Bad Trip: How To Annoy Your Tour Guide

donkeyWe’ve all been there. Maybe we’ve been one. The person on a guided tour or trip who’s a complete, utter, pain in the ass.

Perhaps it’s unintentional. Maybe it’s due to deep-seated issues that would cause empathy in another situation. Or just possibly, it’s because the person in question gets off on being a jerk. Does it matter? Whether they provide unwitting entertainment or seething aggravation, that person manages to disrupt others’ enjoyment of the experience. The person who really suffers, however, is the guide.

I’ve had good guides, bad guides, guides who should be nominated for sainthood, but regardless of their skill, they have a difficult job. It’s not easy to wrangle any combination of clueless, headstrong, enthusiastic and grumpy tourists, and get them to points A, B and C on schedule – ideally with an unfailingly polite attitude and unwavering smile on your face. It’s a gift, being a guide possessed of technical, personal and mental skills.

Even those who love to travel solo occasionally require the services of a guide. Thirteen years as a travel journalist has given me a lot of material (in part because my favorite thing to ask guides for are bad client stories).

As a holiday gift, I’m providing a list on how to annoy your guide. Follow it, and I promise you’ll always be remembered – just not fondly.

Wear inappropriate clothing/shoes
I had an absolutely priceless two days in the Atacama Desert last year with two middle-aged Chilean couples. Read: they were such drunken louts, it was painful for the rest of us to keep our mouths shut. My favorite experience with them was on a late-afternoon hike of the stunning Kari Gorge.

The key word here is “hike.” To which one of them, a spoiled Santiaguino physician’s wife, wore staggeringly high boots with a narrow wedge heel. She was also completely shit-faced, so when she wasn’t face-planting on the rocky floor of the gorge, she was screaming at her worthless husband to help her climb up the craggier parts of the trail. The rest of our small group finally broke down and pitied her as we summited a steep, mile-long sand dune. She was openly weeping at that point, clutching her chest in panic (a chain-smoker, she thought she was having a heart attack; ironically, her cardiologist husband was the least concerned of all of us).

Because we had to spend so much time waiting for her, we nearly missed the highlight of the excursion, which was watching the sunset from atop a cliff. By not bothering to check what kind of outing she was taking, she kept the rest of us at her mercy, tested our guide’s patience, and subjected us to her marital issues. Um, awkward.whiningOverstate your abilities
Along the same lines, this woman wasn’t fit enough to master a climb up a flight of stairs. It’s not just inconsiderate to fail to accurately access your physical abilities; it can be deadly. At best, it will ensure you and your guide (who will have no choice but to coddle and devote extra time to you) have a miserable time; at worst, you may well end up having that coronary in a sand dune. Don’t be that person.

Bring your bad attitude with you
True story from a sea-kayaking/orca-watching trip I took last summer. We were on the northern tip of San Juan Island, just miles off of Vancouver Island (i.e. Canada). Our guide pointed out this interesting fact to us, which elicited the following response from the one unfriendly person in our group. She was a taciturn woman in her 30s, a self-professed “bird-lady” who owned 12 parrots.

Annoying Client: I made a promise to myself to never leave this country for any reason, whatsoever.

Hapless Guide: That’s an interesting promise. Why?

AC: Because I believe in America. I don’t ever want to support another country’s economy. Why should I? I even go out of my way to buy products made here.

HG: Aah….hmmmm. Okaaay.

I’m not sure what I love most about this incident: that this woman knowingly took a trip to the Canadian border, or that she supports exotic bird smuggling from foreign countries.

Be late/unprepared
A great way to piss off your guide, and everyone else in your group. Also helpful in ensuring you won’t get your money’s worth from your trip or tour, since the schedule will be compromised. This one’s a winner!

Because nothing is better for group morale than someone who complains about everything.

Engage in excessive PDA with your significant other
It may start off as amusing for your guide and fellow travelers. Trust me, by trip’s end, they’ll be ready to kill you. Get a room.
Don’t pitch in
Hey, Princess. I know you paid a chunk of change for this (fill in the blank: raft trip/backpacking trip/guest ranch stay). So did everyone else. But your guide and support staff are working their fingers to the bone for very little pay because they love what they do. You know what else they love? Guests or clients who make even the smallest effort to help them out. Ask where you should stash your gear, collect firewood, help chop vegetables or cook dinner (right). Not only will you gain their respect and gratitude, you may even enjoy yourself.

Be high-maintenance
It’s not all about you. You have a pretty good idea of what you’re getting into when you sign up.

Forget to mention your “dietary restrictions”/preferences
Travel companies are savvy enough these days to always include a section for this on their registration forms; I’m not talking about legitimate food allergies or intolerances. But please be honest, not ridiculous, and if you don’t like what’s being served, be polite about it – especially if you’re in a foreign country.

Refuse to interact with your group
I can be a bit of an introvert, so I get how hard it can be to socialize with a group when you’re just not feeling it. But guides tend to stress about the lone client, and feel pressure to ensure they’re having a good time. If you really don’t feel like socializing, assure your guide that you’re just shy, but having a great time. Otherwise, I really recommend faking it till you make it. Once I come out of my shell, I’m usually grateful, because I end up meeting fantastic people who make my experience that much more interesting.

[Photo credits: donkey, Flickr user jaxxon; sign, Flickr user frotzed2; cooking, Laurel Miller]

How To Turn Your Daypack Into A Traveling Office

No one is ever going to accuse me of being a tech junkie. But as a journalist, I’ve had to temper my Luddite proclivities so that I can earn a living while on the road.

Compounding the issue is my essential frugality and innate dirtbag tendencies. I only travel with a backpack, using a daypack in lieu of a purse. For low-maintenance or business/pleasure-combo travelers such as myself (although I recognize that not everyone has the luxury of ditching business attire and trappings; I’ve been known to stuff a nice computer bag and dress-to-impress items into my backpack), a daypack easily transforms into a portable office.

Because I also keep my passport, money, credit cards, camera, cellphone, adaptor, and other essential documents and items on my person at all times, it also means my netbook is never left behind. This serves the dual function of ensuring I have access to a computer should I need to edit a story or file a deadline, as well as alleviates theft concerns due to entrusting my valuables to my room or hotel safe. If you’re a budget traveler, I firmly believe it’s better to risk carrying anything of value on your person than entrusting them to the vagaries of youth hostels, dodgy guesthouses, or cheap hotels.

The key to creating a user-friendly portable office lies in choosing the right daypack. I’ve written before about my preference for using hydration packs, because if you remove the bladder, it creates a space to safely store documents. I’m 5’2′, so I also require a woman’s pack, and because most of my trips include some form of outdoor activity, I like having a hip belt (the zip pockets of which double as holders for my mouse and cellphone cord), and multiple exterior and interior pockets.

I highly recommend the hydration daypacks made by Osprey and Gregory. They’re incredibly durable, and have useful bells and whistles. I’m not a fan of CamelBak, as I’ve found they don’t hold up well. The brand and style are up to you, but do check to see if the pack you’re contemplating comes with a raincover. If not, it’s a wise investment, and will spare you the anguish of waterlogged gear and devices.

[Photo credit: Flickr user incase]

Top 8 attractions in Vail, Colorado for 2011/2012

Measured at approximately 5,289 acres, the Vail Ski Resort is the largest single mountain ski resort in the United States and the second largest resort in all of North America (next to Whistler Blackcomb). With a rich history and lively village surrounding the base of the resort, it’s a destination that has plenty to offer both avid skiers & relaxation seekers.

As the 2010/2011 ski season officially comes to a close, there are still plenty of reasons to visit the quaint mountain town for its variety of summer activities. If you’ve been eyeing the wide open expanses of Colorado’s Rockies, then don’t miss my top 8 picks of the best that Vail has to offer:

1. Betty Ford Alpine Gardens
Vail received its first major recognition as an international ski resort in the mid 1970’s when President Gerald Ford carried out a large part of the nation’s business from his family’s home in the town. The Fords left a visible legacy throughout the valley and in 1988, the Vail Alpine Garden Foundation honored former First Lady Betty Ford by naming the world’s highest botanical garden (8,200 ft.) in her honor.

The gardens feature about 2,000 varieties of plants including 500 varieties of wildflowers and high elevation flora. Located just a few miles west of the main town, the gardens are open to the public (free) from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and are certainly worth a visit for those looking for a peaceful afternoon outdoors.

2. Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum
Just outside the center of Vail’s main village, you’ll find the Colorado Ski Museum; a fascinating collection of memorabilia that illustrates the timeline of Vail’s establishment as well as the evolution of snow sports in the state of Colorado. The museum gives especially valuable insight into the Army’s Tenth Mountain Division, which trained during the 1940’s in the mountains southeast of Vail and would later influence Vail’s development as a ski resort.

If the progression of Olympic ski outfits interests you, or you’re curious to find out why Colorado rejected to host the 1976 Winter Olympics, then pay a visit to the Colorado Ski & Snowboard museum. Best of all, it’s completely free!

3. Cinébistro / bōl
Dubbed as “The new center of Vail”, the Solaris complex is a brand new residence & entertainment development that took the place of the long-standing Crossroads Shopping Center. Two of the entertainment highlights at Solaris are Cinébistro, a multi-screen premium movie theater that serves food & beverages to a 21-and-up audience and the neighboring bōl, an ultra-chic futuristic bowling alley that features 10 lanes under a row of giant LED screens and Euro-club mood lighting. Both offer a great selection of food, drinks and comfortable spots to lounge with all those hip new friends you’ve made.

Both venues are pricey, but if you’re looking to splurge on a night of fun while in Vail, then these are the places to do it.

4. Block 16 @ The Sebastian
If you’ve been to Vail in the past few years, then you’ll notice that the former Vail Plaza Hotel & Club has a new name – the Sebastian Hotel. After being taken over by a family-owned investment group out of Mexico City, the Vail Plaza was given a minor makeover and name change. With this makeover came the addition of a few new restaurants; including a refined “visionary” new restaurant called Block 16.

Between an extensive wine selection, an exciting menu full of variety and an excellent staff, there’s plenty to love about Block 16. The prices are slightly higher than the majority of the restaurants in Vail, but one bite of the wagyu beef or duck confit with orange will make all of those thoughts disappear.


5. Club 8150 / Samana Lounge
If you still have energy after the day’s activities and are searching for a good nightlife scene, check out the subterranean Samana Lounge or the impressive Club 8150. Both have a reputation for offering an impressive lineup of DJ’s and touring artists during the winter season, and you can be sure to find a lively, young crowd that loves to dance on most weekend nights.

6. Game Creek Club
For those of you getting married, looking to host a memorable company dinner, or really want to go all-out for a private dining experience, look no further than the Game Creek Club. Accessible only by a Gondola ride that links up with a private snowcat, the Game Creek Club is an expansive lodge tucked away on the backside of Vail’s Eagle’s Nest Ridge. In addition to a beautiful sprawling balcony perfectly situated for watching the sun set over a glass of Pinot, the Game Creek Club offers lavish 4 course meals and a comfortable setting that’s nice, but not overly stuffy. Prices are fitting for such an exclusive outing but it’s by far one of the best and most unique experience Vail has to offer, and won’t be forgotten in a hurry. Reservations can be made over the phone at (970) 754-4275.

7. Ice Skating @ Vail Square / Lionshead Village
Lining the bottom of the mountain just West of the main village lies the posh & picturesque Lionshead Village. At Lionshead, you’ll find a selection of art galleries, restaurants and coffee bars located around a beautiful skating rink. During the winter months, this is a great place to bring the family and cozy up next to a fire pit while the kids have a go at testing their skating abilities.

8. Blue Sky Chairlift
During the ski season, many locals will tell you that the best section of Vail’s 5,000+ acres is the secluded and less crowded backcountry of Blue Sky Basin. At the 11,480 foot summit, you’ll find Belle’s Camp; a warming hut and picnic area with a view of the surrounding Rockies that cannot be beat. Blue Sky has all types of terrain to choose from and just getting there is an adventure in itself. The only downside is that the lifts on this side of the mountain close earlier, so plan accordingly.

Of course, this list is just the tip of the icicle when it comes to Vail’s attractions. There are enough hot tubs, art galleries, and quaint restaurants to keep most visitors busy for a jam-packed 4-5 days all year round.

If you’re a fan of Vail and have some additional inside information that is missing from this list, give us the scoop & leave a comment below!

Stephen traveled to the Vail Film Festival on a trip sponsored by Olympus. No editorial content was guaranteed and he was free to openly experiment with Olympus’s cameras while snowboarding, bathing in picturesque hot tubs, and rubbing elbows with A-list celebrities.

Time Magazine’s top travel related websites 2008

Lists are great. Especially website lists that have been selected by a reliable body after combing through the abundant clutter on the world wide web.

Undoubtedly, Time Magazine’s list of 50 top websites is one such great list and here are their travel-related website selections for 2008: (no particular order)

  • Wikitravel & Wikisky: After much contradiction on the value of Wikitravel, it’s interesting to see it on here. Wikisky is new for me; it allows you to Wiki the Universe’s sky!
  • Tripkick: Launched in May 2008, Trip Kick reviews hotel floors and rooms of 250 hotels in 12 US cities, to help you avoid getting a crappy room in a good hotel.
  • Gasbuddy: Particularly useful if you are taking a road-trip in the US or Canada, GasBuddy helps you find the cheapest gas prices in your city.
  • Serious Eats: Is a food blog based on sharing your food enthusiasm with others.
  • MapJack: According to Time, it is an alternative to Google Street View and Live Search Map, with brighter/sharper photos and better navigation tools.
  • Carbon Rally: Specially for those who want to be green, Carbon Rally posts challenges (example: line-drying your laundry for a month) to motivate you to reduce your carbon footprint. (Hmmm…why is this site blocked in Dubai!?)
  • Free Rice: Where you get to learn a word and feed the hungry in exchange, reviewed before on Gadling here.

You can check out the full list of Time Magazine’s top websites for 2008 here.

World’s 25 dirtiest cities

When I read this headline, I was 100% sure that if Calcutta wasn’t number one on this list, it would definitely make the top 5. It doesn’t feature on the list at all!

The list has been compiled by Forbes basis Mercer Human Resource Consulting’s 2007 Health and Sanitation rankings that ranked 215 cities worldwide based on levels of air pollution, waste management, water potability, hospital services, medical supplies and the presence of infectious diseases.

Here’s the top 10 World’s Dirtiest Cities:

Black fumes of smoke, acid rain, and free flowing sewage are part of life in these countries. Pretty depressing huh.

On a positive note: according to Water Aid for every $1 spent on improved sanitation, the benefit equals $9 resulting from decreased cost of health care and increased productivity — yes, the 90/10 rule. It looks like a little bit of work and expenditure can make A LOT of difference.