Travelers Roundtable

Author: Robert Bundy

Often the best travel experiences are the ones that take us completely by surprise.

The overwhelming number of U.S. visitors to the Yucatan stick to the coasts. And that’s a shame. Unless all you really care about is working on your tan, resolve to go deeper. 

I’m standing on an outcropping of rock at Glacier Point looking out over Yosemite National Park when the sun finally disappears over the horizon. I’ve brought my wife and eight-year-old son here, home of one of the darkest night skies in the world, to show them something they’ve never seen before with their naked eyes: a spiral arm of the Milky Way galaxy that we call home. Neither of them have ever really seen the stars. But they’re about to.

“It’s time,” I whisper to my sleeping eight-year-old son. At the sound of my voice, his eyes open a crack, then go wide as he remembers our plan from the night before. Bounding out of his bed as if afraid I might change my mind, he dresses quietly and quickly so as to not waken his sleeping mother (who was unambiguous about her desire to sleep in) and together, as furtive as thieves, we slip out the door and make our escape.

Disney raised admission prices this month for all of their theme parks. While this comes as no surprise—regular increases have become the norm over the years—it’s a good reminder for families to spend a little time carefully planning their budgets for their eagerly anticipated vacations toDisneyland and Disney’s California Adventure. Most families skimp and save for their dream vacations to even make them possible at all. But by picking and choosing your moments to cut loose, you can transform a budget-minded Disney[…]

Ontario’s Stratford Festival is one of the great live theater attractions in North America, and they’re celebrating the 60th anniversary this year with yet another splendid season of theatrical excellence. The question is not whether you should go — you absolutely should — but how you should go about it. Here are some helpful hints about how to get there, where to stay when you arrive, and some interesting sights to enjoy along the way.

I rounded the corner to the little eddy where the travel books lived at the very back of my favorite independent bookstore and came face to face with a nattily dressed man in his late 70s. He wasn’t browsing amongst the titles; his hands were empty, and he clearly wasn’t on his way in or out of this little literary cul-de-sac stuffed with guides, maps and memoirs. He was clearly waiting. But for whom? Me?

SHHHHHHH! Don’t be afraid, I’m a friend. Listen to me: They’re coming, they’re hungry, but we won’t be here when they crash the place. Don’t worry, you’re not trapped, we’re gonna get you outta here, pal.

Around Thanksgiving, I always recall the time my wife and I were in Istanbul near the end of the festival of Ramadan.

It’s well over 100 degrees and the Spanish sun feels like a physical weight on my skin as I descend dusty stone steps to the skeletal ruins of Madinat al-Zahra.

This year is the 40th anniversary of Walt Disney World. And 40 years ago, I was a nine-year-old boy visiting the brand-new Disney World with my family. We could not afford to stay the night there. And my family could only afford to explore the new park for a single day. But we made the most of it. I remember the smell of the newly turned earth at the fringes of the entrance, the black sheen of the freshly poured[…]

My six-year-old boy just caught a fish. We’re standing where the edge of the green lawn meets the boat docks on Lake Geneva at The Abbey Resort and, after only a few minutes of casting, a nervy sunfish has brazenly decided to try to make off with his bait. After a furious battle, my son reels the creature in and lifts it into the air to admire it, the first of half a dozen that we will catch that afternoon. He’s acting like he just[…]

It’s getting late and I’m lost in the winding lanes of medieval Toledo. Normally I wouldn’t mind — it’s one of my favorite cities in the world to be lost in — but I’m due back at the hotel shortly, and first I have to find an address I haven’t looked for in more than a decade.  Somewhere in this warren of weathered doors and dusty stones is my favorite place to buy Andalusian marzipan.

I was born and raised in South Carolina. Even after my family moved north in my early teens, we still returned each summer to the old gentility of Charleston, her lush gardens and cobblestone streets, and the peaceful barrier islands that nestle along the coast. I’d not been back in almost twenty years, and while I was eager to go, I also had some trepidations about it. We don’t like to think about it, but the world moves on without[…]

In the dream, I’m lying facedown on a broad, six-foot-long leaf while being drenched from above by a warm tropical rainstorm. The rushing water cascades off my back and pools briefly between my head and the crooks of my arms before seeping away beneath, tracing the veins of the leaf as it swirls away from me. When I went to bed in Milwaukee last night, it was two degrees. Live long enough with that kind of cold and your body[…]

  I’m closer to a wild Great Blue Heron than I’ve ever been in my life. It’s just across the water from me, maybe twelve feet away, standing at the base of a waterfall that empties into a shallow lagoon. While I’m watching the huge bird, it stares at the large fish moving through the clear water that separates us. Then I sense movement on my right and turn to spot another large predatory bird, this time a Black-crowned Night[…]

It’s mid-September, and the Grand Teton National Park is on fire. Slender tendrils of smoke rise into the sky like the flags of an invading army laying claim to enemy territory.  There are five different fires in the park the day I arrive; two prescribed burns to control overgrown areas, and three that occurred naturally as a result of recent lightning strikes. The forest service keeps an eye on things to ensure that the fires don’t threaten historic structures. Otherwise[…]

I’m standing on the sidewalk on a bright, sunny September afternoon in the south of France. A lovely young woman dressed in late 19th century clothes walks past me, her eyes modestly averted. In one hand she holds a leash leading a baby goat, and in the other she leads a small boy who looks like a Dickensian paperboy. More people stream past, some dressed as Roman soldiers, others as medieval archers, and still others attired like Renaissance royalty. An adorable collection[…]

While I do love toys –who doesn’t? — I have a confession to make: I try very hard to NOT be a gadget guy. For me, a big part of traveling is leaving behind all of those hella-cool toys so they won’t clutter my consciousness when I’m out on the road actively trying to expand it. But this was not always so. Long ago, on my very first trip abroad, the customs agent at Heathrow grilled me for nearly twenty[…]

Among the greatest satisfactions of small town life is the savoring of simple pleasures. Sure, sometimes you want to travel to destinations that will set your pulse pounding. But often what you really need instead is to put yourself into a lower gear. Over the past twenty years, I’ve continually found that elusive, soothing, gentle pace in the small town of Geneva, Illinois. There are no world-class museums in Geneva. You’ll find no mention of the town in 100 Places to[…]

On a trip to London in 1998, my wife and I stayed at the home of a dear friend who had lived in London for half a century. While I had visited the old city many times, my wife had never traveled there before, and so I was taking her around the town to see a few of the world-class sites for which it is rightly famous. One morning, I informed my London-native friend that we were off to tour[…]

Click for audio on this topic from a WUWM broadcast below: Friday night, 7:30 p.m.: It’s time for my young son to go to bed, and we’re lying together and looking at the map app on my iPhone. “There we are,” I say, pointing to the blinking dot in the middle of the grid as the GPS shows us our current location, a tiny blue ripple lost in the patchwork puzzle of Southeastern Wisconsin. He stares, fascinated. “I want to[…]

I’ve been field-testing the eBags Mother Lode TLS Weekender Convertible bag for several months and it has quickly become my favorite bag. It’s built tough with heavy-duty zippers and seams (the areas where most soft-sided bags give out first.) It’s also extremely lightweight–less than four pounds empty–so along with the comfortable padded straps, it’s easy to carry for long periods. But my favorite feature is the absurdly large number of different compartments and pockets that cover the thing inside and out. I[…]

  Robert Bundy is a nationally award-winning writer, editor, and columnist. He has visited 33 countries and more than 300 cities in the last ten years and still gets a charge out of getting his passport stamped. Rob serves as editor-in-chief of TravelersRoundtable.com, and convenes The Travelers Roundtable series on WUWM Public Radio Milwaukee’s Lake Effect with host Mitch Teich. Rob has been a contributing essayist to WUWM since 2009. Rob’s work as editor/writer/photographer for Subaru Drive magazine and Subaru Drive Performance[…]

I was recently on a ship to Russia and many miles from the nearest Apple Store when I discovered to my horror that I’d left my iPhone charging cord in Helsinki. Luckily, I was saved by my NomadCard. The NomadCard is an incredibly compact, credit-card-sized USB/thunderbolt iPhone “cord” that tucks into your wallet and provides an emergency connection when you’re running low on juice. Worth every penny.

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