Archive for the ‘Hot Tips’ Category

SeV Travel Vest: A Wearable Carry-On Bag

April 19, 2010

Scottevest travel vest reviewIt happens every Spring: The weather at your destination is a tad too warm for a coat, but not balmy enough that you feel comfortable traveling sans outerwear. My elegantly simple solution to this recurring dilemma?  Scottevest’s Travel Vest.

Unlike similar vests that make you look like you just got off the bus from Dorkville, this thoughtfully-designed garment actually looks pretty stylish.  In wearing it on dozens of trips over the past nine months, I’ve also found its combination of warmth and breathability kept me from both shivering and sweating.

The real beauty of this product, however, lies inside.  As part of the company’s line of “technology-enabled clothing,” this vest features nearly two dozen pockets sized to hold everything from a cell phone to your shiny new iPad without bulges that make you look like a crazed shoplifter.  The sleek exterior also hides a surprising number of clever details, including discrete tabs inside the collar designed to keep your earbuds ready for deployment and a tethered microfiber polishing cloth that beats the heck out of whatever you’re currently using to buff the smudges off your sunglasses or iPhone screen.

If there’s a downside to the design, it’s that there are so many places to put stuff you may find yourself resorting a law enforcement-style pat down of your upper torso as you try to remember which of the vest’s 22 pockets you left your camera in.  That said, this occasional game of gadget hide-and-seek ends up being a small price to pay for the convenience of being able to take off the vest, send it through the TSA’s X-ray machine, and sail through the metal detector without wondering if you’ve forgotten something that will mark you for additional screening.

Put it all together and I wouldn’t be surprised if you ended up making this wearable carry-on bag a regular part of your travel wardrobe regardless of the season.

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The BIG Picture: Website Offers Easy Way To Create 360-Degree Scrollable Panoramic Photos

April 9, 2010

As someone who’s had more than his fair share of truly extraordinary experiences, I can tell you virtually all of them share one recurring problem.  Namely that they’re filled with amazing moments that typical digital photos just can’t do justice.

Easy way to create panoramic photosWhich is why I found myself intrigued by the free browser-based digital photo app just introduced by the folks at Dermandar.com.  While it’s still a work in progress, the website makes it ridiculously easy for even the least tech-savvy traveler to create surprisingly high-quality, full-screen scrollable panoramic images without the need for special cameras, tripods, or software.

Just shoot a series of pics with any digital camera—even the one in your cell phone—taking care to keep part of the previous frame in each new shot.  Then go to the website, upload the photos, and the app creates seamless panoramas in about five seconds that allow you to drag your cursor across the image to peruse views up to 360-degrees.  From there, the app lets you share them with far-flung friends and family members via email or Facebook or even embed them in your website or blog.

While no technology can ever replace the feeling you get when you’re right there in the middle of a truly remarkable once-in-a-lifetime adventure, the immersive images this simple app lets you create may be the next best thing.

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Cool Camps (Part 2): Why Let Kids Have All The Fun?

April 2, 2010

If you read Part 1 of this series, which featured seven way-cool summer camps for kids, you may have come away wishing there were a way us grown-ups could get in on the fun.  At least I know I did.

Camp Winnarainbow founder wavy gravy

Camp Winnarainbow's Wavy Gravy

Which lead me to put together this list of adult-only “camps” that’ll give the tweens and teens in your life just as many reasons to be jealous:

Hollywood TV Star Fantasy Camp

Get ready for your close-up as you play your part in this “made-for-TV” crime drama.

Tritone Jazz Fantasy Camp

Five days of jamming in laid back settings ranging from small combos to big bands.

Camp Winnarainbow

Run away to join the circus at this far-out program put on by hippie legend Wavy Gravy.

World Poker Tour Boot Camp

Raise your game to the next level at these two-day clinics taught by tournament pros.

Space Camp

Space Camp

Always wanted to be an astronaut?  Well, now you can at least train like one!

Bull Riding Camp

Here’s your chance to experience the longest eight seconds of your life from atop a rodeo bull.

CIA Boot Camps

Foodies can join Culinary Institute of America instructors for the tastiest “camps” anywhere!

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Rock-n-Roll Fantasy Camp

Michael Jordan’s Basketball Fantasy Camp

Sailing Through Airport Security: 2 Great Sources For Travel-Size Products

March 8, 2010

Travel size productsGoing through the TSA security checkpoint in San Diego a couple of weeks ago, I ended up in line behind a tres chic young woman who began giving the screeners a heaping helping of attitude after they politely pointed out that she couldn’t carry-on the four full-size containers of shampoo, hair gel, and whatnot they’d extracted from her over-stuffed roll-aboard suitcase.

If this were an isolated incident, it probably wouldn’t even be worth mentioning.  But, as someone who flies 100,000-plus a year, I can tell you it’s something I see all the time.  Honestly, it’s a mystery to me that there could still be folks out there who haven’t gotten the message about the TSA’s three-ounce rule for liquids and gels in carry-on bags, a restriction that was put in place way back in 2006.

Naturally, it wasn’t till later that it occurred to me that I could have saved this stylish 20-something a world of TSA grief on her next trip by sharing a couple of great sources I’ve found for an amazing array of travel-size products.  From run-of-the-mill sundries to high-end cosmetics, these two operations can set you up with everything you’ll need to make sure you sail through airport security on your next adventure:

Minimus.biz

From tiny tubes of toothpaste to individual-sized gourmet snacks, if it’s offered in a travel size these folks probably stock it.  Their wide assortment of pre-assembled kits also make practical bon voyage gifts.Travel size cosmetics

3FLOZ.com

This operation’s clever name—short for “3 Fluid Ounce”—doesn’t begin to describe the depth and breadth of their offerings.  Let’s just say that if the only reason you’re still paying to check a bag is that you can’t find your favorite upscale beauty products—you know, anti-aging potions and the like—in TSA carry-on-friendly sizes, this is the website for you.

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There’s A Spell For That: How To Magically Transport Yourself To The Land of Harry Potter

February 25, 2010

Harry Potter Theme ParkIs it possible to wear out a DVD?  The question came to mind this past weekend as my son watched Harry Potter and The Order Of The Phoenix for what seems like the millionth time since he opened the package on Christmas morning.  Add his new-found habit of walking around the house practicing his “spells” with a home-made magic wand and I think it’s safe to say we have a die-hard Harry Potter fan in the family.

Which is why I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised at the ensuing excitement when I casually mentioned the fact that the Universal Orlando theme park was opening a huge new attraction called “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.”  If you know someone equally smitten with the mysterious goings-on at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, well, we’ll most likely see you there when the place opens this spring.

While this three-dimensional version of our hero’s cinematic world will undoubtedly be great fun, it also raises one unavoidable question.  Where does the serious Harry Potter enthusiast go from here?

Fortunately, with a little digging, I’ve turned up three extraordinary experiences where hardcore wizard-wannabes can take their Potter-mania to the next level:

HP Fan Trips

This is the ultimate Harry Potter experience.  While there are no trips scheduled for 2010, sign up for their mailing list to make sure you get the details of the 10-day tour they have planned for July 2011.  High points will include storytellers, a ride aboard the Hogwarts Express steam train, and a grand Hogwarts-style farewell banquet in the great hall of Edinburgh Castle.

London Taxi Tours

Combine a ride in one of London’s classic black taxis with visits to a long list of memorable Harry Potter filming locations, including the chance to have your picture taken at King Cross Station’s Platform 9-3/4.Harry Potter - Platform 9-3/4

The Jacobite Steam Train

Roll through the stunning scenery of the Scottish Highlands on the train that played the role of the Hogwarts Express.  Memorable moments include a trip over the dramatic stone viaduct featured in Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets and a chance to ride in the same carriages where Harry and Ron first met Hermione.

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Matadors, Machine Guns, Monster Trucks & More: 4 Politically Incorrect Adventures

February 17, 2010

Come on, admit it: There’s something you’ve always wanted to do, some extraordinary experience you’ve always wanted to have, that you just don’t talk about for fear of what people might think.  Well, you’ll find no judgments here.  Provided it’s not illegal or immoral, I say go for it.

If you’re one of those rare folks who don’t harbor such secret fantasies, allow me to put a few outrageous ideas into your head. Here are four thoroughly un-PC adventures that promise to be so unforgettable you’ll have a hard time keeping them to yourself:

bullfight schoolFight A Bull

There’s just something about squaring off with a quarter-ton of bad-tempered bovine that’s bound to make you feel fully alive.  This San Diego-based school will teach you the basics of the bullfighter’s art (minus the bloodshed) and then turn you loose to face a yearling bull who’s also in training.

knob creek machine gun shootFire A Machine Gun

Chances are none of us will ever own the kind of high-caliber hardware that shows up at this annual event, which is probably a good thing.  But that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be wicked good fun to blow through a few hundred rounds of ammo within the safe confines of this springtime firepower festival.

professional wrestling schoolBecome A Pro Wrestler

If you’ve ever watched the stars of the WWE strut their stuff in the ring and thought, “Man, I could do that!”, well, here’s your chance to prove it.  These schools will teach you the grappling moves you’ll need to crush your opponents, right along with the less obvious but no less important skills you’ll need like developing a crowd-pleasing character and doing on-camera interviews.

Drive A Monster Truck

Anyone who’s ever been stuck in an endless traffic jam has surely fantasized about taking the wheel of one of these massive machines and simply driving right over the top of anything that gets in your way.  This British monster truck driving experience allows you to do just that, flattening a couple of perfectly good cars in the process.

Mardi Gras Mentoring: How To Kill Time Between Parades

February 12, 2010

If you’re headed to New Orleans for Mardi Gras weekend, you’re in for a real treat.  I can tell you from personal experience that I sincerely doubt there’s a friendlier place or happier time on the face of the planet.

By this point you probably already know the two dozen parades that roll through the city’s streets between now and Fat Tuesday are the big attraction here (if you need parade info, check out my friend Arthur Hardy’s Mardi Gras Guide).  What you might be wondering, however, is what to do with yourself in the hours before or after all those floats roll by.

With that in mind, I thought I’d share my own highly subjective and slightly idiosyncratic list of my favorite ways to kill time between Mardi Gras parades:

Cafe du monde new orleans

Beignets at Cafe du Monde

Eat, Eat, Eat

  • Personally, I think it should be against the law for visitors to eat at a national chain restaurant or fast food franchise in New Orleans.  But if you’re not sure where to go, here are four can’t miss recommendations you can string together to create a day-long feeding frenzy:
  • Breakfast at Café du Monde (hint: get your beignets and café au lait to go and scarf ‘em down watching the river traffic from atop the nearby Moonwalk).
  • When lunchtime rolls around, grab a muffaletta from the Central Grocery and then pull up a bench on Jackson Square for some first-rate people-watching.
  • The sheer number of great restaurants here makes recommending a dinner spot tough, but I’ve found you can’t go wrong with the crawfish etoufee or shrimp creole at the Gumbo Shop.

Music, Music, Music

If there’s anything that can rival these local delicacies on the list of New Orleans’ greatest pleasures, it’s the local music scene.  There are dozens of popular venues (check out Offbeat magazine for a full listing), but here are my two favorites:

  • While a bowling alley may sound like an odd place to go looking for live music, Mid City Lanes—the originator of the Rock-n-Bowl concept—is known as much for its jumpin’ bands as it is for its 18 lanes.
  • The stage at Tipitina’s has played host to a long line of New Orleans’ home-grown legends, from Professor Longhair to Dr. John to the Neville Brothers, and it’s always a safe bet for great local music.

Tipitina's New OrleansHelp, Help, Help

While New Orleans has made an admirable recovery when it comes to all those things that make it a world-class tourist destination, there’s still an awful lot of work to be done to help local residents undo the devastation left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.  You can do your part—and earn some serious good karma in the process—by volunteering with one of the dozens of local organizations working to rebuild the hardest hit areas of the City That Care Forgot.

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A Mondo Motorcycle Tour

February 10, 2010

Long distance motorcycle touring Utah 1088Despite a bad wreck, I still love motorcycles with the kind of completely irrational passion normally reserved for sports teams.  And given the fact that bike sales have gone through the roof in recent years, I figure I’m not alone in this mania.

But here’s something few people understand: Even though we might all look the same to the folks trapped inside their shiny metal boxes, there are basically two distinct types of motorcyclists.

The first and by far the largest group generally likes to spend their time polishing chrome or going for a leisurely afternoon ride within a couple hours of home.  Then there are the folks for whom their bike is a sort of magic carpet, a two-wheeled ticket to adventure.

If you or someone you know falls into this latter category, Austrian tour operator Edelweiss Bike Travel is offering what can only be described as a true once-in-a-lifetime motorcycling adventure. Riders on the Discover Our Earth Expedition will travel to more than 30 countries on five continents over the course of 248 days, covering roughly 40,000 miles along the way.

This never-before-attempted tour is fully supported, but you’ll need to supply your own dual-sport bike and come up with the —gulp—$101,000 price of admission. While that isn’t exactly cheap, it sounds like a small price to pay for a truly extraordinary experience to me.

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6 Simple Solutions To The Boring Vacation

February 4, 2010

Let’s face it: Vacation days are precious commodities.  So why would you want to squander them on the same old ho-hum travel destinations and activities, especially when you can have a downright mind-blowing experience you’ll be telling stories about for months to come?Solutions to the boring vacation

Fortunately, all it takes to transform your next getaway from boring to boffo is to make a few minor changes to the way you approach the planning process.  With that in mind, here are six suggestions you can use to help make your next vacation downright unforgettable:

Ditch The Destination Mindset

Instead of focusing on where to go, spend some time thinking about some of those things you’ve always wanted to do.  With some research and a little creativity, you’ll probably find it’s possible to stitch a few of those experiences together into one over-the-top trip.

Spend It Where It Counts

Even if you’re staying at a posh resort, your hotel room is bound to be the least memorable part of your trip.  Better to skip the swanky digs and spend the money you save on a truly remarkable once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

Don’t Play It Safe

If you want to have great vacation stories to tell, try doing something that makes you a little nervous. You’re bound to discover that A) The thing that seemed so intimidating wasn’t nearly as scary as you imagined, and B) It actually turned out to be one of the most exhilarating things you’ve ever done.

Leave Things Loose

While having a general plan is fine, make sure your itinerary is flexible enough to give you time to enjoy serendipitous discoveries.  If you’re sweating the fact that you need to check in to tonight’s hotel by 6 p.m., there’s a good chance you’ll miss some totally unexpected experience that could turn out to be a highlight of your vacation.

Do Your Homework

I’m all for spontaneity, but I’m also a big believer in being prepared.  Asking questions up front about details like suggested clothing or physical requirements will go a long way toward avoiding unpleasant surprises.

Capture The Moment

By their very definition, extraordinary experiences like the ones we’re talking about here don’t come along every day.  So don’t hesitate to spring for professional photos and/or videos that will allow you to relive the moment every time you look at them.

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A Mind-Blowing Mardi Gras: How To Go From Spectator To Participant in One of New Orleans’ Glitziest Parades

February 2, 2010

I’m looking out at a sea of outstretched arms and upturned faces.  The noise is just this side of deafening, a long pulsating chorus of “Hey, Hey, Hey!”  In response to their pleadings, I’m chucking handfuls of cheap plastic trinkets at the crowd while dressed in an outfit so garish it would make your average clown costume look downright somber.

If this sounds like something straight out of one of those freaky dreams where you wake up sweating and shaking your head, well, you’re close.  Except this surreal scene was very real.  And very, very fun.

You see, while I’d been to a lot of Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans over the years, I always assumed you had to be born into the right family to join one of the dozens of organizations—known as “krewes”—that put them on in the weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday.  That was until my friend Arthur Hardy, publisher of the indispensable Mardi Gras Guide, happened to mention there were a number of krewes that actually welcomed outsiders like me to join in the fun.

Long story short, I jumped at the chance to go from parade spectator to participant by signing on with the star-studded Krewe of Orpheus.  On the day of the event, we loaded hundreds of pounds of beads aboard our float, donned our goofy-looking costumes and masks, and rolled out of the New Orleans Convention Center for an experience that can best be described as five hours of the most extraordinary nonstop chaos I’ve  ever had the pleasure to be in the middle of.

If you’re interested in seeing a Mardi Gras parade from this downright mind-blowing perspective, here are a few of the New Orleans krewes with membership open to the general public:

Krewe of Orpheus

Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club

Krewe of Morpheus

Krewe of Tucks

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