Planning for the Unknown

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We live in an exciting time of where we have endless information at our fingertips through social media, news sources, books, and endless other methods. At any given second I can go on my phone or online and see what is happening in many areas of the world. In real time I can explore what is happening at a place I plan on visiting.

This is awesome and equally problematic.

From a travel planner perspective, we use the most up to date, thorough and well-researched information at our disposal. Coming from reliable sources like travel guides, national tourism boards, official websites, rail aggregators and other “first hand” knowledge sources. For the rest of the public, their perspective on a new place comes from a video or social media post, perhaps a news article from a well-reputed magazine. Guess what fails to be in the articles and videos? Thorough information on how to get to, explore, or enjoy a specific region.

No doubt this is not a problem that content creators have to fix alone. Because when well-meaning Conde Nast makes a list of places to see before 2020, they don’t expect people to just cherry pick and randomly show up to Machu Picchu. They do think that people research or look into the complexity of getting to Machu Picchu on train, or foot, or bus. But many don’t, because in our world of instant gratification people don’t always understand that other parts of the world have more layers to their exploration.

Like any good history geek I love researching an answer for myself or my clients. I look at the stories that made up a place. I look at train schedules. I call locals to get information on schedules that I can’t find online. I look at sunset and sunrise times to explain to a client when they can get that perfect view. I check weather patterns to explain what they should pack. I love this research. Granted, I get a little more in the weeds than is necessary, thus, I encourage you to find a balance as you set off into the world.

Here are my tips for researching unknown place.

  1. Go to the library or book store and buy the most recently published guide on the area that you are interested in.
    • Pro-tip: ask the bookstore clerk if an updated version of that guide is coming out BEFORE you travel and ORDER it so that you have the best vetted information for your actual trip.
  2. READ the crap out of that book. Make copies, take pictures with your phone, make notes. Learn everything you can so you know what needs to be done when you’re boots on the ground in Argentina headed to Patagonia.
    • Pro-tip: I use sticky notes in a color coordinated pattern to mark places of interest or areas I am headed to. That way I know where to get information quickly. For example, I will use a large sticky note to mark a region and write the name above the edge of the page. Then I know green stickies are dining in Delhi, pink are activities, etc.
  3. Ask Around to people that travel and see if someone you know has been to such and such place and ask them for recommendations. This might save you time, money, and stress when you know someone else was able to enjoy the same vacation or trip you were planning.
    • Pro-tip: vet all the information you get to make sure it’s accurate and safe. Make a list of suggestions and then read up on what your friend/family suggested.
  4. Read reviews with a grain of salt. Reviews offer TRUE experience feedback, but remember that people are more likely to complain online versus compliment so sometimes complaints will reflect a slanted view, good or bad, of a company.
    • Pro tip: if you see complaints ask yourself if it matters if “the room is small” “if the restroom only had a small shower” or if “the price was insane” because sometimes what bothers someone else will not matter to you.
  5. Utilize hotels and locals by asking questions on dining, activities, weather, and how to enhance your vacation! No one knows better than locals on where to eat, drink, and enjoy your best life.
    • Email your hotel, tour guide, or organizer well in advance so that you have time to get a response and make arrangements to enjoy the best parts of wherever you are going.
  6. Plan for emergencies and extra time. There is nothing more frightening to me than having someone with a schedule that has no extra time built in. Why? Because if one thing goes wrong, like a train delay or a volcanic eruption (true experience from yours truly) you won’t have any time to make up for time lost. I always suggest having at least one back up flight or one back up train between you and when you need to be somewhere. YES you may have more wasted time, but you WILL be less stressed about your travels. Cool bonus: people watching is always enjoyable.
    • Pro-tip: don’t cram everything into one trip. Pick your favorite options and stick to a simpler plan. You will feel less stressed and exhausted, and when you slow down truly magical things happen! There is a reason why EVERY tour company offers some free time on varying days and afternoons because they need extra time for the unplanned and everyone needs to slow down.
  7. Teach yourself the customs, some key phrases, social norms, and other details before you go. Nothing will make you feel more insecure than thinking you have pissed someone off or that you are awkwardly getting through life. Read up on dos and don’ts and mentally note how to behave.
  8. Most importantly, have fun! Laugh off your mistakes, learn as much as you can, and don’t sweat the small stuff. In my experience, things work out and you always have a phenomenal time!

HAPPY TRAVELS!

A Stack of Magazines

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It’s easy to say “I read” as a kid. It’s much more interesting to explain exactly what that looked like.

My family are readers, through and through, every room, including the bathrooms, had books or magazines in them. Often she leaves were two or three deep, the coffee table housed endless picture books. I read before bed. My mom read to us before bed. I read on the bus. My grandma shared art books with us. I powered through reading challenges. I took home stacks of books from each library visit.

My mom was an assistant library for our community school/public library (small town Cripple Creek) which meant the book love train was never ending.

Some of the coffee table books that littered the living room were elaborate photo essays of places all over the world. The art ones showed off masterpieces and where to find them. The DaVinci anatomy book connected past and present to our understanding of the body.

But the cream of the crop was the, what’s seemed to my child mind, mountains of National Geographic magazines in our basement. Vividly I remember pouring through stack after stack searching for images and stories that inspired my exploring. Ships bobbed on azure waves, tribally adorned men dove for pearls, houses were made raw and blended seamlessly into the landscape. I saw that much more was happening outside of the mountains of Colorado.

As I grew older I would read some of the articles and learn about poverty, war, crime, danger, and the perseverance of peoples. Combined with all my reading, and the nightly news my grandfather consumed I began traveling in my mind. I was compelled to seek these other lands, these people, the animals, the food, the azure waves (I didn’t see the ocean until I was 17).

I knew then, as I do now, that the stacks of magazines were so much more than “a stack of magazines” they were portals into all that the world was and could be. They were windows into the soul and spirits of endless stories and endless lives. They were pure magic.

At some point the magazines were donated to the local school, where they were cut into collages and posters, an upcycling rebirth. And as an adult I collect new stacks and new stories and new portals to new worlds I dream of exploring.

What I Wish You Knew

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It’s easy in 2018 to find information on every part of the world….except when it is not.

While there are probably millions of pieces on Paris and London, there are only a handful of helpful writings on parts of American Samoa, or rural areas of Vietnam. While more people explore the world, this gap tightens, but there is always a need for better information, not more.

“Being first is irrelevant when the story is just wrong.”

While it’s great to have endless options for readings, articles, videos, and blogs, there is often a disconnect on the quality of works. Or much of the information is just outdated, poorly written, ethnocentric, exaggerated…. you get the idea.

Recently I saw a pretty popular Facebook page attached to a page through a pretty popular media company. In the video it stated that a VERY popular Colorado tourist site was only 1,000 feet above sea level. To put this into perspective, the capitol of Denver is at 5,280 feet above sea level, and this site was around 7,000 feet above sea level. The mistake was glaring and extremely unhelpful to visitors that may not know what to do with elevation gains, altitude sickness, and other problems that come with mountains.

It is mistakes like the video that create a cycle of bad information and problems for travelers, researchers, and those working in the tourism industry.

Time and time again I return to travel guides as a resource because they have many things going for them, and most importantly, they are updated and more accurate than other resources.

No doubt many bloggers and news sources try to update their work as much as possible, but travel guides have the set up to ensure their accuracy and consistency. Guides also work with companies to present information, update locations, and create a standard of information that other media sources cannot keep up with.

When I get out in the world, or run into an issue on research for work, I find that I am constantly returning to a book on the place or finding a blog that is specifically written on a set region.

What I wish all travelers knew is that it’s important to be accurate, and it’s important to provide good content. Being first is irrelevant when the story is just wrong.

Maybe the journalist in me is fighting an over-saturated market of bad blogs, but I wish I could tell people every day to buy a book, read some more, ask questions of locals. Don’t expect someone that has barely or NEVER been to Paris to give you a rating on the best restaurants. They’ll go to Yelp just like you and regurgitate 30 reviews. The authenticity is simply lost.

you-knew

Writing, because sometimes nothing else makes sense

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I’m not the person that always wanted to be a writer. Which is weird considering a large amount of what I do is write. Yet, I wasn’t the kid that always journaled, and I wasn’t the kid that needed to write every day. I’m still not that person.

Instead I was the one that wanted to make a newspaper, the kid that also loved putting on plays and sewing and making dolls. I was thoroughly engrossed in any and everything that just came my way, or was sparked by a TV show.

So writing was just a part of the story. At times I hated it in middle and high school, because it was a chore, and other times I basked in the chance to analyse a book I loved! In College my first year was hard because I was fully unprepared for the type of work that comes with academic writing.Yet, here I am in 2016 with an MA in International Journalism, and to get there I did A LOT of writing over the last five years.

Today I write my blog(s) and tomorrow I might work on one of five novels kicking up dirt in my head. Right now I’m just enjoying the sensation of letting my thoughts and ideas out of my mind and into the universe.

Best,

Rebecca Lee Robinson

Top 10-Denver

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I love the “big city” of Colorado. AKA Denver, which serves as the capital but also as a massive metropolis of something like 30 suburbs and small towns all connected and smooshed together. Denver proper is rather small, but is packed full of exciting and enjoyable activities for any visitor.

10. The Molly Brown House. 

Molly Brown, also known as the unsinkable Molly Brown. Also actually known in her lifetime as Margaret Brown…anyway, lived in Denver and was an activist and feminist in the early part of the 20th century. All around she was pretty badass and did a lot for not only Colorado but also the United States in her lifetime. The house has been restored to reflect her lifestyle and that of the Denver elite in the 1910s and 20s. It’s quite a look at the wealth of the time, and also her life and what she stood for and cared about.

Learn more from a project I did, Acta Historia

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9. City Park

If you want to enjoy some of the 300 days of sunshine Colorado boasts about, there is not a more wonderful location in the city than at City Park, which is very close to my number 8 and 7 choices! It’s full of not only some great statues of Martin Luther King and Robert Burns, but also in the summer you can rent boats, there are fountains to play in to beat the summer heat. And always a few dogs to say hello to.

City Park - Heath Alseike-Creative Commons

8. Denver Zoo

Yes a zoo is a zoo, but the Denver zoo boasts an impressive collection of creatures for a mid-sized city, and is home to some amazing habitats! Their recently renovated elephant enclosure is like walking into another country! They offer lots of goodies for kids to interact with, and for adults, it’s just a fun time to get face to face with otters and primates!

zoo-map

7. Denver Museum of Nature and Science

I have been going to this museum at least once a year for as long as I can remember. I even worked here for a while in college, and it was a dream come true! I love this place, and with revolving and evolving exhibits there is always something new to see! It’s always a lot of fun!

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6. Civic Center Park

This heart to Downtown is an exciting and beautiful layout full of rich classic architecture and the place for downtown happenings and festivals!

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with my friend Fallon in 2011

5. 16th Street Mall/Downtown

This 1.25 mile long shopping mall offers a lot of fun shopping for the visitor, but it also offers a link to other sights in the downtown area. a FREE shuttle connects one end to the other where you can access Lo-Do and then Capital hill on the other end. The strip offer eclectic dining options and ease of access to other city transportation such as the tram-system. My favorite place is The Tattered Cover Bookstore!

4. Denver Art Museum

This MASSIVE museum literally has something for everyone, and is full of relics from all over the world. Enjoy renaissance and medieval, or Asia and the Middle East, South America has rooms and rooms! They also have wonderful modern art, and rotating exhibitions so check it out. Plan a day if you have it, or a few hours to hit the main interests. Kid’s can also intimately interact with the exhibits by checking out an explorer pack!

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3. LoDo

This may be the most Colorado thing about Denver. Not only do you get to enjoy a huge collection of antique buildings but there are a ton of mom and pop restaurants serving up local fare. Then there is the iconic REI flagship store for those outdoorsy types. There is the iconic Union Station that lights up at night for a marvelous view, and Coors field if you want to catch a Rockies game. FINALLY you can Kayak in the middle of downtown Denver! REALLY and it’s FREE, of course you need a kayak…

Denver_Confluence_1

2. Clubbing and music

The clubbing district of Denver stretches along Sherman street, south of downtown. This is great place to grab a few drinks, dance, meet people and check out the local DJ scene. If this is less of your style, stick to Colfax and the music venues! The Fillmore, Ogden (personal favorite) and Bluebird have concerts almost nightly from local bands to grammy winners, there is always something to check out!

1. RED ROCKS- not Denver Proper

Okay if you are going to take a trip to Denver, or are a local looking for stuff to do, then you HAVE to take in a show at Red Rocks. It’s one of those holy experiences that only can happen with music and nature and fandoms come together. My first show there was The Cure and since then I have seen Flogging Molly, Devotchka, and  The Fray and I’m always planning on going back. Not only do the concerts make you swoon, but the park itself is a really cool place to hike around in and take in the Colorado sights and sounds. It’s only about an hour from downtown (give or take due to traffic) and well worth the jaunt. The best part is sharing it with friends, I got to share it with a family friend’s 13-year-old last summer, and not only was it her first concert, but her first big event like that without her parents. Meaning I got to share in her right of concert-going at 13 with Devotchka, at the best venue in the world!

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platform 9 3/4

How Harry Potter is still magical as an adult!

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Over the last few months I have been listening to the Harry Potter audio books as a chance to re-read the stories and save time as I finish my Master’s degree. This has been a chance for me to stay sane as I deal with the pressures of real life. It’s escapism of the best kind and it’s a chance to feel some of the magic that drew me to the stories in the first place.

As an adult, in many ways, it’s even better. I actually understand much of the subtext and references that J.K. Rowling was making and I have a better understanding of the dark content that was in the stories. In ways they’re more frightening as an adult for it works well as an analogy for my own problems and battles. I constantly think, “that’s so sad that Harry has to go through so much, how is he so sane?” Because as we get older we realize just how hard and heart-wrenching life is and if Harry can do it, so can I. Seriously.

So while Harry Potter helped me through growing up, today it’s helping me get through being a grown up. Which is a really unique position, and I don’t know if many people get that chance. It’s not just Harry Potter, countless people have also found this in the Lord of the RingsChronicles of Narnia and many other magical series.

If you’re looking for a chance to feel a little joy from something you loved as a kid, I suggest you pick up your favorite books and series and try them again! I guarantee you’ll get something out of them this time around, whether it’s the second, fifth or twentieth time.

Best,

Rebecca Lee Robinson