Dangerous Travel

As I write, hundreds of people wait at Chicago’s airports until the freeze passes and it is again safely possible to flee this dangerous wintery delight called the “polar vortex.” While I stay holed up in my cozy house, warmed by the heat of my laptop and a fuzzy blanket, I’ve stumbled upon a different kind of travel danger.

Now, I like the thrill of a challenging trail with a beautiful payoff. Otherwise I wouldn’t have ventured to the top of Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, which involves a climb up the narrow spine of rock with a 1500-foot drop on each side.

And I wouldn’t be staking out this via ferrata in the Dolomites, featured in the fine cinematic feature Cliffhanger, starring one Sylvester Stalone:


The via ferrate are safely completed with the aid of a appropriate safety gear (i.e., a harness and a helmet) and a reasonable amount of faith that the Italian government has maintained the iron rails and bridges that make these traverses possible.

But there is a trail that far exceeds my comfort level. It’s called the Hua Shan Trail in China, and it looks like this:


Check out the photos at ViralNova to see more of this amazing terrifying trail, that leads to a mountaintop tea house. For me, I’ll take a visit to Argo for my cup of tea, thank you very much.




Chicago, like most of the rest of the country, is buried in a deep freeze, polar vortex, Chiberia, whatever we’re calling this today. It’s just extremely dangerously cold outside. So no one is going anywhere. My very tiny voyage this morning was the very tiniest: from my bedroom to my spare bedroom / office. I may have lost a couple of toes last night while waiting for the bus.

Here’s the travel-related question that comes to mind from underneath all of the blankets I’m currently buried in.

When traveling from a cold climate (Chicago in winter) to a warm climate (let’s say, Argentina in summer), what do you do with your cold-weather gear? Do you leave it at home and then freeze on the way to and from the airport? Or do you wear it and then have to carry it around on your travels?

My typical answer to this is, unless I’m going to a resort where I will never have to move my bags under my own power once I arrive, I leave as much of the cold weather clothing as possible at home. This means on the way to the airport I wear my heaviest shoes, maybe two pairs of socks, jeans, a couple of shirts and whatever jacket I’m bringing, to the airport–basically, I pile it all on. I will also take a hat and scarf and gloves: the little things that you can squish down that don’t take up too much room or weigh too much.

But I’m also willing to concede that there’s maybe an answer that I haven’t thought of. So what is that secret solution, friends?

Travel Resolutions

First, we look back at the year that was. At the beginning of 2013, we asked a few friends for their travel resolutions. Here’s how they did.


I’ve in large part kept my resolutions. I wanted to travel alone, and in June I drove 7.5 hours for a solo trip to the Apostle Islands National Seashore at the northern tip of Wisconsin, where I camped out alone in a thunderstorm, and then kayaked for three days to one of the outer islands with the great guides at Living Adventure outfitters. Despite the fog, chill, and rain, it was a really fantastic experience. But note to fellow travelers, if you think it’s weird that your spouse hasn’t returned your “I’m safe” voice mail, it could be that they never got it, and that as a result, they may think you’ve been kidnapped and spend the whole night wondering if they need to call the local police and send out a search party. Just saying.

My other goal, to poop in the woods, technically wasn’t met, but the intention behind it was. John and I did a short backpacking trip in the Ansel Adams Wilderness in the Eastern Sierras. We hiked 10 miles up the side of a mountain to camp out at one of the Sierra’s many beautiful backcountry lakes, Thousand Island Lakes. Unfortunately, with 50-mile-an-hour winds making it nearly impossible to light our stove, and a snow storm moving in, we stayed only one night, and let’s just say I’ve got some hardy bowels that seem to know when there’s no modern plumbing around. I made it out without digging a cat hole. And I’m okay with that. It would have been pretty cold, dropping trow on that there mountain.


I did make it to Hawaii, and I did see a live volcano. I did not renew my scuba certification, which I just completely forgot about. I didn’t make it to Paris, but I did buy the ticket it 2013, so I would call that half credit.


I resolved to visit four new places, and I did: Cozumel, Spain/Morocco, various locations in Wisconsin, including New Glarus and the House on the Rock, and the ruins of Gary, Indiana.

I resolved to get OK with riding a bike, and I… didn’t. I bought a bike, and I love riding it on paths, but I’m still too afraid to ride on the streets.

I resolved to make Go Go Go better, and we wound up cutting back our publication schedule. That’s OK. Life happens.

And now for 2014.


My foreign travel experiences have been pretty easy–London, Mexico, Belize, and various Caribbean locales. Costa Rica was the least similar to the US, but I speak decent Spanish, so it was still familiar in many ways. This year I want to plan a trip to a country with a language I don’t know, with a culture I haven’t experienced. Right now, northern Italy’s Dolomites (part of the Alps) is looking like the target, with its extensive hiking and unique blend of Italian, German, and Ladin language and culture.


The sure thing: A new continent! I’ve already got a ticket and hotels and etc. for Argentina in a few short weeks. Have I mentioned how warm it is there? It’s going to be so warm.


A medium sure thing: I want to see the cherry blossoms in Brooklyn again. I missed them last year, because I had just gone to Spain and Morocco, which I guess is a good reason. But when I say I missed them, I don’t just mean I skipped the trip; I really felt the lack of them. I had no idea, fifteen years ago, the first time I saw them, that I needed that particular slice of peace and beauty so badly. But as soon as I stepped into the park, I knew I was in the right place, and I knew I wanted to be there as often as possible.

And, for the least-sure thing: I’m feeling the itch for a road trip. I have no idea where I’ll find the time to fit it into the year, but the idea of a drive down to Nashville or even up to Canada, come summer, is very appealing.


I’m really looking forward to a trip to Maine in September, and I’m going to make an effort to plan small trips and stick to them. Maybe even take a trip by myself (gasp!).

Do Americans Travel Wrong?

[Hey, guess who sucks at blogging? Me! Sorry for the delay and half-assed-ness today.]

Over at Huffington Post, William D. Chalmers wrote not one but two blog posts about why Americans travel “wrong.” And I’m not going to disagree with him, that most of the problems he enumerates sound like they’d make for a miserable vacation to me.

And of course, I’m not above telling people what to do and how to do it, and having very definite ideas about what is best and worst, right and wrong.

But I’ve got to say, his posts make him sound like a little prig. He has enough money and leisure time, enough status, enough education and enrichment, enough flexibility, etc etc, in his life, that he can travel the “right” way. That’s completely awesome for him. Seriously, he’s very lucky. I’m lucky enough to have most of those things too. But most people don’t. That’s why it’s called “privilege.” It’s only for the rarified, lucky few.

Should the United States mandate better language education, better global awareness, higher minimum wage, more vacation time, and all of the other things that make other nationalities more “right” travelers than us? Well, yes. But barring that, I don’t think it’s helpful to mock Americans for traveling “wrong.” Everybody sort of does the best they can. If you can only afford a few days a year or if your education hasn’t taught you about research and comparison shopping, then you might go somewhere near by or the same place every year. It’s better than nothing. It may be “wrong,” but it’s more wrong, in my book, to stay home.

Depends What the Definition of “Dodgy” Is

As loyal readers know, I’m finalizing plans for my first trip to South America, specifically, to Argentina. As I’ve mentioned, it’s a stupidly big country, and we want to see different parts of it. The question is, how to get to these different places?

Argentina is known for having fairly efficient and, one might even say, luxurious bus service. Like, lay flat seats, wine with dinner, games on board, etc. And I always prefer to travel by land than by air, because apparently facts and statistics are not convincing to my lizard brain that, while taking off in an airplane, always thinks, “This is very, very, very wrong, and we will surely all perish.” (That voice usually hushes once we reach cruising altitude.)

So I had assumed we’d travel by bus. Save a few bucks, see the country, and so on. But I did a bit of digging, and it turns out that, due to rising gas prices and increased competition, bus travel is not that much cheaper than air travel in Argentina these days. And there’s the time factor: the bus takes 17 hours (overnight, but you can’t sleep for all of that), while the flight takes only two. An additional consideration: my travel companion is essentially a giant. So while my short little frame may be comfortable on a bus for nearly a day, his legs will likely just secede from the rest of his body and hitch a ride back home in protest.

Last night we were discussing options, and Mike wanted to know why we wouldn’t just fly. I explained that I’d heard that Argentine flights were a little dodgy. This gave him pause. He needed more info. What, exactly, does “dodgy” mean? Based on what I’ve read, it mostly means uncertain schedules, lots of delays, possible cancellations.

“Oh,” he said. “Well that seems OK. As long as it doesn’t mean ‘held together with duct tape.'”

It’s an important distinction.

So what do you know, dear readers? Are Argentine flights merely late and annoying? Or are they death traps? Any experienced South American travelers out there who can shed some light on the situation?

Very Tiny Voyage: Getting to Work

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I work in the West Loop in Chicago. This is the area where a lot of the cool kids have their startup lofts, and I am one of those cool kids. [Ed. note: I am definitely not a cool kid.] Working here is great in many ways: delicious coffee and lunch options, including the French Market; a big warehouse-y space with tons of windows and hardwood floors and not a single bit of corporate-purple cubicle-covering in sight; etc etc. But the one thing this location does not have going for it–for me, anyway–is transportation.

I don’t drive, so public transportation is pretty important for my day-to-day life. To get to the closest El stop to my office, I would need to change trains downtown. This seems like a small thing, but it’s actually a huge hassle, especially when you think about having to go downstairs, change platforms, go upstairs, and then wait for a connecting train. It could add ten minutes to the whole trip, which is about how long it would take for me to just walk the 3/4 mile from the closest El stop on my own line, the Brown Line.

But here’s where it gets tricky. There are two Brown Line El stops that are almost equidistant from my office. One, Merchandise Mart, is .6 miles , and the other, Washington and Wells, is .8 miles. It would seem logical that I get off at Merchandise Mart, which is both the stop I come to first and the stop that’s closer. And in good weather, that would be the correct choice, because my walk is then mostly along the river, which is a beautiful way to start the day.

However, in bad weather, namely in cold, windy weather, that walk is much worse, because there’s nothing blocking the harsh wind from ripping along the river and destroying my soul before I even get to the office. So in bad weather, the smart choice is to get off at Washington and Wells, where the huge buildings of the Loop do some big-shoulders-style blocking against the elements.

The other advantage, rain or shine, of walking from Washington and Wells is that my route then takes me through Ogilvie train station. This is a bonus for two reasons.

1) The aforementioned French Market. I specifically love to start my day with a cup of Cuban coffee from Beaver’s Donuts. I will occasionally break down and get a little bag of their mini fresh-fried doughnut holes with cinnamon sugar, too. My gut does not need them, but they’re worth it for a special treat.

2) I get to be in a train station. I love trains, and train stations, and anything that tricks my brain into thinking for a second that we might be going on a trip. It’s the tiniest of dopamine rushes, but it helps a lot to start my day in that frame of mind.

There’s a lot to consider when you’re planning a route, whether it’s how you’re going to hit all the sights you want to see in Thailand or just how you’re getting to work. Time, weather, amenities, and natural beauty all play a role. If there’s a true cliche in the world, it’s this one: “Life is a journey, not a destination.”