Considering the name of this website, it might be a little surprising to see a hotel review being posted that's located less than a twenty minute drive from my front door. But guess what folks? It's happening!
You might be asking yourself why I found myself in this situation. And the truthful answer is that sometimes you get a little crazy from being up too late a month before a trip and think to yourself, "Ya know, waking up early to catch a flight seems tedious, why don't I pay cash for a hotel at the airport to save myself 20 minutes." And since you're doing this all in your head and not out loud not a soul in the world can hear you being an idiot and cry out, "Don't do that dumb ass."
The helpful advice floated into my ears as I stood on the edge of one of the many murky lagoons that dot the path along the Kuang Si waterfalls. Calmly cutting a path through the jungle just an hour's drive outside of Luang Prabang, Laos, the waterfalls are a popular destination for tourists looking to escape the oppressive heat of southeast Asia in a naturally beautiful locale. The falls cascade down a series of ledges, water collecting into pools that are deep enough to allow visitors to strip down into bathing attire and swim. And that's exactly what I had come here to do.
But first I needed to get past my irrational fear of having the numerous fish swirling about in the green-tinted water bite me.
Two weeks ago at dinner with two of our best friends my boyfriend responded to a suggestion that we all spend a weekend at a secluded cabin in the woods by stating that I hated the outdoors. This, I retorted, was a preposterous claim that did not reside in reality. It's not even reality-adjacent.
My boyfriend cited as evidence my suggestion that we stay in a cabin instead of a pop-up tent on a camping trip in central Illinois we were considering last year. I countered that wanting to say in a cabin vs. a tent in the woods hardly constituted "hating the outdoors" and even offered up that on a recent trip to Alaska I voluntarily drove myself to a State Park and ..... *gasp* HIKED.
San Diego will always have a special place in my heart. When it comes to California's cities I hold what may be a controversial view - I'm unimpressed with LA and I find San Francisco has potential but there's a lot holding it back from being a place I would actually enjoy on the regular. San Diego, on the other hand, is my kind of town. I might be a bit biased as this is a city that I used to call home when I was a young child, but if that's the case so be it. Calm, clean, and casual are the adjectives I most associate with the city at the bottom of California's long, lanky form. It's my favorite destination on the west coast and thought I don't get there often enough, I never turn down an opportunity to visit.
The last time I was able to stop in to visit San Diego, I stayed at the Westin. Now, there are two Westin properties in San Diego - the Westin and the Westin Gaslamp Quarter, which is only a few blocks away. The Westin in the Gaslamp Quarter tends to be more expensive (but of course not always) than the simpler named Westin, so being a budget minded traveler I bet you can guess where I ended up on my stay.
A few years back, I was really into podcasts. I had a handful of programs I was pretty devoted to and would listen to during my one hour commute on Chicago transit to and from work. Over time I lost interest in the medium and eventually the podcasts were removed from my phone all together.
I'm not sure what changed, but at the beginning of the year I started thinking about reviving my interest again. I was particularly keen to find programs related to travel. I tend to think of myself as an experienced hand when it comes to exploring the globe, but the reality is there's always something to learn from others. I was interested in bringing new ideas, new voices, and new opinions to my mind and I thought podcasts could do that for me.
The Taj Mahal Palace is an iconic landmark in the city of Mumbai. A throwback to the days of the British Raj, the hotel is often said to have been constructed by legendary Indian businessman Jamsetji Tata when he was refused entry at the Watson's Hotel due to a "whites only" policy. Though historians state there is dubious evidence to support this claim, the fact remains that Tata constructed a beautiful hotel on the shores of the Arabian Sea that stands as a benchmark for Indian hospitality and luxury that endures to this day.
Still, the Taj Mahal Palace's history of excellence and comfort isn't without its stains. Many folks will recognize the hotel as one of several locations in the city of Mumbai that were targeted by terrorists in 2008. Four gunmen stormed the property and proceeded to detonate six explosives, set fire to the building, and subsequently begin executing guests and staff. A hostage crisis ensued that lasted for three days and ended with 31 individuals losing their lives and over 250 hostages rescued.
When it comes to the cuisines of the world the French can rest confident that they are, at a minimum, on the short list for greatest in the world. I have no doubt that many of the people walking along side me as I made my way through Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport (CDG) had visions of croque monsieur and cassoulet dancing merrily in their heads. I confess to being quite envious of them - they'd get to pass through customs and immigration and head into the city to enjoy some of the finest dishes Europe can offer. I would be hauling my overstuffed suitcase to a nearby airport hotel and struggling to find something edible in the wasteland that constitutes the airside concessions of one of the world's largest airports.
As mediocre as a hotel restaurant can often be, my hotel was too small to even offer one. For dinner I found myself taking the free tram that connects the various airport terminals at CDG and praying I'd find something worth eating. After finding an endless stream of Brioche Dorees offering unappetizing stale pastries, I resigned myself to following the pungent greasy scent that called my nose to the familiar yet decidedly unFrench establishment - McDonald's.
The acrid scent of diesel stinging your nose as you dodge through teeming masses of people in a narrow roadway, the piercing shriek of various tuk tuks rattle your senses as they wiggle past you and a minimum of three other animal species. The kaleidoscope palette of paints used to write "BLOW HORN PLEASE" on the ass-end of each vehicle serving as a knowing wink at the hilarity of it all. Despite the strong breeze kicking a few kernels of bitter dust into your mouth, you catch the pungent scent of frying oil, cloves, and cumin and suddenly find yourself in desperate need of samosas.
This is the image that most people conjure up when they think of travel in India. And yes, this experience can happen if you happen to find yourself in the right place at the right time across this massive, diverse country.
After several years of rather aggressive travel, I often like to think of myself as a seasoned traveler. There's very little on the road that can frazzle me at this point in my life. Canceled flights? Long security lines? Pubic hair in the hotel bathtub drain? I'm unbothered! Been there, done that, dodged those bullets. I often cruise through the travel experience like a boss bitch.
Except that's not true at all. No matter how often you're on the road or how many places you've been in the world, there's so many variables that go into the travel experience that you're going to fuck it up royally from time to time. And yes, I've certainly screwed it up quite a bit over the years.
Often when I talk to people about travel and why they don't do it more often, I hear a lot about fear. Fear that they're going to make a mistake. Fear that they're going to make a poor choice or forget something. Fear that they're going to be taken advantage of or fall victim to a crime.
Ahhhh Goa. That mystical beach paradise on the shores of the Arabian Sea, calling out to travelers across the ages whether they're dusty bodies on the "Hippie Trail" (LINK) in the 60s or the planes full of Russian tourists that pack its shores today. Like Honolulu or Riviera Maya, Goa is India's version of the seashore hot spot that people love.
While the beauty of the region is legendary, others often attach some rather unflattering adjectives to Goa - touristy, overrun, overrated, over. But if you know me at all you know I'm not really one to take anyone else's word at face value, so when I found myself with a ticket to India and a week to kill in the middle of December, a warm beach sounded like just the thing to forget Chicago's snowy and cold weather. Goa was looking might good at that point.