trip pictures

Chicago: Eat, Drink, See

Chris and I have just returned from a quick five-day road trip out to Chicago. We've been to the Windy City once before, and this time we really had a chance to explore different areas of the city and experience its neighbourhood-y vibe (yes, I realize that's not a word). I can't wait to go into more depth and detail on various aspects of our trip, but here are a few of my top recommendations on what to eat, drink and see in Chicago.

Eat
Indulge in a decadent all-day breakfast at Little Goat Diner (Girl and the Goat is just across the street if you're looking for something more upscale). The Fat Elvis in particular is to die for. Hands down the best waffles of my life.

If eating in is more your speed, grab some ingredients at the French Market. Cheeses, meats, bread, french pastries: this place has it all.
Drink
Have a cocktail experience at The Violet Hour. You'll be ensconced in plush fabrics and dim lighting while sipping a craft cocktail mixed with chemist-like precision. If you're a gin lover like me, Juliet and Romeo was fresh, light, and full flavoured. As a side note, the signage is non-existent. It's the white exterior with violet circles and camouflaged door jammed between the bank and the day care. A little over the top perhaps, but the drinks are worth the hassle.

Knock back local pints while demonstrating your Pac-Man prowess at Emporium Arcade Bar. With an impressive collection of vintage arcade machines at only 25 cents a game, it's nerd paradise.

See
Make your way through the belly of a genuine U-boat captured by the Americans during WWII at the Museum of Science and Industry (it's one of only four left in the world). There are also a number of super-cool interactive exhibits. The Henry Crown Space Center was a particular favourite of mine.

Discover Frank Lloyd Wright's personal side with a tour of his Chicago home and studio. I was wowed by the obsessive attention to detail and natural aesthetic of what he called his "honeymoon home."

Thank you to everyone who commented with their recommendations before my trip. I definitely appreciated the advice and took many of your suggestions!


Check out my Instagram feed for food and drink photos from Chicago.

Four Tips to Improve Your Trip Pics


I'm not a professional photographer in any sense of the word. In the literal sense, I've never been paid to take photographs. My only "training" in photography came in the form of a black and white course in high school where I mostly took blurry close-ups of flowers and my boyfriend, and enjoyed a false sense of superiority as I bathed photosensitive paper in various chemicals (usually for too long).

Since those red-lit darkroom days, I have been able to pick up a few tricks for taking decent photos: sans fancy equipment.
Light 
Light is king in photography. Harnessing its power is one of the most important things you can do to take better photos. 

Avoid flash at all costs. Unless you're a pro with a studio and multiple light points, it will generally just flatten your photos. Instead, seek out natural light in all its forms. This requires patience and experimentation.

Typically, you want your light source behind you or off to the side. When taking photos indoors, it's generally best to stand near a window and point the camera into the room.

You can also manipulate limited light sources, like fire, to highlight something specific in your photos.


Composition
If you're just getting started, the rule of thirds is a good way to look at the composition of your photos. Using this rule, each photo can be divided into nine sections. The greatest point of interest is along the intersection of two lines separating each section.  (If you're interested, you can read in more detail here.)

Experiment with taking photos of the same object from different angles. Use negative (empty) space strategically to focus in on something specific. Go in close, back away, climb up on things, crouch down to get a variety of perspectives and train your eye. You can also use cropping after the fact to improve the composition of a photo.
Variety in Subject
There have been countless occasions where I think something (building, landscape, sunset) is "so pretty" I start snapping photos like crazy. Yet later, when I look through them, they all look boring. The way to draw attention in a photograph is to give the eye something specific to focus on. I like to put something human into each of my photographs: a whole person, a hand, an item of clothing or a man-made object of significance. It's one way to give your photos dimension and draw the eye in, rather than have it rest aimlessly on a flat (albeit pretty) landscape time after time.

Quantity
The truth is, you'll likely have to take many pictures to find those few gems. As long as you're not dealing with film, this typically isn't an issue. If you have a DSLR, it can be helpful to set your camera to Continuous Mode so that you can take multiple images in close succession. This is especially helpful when taking photographs of people, whose faces are constantly changing and shifting.
As an additional note, all of the photos in this post were taken with your basic point-and-shoot digital camera during my family's trip to Europe in 2010. So although a bunch of fancy equipment can certainly help (if you actually know how to use it) it really isn't necessary to taking good photographs. Besides, who want to live in constant fear of pick-pocketing while lugging around expensive and heavy gear on their travels?

Taking Photos (with you in them) on a Solo Journey

Travelling solo is something I really enjoy, but one annoying little difficulty is getting pictures of the sights with you in them. Endless photos of buildings and landscape can get a little ho-hum; it's nice to throw in a human element to catch the eye. And if you're the human, well that's even better. So here are some of my top tips for taking photos that you're actually in (no fancy camera necessary).
Take the Upshot
My variation on the extend-a-arm, this photo is easiest to take with a smart phone. Make sure the camera is flipped to the screen side, do some adjusting to find the best view, then nose your way into the shot and click. To avoid a double chin or just a weird, stretched out chin-only shot, be sure to look straight ahead.
Put Your Feet in There
Show off sweet street art, subway grates, cobblestone streets or interesting shadows with your feet in the mix. Bonus points for awesome shoes.
Get Creative with Your Reflection
Mirrors aren't the only opportunity for selfies. Use windowed buildings, water or shadows to get your image in the shot. 
Finally, Just Ask
If you really want a picture, particularly at a popular tourist spot, just ask someone. I've always found people to be obliging. If it's the middle of the day in a crowded area, you don't have to worry too much about who you ask, but if it's less crowded or later in the day I generally ask another woman or someone with a family. This may be a bit paranoid on my part, but safety is especially important when travelling solo.

Any other suggestions for solo travel photos? I love hearing from you!
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Finding Food On the Cheap in New York

New York has a bit of reputation for impossible-to-get-into restaurants where a meal can run you as much as a night at a decent hotel. And it's true that a lot of the restaurants there aren't what you'd call cheap, but there are affordable options to be found. Below are some of my picks for cheap meals and snacks in New York City.

Pick up Fresh Produce in Union Square
Every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday you'll find the GreenMarket in Union Square. Depending on the time of year, you can grab fresh fruits and vegetables, breads and cheeses, hard cider and more for reasonable prices. Pick up a few items and hop on the nearby subway for a picnic in Washington Square Park. If you're like me, picnics aren't so much blanketed, sun-kissed fine dining, but more wolfing down all the blueberries on the subway followed by eating a ripe peach against the fountains and getting juice all over your hands and face (as in the picture above). But hey, that's what dirty fountain water is for ;)

Try Cheap Asian Cuisine Around ChinaTown
If New-York-based (typically LA-filmed) sitcoms have taught me anything, it's that New Yorkers eat a lot of Chinese food. But stereotypes aside, there's some seriously good Asian cuisine in New York. You'll find a bunch of different options around ChinaTown. One of my favourites is grabbing a bahn mi (a savoury Vietnamese sandwhich) at Vicky's Vietnamese Sandwiches northeast of ChinaTown. Tender pork, finely shredded carrots, cilantro and a kick of jalepeno on a lightly toasted bun - how can you go wrong? They also offer vegetarian options. Oh, and the best part? It won't set you back more than five dollars.

Get Lunch at the Food Court at Grand Central
Grand Central famous for its iconic oyster bar, and if you can splurge, go for it, but there's also plenty of affordable, delicious options to be found in the food court. After you've eaten your pick among the many dining options, grab a cupcake at Magnolia Bakery. The red velvet was amazing and surprisingly light.

Two Words: Falafel Truck
In most parts of Manhattan, particularly as you get south of Union Square along Broadway, you'll see a bunch of food carts with pictures of falafel, souvlaki, and gyros along the side. The food runs you about six bucks, and from what I've tried, it's actually pretty decent. Great for recharging your batteries mid-shopping marathon.

Grab a Slice
Spend enough time in New York and you'll find more than one pizza place claiming to have "The Best Pizza in New York." Most pizza joints sell pizza by the (gigantic) slice for a couple of bucks. Choose the freshly-made pie you want and they'll heat it up for you in their giant pizza ovens. The crust comes out crunchy on the bottom and chewy in the middle, and the toppings are flavourful and fresh-tasting. Ben's Pizzeria in Greenwich Village and Anna Maria's in Williamsburg were both excellent.

Indulge in Artisanal Ice Cream
The Van Leeuwen Ice Cream Trucks have gotten very popular in New York. You can find their trucks and even a few store fronts all over NYC. I went to the truck on Bedford Ave in Williamsburg. All their ingredients are fresh and ethically sourced, and they make the ice cream from scratch. At 6 bucks for a small dish, it's not cheap for ice cream, but it's still an inexpensive indulgence.

These are just a few options that I explored, but I'm sure there are many more. Feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments below!

In New York: Free or Pretty Darn Cheap

I've written before about how I think big cities can be explored on the cheap if you're willing to do a bit of research and legwork. So if you're in New York and you're on a budget, here are some fun things to see and do. In fact, you'll probably enjoy them even if money isn't tight ;)

People Watch 
New York is home to some pretty wacky characters and one of my favourite things to do is watch them go by. Find a bench in a park (Washington Square Park on a weekend afternoon is particularly good) or hop on the subway and just watch. Better yet, bring a friend along and come up with imaginary life stories for the people you see. It's an interesting kind of fun and it won't cost you a dime.
Explore the Neighbourhoods
One of the things about New York that I find to be overwhelmingly awesome is the number of amazing neighbourhoods to explore. Greenwich Village, Chelsea, Little Italy and ChinaTown and the East and West Villages are all amazing and significantly less busy than Midtown and Downtown (also cool, but a lot more crowded and a lot more touristy). Or in Brooklyn, Park Slope and Williamsburg are both beautiful and interesting. You can spend hours just wandering the streets, snapping photos and appreciating your surroundings. Catch a glimpse of the less hectic side the city has to offer.

Get a Cheap Mani/Pedi or Massage in Manhattan
With all the hustle and bustle, relaxation in Manhattan can be difficult to come by. After a long day of navigating the streets and subways and gallery hopping, I loved getting a cheap manicure. In New York you can score a regular manicure for around ten dollars, 30 for gel. A lot of these places, like Fresh Spa, where I went, also offer massages by the minute. Even a fifteen minute shoulder massage can make a world of difference. It's a nice way to relax and mix things up for very little money, and you don't have to belong to the estrogen club to take part. This is New York, trust me, men get manicures too.


Hop on a Free Ferry
Some of New York's ferries are free. You can take one to Governer's Island on weekends, or do what I did and take the ferry from the southern tip of Manhattan out to Staten Island. Whether or not you spend time on Staten Island, the ferry offers amazing views of the downtown Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty all completely free of charge.
Kid Around at the Children's Book Exhibit at The New York Public Library
The last time Chris and I were in New York, we walked by The New York Public LIbrary again and again, but we never looked inside. This time around, not only did we have a chance to peek in at the famous study halls, we checked out the exhibit The ABC of It: Why Children's Books Matter. It was totally awesome. We had the chance to read about the histories and sometimes scandalous backstories of our favourite books as children. What I love about this exhibit is that it connects with both adults and children. We had a blast, and it was all for free (although donations are encouraged).

Kayak the East River or The Hudson
There are a few organizations that offer completely free kayaking in the rivers surrounding Manhattan. If you're over eighteen (or have a parent with you) and can swim, all you have to do is show up, sign a waver, and you're allowed twenty minutes of paddling around various harbours. The skyscrapers look amazing from the water and it's a nice way to beat the heat on a summer day in New York.



Visit City Parks
Central Park is huge and amazing, but it's not the only park New York has to offer. My personal favourite is The Highline. Initially used to keep freight traffic out of the way of New York City motorists, the once abandoned structure has been converted into a breathtaking park. Beautiful plant life, independent food vendors and incomparable views of the NYC skyline: this park has it all. After strolling The Highline, check out Chelsea's Artists & Fleas below. Sometimes the fun is just in looking.

I hope these suggestions are helpful to you, whether you're planning a trip to New York, arranging to move there, or have lived there for years. And if my fellow travellers or New York locals have anything to add or suggest, feel free to do so in the comments. You can expect a post on cheap (delicious) food in New York this Friday. I have so many suggestions, I thought they deserved their own post! 

I Want to Be a Part of It

Chris and I recently returned from our trip to New York, and I couldn't be happier about the whole experience. One of the things I like best about the city is the sense of history you get from it. I love to gaze out on the skyline and think about all the new immigrants who came here, full of hope and excitement for a new life, the actors and actresses dreaming of making it big, the celebrities. It's certainly a place of glitz and glamour, but underneath it all there's a sort of toughness, a grit that brings the place back down to earth.

I've posted before about how Chris and I love to hunt for television and movie locations in our travels, and New York's certainly the place to do it. Sometimes it feels like the whole city's been a set for one type of movie or another. So while the location of every picture we took has probably been graced by the presence of directors and a celebrity or two, here are a few special shots from some of our favourite locations.


 The Friends apartment exterior. This spot is crazy popular. In the five minutes we were on this corner, at least half a dozen people stopped by to snap a photo.


The site of the iconic Marilyn white-dress-blown-up-by-the-subway-grate shot. The actual scene for The Seven Year Itch was filmed in L.A., but director Billie Wilder had Marilyn photographed (and her skirt blown up repeatedly) in front of a New York crowd as a publicity stunt for the movie.




The deli and grocery store used several times in The Departed. There may or may not have been a few Jack Nicholson "No one gives it to you, you have to take it" impressions done before and after this photo ;)




The Monk's exterior from Seinfeld. We ate gigantic piles of super cheap food here immediately after this picture was taken.


The Comedy Cellar, where Louis CK does a lot of his stand up in his show Louis. We didn't have time to stay for a show, but apparently big name comics (like Jerry Seinfeld) drop by here out of the blue from time to time to try out new material.

I hope you enjoy the photos and I can't wait to share more about my trip in the coming weeks. Seriously, we had such an amazing time!

Comprehensive Guide to Using the Subway

UPDATE:  Since my most recent trip to New York, I've changed some of the instructions in the New York Subway example below for clarity and accuracy.

I absolutely love public transit. In Winnipeg, I take the bus to work daily and it's my favoured mode of transportation whenever I visit a big city. But I know some feel nervous using public transit. They worry about crime or rats. They're terrified they'll get lost. Yet in my experience, taking the subway - particularly during peak hours - is relatively safe and reasonably clean. And if you make a mistake (get on the wrong train, off at the wrong stop, et cetera), it's often easily fixed. 

So if you've never tried a mode of public transit like the subway, tube, sky rail, el, or various rail systems, but are interested in learning how, here's a guide on how to use it.

Chris waiting for the El in Chicago, 2012
Familiarize yourself with the city's transit website before you leave. You can look at maps of the routes,  use tools to plan your trips in advance, and often download a transit app for the city you're visiting. You can also use the website to figure out what type of pass is right for you. If you're using public transit multiple times a day, every day, it may be worth it to purchase a day or week pass. Different cities offer different types of passes, so take some time to work out what is right for you. This will save you money in the long run.

Once you've arrived, transit maps for subway lines and their stops can be found in one of two places: either immediately outside each subway station, or as soon as you enter, before you go through the turnstiles. There will also be a map over every set of doors on the train for the stops on your route. Some include information about which stops offer connections to other lines.

Buy a ticket at any one of the machines you'll see the moment you get in the station. If you don't have exact change, don't worry. Most machines make change, or even allow you to pay with credit card or debit. Buy the pass you need (single use, day pass, or more) and continue on to the turnstiles. In some cities, you must scan your metro card or insert your subway token to get in (there will be a sign showing you which way to insert the card), and others operate on a kind of honour system. You're expected to buy a ticket, but are not required to scan the card at any point. However, if you're caught on a train without your metro card, you will pay a hefty fine.

To take the train you need to know four things: where you're going, which line (or lines) you need to take, the end stop for your line, and the stop you need to get off on. I'm going to use this New York City subway map to show how this works. (You can find a full page map here.)

Image from nycsubway.org


Let's say I'm on the west side of Central Park, the nearest station to me is 81 Street Museum of Natural History, and I'm trying to get to the Brooklyn Bridge City Hall stop. From my current stop I can get on either the Blue A or C or Orange B or D Lines, but I know that I need to get to the Green 4 or 5 Lines to reach the Brooklyn Bridge City Hall stop. Both the Blue A and C and Orange B and D Lines intersect the Green 4 or 5 Lines, but the Blues don't intersect until after my desired stop, so I'm going to be sure to get on one of the Orange B or D Lines at the 81 Street Station. 

Now, since trains on each line runs both ways, I need to be sure to get on the correct train. In most cities, trains are labelled by their last stop on the line, also known as the Terminus Station. In New York, trains are labelled by the direction or neighbourhood they're headed toward. For example, a train may be labelled Downtown, Uptown, Brooklyn, Queens et cetera. I definitely want to be heading toward Downtown, but the Orange Line splits off into multiple routes as it goes south. By looking at the map, I can see that the B or D line will intersect the Green 4 or 5: allowing me to transfer. 

To transfer to the Green 4 or 5, I'll have to get off on the Broadway Lafayette Street stop. After that, I'll walk over to the Bleeker St stop on the Green Line. Either the 4 or 5 will get me to my goal stop, Brooklyn Bridge City Hall, as long as I take a train headed for Brooklyn, not up to The Bronx. Once I get off at Brooklyn Bridge City Hall, I'm done!

The Dakota Building off Central Park West, New York City, 2011


If this seems confusing or overwhelming to you, remember two things: New York City's transit system is one of the largest and most complicated ones around. Seriously, if you can master it, every other city will seem like a cake walk. And two, this gets easier and easier the more you do it.

A few further pieces of advice:

For safety, stick to subway cars with more people on them, keep your valuables in front of you and not in your back pockets, and stand with your back to a wall or sit down if possible.

Don't panic. These systems are designed to be used by people. There will be signs, announcements and information literally everywhere. Take a deep breath, focus on where you need to go, and if you're really stuck, ask a stranger with a friendly face for help.

When you're on the train, pay attention to the stops as you go along and keep track of how close yours is. When you hear your stop announced, move closer to the doors so you don't get stuck on the train for another station.

Remember that mistakes are fixable. If you mess up, get off, reorient yourself, and get back on in the right direction.

Brooklyn Bridge, New York City, 2011
Navigating public transit in a big city can be a daunting task. I can relate. I grew up in a small city with absolutely no transit system. Even figuring out the bus system in Winnipeg seemed impossible to me when I first moved here. I never imagined I'd master the rail systems in cities like Rome, Toronto, Vancouver, Chicago and New York, but I have. And I can tell you from experience that it is an amazing way to see a city. You'll be among the real citizens who work and live there, see some pretty weird and whacked out (but mostly harmless) people, and acquire a useful skill. In my opinion, it's the true way to navigate a city like a local.

Five Free (or cheap) Things You Have to Try in Vancouver

I am still buzzing after my recent trip to Vancouver. It's such a beautiful city and I can't wait to go back! A lot of travellers lament that big cities are expensive, but I find the opposite to be true. With a bit of  research and exploration, you can often find a host of completely free - or pretty darn cheap - things to do in a city. So if you're considering Vancouver as a travel destination, or are lucky enough to call it home, here's a round up of a few things I discovered on the cheap.
Cycle, walk or jog The Seawall
I decided to be adventurous one morning and hop on my borrowed bicycle to cycle along The Seawall and up through Stanley Park. Armed with recommendations from locals, including advice on how to get there, I was ready to meet this athletic challenge. (Take the Burrard Bridge if you're south of False Creek and on a bicycle. I was in good company and felt perfectly secure cycling across this bridge.) The views were breath taking, and the distance is more than reasonable on a bike. In fact, I cycled around Stanley Park twice. Not because it was so amazing that I simply couldn't help myself, but because, despite others' warnings, I took the wrong way around and wanted to get it right so I could tell you the right way to do it.

If you're coming up to Stanley Park on a bicycle from the southwest side, do not, I repeat, do not continue up along the English Bay. Instead, you'll need to cycle through the playground with the swings and basketball court that you'll see to your right and underneath the little bridge. If you don't see the First Nations totem poles on your left within the first few kilometres, you've gone the wrong way; go back and try again. 
But seriously, as long as you get that part right, unlike me :), you'll enjoy some amazing views, stumble on some great picture-taking opportunities and get some exercise. (After enjoying dessert and alcohol every single day, I sure needed it.) And if you're on foot, you can go any way you want, so no worries there.

Unwind in Dr. Sun Yat-Sen's Classical Chinese Garden
According to their website, you have to buy a ticket to gain admission, but when I arrived on a Wednesday morning, I walked in for free. Regardless, the garden is a gorgeous repose from the sights, sounds and smells of downtown Vancouver. Wander through the tiny, winding trails, watch coy fish lazily circle the pond or simply cool off in the shade.
If you want a bite to eat after the gardens, New Town Bakery & Restaurant is nearby, and they serve absolutely delicious baked goods. I tried a coconut roll-type thing (that I can't remember the name of) and it was sweet, chewy perfection.

Sample from a food truck
I know food trucks are already becoming old hat in some cities, but there are some seriously amazing ones in Vancouver. While doing some shopping downtown, I impulsively decided to try watermelon water and a lamb kebab on pita from Mangal Kiss. Both were sensational. The watermelon water was cool and refreshing, sweet, but not too sweet, and the pita was to die for. My best food experiences are usually when the food and atmosphere combine into one delicious moment; and sitting by the fountain on Georgia with the sun on my shoulders, savouring every bite of that pita, I was in food heaven.
Listen to and/or watch street performers
Some of my more memorable moments in Vancouver come from simple pleasures, like watching street performers. Be it the violinist playing in a Skytrain station downtown, or the dancers exhibiting Latin American culture on Robson, being on vacation offers you the leisure to stop and smell the roses. So pause and soak up the culture and talent this city has to offer. It won't cost you more than a few coins in a basket and a smile.

Sip an artisanal coffee
There is some truly amazing coffee to be had in Vancouver. I tried 49th Parallel and Revolver. Both did not disappoint. Not only was the coffee exceptional, the atmosphere and design were warm and modern (although that may sound like a contradiction of terms, when you get it right, it really isn't). You'll find little coffee shops all over the city, so pop in, take a break, and sip some brewed energy.
This is just a quick round up of some of the cheaper (or completely free) things you can do during your time in Vancouver, however long or short that may be. More posts on my trip to British Columbia to follow :)

Return from British Columbia

Apologies for the lateness of this post; I just got in late last night from Vancouver. I hope my Canadian readers had a wonderful Canada Day, and my American readers a lovely 4th of July. I can't wait to share more of my BC adventures with you!

Picture wise, here's a bit of a sneak peek from Instagram. You can follow me there (@fullbellywornsoles) to see more pictures and a few videos as well. All BC shots are hash-tagged beautifulbritishcolumbia. Regular posting will resume Monday. 
Enjoy your weekend!

How NOT to Look Like a Tourist

I love my family, but they're not exactly the most inconspicuous group of people to travel with. I can remember clearly on a trip to Europe back in 2010 when my brother showed up to the airport in Winnipeg with his neck wallet protruding clearly from underneath his t-shirt, wearing white socks and sneakers with a pair of hemmed jean shorts. Seriously, it's bad.

Hopefully it goes without saying that I think tourism is a wonderful thing (that's kind of what this whole blog is about :) ), but wandering foreign streets with a flashing sign reading ATTENTION: TOURIST over your head is not. Around the world, North American tourists (especially those from the States) are often unfairly stereotyped as clueless at best, and ignorant and rude at worst. Sticking out like a sore thumb also makes you a target for pick-pocketing, elevated pricing and street scams. 


To that end, I have a few tips for blending in with the crowd a bit more. Will everyone you talk to assume you're a local? Probably not. But following these tips will help you to avoid some of the negative attention tourists can receive abroad.

Waiting for the El in Chicago in 2012
Dress the Part
When travelling to a warm destination, the temptation to wear a tank top and shorts everywhere you go can be high, but keep in mind that there are other ways to keep cool. Stick to natural fibres that breathe, like linen, cotton and silk. A lightweight silk button-down can be cooler and more comfortable than a spandex-cotton blend tank top. Also, skirts and sundresses are just as easy to throw on as a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, and they tend to look more polished. Absolutely go for the cut-off and t-shirt look, but try to choose more fashionable drapes and cuts. When in doubt, stick to neutral basics (a white cotton button down, vintage denim cut-offs, a three-quarter length Breton top, a drapey grey tee) that can easily be mixed and matched for a casual, yet pulled-together look.

Orient Yourself the Right Way

Whenever I travel, I get an idea of the lay of the land before I even board the plane. Spend enough time looking at maps (in hard copy or online) before you leave so that you have a rough idea of where certain neighbourhoods are located and how they're connected. If you're stuck somewhere without a map, you'll at least know which direction to head in. 

Before leaving your hotel each morning, check your map and plan your route for the day. Get an idea of some of the major streets so you don't have to walk with your map in front of you (picture Joey during his trip to London on Friends). Instead, you can devote your attention to your exotic surroundings. Most hotels offer free maps of the area and concierge services to help you find your way. Don't be afraid to ask hotel staff for recommendations and directions. It's part of their job.


There are plenty of map apps you can get for free that don't require any data (helping you to avoid those nasty roaming charges). So when you're on the street and need to step out of the way to check your map, you'll just look like a person using your phone rather than a clueless tourist huddled over a map. An app like CityMaps2Go is a good place to start, and most major cities have their own free map apps.

In Prague (with short hair) in 2010

Be Respectful of Language Barriers

Nothing screams Ignorant Tourist like a person shouting slowly in English to a confused (and likely amused) local. Even in popular tourist destinations, you will find many people whose grasp of the English language is loose at best. In these situations, remember that you're a guest in their city, not the other way around. It may be helpful to learn a few key phrases in the language of the city or country you're travelling to. "Hello", "Please", "Thank you", "Where is _________?", "Do you speak English?", "Excuse me", "How much?", and "Where are the washrooms?" are generally enough to help you get by. 

If you need to communicate with someone who doesn't speak much English, avoid increasing the volume of your voice at all costs. Speak a bit more slowly and quietly than you normally would, use simple words, gesture, and if you have a map with you, point. Be careful to use your whole hand when gesturing to a person, as it can otherwise be considered rude in some countries. At the end of the interaction, whether the person was able to help you or not, smile genuinely and thank them.

Wandering the strip in Las Vegas earlier this year
Tourism is a wonderful thing. It can help improve our appreciation of the diversity in the world while affirming the connection we all share as human beings. And of course it's fine to be a tourist, but aspire to be the kind that locals are glad to interact with. This will not only earn you better treatment, but help you avoid falling prey to the kind of scams and schemes that are so common in popular tourist destinations.

I hope this helps, and happy travels :)