My thoughts on travel blogging and a little more New York

4756775982 9d3fb48ee0 z My thoughts on travel blogging and a little more New YorkLast weekend, I attended the Travel Blog Exchange conference in New York. I was there to represent Blog With Integrity on a panel about blogging ethics, which I wrote about on Marketing Roadmaps earlier this week.

I also hoped to pick up a few pointers for this travel blog that, while very neglected of late, is still very close to my heart. I don’t have many hobbies. Dogs. Photography. Cooking. Sporadically needlework like crochet and needlepoint. I collect a few things — miniatures and Scottish Terrier items, especially pins and bookends.  And of course, the living breathing specimens icon smile My thoughts on travel blogging and a little more New York

And always and forever travel.

Like Kara Williams of The Vacation Gals, my travel blogging is more pragmatic, less introspective than many of the writers at the conference. I’m well past my backpack and hostel days, and I’ve always liked a certain amount of creature comforts. I prefer a shorter trip with a little luxury to a long trip with none.

I write about traveling with my son. What we do and see. And how we survive the sometimes stressful experience of traveling as a family. In all its variations. In the last 2 years, I have traveled with my husband and son, with them plus his sister and family, with my son alone, with my brother and mother, and by myself.

By myself is quieter but not always more fun. Sure, I can wander around taking pictures (my preferred souvenir) and nobody loses patience with how long I can stay shooting the same thing to get just what I want. But I almost always think how much Douglas (my son) would love something. And wish he was with me to experience it. For example, on this last trip, I had a yummy strawbery-rhubarb Crumbs cupcake for lunch, and immediately made plans to bring my son to a Crumbs Bakery next time we are in Manhattan together.  Because he would just LOVE it.

Even though my blogging here is as much about family as it is about travel, some of the advice presented at the TBEX conference really resonated.

The opening panel was called “Travel Writing: Upping Your Game.” A core idea of the panel was that travel writers have a quest. It doesn’t have to be big, and it may be the reader’s quest, not the writer’s, but there’s a goal. As one of the presenters commented (I think it was David Farley but my notes don’t say), it’s like the Wizard of Oz. Without the quest, the story is just a bunch of oddballs wandering around.

Allison Stein Wellner, who writes for about.com and Luxist,  contributed the idea of the situation versus the story. Originally coined by Vivian Gornick in  her book The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative My thoughts on travel blogging and a little more New York (affiliate link), the idea is that we are in situations, but we tell stories. What makes our writing compelling is the stories. Sometimes this is hard to reconcile with the more pragmatic style family travel blog, but I still think it’s about our stories. Even if they are less introspective, and more about answering questions that our readers might have, we’re still solving a problem. Following a quest.

The other presentation that really resonated with me, even though I don’t (yet) do a lot of video was Lori Rothschild Ansaldi’s presentation on how to create a compelling travel video. In a very accessible and simple way, Lori (who was an executive producer for Samantha Brown’s travel show) told the audience how to research a story, create a storyboard and prepare a shot list, all without using any industry jargon. And she told the attendees that it was okay to get help editing your videos. Amen!

As I always say, know what you do well and do it. And what you don’t? Outsource.

Now,  the little more New York.

I stayed at the Hotel Indigo on West 28th. They offered a nice discount for TBEX attendees if you booked by the end of March, and it was walking distance from Penn Station. When possible in New York, I like to walk. You see more and get a little exercise as well.  My hotel decision payed huge dividends when I decided, at 3:30 pm on Sunday, to catch an earlier train home. All I had to do was walk the two blocks from Macy’s to my hotel, collect my bag, and book it a few blocks to the station to catch the 4:05 pm Acela home.

I also walked to (and from) the conference, at the Cantor Film Center on 8th Street in Greenwich Village, both days. You can see my full photo set on Flickr, but here are some of the highlights.

On Saturday morning, I walked down Broadway and through the Union Square market. I was terribly tempted by the cherries, but knew I couldn’t eat a whole pint without being sick (and sticky)  so didn’t buy any. I took a few pictures on my way.

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On the way back to the hotel Saturday evening, I noticed an odd statue of a nude man in Madison Square Park. I didn’t take a picture then but you can see it here in a picture I took during the Gay Pride Parade on Sunday:

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Sunday morning, I was walking through Union Square and for some reason looked up and saw:

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At first, I thought that somehow they’d moved the statue I’d seen the day before, but then I realized this might be the Manhattan version of Chicago’s cows.

Not exactly. But close enough. British artist Antony Gormley has placed 31 life-size figures of his own body cast in iron and glass fiber on sidewalks and rooftops of buildings near Madison Square Park. Apparently many of the figures are on rooftops, which has caused some consternation, but it seems most folks realize they are statues, not jumpers.

The weird thing?

Going through my photos when I got home, I realized I had captured another image with a Gormley statue. Totally unintentionally. I didn’t even notice the figure on the roof until I was editing my shots.

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The statues will be on display until August 15th. If you’re in the neighborhood, look up!

 My thoughts on travel blogging and a little more New York

Photowalk, New York City

I’ll post about my weekend at the Travel Blog Exchange conference in NYC later this week. In the meantime, please enjoy some of the photos I took walking to and from the conference (West 28th to West 8th and back again).

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It’s all happening at the zoo

I’ve always loved the zoo, and this month, I visited two.

Columbus Zoo

During a business trip to Columbus, Ohio, I had a a full day to spare before my flight home due to last minute changes in my travel plans. The good news, however, was that friend Christina McMenemy (A Mommy Story) was free that day and suggested we go to the Columbus Zoo. We only had time for a few exhibits, but I was impressed with the facility – especially how clean it was, and look forward to a future trip to Columbus to see more.

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Baby Elephant, Columbus Zoo

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Red Panda, Columbus Zoo

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Gray Wolf, Columbus Zoo

Stone Zoo

Douglas decided he wanted to go to the zoo too, so I took the afternoon off yesterday from book editing, and we went to a small local zoo, the Stone Zoo in Stoneham, Massachusetts.

You can see the whole zoo in about 90 minutes, but it is a pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon, and the staff is very friendly. One zookeeper pointed out a little turtle — wild — that had moved into their pond, and when we said we hadn’t been able to spot the Snow Leopard, offered to walk back and point her out to us.

The animals in the Stone Zoo are mostly American (North and South) native animals, with a couple of Himalayan species for good measure. Sister zoo, the Franklin Park Zoo, has the African mammals and will be our next zoo destination.

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Mexican Gray Wolf, Stone Zoo

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River Otter, Stone Zoo

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Douglas, Stone Zoo

Soundtrack for this post: At the Zoo, by Simon and Garfunkel.

Four Seasons Hotel, Houston

The Four Seasons Hotel in Houston rocks.

Last year when I attended the Mom 2.0 Summit, I stayed in a lovely executive suite, with a bedroom and separate small living room. It was enchanting, and one of the nicest hotel rooms I’ve ever had at a business conference.

This year, however, the hotel outdid itself.

We had booked a double room but when I checked in Thursday afternoon, they were oversold.

But we got lucky. We got upgraded to one of the Four Seasons’ extended stay apartments. Two bedrooms, two baths, an open plan living/dining room and a kitchen. This floorplan.

Thanks, Bobby at the Four Seasons. Your hotel rocks. You rock.

And we didn’t want to leave. As the oh so lovely Mir said, when we find the money tree, we’re coming back, and we may never leave.

Plus, you allow dogs.

Licorice and Reva will love it.

Viva Las Vegas – My trip to the Consumer Electronics Show

Last Friday, on what would have been Elvis Presley’s 75th birthday, I was in Las Vegas, a town that is indelibly associated with him, to attend the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES).

More accurately, I was there to speak on a panel at the MommyTech at CES conference, although I did walk around the show a little bit. I also participated in a “View”-like live-streamed panel about Facebook in Kodak’s booth, along with Real Housewife of New York Jill Zarin, Suburban Outlaw Pam Sherman, entrepreneur Suzanne Kantra and Kodak VP Leslie Dance. It was pretty funny — you can watch the repeat here.  I’ll have more about some of  the products I saw over on my digital parenting post at BlogHer on Wednesday.

Since this is my travel blog, this post is about the trip. Even though I am not particularly fond of Las Vegas, I actually had some pretty nice experiences on this trip.

First, I flew Southwest Airlines, and I highly recommend spending the extra $10 each way to get Early Bird Check-in. This option automatically puts you in a queue to get your boarding spot 36 hours before the flight. No more having to log-in exactly 24 hours before the flight and hope to get a decent spot in line. On both flights, I had a great A spot, just after the Business Select passengers.

Of course, it is ironic that Southwest brags about your bags flying free and charges for better seat choice, but I don’t care. It’s worth it to me, to be able to benefit from Southwest’s often lower fares and NOT have to remember to check-in at the 24-hour mark, which is sometimes impossible when traveling on business.

Speaking of my bag, on the way home, it went (free) to Boise Idaho instead of Manchester New Hampshire. It did eventually turn up, but there were some hiccups in Southwest’s lost bag procedure.

Making the report at Manchester at 11pm on Saturday night was no problem; the clerk told me the bag was in Boise and would probably make it back to NH sometime late in the day Sunday and be delivered Monday at the latest. Great. No problem. Home I went.

My concerns started Sunday afternoon when Southwest called to give me an update. A very unsatisfactory update that they were looking for my bag and hoped to have better information soon. Hullo? Saturday midnight, it was in Boise, Sunday mid-afternoon, they don’t know where it is? Not confidence inducing. We called customer service back for a better explanation. Turns out they give this very non-committal response until the bag actually turns up at the destination airport. Hhmm. If you aren’t going to give a real status report, methinks you’d be better off saying nothing.

I never heard from Southwest again on the bag, but when Dave went out to get the paper this morning, it was sitting in the driveway. The good news, of course, is that I got the bag back. The not so good news is that Southwest never called with a final update. Now, I understand that it may have arrived in Manchester very late last night, clearly it was delivered pretty early, and when I made the report, I did say that someone would be home Monday morning.  But, still, I think a call was in order. What if it had been raining or snowing?

Moving on, and back to the Las Vegas trip, I had used Marriott points to stay at the Courtyard directly across from the Convention Center. Getting around Las Vegas during a big conference can be a pain, especially at peak travel times. The monorail improves things somewhat from the bad old days (when the Sands was a hotel, not just a convention center), but being within walking distance is priceless.

When I got to the hotel Thursday night, they told me that they were oversold, but had arranged for me to stay at the Marriott Residence  next door that night, were paying for the room, and had bounced back my points for the one night to my Rewards account. Sure, it was a bit of a pain to have to switch hotels on Friday, but they are right next door to each other. Kudos to the staffs at both hotels for making things relatively painless. My only really negative comment about the hotel was that my breakfast omelet on Saturday had way too much cheese. And I love cheese.

There’s a fairly new Marriott Suites hotel right around the corner from the Courtyard and Residence hotels. I’m wracking my brain trying to remember what used to be there. I thought it might be the old Debbie Reynolds’ Hollywood Hotel, but I checked online, and it is the Greek Isles that is there now. Anyway, the Marriott’s casual restaurant Cafe 325 is a nice place to grab a quick bite to eat. My burger was great, and the bartender let me take my second glass of wine “to go” even though I wasn’t staying at that Marriott. Viva Las Vegas!

I also recommend French bistro Mon Ami Gabi in the Paris casino. The food and service are great, and the prices are reasonable… for Las Vegas. On this trip, I had a yummy steak au poivre with frites ($24.00), which was made even better by the great company – Beth Blecherman (@techmama), Ciaran Blumenfeld (@momfluential) and Amy Oztan (@selfishmom).

Finally, getting to and from the airport. On past trips, I’ve always taken a cab, and bemoaned the long cab lines at the airport. I was on a pretty tight budget this trip, so decided to check out the local transportation offered on the Southwest website. Gray Line Shuttles was the option, with a round-trip price of $12.00.

The price was right, so I figured I could live with a little inconvenience in exchange for the savings. Except it wasn’t inconvenient in the least. Inbound, the wait for the shuttle was shorter than any cab line wait I have ever had in Las Vegas, and leaving Vegas on Saturday, my hotel was the last stop before the airport. In other words, exactly the same elapsed time as a cab. It might be a bit more hectic at other times of the day — I was arriving and leaving at non-peak travel times — but I was generally impressed.

All in all, probably the best trip I’ve ever had to Las Vegas.