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IT—Inside Traveler
By Jessie Johnston and Emily King

October 12, 2006:

Happy Trail Mix

Last week, IT received several samples of Barking Buffalo Trail Mix. We weren't enthused by the odd name or the appearance of the mix, but our first handful of the Wake-Up Mix changed our minds. Subsequent snacking (Emily's still munching on this stuff!) has made us believers. The company banks on its design-it-yourself feature (trendy with sneakers and cereal) and, from ordering to eating, it is its legitimate selling point. Their online order form is interactive and fun; you click on the ingredients (say, a barrel of peanuts) to fill up your virtual "bag." As you do this, a Nutrition Facts label changes with each new addition. Did the scoop of banana chips add too many carbs? Replace them with almonds and watch how your numbers drop!

A 12-ounce bag of mix ranges from $5 to $8, depending on your choice of ingredients. Note: Scharffen Berger bittersweet chocolate chunks and Semifreddi's biscotti bits can run up your tab at $1.59 for two ounces. Even so, the price of one bag is comparable to gourmet mixes you'd find at Whole Foods and you get to choose a custom name (say, Emily's Geo Fusion) to be printed on the label.

On Your Marks

We wouldn't blame you if you thought all National Geographic Traveler staffers do is eat, rent houses on craigslist and eat again. We would correct you, though. We do other things. Really. For instance, researcher Ingrid Ahlgren watches TV. In particular, she's been known to keep a regular date with CBS's world-touring reality series The Amazing Race. She writes:

"I was sad to see fellow Rhode Islanders, Duke and Lauren, eliminated recently on Amazing Race. (Who will I root for now? I really miss BJ and Tyler, the happy hippies from last season.) I perked up a little, though, after reading a press release about the Real Race, an adventure vacation in Australia that pits teams against each other in an Amazing Race-style contest. Here's an excerpt:

"'On the 7th of August, a group of experience-seekers began what would be the holiday of a lifetime. Traveling in teams of two, they didn't know where they would be going or what challenges they would face, and had no idea what to expect. These travelers were all competitors in the world's first Real Race—a fast-paced and exciting luxury adventure tour with a twist. Racing from destination to destination, the teams competed against each other in a series of challenges that would test their minds, bodies and spirits.'

"The release went on to mention that Real Race will be expanding its offerings to run a tour in New Zealand in early 2007. Activities will include canyon swinging, bungee jumping, skydiving, hang gliding, jet boating, rafting, and zorbing.

"The Real Race isn't the only travel company that's trying to cash in on the Emmy-winning show's popularity. Another Australian company, Bunnik Tours, is offering an Amazing Race-themed tour in which a maximum of 20 teams will compete in challenges in eight countries on four continents over the course of about a month. The winning team will be awarded a trip to Sri Lanka.

"Travelers to Whistler, British Columbia, can participate in a three-hour soft-adventure race based on the series. The $100 tour includes activities like kayaking and flying down a zip line. There is also a separate Amazing Race hotel package, from $1,000 per person, including a race between Whistler and Vancouver.

"These trips sound cool, but the idea of spending money on an imitation Amazing Race when you can try out for the real thing and perhaps win a million bucks seems silly to me."

From October 10, 2006:

IT's Gone

A week and a half ago IT tried out a new Japanese restaurant. You may remember that the last time we did this, we did so without the assistance of A9's handy dandy BlockView feature and as a result had a hard time finding our eatery. This time we knew better, and so headed to A9's Yellow Pages to take a look at the front entrance of Makoto before heading over there.

Or, at least, we tried to. When we typed in the habitual "," we were informed that the A9 Yellow Pages, and therefore BlockView, were no more. This tragedy was confirmed the following Monday, in an AP article that claimed A9 was backing off of "photographic search technologies" because of competition from Microsoft and Google. We assume they were referring to Google Earth and Live Local, and while we love both of these tools, neither of them provides street-level visuals like BlockView did (though Live Local's "bird's eye view" function comes close, albeit with less coverage).

Our only solace in this tragedy is that our attempt to find the AP article's text online resulted in a new discovery. PagesJaunes, France's online Yellow Pages, has a BlockView equivalent featuring street-level photographs of cities in France and Spain. The photo site is all in French, but the navigation is pretty intuitive. To get a glimpse of this evening's brasserie or bodega before heading out, type in its address on the Photos de villes page or click on the map until you have zoomed in enough to pinpoint its location. The photo will then appear onscreen.

Maybe PagesJaunes would be willing to pick up where A9 left off and add the United States to its coverage zone? We'd be thrilled, though we suspect some others might not be.

The Accident-Prone Tourist

Emily King, assistant to Traveler's editor in chief, recently returned from a week abroad with a confession to make:

"I thought I was a smart traveler. As a staff member at a well-regarded travel magazine, I figured I'd absorbed the savvy sense I read and write about daily. But no. I was sent into the field—Germany, to be exact—and I floundered. Here are three mistakes I made, and the lessons I learned from them:

"Mistake 1: Subscribing to a faulty international calling service—The thought was there. Instead of paying my hotel $4.50 a minute for calls home, I would dial a toll-free number and get charged a reduced rate. I chose Accuglobe—for 17 cents a minute. I printed the instructions for outgoing calls from Germany and slipped them into my wallet. The instructions were incorrect, but after several tries I figured out the correct recipe (dial 1 before the area code, even though the instructions tell you not to). My first call went through—I let my parents know I'd arrived. On my second attempt (only hours later), I tried the same formula and received a busy signal. I tried again—for the remaining six days of my trip—and heard the same annoying 'line-is-busy' sound. 

"Lesson 1: Buy phone cards once you get there—Extremely frustrated by day three, I noticed an Internet café around the corner from the hotel advertising a variety of phone cards. I purchased a MOX card for five euros. The card promised 660 minutes of call time, but after connecting deductions and other indecipherable costs, I ended up getting six connected calls, totaling about 150 minutes of phone time. It was still well worth the cost of the card.

"Mistake 2: Losing my roommate's camera—I'd neglected to buy my own digital camera before leaving, so the day before my departure I asked my roommate if I could borrow hers. I took the fancy (read: expensive) thing with me and shot 150 photos in the first 24 hours. After taking shot 151—a close-up of Yves Klein's "Blue" in the Museum Ludwig—I set the camera in my purse, not low enough to hide it from view. Twenty minutes later, I reached for the thing and there was nothing there.

"Lesson 2: Even in safe-seeming cities like Cologne, pockets get picked—Be aware of this and hide your personal items accordingly. Having to tell a friend that you've lost a borrowed item is painful. Even worse? Paying the bill to replace it.

"Mistake 3: Ruining my $120, ceramic straightening iron—I knew I'd need an adapter for my hair appliance, but I didn't own one. I figured the luxury hotels I'd be staying in would have them on hand, and they did. I even knew about surge protectors—that the voltage was different in Europe and some appliances couldn't handle the increased jolt. But the adapter I borrowed from the front desk read 120 V just like my straightening iron. The numbers lined up, so I figured I wouldn't need a surge protector after all. I stupidly gave it a test-drive. Within minutes, I began to smell a sweet-burning aroma. I'd successfully ruined the second-most expensive item I had packed.

"Lesson 3: Surge protectors, not just adapters, are necessary for use on most American appliances. While some products in the UK are equipped for both voltages (the case of my previous hair straightener), most aren't. To be safe, assume they aren't. Either take a surge protector with you or chill out: no one really cares if your hair is frizzy in Deutschland."

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Bookmark IT!

When in airports, Emily King, Traveler's assistant to the editor, enjoys smelling and ogling Cinnabons, then excercising willpower and walking away from them. Researcher Jessie Johnston takes pleasure in perusing the invariably excellent selection of watches for sale and in giving herself permission to buy trashy magazines.

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