Phnom Penh in Photos

This gallery contains 14 photos.

We’ve been in Cambodia a week already and have barely had time to take notes or journal our experiences, let alone write anything worthwhile. So here’s a stab at a quickie slideshow showing some highlights from our first few days … Continue reading

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And We’re Back…Again

After a long dry spell, I’ll be posting on Prepare for CrossCheck again.  I know, I know—I’ve made that promise before. But this time I mean it.

My recent absence was thanks to a busy full-time gig at Travora.com for the better part of 2012. The new travel site launched on October 1, and I’m happy to say that much of the content from my former employer TravelMuse was migrated and is available on the website. (In 2010, Travora, when it was still known as Travel Ad Network, purchased TravelMuse.) But there’s lots of new content on the site too, and worth checking out.

While I was ecstatic to have full-time work again, it kept me from traveling. I hadn’t left the country for more than an entire year—the last time that happened was more than 20 years ago.  Never again will I let that much time elapse before crossing country borders.

To make up for it, I’ve recently embarked on an extended trip to Southeast Asia. Those who know me know that this is my favorite place in the world. I spent close to a year traveling through the region 13 years ago and longed to return for another extended stay.

Plans with my friend Sandra from Chicago for a three-week vacation in Cambodia, where I am now, had been on our calendars for close to a year. With winter approaching and me newly unemployed, I decided to make now the time for that to happen. I don’t know how long I’ll be on the road, but I planned for up to six months.

It was time to downsize. Here’s what I anticipate I might need for six months on the road.

Here’s a shot of what I think I’ll need for that time—I managed to fit it into the backpack and daypack off to the left, and it’s about twice as much as I brought last time. I’m sure I’ll end up giving away or pitching about a third by the time Sandra returns home in early December. If not, at least my arms will once again get back into shape carrying this load around.

OK, am off to rediscover Phnom Penh, a place I last visited in April 2000. I hope you’ll enjoy sharing this journey with me. (I’ll also be playing with different theme styles and types of coverage, so bear with me as this site becomes a work-in-progress.)

Happy travels!

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Football or Frisbee Tossing on L.A. County Beaches Could Cost You $1,000

Bathing beauties along Los Angeles County beaches no longer have to worry about screaming “My nose!” and living through their own Marsha Brady football incident. Or, if they do, at least the person behind the accident might have to pay for it.

Frisbee action can now cost up to $1,000 if done on a Los Angeles County beach. (Photo: Daniel Pink, via Flickr CC.2.0)

On Feb. 7, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors passed an amended ordinance that expands several beach rules, including a section on ball-playing restrictions. Specifically, “it is unlawful for any person to cast, toss, throw, kick, or roll any ball, tube, or any light object other than a beach ball or beach volleyball upon or over any beach” from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

That’s right—tossing a football or Frisbee on any L.A. County beach is now illegal, and getting caught doing so is punishable with a fine of up to $1,000.

The purpose behind this ruling is to control activities that could disrupt or injure the beach-going public.

OK, I get it. It’s L.A. Nose jobs need protection.

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10 Places [Where I’d Like] to Travel in 2012

It’s that time of year again where media outlets entice us with lists. Lots of ‘em. Aside from being reminded of the famous folks who are no longer with us and which top films of the year we’ve missed, favorites are the ones that bundle the “hot” travel destinations for the year ahead—hot, of course, being a relative term, depending on the audience for each publishing prognosticator.

I sometimes get depressed whenever a place that I fell in love with years ago, when it would barely register on travelers’ (and travel-editors’) minds, is now “in”—meaning that it likely has become too touristy and has lost its off-the-beaten-path charm. But then I slap myself and remember that I live in one of the most-visited places on the planet (New York City) and regularly visit another place travelers often complain is too touristy (Thailand), yet continue to find new ways to enjoy both of these “over-discovered” destinations.

So, without further ado, following is my list of 10 places that I’m either definitely visiting or hoping to get to in 2012, depending upon timing and ever-challenging budgetary restrictions.  (To see a round-up of the various official “where to go in 2012” travel lists, check out my Review of Lists post on the Travel Industry News Blog at Uptake.com.)

1. Culebra, Puerto Rico

Buzz about this laid-back island off the coast of Puerto Rico in the Spanish Virgin Islands has been building for the past couple years, but it still seems chill and cheap enough to plan a spontaneous getaway there for this winter. I’m in desperate need of a week on an island in the sun, enjoying fresh fish and sleeping in a hammock while reading books whose titles I won’t care to remember within a few days of returning.

Art of the Song adobe house for rent in Taos, N.M.

2. Taos, New Mexico

A friend has an adobe house in Taos that she rents out to travelers and for retreats. It’s high time I gave it a firsthand look. I fell in love with this northern New Mexico town years ago moving said friend from New York City. Even though I’ve visited since, I’m long overdue for a return, especially to experience those brilliant Southwest color-field sunsets, the peaceful Sangre de Cristo Mountains and long drives into the middle of nowhere where you never know when you’re going to run into alternative-lifestyle folks living off-the-grid.

Chicago's Oak Street Beach

3. Chicago, Illinois

Even though I left it for New York, Chicago will always be the city with which I had my first urban love affair: world-class architecture and museums; excellent theater, music and dance scenes; funky shops; and cheap bars and increasingly innovative restaurants. Let’s not forget beaches, right in the middle of the city! Even though it continues to evolve, Chicago also seems to remain the same: Plenty of old favorite neighborhood haunts haven’t changed in decades. I return in late March for a wedding, so no beach plans this time around. And Charlie Trotter announced this week that he’s closing his eponymous restaurant, 25 years after he helped put the Chicago culinary scene on the map. I guess some things can’t stay the same forever.

4.  Kenya

Aside from the obvious reasons for wanting to visit Kenya—safaris, wildlife preserves, Lake Victoria, and its interesting mix of African, Middle Eastern, Indian and European Colonial cultures—a good friend of mine is currently living in Nairobi. It’s always better to visit places when you know a “local.” Plus, it’s a country in transition, with a new constitution taking effect and a presidential election (already pushed back from August 2012 to December). There have been concerns voiced about post-election violence, so better to visit beforehand.

Costa de la Luz south of Cadiz

5.  Cádiz, Spain

My husband and I nearly visited Cádiz during our honeymoon in 2010, but we ended up down the Andalucían Costa de la Luz beachside in Tarifa (which we loved). Cádiz is one of the oldest cities in Western Europe, dating back to the ancient Phoenician era, yet 2012 marks its modern-day bicentenary year, so the city has numerous special events planned, including a pumped-up Carnival in March, historical re-enactments and a tall-ships race beginning July 26.

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Thanks for Zambia Libraries Support

Once again, the folks behind Passports with Purpose ended the year on a high note and successfully met their goal of raising $80,000 to help build two libraries in Zambia through the nonprofit literary organization Room to Read. Yay!

Actually, they raised $89,699—more than 12 percent OVER their 2011 goal. Woo hoo! A big thanks to everyone who participated the bidding. I know a number of my friends made some last-minute donations before the auction closed on December 16—thank you, thank you, thank you—and hopefully you were all winners.

I’m happy to share that the winner of the $100 Apple Gift Card from Prepare for CrossCheck was John Zook of Seattle. Congratulations, and thanks again so much for your contribution and support!

Not sure yet what the goal will be for 2012, nor who the partner organization will be, but it will sure to be an epic challenge, especially given that this will mark the fifth year for Passports with Purpose.  Looking forward to (hopefully) being able to donate an even better prize.

Here’s to fabulous travels for everyone in 2012!

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Passports With Purpose 2011: Build Libraries in Zambia

As a travel writer, I’m lucky and grateful to have enriching experiences year round. I’m always in awe of the people and cultures and traditions and hospitality I’m shown the world over.

But this time of year, the few weeks following the Thanksgiving holiday, is when I’m most psyched about and proud of my profession, thanks to Passports with Purpose.

This annual online fundraiser is where travel bloggers from all over the world come together to help give back to individuals in need around this great planet that we’re so honored to explore. In the past, the group has supported Heifer International and raised enough funds to build a school in Cambodia—one of the most amazing and heartbreaking places I’ve ever traveled—and a village in India.

The fourth annual Passports with Purpose kicked off today, and this year’s goal is to raise $80,000 to build two libraries in Zambia through the nonprofit Room to Read, which builds libraries and is focused on literacy and gender equality in education.

It’s an amazing organization that I first supported more than five years ago when I first read about it and learned that it had been founded by a fellow traveler, John Wood, a former Microsoft manager, after he had trekked through Nepal (about the same time that I was on my epic three-week Annapurna jaunt) and decided to use his tech-earned money to build libraries and supply books to the children in those remote villages.

I’m supporting Room to Read again today, through Passports with Purpose, with a $100 Apple Gift Card, which joins the dozens of other great prizes available in this year’s fundraiser, and I encourage you help support this mission as well. I’m also giving at least another $100, as I do each year, and you can help too, with as little as a $10 donation.

Here’s how it works:

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Coming Out of Hibernation

Leaves have fallen. Days are getting shorter. Temperatures are dropping. Well, maybe not so much in New York City the past few weeks, but in general. Anyway, you get the gist—winter is coming.

That season usually signals hibernation time, especially for folks like me who absolutely detest the cold and reach for the blankets whenever temperatures dip below 80 degrees Fahrenheit. (It’s true, just ask my husband, and he’ll tell you that I use a down comforter pretty much year round.) But instead I’m coming out of a self-imposed break. A good thing, too, considering that I haven’t added a post to this blog since June.

But that doesn’t mean I’ve been doing nothing.

Iguazu Falls

Provincetown, Cape Cod

I managed to get in some excellent trips the past few months: Cape Cod, Ireland (both North and the Republic), Iguazu Falls (both the Argentine and Brazilian sides), Sao Paulo and New Orleans. I’ll be writing about them all in the next few weeks. The photos here give you an idea of some of the beauty seen in each place.

Dromoland, Ireland

Pralines, Pralines, Pralines (New Orleans)

 

 

 

 

I’ve also kept busy with a few assignments, namely:

Starwood Studies Abroad – a feature about the hotel company’s executive team relocating to China for five weeks, for CFO magazine

Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibit Debuts in Times Square – a write-up on the new show, now on display at the Discovery Center in New York, for DNAinfo.com

Shining a Light on Medical Meetings – a feature about new regulations for medical and pharmaceutical meeting planners, for Successful Meetings magazine

What’s in Your Wallet? – a look at the life of a gift card, from inception to production to use, for Incentive magazine

OK, so only the first two really deal with travel. I’ve kept my foot in the travel world though, through the Uptake Travel Industry News blog. If you haven’t checked out Uptake lately, there have been plenty of changes at the site, with more to come in the near future. A highlight is its new social search feature, Travel Q&A, making it easier than ever to source travel recommendations from Facebook friends.

You’ll also find my 10 Tips for Holiday Air Travel article there. And if you need help finding the ideal hotel room, Room 77 has added new features to its hotel search site, including the ability to book directly and get free concierge services in helping to secure the room you want.

One of the main reasons though that I’m writing here again is because of Passports With Purpose, the annual fundraiser organized by travel bloggers. This season’s charity auction begins tomorrow, and the goal this year is to raise $80,000 to help build libraries in Zambia. In its first three years, Passports With Purpose donated nearly $7,500 to Heifer International and raised enough money to build a school in Cambodia and build a village in India.

Each year the ante gets upped. I’ll save the rest of the details for my post going up tomorrow, but here’s an old post about the 2009 program to give you an idea of the event.

Travelers helping others around the world. I can’t think of a better reason to come out of my proverbial cave and re-launch Prepare for CrossCheck, even if that means I’ll have to brave the coming cold.

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Air Rage

“Mind your own business!”

“I want my money back, now!”

A new-age retreat gone horribly wrong? Nope, those were just some of the heated statements made, loudly, during my American Airlines flight from Newark to Dallas earlier this week.

Just prior to take-off, two men and a woman dressed in robes and headscarves were quickly ushered onto the plane and told to take whatever available seats there were so we could depart. Clearly these passengers had been held up by security.

Two took open seats in the front row. Before they could even buckle their seatbelts, the man sitting in front of me, in the second row, started yelling that he wanted a refund.

“I want a refund! If those seats are free, then I want my money back. It isn’t fair that they get to sit there,” he complained. Loudly. “I paid extra to sit here.”

A flight attendant scurried over to address the problem. “Sir, what’s the matter? Are you in the wrong seat? Is that your seat [pointing to the front row]?”

“No, this is my seat, but I paid extra to sit up here. And if those seats are free, then I want my money back.”

“Sir, I don’t understand.” (And neither did the rest of us.)

“I paid $39 extra to sit in the first two rows. And if they get to sit there without paying extra, then I want my money back.”

Oy!

Finally understanding the situation, the attendant explained that she couldn’t give him a refund, but that he could take the matter up with a gate agent upon arrival in Dallas.

He persisted. She departed.

A few minutes later she returned to say that rules are once everyone is seated, if there are open seats, passengers can move to them. But she understood his issue and, again, there was nothing she could do about giving his money back. “Just talk to the gate agent when we land.”

A few minutes later, a man sitting behind me suddenly blurted out, “Ma’am, you need to mind your own business. You are way beyond your purview. That is not your job.” Continue reading

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Just Another Day in Downtown Brooklyn

If I hadn’t made a wrong turn out of the bank this evening, I wouldn’t have captured this lovely pile of trash burning out of control.

Just standing across the street, no concern for the growing flames.

The second video is short and shaky. The ashes and flaming debris being blown toward me and few other spectators coupled with items starting to “pop” prompted a hasty retreat.

As audible in the second video, New York’s Bravest finally arrived on the scene.

I love how nonchalantly people—including a dad and his kid—just walk on by and barely give the swirling flames a passing glance.

Only in Brooklyn.

(N.B. I’ve input all three videos in this post exactly the same way. At the time of publishing, only the third one appeared correctly; the first two you have to use the link to Youtube. Am about to get on a 20-hour flight to Taipei though, so who knows whether the third one will still work by the time I land…)

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TravelWorld International Magazine: The Adventure and Offbeat Travel Issue

My first issue as editor of TravelWorld International is now live!

The magazine is published by the North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA) and written by its members, but the content is geared toward the general traveling public.

I much prefer the flash version, which is laid out in a traditional print-magazine format. This is the place to go for all the great photography that accompanies each piece.

The main website, unfortunately, is still an HTML site, so it’s lacking in visual appeal, but an upgrade has been in the works for a while now, and I’m hopeful that the new site will be available soon.

In one of my first personal travel pieces in a long time, I write about my adventures trekking Tiger Leaping Gorge in China (page 20 in the flash version).

My former TravelMuse cohort Jill Robinson wrote about her second home, the Honduran island of Guanaja.

There also are great articles on taking an African safari, rafting in West Virginia, and slow hiking across Europe’s Via Alpina, among others. In addition, the magazine features regular columns on a variety of topics.

So check it out and tell me what you think!

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