if…

  • You need your U.S. passport in less than 2 weeks for international travel
  • You need your U.S. passport within 4 weeks to obtain a foreign visa

See the hot list of Regional Passport Agencies and Centers on Travel.State.Gov.  Warning! If you simply search for a regional office it may be a service and not the real thing.  Make sure you’ve got the *REAL* passport office.  There are lots of fakes.  We ended up with two fake addresses when we were simply searching online for Los Angeles Passport Office.

We went to this building below in Los Angeles.  All of these buildings below are federal buildings and may have high security, and scanning.  We stood outside in the sun for nearly an hour, no awning.  Even will call for passport pickup was outside.

Federal Building
11000 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1000
Los Angeles, CA 90024-3602

Arkansas Passport Center
Hot Springs, AR

Atlanta Passport Agency
Atlanta, GA

Boston Passport Agency
Boston, MA

Buffalo Passport Agency
Buffalo, NY

Chicago Passport Agency
Chicago, IL

Colorado Passport Agency
Aurora, CO

Connecticut Passport Agency
Norwalk, CT

Dallas Passport Agency
Dallas, TX

Detroit Passport Agency
Detroit, MI

El Paso Passport Agency
El Paso, TX

Honolulu Passport Agency
Honolulu, HI

Houston Passport Agency
Houston, TX

Los Angeles Passport Agency
Los Angeles, CA

Miami Passport Agency
Miami, FL

Minneapolis Passport Agency
Minneapolis, MN

National Passport Center
Portsmouth, NH

New Orleans Passport Agency
New Orleans, LA

New York Passport Agency
New York, NY

Philadelphia Passport Agency
Philadelphia, PA

San Diego Passport Agency
San Diego, CA

San Francisco Passport Agency
San Francisco, CA

Seattle Passport Agency
Seattle, WA

Vermont Passport Agency
St. Albans, VT

Washington Passport Agency
Washington, DC

Western Passport Center
Tucson, AZ

Rush Passport Options

1. Rush Service in Person at a Passport Office – The regional passport options are the fastest routes hands down.  You MUST have an appointment.  This is the best thing you can do.  The fees today are $60 for the rush in addition to replacement or new passport costs.  Best case scenario is sign up for the first available appointment and then have everything ready.  You should be able to pick up your passport the next day if your itinerary justifies it.  In the case of my wife, we setup the appointment at 9:30am and on the site it said we should show up no more than 15 minutes early and 15 minutes late.  Lining up at the passport office in Los Angeles yesterday it was about an hour to get through the door and then about an hour inside.  I don’t think this was that unusual.  At the Seattle agency I’ve got through the process in more like 30-45 minutes.

There aren’t a lot of agencies.  California is lucky with 2 different options in Southern California, but if you’re in a state with an average population or less, you may have to travel or look at the other options.

Remember for minors you need consent from both parents, if they can’t both make it, make sure you have a signed notarized permission slip from missing parent.

2. RushMyPassport.com – Will overnight both ways and says they can deliver your passport within 24 hours.  This begins after they receive your paperwork.  You will pay big for this service.  Expect to pay around 300, and ultimately shell out $500-$600 by the time your done with US passport fees, US passport rush fees, and the service fees, and expedited overnight shipping both ways.

3. In Person Services – Many travel companies are willing to take care of the passport rush for you.  They will quality you have what you need.

4. Embassy – When traveling abroad the most common purpose of an embassy is to help you get back on your feet.  Getting a passport or papers for traveling is definitely possible and within reason.

5. Local passport agency – Minimum amount of time is 2 weeks, but it could be sooner, no guarantees.

6. Third party services – Travel agencies.  Many have services they go through to get you a 48 hour turn around, again you’ll pay for it. Online you can find http://USPassportNow.com/expedited

Tip: You really really should make copies of all of your travel documents especially your passport… email it to yourself, put it in your skydrive, or online storage in your private travel documents folder.  Having it on your mobile device phone in a secure app or secure storage  for offline accessibility can ease travel and citizenship verification.  Having your passport number will be important for being able to fill out the proper documentation to have it suspended/cancelled.   You can password secure the file if you want to add an extra layer of security.  The embassy can be much more helpful if you’ve lost all your documents, but you’ve got “soft” copies online.  I shouldn’t need to tell you pick pocketing is extremely common in certain hot travel spots like Barcelona and Rome.  I’ve been pick pocketed in both of those cities.  Having a copy of the phone numbers and credit card numbers would be key to being able to quickly cancel and replace them.  The AMEX proved to be the easiest to replace, but still took a day or two.  Travelers checks have paid off in Europe, but I rarely use them in Africa, but instead go with the distributed cash currency strategy with the double backup distributed card strategy
.  I’ll have to dedicate a post to money because there is no one strategy to rule all locations.

Be sure to write down the reservation number and be sure to keep your receipt when you go to pick up your passport.

Birth Certificates can be expedited as well, but some of the services can take care of both if you need to get both birth certificate and passport or renewal or replacement.

Well, to wrap up the story about my wife… She ended up spending 2 days in Montana near the border.  It was sad to leave her there while I spoke to a technical group and went on a hike with a friend who was flying in to Calgary.  It definitely did impact our trip.  We have a cruise coming up, and despite the fact that it looks like we could skate by without passports, it’s not something I like doing.  I want to never be restricted or be hijacked by the border police anywhere.

My wife now has her passport.  We called 1-877-487-2778.

Reserved an appointment when we’d be in Los Angeles, and spent the time waiting in line.  Our kids waited in the cafe, and then returned the next day to pick up the passport in a window of 1-3pm at the will call booth.  The appointment was required.  She now has her passport and we’re holding onto it like it’s gold.

United States Utah: Top 10 Vacation Destinations

Goblin Valley Hoodoos

When I tell friends they should visit me in Utah.  They often think I’m joking.  Many of my European friends dream of visiting New York City, Los Angeles/Hollywood, or Las Vegas.  What they don’t realize is that Utah a state easily dismissed as one of those states somewhere in the middle or above Las Vegas and West of Denver… host of the 2002 Olympics Utah has a lot to offer in National parks and a lot more.

The perception of the world the US comes from T.V. and it’s amazing to me how some think that there’s really not much between New York City and Los Angeles.  As a traveller myself I first saw most of the U.S. and grew up going to the mountains and parks of the Western US.

I will continue to spend most of my blogs on non domestic destinations, but I needed to share my home to really give Utah the credit it needs.  As well, I’ll have a blog to point friends to who might consider visiting Utah… only 6 hour drive from Las Vegas which passes by some of the most incredible things our planet has to offer.  I’ll break this into a top 10 list to make it easy to follow…

10. The largest man made hole in the world.  Bingham open copper pit mine.  This huge copper mine is impressive and can be seen from space!  Complete with it’s own museum, you can see the tires of the huge mining trucks, the largest vehicles in the world.

9. Sundance, Park City, Alta, and Snowbird – Year Round Beauty.

The Best Snow on Earth, and incredible resort towns all year round.  Park City has many adventures has very visible remnants of the Olympics.  Take one of many zipline downs the ski lifts and jumps, or take the alpine coaster or alpine slide one of the longest in the world.  The Alpine coaster is more than a mile of track of loops, curves, and hair pin turns.   l couldn’t believe Sundance and that amazing natural beauty.  Known famous for the Sundance film festival and Robert Redford’s restort, conference centers and getaways.  There is a lift open year round for full moon night rides, and a 45 minute round trip ride or one way up and mountain bike down the trails. Big and Little Cottonwood canyon is a great escape for lake and waterfall hikes.

Stop by Bridal Veil falls in the Provo Canyon on your way up to Sundance, or ride the Heber Creeper, an old steam engine locomotive that rides along the rack.

8. Visit Antelope Island The Great Salt Lake is a huge remnant left over of the ice age formerly known as lake Bonneville.  Now a huge salty lake it reminds me a lot of the Dead Sea.  A place I’ve visited a couple of times both from Jordan and the West Bank.

The Mormons delivered the Saints by their Moses like prophet Brigham Young called the Salt Lake Valley “Zion,” and the Great Salt Lake was their Dead Sea and Utah Lake the equivalent of the sea of Galilee.  The Jordan River which connects the two is named the same.  Antelope island state park is one the largest of the 9 islands on the lake and a great place to view wildlife including antelope, deer, bobcats, coyotes, many varieties of birds and waterfowl.  Over 600 American Bison roam the island since 1893. Camping is available.

Directions: Take Exit 332 off Interstate 15, then drive west on Antelope Drive for 7 miles to the park entrance, then another 7 miles across a narrow causeway to the island.

Hiking, biking, horseback riding, and swimming in the lake

Contact Information
Antelope Island State Park
4528 West 1700 South
Syracuse, UT 84075

On the South side of the lake you’ll find remnants of former glory the Salt Aire.  Famous in the early 1900’s for balls, parties and even roller coasters.  Much of the area was destroyed by floods.  Now you can visit a small museum and venture out into the water if you dare.  This side of the lake has a lot of brine flies and gnats.  Unlike the Dead Sea, the Salt Lake has been introduced to brine shrimp also known as Sea Monkeys.

If you like Animals you may enjoy Hogle Zoo across from this is The Place Monument and Pioneer Village where people will dress up in period dress, or go to Provo and visit BYU Campus and visit the museum on campus to  see a real stuffed Liger.  Napoleon Dynamite was right, even take a day trip up to Preston if you’re a fan and stop by the city chambers office to get a map to locate his house, Pedro’s house and the Cuttin’ Corral.

7. Temple Square and the world famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir

The 1.4 million square foot LDS Conference Center seats 21,000 with not a bad seat in the house.  The organ has 7667 pipes!  The choir has over 360 members and sings every week they are not on tour in the longest running radio program in history… Music and the Spoken Word.  If you are in Jerusalem you can hear the pipe organ in the BYU Jerusalem Center.

Within walking distance of Temple Square you can visit the Beehive house (pictured above).  Home of Brigham Young, the first governor of Utah and Deseret and 2nd prophet of the LDS Church.  Visit the famous Christus, and answer for yourself if the Mormons believe in Jesus Christ.

The famous Salt Lake Temple is accompanied by two visitors centers where you can learn all about the history of the plight of the Saints who were expelled from the US, kicked out of Missouri and Illinois with an extermination order and later pursued by the largest US army ever assembled.  It’s all worked out.  In fact there are many Mormons in politics and in positions of power.  Mitt Romney, presidential nominee has a great shot at the white house.

In the Joseph Smith Building, Old Hotel Utah from the top floor you can see out over the Temple.  An incredible view, where I got engaged to my lovely wife.  The museum’s provide an amazing history of the settling of the West that is often overlooked.  As well, the visitors centers tell the story of faith and how this restored church of Jesus Christ sprung up in the 1830’s in upstate New York to a Church with 6 million Americans and over 14 million world wide.

Don’t miss the old Tabernacle and organ (pictured below).  Tours are available for free.  They’ll drop a pin and you won’t even struggle to hear it.  Incredible.

Be sure to stop by the Family History center, the largest of it’s kind in the world.  The majority of the worlds family history records are here in Salt Lake stored in a granite vault up little cotton wood canyon, but the records are indexed and available for search on http://familysearch.org or leverage the free help from volunteers ready and willing to help you do your family history.

6. Goblin Valley – filming location of Galaxy Quest.  I really love Goblin Valley.  It’s one where you can drive right up and be in another world.  The hoodoos are wind and rain shaped fairy chimneys.  They remind me a lot of Cappadocia region of Turkey.

As a young boy we met up with our cousins and hiked around following trails of flint.  We found a few small arrow heads and one large one.  What an incredible place to go rock hounding (outside the park of course).

Very narrow Slot canyon hike near Goblin Valley.  One of my favorite hikes is this narrow hike which completes nearly a full loop.  The water has carved out a narrow slot.  If it looks stormy at all, definitely avoid it.  You might avoid it if you have claustrophobia, but it’s amazing.  It can get hot during the highs of summer, be sure to carry water.

From I-70, exit onto Highway 24 and drive south for approximately 24 miles to the signed park turnoff

Activities
Sight seeing from the park overlook
Hiking among the goblins
Photography
Picnicking
Camping
ATV trails nearby
Mountain bike trails nearby
Slot canyons nearby

5. Bryce Canyon – Some of the most amazing vistas and canyons in the world.  You’ve heard of Grand Canyon, but this is something you should combine with that trip.

Bryce Canyon is fabulous.  It’s another place you can drive right up to incredible vistas, hop out take a bunch of photos and stop at a new view of a different part of the canyon and take in a completely different view that again will blow your mind.  You can do this for hours.  As well take a horse ride, ATVs, or hike on some of the most incredible ridges.  There are easy hikes and longer hikes… something for everyone.  You’ll definitely appreciate our world a lot more after seeing it like this.

This natural arch is just one of the stops you can do along the road through Bryce Canyon.

We’ve done family reunions in this area.  There are so many parks and outdoor things to do you can easily fill a week multiple times over.

4. Monument Valley – Near the four corners area where Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and Nevada meet up are some incredible sunsets and majestic plateaus including easy day trips to Mesa Verde in Colorado.  Navajo Tribal park.

4. Zion – with nearly 3 million visitors a year this is Utah’s oldest and most famous National Park.  The park is known for its incredible canyons and spectacular views. Famous hikes including The Narrows, Subway, and Angels Landing attract adventure enthusiasts from around the world.  Memories of 72 hours should come to mind.  I was going to do Subway with my cousins this year.  It’s an 9.5 mile hike through narrows, complete hiking through rivers.

(Image courtesy americaswonderlands.com)

Read this description of the Subway hike “The mystical journey through the Left Fork of North Creek involves route finding, plunging cautiously into chilly pools then sloshing, sometimes frantically, through frigid water over and through difficult obstacles. The narrow Subway section of this hike forces hikers through a unique tunnel sculpted by the Left Fork of North Creek.”

3. Arches – You may have seen the world famous Delicate Arch, but Arches National Park contains the world’s largest concentration of natural stone arches. This National Park is a red, arid desert, punctuated with oddly eroded sandstone forms such as fins, pinnacles, spires, balanced rocks, and arches. The 73,000-acre region has over 2,000 of these “miracles of nature.”  These are great day hikes.  If you want to do biking, driving, or off roading there are lots of options in this area.  Plan on staying in Moab and spend a few days in this area.

2. Temple Hopping – There are over a dozen temples across the state.  If you simply try to visit them all you’ll see some of the most amazing construction dedicated to God, and see a variety of different communities.

Pictured below is the Brigham City Temple currently under construction which will be open for visitors this is a very unique opportunity to see an LDS temple as visitors may only enter prior to it’s dedication unless you hold an LDS temple recommend which requires you live worthily and have a temple recommend interview with your Bishop and Stake President.

The Jordan River Temple – Looks like a rocket ship

As an interesting fact… The Logan Temple, The St George Temple, and the Manti temple were all finished prior to the Salt Lake Temple which took 40 years to complete as is still the largest temple of the more than 136 temples dotting the globe.

Is it a birthday cake or a spacecraft?  Provo will have 2 temples, the first city in the world.  The old Provo tabernacle is being converted into a temple after a fire and reconstruction.

For a list of the Utah Temples and for pictures visit the ldschurchtemples.org

Photo: Stopping by to see one of the temples that dot the wasatch

Brigham City Temple Taken 7/15/12

Information below from ldschurchtemples.org

Location: 250 South Main Street, Brigham City, Utah, United States.
Site:  3.14 acres.
Ordinance Rooms:  Two ordinance rooms (two-stage progressive) and three sealing.
Total Floor Area:  36,000 square feet.

Announcement:  3 October 2009
Groundbreaking and Site Dedication:  31 July 2010 by Boyd K. Packer
Public Open House:  18 August–15 September 2012
Dedication:  23 September 2012

Public Open House

The general public is invited to attend an open house (video invitation) of the Brigham City Utah Temple. Admission is free, but reservations are required.

Reservations:  Open house tickets will be made available beginning Monday, July 30, 2012, at 10:00 a.m. at templeopenhouse.lds.org.
Dates:  Saturday, August 18, through Saturday, September 15, 2012 (excluding Sundays and Saturday, September 8)

1. Mt Timpanogos

Take a cave tour in Timpanogos Caves.  Take a ranger led cave tour through a 1/3 mile with gravity defying helectites with all the famous formations on a 3 – 3.5 hr hike and cave exploration.  The cave is great.  There are more adventuresome cave splunking if you want to get off the beaten path.  That route requires advanced permission.

If you’re a hiker, then this is the hike for you.  Alpine lakes, Glaciers, Mountain goats, and wreckage of a B-25 air force jet, Timp is amazing.  It is a popular hike, but a great workout with a great payoff and one you can do in a day, but you’ll want to start early.

The Hike to the summit of Mount Timpanogos is 11,749′, the second highest in the Wasatch Mountains. Many consider the hike from the Timpooneke Trailhead to be the best hike in Utah. Reaching the summit will require 4-5 hours. The summit is 7.5 miles one-way with an elevation gain of 4580′ on a well-maintained trail.  There are a few scary parts if you’re afraid of heights, but the trail itself is not too technical.

Honorable mention:

Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument – Breathtaking views and panoramas… hiking, camping, climbing

Canyonlands – Rocky Spires, arches and canyons… Ruins and Petroglyphs of natives. hiking, biking, whitewater rafting and ATV

Salt Flats – Bonneville.  Great stop after seeing the Great Salt Lake.

Capitol Reef National Park – You’ll be getting into this when you go to Goblin Valley, my preferred spot

Cataract Canyon – whitewater rafting destination (see it when you do arches.  It’s near Moab)

Slick Rock Trail – 9 miles of rock path for mountain biking (excursion from Moab)

Consider day or overnight trips from St. George or Moab to the Grand Canyon from Park City you could go into Wyoming and even work your way up to Jackson Hole, and Yellowstone quite easily.

Are You Losing Frequent Flier Awards without Knowing?


I spent 3 weeks in a Starwood property in Nashville a few years ago.  It was a long but fun consulting engagement of life in a hotel.  I was very careful to make sure I was collecting the Starwood preferred points and tracking them with a number that I wasn’t going to let go of… I was imagining free week on an Caribbean island.  A couple weeks ago I was booking a hotel room in Puerto Rico and looking to use points.  Little did I know that when I was ready to use them… from over 120,000 points to 5000… GONE! What happened?!!

Baby Monkey in Bali
Baby Monkey in Bali

 

(Pictured: Monkey in Bali – photo by Joel Oleson rights reserved)

Sure enough many programs have expiration dates on frequent flier programs for flights and hotel guest point programs.  In the case of Starwood’s preferred program the points expire after 1 year.  Doesn’t matter how many times you stay in their rooms… What does this say?  Use your points as you get them.  It also says… KEEP TRACK!

Wake up call… Your Airline miles may be expiring!  Have you booked your travel?  Do you ever misplace your free companion ticket or voucher… all of those are bound to expire many last only a year or 18 months and some need the paper it was printed on… if you can believe it.

With United and American both, your points will carry over as long as you continue to fly at least once before they expire.  On United you may get an expiration notice with a cost you can pay push off expiration for another year.

Delta and Alaska don’t expire… That definitely solicits loyalty for me.  I love the rollover miles toward awards on Delta as well.  If they could only get me upgraded on international flights.

I have been looking at my Alaska miles.  I was wondering if I could get to Alaska for a domestic set of points where it would be a lot more elsewhere.  Sure enough for 15,000 miles I can go not only to Anchorage (a $900 round trip flight, but all the way to Nome or Borrow a $1400 ticket!  Note it does take me planning the dates, but for miles I’m finding that program is very attractive despite the fact I’ll have to fly out.

So how do you track your miles?

I go pro with tripit.com I have a single web page and I’ve got the iPhone app where I have my numbers with me at all times.  I also get the expiration details for the various programs.  Unfortunately some of the older hotel programs get out of sync and I assume I’m good.  That’s not always the case.  I should have had nearly a week on Starwood, but instead I had 50% of one night.  They let me pay half miles half on my hard.  I decided to use it anyway.  Why not?

So I guess the moral of the story is track it, make sure you aren’t just collecting points so you can see how high they go… I’m guilty of this.  I was trying to see if I could get up to a million miles across the programs.  Now that I’m looking at expiration dates and a less travel on airlines outside of my hub city, I’m finding round robin of airlines just to keep my miles active is a waste.  Much better to use my miles on expiring programs and then start using loyalty on airlines that serve me best and will pay on multiple levels of service.

Good luck… Hope that reminder helps… I may put together a chart at some point if I don’t find one out there.

Look for messages like this… (Note this list may be out of date… check with your airline program)

American AAdvantage

AAdvantage miles will expire if there is no qualifying activity in your account at least once every 18 months. Qualifying activity is defined as any AAdvantage mileage accrual or AAdvantage award redemption.

Continental OnePass

Miles currently have no expiration date; however, Continental Airlines reserves the right to impose expiration limits or terminate the OnePass program, plus terminating your ability to claim rewards. If you do not have activity in your OnePass account for a period of 18 months, Continental Airlines may close your account.

Delta SkyMiles

Currently, miles will not expire.

(Joel: But when does the program expire due to inactivity?)

United Mileage Plus

Any member who fails at any time to engage in account activity for a period of eighteen (18) consecutive months is subject to termination of his or her membership and forfeiture of all accrued mileage as of the last day of the 18th month. Activity includes (without limitation) flying on United or earning or redeeming miles with a Mileage Plus partner (as defined in Rule 12), redeeming miles for award travel, buying miles or transferring miles. In cases where mileage is for any reason removed from an account, as for the redemption of awards, and later returned, the return of the mileage to the account shall not count as account activity.

US Airways Dividend Miles

Active membership status is based on having earned or redeemed miles within a consecutive 18 month period. With our new Mileage Reactivation Policy, Dividend Miles members have an opportunity to reinstate their Dividend Miles accounts to active status for an additional 18 months for a $50 processing fee and reactivation fee of $.01 per mile. If members do not extend with this reactivation option, the Dividend Miles account will be closed and all miles forfeited.