Monday, February 28, 2011
Sunday, February 27, 2011
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Anyone with dietary limitations knows that travel presents a serious challenge. If the airline messes up your special meal request or you find yourself stuck a little longer than can be desired at the airport, things can get a bit sticky.
My vote for most Vegan-Friendly Airport goes to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP), believe it or not. Why? Not only do they have several of your run of the mill options available, from Starbucks to Einstein Bros. Bagels to California Pizza Kitchen but they have the shining beacon of Veggie Airport Nosh: The French Meadow Bakery Cafe.
You might recognize this name if you shop at Whole Foods. They provide WF with some of their gluten-free product. But, in Minneapolis, they also have restaurants that serve several amazing vegan and vegetarian options. Seriously, when's the last time you dined on a fully vegan ruben while your flight was delayed? Vegan chicken thai soup anyone? Prices are reasonable considering it's airport fare.
Even for the carnivores, they have free range organic meals. They also serve organic wines and alcohol at their bar. Enough said!
Also available is The Harvest Market, which carries some of the French Meadow's items in stock. If Starbucks gets you down, try Midwest favorite Caribou Coffee, which was been striving to meet ethical standards for some time, and brags about it quite a bit (click the link to find out more). They work with Rainforest Alliance to make sure that they're not destroying Java to give you a cup of java.
Since MSP is a hub for some airlines like Delta/Northwest, Sun Country and Iceland Air, you might just find yourself stuck there in a MN snowstorm. You'll be slightly more comfortable knowing you can get some decent eats.
Got another airport you'd like to nominate? I'd love to hear about it in the comments. I'm still “in the air” regarding European airports (har de har har)...so lend me your ideas!Tweet
Saturday, February 19, 2011
Friday, February 4, 2011
Thursday, February 3, 2011
First and foremost, you will want to be sure that you are dealing with a reputable artist who takes all precautions to ensure your safety. There is some fear of blood borne disease spread by tattooing in the so-called “third world”. However, even if the country that you’re visiting doesn’t have strict regulations enforced, most artists know their sterilization, after all, they want their clients to build a relationship of trust and return to them again in the future.
If a tattoo shop looks unsanitary, walk the other way. Like I said before, trust your gut instincts. Next, be prepared with the right questions. How do they sterilize their equipment? Do they use new needles for every customer? Look around to be sure that everyone is using gloves. If your artist acts offended by your inquiries, move on. There are plenty of reputable artists who won’t mind taking you through their hygiene routines without giving you an attitude about it. Most will allow you to watch them open the sterile packaging that they will use on you right before your eyes and walk you thought the entire process.
When you can, do your homework in advance by researching before you even depart for your destination via the internet. If this isn’t possible, ask around for referrals from locals in the know and be prepared shop around. Be sure to see an artist’s actual portfolio with photographic evidence before you commence with paid work. Don’t be surprised if your tattoo artist works freehand either, which is standard in many parts of the world. Strike up a good rapport with your artist too. I never recommend getting text tattooed in languages you don't actually speak, unless you really wanted "gullible tourist" tattooed across your back in Japanese.
Some special considerations: if you are allergic to latex, be prepared with your own box of sterile non-latex gloves. You may be hard pressed to find non-latex gloves in some foreign tattoo shops and you’re better safe than sorry. Secondarily, in some countries it can be wise to bring your own tattoo ink, which can be easily ordered through online and mail-order outlets. Yes, it sounds funny to bring your own ink to the tattoo artists, but you'll want the highest quality ink and tattoo artists abroad have asked me to bring along my shades of choice on more than one occasion.
Another warning, be aware that if you need a touch up, you’re going to have to pay a local artist back home to help you out, which can lead to extra expense. But considering that tattoos in some countries cost less than back home, you may still come out ahead.
Last but not least, be aware that getting a tattoo can limit your activities for the rest of your vacation. Plan your tattoo for a time when you can avoid exposure to water and sunlight. This means, don’t get a tattoo at the beginning of your trip if your main purpose of the trip was hitting the waves on a surfing safari. Save it for the end of your journey when all you’ll have to contend with is the long ride home.
(Pictured above: my tattoo by Indonesian artist Durga. To see more of Durga's work, visit his website.)
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Hosteling isn't what it used to be, either. The new face of hosteling is that of upgraded facilities, more amenities and even so-called “boutique hostels” with high end facilities at lower prices. One can now commonly find private rooms as an alternative to the dorm setting that most travelers expect. A common misconception is that hosteling is for the gap year backpacking youth. This is no longer the case either. On my own stays in hostels, I have encountered people of all ages, from very diverse backgrounds. There is no over abundance of youth, on the contrary, there's a pretty good generational mix these days.
The culture of hosteling seems to vary from city to city, even from hostel to hostel so it's best to be prepared for anything. While some hostels' common areas are boisterous and even serve alcohol to those of drinking age (something that also varies from country to country), others are quiet and reserved. Some hostels are bare bones as far as amenities go while others, such as the one I stayed at in Oslo (Haraldsheim location) offer pool tables, flat screen televisions, free wifi, gorgeous lounges, fully equipped kitchen, a fantastic breakfast spread and sled rental included in the price of the room.
Luckily there are several websites available now to help navigate the hostel world and find the hostel that suits your needs. Hosteling International pretty much set the bar early on for hosteling, linking together a serious of hostels that meet their requirements to be accepted into their organization. Hostels can be booked online via their website for a small down payment. The rest is paid on arrival. However, if you cancel or rebook, the initial small fee is non-refundable. Membership is required in some countries like France, but not required in others. However, if you do have an Hosteling International membership, you will get a discount on the price, so if you intend to do a bit of hosteling over the course of the year, a membership can result in significant savings. I've stayed in their hostels in cities ranging from San Francisco to Prague and I've always found them clean, welcoming and safe overall.
Both Hostels.com and Hosteling.com offer a selection of hostels and other cheap accommodation plus other vacation package booking services. This can also be a good place to start. As with any site, I recommend checking out hosteler's reviews when possible and making sure that the hostel's amenities and location fit your needs. You'll also hopefully avoid booking a room in a dive. You'll want to pick a hostel close to where you plan to do most of your visiting, unless transportation services are so speedy that you won't end up spending most of your day on a bus, train or tram. In other words, what might work in Oslo where the public transportation is phenomenal will not in Los Angeles, where public transit is, ahem, downright crap.
When hosteling there are several things that you should be aware of in advance. First of all, be prepared to share a room with about 3-5 strangers if you're not renting a private room. Most dorms are segregated by sex. You'll want to come equipped with a sleep mask and ear plugs (or a good set of noise canceling headphones in my case). Be prepared for the occasional snoring roommate or the guest that needs to leave at 4 am for a morning flight. I myself have been guilty of entering the room slightly inebriated at an ungodly hour but the key is to enter discretely as possible and don a key chain flashlight so that you can navigate silently in the dark without disturbing your fellow travelers. Bedding is typically provided these days in the cost of the room, but bring your own towel and be prepared for shared shower facilities.
You may want to explore other options if you sleep ultra-light, have a huge sleep apnea issue or have other health issues. I once had a woman tell me that she didn't want me to use my cell phone or computer in our shared room because the radiation was making her ill. She proceeded to talk in her sleep and snore all night long to top things off. I was left wondering why on earth she thought staying in a dorm room in a hostel was going to work for her.
Hosteling can be a good value and if you don't know anyone in the locale you're visiting, a great way to meet new friends, thanks to the overall social atmosphere. If you're concerned about your valuables, most will offer lockers to lock up the laptop and whatever other items you want to keep from the claws of thievery. Lastly, given the current bed bug dilemma which is especially bad on the east coast of the US, check the Bed Bug Registry just to be safe no matter where you stay, hostel or otherwise!
(pictured above right: Oslo Haraldsheim hostel, January 2011. Hands down the best hostel I have ever visited!)Tweet