Don't Even Go There—Travel Writing for the Rest of Us

Even if the world is your oyster, you can still chip a tooth on its shell. While travel magazines feature exotic locales of breathtaking beauty, we expose sites so depressing that no traveler this side of Edgar Allan Poe would venture there without a tub-load of tranquilizers. Take Las Vegas (please) and the $5.99 all-you-can-eat buffet line at Sam’s Town. That's the world we explore at Don’t Even Go There.

On this site, we tell of places we’ve visited but wish we hadn’t. We reveal vacation plans gone awry and relate horror stories from the road best abandoned. These true stories reflect where we’ve chosen to go. We only have ourselves to blame. We rarely needed to exaggerate—the truth really is stranger than a Dan Brown novel.

Don’t Even Go There: travel tips for those of us who aren’t escorted by security guards, pampered by wealthy benefactors, or provided a generous per diem. This blog is for seasoned travelers and armchair tourists who want the real world first-hand and head-on, with all its drama, horror, and humor. You’ll laugh at us, cry with us, and decide to stay home more often.

25 August 2008

A Cure for Heavy Sweating

Don’t believe everything you hear or read about a destination (even if you read it here). Do your research and do it before you travel. Don’t make the same mistakes we did. Here’s more advice you can’t get anywhere else. —MB & JS
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Why do we always accept that advertisements tell us the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? Corporations spend billions of dollars to persuade us to buy their brands or use their services. And it works: we always believe them.

Disney is one such corporation. No longer a friendly, mouse-eared, family-run business, Disney spends millions advertising its theme parks. They gear their message towards children, of course, but they’ve billed it as a vacation destination for the whole family, which begs the following question: Who was sick the day they decided to put Disney World in one of the hottest, buggiest, most uninhabitable summer sites in the world?

You would think a smart company like Disney would plan for every eventuality. You would think they’d build an amusement park with the summer months in mind, when kids are on vacation and parents take time off from work. It’s a no-brainer.

So why would anyone with a globe and a high school education decide to build an amusement park in Orlando, Florida? Maybe they were thinking about the five months of the year when the summer heat doesn’t make you want to crawl into the nearest body of water, whether it’s a swimming pool or a cesspool.

If you’re in Orlando in the summer, this is the only place to be.

Personally, we think Walt Disney the man—duped into buying Florida swampland—simply wanted a return on his mistaken investment. The alternative is to believe the rumors that Disney executives really do take mind-altering drugs. We’ll never know the real reasons, but there’s no denying the park exists.

While Disney World employs every conceivable technology to thwart Mother Nature for the benefit of its patrons—they spray for mosquitoes, bees, and wasps; they spray for germs and bacteria; they even spray their customers (with water)—there’s no way the folks atop the corporate ladder can win a war against the weather.

Florida in the summertime redefines humidity. The heat turns a mild thirst into a valid reason for panic. Clothes become a second skin and sunblock just another layer of sweat. The climate saps your strength and makes your skin break out in a rash. It endangers the lives of the elderly and children under five. Most Floridians do one of two things when summer arrives: they either flee the state altogether or remain indoors to worship their air-conditioner.

We’re not saying you shouldn’t go to Disney World, but given the extreme summer conditions, consider a visit during the other equinox. Orlando is quite pleasant in the winter. Why spend your entire day under a July sun with its sweltering humidity when you can enjoy the relative comfort of a January gin and tonic? Don’t piss away your children’s college tuition fund on soft drinks and snow cones when you can quench your family’s thirst for adventure with a splash through the Pirates of the Caribbean.

All we’re saying is: plan your vacation wisely. Ask yourself the following simple question to better understand what we mean by all this blather. Answer honestly, and you will discover the truth behind the slick advertising and the reality behind the glossy sales brochures.

Here’s the question: What could be worse than visiting Disney World in the middle of August on yet another blistering day? There’s only one thing: working there.

Little Known Fact: Disney World does a remarkable business all year ‘round, but its concession sales rise exponentially during the summer months . . . which answers the Disney riddle. The folks atop the corporate ladder aren’t taking drugs; they’re actually financial geniuses! Hail to the Mouse!

Lessons Learned: While Disney World remains open all year, don’t even consider a summer visit. You’ll regret it—maybe not now, maybe not tomorrow, but certainly later, when you develop that rash. By the way, we never worked at Disney World, but we’ve heard the horror stories first-hand. Those poor people have been scarred for life. You would be too if you had to spend your days in a Mickey Mouse suit. In the summer. In Orlando.
How We Saw It
Blight-Seeing: 1
Communication Breakdown: 2
Customer Dis-service: 2
Discomfort Level: 5
Grunge Factor: 1
Inactivity Guide: 1
Rent-Attainment: 2
Spontaneous Consumption: 3
Fun Fraction: 3/5
Vibe-Rating: 2

If You Won’t Listen to Us
Nearest Airport: Orlando International Airport
Native Population: 225,000 poor souls
Normal Attractions: Disney World, Epcot Center, Sea World, Universal Studios, Gatorland, Kennedy Space Center (nearby), Millenia Mall, and much much much more.
Final Point of Interest: The Kerouac House, where Jack lived when On the Road was published, is now a haven for aspiring writers (except us).

19 August 2008

Quote of the Month

This next quote reminds us that we’ve spent most of our lives living on one coast or another. Why is it people seem to flock to the coasts for vacation? Certainly not for this:

“Wherever there’s water—whether it’s a lake, an ocean, or a river—you can find kitsch. It’s in the stores, the restaurants, and the homes. Sometimes, it’s even displayed in public: on a front lawn or in a city park. Why is this? We’re not sure, but we think it has something to do with sailors.”

–Mark Bloom & Jason Scholder (2007)

14 August 2008

Rare Good News

Every once in a while, we come upon a place we absolutely love. It doesn’t happen often, but when you travel as much as we do, you’re bound to find someplace with honest charm. Usually, it’s so remote it won’t even show up on a search engine. North Dakota is one such destination. —MB & JS
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Lots of people go to North Dakota for vacation. Literally hundreds.

If you can’t find North Dakota with a sled dog, let us help. It sits along the US-Canadian border, between Minnesota and Montana. It’s just past the Midwest, but not yet to the Rockies. If you still can’t find it, look for Amarillo, Texas, and then head due north. For about 750 miles.

North Dakota is a big state in the northern plains. It’s littered with cowboys, cattle, and little else. The state capital, Bismarck, was named after a famous foreign leader, and the city is still over fifty percent German . . . which somehow makes sense to us. Who else would settle in a remote, cold stretch of prairie? Even the Russians had the sense to make Siberia a penal colony. The Germans would have moved there voluntarily. They just love a challenge. (“World domination? OK, we’ll give it a try.”)

Anyway, Bismarck’s average temperature in January hovers around ten degrees before you factor in the wind chill. That’s far too cold for most Americans, but it’s like going south for the winter to many Canadians. If Winnipeg were San Diego, the town of Minot, North Dakota, would be Tijuana. Our northern neighbors are known for visiting on a whim, drinking too much, and starting bar fights with the locals. It’s fun for the entire family.

Then again, maybe that’s only the stereotype. It’s totally within the realm of possibility that Canadians are actually very polite, upstanding people, with jobs and pets and bar soap. At least the way our lawyers tell it.

Like most places, North Dakota has four distinct seasons, but to the accidental tourist, they can be impossible to differentiate. The state has a short summer, followed by early winter, snow season, and late winter. This is a place where an ice scraper can be a practical gift even if your birthday falls in late August.

Mark in North Dakota . . . in July.

Aside from its attractive climate, what does the state have to offer? There’s beer drinking and cattle-tipping, both official state sports. How about those endless fields of flaxseed or those long, straight highways that lead . . . elsewhere? South Dakotans can boast of Mount Rushmore, but why would anyone want to visit North Dakota?

Our favorite reason—and it should be yours as well—is to experience the vast grandeur of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, otherwise known as the Badlands. If you like outdoor activities in the quiet solitude of nature, you will this place. The park spans 70,447 acres, almost 30,000 of which is unspoiled landscape with strange rock formations and colorful geological strata. You wouldn’t want to get lost in the midst of it all, but the Badlands have a hypnotic beauty that recalls a simpler time, when there weren’t as many people or as much pollution.

Despite the stark conditions and extreme winds, wildlife thrives among the sparse plant life. While the park is best known for its wild horses, bison, deer, and elk, you might catch a glimpse of the mysterious Black-Footed Ferret, one of the most endangered mammals in all of North America.

You can camp, hike, and horseback throughout the grounds. Guided tours offer multi-day excursions into the heart of the Badlands to tap the pulse of the park. You can travel to areas few have ever seen, where the footprint of mankind is a smaller than a rabbit dropping.

If you’re tired of fighting crowds at the popular national parks in the southwestern states (the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, and Zion come to mind), travel to North Dakota’s greatest reason for being: the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, aka the Badlands. Believe it or not, even we curmudgeons at Don’t Even Go There would go there again.

Lessons Learned: Go in the summertime, while the roads are still open and relatively free of ice and snow. It’s a short season, remember, so plan your trip accordingly. Winter hits hard in North Dakota, and unless you’re Canadian, you’ll want to be far, far away.
How We Saw It
Blight-Seeing: 2
Communication Breakdown: 1
Customer Dis-service: 1
Discomfort Level: 3
Grunge Factor: 2
Inactivity Guide: 3
Rent-Attainment: 1
Spontaneous Consumption: 2
Fun Fraction: 3/5
Vibe-Rating: 5

If You Won’t Listen to Us
Nearest Airport: Bismarck Municipal Airport
Native Population: 435,359 people visited the park in 2006, but ironically, you can hike for days without seeing another human
Normal Attractions: Scenic drives, wildlife, wilderness, camping, hiking, horseback riding, and Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch.
Final Point of Interest: The exorbitant entrance fee is $5.00 per person if you’re on foot, bike, or horseback; $10.00 per vehicle if you drive.