Monthly Archives: August 2009

Kenny’s Packing Tips

By Kenny Elson Kelson

Kenny Elson Kelson

Kenny Elson Kelson enjoying Riverside Park in NYC

Hello fellow travelers! My name is Kenny Elson Kelson, and I am a traveler of the world. It is a pleasure to be contributing to the weblog “Travels with Tavel.”

Rachel and I met a few years ago at a travel agency in Argentina. We were both booking flights to Iguazu Falls, a majestic waterfall in the northern part of the country. While I was waiting to meet with an agent, I examined one of my maps, but when my number was called, I had trouble folding it. Rachel kindly helped me locate the creases and deposit it back into my fanny pack. We quickly discovered our mutual love of travel, and have been friends ever since.

As I told Rachel that fateful day, I have been traveling for several years now, to such locales as Antarctica, Siberia and the wilds of Tanzania. Most recently, I journeyed to Atlanta!

It’s a pleasure to experience different cultures and explore all the different ways humans live on our great planet. I’ve been able to finance my journeys by making presentations on traveling at community centers, colleges and local libraries, offering a short lecture, slide show, and Q&A session.

In my most requested presentation, I offer tips on packing for a trip. I thought I’d base this weblog entry on that presentation. I hope you find the tips useful.

When I’m packing, I’ve found that there are a few items that always make it into my knapsack. They include:

1. Band-Aids. I always try to be safe, but accidents happen. It’s best to carry these with you just in case. Johnson & Johnson offers a terrific “flexible fabric” variety that’s gentle on the skin, but choose whichever type suits you.

Kenny's BandAids

Kenny's Band-Aids

2. Plenty of socks and underwear. I always tuck mine into a little plastic baggie in case there’s some rainfall.

Kenny's Underpants

Kenny's Underpants

3. A walking stick, for when you’re trekking across rocky terrain. Collapsible sticks will fit snugly inside your knapsack.

4. A compass. If you get lost, one of these should help you get back on track. If you’re really in a pickle, however, just look up and find your North Star. That will always get you home.

Kenny's Compass

Kenny's Compass

Thank you for reading, everyone. If you have any questions about packing or travel, feel free to post them in the comments section below. I’ll be sure to check back in over the next few days to respond to any queries.



Kenny Elson Kelson lives in New York City. He is a puppet. He was created by Kerry Elson during a course on puppetry at Bowdoin College.



Filed under Contributor

In Pursuit of Aloha

I hope by now you’ve been able to sample some of the songs (and YouTube videos) from the Travels with Tavel playlist, which you can contribute to at any time. Soon there will be a new Music sub-page (in addition to Home, About, and Photos) where all ongoing contributions to the playlist can be made.

Also, get excited because on Friday, Travels with Tavel will have its first contributor! I hope you all make her feel right at home and consider contributing yourselves…

Now, onto business.

Congratulations… Kanoe and Tom! You were the closest to figuring out last week’s mystery snapshots. The two photos are both from Kona, Hawaii.  Instead of writing the obvious entry about how beautiful the black lava rock beaches of Hawaii are, I have decided to share with you a rather long story [this is as long as an entry will ever get — I promise!] about my disastrous attempt to get to Kona… There is no mystery snapshot today, but I promise to get back to it next week.

In Pursuit of Aloha

When it’s only been three hours into your vacation and you’ve already begun to take notes so that you remember all the bizarre details to include in the blog entry you must eventually write about the experience, that’s when you know it’s going to be a long journey (and, as you have probably already realized, a long blog entry).

I was headed to Kona, Hawaii. What was already expected to be a lengthy trip (two six hour flights with a 57-minute layover in Los Angeles) became even longer…

Pink Flowers, Kona, Hawaii

Pink Flowers, Kona, Hawaii

Everything was off to a great start. I was picked up by my friend John, who had gotten me a tall chai latte for the ride (I should have been suspicious from the start! This was too perfect…) I had a gut feeling that something was going to go wrong. You might not believe me, but I knew things weren’t going to go well… I have a sixth sense for this shit! It would be TOO easy if I could just go to Hawaii without any obstacles, right? Well, that’s how my life works.

I got to the airport with plenty of time to sit and stare at people (yup, that’s what I do) before boarding the plane. After boarding my 2:30pm American Airlines flight to LAX (perfectly on time), I was seated next to a guy with rough, sunburned skin who was about 5’5”, approximately 40 years old, and had the crazy blonde hair of an aged surfer. He was very talkative, which – at the time – I didn’t really mind, so I answered his questions as we taxied across the tarmac to position ourselves for takeoff.

In the main cabin, a couple of rows ahead of me in the middle aisle, everyone started noticing a BEEP… BEEP… BEEP sound. Eventually, the flight attendants decided they needed to find the source of the beeping. After all, we were on an oversold flight from JFK to LAX on the Friday evening of a holiday weekend.

The beeping was impossible to ignore. It sounded like one of those things you cannot mention on an airplane, especially leaving NYC (A BOMB). When the flight attendants couldn’t determine the source of the beeping, they became visibly nervous (as did the man sitting directly underneath the beeping) and phoned the pilot. We were all a bit suspicious, but like true New Yorkers, most people just wanted to get to LA as soon as possible.

Kona Branches, Hawaii

Kona Branches, Hawaii

An hour after boarding, when we were number three for takeoff, the pilot decided the safest thing to do would be to taxi on back to the gate, keep everyone on the plane, and have a mechanic – and if necessary, security – get on the plane and investigate the “suspicious beeping sound” coming from the middle of the main cabin.

Twenty minutes later, we were back at the gate, unable to get off the plane while they turned each engine off, and eventually back on, one at a time. Luckily, the mechanic was extremely efficient and confidently determined that the beeping sound was actually a squeaking sound coming from the red light on top of the plane. Every time it spun in a circle, it squeaked. I now know that squeaking is much better than beeping, whatever the scenario, and was very pleased to hear that we had been cleared by security to get back on the runway.

Of course, by then it was about 5:30 pm on the Friday of a holiday weekend at one of the busiest airports in the country. After another 30 minutes of sitting on the plane, the captain came on the speakers to tell us “the good news: we are now #18 for takeoff, so please sit tight.” Apparently, he appreciated our patience.

By the time we were in the air, I knew I was in for a long night. I left New York three hours late, which didn’t bode well for my one-hour layover in LA. And, how wonderful, I had a five and a half hour flight to sit through, knowing that my connecting flight, with several of my friends aboard, was going to leave without me. FANTASTIC!

I didn’t bring food on the plane because I have only been on international flights over the past few years and had no idea that domestic flights no longer serve food. We weren’t even offered peanuts or pretzels! (I normally ask for three packs.) Luckily, the guy sitting next to me, Rocky (I kid you not, that was his name), INSISTED on giving me half of his buffalo chicken wrap. Well, I took it and practically inhaled the thing, later realizing that Bear Grylls would have probably preserved some of it for later in the trip (have I learned NOTHING from watching that show?!). Rocky also bought a total of six mini-bottles of red wine and tried to buy me several (in addition to another sandwich), but I refused the wine and bought myself the sandwich.

Lava rock and green, Kona, Hawaii

Lava rock and green, Kona, Hawaii

Finally, we arrived at LAX. I knew I had to act quickly, so I sprinted off the plane to make sure I was the first one on line at the ticket desk to figure out what the heck my options were. I’ve actually never had to go through the trouble of missing a connecting flight, especially not alone, so I wanted to make sure I dealt with the situation appropriately.

It was becoming very clear that my travel luck had just run out, but I wasn’t going to let it run out easily. Sure enough, a line slowly formed behind me of about 20 other people who had missed their connecting flights. As I waited for someone to help me, a woman was being dragged off my plane (yes, dragged, yes off MY PLANE) belligerently drunk. Apparently, she had too much wine (another reason they should feed us – just sayin’…) and was throwing a fit when the flight attendants decided to cut her off. She proceeded to kick the police officers who had been waiting for her at the gate, screaming “WHY DON’T YOU JUST KILL ME ALREADY?! JUST FUCKING KILL ME!!!! You’re all going to HELL! DON’T YOU FUCKING TOUCH ME!” with children and parents looking on (and the entire terminal – a few hundred people, I’d estimate) in DEAD SILENCE.

She kept screaming and kicking as cops pinned her down and handcuffed her as she wiggled uncomfortably across the floor. Now, this was all going on RIGHT next to me. Meaning, I was actually afraid this woman might squirm away and grab my leg…she could REACH me if she wanted to. But I was determined to stay in that line and get my travel plans sorted out.

Eventually, after the screaming and crying and cursing proved ineffective, the woman was dragged out of the terminal with the entire airport staring at her as she screamed “GO AHEAD, EVERYONE. WATCH THE CRAZY WOMAN LEAVE! YOU’RE ALL GOING TO HELLLLLLL!!! AHHHHHHHHHHHH!” Well, we did watch the crazy woman leave. I, on the other hand, was still stuck at LAX.

Serenity on the beach, Kona, Hawaii

Serenity on the beach, Kona, Hawaii

The woman at the desk told everyone in line that she would only help me because her shift had ended an hour ago and she was going home. People got pissed off, she got pissed back, and they all went to the American Airlines office to figure out their options. I thought I was the lucky one. Ha. How silly of me.

It was about 10pm in California (about 1am NYC time). I was told that the only way I could get to Kona, Hawaii was to spend the night in LA and take an 8am flight to Honolulu, followed by a seven-hour layover in Honolulu before the next flight to Kona. I told her she had to find something better – that that was ridiculous and unacceptable. I was still feeling strong and determined at this point, but she said that was all she had and that I could continue exploring the possibilities at the American Airlines office, where the others went, but she was going home – peace out. By the time I got to the AA (American Airlines, not Alcoholics Anonymous) office, I was the last one in line. How quickly fortune can turn into misfortune! Life just gave me a big ol’ slap across the face.

There were two lines. Two families – one of eight and one of four – were scrambling to get to Kona like me, but I was one traveler, which made it much easier even though I was last. They were both whispering in their lines (very Amazing Race of them), trying to make sure they were going to get their entire group on the same flights. For whatever reason (and you can’t make shit like this up), I was continuously distracted by a girl who was playing the flute right inside the office. (What a weird night.) Eventually, we all started working together, piecing together clues and information that we could gather from all different sources. The family of eight had to take the flights I refused since the next flight to Kona from LA (the next day, same time) had been cancelled. The family of four found its way onto a flight to Maui and then Kona. They told me to hop on it with them. I eventually got to the front of the line and, sure enough, ended up with a new itinerary.

I thought my problems had been solved. I was to spend the night at the LAX Hilton (actually, a pretty sweet room with a king size bed). I was provided with dinner and breakfast vouchers and had a 10am American Airlines flight to Maui with a two-hour layover, followed by a flight to Kona the next day.

But what about my luggage? It was supposedly still en route to Kona (on a nonexistent flight). I was told that it definitely would not end up on the baggage claim carousel but, once again I had a gut feeling; it didn’t feel right leaving the airport without even trying to find my bag. I was told to go to the baggage claim information office, where the family of four was already yelling at the woman who said she couldn’t help them at all, and this eventually turned into her praying to Jesus, out loud: “OH Lord Jesus Christ, I am calling on you now to rid me of this rude man and his family.” A liberal New Yorker, the guy just laughed and said “Oh great, a fucking JESUS freak!” and left, wishing me good luck. After the woman at the counter told him he was ugly, I decided she wouldn’t be much help. I was right.

My entire flight’s luggage was supposed to arrive on carousel four. When I got there, an hour after landing, people from my flight were still waiting for their stuff so I decided to wait a little longer. Eventually, I decided to count my blessings and say fuck the luggage – I was absolutely exhausted and I had to get to the hotel and make sure I had a place to sleep.

Lazy Turtle, Kona, Hawaii

Lazy Turtle, Kona, Hawaii

As I was leaving the luggage claim area, something beautiful happened: the crowds parted and… I saw a red bag with a bright yellow ribbon moving slowly in a circle. MY BAG!!! It was floating along on carousel one – the ONLY bag on the belt (very bizarre) – and it was mine, mine, MINE. I could not believe it. I sprinted over to carousel one and grabbed it in disbelief. On the shuttle bus to the hotel, I wasn’t surprised at all when the woman next to me projectile vomited all over the place. Sure, why not, right? Add that to the list.

I couldn’t help but reflect on the strange hand of fortune and misfortune that I had been dealt that evening. To top it all off, when I finally arrived at the hotel and got my room assignment, who did I bump into in the lobby? The mom from the TLC show “Little People, Big World!” What a wild day.

I got to the room, ordered myself some dinner and actually felt really good; I had my luggage, I had new flights, and I had an amazingly comfortable king-sized bed with a pillow for every hour I was delayed. I couldn’t wait to just go to sleep and get to Kona the next day.

All was going smoothly until I checked in for my flights the next morning. The woman at the counter who was supposed to check me through to Kona decided that she could only check me through to Maui, where I would have to –during a two-hour layover – pick up my luggage and re-check-in since I was transferring to a Hawaiian Airlines flight. As soon as I got to the desk, I could tell she was having a BAD day. I was suspicious and tried to get more information, but the lady didn’t want to have anything to do with me and sure didn’t feel like helping, so I went on my way. Trust me; I was absolutely kind and gracious to her, so any rudeness was completely unmerited. I just shrugged it off and continued on my way, cautiously optimistic.

As I awaited my flight to Maui, I decided – since I only had a little time to pick up my bags and check-in all over again in Maui – that I would talk to the woman at the desk and make sure I knew exactly where to go when I got off the plane. This is when I was told that I was not booked on the flight from Maui to Kona.

Mauna Kea sunset, Mauna Kea volcano, Kona, Hawaii

Mauna Kea sunset, Mauna Kea volcano (altitude: 9,800ft). Kona, Hawaii

I told her my whole story and that I had to be on that plane. She didn’t give a shit and told me to call American Airlines and have a representative figure it out. When I called, they said they couldn’t help me since my flight was listed as a Hawaiian Airlines flight. Nobody could help me. Apparently, I had been given an itinerary and the woman who checked me in screwed me up by deliberately NOT confirming my seat on the next flight, which now had 20 people on standby.

I went over to the family of four who had been rebooked for the same flights as me and told them they should double-check that they are confirmed passengers because I hadn’t been. Sure enough, they were all set. My flight to Maui was beginning to board. I had no flight out of Maui. I began envisioning a melt-down, but stayed strong.

A woman listening to the ordeal came over to me and said she was from Maui and knew Hawaiian Airlines well and even offered to call them. I couldn’t believe her kindness, and graciously said yes, thank you! After arguing with a woman for five minutes (who was telling her that I was definitely NOT on the flight) she hung up and assured me that they said they would confirm me. I was skeptical, but I boarded the plane.

When I arrived in Maui, I barely had time to realize how gorgeous it was. I booked it to baggage claim and stood there for 45 minutes until my bag came around (this is when I decided never to check a bag again).

With bag in hand, I sprinted in the 80 degree outdoor airport, a warm shock after arriving from the cold  winter in Manhattan, to the check-in desk for American Airlines (where I was instructed to go). One anxious hour later, I got to the front of the line. After reviewing my reservation, the woman at the counter told me that I was not on the flight, which now had 25 people on standby. I was not on any flight, and there was nothing they could do. The next flight didn’t even leave until a couple days later.

Sculpture out of lava rock, branch, and shell. Kona, Hawaii

Sculpture out of lava rock, branch, and shell. Kona, Hawaii

My positive attitude dropped like a brick in my stomach. NO no no no… Think, think, think…What could I POSSIBLY do to get to Kona?! They said they could try booking me on another flight, but that I should go to the Hawaiian Airlines counter first. Just what I needed: a wild fucking goose chase, and my vacation was the darn goose! At this point I had an hour before my flight was supposed to leave. I sprinted over to Hawaiian Airlines. Luckily, there was no line. I went to the front, asked for quick help. They said it was true, I was not on the flight and there was not a free seat to Kona for two days.

I don’t want to admit this but, at that point, I was about to breakdown. I felt completely defeated and was absolutely EXHAUSTED. The time difference was now five hours, so 10 am NY time was 5 am Hawaii time). I was HOT. I was DESPERATE. All my friends were in Hawaii and I was neither here nor there – I was nowhere. For 32 hours, I had been in a state of limbo, perpetually in transit. Airports are funny that way; no other place in the world can really make you feel like you’re NOWHERE.

I told the woman at the desk, with tears of defeat welling up in my eyes (against my will!), that I needed to get on that plane and that American Airlines was responsible for getting me on that plane or some combination of planes before nighttime. She said, “I know honey but there is no seat, you can’t. I’m sorry. The best we can do is…” Then she paused. “Wait…” she said, “Let me go get my manager…” I told her I would stand in a bathroom for the entire flight. I would lie in the aisle or serve coffee to people or clean the toilets as long as I could get on that flight. I didn’t even care if my bag came with me. She told me to hang on, then she took my ID and ticket, and disappeared.

Five minutes went by – I started to feel weak from hunger. My blood sugar was extremely low and my water bottle had one sad, warm sip left. I ate a chocolate chip granola bar while I waited. The last thing I needed was to pass out. While standing there, I looked into the eyes of the woman behind the desk (this is about the time that tiny violin started playing for me…). She saw my desperation and kindly said, “Don’t worry, sweety… She’s getting the manager. He is a miracle worker…” There was more truth to that statement than I would have guessed. I tried to be hopeful but I was very low on hope. However, I never run on empty. I thought to myself, I could use some magic, I could use a miracle. She told me to trust him… He had tricks up his sleeve…

A man walked quickly over to the counter. He explained to me exactly what was going on, the first person to actually explain why I was screwed and not stare at the next person in line hoping that I would just disappear. He explained that whoever checked me in at LAX messed up – possibly on purpose. All she had to do was confirm my seat to Kona, but she printed a boarding pass out for a seat that wasn’t confirmed in the computer. Also, my luggage should have gone all the way to Kona, but she refused to put it through because she didn’t confirm my seat. Why she did this, nobody knows. They apologized and asked if I knew her name. I didn’t. There was something about this guy; I trusted him. I may have even begged him for a seat on the flight to Kona, and I don’t beg often. He looked at me and gave me the kindest, most reassuring look I had gotten all day. Then said, “Give me five minutes…”

Another five minutes?

As I stood there, waiting, I tried to accept that maybe I would be homeless for another day. Maybe a vacation in Hawaii was too good to be true. Maybe I should just turn around and go back to NYC.

Kona sunset, Hawaii

Kona sunset, Hawaii

Then he came back, (my knight in shining armor!), and handed me a ticket. IT WAS A BOARDING PASS. He whispered to me “A guy at Hawaiian owed me a favor – I got you on that plane. Don’t ask how, just GO!” I SQUEALED – literally – with joy and was overflowing with such happiness and shock that I didn’t know what to do with myself! Without thinking, I jumped up on the scale and — right before giving him the biggest hug in the world, realized I should probably ask – and said “OH MY GOD!! CAN I HUG YOU!?!??!” All the women around me laughed. A huge smile spread across both our faces as I gave him the biggest damn hug I could muster! They all yelled “GO! RUN! GOOD LUCK!” I felt like I was in a movie. My flight was boarding in eight minutes and I still had to go through security.

After I sprinted away, I realized that, in my excitement, I hadn’t checked my damn bag. It had too many liquids to carry on, so I debated throwing them all out, then decided, instead to run and cut the ENTIRE line I had just waited on at American Airlines and go directly to the woman who initially told me I was not on the flight. (The logical option, right?) She didn’t ask a question, dropped what she was doing, grabbed my ticket and brought it to the nearest computer. I may have been a bit insane at the time, but I was functioning on pure adrenaline. Nobody could stop me now!

She entered my information into the computer and asked me, “How did you get this ticket?” I told her there was a fluke in the computer system and a guy from Hawaiian Airlines found my reservation (where I came up with that story, nobody knows). She looked doubtful and examined the fake-looking ticket. It was blue, with handwriting all over it. They’re supposed to be green, with printed words and numbers. I was a renegade, and she was onto me.

The clock was ticking. She called a manager over to examine my ticket. They asked me where I got it. Every question left me dangling on the edge of a cliff, ready to fall into disappointment and defeat, but I hung on desperately. I was going to get on that plane and have my vacation in paradise, and nobody could get in my way.

She put the ticket down, and talked to the manager. As soon as she wrapped a tag around my bag, suspiciously eyeing her computer screen, I noticed that the tag said “Kona.” Then, I did something that still surprises me. I GRABBED my ticket, left my bag, and I RAN! Ha! I half-expected them to chase me down with dogs and handcuffs, and half-expected not to make it to the plane on time. But I RAN my ass to security, and I didn’t look back!

Nobody chased me. I had 15-minutes before my flight was scheduled to depart. When I reached the front of the security line, low and behold, I was randomly selected for a full security check. They put me in a glass room and made me stand on two yellow footprints while they checked every pocket of everything I owned, confiscated my last drop of water, and awaited a female inspector to frisk me. I felt pretty awesome, with beads of sweat becoming droplets and my crazy eyes jumping all over the place. I could barely stand still with all the adrenaline pumping through me. I guess I couldn’t blame them for taking me aside – I looked a little loopy. My ticket looked suspicious to everyone who examined it, but I didn’t care. I was getting on that plane and sitting in seat 9F if it was the last thing I did.

When I was cleared by the security card, it was five minutes after my flight was supposed to leave. I sprinted to Gate 19 fearful that it might be too late, but THEY WERE STILL BOARDING. I had almost made it! I just had to walk on and buckle up!

The guy taking boarding passes took mine and, right when he was about to rip it, he paused, took a long look at it – my heart was pounding, I think I began to pray – and mumbled, “huh, that’s weird…never saw one like this before…” Then, he handed it back to me, hesitantly. I grabbed that boarding pass (trying to make it seem more like I was just “taking” it, no desperate grabbing involved) and kept going. I WAS ON THE PLANE TO KONA.

I went to my seat. There was nobody there. I sat in it, waiting for someone to kick me off the plane, listening for suspicious beeping sounds to prevent me, yet again, from getting to my final destination. NOTHING. I was sitting next to a baby who kept climbing me and staring me down. I could care less if he screamed the entire flight and pooped in his seat. I was happy. Finally, there was nothing in my way. My exhaustion and extreme thirst was suddenly overwhelmed by relief.

Forty-five minutes later, the plane landed in Kona. Even my bag arrived safely. And as I went to pick it up, two girls came running over to me in sundresses and first-day tans, yelling “TAVEL!!!!!” I reached out and accepted their giant hugs, like I had just won some incredible reward. Thirty-eight hours after I left New York, I had made it to Kona. My journey was over, and I was in beautiful Hawaii with my friends.

Never had I felt more deserving of a vacation in paradise. But boy was it hell getting there…


Filed under Travel Disasters

Travels with Tavel, The Playlist

[NOTE: The Mystery Snapshots from the previous entry will be revealed in a separate posting with a little story about how sometimes a dream trip can turn into a travel nightmare… Stay tuned.]

Thank you EVERYONE who contributed one or more songs to this Ultimate Travel Playlist! I have put together the entire list and done something pretty awesome, if I do say so myself…

I have added a YouTube video for every single song, so you can listen by clicking each title below. I know, I know… I’m just TOO much! (Don’t ask how long it took me to put this together…)

I take no responsibility for the quality or content of these music videos, some of which are pretty lame. Just close your eyes, listen, imagine you’re about to land somewhere new and incredible… and enjoy.

1. Paper Planes (M.I.A)
2. Life in the City (Michael Franti and Spearhead)
3. Helen (Nizlopi)
4. Little Secrets (Passion Pit)
5. Run and Hide (Algebra Blessett)
6. Montaña (Gipsy Kings)
7. Raining in Paradise (Manu Chao)
8. Say Hey (I Love You) (Michael Franti and Spearhead featuring Cherine Anderson)
9. Born to Run (Bruce Springsteen)
10. America (Simon & Garfunkle)
11. Stuck Between Stations (The Hold Steady)
12. Let Down (Radiohead)
13. Like a Rolling Stone (Bob Dylan)
14. Chan Chan (Buena Vista Social Club)
15. Semi-Charmed Life (Third Eye Blind)
16. You’ll Always Be Loved By Me (Brooks and Dunn)
17. Raspberry Beret (Prince)
18. Only Wanna Be With You (Hootie and the Blowfish)
19. Sugar (Tonic)
20. Jack and Diane (John Mellencamp)
21. Sweet Home Alabama (Lynyrd Skynyrd)
22. Life Is a Highway (Tom Cochrane)
23. 3×5 (John Mayer)
24. Breakdown (Jack Johnson)
25. Vienna (Billy Joel)
26. Here Comes the Sun (The Beatles)
27. Carolina in My Mind (James Taylor)
28. The Way She Is (Stephen Kellogg)
29. America Song (Stephen Kellogg)
30. The Laws Have Changed (The New Pornographers)
31. Back In Your Head (Tegan and Sarah)
32. I Feel It All (Feist)
33. O Valencia (The Decemberists)
34. Always Where I Need To Be (The Kooks)
35. Great Expectations (The Gaslight Anthem)
36. 59 Sound (The Gaslight Anthem)
37. Free Fallin’ (Tom Petty)
38. I Know What I know (Paul Simon)
39. Diamonds On The Soles of Her Shoes (Paul Simon)
40. Beautiful World (Colin Hay)
41. Melbourne Song (Colin Hay)
42. All Along the Watchtower (Jimi Hendrix)
43. Leaving On A Jetplane (Chantal Kreviazuk)
44. Talk Amongst Yourselves (Grand National)
45. Buildings and Mountains (The Republic Tigers)
46. Ta Loca (Son de Cali)
47. Enjoy The Ride (Morcheeba)
48. On The Road Again (Willie Nelson)
49. Ants Marching (Dave Matthews)
50. Riding With The King (BB King and Eric Clapton) [No Link]
51. If I Had A Million Dollars (Barenaked Ladies)
52. The Boys of Summer (Don Henley)
53. Get Outta My Dreams (Billy Ocean)
54. Flux (Bloc Party)
55. Fruit Machine (The Ting Tings)
56. Your Cover’s Blown (Belle and Sebastian)
57. Of Montreal (Grondlandic Edit)
58. Time To Pretend (MGMT)
59. Sunshowers (M.I.A.)
60. Ankle Injuries (Fujiya & Miyagi)
61. Where Is My Mind (Pixies)
62. Theme Song (Flight of the Conchords)
63. Enjoy The Silence (Depeche Mode)

Together we created this playlist! And now I’m adding a bunch more songs to the list, because it’s my blog and I can do WHATEVER I WANT!

64. Paris (Yael Naïm)
65. Sympathique (Pink Martini)
66. Chaiyya Chaiyya (from the movie Inside Man)
67. Digitalism in Cairo (Digitalism)
68. Juan Loco (Rodrigo y Gabriela)
69. Galang Galang (M.I.A.)
70. Snow – Hey Oh (Red Hot Chili Peppers)
71. Use Somebody (Kings of Leon)
72. Tulips (Bloc Party)
73. La Revancha del Tango (Gotan Project)
74. Jerusalem remix – Out of Darkness Comes Light (Matisyahu)
75. Necta – Butterfly On Her Shoulder (Sashamon)
76. Crazy For You (Adele)
77. Satisfy My Soul (Bob Marley)
78. Stir It Up (Bob Marley)
79. Somewhere Over The Rainbow (Israel Kamakawiwo’Ole IZ)
80. New York, New York (Frank Sinatra with Tony Bennett)

For those interested, I plan to eventually make a separate tab for Travel Tunes alone so that people can add to the travel playlist anytime.


Filed under Uncategorized

The Ultimate Travel Playlist

I’ve decided to do something different today.

Instead of only doing a mystery snapshot, I have decided to assemble the ultimate travel playlist by asking each of you to submit, as a comment, one to five of your favorite travel/trip songs. Share the songs that you would listen to while on a plane, train, boat, or car ride to a new place, the songs that make you feel excited about something new or just travel in general! Then feel free to download the entire list, which I will post in my next entry…

The songs can be old, new, cheesy, out-of-character, personal, uncool, and/or all of the above. This isn’t about judging people’s music taste (there are plenty of other blogs for that); this is about sharing the songs that get your heart racing and your wanderlust going, and learning what songs do the same for others. Don’t be shy.

To start us off, here are five songs I’d definitely play while en route to my next international adventure:

1. M.I.A — Paper Planes

2. Michael Franti and Spearhead — Life in the City

3. Nizlopi — Helen

4. Passion Pit — Little Secrets

5. Algebra Bassett — Run and Hide

(Ahhh, and there are so many more…)

Just so that you aren’t left without some image to daydream about, here are two shots I took that are all about COLOR. Can you guess what island these come from?

Green Black

Green Black

Blue Black

Blue Black


Filed under Uncategorized

Taxco: The Silver City

Good work Katie C.! You are the only one who came close to figuring out last week’s mystery snapshot, which is of a street in the beautiful town of Taxco, Mexico. I wrote about Taxco  (it was considered a “side-trip” in my Acapulco chapter)  for a Frommer’s guidebook, MTV Best of Mexico, published by Wiley Publishing in 2007. Geordie picked up on my clue: the word “plateria” appears in the photograph, which — in Spanish — means silver shop. I was hoping more of you would make the connection, but perhaps not many people know about Taxco… Actually, I think this is for the best.

Nevertheless, I want to tell you about it. Here is a little article I wrote when I returned from my short trip to Taxco a few years ago. [If you want to see the photos in higher resolution, look at the Photos page, towards the bottom.]

Taxco: The Silver City

Through the bus window, I found myself winding deeper and deeper into the hills of the Mexican countryside. I was en route to Taxco, the “Silver City,” on a bus that was larger than many of the homes we passed. The roads were becoming narrower and the hills, increasingly steep. I waited eagerly for my first glimpse of Taxco, but saw no sign of the quaint colonial town.

View from Posada de la Mision, Taxco, Mexico

View from Posada de la Mision, Taxco, Mexico

Eventually, the hairpin turns and steep incline began to make me nauseous. I clutched my seat anxiously as the bus maneuvered its way through the unforgiving contours of the mountains, huffing and puffing up each hill as if to mark its final lap. Just as I was about to close my eyes and pray for the best, we made one final turn. Suddenly, unraveling before my eyes like a spool of Mexican history, was Taxco. I was immediately lost in observation.

Buried within the State of Guerrero, Taxco is a place that seems to exist outside of time and reality. Sitting at an altitude of about 5,000 feet and located 3.5 hrs from Acapulco and 2.5 hours from Mexico City, Taxco is considered a perfect weekend getaway due to its manageable size and accessible isolation. While it might not be the typical Mexican escape, it offers travelers the opportunity to visit a lesser-known side of Mexico that is completely different from the more popular resort towns, and much more authentic.

Father and daughter, Taxco, Mexico

Father and daughter, Taxco, Mexico

Taxco earned its name as the “Silver City” for being a silver-mining capital. Evidence of its silver mining glory days persists throughout the excess of silver shops that line every sidewalk. Its reputation as a silver capital has been preserved – as has its beautiful history – by the many families who have been living as silversmiths in Taxco for hundreds of years. Luckily, many of the old monasteries in this highly spiritual location have been converted into hotels without compromising their architectural beauty and without losing their eerie effect. One can experience and see the layers of Mexican history at every turn. Indications of the past have been vigilantly preserved, but Taxco is by no means creaky and old; it is still full of life and buzzing with activity, with a small burgeoning nightlife (that, admittedly, must obey the town’s “quiet hours”) and a sudden surge of interest among travelers who continue to seek the corners of Mexico that have not not been spoiled by high-rise hotels or drug-related violence.

Silver SHop, Taxco, Mexico

Silver SHop, Taxco, Mexico

Taxco seems to come out of nowhere. The crowded, bustling town explodes from the Mexican countryside, completely unannounced but instantly breathtaking. When I first arrived, I felt completely transported through time. Two and a half hours earlier I had been in modern Mexico City. Now I was in a town filled with red-tiled rooftops and white monasteries reminiscent of the 15th and 16th centuries.

Taxco View

Taxco View

The streets and buildings are all built harmoniously into the landscape without trying to change the natural ascents and descents of the mountainous terrain. Ancient-looking cobblestone sidewalks double as roads, which wind through the town like a magestic outdoor labyrinth. In Taxco, going for a walk is an adventure lined by high walls over which only a glimpse of the surrounding mountains can be seen.

Daily Life, Taxco, Mexico

Daily Life, Taxco, Mexico

The only car used throughout the town is the Volkswagen Beetle, giving the town a toy-like charm. Only the Beetle can navigate the steep and tiny streets because  its engine is located in the back  rather than the front of the car. Everyone owns the same car (if they own one at all), which is something I have only witnessed in movies like Edward Scissorhands. As one walks, the identical chugging cars just add to the fairytale charm that emanates from this unique town.

Taxco is a truly authentic place with a rich past that will anchor its promising future. The size and compactness of the town (most shops, museums, and churches spill into the streets around the central Plaza Borda, where the Santa Prisca Church is located) making the city easy to navigate, and completely walk-able – perfect for a weekend excursion.
Santa Prisca Church, Taxco, Mexico

Santa Prisca Church, Taxco, Mexico

If you ever find yourself in Taxco, be sure to sample the traditional Mexican restaurants, taste the chili pepper-covered fruit sold by locals on the sidewalks, visit the Guillermo Spratling Silver Museum, and get completely lost while aimlessly wandering the busy streets. If you’re up for an adventure, organize a trip to the nearby Grutas de Cacahuamilpa, where you can take a three-hour tour inside one of the largest, most impressive and well-preserved caves in the world (or, as the Taxcoans call it, “the Eighth World Wonder”).
Home and Flowers, Taxco, Mexico

Home and Flowers, Taxco, Mexico

Often reduced to a side-trip, Taxco is much more. Many who stumble into the town decide never to leave. Every restaurant, church and shop has a story behind it. Both the days and nights cast an unforgettable spell on every traveler who passes through. Taxco is one of the most beautiful and picturesque towns in all of Mexico. If you ever find yourself within a reasonable radius of its meandering cobblestone streets, I recommend exploring it for yourself.

Taxco Funeral

Taxco Funeral

For all who do go to Taxco, remember to get lost within the mesmerizing white walls of the “Silver City” as many times as possible. And when you eventually decide to leave, good luck trying to translate Taxco’s magic into words.


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Barthelona, and Mystery Snapshot 6

Wow, you are so smart. Congratulations Missy, Dawn, Lisa, Naomi, Geordie and Shannon for guessing the city and – for some of you – identifying the exact buildings!  A special high-five goes to Tom H. for remembering one of the most special people in Barcelona: Tio Rafael, the creaky, farting, hilarious old man with whom I lived for four months. More on him another time.

Last week’s mystery snapshot showed two examples of Gaudi architecture in Barcelona (or as Geordie wrote, “Barthelona”), Spain. Unfortunately, my photos barely do it justice. Feel free to share your own photographs or impressions of the Gaudi buildings! (I’ll post them in the next entry…)

Antoni Gaudi (1852 – 1956) was known for his extremely unique and funky architecture, which has since become one of the most recognizable symbols of Barcelona. Rather than sticking to geometric shapes, he mimicked the curves and movement of nature through his designs. Anyone who visits this city MUST visit some of the Gaudi buildings and parks — Park Güell, Sagrada Familia, Casa Batlló, Casa Milà, etc — because there is nothing quite like it. As playful and spontaneous as the architecture is, the homes are remarkably functional and livable, and yet still ethereal.

Unfortunately, I have to stop there. I was without a laptop for several days (enjoying Portland, Oregon), so I’m going to have to go right into the next mystery snapshot, but we will surely come back to Barcelona…


Please tell me where this street can be found, and what is unique about the city. (Look closely, there is a hint inside the photo!)

Mystery Street

Mystery Street


Filed under Mystery Snapshots


This week, I am providing you with TWO mystery snapshots that are closely connected.

Tell me what European city they come from, and — if you can — what connects the two buildings…



Funky two

Funky two


Filed under Mystery Snapshots