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Pam Mandel

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Even though people tell Pam Mandel that Egypt doesn't count as Africa, she insists that visiting Antarctica in Febraury, 2011, makes her a member in good standing of the unofficial Seven Continents Club. She lives with her Austrian husband in Seattle, Washington.

"Gringo Trails": What Are Travelers Doing To The Places They Visit?

"Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment, but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet." –- Agent Smith, "The Matrix"


Agent Smith could have been talking about the "morning after" footage in "Gringo Trails," a new documentary by Pegi Vail and Melvin Estrella. The camera wanders down Thailand's Haad Rin Beach after the Full Moon Party. The beach is littered with trash -- water bottles, clothing, plastic bags -– and crashing partiers. Garbage sloshes up on the sand in the gentle surf. This beautiful stretch of sand, once completely unknown to travelers, is now punctuated with rubbish. The film illustrates some hard truths about mass travel, but I found it especially painful to watch this segment. It was embarrassing to the see the awful disregard for this once beautiful place. And it was sad, a weighty head-shaking sadness that left me questioning the results of my own backpacker traveling days. Was I this unaware? Did I spread the virus?

Not Quite Legal Souvenirs

Food seized at Washington Dulles
USDA /Ken Hammond

Somewhere in a small town in an unnamed country is the complete skull of a crocodile and a small box of teeth that belong to that skull. The crocodile, who wasn't using her teeth anymore, was not supposed to make this trip but did so anyway, without a passport, packed in the insulation of T-shirts stained with the red dust of the Australian Outback. The person who checked this partial crocodile knew there'd be some risk of having the bones and teeth seized at the border. Plus, hey, it was free, scooped up at a swampy turn out somewhere. No money changed hands in the acquisition of the croc skull.

What was to lose? Seizure at the border, a protestation of ignorance and slap on the wrist. "Sir, you can not import animal bones without proper documentation." "I had NO idea, I am sorry, yes, of course, take it."

It's a risk. And make no mistake. You may very well be breaking the law. Travelers take it on because what's the worst that can happen? Well, a lot. Best case? You'll have your goods seized or maybe get tagged with an expensive fine. Consider yourself lucky if that's the case.

Here are a handful of questionable souvenirs that seasoned anonymous travelers decided they'd try to get through customs.

Three kilos of flour: "...for culinary purity. When my friend asked me to bring corn flour, I didn't think much about it, and then suddenly I found myself with two big bags of white powder in my checked luggage. Not only was I bringing in an unlabeled agricultural product, but it resembled something else entirely."

The USDA allows you to bring in baking mixes and the like, but requirements are that it's commercially packaged and properly labeled. Certainly, flour won't set off the drug sniffer dogs, but explaining those bags of white powder isn't something you want to find yourself doing in any airport.

Gadling Gear Lust: Field Candy Tents

Our battered Coleman tent has been through years of service and cost something like $80 at an end-of-season sale at the local Target. It's a workhorse and held up on gravel and snow and kept the campers inside it dry in pelting rain, letting in nothing more than a little damp on the corners and collecting a little condensation on the liner. But for all its practicality, there is one thing it is not: pretty. It is an olive green and tan little dome that looks like every other olive green and tan or red and tan or blue and tan little dome lined up on the grass in the tent meadow at any campground.

Enter the Field Candy tent. I can't speak to the efficacy of these gorgeous little temporary shelters, but I also can't decide which one I want the most. The one with the cow on it? The one that looks like a battered old suitcase? Yeah. That one. No, wait. I like the one that looks like a slice of watermelon because to see that when you pull up in your Subaru full of camping gear would crack you right up.
Field Candy

The Field Candy tent has all the stuff you'd expect from a decent camping tent – shock corded poles, a waterproof fly, and the easy clip up assembly. As a camper in wet climates, I'm suspicious of the cotton inner tent because it seems like something that would take a while to dry should it get wet. It's got the bucket style ground sheet – you have to have that! – and a bunch of other features that look well thought out. This is no $80 clearance Coleman, some of them are over $700, so I'd expect performance as well as style.

But on the surface, it's all about appearances. I want one. Maybe the one that looks like a circus tent. Or, no. The sandwich. Yeah, that one. No. Wait...

Follies And Fixes In Long-Haul Travel

TheeErin via Flickr (Creative Commons)
It was not yet 6 a.m., but I had a bad feeling about how the day was going to go. The stone faced desk clerk had no interest in checking me in here in Vienna, not to mention through to my final destination, Seattle.

"No. Different booking."

"But it's with the same airlines..."

"Different booking. No."

"So I'll have to..."

"You'll need to collect your bag in Amsterdam, and then check in again when you get there. Take your bag to the departures desk."

"I don't understand. These flights are on the same airlines. Can you check me in, at least, so I can drop my bag..."

"No. Different booking."

I gave up. Priority club, my ass.

#OnTheRoad On Instagram: Destination Austria And Germany



The meadows are green, the tulips are in full flower and it's a lovely time of year to explore central Europe. While I've got the shutter for the Gadling Travel Instagram feed, you'll see pictures of the Rhine, probably more than a few cows, several plates of pastries (the Austrians are famous for that) and no shortage of gorgeous landscape. You'll see a lot of small town stuff – I'll be spending most of my time admiring what's left of the snow covering the tops of the surrounding alpine peaks, but if time permits, you might see a little Graz and Vienna as well. Austria was my former temporary home during my expat days and while there's plenty to see, there's also family to visit.

Springtime along the rivers of Europe. The Rhine, the Moselle, the Enns, the Danube ... let's hope the weather holds and these palace skies stay full of sunshine.

Your Kickstarter Vacation. My Money. No.


When we ran out of money, we were on a beach in Corfu. My boyfriend trawled the construction sites until he found a job hauling cement. I checked in at restaurants and hotels, but failed to turn anything up. I gave up after about a week; there was no work to be had. I spent the days reading on the beach. My boyfriend would come back to our campsite in the shell of an unfinished holiday cottage with his hands raw. We would buy bread and cheese and olives with the cash he'd been paid on that day. This went on for about two weeks, and when the gypsies started giving us food we knew it was over.

We swallowed our pride, called our parents and asked them to wire us money so we could get off the island and go somewhere that we could find work. We ended up farming in Israel where we got housing and three squares and a paltry salary that we saved because there was little to spend it on and beer was very cheap.

Today, there's a better way than sucking it up and calling Mom and Dad. You can avoid the dirt and damage of manual labor. You need an Internet connection, maybe a blog and nerve. You'll need to offer up something as incentive – a $5 donation receives a postcard from your exotic locale, a $10 donation gets a download code for a copy of your, as of yet unwritten, essay about your travels, a $25 donation gets a print of a photo you took that you think is pretty good – come on, it's totally National Geographic quality, right? Plus, anyone who donates get this pleasure, no, let's be realistic, honor, of supporting your travels. Open a Kickstarter fund for your travels and ask total strangers to pay for them. You're doing them a favor, really.

My parents did not react with the gratitude I was hoping for when I called from my crash pad on a London sofa, broke again, to ask for airfare and spending money. The roommates in the London flat where I awaited the arrival of wired funds weren't thrilled either. They were gracious, they knew I was on hard times, but they weren't so into my before its time "Occupy the Living Room" movement. Nobody saw the benefit in their role of making it possible for me continue my travels abroad, no matter how many postcards and photos and essay length letters I sent home, or how many dishes I washed, or how many rounds I pitched in for when it was my turn to buy.

Travel Reads: 'Eighty Days' By Matthew Goodman

It is easy, without historical context, to mistake our own travels – and the documentation thereof – as some kind of bold act. We think ourselves grand for going around the world and we think our stories worthy of sharing merely because we can. But 150 years ago, this was just not the case. Travel was a big deal, women traveling an even bigger deal and women traveling solo, if not quite unheard of, certainly a long way from standard practice.

It was the Victorian age. Men – mostly men – traveled by steamship and rail. As for documenting said travels, that was the territory of men as well. Women were as unwelcome in the newsroom as they were in the pages those newsrooms produced, relegated to fashion and housekeeping and maybe the arts.

In to this landscape two bold women took it upon themselves to race one another around the world. One, an elegant and cultured arts writer – Elizabeth Bisland – the other, a scrappy go getter news hound in a checkered jacket – Nellie Bly.

"Eighty Days" is the story of their adventure not just to succeed as great travelers, but to become well known and respected journalists as well. Off they go, propelled by their own will, two very different women on mirrored journeys. Nellie Bly invented the trip; Elizabeth Bisland was convinced to participate. Ms. Bisland packed for propriety and style, Ms. Bly anticipated the carry-on only traveler by over a century by insisting on taking nothing more than she could manage herself, lest she be delayed while waiting for her luggage.

They were both determined, bold, articulate and so brave. Looking back through history only magnifies the unusual nature of their travels.

The book is a terrific read, full of compelling characters – newspaper men, suitors, handsome sailors, exotic foreigners, missed communication, hunger and frustration – in short, all the stuff that makes up a good travel story. And it's impossible not to admire these exceptional women, racing against time and against the standards of the day. Matthew Goodmans brings a heroic Nellie Bly to life in the first pages and Elizabeth Bisland's grace and unexpected nerve are made real next. It's impossible to decide whom you want to win. And finally, when one of the women does win, it doesn't matter – the adventure has been completely worth it.

A Travel Essential For Women: The Little Black Dress

Even though the seasons are shifting to spring, I'm still dressing in wool. I've said before that I'm crazy for the newer merinos; they're not just for long underwear anymore. And because they're made of natural fibers, they breath well making them surprisingly versatile for those transitional seasons. It's a little counter-intuitive to think that wool is okay in warmer temps, but the lighter fabrics work well for winter, spring and fall, and I've worn my merino skirt in summer, too, because it's got so little weight to it.

For my spring travels, I'm packing the M2 dress by Nau. It's a drape-y, flattering boat neck, three quarter sleeve piece that shakes out nicely after it's been crumpled up in your bag. You can dress it up with whatever shiny extras your packing – a pashmina (because you always have one with you, right?), or some sparkly flats, or a pair of cute tights, or just wear it with sandals and go casual. A pleat at the hip gives it a little bit of swish, so even though it's "just" a black dress, it's got a bit of style.

The M2 is the medium weight merino so it provides some warmth if you're wearing it in chillier places (or overly air-conditioned restaurants. I throw all my merino in the washing machine, have done for years, and it's washed up just fine – but it's best to keep it out of the dryer, it lasts longer that way and has less risk of shrinking.

I'm a lazy dresser and I don't like to pack single use only items. I'm also a sucker for anything that makes me look stylish but feels like something I could wear on a long-haul flight. You might be thinking it's a little late in the season for buying wool, but depending on where your travels take you, it might not be, plus, off-season pricing applies to clothing, too. Get your little black three-season dress directly from Nau; it's on sale as I type this.

[Photo: Nau]

For the Wandering: Seder Finder


Many years ago, I was living in a very small town in central Austria. It was spring, and for those of my (personally tenuous) faith, this means Passover. Passover is my favorite Jewish holiday. It combines good food and a story that I interpret as being about travel at its heart. It's the annual retelling of the story of Exodus – the flight of the Jews from their oppression by Egyptian pharaohs, their miraculous crossing of the Red Sea and their entry into the Holy Land. It's fun, too; there are games and songs and plenty of wine. it's the only holiday I'll go out of my way to celebrate. In this small town in Austria, I was devastated with the possibility that there would be no Seder. There were, after all, no Jews nearby. In a move that was either hopeful or desperate, I emailed the nearest synagogue, approximately 125 miles away in Graz, explained my situation and asked if they were hosting a community Seder. "I apologize for not writing in German, but do feel free to respond in German; I can read well enough; I just can't write."

The answer I received was in English from an American expat who'd grown up not far from where I lived as a small child. "Yes, we have a community Seder, but why don't you just come to my house? Really, I mean it, you would be very welcome."

Gadling Guide Review: Bradshaw's 1862 Guide To London



George Bradshaw was responsible for the development of a series of railway timetables that were an icon of British Victorian travel – they're mentioned by Sherlock Holmes, Phileas Fogg and there was a 1876 music hall song called "Bradshaw's Guide."

I reached my destination, and was going to alight
When she placed her hand upon my arm, and said with much affright
'Oh Dear Sir, don't leave me, all alone to ride
What shall I do without you and the Bradshaw's Guide.'

If you're fond of Baedeker's Guides – the essential red, leather-bound book that's also an icon of the Grand Tour years of travel – you may also find the Bradshaw appealing. You probably want a vintage one, sold for a pretty penny on eBay, perhaps, but for a mere tenner, you can pick up a reissue of "Bradshaw's Illustrated Hand Book to London and its Environs."

A new version of this isn't going to have the magical ticket stubs or marked pages that one that's been used in the late 1800s would have, but it does have the pretty little engravings of London's monuments. It's got the cramped, hard to read type of 1800s guidebooks, exhaustive details and information that has zero value for today's traveler – though it would be an amusing exercise to travel with this book as a guide.

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