Comedic team of ‘Portlandia’ set to create an off-beat Portland, Oregon, guidebook


Are you bored of the usual travel guidebooks aimed at everyday tourists? If you’re interested in Portland, Oregon, and would rather learn about funny, fictional places that could exist rather than the Oregon Zoo and the Portland Art Museum, you should put “PORTLANDIA: A Guide for Visitors” on your shopping list. Set to debut in November of 2012, the book is being created by the team who brought you the hit comedy series “Portlandia,” starring Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen, which takes you on an off-beat tour of Portland while poking fun at the city.

“It will be written like a Fodor’s or Lonely Planet guidebook, but full of fake, made-up, humorous stuff that could easily exist in a place like Portland, but doesn’t,” explains Ben Greenberg, the executive editor of Grand Central Publishing who will be producing the book. “Everything will be a bit off.”


To get an idea of the team’s humor and what to expect, check out the clip above from “Portlandia” on the Independent Film Channel (IFC).

Book review: inyourpocket guide to Athens

Athens, guide to AthensThis was originally supposed to be a review of the Rough Guide to Greece. I really like the Rough Guides and two weeks before I set off to write my travel series about Greece I ordered a copy from Amazon. The morning of my flight it still hadn’t arrived.

Luckily I knew about the inyourpocket guides. I had never tried these free, downloadable guides to dozens of cities, and now looked like the perfect opportunity.

Their Athens guide is 68 pages. After discarding several ads, the kids section, the gay section, and an entire page on prostitution and strip bars, I was left with a compact little guide that fit easily in my laptop bag.

The guide is narrowly focused. The only sections covering attractions outside Athens are a few pages on Delphi and skiing. For Corinth and Sparta I had to wing it. In fact, I winged much of my Athens itinerary as well because I already knew what I wanted to see during the day and the local Couchsurfing community took care of my nightlife. I was reminded just how little we actually need guidebooks for short stays in countries where we have local contacts.

The inyourpocket guide to Athens has several things going for it–free, compact, and handy for grabbing at the last minute, or even after the last minute since you could always print it out at an Internet cafe. Despite its low page count it has lots of listings, giving a wide variety of options for dining, nightlife, and sightseeing.

There were a few problems, however. The maps were too small and coming out of a black and white printer were all but illegible. Luckily the Athens airport hands out good free maps. I also found a few errors of fact. The Athens War Museum is billed as a leading free attraction but actually costs two euros. The transportation section states that to get from the airport to downtown, you take a train and then change to the metro at Nerantziotissa station. Actually there are direct trains to Syntagma Square (downtown) to and from the airport. These are only announced in Greek, but you can spot them because they have an airplane logo and luggage racks. I was excited to hear that a famous souvlaki restaurant, Kostas, is at Pentelis 5, right next to my hotel, yet when I went there I found this address to be an apartment building and there was no restaurant in sight. Considering the guides are published five times a year and this was the Winter 2011-12 edition, these errors should not have happened.

Despite some flaws, I found the inyourpocket guide to Athens a useful last-minute stopgap and would probably try additional guides in the future. Hey, you can’t beat the price. If anyone has used their other guides I’d love to hear your opinions in the comments section.

Oh, and my Rough Guide to Greece arrived the day after I got back. Thanks Amazon!

The Purple Passport launches chic urban guide for New York City

purple passportFor the hip, worldly, and discerning traveler, there’s a new guide on the block: The Purple Passport, which just added New York to its roster of web-based city guides.

The Purple Passport offers handpicked hotel, restaurant, spa, nightlife, shopping, and activity recommendations from its team of travel tastemakers, with an easy interface that allows users to add items to personal “passports” that can then be printed or emailed to travel companions. Their listings are candid, comprehensive, and current, with categories like “Well Coiffed” for nightlife spots with a door policy and “Chic & Design” for trendy minimalist hotels. Picks in the New York City guide include home decor emporium ABC Carpet & Home, the Ace Hotel in up-and-coming NoMad, and the swanky Rose Bar at the Gramercy Park Hotel.

Founded by friends and travel companions Emily Brands and Jennifer Garcia-Alonso, The Purple Passport aims to provide a one-stop-shop for urban travelers seeking carefully curated information on the world’s most stylish cities. Guides are also available for London, Paris, Los Angeles, Palm Beach, and Beijing, with Abu Dhabi, Taipei, Chicago, Miami, and Washington DC next on tap.

[image via The Purple Passport]

6 last minute travel gift ideas for the frequent flier

last minute travel gift ideas

There was once a time when if you hadn’t finished your Christmas shopping by now, you’d be, well, pretty much screwed. But now, thanks to the ole Internet, you can order up virtual gifts and deliver them by email or print-out card with just a few clicks. And with all the free wifi specials in airports and airlines (thanks Delta, Skype, and Nintendo) you can even take care of your shopping while flying home! Here, a selection of great last minute travel gift ideas.

Travel experiences
For some, diamonds are forever. I personally prefer experiences: catching a show at the Moulin Rouge in Paris, swimming with dolphins in Hawaii, taking a helicopter ride over Manhattan. Gift these unforgettable travel experiences and more with gift vouchers from online travel activity booking companies like Viator and Isango.

Priority Pass membership
Airport hoppers will appreciate access to more than 600 VIP airport lounges worldwide through a membership with Priority Pass. A standard annual membership starts at $99 with a $27 per visit additional fee.Virtual travel books
With the proliferation of the iPad, Kindle and other e-readers, big bulky guidebooks are going the way of the Walkman. Give your favorite traveler a virtual travel book, or literature from their next destination, through the Apple iBookstore or Kindle Store.

Frequent flyer miles
The travel hacker in your life will flip over the gift of frequent flier miles. You can transfer miles that you have already accumulated, or directly purchase miles as a gift. Fees for these services vary from airline to airline. At United, it costs $15 per 1,000 miles to transfer and $35 per 1,000 miles to give.

Custom travel playlists
The perfect music mix can be an excellent companion for the solo traveler. iTunes makes it easy to create and gift a custom travel playlist — Gainsbourg for a jaunt to Paris, or maybe some electrotango for a trip to Argentina. Just create a playlist in iTunes, populate it with songs, then select the “Store” menu and the “Share Playlist” option. When prompted, indicate that you want to gift your playlist, then choose how you want your gift to be received.

Gifts for others
What do you get for the guy/gal who has everything? Something for someone else. Chances are, the traveler on your list has witnessed poverty and hardship in the places they’ve visited. Kiva gift cards provide a way to sponsor micro-entrepreneurship projects in developing countries, while a donation to charity: water provides clean drinking water in poor rural areas. Both sites offer printable gift cards.

[flickr image via Max Braun]

Download Wikitravel to your smartphone for free

One of the biggest difficulties for the modern traveler in a foreign country is in acquiring smartphone data. Domestic telecom companies, still stuck in the stone age of pricing models charge a ridiculous amount for international data, and horror stories about $85,000 phone bills have flooded the internet.

Without a data plan to download Google Maps or reference the cloud for research, dynamic and engaged travel becomes difficult, and a great deal of planning needs to be done in preparation to avoid connecting.

Of course, a full range of smartphone apps have entered the market that are capable of alleviating part of this problem. Lonely Planet and a variety of other guides for most cities are available to download online. But each of those guides is for a singular city, and in many cases, the guides cost a moderate amount of money.

For a free alternative, Gadling Labs discovered a great set of apps tied to Wikitravel that allow you to download the entire database of destinations to your phone (minus the pictures) and use that as a wireless-data-free reference. For android, use OxygenGuide. All that you have to do is download the database (about 55Mb or 10 songs), put it on your phone and link to it in your browser — there are instructions on the site. The more user-friendly iPhone has an app called iTravelFree that allows users to download data and store it locally.

A recent trip to Seoul brought an excellent opportunity to test out the OxygenGuide. With no internet on the plane, the Seoul Wikitravel page was loaded to research a few different hotel options and learn the layout of the city. During the brief layover in Osaka, a reservation could quickly be made before scrambling over to the Asiana flight bound for Korea.

As far as interface goes, since no pictures are involved (that would take up too much space) the Wikitravel guides are a fairly bulky, word-heavy read, with spartan menus linking directly to each destination and very little search functionality. But on the flip side of the coin, it’s free, it gets rid of the nasty need to rely on international data plans and it’s a public project with good intent.

Consider this the food co-op of travel guides – by the people, for the people and with no frills to distract you.

[flickr image via Mr. T in DC]