travel

Finally...#Locallife

The travel industry is expansive and in this modern world more and more tourists are becoming "explorers". They are hungry to dive into the culture of a place: to eat what locals eat, to barter at a market, or drink a classic cocktail. 

Unfortunately, not everything is created equal in this scheme. The cycle of economics in tourism drives many decisions in a destination: the city derives income from the increase of tourism dollars, those dollars are spent on more marketing for the destination and also for infrastructure to support future endeavors, local people and jobs are created to support tourism, and then what is earned by individuals is kept in the destination as economic stimulus. This is also a very simplistic way of describing the immense industry that touches almost everything.

What new behaviors are exhibiting (using Airbnb over hotels, Uber and taxis to reach places further away from a traditional downtown, etc.) is the visitors' excitement to experience a place "like a local". What is a local's life like? Well, typically nothing glamorous. Even in a city of extremely good living like New Orleans the everyday is mundane. Locals need groceries, run errands, go to work, but they also go out to eat, go to festivals, and give the destination its uniqueness. 

There, in those words -- "locals make the destination unique" -- is the answer. Instead of continuously writing list of top restaurants or art fairs you should go to why not ask the actual people who will be around you (whether working or joining into the festivities) about what they do?

Give a destination a face. Give locals their voice to protect and rejoice about their city.

Find out about a destination's #LocalLife.

Key West to Nola: Vice Versa

Tan line supreme/SUP tour into the mangroves. Key West, 2016.

Tan line supreme/SUP tour into the mangroves. Key West, 2016.

I arrived on the tarmac of EYW (the Key West airport code) in the only fashion acceptable for this tiny island: on a private jet. The last time (and my first time) that I visited this seven square-mile island was on a naive drive down Highway 1. It’s a pilgrimage that all locals admit you must take at least one time, but once your badge is awarded, there is little eagerness to return. The 90-mile stretch from the mainland to Key West still takes about three hours due to the existence of only two lanes, amazing rubbernecking scenery and the local behavior of never rushing anywhere.

The tiny rock known affectionately—and aggravatingly—as the “Southernmost Point in the Continental USA” or “Conch Republic” is physically closer to Cuba than to the mainland United State. This is much the same way that New Orleans (“The Northernmost Caribbean City”) is far removed from the rest of America, but culturally rather than geographically.

The last remainder of the Key's fishing industry. On to tourism. Stock Island, 2016.

 

Palm trees...beautiful architecture...sauntering and sashaying pedestrians. Sounds like Key West. Also New Orleans. Maybe a few places in between.

An unceasing connection in port cities known for their transient demographics and tropical weather may be the modern tourism wave that created “adult playgrounds”. Although the local population is littered with New Englanders and Midwesterners, these “freshwater conchs”, as they are called, help build up the mystique and culture that “Key Weird” is centered on. Due to heavy tourism budgets in both locations, the bloodlines of locals and visitors are clearly visible. The coexistence of populations happens over simple joys: good food, live music and an easily obtainable bar. Sound familiar?

True, New Orleans has more diversity, and there is no other American city that compares to the culture in our tiny swamp bowl. And yet Key West has what I’ve been missing most sweltering NOLA days: that pristine crystal clear water. On the island, I can zoom past the old men in tiny Speedos, the young groups of snowbird collegiates looking for their next drink, and the trolleys cruising past every picturesque tourist spot…and be a part of the island. Getting lost in the tiny enclaves of residential zones, with palm trees covering everything from dilapidated porches and screen doors to newly renovated masterpieces, is what my soul needs. Key West delivered, again and again.

 

“Well, hiring loyal and reliable hospitality staff may be your biggest concern. Lots of times you call ‘em to come in and they don’t pick up their phone ‘til the next day,” a local once told me at a farmers’ market.

“Why’s that?”

“Everyone’s ‘on a boat’.”

 

Similarly, in New Orleans, it’s not an uncommon practice to have no-call, no-shows during Mardi Gras, Halloween or holiday time. Lots of phones seem to be “indisposed” at very inopportune times in our two cities.

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The one general connection among cities in the South is: once it hits May, you should opt for other means of transportation than just walking in the heat.

Adventures are typically second nature to me and it comes as a surprise to myself and to others that I have never ridden a scooter. Maybe it’s my blatant hatred of roads and traffic in New Orleans, or the sporadic rain showers that could ruin my day. Regardless, Key West will be memorialized as the place where I lost my two-wheeled virginity. Maybe that’s the perfect place for it.

 

The similarities may best be summed up by my conversation with the scooter rental employee. This same guy complaining about having to “stand out in the heat” is also half a block away from teal and turquoise water beckoning everyone who lays their eyes on it.

“One thing to remember when you’re driving around is that pedestrians and people on bikes are what we like to call ‘land sharks’. They will walk out into the middle of the road, blow through lights and stop signs, and generally not see you. As soon as they stop moving, they’re dead. That’s a land shark.”

“Well, unfortunately, we deal with the same in New Orleans: visitors always looking the wrong way down a one-way street so they can look at the architecture. Bikers going down the wrong way on streets…”

“Oh, and also, you should drive in the middle of the road.”

“Why?”

“People love to open their doors without looking to see what’s coming. You could get hit quite easily.”

“Yeah, we’ve got that goin’ on too.”

 

Originally written for Where Y'at.

How to Be a Better Adventurer: The Beginning

I've learned to always be ready with a go-cup and an air mattress since living in New Orleans. People are part of the scenery in destinations. As if we are entertainers ready to make a trip a success or failure, our concierge skills are on point.

Calories, money, and people are constantly in an ebb/flow orbit around our lives. They are something to be appreciated while in our area and remembered in the background for they may arrive again, perhaps even on a rainy Thursday morning.

If you live in a highly visited area then you will know exactly what I am talking about when it comes to having visitors. They may/may not stay with you and you may/may not have a warning before they arrive. They arrive in the city and demand the attention their trip deserves. So, if you are the visitor, here are a few rules to make it easier on your host. Many times visitors are caught up in a reality pause. They are out and about, looking for adventure, and undoubtedly concerned with their trips on social media.

Follow a few guidelines.

 

1)   Pay Your Way

This is one of the hardest ideas for visitors to grasp but to me it is the most important one.  For visiting friends, family, and acquaintances going to a new place and seeing people you know is a God send. You have a local to tell you their favorite jaunts so you don’t get stuck in terrible, unfriendly venues and you also have a sounding board for ideas on activities and modes of transportation.

For locals, it is an interruption in their schedule. Not to say that they do not appreciate the time to see you, but they are probably pausing their own routine—dieting, budgeting, exercise, work, free time—to go out and about and spend time with people they care about.

One of the nicest and underutilized ways of showing a visitor’s gratitude to their “host” is by paying the way. Not all outings have to be paid for and you don’t have to be the biggest ego at the table and grab the entire bill to a 7-course pairing. Any small and unimportant purchase—beer, coffee, lunch, movie tickets—are well worth their weight in gold. They will put you over the top. And you may be paying forward for next time when the roles are reversed.

 

2)   Try to Get Your Bearings

Cities can be downright complicated. D.C. and their one-way streets, New Orleans and the chaotic “crescent” design of the city and streets, or Paris….which I may never understand. Not everyone is directionally gifted and to some maps don’t come to mind that easily. Whomever you may be try to get your bearings.

Maps collected from France, Spain, Morocco trip. 2015.

Know before you go. Learn some of the largest landmarks that you can pinpoint yourself around. This will become inevitable in a new city and very beneficial to recalibrate your directions. Being able to find the street names you are around; the basic, large landmarks (not “the post office on Magazine”); and how far you are comfortable walking are all musts.

Plus, thanks to maps on all smartphones now it is even quicker to decide how, where, and when you will get to everywhere you need to go.

In New Orleans, it can be very difficult to understand locals and their instructions. The Cardinal compass is tilted slightly and it seems everywhere is “north”. “Riverside”, “neutral ground”, and “sidewalk side” are all eclectic directions for this city. It helps to get to know the local terminology as quickly as possible.

 

3)   Understand the Customs. (This may just be a nod to the inefficiency of American escalators, but move to one side if you are standing still. In almost every other country there is a standing lane, and a passing lane. It’s genius.)

It is the smaller inconveniences that will stand out to locals. Many are unavoidable until you can recognize them or are told, however, this is another great way to learn more about the people of the destination. Think like an anthropologist are soon as you come into contact with an environment you are not accustomed to. A trip can be for a very short time, but it is amazing what you can learn if you just watch what other people are doing.

 

4) Be adaptable. This is more than drinking an Aperol spritz for the first time while in Italy. Adaptability is something every traveler strives for. A way to seem like the cool jet-setter, equally fine in first class as they are on a river boat in the Congo. However, as we know, travel does take us out of our comfort zones. It makes us crave our routines, the very thing we were trying to get away from for awhile. To be an adventurer means the ability to adapt not just for ourselves, but for those around us. I have met many people on the road, and some are better traveling companions than others. Why? Because they adapt and make things easy for themselves and me.

Jamaica, 2015.

One time I took an overnight bus from Bagan, Myanmar to Mandalay. I sat next to a guy from Romania and when the bus pulled into the city at 2:30am we ended up venturing around the city until shops opened up around 7am. It was a hell of a time trying to fight to stay awake by smoking clove cigarettes he carried from Jakarta. It could have been a dreadful situation. No hostels opened or accepting new travelers for the night. And in Myanmar places are literally boarded up until the breakfast hour.



Eating Through Memphis

Memphis is deceitful. Maybe that is their plan, to remain quiet and inconspicuous so they can keep the city just the way they want it. Living in New Orleans can leave you unknowing of the other festivals and events relatively close cities produce. On a Saturday that was filled with the first crawfish boils of the season I boarded on GLO airlines to head to Memphis. Thankfully it was not raining as I made my way down the airport boardwalk, onto the twin propellor plane, and into my cozy, single window seat. In less than two hours I was going to be in a city very much like the one I love. A city where music, food, and booze is only second to the people who create the feel of its culture.

Now, you can go to Memphis just for beers at Wiseacre Brewery or to taste the original works of the New Orleans Ace Hotel’s newest chefs at Hog and Hominy or Porcellino’s. You can venture around to Overton Square or Cooper Young areas to see some action. However, in order to soak up the most of Memphis here are a couple of festivals that will solidify your love.
 

Gus' Fried Chicken with Bass Pro Shop in background while on the river.

Memphis in May

This is the big one with a marathon/5K, a BBQ contest, an International Week, and of course, the Beale Street Music Festival. It takes over much of the city in the same way Jazz Fest does with New Orleans, but the more the merrier in this instance.

Whether or not you are running the race downtown choose to complete the morning with lunch at Gus’ Fried Chicken. It will be packed so order a full meal with a drink, walk the couple of blocks to the river you just ran by, and have a picnic. It’s a beautiful scenery if you can manage the lightening-white glare from the Bass Pro Shop glass pyramid. I cannot talk about this chicken enough because it’s too killer to put into words. It’s as if hot sauce was baked (fried) into the tender chicken itself and the only way you can get to the meat is to crack the deep brown crust of skin. I messed up and didn’t even order a drink, but the chicken was so tender and moist it wasn’t a problem.

Overton Square Crawfish Festival

Question, why would you go to Memphis to eat crawfish? Answer, because trying new boils and judging the ever-living-hell out of them is what we do best. While you’re in the area stop by Lafayette Music Room: think of a cleaner version of Maison with a live music bar at night and family friendly brunch spot by day.  Overton Square is a nice place to walk around, bump into friends from last night, and soak up some sun while playing corn hole. It gets better when you add crawfish.

A few festivals spread throughout the year are:

The Bacon and Bourbon festival. Think lots of people from Kentucky, but every restaurant does something special for it.

The Southern Hotwing Festival is the bomb and self-explanatory.  Go there. Eat. Be happily disgusted with yourself.

The Lucero Family Picnic is totally bizarre (it centers around an eccentric band from Memphis) and will feature St. Paul and the Broken Bones (of Birmingham, AL) this year.

901fest is new and a part of Memphis in May, but is a paid event that mimics the “locally sourced” feel of French Quarter Fest. This is on my list, but not at the top.

In between all of the music and revelry you may get hungry or thirsty in Memphis but don’t worry, it’s not Cleaveland. They have a set-up that truly inspires gluttony.

There is breakfast and then there are doughnuts. Gibson’s is basically the place you want to be 1) because of the melt-in-your-mouth doughnuts of all varieties, and 2) for Don DeWeese the proprietor, orator, and community magician. You cannot enter the shop even once without a hello from Don, a few suggestions about Memphis, and getting to know him personally. He is the personification of Memphis; personable, demonstrative, and insightful.

At Gibson's Doughtuts with Don DeWeese, February 2016.

In between doughnuts and music you can meander into almost any bar and learn the name of the bartender. Some of the best bars to get acquainted with, and fast, are: Earnstine’s and Hazels, Bar Dog, and Wild Bills. Writers note: Wild Bills will treat you like college with 40s of domestic beer and a red solo cup. It’s a perfect late night stop before you go home.

This is more than enough reasons to go to Memphis, but if you need just a little more nudging visit here. It will provide a full list of every big and obscure festival happening. So, don’t wait. Pack up the car or hop a heavily discounted plane ride and have fun one weekend. Get out and explore!

riginally written for Where Y'at.

Why Travel Is Hard

It's never easy leaving or coming home for me. Since I was a child I would dream about exploring exotic lands and meeting new people and eating food cooked on open fire pits. As an adolescent my brain could not comprehend being away from my parents, my bed, my routine, or my pets while I was actually away. All of the new sights and sounds and tastes were the only things I knew or even cared about. Ironically, when I returned home and my high ceased was the only time I realized the importance of my excursion and the place/time I had missed.

So why, as I grow older, do I still dream of traveling and exploring, but come down even harder? I know what I am missing and the responsibilities I need to resume when I return. That does not frighten me, that typically fuels me to accomplish more. But, it's a known fact that time spent after preparing and then actually traveling is a "blue period". 

I cannot call it escapism because I have the luxury to travel. The luxury to dream and work towards what I want out of travel. I have reached goals much earlier than I ever thought possible. So what would there be to escape?

Yet, the current adjustments are quite difficult. The details of everyday life that are dressed up while traveling seem more basic now. While traveling I now understand the simplicity of all human actions. The social standards are set in different ways, yet wherever I travel I feel at home because the actions performed are the same. 

Travel presents invaluable quality time to explore, learn, and teach new ideas. My newly settle home in New Orleans represents quality time with friends, work, and a sense of being. 

This is a new era of exploration for myself and I welcome it accordingly.