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Panama Rocks in Chautauqua, NY

I had seen this place on the map a few times and thought about visiting, but it was always too close for a real trip and too far for a day trip. That horrible middle ground made it an unattractive destination to me despite the beautiful photos I’d seen.

That’s another thing with visiting natural attractions like Panama Rocks. If you see too many photos of the destination you start to convince yourself that you’ve seen the best parts and there’s no need to go. Or at least I do. So when I got to Panama Rocks I was pleasantly surprised.

I was aware that I would have free reign to climb all over any rock formation I wanted, but I didn’t realize just what that would mean. The map shows a loop that’s the main walking path and then some smaller paths that go around sections inside the loop. These are just the recommended paths but I spent over 2 hours exploring just the first half of the loop! I was actually trying to find the clues to a treasure hunt in the park. The hunt was based on some real life history too!

Back in the day, there was an unknown bank robber that supposedly hid his fortune in Panama Rocks. It’s a believable story since a number of known criminals used the spot for counterfeiting. The treasure hunt borrows the famous names from the history of the town over, but has you looking for the lost loot. (If you were interested, the names used are from the true story of a murderer who tossed his victim into a vat of beer. NY has a long and colorful history!)

The other interesting bit of information I learned about Panama Rocks, and Panama, NY, is that they truly are named after that Panama. It seems that when a merchant visited the early settlement he remarked that the rock formations looked similar to the ones he had seen in Panama. There were some arguments about if the town should be named after the rocks or one of the founding families, but it was decided that the rocks were there before the settlers and so it was known as Panama Rocks.

It’s not far outside of Erie, PA and this stop is a great reason to avoid the boring toll road of I-90. I’d recommend it to anyone traveling between Buffalo, NY and Erie, PA.


A Random Rendezvous in New Orleans

New Orleans is one of those cities that’s likely to be on everyone’s bucket list, or at least, it was on mine. I’ve been putting off visiting for a while but took my friend up on his invite to come visit recently, and had a fantastic time.


The (Sea)Food

I love to try local food when I’m visiting somewhere and was not disappointed by anything I tried while in Louisiana. My first night in New Orleans we stopped at Draggo’s for their famous charbroiled oysters. Naturally, I got myself an Abita Strawberry beer to go with it. It only seemed right. I’m not typically a clam person, but these were fantastic. If I’m being fair, you really taste the cheese and garlic more than the oysters themselves, but I was way okay with that.

draggos fried clams

During the trip, we stopped at a number of other great places including Deanie’s Seafood, Restaurant des Familles, Café du Monde, and Port of Call. Needless to say there were no bad meals on this trip. (Ok, technically I did get sick from eating gelato at Sucré, but that’s my own fault for being slight lactose intolerant…and it was worth it.)

sucre candy


Two, no wait, three meals stood out in particular though. First, I hate sandwiches. When my friend said we were going to get this special sandwich I had my doubts. Turns out “muffulettas” are amazing and the exception to the all-sandwiches-are-horrid rule. It’s pretty simple, olives, cheese, meat, but it’s oh so good and I’m kind of craving one every time I think about it.

sandwich and chips

The second dish that surprised me was a fried soft shell crab. I had never even heard of a soft shell crab before this trip. In retrospect, it seems a lot less wasteful than eating a (regular?) crab because well, I ate every bit of this soft shell crab. Turns out, soft shell crabs aren’t a breed or variety of crab, they are just crabs that are in-between shells. As in, they molted their last one off and now they are waiting on the new one. It’s clearly a vulnerable time for a crab, but in the culinary world it means you can cook the whole crab up and eat it legs, head, and all.

soft shell crab sandwich

The third fantastic dish was crayfish, I mean, crawfish. See, I have always known crayfish as those little guys that muck around in ponds and assumed that, “crawfish,” were some other kind of much tastier swamp critter. Turns out crawfish, crayfish, and crawdads are all the same thing. And I ate them. I also learned that it’s a bit of a process to peel and eat them. It reminded me a bit like shelling peanuts, except for the instructions to eat peanuts doesn’t include, “sucking the heads and pinching the tails.” Despite the work, these guys were pretty delicious. I mean, you can’t really hate something that’s drenched in spices and butter.

crayfish crawfish crawdads

As a bonus, because I love meeting random people, the table next to us was a sweet old couple that was chuckling at my crawfish-eating ineptitude. As it turns out, the husband was Louisiana born, and the wife was from Detroit. She assured me that I was doing fine at shelling my crayfish despite being a northerner. (And I was the perfect segway for her to remind her husband that she wanted to visit NY again soon.)


Okay, wait, there was one other dish I remembered liking a lot. It was alligator stuffed mushrooms! I’ve had alligator jerky before and it was really gross. It was stringy and gamey. I could hardly eat it and I love jerky. Fortunately, I don’t learn from bad experiences so I decided to try my luck with some fancy gator meat. The mushrooms did taste like gator meat, but the sauce they used was just the right amount of spicy to make the dish good. It completely masked the horridness of eating a trashcan with teeth. Ten out of ten, would eat again.


Drinking in New Orleans

I decided this needed it’s own section because drinking in New Orleans, as it turns out, is nearly an art. They have everything just right. First off, most people know this so it’s not really a surprise, but you can drink in public in a section of the city. In fact, what might be better is that you can ask your bartender for a to-go cup for your half finished coke and rum for your stroll to wherever you’re headed next. No drinks left behind.

I’m told the tourist thing to do is to get a hand-grenade on Bourbon Street and walk around drinking that. Of course, you want to know what the locals do right? After all, who doesn’t want to look like an experienced traveler and get the “real” vibe of a place when they visit? I have it on good authority that locals go to a place called Port of Call and order “Neptune’s Monsoon.” After doing this myself, even if it’s not what locals do, I strongly suggest it. It’s quite possibly the fruitiest way to get drunk in public anywhere in the world.

port of call

Lastly, on drinking in New Orleans, I have to mention the drive-through daiquiris. They have some interesting open container laws in Louisiana as it turns out. If you get a cup with a straw in it’s wrapper, that counts as a closed container. Actually, even if the straw is in the cup, but they’ve left that little scrap of paper on the drinking end, it still counts as a “closed container.” That piece of paper is clearly a seal if you didn’t know. I can’t decide if this is brilliant or stupid. The place we went to for our drive-through daiquiris was an actual bar. No joke. You could see the whole bar vibe just behind the pick-up window. Certainly worth doing even if you’re not much of a drinker because it’s a just a cool experience.



Swamp Life

I’ve lived most of my life in a swamp. A large portion of our county was designated wetlands with the most famous section belonging to the Native Americans. Still, the swamp in Louisiana was unlike anything I had seen up north.


I hiked through part of the Jean Lafitte National Park & Preserve and was astonished at how beautiful the swamps were. From the Spanish Moss, to the black water, there was something almost magical about the landscape. This trip inspired me to take up the advice I was given on a previous trip by a stranger in a pickup. The guy had told me I would enjoy hiking more if I started to make a logbook of the interesting things I had seen on my hike. As soon as I got home, I purchased a book and jotted down all the interesting species of plant, insect, and animal that I came across. Of course I saw a number of different alligators, though I was not skilled enough to distinguish them further than that. I also saw a very young baby white-tail deer. I swear it was much smaller than the baby deer up north, but I suppose that was a small sample size. I also got a beautiful photo of a vomiting russla and the Spanish moss. My friend even caught a male carpenter bee that we found trying to burrow into the wooden welcome sign at the park!


One other interesting bit of wildlife that we saw on our trip, though this was on private property and not at the park, were nutra. Nutra (also known as river rats) are actually an invasive rodent that Europeans brought over for fur trapping decades ago. Turns out they really thrive in swampy areas and have made it on the USDA’s most wanted list. There were so many in the swamp it’s hard to even describe it. As we rode through the area on airboat they just sprung from the ground in every direction. I can see why they have tried making them into everything under the sun, including dog treats!


Speaking of airboats, that was a fantastic way of seeing the swamp. Hiking was great because it was at our own pace, but I felt like taking the airboat made it easier to get a sense of the swamp wildlife. Heck, we got to see a mother tree*, and that was flipping cool!

And of course, because I love aquariums, I had to stop in to the one in New Orleans. I’ve been to a number of aquariums, and I always see those, “pet the stingray” tanks, but this was the first time I was ever able to actually pet the stingrays. And yes, the first thing I thought of when I touched it was, “this is so soft…I can’t believe this is what killed Steve Erwin.” RIP Steve. I’m told I missed out on an insectarium in New Orleans, but the aquarium was still very beautiful.


Louisiana’s History

My favorite US War (everyone has one of those right?) is the War of 1812. Mostly and only because it’s the sole naval conflict the US fought in our own waters, the great lake to be specific. How cool is that?! Maybe I only find it fascinating because the great lakes are practically in my backyard and the idea that there are sunken battle ships at the bottom of them is exciting, but whatever. Go War of 1812!

Until this trip I hadn’t actually realized that some of the final battles in the war were fought in Louisiana, specifically, on the Mississippi River outside of New Orleans. This made New Orleans an even more exciting place to visit. And I’ll admit I’ve been listening to the Battle of New Orleans song quite a bit since visiting. I’m told it’s practically historically accurate, except maybe for the part where they started using gators as cannons.


Aside from the War of 1812, there was a lot of interesting architecture in New Orleans. There was a clear French influence in a number of different neighborhoods. The Garden District in particular had a number of fantastic homes including the one that housed the witch coven in American Horror Story! (I didn’t get a chance to go in, private residence and all, but I sure as heck took some photos from the outside.)


I also spent some time walking around one of the older cemeteries in New Orleans. It hadn’t occurred to me that because the area was below sea-level people were buried in mausoleums and not below ground. Up north you only see the richest of people being buried that way, but here I guess that is your only option aside from cremation. Another interesting thing about this cemetery in particular was that many of the tombs made a point of mentioning where the family was originally from. They identified as “Originally from Germany,” or “Native from France,” which I found rather humorous. Even in death they didn’t want to identify as Americans!


Of course, the most magnificent architecture I saw on the trip was the Catholic Church I meandered into. It looked remarkably similar to the Catholic Churches I’ve seen up north, uninfluenced by the French-American architecture style surrounding it. As I did a lap around the pews I took note of the subtle differences including the seashell shaped pulpit for the priest to lecture at, and the inclusion of a number of different religious figures I don’t tend to see, including Joan of Arc. Despite your religious stance, you can’t deny the beauty of these buildings.


After riding around on authentic streetcars (not those stupid busses that look like trollies) and touring all of these historic places we stopped for a more modern New Orleans experience. My friend and guide insisted that we stop to see the Migon Faget store in the nearby mall. This designer is known for her authentic New Orleans style. I have to admit, it was probably the only time I’ve ever seen a gold pendent of a kidney bean. The design of the jewelry and dishes were certainly able to capture the vibe of New Orleans as I had seen it. I debated heavily about getting glasses with etched crayfish or clams on them, but ultimately settled for the clams with their 1950’s charm.


New Orleans is a fantastic city filled with friendly people and rich history. I’m glad I didn’t put off visiting any longer than I did and would certainly recommend that people not pass over it when visiting the south!


*A mother tree in this instance is a tree that has toppled over in the swamp, but isn’t dead. Instead of dying, branches shoot out from the trunk of the tree that look like individual trees. They are still receiving nutrients from the, “mother tree” though and wouldn’t be able to be separated from one another.

My Truck Camper Project


I’ve been working on this for a little while now, but I’ve only shown a couple people the work in progress. For those who don’t know, I drive a Ford Ranger. Actually, I’ve always driven a Ford Ranger. I can’t really picture driving anything else at this point despite being capable of buying pretty much anything else.


This is what my truck has looked like since I got it. When I got my first Ranger I remember telling my father that I didn’t want to keep the cap on the back because caps are for old men. I ditched the cap and got a roll-up tonneau cover. It made it easy to keep people from throwing trash into the back of my truck, (yes that really used to happen to me!) and it was just as easy to toss my kayaks or SUP boards in the back. Of course, things change. I decided I wanted to take a camping road trip and began planning out how to make a tiny home, nay, micro home, out of my truck bed.


This is now what my truck looks like from the outside. It’s not 100% done yet, but I think I’m at a point where I can show the world my progress. You might be surprised at just how much I’ve been able to do for nearly nothing. Or at least, I’m surprised I’ve been able to do so much for nearly nothing so I’m going to tell you about it.

This is the rundown of my costs:

  • Truck cap = Free
  • Lexan for replacement windows = $35
  • Replacement window screen = $1
  • Replacement seals = $15
  • Spray paint = $18
  • Interior paint = Free
  • Bed = Free
  • Table = Free
  • Chair = $20
  • Water jug = $12
  • Decal = $3
  • Carpet = Free
  • Solar panel setup = $115
  • New locks = $35
  • Extra locks = $12

So if you’re adding this all up I’ve got a grand total of $266 for this truck camper micro home. Please keep that in mind when you see the inside… Let me also explain some of these free items. My family is a bunch of savvy problem-solving types. My dad in particular knows how to find good materials and use them for amazing project results. The truck cap was a gift from one of his friends who’s as enthusiastic about Ford Rangers as I am. It was white and I wanted a black cap so my minimal investment into spray paint was totally worth it.

One of the windows was broken and the other was replaced with plexi glass, which scratches real bad, so I decided to get a sheet of lexan to cover that. I painted the inside with some paint that my parents had left over from something or another. That was mostly to keep myself from getting a million fiberglass slivers, but it also made it easier to hang my ceiling decal.

The bed and table were made out of reclaimed barn wood. My dad saved some from a barn that he helped take down not too long ago. It’s also certainly in vogue to use reclaimed barn wood. (I watch too much HGTV.) The stain used on the wood was again, just some leftovers from a past project.

I think the only other free item I didn’t clarify was the carpet. These were carpets that a local business was getting rid of. They are nice durable carpets that people throw down in the winter to pick up salt and work perfect for my needs.


Tahdah! I know it’s a bit small, but yes I can sleep on the bed and yes I can sit in the chair. I’m planning to add a bit more tech to this to make it even more comfortable (wifi, cooking stove, and some better organization).

You might be able to see that there is a good amount of storage under the bed and table. I’ve actually already got my SUP paddles, lifejackets, kites, snorkel, and a bunch of other fun things packed under the bed. I’ll be adding more too! Under the table is where my clothes and personal hygiene stuff will go. Food and snacks will go up front. (I’ve already started making tons of dehydrated food.) Can you tell I’ve been thinking about this for a while?

It’s crazy, and I know that, but I’ve been thinking about how you could live comfortably out of a vehicle for nearly almost all my life. I used to ride the school bus and think about what seats I would remove and how I would reorganize everything to turn it into a camper. This is obviously on a much smaller scale than that, but the challenge has been a lot of fun. (And at 25 mpg this might be a bit more economical than a bus camper!) When I put the finishing touches on I’ll be sure to post again!

You have to strive every minute to get rid of the life that you have planned in order to have the life that’s waiting to be yours. Move, move, move….

                                                  — Joseph Campbell

So You’re Going to PAX in Boston


Boston is a great city filled with history, great food, and huge events. This weekend the Boston Marathon and PAX will be going on in the city, but that doesn’t mean people going to either event shouldn’t take a few extra days to explore.

I’ll admit, the last time I spent a significant amount of time in Boston was for my school’s 6th grade whale watch. It was an insanely fun time though we did end up on a bit of a Gilligan’s Island whale watching tour. (The boat got caught in a storm, but instead of shipwrecking us we just lost our dinner reservations and had to eat from to-go boxes on the bus.)

This time around I’ll be spending most of my time at PAX, but I’ll be visiting a few of those destinations that 6th grade me just wouldn’t have appreciated. I’m sure there are a number of people who weren’t able to secure 3-day passes and will be taking a day or two off as well.


The New England Aquarium

The aquarium opened in the 60’s and draws huge crowds nearly all year round. They have the exhibits you would expect, sharks, stingrays, turtles, and of course, penguins. If you’re lucky, or plan well, you can even catch the penguins during feeding time!


Museum of Science

Every city has their own museum of science, but this one has the world’s largest open-air Van de Graaff generator. You know, those balls you can touch and they make your hair stand up, but just much much more powerful. Of course, there are other things to see like the butterfly garden and exhibits about relatively new areas of science including renewable energy and nanotechnology.


Skywalk Observatory

The main appeal of the skywalk is just getting a really good view of Boston. There are some exhibits and informational sections of the skywalk, but it’s truly about the view!


Museum of Fine Arts

This is one of the largest museums in the country so it’s hard to pass up. The museum constantly is updating its collection, but the structure itself has changed a bit in the past few years. Just last year they renovated their Japanese garden!


Visiting one or two of those attractions is exciting, but if you do decide to go to all of them you can save some money by buying a CityPass. CityPass offers a package to visit all of those attractions, (the Museum of Fine Arts can be substituted for a cruise in Boston Harbor), for $55 instead of the retail $96-and-some-change.

The Woodland Welfare Manifesto


This was a hilarious comic I picked up at last Comic Con and just got around to reading it. It’s a timely read with the increasing popularity of socialist values that’s cropped up recently.

Now, I argue quite a bit with my friends about politics, because don’t we all know what’s best for our countries complex social and economic systems? This comic pokes fun at capitalism and socialism in the best ways. And without ruining the ending, has a fairly realistic compromise between the two systems.


As you can probably tell from the artist’s style, the characters are wacky.  They remind me a lot of old school Cartoon Network cartoons, the obnoxious and crass ones, like Cow & Chicken and Ed, Ed, & Eddy. The content of the comic is certainly intended for an older audience than those shows though.

If you want to pick up a copy for yourself, I strongly encourage you read it cover-to-cover. There are a ton of funny little things written in places you would normally find boring legal information. The author and illustrator both give entertaining biographies, and as a bonus, you get a Free Record!*

You may also notice that this comic is published by one of my favorite companies, SLG Publishing. Their humor is my humor, which is probably why I enjoy them. Some of the notable comics they’ve published include Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, Filler Bunny, Gloomcookie, NIL: A Land Beyond Belief, and Mr. Blank.
*They add a disclaimer that the record, while free, isn’t actually real.

Happy World Heritage Day!

sarah kohl seneca nation flag

If you’re not aware, today is world heritage day. It’s clearly not one of the better holidays for selling cards, chocolate, or other gifts so I won’t blame you if you’ve never heard of it. World Heritage day was created to raise awareness of global cultural diversity. The International Council for Monuments and Sites, yes such a thing exists, suggest that people go visit monuments today. (They would suggest that wouldn’t they!) Instead, I would like to share a bit that I’ve learned about my own culture and heritage.

My great-grandmother was a Seneca Native American, (I’m not considered one since it was my grandfather’s mother and the Seneca’s are a matrilineal society), and while a large number of places in New York are named after nations in the Iroquois Confederacy, a shamefully limited history and understanding is taught about them. They actually played a significant role in the creation of North America as we see it today. They traded with the French and the Dutch, but shifted their loyalties to the British after the French attempted to wipe them out. Just think, you might be reading this in French had that allegiance stood longer!

One of the better elective classes I took at college was about the culture of the Seneca Nation. It was taught by a Seneca National, and offered an unexpected amount of insight. I generally dislike when people concern themselves with the polite way to say things, and try to focus more on what’s being said. So while I may at times use the word, “tribe,” when I really should say, “nation,” there was one mental correction that I did make thanks to this class. The religion of the Seneca Nation is usually framed as mythology and folklore by history. When our instructor first pointed this out I scoffed. It seemed crazy to me, who would believe their savior would show up in an iron canoe?

When our professor started to describe the insanity believed by other religions it started to make more sense. Iron ships are much more real than water turning into wine, but our society depicts Native Americans as irrelevant, historic, and primitive. That didn’t happen by accident either!

The more I read and learned about the Seneca Nation the more impressed I was by them. I love their religious allegories, but even their present-day culture is fascinating. Their society still exists despite numerous hardships and obstacles. And while the Seneca Nation has it’s problems, they are one of the few nations that owns their land instead of leasing it from the US Government. They have some insightful leaders to thank for that!

So my advice for those looking to celebrate World Heritage day, would be to do some reading about the Native Americans who helped shape this country and got nothing in return. The Seneca Nation keeps an informative website, and there’s always wikipedia.

I suppose if you still want to go to some monuments, you should. The International Council for Monuments and Sites would certainly approve!

Not All Trips Have to be Far Away

sarah kohl take day trips because they are cheap and fun

It wasn’t until I was an adult that I traveled internationally. My family went on one vacation my whole life. Even still, we took a lot of day trips locally for various events so it did feel like I was traveling a lot.

Day trips are a great way for those who are restless to fulfill their need to travel without breaking the bank. So take day trips, and take them often! And I know what people say, “there’s nothing to do around here,” but I highly doubt it. I grew up in a county where the biggest city was constantly claiming to be a “micropolitan.” Yes, they made up a word to make it sound like they were a real city with people in it. Despite living within 50 or so miles of there my whole life, I’m still finding things I didn’t even know existed around here. Here are my tips on how you can start to find new, “stuff to do,” around you too.

Explore New Hobbies
It only took a minute or so for me to find all of the public boat launches and fishing spots in my state. Kayaking is becoming more and more popular so it’s easy to find a boat for less than $300. If that’s too much, then go out and get yourself a $50 fishing pole and enjoy just sitting outside with some friends. In some states you’ll need a fishing license, but those are extremely easy to get.


Think Like a Tourist

I guarantee there is a tourism department regardless of how rural your area is. You should be able to pickup some brochures or give them a call for some ideas as to what you can do locally for fun. If you don’t like contacting people, and of course no judgments, then do some internet searches. No, I don’t mean checking trip advisor for a, “Top Ten Best Ever Things You Have To Do Before You Die,” lists. Go into Google or Bing maps and search for attractions around your address. This is how I found out about the eternal flame near me!

Go Places You Already Know

Maybe you went to a local park years ago and haven’t been back since. Why not revisit it? This time you could add a new goal like bird watching or tree identification. I know it sounds lame, but it will grow on you, promise. There are also all of those place people hear about their whole life, but never make time to go to. Mine is a waterfall nearby. I know it’s there, people have told me about how great it is, but for whatever reason I’ve never bothered to visit.


Look for Haunted Places

I guarantee there is at least one person with a website claiming something near you is haunted. It doesn’t even matter if you believe in ghosts, the stores you’ll hear about the location will be entertaining on their own. Maybe it’s a scorned lover or a tragic murder that’s moving dishware! Keep your mind open, don’t be insulting, and you’ll enjoy yourself.


Find Local Events

Facebook is a great way to see what events are going on around you. It might be a movie theater showing a special movie marathon or it could be a local band playing their first concert. You just don’t know unless you’re looking! Facebook even tries to guess what you might be interested in. It’s the one time data mining pays off for the users!


So don’t make excuses for not going on day trips. I’m sure there are plenty of interesting things around you to do. Just look a little harder.

There’s No Luxury on a Cruise Ship

why you should never go on a cruise and why cruise lines are evil

Let me start off by saying I’ve never been on a cruise ship. I’ve heard stories, seen pictures, and understand the appeal, but I have no desire to be on a cruise ship. It seems that, unlike everyone else, I can’t see the luxury others find in a cruise.

The idea of a cruise is great. I love boats, meeting people, and being lazy. To make it all better, a cruise is generally cheap. At face value, you can’t really go wrong. In fact, most people who tell me about their cruise vacations come back ecstatic and rave about the fantastic time they had. The entertainment often consists of comedians, movies, games, and live music leaving you little time to get bored. And after your fun-filled day, you get back to your room to find your towels are folded into cute animals! I’m also told that the food on board is better than good and portioned out well for those on strict diets. How could I be such a scrooge? Who wouldn’t want a vacation like that?

Cruises are marketed as a luxury experience that middle to low-income families and couples can enjoy. As a society, we often feel the need to treat ourselves to perceived luxury. Unfortunately, those providing the great service you experience on cruise ships don’t have that same opportunity. Most cruise ships are staffed by people from impoverished countries like the Philippines and can be paid as little as $400 per month.

These positions are contracted for a period of 6 months or more, and there is no quitting once you take the job. (Alright you can quit, but you have to pay to get home and pay for your time on the boat. The same applies if you get fired. It’s not against the rules, but most can’t afford it.) And while these workers receive free food and accommodations, there are a host of other hidden costs they incur when taking a job on a cruise ship. Workers are required to pay for transportation to and from the cruise ships that they’re scheduled to work on. In some cases cruises won’t even pay for the workers return flight home after completing the job leaving people stranded in foreign lands. These workers are expected to pay for the visas and work permits that are required to work for the cruise company as well as navigate the complex application process on their own. Most cruises spend little effort on actually helping their employees. Taxes, health care, travel insurance, are all just a few more things that the cruise lines have pushed back onto these contract workers. The worst part is that cruise ship workers end up relying heavily on gratuities, yet cruise-goers often feel these are unnecessary since they were promised an “all inclusive” price. While on board, they work for seven days a week doing 10-13 hour shifts to meet the increased demand for luxury onboard cruise ships. They also only make money when they are working on a cruise. Should there be a gap in-between cruises, they can find themselves broke and homeless.

Even if you can ignore the treatment of cruise staff, there’ve been more and more reports of what are affectionately known as, “poop cruises.” Can you imagine being isolated at sea when ALL of the toilets break onboard? Or how about being on a ship with over 600 people puking uncontrollably from a mysterious gastrointestinal illness? Well I suppose you don’t have to if you read the news often enough and those are only the stories that the industry can’t keep quiet. Cruise ships have long been criticized for covering up incidents to protect their image. It’s gone as far as not helping police with abduction, human trafficking, and disappearance cases. Some speculate that they may even aid in covering up crimes to keep any bad press from getting out. If that’s a bit too much of a conspiracy for you to accept, then at least recognize that until recently caught, cruise ships were trying to cover up the criminal amount of pollution they were dumping into the ocean.

Speaking of the environment, cruise ships kill whales? Unfortunately, it’s not a very quick death either. When cruise ships hit whales they tend to become snagged on the ship and are dragged around until death. Some whales are more susceptible to, what is known as a “whale strike,” than others. For instance, this is a major problem for right whales in the Northern Atlantic. They are an endangered baleen whale that happens to move much slower than cruise ships trying to keep their schedule. Apart from the whale strikes, many cruise lines still visit Faroe Islands. These islands celebrate once a year by dragging pilot wales out into shallow water, slicing them open, and letting them bleed to death. Cruise lines have been petitioned to stop visiting the islands so that the island economy wouldn’t be able to benefit from the lucrative tourism, however few cruise lines have bothered to change their routes.

Even if people don’t care about other people, whales, aiding investigations, or the environment, why don’t they care more about their own vacation experience? Cruises can take you to great places without all the hassle of driving or flying, but you don’t really get to experience those wonderful destinations. Cruises are for lazy vacation planners. For example, while I was in Puerto Rico I was traveling with someone who had previously visited Puerto Rico on a cruise. On our trip, we hiked to an isolated waterfall, ate fresh fruit for pennies, had miles of beach to ourselves, went night SUPing, and swam in one of the three bio bays. The last day, we spent a small amount of time prior to flying out in the main city of San Juan. This was the only spot in Puerto Rico that was familiar to my travel companion and it was arguably the least enjoyable part of the trip. The beaches were overcrowded, the food was expensive, and the culture of Puerto Rico was lost. I couldn’t imagine someone thinking they had a good sense of Puerto Rico if they had only jumped off a cruise ship in San Juan.

So again, I don’t see the luxury or enjoyment in cruises. I understand their appeal, but I personally hope to never go on a cruise and wish others would educate themselves about the industry before booking.

Netflix is Officially More Expensive Than Amazon Prime

netflix price increase means amazon prime is officially cheaper than netflix

Do you remember Netflix way back in the day? Before it was primarily a streaming service, their tiered plans revolved around how many disks a month you could order. You might also remember their marketing practices were horrible. They used misleading banner ads, hid the terms of your account billing, and made it so that no matter when in the billing cycle you canceled your account, your access was instantly shut off and you received no refunds. There goes that free month you got when you joined!

Yeah, for those of us who remember, Netflix has never actually been a, “good” company. They were innovators of at-home entertainment, but certainly no hero. The first time I registered to Netflix was in college. I didn’t want to support pirated movies and thought it was a great solution. I signed up for the three disks a month plan. I’d done the math, and realized that if I watched a disk the day it came, and subsequently shipped it out the same day, I could get more than my money’s worth of DVDs. The streaming was just a bonus! (Mostly because the content sucked.)

The playing field has changed since then though. Netflix isn’t the only streaming service out there and their growth strategy is painfully obvious. It’s no coincidence that they have been cranking out more and more Netflix Originals. My prediction for the online streaming video industry is that soon every content producer will own their own streaming service separate from the cable networks they currently work with. Movie studios will have their own streaming services too! And of course, there will be one company getting rich by creating these video streaming platforms for the major studios. Those companies providing the software will be key in allowing packaged streaming services, you might recall the phrase “bundling” from old cable and satellite TV ads…

Netflix can’t survive on leasing their content. They know that, and they need to be content owners to move forward. It’s also more profitable since by owning the content they have more control over how it’s used, how it’s promoted, and they don’t have to share a cut of their earnings with anyone else.

So why should Netflix be worried? Because before that magical day of bundled streaming services, they will have to balance a full offering of leased content as well as create as many Netflix Originals as they can. It’s an expensive and painful transition that has likely been the reason for their recent price hike. Those doing the math realize that Netflix is quickly losing the pricing game with streaming video. At the new price point of $9.99 per month, Netflix is officially MORE EXPENSIVE than Amazon Prime. (If you have been living under a rock and haven’t realized that Amazon Prime offers a streaming service check out a previous post where I talk about all the Prime benefits.) That’s right. It’s now $119.88 per year for Netflix, and Netflix doesn’t offer and other perks.

I realize that Netflix is between a rock and a hard place, but I don’t think raising their prices will benefit them in the long run. They are betting all their chips on their Netflix Original content to be good enough to merit the increase, but I imagine we will see more than a handful of people dropping their subscriptions and looking for cheaper alternatives.

UPDATE: Amazon has announced that they will be offering a monthly option for their streaming service as a stand alone product. They are gunning for Netflix directly now! They will also be offering add-on subscriptions for services like HBO, Stars, and Showtime. Your move Netflix.
netflix price hike means amazon prime is less expensive than netflix

The Ultimate Road Trip Preparation Checklist

the ultimate travel blogger guide to an american road trip

Some of my friends and family know that I’m preparing for an exciting road trip. This won’t be my first long haul I put my vehicle through, but I know the preparation for a road trip is always stressful when you’re taking an older vehicle.

Obviously having a newer vehicle decreases the chances that you’ll experience vehicle problems while traveling, but I’m a bit sentimental about my vehicle and just can’t let it go. This means I ‘ve got to plan carefully to avoid a disaster while making long drives. This is my personal checklist of supplies and precautions to ensure I have a smooth trip.

What to Pack and Learn

Heaven forbid you have to use any of these tools or knowledge, but you’ll save yourself a whole heap of trouble if you can take care of a few problems on your own.

Spare Tire & Jack: Not only should you have a spare tire and jack in your vehicle you should practice lifting your vehicle up and taking the tire off. It’s much easier to familiarize yourself with this process on a sunny day in your driveway than in the rain on the side of the road.

Extra Clothing: This is especially important if you’re planning to drive during the winter in a cold climate. You don’t want to break down and realize you’re going to have to sit in the cold for an hour before help arrives.

Road Flares or Cones: There are a bunch of signals you can choose from these days. From old school road flares that you need to light, to cones, to LEDs, there are unlimited options to signal to other vehicles that you’ve pulled over. You don’t want to rely on just your four-way flashers if you’re pulled over on a highway. The results will be brutal and tragic if someone doesn’t see you and hits you when you’re pulled over. It’s just not worth the risk.

A Quart of Oil: Pick up a quart of oil that matches the oil you have in your vehicle and keep it on hand. You don’t want to end up miles away from a gas station when your oil light comes on.

Jumper Cables: I’ve used my jumper cables to jump about 6 different vehicles and my own. This is one of those handy to have items that most people don’t carry. You can come off as a hero or just save yourself by keeping a pair on hand, but be sure you learn how to use them! You don’t just connect the batteries together (a common mistake.)

Push Start a Standard: Not many people drive standard vehicles anymore, but if you’re one of us you should learn how to push start your vehicle. It’s a handy trick that can save your butt if your starter goes and it’s simple enough that you should even be able to do it on your own.

A Flashlight: You have no idea how many times I’ve needed a flashlight while in my truck. It’s not usually for car repairs, they are just super handy to have.

Tire Pressure Gauge: I got one for free at a job fair years ago and it’s been super handy to have. Newer vehicles sometimes have sensors to tell you what the pressure in your tires is, but when you’re pumping air into them it’s helpful to have the gauge in hand.

Water & a Snack: It’s always good to have some water and a snack in your vehicle in the event you break down. If you’re planning to travel with a number of people, pack enough for everyone. The last thing you need is everyone to be hangry when you’ve just broken down.

Cash: You might pay for everything with a credit card, but I’m positive you’ll run into at least one situation where you’ll need cash on hand. Yes, you can typically get cash from an ATM, but there can be limits on how much you can withdraw from an ATM so it’s best to know you have something on hand.

Get an Offline Map App: Even in the United States, you won’t always have the cell coverage you need to navigate you were you want to go and getting lost can screw up your trip timeline. There are numerous offline map apps for both iOS and Android phones. I’ve always been able to find them for free. I suggest downloading a few and testing them out before your big trip to see how you like them.

Towels, Bags, and Tinted Windows: It doesn’t matter how you hide your belongings, you’ll just want something that can keep your stuff out of sight from any would-be thieves. If you have a GPS, get it out of your window. Anything from cameras to computers should be tucked under a seat or covered up.

Insurance and More Insurance

Nobody likes to buy insurance because everyone wants to believe nothing bad will go wrong on their trip. That’s a foolish bet to make, especially on a long trip away from your support network of friends and family. In most cases, good insurance choices can save you a lot of headaches.

Get AAA: It’s simple. If you have a vehicle that might break down, you should have AAA. Did you know it’s good in Canada as well as America? So it’s great to have even if you’re visiting our neighbors to the north. AAA will give you piece of mind and can help with anything from locking yourself in your car to needing a 100 mile tow back to civilization. It’s worth every penny!

Upgrade Your Car Insurance Package: You might be excited thinking that you only pay a small amount of money every month or year for your car insurance, but do you know what you’re really buying? In most cases, the lowest cost insurance package won’t cover the damage to your car in the event of an accident. Low cost plans generally only cover damage to the other person’s property. Getting cheap car insurance before going on a long road trip is penny wise and pound foolish! Read through your insurance documentation to make sure you’ll be covered in the places you’ll be driving and for enough to protect yourself in the event of an accident. You can always reduce your coverage when you get back from your trip if you want.

Travel Insurance: It’s something that I didn’t consider important until chatting with other professional travelers. Similar to car insurance that doesn’t provide adequate coverage, your health insurance may not provide enough coverage should something go wrong while you’re away from home. You may want to look at a few plans so that your dream road trip doesn’t turn into a nightmare.

Preemptive Car Repairs

You might know to check one or two things before you set out on your grand adventure, but it’s always a good idea to have your mechanic check everything over as well just to be sure.

Change Your Fluids: Change your oil and oil filter, flush your cooling system, and make sure you have plenty of wiper fluid. While you shouldn’t need to fill up the other fluids, like power steering fluid, it’s a good idea to check and make sure they’re full up to the designated fill lines.

Check Your Belts: You or your mechanic should go over your belts to make sure they aren’t cracking or worn. Having a belt break can be devastating to your trip and costly to repair on the road.

Brakes: These are arguably one of the most important parts of your vehicle. Make sure they work. Replace lines, shoes, or whatever else shows too much wear. It’s better to be safe then sorry when it comes to brakes.

Tires: Second only to brakes are your tires. Make sure you have a good amount of tread left on your tires, especially if you’re traveling somewhere where you might encounter ice and snow.

Spark plugs: These tend to wear out over time and replacing them should increase the fuel efficiency of your vehicle. They are inexpensive and easy to replace so do yourself the favor and replace them.

Air filter: I’ve been told that dirty air filters can create more wear and tear on your engine than a dirty oil filter so make sure to change this especially if you’re traveling somewhere dry and dusty.

Battery: This is good to check, but easy to replace should you need to do it on the road. Most automotive stores will even install a new battery for you when you purchase one. So while it’s important to check, it’s less important than some of the other things on this list.

After all of that, you should be ready to hit the road with confidence. And of course, packing a few days before you leave is always advisable!

sarah kohl ultimate american road trip tips usa

Happy Dyngus Day! Where’s the Krupnik?

dyngus day buffalo ny decade celebration polish american krupnik

I’ve written about Dyngus Day before. It’s a Polish celebration that happens the day after Easter, but oddly enough, is celebrated in Buffalo, NY more than any Polish city today.

Buffalo, NY is the second largest city in the state of NY, New York City being the obvious first place spot. Most of the immigrants who came to Buffalo, NY were from three places, Italy, Ireland, and Poland. For whatever reason, the Polish-American community is stronger every year.

Buffalo, NY may not be the first place you think of when you think of up-and-coming quirky cities, but it really might be. If the Dyngus Day celebration is any indication, Buffalo want’s to be different. The city has undergone major renovations in the past decade and the sentiment of the people who live here is that the city is making a comeback.

I know most travel bloggers focus on interesting destinations in Europe or Scandinavia, but sometimes there can be unique and interesting things happening in your backyard, you just have to be paying attention!

The Dyngus Day celebration has gone from nothing to thousands of attendees in just a decade! They don’t host the parade in the best part of town and yet, people come out in droves to celebrate. It’s truly a one-of-a-kind event. Polka music, pirogies, and beer make it somewhat like a second St. Patrick’s Day. And  it’s possible the people of Buffalo need a second St. Patrick’s Day since we typically get miserable winters thanks to lake effect snow.

Of course, this year there is one slight problem. The festivities have become so popular that there is a shortage of some popular Dyngus Day items. One in particular, Krupnik (a Polish-made honey liqueur,) is in short supply. Bars have been rushing around trying to restock, but the liquor stores are sold out. One bar had to scout three states to get the estimated 50 bottles they will need for today’s celebration.

If you’re not in the beautiful city of Buffalo, NY today, or just can’t attend the festivities, wear some red, maybe smack someone with a pussy willow brach, and remember there will be at least one city partying hard this Monday night!

dyngus day ten year celebration buffalo ny retro art

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