How To Enjoy A Small Town Stopover

small town Many times when you’re traveling long-term, and sometimes even during shorter trips, you’ll find yourself having to stay a night or two in a small town with not much to do. Instead of sitting around complaining about how you have to waste a travel day, use these tips to make the most of your small town stopover.

Keep An Open Mind

If you arrive in the town thinking, “wow, this is going to be boring,” then it will be. Instead, keep an open mind and seek out interesting experiences. Wander around, peruse shops and sights and keep an eye open for anything that might be worth taking notice of. Something as simple as stepping into a woodworking shop and chatting with the craftsman can help you to discover something special about the town. Additionally, sometimes small towns have passionate philosophies that can be interesting to explore, as well. For example, when I spent a day walking around Brattleboro, Vermont, it was palpable how much the tiny town focused on “going local.” Every shop sold locally produced products, and the businesses all worked together to help each other out.Talk To Locals

While I highly recommend doing this in every city you visit, talking to locals in the small towns you stop in is helpful for various reasons. First of all, you can learn about worthwhile activities in the area, and find out about offbeat favorites like where to get the best coffee, who the wackiest local is and where to go to for a great view. When I was in Ouray, Colorado, I became friendly with a local who told me where I could find the town’s most notable dessert, The Scrap Cookie. He also told me that, although it wasn’t on the menu, they would create a scrap cookie sandwich with ice cream, as long as you told them a local had tipped you off.

Stop At The Library

So maybe the town library doesn’t scream “exciting!” but you can often find a lot of information, history, exhibits and classes at these places. Stop in, take a peak to see if there a seminar schedule and check out what’s inside. At the very least, you can always find an interesting book to help you pass some time.

masapan Discover A Local Specialty

Most places, including small towns, usually have something they’re known for. It may be something they’re only well known for by community members, however, it’s usually still worthwhile. Find out what it is and try it for yourself. Maybe they’re known for having great seafood, or making a special kind of handicraft. For example, the small town of Calderon in Ecuador is well known for making masapan handicrafts. They are made of bread and then laminated with clear glue to make different figures. Not only are they aesthetically pleasing, they have a cultural meaning, as masapan is used to honor the dead in Calderon.

Ask Your Hotel For Help

Who better to help you find something worthwhile to do in the town than the people from your hotel. It is their job, after all. Even if there isn’t much to do in the area, hotels usually have a few activity options on hand to help direct guests. For instance, when I was in Dingle, Ireland, it seemed like the town was nothing more than a body of water and a small strip of shops. However, after consulting with the hotel, I was able to find an array of day trips that allowed me to explore nearby islands, 4,000-year-old “beehive huts,” scenic hikes and to meet Fungi, the town’s famous dolphin.

Learn About The Town’s History

If you can’t find much that interests you with a town’s present, try digging into its past. This is one of the top ways I spend my time in small towns, as you can almost always find something noteworthy. I’ve learned about haunted sites, public scandals, local celebrities and where to find heritage buildings this way. For example, when in the old mining town of Ouray, Colorado, after a bit of prying I was able to discover some old ghost towns in the area. It was intriguing to hear tales of the people who once lived in these towns and to actually see their homes and hangouts.

patagonia Take A Day Trip

If you’re not happy with where you are but are forced to stay there for the night, think about taking a day trip. Find out about nearby towns, parks, hiking trails, wine regions and adventure outfitters, and spend your time doing the things you actually want to be doing on your trip.

Give Yourself A Mission

When traveling, I often like to give myself small missions to keep focused on learning about the town. If you like food, set out to discover the best places to get a burger, or the eatery serving the most decorative desserts. Maybe it’s history you’re into. Do some research, explore the town’s heritage and visit ancient sites. If you like fashion or art, try to meet some of the local artisans and learn more about what they do.

Plan For Your Next Stop

If you can’t find anything you want to do in the town you’re in, take some time to plan for the rest of your trip. Find an Internet cafe and do research, read blogs, peruse travel guides and look at photos to decide how to best allocate your time for the rest of the trip.

massage Spend This Time Relaxing

This could be a good time to ensure you don’t come down with a case of travel fatigue. Instead of scrambling around to make the most of every minute of your trip, take some time to unwind with a good book and a glass of wine, lie in bed and watch a movie or just swing the day away in a hammock. You may even want to splurge and pamper yourself with a spa treatment or expensive dinner, which will always help you remember your time in the town in a positive way.

[images via Shutterstock, Jessie on a Journey, Jessie on a Journey, Shutterstock]

Winter in Alaska: five amazing, unforgettable things to do in Fairbanks

In the spirit of journeying during periods less traveled, I’ve embarked to Alaska this winter. Follow the adventures here, and prepare to have your preconceived notions destroyed along the way.


A glimpse at what Fairbanks offers during the winter

We’ve already discussed a number of amazing activities to do whilst in Anchorage during the winter, but what about Alaska’s second largest city? Fairbanks is about as northerly as it gets for a city in the United States, and those that brave the frigid winters here are most certainly a unique breed. But after taking my thin-skinned, Born In The South attitude up for a little Northern Exposure, I realized that the stereotypes are pretty misguided. For one, the days in Fairbanks during late February and early March are ideal in terms of light; the sun’s peeking out from around 8am to 6pm, just like everywhere else in the Lower 48. Those “it’s dark all day!” stories just don’t apply for the majority of the winter.

Oh, and -33 degrees Fahrenheit? It’s cold, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not deadly. The dry air up in these parts makes 33 below feel a lot less gripping than even five below on the East Coast. I wore basic ski gear most days, and while I definitely looked like a wuss-of-a-tourist, I was sufficiently warm. Granted, a heated Columbia Omni-Heat jacket and a stash of hand warmers don’t hurt, but I could’ve survived even without ’em. Fairbanks is a lovely place to visit in the winter, and frankly, it’s a place (and a season) that shouldn’t be missed by adventurers. Read on for a handful of suggestions to keep you entertained while visiting.1) Chena Hot Springs + “The” Ice Museum

fairbanks

It’s hard to believe that this “semi-remote” resort is still technically in Fairbanks. It’s a solid 60 miles from the city center, and you’ll only find it when you run into a dead end at the terminus of Chena Hot Springs Rd. Guests can choose from cabins or traditional hotel rooms, and while the latter isn’t lavish, having a television, hot shower, modern day plumbing and housekeeping is a package of luxuries not usually associated with a place that has hardly any contact with the real world. The star of this show are the hot springs; sprinting out to 146 degree waters in just a swimsuit sounds crazy. But mix in total darkness and a wind chill down to -40, and you’ve got one unmistakably awesome time. If you stay here, visits to the springs are gratis — if not, a $10 day pass is available. Stopping by with snow stacked up around the waters adds a lot of extra flair, and naturally, the Northern Lights make themselves visible on occasion here being that the nearest city lights are miles (and miles) away.

Oh, and if you’re seriously into art scultping, you should definitely plan a trip to see the Ice Art World Championships.

%Gallery-118380%
2) See the Northern Lights, more than once if possible

fairbanks

Speaking of the Aurora Borealis, Fairbanks is a great jumping-off point to see ’em. They’re a bit like rainbows and unicorns — it’s possible to see one or the other, but it ain’t everyday that they just pop their head out, yell, and wait for you to pay attention. I tried for three straight nights to see the Northern Lights, and it finally came down to parking my car on a hill in Fox, Alaska (north of Fairbanks) and waiting from 1:00am to 1:40am while fighting back the urge to sink into a deep sleep. At 1:40am, the lights came out to dance for a solid hour, and I spent those 60 minutes firing off long exposure shots on a tripod while freezing and trying to stand still as to not shake the DSLR. It was hands-down one of the most moving experiences of my life, and I’d do it again tomorrow with nary a shred of clothing on me if that’s what it came to. Keyword: persistence. Show up with at least three to five nights dedicated to Aurora hunting, and don’t give up too early!

%Gallery-118384%
P.S. – Catch our guide to shooting the Northern Lights here.

3) Visit Coldfoot or some other remote Alaskan outpost

fairbanks

Okay, so there’s a qualification here. The weather in Alaska, particularly during the winter, is about as unpredictable as it gets. Visiting one of the more remote villages in Alaska is a real treat, with Coldfoot, Wiseman, Bettles, Bethel and a host of others just a quick flight away. But if you’re looking to make a side trip out of Fairbanks, I’d recommend planning the excursion for early in your vacation, just in case winter weather forces you to cancel and reschedule. Also, you don’t want to get stuck in a place where you can’t access FAI. The more northerly cities are ideal for Northern Light viewing, and the Northern Alaska Tour Company offers quite a few jaunts to these more remote locations. Failing that, there’s a flightseeing adventure over to Denali, but be warned — thick clouds are generally blocking the peak during winter months.

%Gallery-118382%
4) Fountainhead Auto Museum + Visitors Center

fairbanks

30,000 square feet of classic and collector cars… in Fairbanks? It’s true! The Fountainhead Auto Museum is a real treasure here, being open just a couple of years and packed to the gills with automobiles that are steeped in history. The owners here care deeply about their collection, with over 70 in the stable and around 60 on the floor at any given time. During the winter, it’s open only on Sundays to the public, but tours can easily be arranged. You’ll even find an entire section of cars devoted to Alaska, including what’s believed to be the state’s first-ever automobile. All but three of their cars still runs, and each summer, the owners take ’em for a spin to keep everything lubricated and exercised. During my visit, I was floored with how much history has been maintained with each vehicle, and the condition of the collection is simply outstanding. If you’re a vehicle or history buff, this place is most certainly worth a stop. With just $8 required for entry, it feels a bit like a steal.

%Gallery-118381%
5) Paws for Adventure




I’ve already given you a look at what to expect should you choose to participate in your own dog sled adventure in Fairbanks, but I just can’t help but reiterate how amazing this adventure is. It just feels Alaskan, and considering that both the Yukon Quest and Iditarod go down in the winter months, there’s no better time to start training. Those who can’t get enough during a $90 one-hour tour can sign up for a multiple-day mushing school, after which you may as well go ahead and start shopping for a home in the area. Seriously — fair warning that mushing is addictive. Ride at your own risk.

%Gallery-118374%
These are just a few of the many things to do in Fairbanks during the chilly winter months — if you have any recommendations of your own, feel free to share down in comments below!

My trip was sponsored by Alaska Travel Industry Association, but I was free to report as I saw fit. The opinions expressed in this article are 100% my own.

Five things to do in (and around) Dublin, even in the rainy winter

things to do in dublin

Ah, Dublin. Home to Guinness, a Leprechaun museum, an absurdly tall spire and the famous / infamous Temple Bar quarter. It’s also home to around 300 days of cloudy or rainy weather, which begs the question: why are you fixing to fork out hundreds, possibly thousands more just to visit in the summer? There’s no question that the weather in Europe is far more palatable in the spring and summer months, but it’s also shockingly expensive. A flight to anywhere within the EU jumps up by orders of magnitude as soon as you select June, July or August as your departure date and in the case of Ireland, there’s really no need to hand over extra to an airline when you could be spending those dollars Euros on attractions, pub food and better hotels. I’ve always been a fan of visiting places in the off-season, and Dublin’s no different. Read on to learn of five slightly off-the-wall things to do in (and around) the Irish capital.

%Gallery-117267%Visiting U2’s former recording digs: Windmill Lane Studios

things to do in dublin

A good part of the entire world knows that U2 hails from Ireland, but if you’re a hardcore fan, you owe it to yourself to see where things began. The (now-defunct) Windmill Lane Studios is where the group recorded Joshua Tree, War and Boy, and while the studio itself has now relocated to a different section of Dublin, the prior building still stands as part of the Rock ‘N Stroll history trail. It’s covered in graffiti, and you’ll know you’re near the entrance when you start seeing loads of U2 shout-outs from tourists around the globe. Feel free to pack a Sharpie and leave your token of appreciation (and hometown) behind. Directions to the studio are here — this is one time where you’ll need to read up rather than trusting Google Maps.

A dainty stroll through Powerscourt Gardens and The River Walk

things to do in dublin

What’s a trip to Dublin without a trip out of Dublin? The Powerscourt Estate sits just 45 minutes south, within County Wicklow, and it’s a slice of age-old paradise. The House & Gardens are well worth exploring — it’s some of the most beautiful grounds these eyes have ever seen — and since it’ll tough to return after just a day, I’d recommend an overnight stay at The Ritz-Carlton, Powerscourt. You’ll get free cycles to rent, a free pass to the absolutely stunning River Walk and pampering that you’ve always dreamed of. The only problem? It’ll make your city center digs seem downright plain. Read more on our visit here.

%Gallery-117266%

Pub hop on O’Connell Street and the Temple Bar area

things to do in dublin

If you’re coming to Dublin for the first time, there are two names you really need to know within the city center: O’Connell and Temple. The former is dotted with a massive spire and includes a number of famed pubs and shops, while the Temple Bar area is just across the bridge (look for the giant Heiniken sign, and turn right). There, you’ll find budget accommodations (hostels galore), and more pubs than any lightweight could ever visit in a night. The Auld Dubliner is a personal favorite for grub and drinks, and the live musicians that show up there are tremendously talented. Oh, and make sure you order Guinness. Anything else just wouldn’t be Irish enough.

Venture west to the Cliffs of Moher, The Burren and Bunratty Castle

things to do in dublin

The east coast is gorgeous, but the west? Doubly so. Paddywagon Tours offers a 12 hour day trip to the west of Ireland, hitting County Galway (and the Bay), Corcomroe Abbey (a gorgeous church left in ruins), Poulnabrone Dolmen Portal Tomb (a standing monument from 4,000+ years ago), The Burren (a totally unique and mind-blowing rocky landscape), Doolin (Ireland’s unofficially official Irish music capital), the breathtaking Cliffs of Moher and finally, Bunratty Castle. At around $70 per person (admission to the Cliffs inclued), you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better value when it comes to gawking at the highlights on the opposite side of the Republic. Try to peek the forecast ahead of time and lock down a day with a lesser chance of rain, but even if it pours, take a raincoat and soak it all in — Ireland wouldn’t be as green as it is without nature’s tears, you know!

%Gallery-117268%

Leave the country… by car

things to do in dublin

If you’re brave enough to take the wheel while situated on the passenger’s side of the car (not to mention remembering to keep your motorcar on the left of the road), you can head straight to Northern Ireland via road. And you’ll be there in under two hours. Belfast and the surrounding areas offer some pretty extreme outdoor activities, and while it may be a bit chilly and rainy in the off-season, you’ll be fighting fewer crowds all the while. If you aren’t so adventurous, the lovely lads at Paddywagon offer another day trip to Belfast, and we can personally attest to their adeptness at handling reverse traffic.

[Images provided by Dana Jo Photography]

All of these activities were enjoyed during the height of the off-season in Ireland, and I’d obviously recommend ’em to anyone. Pack a few warm layers and a solid raincoat, and head out with a mind to enjoy yourself no matter what. If you have any other off-season Dublin must-dos, toss ’em into the comments section below!

5 things to do in Barcelona, Spain: from Sagrada Familia to Barceloneta Beach

Barcelona

It may not be the capital of Spain, but Barcelona is most certainly the capital of Catalonia, and it’s one of the more bustling, thriving and varied cities that Europe has to offer. You might say it’s equipped with the perfect mix of old and new, and given its proximity to the Mediterranean Sea, it also boasts something that most other major cities do not: a beach! Of course, figuring out things to do in this town isn’t quite as easy as deciding to come here, so we’re here to help. Read on for five incredible things to see and do while in Barcy, be it for business or pleasure.
%Gallery-117263%A visit to Sagrada Familia, Barcelona’s most famous church

Barcelona

Köln has The Dom, Paris has the Notre Dame Cathedral, and Barcelona has Sagrada Familia. Architected by the famed Antoni Gaudí, this massive Catholic place of worship doubles as a massive place of crowd gathering. It’s one of the more popular tourist stops in the city, and it’s well-positioned for finding other things to do within walking distance. Ground was broke on this church in 1882, and it’s still not done. Estimates say that it’ll be completed within the next two decades, but locals seem to have their doubts. Despite the cranes and construction, it’s still a sight to behold. You don’t have to go inside to appreciate it, but €12.50 (and a lot of waiting in line) will give you a lot more to savor.

A leisurely stroll through Parc Güell, another Gaudí masterpiece

Barcelona

Sense a trend? Barcelona’s face has been painted by Gaudí, and his impressions are all over this beautiful (and vast) park. There are a number of entryways, and none of them charge admission. The “Zona Monument” is the primary entrance, and you’ll know you’re there if you spot two tall, white-tiled towers surrounded by mobs of people and even more colored tiles. There’s a “lucky lizard” in the center of the monument that you’re supposed to kiss, but beware of the “live lizard” standing at the gate. He’ll happily pose for a photograph, but only after you cough up a bit of change. So much for free admission! (P.S. – Skip the photograph — the interior of the park is more deserving of your attention).

Dipping and dodging down La Rambla

Barcelona

Common sense (and we here at Gadling) will tell you to avoid La Rambla at night. We’ve had first-hand experience with a pal being mugged there. But despite its well-earned stereotype, it’s an interesting place to scope out during the day. Loads of street vendors are out in force with great deals, and there are mimes galore freezing for your cash. Just keep a close eye on your pockets, and enjoy the zaniness that can only be found on this street.

Museum merry-go-round

Barcelona

One of Barcelona’s strong points is its wealth of museums. It’s really hard to go wrong, but we’d recommend you either love design or have an open mind about learning more on the subject. La Pedrera (by Antoni Gaudí), Museu Futbol Club Barcelona (for soccer fans), Museum d’ Història de Catalunya (self-explanatory), Maritime Museum, the Catalan Museum of Archaeology and the Museo Picasso de Barcelona are all worth a visit if you’re into those types of things, but they’re obviously more attractive in the winter when you can’t just pop on your swim suit and head to our final recommendation.

Playa Barceloneta: a beach, in the city!

Barcelona

It’s true! Barcelona, unlike many metropolises, has a beach. And not a “nearby beach,” but a beach that’s firmly within the city and is just a quick walk from the center of town (or easily accessible via metro / taxi). Playa Barceloneta is hailed as one of the world’s best urban beaches, and we aren’t arguing. There’s a massive strip of sand to enjoy (for a city, mind you), and the Mediterranean Sea is lovely to jump in during the summer. If you arrive in the off-season, the sand still slips between your toes just as easily, but you’ll need a serious wetsuit (or skin made from steel) to handle the chilly waters.

Have any Barcelona tips of your own? Share them in the comments section below!

GadlingTV’s Travel Talk – Thailand Part 5: Morning Shopping

Gadling TV’s Travel Talk, episode 35 – Click above to watch video after the jump

Travel Talk is back! After our fall hiatus we are excited to bring you our greatest adventure yet: Thailand.

From the vibrant heart of Bangkok to the remote countryside, we traveled by foot, car, boat, motorbike, ox cart and elephant to savor the the splendor of ancient temples, the energy of the muay thai ring, the serenity of rural life, and every single spicy bite of Thai cuisine. We’ll be bringing it all to you in the coming weeks as part of our special 12-part feature: Travel Talk Thailand.

In part five of our adventure, we finally make our escape from Bangkok and head out into the country, stopping on the way to do a little morning shopping- Thai style. Join us as we explore exotic markets, meet Thailand’s most reckless boat driver and see goods delivered to (or should we say “through”?) market in a whole new way.

If you have any questions or comments about Travel Talk, you can email us at talk AT gadling DOT com.


Subscribe via iTunes:
[iTunes] Subscribe to the Show directly in iTunes (M4V).
[RSS M4V] Add the Travel Talk feed (M4V) to your RSS aggregator and have it delivered automatically.

Hosts: Stephen Greenwood & Aaron Murphy-Crews
Produced, Edited, and Directed by: Stephen Greenwood & Aaron Murphy-Crews
Special thanks: Tourism Authority of Thailand, Trikaya Tours

Travel Talk took Thailand by storm on invitation from the Tourism Authority of Thailand. No editorial content was guaranteed and Aaron & Stephen were free to openly share all adventures that they embarked upon.