Sunday, September 18, 2011

Networking In a Traveler's World

Networking…that’s probably the last thing some of you want to hear and I can truly understand that.  In the business world we now live in networking is largely the only way to gain that dream job.  You have to know someone to get inside and it can be a difficult way to get what you want when you begin with not knowing anyone…or so it seems.  But in the world of travel, networking is more focused on fun rather than business.  In all honesty, it may not even be the best term used for what I’m talking about-being able to go somewhere new and exciting because you know someone there.  And actually there are two different realms of this idea.  The first one is going to visit someone you know well, a good friend or a family member, and then taking the time to enjoy and explore a place you’ve never been before.  The second would be just the opposite and really the more cold and unfriendly of the two and that’s going somewhere to explore a new place and seeing someone briefly because you’re already there…this is better applied with acquaintances or friends of friends with whom you are more unfamiliar. 
Driving down the interstate heading for the Historic Apache Trail
People are unknowingly doing these or variations of them all of the time.  Maybe you go somewhere for a business trip but find time to grab lunch with a friend or family member who lives there as well.  Or you’ve got a free morning so you go to a museum you’ve always wanted to visit.  I’ve managed to travel in many variations of these as well.  One of the more recent was my trip to Mesa, Arizona, for the wedding of two good college friends.  I’d never been to Arizona before (and like a lot of people I have dreamed of traveling to all 50 states since I was much younger) and found this invitation to be the perfect opportunity to explore the area surrounding the Phoenix Metro.  I also have some family and friends down in the area and was hoping I could meet up with them or stay with some of them while I was there.  With the wedding on Saturday and a brunch on Sunday, I headed out from the Sioux Falls Regional Airport early Thursday morning and arrived at the Phoenix Sky Harbor Int’l Airport mid-morning with the time difference.  That gave me almost the entire day to do some exploring.  For this reason I was renting a car and not sharing rides with others coming to the wedding or getting rides from friends and family who lived there.  I wanted a bit more independence to go and do as I chose.
Part of the Trail-Tortilla Flats, definite tourist stop
Before purchasing my tickets and hotel and everything of the sort, I did a little bit of research for what I wanted to do and see.  Knowing I wanted to fit as much in as a could but leaving time for being my spontaneous self, I decided on a scenic drive from the Metro area up to the Theodore Roosevelt Dam on the Historic Apache Trail/State Route 88.  From there I headed southeast toward Globe and then took a scenic, but much more direct route, back to the Metro area on Highway 60.  It was an awesome experience and made me feel slightly more at home as the trail is primarily dirt roads except for the beginning and then once you reach the Dam.  There are many lookouts located along the trail providing ample opportunities for pictures of the desert scene.  I would highly recommend this drive (except maybe for those prone to motion sickness) and I would suggest being cautious of what time of year you go as many sections are susceptible to flash flooding.  I made it up to Globe for supper (dinner for you city folk) and drove around the small town before heading back toward Mesa.  The time change threw me off a bit so instead of doing something else I found my hotel and checked in for the night, content to watch baseball and bull riding on the TV mixed in with some light reading. 
Peeking at the Theodore Roosevelt Dam
I woke up the next morning to a beautiful, but incredibly bright sunrise thus getting me up a little earlier than planned.  Knowing I would be picking up a friend from the airport early afternoon I decided to stick closer to the metro area to explore.  I found myself coming across a small park and botanical garden (Park of the Canals) where I walked around for about an hour and then continued on my way.  Recognizing the time and not wanted to spend much money, I stopped at a store and bought some snacks I could make a meal out of and then returned to the park and garden where I sat under a shelter and read for the next couple of hours before beginning the drive up to the airport to pick up my friend.  We had a great time that afternoon hanging out at the nice outdoor pool at the hotel before heading off to Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill.  AMAZING food!  If you’ve never eaten there I would highly suggest it.  It was the first time for both of us and we thoroughly enjoyed it…plus the live country music was a big plus for me.  J 
With some time to explore Saturday morning before readying for the wedding, we took off for the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix where we walked every trail that was open.  The scenery was spectacular, especially for someone who is accustomed to prairie, pasture, and fields all on a flat or gently rolling plain.  My fair skin took a bit of a hit from the high Southern sun, but overall I faired pretty well on the sunburn scale of things.  *Something to keep in mind when you travel is to make sure you’re aware of things like this- especially if you’re from the north, going south can make a big difference in the strength of the sun.*  The Desert Botanical Garden was a really nice place (they do have student discounts so take your student ID if you’ve got it) as it portrayed some of the area culture as well through structures, gardens, and ways of living for the natives and early settlers scattered amongst the vegetation.  I would really recommend this if you’ve got a couple of hours to spend but need to stay close the metro as you can get a taste of the desert without leaving the city limits.  On our way back to the hotel we stopped and treated ourselves to true Mexican food at Matta’s…some good stuff there!
Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix
The wedding was located at the gorgeous Lavender & Old Lace in Mesa.  And Sunday I was able to see a bit more of the area while driving to the brunch in Queen Creek and then up to Scottsdale to spend the afternoon and night with some family before heading back to South Dakota on Monday morning.  All in all, committing to attending the wedding and allowing myself two extra days off of work allowed me to explore the area surrounding the Phoenix Metro and still be able to relax with friends and family.
Outside area at Lavender & Old Lace, Mesa
Don’t be afraid to turn a trip with a purpose into something more-being able to explore and have some fun in a place you’ve not yet had the chance.  Let people know what you’re thinking of doing…most people can offer suggestions or help you brainstorm some ideas if you’re not completely certain.  And don’t be scared to ask friends or family if you can stay with them when you go.  Most people would love the chance to have you stay with them even if you’re going to be doing other things.  And it never hurts the pocketbook any either.  So enjoy yourself and take advantage of any trips you make…stop at places when you’re driving if you’ve got an extra few minutes or spend an extra day in a city you love after your business meetings are completed or the reunion or wedding you were there to attend is over-I can guarantee you won’t regret it.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Mapping It Out

How many of us can get by in a new place without something to tell us where to go?  Maps may be something not everyone enjoys, but they are a great tool when going on vacation and playing tourist.  If you’re not comfortable with maps either because you don’t have experience reading them, or aren’t good with directions, etc., then now is a good chance to start learning. 
Map provided at the information center in the Graz, Austria, Hauptbahhof was fabulous. (left 1/2 of map)

In this era with the vast development of technology many of us, myself included, have become largely dependent on technology to get us by in travel.  But when it comes to finding your way around a city quickly and finding those fun tourist spots that may be familiar only to the locals, maps are your best friend.  GPS and Navigation Systems are great when you’re sticking to main routes and popular sites.  But as I mentioned in my earlier post (“Raring to Go") becoming a part of the local culture is an ideal way to get the most out of your trips and this includes making stops that will likely be unfamiliar to your system.  Most locations will have either a tourist information office or location to gain maps, brochures, and other helpful tips on finding your way around the area.  If not, city chamber offices, city halls, or even state tourism office websites can provide you with the necessary information.  In this case, it may not be a bad idea to check out your destination online and see what information may be available upon arrival.  Heavily trafficked spots such as airports, car rental agencies, and hotels may also be able to provide you with what you need. 
Right 1/2 of Graz map.  Note each half has a map key for different things.

I want to point out that there are different kinds of maps available.  Interstate rest stops in the United States often have state or regional maps available that can help with travel on major routes but may not have many tourist destinations marked other than state or national parks.  Maps received at a car rental agency are going to point out all of their locations as well as airports and a few area/regional attractions but may not provide you with the specifics for which you’re searching.  Ideally the state or local tourist offices are going to be the treasure trove of information from restaurants, clubs, shopping areas, historical spots, and parks and recreation areas.  Don’t feel self-conscience of taking maps and brochures for anything and everything available.  Once you’ve made a stop at these places you don’t want to have to go back again so find out as much as you can your first time.    Now that we’ve got that out of the way I can share the fun of reading maps!

This is the back of the Graz map.  Separate mapping of bus, tram, and train routes.

I really do love maps…they are full of information, if you know how to read them.  Typically, maps will have a map key or information box that will display symbols used to designate locations and list what they stand for.  In other instances, a map may just display an image or icon with the locations name where it is located on the actual map.  Oftentimes, this means the images will closely resemble what the location is such as a church representing a cathedral or other religious building, and usually these are very stereotyped images which can be a bit helpful when little else is said about a destination other than its name.  Tourist office maps are great as they will oftentimes display the traditional “i” where the information office is located to help give you a sense of direction.   If there are specific tourist routes or transportation services provided in the area those may also be denoted in the map key such as a “T” for taxi services, “S” or “U” for subway/underground terminals, “B” or bus icon for bus stops, “P” for parking areas, or colored lines marking bus or tram routes to specific locations such as ferries, airports, train stations, or museums. 
Map of Caen, France, from Tourism Office. You may notice no map key-this is because the map is a center fold in a booklet with information on each numbered location.

Ideally, don’t feel overwhelmed when looking at maps.  They may present a whole host of information it’s just a matter of sorting through it to get what you need.  Some people a bit uncomfortable with them find using them only as a reference works best as many destinations have signs posting where you need to go and will use this for their main directional guidance.  Others are able to focus solely on what they need and follow the map.  Just don’t let yourself get distracted and it will be just fine.  Maybe you’re a map lover like myself and spend a little extra time comparing maps, picking up every one provided.  If you know where to get your information from and how it’s presented you’ll be able to get anywhere whether you have a horrible sense of direction or not.

I realize this blog has been a bit different from my previous ones but I’m hoping you can find a bit of helpful information in it.  Always feel free to let me know what you think!  J