Wanderu’s Site Lets You Research And Book Bus And Rail Travel

If you’re a traveler, then you’re a Kayaker. Not a paddler, but a devotee of Kayak.com, the airline (and hotel and rental car) search engine that makes booking the lowest fares a breeze. If you’re a traveler, then you’ve also probably cursed the fact that a similar site doesn’t exist for bus and rail travel.

We can now count our blessings, thanks to Wanderu. According to Thrillist, this ingenious domestic search engine offers “hundreds of routes, operators, and schedules into a free, trip-aggregating database.” You can even make bookings, which is like a giant gift from the Travel Gods.

As soon as Wanderu or a competitor makes this info available for international travel, budget travelers won’t have anything left to complain about – except maybe the quality of their guesthouse banana pancakes.

[Photo credit: Flickr user DavidDennisPhotos.com]

Is Traveling Without A Passport Really Traveling?

This is a debate I encounter all the time, whether on the road or at home talking to friends. Technically, if you drive to the store to buy milk or go for a jog around the block you’re “traveling,” but what about the perception most people have of what travel really is?

After asking many people about this topic, it seems as though the answer often depends on what kind of travel experience the person has. It’s almost as if international travel makes people a bit jaded. For example, I recently went hiking with a guy from France who hadn’t really done much travel around Europe. However, he had been all over the United States, Canada, South America and Asia.

“Why don’t you go to Germany or Switzerland for a few days?” I asked, amazed that he’d never seen these countries that were so close to France. “Train travel in Europe is so convenient.”

“That’s not really traveling,” he responded. “I don’t even need a passport for those.”

While it may sound odd, this way of thinking is pretty common. When I spent six months studying abroad in Sydney, Australia, I spent every weekend and break frantically flying around the country, trying to “travel” as much as I possibly could in the time I had. Meanwhile, my roommate, a native Aussie, had never even been to Melbourne or Cairns.

“I can go there anytime,” she responded. “If I’m going to really travel, I’m going to go to Europe or South America.”While it always surprises me to hear people act so nonchalant about their home countries – places that I’ve traveled to and think are amazing – I have to admit I often fall into the same category. When people ask me when I started traveling, I usually respond, “When I was 20 and went to Australia.” My parents, who planned vacations and road trips every summer across the U.S. and Canada when I was growing up, probably wouldn’t like this answer. I’m not sure why, but flying to Maine to eat lobster and ride the Banana Boat or driving up the east coast to visit various theme parks just doesn’t feel like “real” traveling to me.

Not everyone feels this way. I have many friends who get excited about going to the Jersey Shore or to Washington, D.C. They request a week off work and spend hundreds of dollars shopping for new clothes, the perfect camera and colorful luggage. Additionally, I know people who tell me about how their jobs allow them to travel to places like Chicago and Boston. It isn’t that these places aren’t exciting, it’s more that they don’t provide the necessary amount of culture shock I need to really feel like I’m away from home.

Moreover, when posing the question on Twitter, most people said they believed traveling without a passport to be real traveling. However, many also agreed there was a distinct difference between domestic and international travel, probably due to contrasts in language and culture.

Ironically, if you asked me if traveling without a passport was still traveling, my gut reaction would be to respond, “yes, of course.” However, I can’t deny that when friends tell me they are visiting family in Denver or spending the weekend in Atlantic City, I don’t think of this as “really” traveling, but simply “going away for a few days.”

I think for many people, traveling to a truly foreign place allows for the feeling that they’ve really left home. There are new foods to try, a new language to learn, a different way of dress, customs and ideas we find odd but want to learn more about, and unfamiliar landscapes to explore. To many, it’s a richer experience. However, you have to wonder if this is only because, when abroad, travelers tend to be more active in their pursuit to learn. When out of the country, most people will pepper taxi drivers and hotel owners with questions about food, dress, history and norms, while in their home country they’d probably just ask for some restaurant recommendations.

The truth is, even when traveling to a different city in your home country you’ll be experiencing a different culture. For instance, I have a friend who lives 20 minutes from me, and half the time I can’t understand what she’s saying, as her town seems to have developed their own language. If I drive an hour further, I’ll see girls who dress completely different than me, and have a completely different attitude in general. If you open yourself up to unique encounters, ask questions and try to discover something new about a place, even your own backyard can offer a worthwhile travel experience.

Do you think traveling without a passport is still travel?

5 great domestic adventure destinations

Back in early January we posted our suggestions for the best adventure travel destinations for 2011, with places like Ethiopia, Croatia, and Guyana all earning a nod. While we gave plenty of praise to those exotic locales, we also gave a big tip of the hat to the good ole’ U.S. of A. as well. We went on to espouse the virtues of adventure travel right here at home, which includes not only plenty of great destinations but also the ability to visit them without breaking the bank in the process.

So, whether you’re into climbing mountains, hiking trails, or paddling whitewater, here are five great domestic adventure destinations guaranteed to fill your need for an adrenaline rush and help you conquer that wanderlust in the process.

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
It may be hard to believe, but the state of Michigan is actually home to a spectacular wilderness area that has a lot to offer the adventure traveler. The Upper Peninsula, or “U.P.” as it is known, is the perfect setting for outdoor enthusiasts year round. There are hundreds of miles of trails to be hiked or biked in the warmer months and during the winter they serve as excellent cross country skiing or dog sledding routes as well. Paddlers will enjoy the Lake Superior coastline, which offers an experience not unlike sea kayaking, while campers and backpackers will appreciate the dense, but beautiful, state and national forests that are found throughout the area. Wildlife is in abundance as well, with black bear, deer, wolves, coyotes, and many other creatures inhabiting the wilderness as well. Perhaps the best reason to visit the U.P. however is for the solitude. The peninsula makes up about 1/3 of the entire size of the state of Michigan, but only about 3% of the state’s total population actually lives there, which means there are plenty of wild spaces and few people to bump into on the trail.
Yosemite National Park, California
One of the most spectacular outdoor playgrounds in the entire world is located right in central California. Yosemite National Park is well known for its spectacular scenery that features towering granite cliffs, sparkling clear waterfalls and streams, and thick forests that include groves of Sequoia trees. The park has more than 750 miles of hiking trails alone and whitewater rafting along the Merced River is also a popular summer time activity. In the winter months skiing, both downhill and cross country, are permitted within the parks boundaries, and snowshoeing is a fantastic way to explore the wilderness as well. Yosemite also happens to be home to some of the best rock climbing in the world, with the legendary El Capitan drawing climbers from across the planet. That rock face isn’t for beginners however, and if you’d prefer an easier way to the top, you might want to consider hiking up Half Dome, another one of the parks major attractions, instead.

Grand Tetons National Park, Wyoming
Often overshadowed by other national parks in the area, Wyoming’s Grand Tetons National Park is a spectacular destination in its own right. With more than 200 miles of hiking trails, it is an ideal destination for backpackers. But less experienced hikers beware, due to its combination of remote backcountry and altitude, it can be a challenging place to explore. The park also happens to be bisected by the Snake River, which provides world-class fly fishing opportunities and easy kayaking as well. Mountaineers love the remote nature of the Teton Mountains, which afford them real opportunities to test their alpine skills on any number of challenging peaks, including the 13,770-foot Grand Teton itself. The park has plenty to offer wildlife spotters too. While visiting, keep your eyes peeled for moose, grizzly bear, wolves, coyotes and much much more.

Maine’s North Woods
For considerably easier, but no less satisfying, mountains to climb, look no further than Maine’s North Woods. The region is a dramatic, and mostly untouched, wilderness that is a fantastic destination for hikers and backwoods campers, offering thick forests and plenty of low altitude (read 2000-3000 feet) peaks to bag. As you can imagine, wildlife is in abundance here as well, with moose and black bear making regular appearances, along with otter, deer, and even bobcats. Paddlers can choose to enjoy a serene day in a canoe on one of the many lakes that dot the area or elect to head over to Maine’s Atlantic Coast for a decidedly different, and more challenging, experience in a sea kayak. With over 3.5 million acres of forest spread out across northern Maine, there is plenty of backcountry to explore.

Taos, New Mexico
Located in New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo Mountain region, Taos is one of those towns that sits at the epicenter of an outdoor enthusiasts’ paradise. In the winter, it is one of the best ski and snowboard destinations in the entire country, and the miles of local trails are fantastic to explore while snowshoeing as well. During the summer, those same trails make Taos a world-class mountain biking destination and rock climbers will love the variety of challenges they find in the nearby mountains too. The warmer weather also brings excellent whitewater rafting, as well as fantastic opportunities for horseback riding, hiking, and trail running through a pristine wilderness that never fails to surprise visitors with its beauty and wonder. The village of Taos is a great destination in its own right, enchanting travelers with its down home charm, and it serves as a prefect base camp for those who come to play in the backcountry.

There you have it. Five great domestic destinations to that will give you plenty to see and do no matter what time of the year you visit. It’s still plenty early in 2011 to start planning your own escape to one of these outdoor paradises.

[Photo credit: Attila Nagy and chensiyuan via WikiMedia]

Remembering the magic of domestic travel

Sometime during last week’s trip to Yellowstone National Park, it hit me. It was a simple realization but also one of those kicks in the ass that only a place as massive and magical as Yellowstone can give you. With rolling hills and snow-capped peaks lining the horizon and bison mingling with antelope on either side of the road, I remembered just how diverse, majestic and wonderful the United States really is. After spending the last six years focusing extensively on international travel, I realized that the stigma that we often attach to domestic travel is nothing more than snobbery. That stigma often keeps people from exploring the vast beauty that awaits in our own backyard.

Many travelers take great pride in being able to announce the exact number of nations and territories that they have visited without a moment of thought. These passport stamp collectors and country counters often exude a special kind of pretentiousness that is meant to intimidate lesser-traveled individuals. These are the people who turn travel into a contest. These are the people who insist on engaging in the traveler versus tourist debates, mock of cruises and further other nonsense arguments that attach judgment to travel. These are the people who ignore domestic travel.

This is not to say that we should all eschew international travel. I am as guilty as anyone of ignoring domestic travel to explore the world. I do not regret those trips and learned a tremendous amount about the world and myself by leaving the friendly confines of the United States. However, I have come to realize that there’s a balance that can be struck between setting off to far away lands and introducing yourself to your own country. There’s as much to see from Anchorage to Miami as there is from Reykjavik to Ushuaia.

The sheer magnitude of the United States means that its landscapes run the gamut from mountains to prairies to pristine beaches. We have major cities and small towns, industrial centers and sprawling farms and created the concept of national parks. It’s those national parks that provided me with this epiphany. An epiphany that so many Americans had long before I did. As I spoke with strangers in Yellowstone and heard their stories of driving from California, the Dakotas and even Florida, I was embarrassed that I had neglected the wonders of domestic travel for so long.

While I may be late to the party, I found that I was welcomed with open arms. Unlike the country counters, the people who are driving around America exploring our national parks and enjoying the diversity of our massive nation seemed genuinely interested about exchanging stories rather than boasting. They offered tips, shared memories and displayed none of the arrogance of the people who ceaselessly find reason to mention how often they need to order more pages for their passports.

There’s room for domestic and international travel in all of our lives. We can mix excursions to Bali in with road trips through Texas. There’s a great big world out there, but we also have a massive backyard. You can safari in Wyoming. You can hike through a rainforest in the Pacific Northwest. We have deserts and Great Lakes. We have ethnic enclaves and regional cuisines.

Let the passport stamp collectors pass judgment. I’ll be in the backyard.