Laminate maps and printed directions – Road trip tip

Passengers eat, drink, and frequently move in and out of the car during a road trip. A paper map or set of printed directions easily gets shoved into a seat during a stop, or worse yet, ruined if food or drink is spilled on it. Upon arrival, directions and maps are even more likely to get misplaced or damaged. To keep maps and directions safe during the trip, laminate them.

For around $30, a home laminating machine will seal standard letter size pages. Copy and print stores have the capability to laminate larger maps for a minimal fee. Alternatively, you can use contact paper to cover paper maps.

Pro tip: you can draw your route on a laminated map and easily wipe the mark off, if you change your mind.

Australia’s Macquarie Island

Have you ever had an obese, wild baby elephant seal drop its head in your lap and slobber nose love all over you? It melts a heart faster than a Snickers in a microwave, really.

Macquarie Island (pronounced mak-worry) is Australia’s southernmost point, a tiny spit of an island some 940 miles (1,500 km) southeast of Tasmania. For you mariners out there that’s a three-day sail from Hobart-past the roaring 40s and into the furious 50s. The island is only about twenty miles long and two miles across-a lonely scrap of sub-antarctic landscape consisting of pointed grassy slopes and rocky beaches where mist lingers all the day long.

Discovered in 1810 by wayward sealers, Macquarie was kept a secret in order that they get rich quick from the magnificent seal colonies living on the island. In 1811, the first ship to arrive in Sydney from Macquarie carried almost 57,000 seal skins. Today, the descendants of these piles of skins still tumble along the salt and pepper sand, bellowing out the unique throaty growl of the adult elephant seal. It’s quite a sight. Forget all your images of Australia’s man-eating crocodiles and creepy snakes and spiders. Here is a different kind of nature reserve where the local attraction grows to 20 feet long, weighs more than three tons, and spends most of the day sleeping on the beach.Macquarie is not your typical vacation destination–there is no permanent human population and there are no hotels or restaurants (though the chef at the Australian meteorological station bakes terrific scones). Also, it rains pretty much constantly and on most days, the wind blows hard enough to knock you down.

What Macquarie does have is wildlife and a lot of it. Thanks to extreme isolation, very little human contact and strict conservation rules, the animals on Macquarie harbor no fear of humans whatsoever. While guidelines instruct keeping at least 30 feet from any wild animal, the sheer abundance of living breathing cute cuddly things makes it impossible. You try hard not to touch or interfere, but if they come to you, then just let them. Sit down on the beach and the baby elephant seals will flop their way towards you, sniff you out, then curl up beside you begging to spoon. Likewise, brown fluffy balls of baby penguins come teetering up to check you out, then start screeching for mom and dad. The cuteness factor trumps a million sneezing panda vids.

Four kinds of penguin live on Macquarie. The largest and most vivid are the elegant King penguins who are the slightly smaller cousins to the iconic Emperor penguins (the ones you and your kids know and love from Happy Feet). As a self-certified, card-carrying member of the penguin craze, I went berserk on watching all the action that goes on in Macquarie’s penguin colony. Even more amusing were the royal penguins, who waddle to and from shore shaking their bushy yellow eyebrows. The species is only found on this island and number well over a million pairs.

We later traveled to Lusitania Bay, Australia’s largest protected penguin rookery. From out of the white fog, the shore appeared like a dream sequence. At first I saw nothing except a buzzing black and white screen beyond the mist. Suddenly our little boat lurched forward and the beach came into focus: not hundreds, not thousands, but a hundred thousand or more penguins. An unreal sight and an unreal sound, that of an infinite chorus of nasally seabirds calling out in almost-unison. Penguins were diving and swimming all around us as well, bulleting through the golden ripples of waves. I’ve never felt so outnumbered in my life.

In the distance, a pair of old-fashioned rusty steam cookers sat on the beach as an eerie reminder of the island’s exploitative past. Once upon a time, men gathered up penguins and threw them in the pot to boil up some penguin oil, used to make rope and twine back in the day. The penguins triumphed, thank goodness, and today the island is a vital breeding spot.

I sailed to Macquarie on the MV Orion, an Australian expedition ship which–in the spirit of Gadling’s motto, goes there–or in other words, goes to the places where few ships ever go. (If you’re going to travel to one of the least habitable islands in the world, it helps to be traveling on one of the world’s most habitable ships.) As tourist interest broadens, the government still limits visits to under twelve ships a year. Extraordinary bird life attracts all the gung ho bird nuts out there, while map nuts like me are eager to get to such a remote place and see what we can see.

I feel immensely lucky to have traveled to this forgotten map crumb of Australia. I loved the penguins and friendly elephant seals and the giant killer whales swimming in the shallows. The brown-green kelp and chunks of ice on the beach added an extra twinge of exoticism, however it was the island itself that attracted me-a rare and lonely place at the bottom of the world that few know and even fewer ever visit.%Gallery-79934%

Train like a SEAL on your next adventure vacation

Some travelers like to take a nice, quiet vacation. They fly off somewhere sunny and warm, then sit on a beach, sipping a fruity drink with an umbrella in it. Others prefer something a bit more active, embarking on an adventure that can test their mind and body alike. SEAL Training Adventures was created specifically for those types of individuals, giving them a taste of what it like to be part of an elite military team.

The SEALs, which stands for Sea Air and Land Forces, have their origins dating back to the underwater demolition squads from World War II, but officially came into existence in the early 60’s, when the U.S. government recognized the need for special operations units in South East Asia. Since that time, SEAL units have seen duty in all corners of the globe on a variety of mission types, ranging from counter terrorism to humanitarian relief. With more than four decades of service, the SEALs have refined their training methods to the point that they have become legendary, both in and out of the military. SEAL Training Adventures hopes to give us some insight into that training with two programs designed for potential recruits and civilians alike.

The first program is known as the SEAL Adventure Challenge, and it is a 24-hour introduction to the training methods employed by the Navy when preparing SEAL teams. The second program is six days in length, and is called the Special Operations Force Academy. This program will show you exactly what it like to be a member of a special forces team for a week, including some SCUBA diving and sky diving elements. Both programs will push you physically and mentally, and are taught by a staff of highly trained instructors who have extensive military backgrounds and years of training to give you the most authentic experience possible.

Of course, this isn’t exactly everyone’s idea of a great vacation. Participants definitely go into it looking for a challenge and probably get all that they want and more. It also appears that once you finish either of the programs, you’ll end up needing one of those beach vacations and fruity drinks with the umbrellas when you are done.

Destination on the edge: SEAL training

Navy SEALS seem to have a phrase that functions as both “hello” and “goodbye”: kick ass! But, it’s not reserved solely for these purposes. This expression also works as a motivator, squeezing every last ounce of effort out of the recipient. And, at Extreme SEAL Experience, you’ll need it. Spend close to four weeks pushing your mind and body past every limit you’ve ever imagined, and you’ll finally understand the full definition of “kick ass!”

Extreme SEAL Experience is one of many military-themed vacation spots at which you can get an inside look at elite military training. This one is different, though. When the instructors at Extreme SEAL Experience send a letter of recommendation to the official Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) school, it makes a difference. Of course, it helps that the program’s teachers have combined special warfare experience of around a century. They can spot talent, and the U.S. Navy knows it.

Extreme SEAL Experience offers four programs, running from the sheer agony of the first day (a prerequisite for the other courses) to SEAL Advanced Operator Training, which includes fastroping, night operations and a frighteningly real field exercise. Each minute of each program is carefully scripted to inflict the most pressure possible … and push you to new levels of, um, “self-discovery.”

The first night, “Hell Night,” is mislabeled. It actually lasts more than 24 hours. For the vast majority of this effort, you will not be happy. There’s no other way to put it. Misery tops (and pervades) the agenda. But, you come out the other side with more confidence and a greater sense of what you can accomplish. Unlike the official version of BUD/S, Hell Night is not designed to hit an 80 percent attrition rate, but you won’t graduate without some pain.

Participants in Extreme SEAL Experience programs understand the intensity of the program (or think they do) before registration. Thus, most are in great shape and have the necessary “Type A” personalities. Youth is abundant, with most guests in their late teens or early twenties. In almost every course, there are a handful of people whose names are stenciled in red. This means they are using Extreme SEAL Experience as a way to test the waters before enlisting and applying for BUD/S. They receive the benefit of some extra attention along the way.

Prospective SEAL candidates are not the only attendees singled out, however. Anything that makes you different will catch an instructor’s eye. If you are the youngest or oldest in your class, you will not escape detection. Those with a bit of gray hair can expect to have the stress of leadership added to an already strenuous program. The “old folks” usually do well, motivating younger team members and adding a touch of maturity to the mix. Age is not a barrier at Extreme SEAL Experience, and it can be an advantage. The oldest graduate was 58, and he was hardcore.

The advanced courses delve into the tools of the special warfare trade. You’ll still push your body and sacrifice some sleep, but you’ll get to have some fun at the same time. Hand-to-hand combat, small unit operations (mostly at night) and live-fire weapons shooting add to your portfolio of skills as an elite recreational special warrior. If you complete all four courses, you will leave with a pretty good sense of what it takes to be a Navy SEAL.

I know what you’re thinking: there’s no way Extreme SEAL Experience can be as tough as the real thing. Duh. There’s no way it could be. The instructors would have to keep an ambulance on site 24 hours a day. Nonetheless, the team goes as far as it reasonably can, which you’ll see is pretty rough. If you can finish the Extreme SEAL Experience, you have a decent chance of surviving BUD/S, but there are no guarantees.

Some people do have a tough time with the program. In fact, it has led a few aspiring SEAL sot reconsider their plans before heading to see their local recruiters. Even if you change your life plans after only one night, the instructors will continue to motivate you. Usually, a decision to quit a session at the camp is averted by a pep talk from the cadre. The participant may not go on to BUD/S, but he can still call his time at Extreme SEAL Experience a success.

If you’re looking to punish your body with aggressive military-style training, you have choices. Shoot for the nastiest experience imaginable, and graduation will be most fulfilling. Extreme SEAL Experience will punish you – which is what you’re looking for. Spend a 27-hour night or a few weeks with these misfits, and you’ll know you’ve accomplished something.

[Photos thanks to Extreme SEAL Experience]

The Ritz Of Treehouses

I was a bit of a fan of treehouses when I was a kid, but the ramshackle collage of plywood and plastic I built on the edge of Auckland’s suburbs had nothing on the luxury treehouse I’ve just been staying in at Kaikoura in New Zealand’s South Island.

With handmade furniture, a Scandinavian wood-burning stove and a spa bath, and an iPod sound system pre-loaded with jazz standards from Ella Fitzgerald and Cole Porter, staying at Hapuku Lodge has been pretty special as New Zealand’s weather gods kept debating whether or not to let the country transition to spring.

Waking up near a surf beach is always good. When you’re several metres above the ground it’s even better, and it’s been the ideal background to an exciting weekend swimming with seals and whale watching by helicopter.

Thanks to Hapuku Lodge for the pic.