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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Airports Can Be Entertaining

I see you all rolling your eyes. You probably hate how much I adore airports. I downloaded GateGuru and print out the map and highlight the places to check out when I have a layover, whether it's an hour or four. Two hours is ideal in my eyes. Does it bug you that I look forward to hours at the airport? It doesn't have to be a place of misery. Maybe my excitement can rub off on you...

Why do I enjoy the airport so much? It could be that I live where the best airport is (Travel + Leisure has awarded it three years running), but I like most other city's airports, too. I'll tell you why: I view being at the airport as part of my trip. It's like a mall that also has a portal to another destination! (Yeah, I actually hate the mall, but it's the best comparison.) Once you start thinking this way, you might feel differently in the future too, not be one of those annoyed harried people who look at the route monitors with a permanent scowl. Listen, you'll eventually get to where you want to be, so chill out and enjoy yourself. Get  a snack or a beer, buy a new magazine and go check out what the airport has to offer.

Art collection

All airports now have some sort of art collection. Some even have their own galleries for those travelers who have quite a bit of time to kill. I always like to see the different things on display at different airports. Take some time to wander your terminal to check out the exhibits available. One of my favorites is the History of Flight "museum" in McCarran Airport in Las Vegas. They have a main exhibit and smaller exhibits throughout. 

Play area
Travel with kids can be trying and, after having to sit for hours without getting to flail or even stand up, jumping around and annoying people near the baggage carousel is not a fantastic way to burn off energy (or make friends). Head to the nearest play area, which almost all airports have, and let them climb and run and yell and whatever else so they can be ready to fly or for the next leg of your journey. Bonus is that they are usually airplane themed and lots of kids love pretending to be a pilot. 

Workout rooms
These may be few and far between, but if you're lucky enough to go through an airport with some, pack some shorts and a tee in your carry-on to do some running or strength training. Getting some exercise is a great way to stay alert and get moving after a long flight of being folded into a tiny space. If you normally get a workout in during the day, then you're not missing out by sitting on the plane.

You're probably bringing your laptop, so why not toss a couple DVDs in your bag to watch if you have 90+ minutes to spare on your layover. If you're lucky, you might be in one of those fancy schmancy airports that have an actual theater for travelers and you can see a new movie on a big screen.

Treat yourself to a massage, pedicure of something else a little luxurious. I've been lucky enough to get a manicure at the Butter London location in Seattle, but we've also hit up the Xpress Spas on trips as well. They do their best to make your treatments short and sweet, so if you have a tighter connection, you can still catch your flight.

Specialty souvenir shops
Bring home gifts to commemorate your trip for yourself or others. If you're just passing through, this is also a great way to sample some of the local flavor, whether it's candy or beer or whatever else. Fair warning, when you go through Portland (PDX) and think Oregon Rain sounds like a fantastic water choice, just don't.

Go sightseeing
If you have a fairly long layover, don't think you can't get out and enjoy your stopover city a bit. We had 8 hours in Vancouver, BC (YVR), rented a car and made a fun day out of it. Recently, we flew through Salt Lake (SLC) and they had a brochure about taking a two-hour tour into their historical center. They have an airport shuttle to drop you off and bring you back and they get tourists into town and a little extra money in their economy. That was pretty genius to me. 

Buy something you forgot 
Or entertainment. My favorite new shops are the 24-hour kiosks in airports. You can buy everything from travel-sized makeup to fancy noise-canceling headphones to an ebook reader. You pay full price, but if you forget that sunscreen you love from Supergoop! or the best ever Benefit foundation, you can get them at whatever time you're stuck at the airport.

What do you like to do to pass the time at airports?

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Best of Free Las Vegas (Part 2)

As you probably know, Las Vegas can be quite expensive. It used to be that you could barely sit at a machine before you were asked if you wanted a (free) drink or you could walk into any hotel and find a place to eat for super cheap. That's not really so anymore, but the food game is strong in Sin City, so I'm always willing to splurge on some good meals (not all, mind you) and find some ways to save elsewhere on my trip. 

The list of free things in Vegas is pretty long, so I've narrowed it down to some of my favorites. View my previous post if you missed it.

I remember when downtown LV was not much to write home (or blog posts) about, but since the revamp of hotels like the Golden Nugget, it's cool again. Stop in here to see the World's Largest (and Second Largest) Gold Nugget on display, which is quite phenomenal, but also take a walk through the hotel, get some fancy ice cream or admire the shark tank out by the pool. If you aren't staying at the hotel to use the pool, or want to pay $30 for a tour, you'll have to look at it from afar, but it's still pretty darn cool. You can see big sharks and little sharks among large fish and maybe you'll even see some brave soul slide through the tube on their way to the pool at the bottom. 

There's still a lot of sketchy people around downtown, but they are pretty harmless and won't bother you (in my experience). In fact, there's plenty of people watching and no place is better for it downtown than Fremont Street. Oddly, of the many times I've been to Vegas, this is the first time I've made it down there and I went twice, once during the day and once at night. There was the happiest drunk down there dancing to the free music and dressed as Santa Claus. He gave me all the joy. The Fremont Street everyone talks about is actually just three blocks of actual Fremont Street, covered in a canopy that lights up at night. There are three stages where live music plays and then they stop throughout the night for you to turn your attention skyward to watch live "concerts" and other light shows on the canopy. We were treated to three songs (with concert footage and YouTube vids) by Bon Jovi. I loved it!

Would you believe that sometimes those in-flight magazines help you with last-minute travel planning? Delta's mag, besides having a totally clean crossword (yay!), told me one of the new things in Vegas was  the Downtown Container Park. I immediately folded down the page to look up when we touched down. Unfortunately, we only saw it in the daytime on the Big Bus and when we went back for late dinner, most of the container stores were closed, but it was still fun to hang out. Wednesday and Sunday nights they run movies in their "park" and it's 21 and over after 9pm (which, coincidentally, is when the movies start). You'll find all sorts of mini shops here, an eclectic range of restaurants and even a playground for the kids during the day. In the front, you'll find a giant metal praying mantis that lights up the night by breathing fire to different rockin' music selections. It's kind of worth it just to see that.

I think everyone thought I was a liar last year when I was like "Flamingos! For free! Let's go see them!" The Flamingo Habitat at the Flamingo Hotel and Casino is open 24 hours a day. Despite the name, it also has other birds, turtles and fish in a cute little courtyard with ponds, fountains, waterfalls and tropical plants. I visited both at night and during the day and it was pretty cool both times. If you really want to view all the animals on display, swing by in the morning or at dusk (it'll be cooler than in the afternoon).

So, have I told you my new favorite hotel is the Cosmopolitan? Not only is it crazy beautiful, but they also have a very unique collection of art on display, especially on the second floor. Apparently, they have an art gallery as well, but I didn't get to that. The food here is amazing, so we spent a little more time here than strictly necessary, but that just means we got tosee more, including Lucky Cat. This is an adult's only activity that is absolutely free. Lucky Cat opens at 4pm every evening and gives out fortunes and, for a select few, freebies. We went twice and both times Eric got a freebie (concert tickets one night and a free coffee another). It was too bad we couldn't actually use either of them

The new Linq Hotel is pretty posh as is the Promenade that is full of shops and restaurants and the cute little Sprinkles Cupcakes store that I had to try. Amidst all the free graffiti art, window shopping and people watching you'll find the Polaroid Museum. Upstairs from the Polaroid Shop (where you can instantly print your fab vacation photos!) is the Polaroid Museum where you can learn all about Edwin Land and the evolution of Polaroid photography. See the different cameras through the years, history-making photos and instant picture artists. It's only one room, but there's quite a bit to see in it, including Andy Warhol art...for free.

Forgot your camera or want a unique memory of your visit to Las Vegas. There are now uPostcard stands all over the place. Take a pic with something fun in the background and instantly share it with your Facebook friends, Twitter feed or email it to yourself and everyone else you know. It's easy and you get a five-second delay to perfect your pose after you push the camera button. Above is the one we took at Bodies, because you aren't allowed to take pictures inside, so you get a souvenir of some sort to take away.

Maybe you're walking past Caesar's like I was the first time I stopped here, or maybe you're waiting for a table for brunch at Serendipity 3 like the second time I stopped here, but the Prayer Shrine in front of Caesar's is number one adorable, but also relaxing and a nice place to stop and reflect and maybe send up a prayer or two to Krishna (or whoever you pray to) to win a few bucks more than you started with. There are prayer benches built into the shrine and they also provide you with incense and matches to let the smoke take it where it needs to go (is that how it works? No? Okay.). There's a discreet donation box where I suggest giving a buck or two for upkeep, because this thing is gorgeous and I think helped me win $80! P.S. It did not make me smart enough to not put some of that $80 back into the slots.

So, there you have it. My list of some of the cool free things to do in Vegas which are not totally lame and are worth walking for (or in the case of downtown stuff, driving or taking the bus). I'm surprised by how much floral and landscaped stuff exists in the middle of the desert, which is probably why I like it so much more. Add some of these freebies in with your paid for activities and your money will go further, while your trip will still seem full. You don't have to spend money to have fun, but you do have to spend money to eat, so later I'll give you the tips on the best splurgiest (it could be a real word) places to have a meal that'll make your trip a little more spectacular. {And if you need ideas on things that cost money, but not all the money, check out this post.}

What are your favorite freebies in Vegas?
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