Month: June 2013

The Best Free Travel Apps in the Biz

Very often, when you take a peek at someone’s smart phone, it’s full of stupid stuff like Candy Crush, Emojis, and various other apps I can’t even think of because I’m not lame enough to use them. However, if you look at my phone, besides seeing every possible social media app anyone can have, you’ll find a hell of a lot of sick travel apps. So here you go, lucky people. A glimpse into my wonderful smart phone life, where no Angry Birds will ever be played and no one ever pays for apps, because who does that?

1. Around Me is one the simplest travel apps around which gives you the best sampling of information. Around Me has several categories, like Banks, Bars, Gas Stations, Hospitals, and Taxis in which you just click on it and if your location services are on (which they should be for most of these apps) you’ll be able to see how far away a place is in that category and how to get there using the Maps app. It also includes the website and phone number. I use it primarily to find food or gas stations or other must-haves nearby.

2. Trip Advisor is similar to Around Me, but instead of finding must-haves, it finds flights, restaurants, and attractions (real travel stuff here). I use it primarily for the Things To Do section, in which you can filter by closest by distance or what the location is ranked in the area by other users. Right off the bat, you can see how many stars a location has gotten and you can scroll through some reviews as well as seeing their phone number, website, etc. Easy way to keep yourself occupied if you get bored in a new place.

3. Convert is the easiest money converting app. From a ton of choices, choose which currency you’re starting with and which you’re converting to, and then type in the amount of money. Extremely handy when on the road internationally and you’re trying to figure out how much something would cost in your own money but you don’t want the vendor to think you’re an idiot.

4. Translate is the Google Translate who’s accuracy is not too shabby for when you need to know a word or two (but don’t use it for Italian class, because your prof will know). It will also remember all the words you asked about for when you forget them again and need them… again. You can speak into it too to translate but this can be temperamental, similar to Siri and other iPhone voice activated controls.

5. We Talk is my favorite way to call people overseas. For less than a cent a minute, you can call people over wifi and the signal is usually quite good for what you’re paying. Other apps will do this service for free, however you have to be calling a smart phone with the same app which is inconvenient. The other person doesn’t need We Talk to use this, so you can still call your grandpa who has a flip phone.

6. Whats App is like the AIM of today. The other person needs to have Whats App which is annoying, but it’s like a buck and works over Wifi, plus you can see the last time someone viewed your conversation, all the media they have ever sent you, and you can decorate the background. It’s also more instant than iMessage and tends to work better, especially over wifi. Trust me I’m super cheap and this app is totally work a dollar.

7. ISIC Benefits is for those who hold an International Student ID Card, which is worth getting because many museums and other attractions will give a discount for having it, and if anything, it’s another form of travel ID. The app itself looks up where you are and tells you what locations in the area have a discount for the card. The downfall? You need wifi to use it, so if you’re international you probably can’t use it outside of your place of residence.

8. Pack The Bag lets you choose categories like the beach, a baby, etc., and gives you a list of what items to pack for each category and then creates a complete list for you which is right on the mark. It is a little extensive, especially if you’re a seasoned traveler and you know what you need, but it’s nice for the peace of mind.

So there you have it friends! TRAVEL ON!

Do It For Journalism

I don’t know my neighbors. I never have, and I probably never will. I never brought them brownies when they moved in, or volunteered to babysit their kids, or waved to them when I happened to be in the yard. However, in South Carolina, the neighbors don’t just wave at you from across the yard, but they have keys to your house and stroll in to say hi and leave their dogs there to hang out and best of all, they take you out on their boat.

My aunt’s neighbor, and his two 5-and-under sons, took us out tubing out on their boat on Palmetto Bluff in Bluffton, South Carolina, which is about 30 minutes away from Savannah, Georgia and Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. Palmetto Bluff isn’t a lake or a collection of islands that’s just sitting next to the road, stuffed full of million-dollar mansions. Instead, it’s a homey, hidden paradise, stocked full of Southern glory and an almost eerie quiet. After driving down their driveway for ten minutes-literally, ten minutes-we arrived at the Bluff, tucked away behind weeping willows with birds, moss, and dolphins scouring the area.

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I knew I was getting old when the neighbor asked if we wanted to go tubing first since his sons were nervous and I was actually the one who was scared, maybe more than these little kids were. Nervous of riding behind a boat in a tube. Puh-lease. However, as I climbed into this tube clearly made for children with a borrowed t-shirt on and hoping the thunderstorms didn’t come through, I just thought to myself, Do it for journalism. 

Because that’s it, isn’t it? Today, I’m in South Carolina with my friend, hanging out at pools and shopping at the outlet mall, pretty standard stuff. But tomorrow? Tomorrow I’ll be zip lining in Belize, screaming for my life. Visiting psychics camped out in the forest in Cambodia. Wondering how the hell I’m gonna get down from a mountain in China. So for today, I’ll do every little scary thing I can, even if it’s probably not even that big of a deal. I’ll do it for journalism.

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Rushing the Road Trip of Life

Road trips are difficult for a lot of reasons. You’re trapped in a car filled with Cheerios crumbs (ew), you’re trapped in a car with other people, you’re trapped in a car with weird fake air, and, oh yeah, you’re trapped in a car. When you’re from New Jersey, and the East Coast in general, I assume, you’re up against a whole new demon: People Who Drive Like My Grandparents. 

In the South, people speak slower. They walk slower. They eat slower. And, most annoyingly, they drive slower. They actually go the speed limit. Now what the hell is that? And most frustrating of all, when I finally pass them flying by going 85 with the music blasting and the windows open, I can see that they’re happy. 

One thing that really hit me in study abroad in Florence, Italy was that after sitting down for three hours for a meal, casually sipping a glass of wine, and even strolling about the city, I realized that I had never really experienced anything before because I had never stopped to. In Italy, I tasted food I had one hundred times before that I felt I had never tasted one of those past times. I breathed in air and actually noticed it. I spoke to people and I was listening to what they were saying.

Now America is no Italy, let’s get that straight, but the South does have something on their side that goes beyond driving annoyingly slow. Southerners drive slow, talk slow, and eat slow because they’re enjoying it. They’re not always in a psychotic rush looking for the next best thing; the next most interesting person to talk to at a party, the next best meal they can ever have, or the next meeting they can squeeze into an already packed day.

Instead, they’re happy to be where they are. They can enjoy that cornbread or that nice breeze or the old lady they’re chatting with next door. Somehow, in that nice, sunny, downtime, I think they got a little farther than us up here going 20 over the 65 speed limit ever did, even if I do get to my destination five minutes quicker. 

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Midnight In The Garden of Good and Evil: A Destination Creation

If you read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evilwhich, from 1994, almost seems like a classic nowadays, you may see it as a sort of off-the-beaten-path travelogue about Savannah, an underdog of the South, for the beginning of the book. For what seems like the first half of the book, John Berendt simply describes the peculiar characters he meets, such as Lady Chablis, a transgendered drag queen. However, as the handsome descriptions and drama get going and readers meet Jim Williams, a respected antique dealer, and Danny Hansford, a good-for-nothing gigolo, it becomes clear what evils are really underfoot. 

If you have any intention of reading the book or you don’t know the story, don’t let me spoil it for you and DO NOT read the next paragraph.

Townspeople always wondered why calm, collect Jim Williams kept Danny Hansford around, who was always getting in bar fights and generally causing mayhem, but it seemed like he was just doing the kid a favor. That is, until Danny and Jim got in a fight in the front parlor of Williams’ home, known as the Mercer House, located near the Victorian District and Forsyth Park in the Historic Center. Williams alleged that he shot Hansford in self-defense in that front parlor, although the evidence showed otherwise, which led to four mistrials which eventually led to Williams acquittal. Throughout the mess of the four trials, Williams was a visitor to a voodoo witch in Bonaventure Cemetery, located outside of Savannah, which is where the front cover photo of the book is from (The Bird Girl, now located in the Telfair Museum). Following his acquittal, Williams passed away very suddenly of a heart attack in his front parlor sitting room. In the exact same spot where Hansford fell years before.

The Bird Girl

In Savannah, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is often referred to as The Book, since much tourism has been garnished simply from Berendt’s novel, even though this is not the only media production to be taken from this Southern city. However, being a nerd (and not really into Forrest Gump) visiting Savannah, and most specifically, the Mercer House (also known as the Murder House) brings a whole new life to an already beautifully composed crime novel. 

As I strolled throughout the happy city surrounded by families clutching maps and ice creams and the hands of children, I never forgot how Berendt had strolled those same streets. I saw the magnificent Victorians that Williams restored, which almost appeared as his old children to me. I thought about the affluent couples that walked those blocks to Williams’ famous Christmas parties, which brought Berendt to Savannah in the first place. I thought about Hansford stumbling home in drunken stupors, broken beer bottles in hand, off to possibly be Williams’ lover, which he was alleged to be. And, most importantly, I thought of Jim Williams when I stood in his front parlor sitting room, in the very spot where he possibly killed Hansford and, in the process, lost his own life years later.

Travel work doesn’t have to be all about where the best beaches are or where you can score the cheapest hotels on this side of the Atlantic. Instead, travel work should do what Berendt did– bring a little-known world to life to readers. Whether or not Williams was really the alleged killer does not take away the fact that Berendt brought a city to life before there were tour buses. This is what you should look for when traveling: Stories about people, about life, about extraordinary events in ordinary places.

Springtime in Savannah, Georgia

Movin’ To The Country

“If you go to Atlanta, the first question people ask you is, ‘What’s your business?’ In Macon they ask, ‘Where do you go to church?’ In Augusta they ask your grandmother’s maiden name. But in Savannah the first question people ask you is ‘What would you like to drink?’” – John Berendt, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1994).

And so, this is Savannah, Georgia for you. I would call myself a fairly seasoned traveler, I think– I have made my way around most of Europe, the United States, and ventured a little bit beyond. However, as much as I see, one part of the world that always baffles me a little is the outdoors lovin’, drawl speakin’, slow talkin’ South.

So, when my friend Dona and I ventured down to the Lowcountry for the week, the Hilton Head Island/Bluffton area, I jumped at the chance to visit Savannah, Georgia, for the day, a mere 20 minute drive from Bluffton, which is a small, cozy, and unappreciated town only about 20 minutes away from Hilton Head as well.

Palmetto Bluff

Savannah is basically a more tame New Orleans, which reminds me your typical Southern city gone rogue. If you’re into a slow-moving and historical city with a great open-container policy, then Savannah is made for you. However, it’s still worth a visit if you’re in the area, especially if you are familiar with Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, a novel by John Berendt chronicling the trial of Jim Williams taking place in the city.

Dona and I took an Old Town Trolley tour of the city, which is overpriced at $33 a pop, although the commentary is good and entertaining and the trolleys are efficient, coming by every ten minutes or so, even though they are advertised to take even longer. However, if you can stand the heat and the walk of the two-and-a-half mile historical center, the largest historical center in the country, then buy yourself a guidebook, skip the boring stuff, and do it yourself. Otherwise, you’ll be dropped off the designated stops with really no information in your hands.

Our first stop was the City Market, which is just a concentrated gathering of less-obvious tourist traps featuring candles, chocolates, Georgia peach sangria (do it; like I said, there’s an open container policy) and of course, Paula Deen’s restaurant and store, “The Lady and Sons.”

Paula Deen

The next drop-off point was Chippewa Square, which is where “Forrest Gump” was filmed, although the bench itself where Gump sits is now located in the Savannah History Museum, located at the edge of Savannah and where the Old Town Trolley tours begin. We didn’t visit this museum, however since I hate history I was perfectly content Googling screenshots of the movie and then figuring out where the bench was and just taking some cheesy photos from there.

Forrest

On our way to get to the Victorian District, a handsome line of beautiful Victorians definitely worth a casual stroll for the sheer wow factor, we also passed the Six Pence Pub, where a scene of Pretty Woman was filmed.

And then, finally, the sight I waited my whole life to see- the Mercer House, the home where Jim Williams lived, and ultimately, died of a heart attack– in the exact spot where he allegedly shot his employee and also alleged, lover, Danny Hansford. The tour of the house is a little dry (and expensive, at $13), but for hardcore Midnight fans, it’s worth it just to be in the house and think to yourself, Jim Williams lived and died right here. And yes, you do go into the front sitting room, as well as the hallway and another two sitting rooms, as well as see some of his art and antique collection among the rooms. Don’t expect too much information about Midnight- the home is owned by Williams’ sister and clearly, there are orders to keep the whole crazy ordeal on the hush-hush.

If you’re still obsessed with Midnight, you can stop at the Telfair Museum of Art to see the Bird Girl statue, the famous statue from Bonaventure Cemetery outside of Savannah where the photo from the front of Midnight was taken. The statue was moved to protect the dignity of the graves surrounding it from the family who purchased it in the cemetery.

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And, even though it’s also a huge tourist trap, stop at River Street just to stroll about by the river and look at the beautiful buildings and water, since all of the shops are really just overpriced t-shirt shops.

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My bottom line? Savannah is nice. It is. It’s a classic Southern town with beautiful homes and trees and happy people who like a nice sweet tea. However, unless you’re a huge history or Midnight buff, don’t go out of your way for a visit.

How To Not End Up On The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Normally, I would happily hand over my cash to any airport for the sheer opportunity to escape a long and tedious car ride, because honestly, there is a special place in Hell for parents that force their children who already are arch enemies to sit next to each other in a smelly minivan for more hours than I would normally be asleep for. However, in my new post-grad status, there aren’t a ton of chances to drop hundreds of dollars on a trip when you can get in the car for a few hours and hand over forty bucks instead. As a result, my trip to Hilton Head Island with my friend took about 13 hours in the car, including stops, originating from New Jersey, which I’m really pretty proud of.

Anyhow, on this journey through the backroads of the South and abandoned highways (accompanied by abandoned cars, which is another thing entirely), I got to thinking about if I had been alone on this journey, as many people are, especially when they are college kids traveling back and forth from their colleges after being home for the holidays. And you know what? Driving by yourself must be friggin scary. 

So, after speaking to my adopted retired NYPD detective aunt (who I came to visit on this beautiful island), I have some tips to share with you about things to consider if you are driving for an extended period of time, alone or not….

1. If you will be staying in a hotel, opt to stay in a hotel that accepts pets. Why? First of all, people who have pets tend to be less likely to be serial killers. You don’t need a study to tell you this. And second, if people have pets, that means they will be walking outside from time to time to take their pets out, meaning that they will form a sort of neighborhood watch. Plus, since the hotel knows that dogs are gonna bark if they hear someone knocking, they, nor anyone else, is going to be knocking on your door.

2. If a “cop” flashes their lights at you, wait until you are on a main road to actually pull over. There have been cases known where people posing as cops pull you over on a backroad because they know that no one is gonna come by, and then they… well, you know. Will you piss off a real cop a little by waiting a minute or two to pull over? Yeah, maybe. Is it worth your life? Yeah, I would say so.

3. If you’re in a sketchy area and you get pulled over, ask to see a badge before full-on opening your window. Chances are, someone posing as a fake cop isn’t going to have a fake badge to accompany themselves; it’ll be a miracle if they even have a car that looks remotely like a cop car. And if they do, there is no feasible way for you to tell if it’s fake… so if they do, you’re shit outta luck. So if you catch someone without a badge and you haven’t opened your window yet and they have no chance of getting at you, you still have a chance to get away before they come after you. 

4. Have someone call you at designated times to check up on you. Your mom will most likely do this anyway, let’s be serious. But even if it’s only once every four hours, at least the person calling you will know that you will be available at that time and if not, then yeah, there is a problem and a little search may be in order.

5. If you have to stop your car for whatever reason, pull a little off the road so no idiots hit you. This is literally so easy but no one follows it. I constantly see people who pulled off the road (if their car just broke down, then obviously they have no choice…) who are barely even off the road so if someone just isn’t paying attention, they could ram right into their car. Just pull over!!! And for Christ’s sake, turn your hazards or your lights on!!! I know they look dumb, but you know what looks dumber? A bashed in car.

So there you have it. Follow these basic tips to ensure your safety on those long rides. They’re really not even hard and your mom will be proud and you can still eat all the fast food you like, I really don’t even care. Just try not to die. 

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Wine Country, USA

Yesterday we enjoyed a relaxing, sunny afternoon in beautiful Wine Country, sipping on whites and reds while sampling fine cheeses before taking an outing through the vineyards lain across the rolling green hills without a care in the world. Tuscany, you may think? Maybe Napa Valley? Oh no. We were in scenic Pittstown, New Jersey, located in northwest Jersey just a little bit off of the beaten path.

At first, the idea of visiting a winery, a beloved and precious place that now makes me think of Italy in the way that tattered old photos make you think of your angelic passed dog, made me wonder if I could even take it, if I could enjoy a place that was so magnificent across the Atlantic but seemed like it could only be a cheap and sad imitation in the US of A. And to be honest, it actually wasn’t half bad.

Tuscany

Beneduce Vineyards was one of the few wineries in the area I was able to sniff out that wasn’t an obscene distance from my house in the Middle of Nowhere, New Jersey (only about 45 minutes away) and had a pretty down-to-earth deal concerning wine tastings and tours and such, because let’s be honest, you can’t drive that far just to gulp down some wine. Unlike many other wineries I was looking at, you didn’t need an appointment to come to a tasting or 11 other people or an extra $150 bucks.

Instead, for $10 and from 12:00 pm to 6:00 pm on Sundays, my boyfriend and I sampled a pretty humble amount of four different wines, which I guess I couldn’t complain about for $10.The girl at the desk who poured each wine for us had a pretty extensive knowledge about how each was made and bottled and the quirks and its appropriate pairings. Which was made even better because with the four wines, we received some meat and cheese, which we maybe sort of substituted for lunch that day. Whoops.

Beneduce Winery

After the wines and the free glasses we received with them and the food, for some odd reason, the workers at Beneduce Winery then handed us over some keys to their golf carts to cruise their winery on their own doing. They offer a tour by one of their own workers, but I think everyone felt the same way as we did (who needs a tour of a vineyard?) because as we were cruising around in a semi-drunken stupor (after figuring out how to drive the cart, which they don’t bother telling you about either) we saw many other yippity groups giving themselves tours (AKA going as fast as they could in a golf cart without running over any plants).

Cruisin

Mostly, the vineyard part is just a nice photo op, since without someone telling you about each one, the only info is a sign saying what kind of grape each plant is. It’s still fun to cruise around in a real live vineyard, and maybe stop at the hammock on the outskirts too for an afternoon nap. Hey, why not?

It may not be my beautiful Tuscany. It may not be France or Napa or any other places that house wine country. Jeez, it’s just New Jersey. But I think there is something to be said for finding gems in your own backyard. It doesn’t require a full wallet or a plane ticket or a pompous sense of what’s high class. All you need is a little research to see what’s hiding right before your very eyes.

Photo Ops

The Grind Life

There’s something about knowing how much time you have left that propels you venture.

And no, I don’t mean how much time you have left on this earth. Instead, I mean how much free time you have left; how much time you have left for yourself to run amok and see the world on your own free will.

In a few weeks, I will be starting my very first real person job, which is simultaneously the most exciting and scariest thing to happen to me in quite some time. As happy I am to be a member of the functioning world and get my career up and running (and pay my bills), it is also a very lonely and odd feeling to know that my constant, and often free, trips running amok have come to an end for quite some time.

Before I had a job secured, I was a frantic wreck, basically all throughout the second half of final semester and the weeks that started the summer off. Instead of really enjoying my days and taking advantage of the time off before I would eventually become gainfully employed, I fretted about my losery status and wondered what the hell I was going to do and how I was going to make ends meet. As usual, once everything is in place, I’m wondering how I could be so dumb. I wonder why no one told me to just enjoy it all, and then I remember that they did. Whoops.

So now that the days are numbered, I’m trying my best. I’m driving obscene amounts of miles on a moment’s notice, just to have a night on the town with my friends, which I took for granted when they were also my neighbors. Even though eating meals in my car and sitting in traffic and unpacking a bed from my backseat isn’t really convenient all of the time, it’s things like this that make me see how great that life is. Those days may be numbered for now, but you can’t keep a wanderer away from adventures, even if those adventures may only take place outside of Monday through Friday nine-to-five for some time.

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