About Robert Schrader
Robert Schrader is a travel writer and photographer who's been roaming the world independently since 2005, writing for publications such as "CNNGo" and "Shanghaiist" along the way. His blog, Leave Your Daily Hell, provides a mix of travel advice, destination guides and personal essays covering the more esoteric aspects of life as a traveler.
Latest Posts by Robert Schrader
If you’re from Texas or have spent a lot of time there, it’s difficult not to write South Padre Island off as a spot for shaken and stirred spring breakers. While it’s true that South Padre Island is probably not the destination for people over 25 during the first couple weeks of March or, to a lesser extent, during the summer months, Texas’ premier coastal paradise does enjoy warm weather even in the coldest part of winter.
Time your visit to South Padre Island not only to correspond when you have days off, but also keeping in mind your reasons for traveling there. Whether you’re a snowbird seeking solace or a night owl seeking the coast’s most pounding parties, South Padre Island is waiting for you.
Enjoy Low Temperatures and Lower Rates in Winter
High temperatures in South Padre Island hover around 70ºF, even during the “coldest” parts of winter, which makes the traditionally slow months of January and February the perfect time to visit.
Lounge Around During the Late Spring Lull
If you like the idea of light crowds, but prefer a slightly warmer temperature, head to South Padre Island in April or May. It’s after the college students of Spring Break have left, but before the throngs of summer schoolchildren have arrived. Late Spring is the perfect time to check out Sea Turtle Inc., which allows you to help with local sea turtle rehabilitation projects, and even to sponsor your very own sea turtle.
Save After the Boys of Summer Have Gone
Days might start getting shorter in September and October, but crowds and hotel prices dwindle in lock-step. Days during these sunny months are hot enough to hit the beach, but nights are the perfect crispness to enjoy dinner inside, whether you prefer the fish tacos at The Vermillion, the fresh seafood on offer at Beachside Bar & Grill, or the American fare at Yummies Bistro. Fiery autumn sunsets in South Padre Island look particular beautiful as seen from picturesque Port Isabel lighthouse.
Immerse Yourself In the Heat of the Moment
If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em – this statement is true in life and, often, in travel. South Padre Island handles crowds well, so if you’re up for a party, why not dive right into spring break? Likewise, while you’ll pay more for your hotel room during the summer, the people watching during that time is priceless, to say nothing of how perfect the cool waters of the Gulf of Mexico feel on your sun-kissed skin.
No matter when you visit South Padre Island, enjoying yourself is easy. With mild-to-hot temperatures all year round and plentiful sunshine on all but a few days, it’s the quintessential 24/7/365 destination. There’s never a “bad” time to visit South Padre Island, even if certain periods may be better than others for your purposes.
Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/zachd1_618.
Steeped in history, mired in mythology, and blessed by some of the most beautiful scenery in North America, Savannah is one of the most magical cities in the United States, to say the least. Whether you come to experience the heritage of the old South, to stand on the cutting edge of art, design, and technology, or simply to walk under the picturesque Spanish moss, you could easily spend a lifetime in Savannah and never see it all.
Thankfully, and perhaps paradoxically, you can see a spectacular cross-section of Savannah in just one day.
Watch the Sunrise Over the Savannah River
Make your way north through Savannah’s downtown by the early light of dawn, but don’t feel regretful for walking past all those incredible historical buildings. After you see the sun sparkle on the shiny surface of the Savannah River, do an about-face and set out for Savannah’s most impressive sights, such as The City Market, Calhoun Square, and Forsyth Park. If you happen to be in Savannah on a Sunday morning, cap off your morning with a Sunday Brunch River Cruise.
Lunch Amid Savannah’s Storied Past
Speaking of food, it’s time for lunch, so head to River Street, which is not only one of Savannah’s most picturesque strolls, but also one of the surest bets for a delicious Savannah lunch. Enjoy sumptuous, traditional southern fare at restaurants like The Olde Pink House and Cotton Exchange Tavern, or enjoy fresh seafood at the aptly-named Vic’s on the River.
After lunch, continue exploring the city by foot, marveling at the Antebellum-style mansions and plantation houses that take you back to the era of decadence that existed before the Civil War. Stop in at the Telfair Museum of Art, which not only memorializes Savannah’s storied past — a recent exhibition spotlighted female artists of Savannah in the early 20th century — but also brings in national and global exhibitions.
Have a High-Art Afternoon
Speaking of art, there are few better places to stand on its cutting edge that at the Savannah College of Art and Design, also known as SCAD. Even if you’re not an aspiring designer, head to the SCAD Museum of Art for a peek into the work of some of the most brilliant minds in the world, a futuristic spectacle that contrasts with and yet perfectly complements the timeless history of surrounding Savannah.
Sleep in a Savannah Landmark
Savannah, according to residents and visitors alike, is haunted. Whether or not you believe that, you owe it to yourself to stay in one of Savannah’s historical homes, such as Kehoe House and Eliza Thompson House.
Indeed, a visit to Savannah is not just a visit to one of the most beautiful and heritage-rich cities in the United States — it’s your ticket to another time entirely, from the distant past to the far-away future, and to a present moment you’ll wish would never end.
Although it’s home to legendary institutions of learning like Harvard University and the Massachussetts Institute of Technology, or MIT, the city of Cambridge, MA largely sits in the shadow of larger Boston, just to its east. Who can fault anyone for that? Boston is one of the most dynamic, lively cities in the country, to say nothing of the nearly four centuries of American history that runs through its streets.
Cambridge definitely merits a visit, however, even if you can only manage to swing a day trip.
Breakfast and a Bike Ride
If you’re an extremely early riser, you could walk down to the Charles River and quite literally greet the day as the sun rises, with Boston’s skyline in the distance. If not, instead begin your day in Cambridge at the city’s central Inman Square, and a hearty meal at the cozy S&S Restaurant. Breakfast is available all day here, which you should remember if you get another hankering for eggs later in the day.
After fueling up, stop by one of the kiosks for Boston’s Hubway Bikes bikeshare system (which has several stations in Cambridge) and get a bike to begin exploring the city. One historical way to begin would be to follow the African-American Heritage Trail, which follows 20 inspirational black leaders throughout Cambridge’s history.
You don’t usually think of Cambridge as a tourist mecca in the same way you would for Boston, and while Cambridge certainly has a smaller, local feel than its gargantuan cousin to the east, there’s plenty to see here. From structures like Cambridge City Hall and the Great Dome at MIT, to museums like the Fogg Art Museum and the Harvard Museum of Natural History, Cambridge has plenty to stimulate your eyes and your mind.
If you aren’t able to make sunrise, head toward the Charles River, but stop at a supermarket along the way to gather picnic supplies. Magazine Beach Park is a picturesque place to enjoy an outdoor lunch – if, that is, you don’t head back toward Inman Square and its many restaurants, some of which feature outdoor seeing.
Depending on how long you lounge in Magazine Beach Park, head back toward the center of town to spend the rest of your afternoon hitting up some of Cambridge’s famous book shops. From Porter Square Books to McIntyre and Moore Bookseller, Cambridge remains a bastion for “real” books well into the digital age. You might be shocked at some of the titles you find.
As the sun begins to set on your day in Cambridge, weigh up your option. If you’re just taking a day trip from Boston, you might watch the sun disappear behind the Harvard Campus and, as the oranges, pinks and purples fade out of the sky, head back to the city. Regardless of whether you stick around to enjoy Cambridge’s famous nightlife, you’ll feel – in the best way possible – like you’ve spent more than one day in Cambridge.
Main Image credit from https://www.flickr.com/photos/madprime/7417429838/
Aside from London, New York and maybe Paris, Tokyo is without a doubt the best-known city in the world. From its status as a center for global business, to its huge population, to its sheer name recognition, Tokyo is a place that’s familiar to you, regardless of whether you’ve been before.
Even if you have to traveled to Tokyo, chances are you’ve still got a lot to learn about this massive megacity. In fact, many of the things you thought you knew about Tokyo might be outright wrong!
Tokyo is Not the World’s Largest City
Although the Tokyo metro area is home to more than 35 million people, which makes it the world’s most populous metro area by a long shot, the city of Tokyo itself is home to around 13 million people, placing it behind Shanghai, Dhaka and Karachi. Nor is Tokyo the world’s “largest” city from a land area perspective – it ranks a mere 45th.
Tokyo Wasn’t Always Known as “Tokyo”
The name “Tokyo” is a permanent fixture in today’s vernacular, but up until about 150 years ago, the city we now call Tokyo was known by the name “Edo.” Tokyo, which means “Eastern Capital,” didn’t come into use until 1869, when the newly-crowned Japanese Emperor Meiji officially established it.
Furthermore, much of what existed of Tokyo at its founding was destroyed in the earthquake of 1923 and the firebombing of 1945.
There’s an Entire Anime District in Tokyo
Most Tokyo tourists head straight to Shinjuku, Shibuya or Harajuku, but if you’re the gaming type, Akihabara is the place to be. Even if you use apps to play online casino games while out and about in the city or onboard the Tokyo Metro, Akihabara is full of cheap electronics and manga depicting all your favorite anime characters, including beloved Pikachu.
Tokyo Isn’t The End-All, Be-All of Japan
No other Japanese city has close to the international recognition of Tokyo, but there are plenty of other amazing places to see in Tokyo, which arguably give better, more balanced impressions of Japan as a whole.
From large cities like Osaka and Sendai, to cultural centers like Kyoto and Nikko, to natural wonders such as the Tottori Sand Dunes, subtropical Yakushima Island and mountain onsens in the Japanese Alps, Japan might begin in Tokyo – usually, with a Shinkansen bullet train – but it absolutely doesn’t end there.
Walkers and bikers, this is the city for you! Amsterdam is perhaps the best city in the world for cycling and for walking – it’s flat, it’s never too hot or too bitterly cold, and its center city is extremely compact. This is not, of course, to slight Amsterdam’s extremely efficient tram and bus network, or the boats that cruise its charming canals.
It’s just that you have to take your time exploring Amsterdam, whose richness belies its small geographical footprint. Whether you’re on a romantic trip to Amsterdam, solo or on business, here are some of the best walks in Amsterdam.
If there’s one thing people associate with Holland (and, by way of that, Amsterdam), it’s the tulip. While you might, if you time your visit correctly and give yourself enough time, venture out into the Dutch countryside and frolic amid tulip fields, this is unfortunately not possible for many trips.
One way to get your tulip fix without venturing outside the city is to walk toward just past the innermost canal ring surrounding Amsterdam and visit Bloemenmarkt which, as its name suggests, is a flower market that’s full of tulips. The Dutch urban architecture rising around you on all sides is no match for the windmills you might see out in the countryside, but it’s extrordinarily charming nonetheless. Bloemenmarkt also happens to be the world’s only floating flower market.
After tulips and windmills, bicycles are probably the symbol the world most associates with Holland – when it comes to Amsterdam itself in fact, bikes almost certainly supersede these other two.
Located in the southwestern part of Amsterdam’s city center, not too far from Bloemenmarkt in fact, Vondelpark is a lush and beautiful green space that would make a welcome reprieve from the (relative) chaos of the city even without bikes. Add in the bells and whoosh of bike wheels – and the occasional hand-holding, bike-riding couple – and, well, I dare you not to leave enchanted.
Upon arriving at Amsterdam Centraal station, the vast majority of travelers head south – it’s where all the action is, after all. Or at least most of it.
To be sure, walking north from the station doesn’t immediately seem like a good idea, particularly if you’ve still got your bags. A stroll along the large canal you find there, toward the Westerdok Marina, is extremely calming, particularly because the throngs of tourists you find elsewhere in town are nowhere to be seen.
Of course, walking south from Amsterdam Centraal is a good idea too. While you definitely won’t be alone as you walk down Damrak, which as its name suggests eventually leads you to Dam Square, you’ll immediately understand why so many millions of people come to Amsterdam each year, the moment you look out in front of you.
No matter which of these perfect Amsterdam promenades best suits your fancy, one thing is for sure – it’s going to be very difficult for you to walk away from Amsterdam.
Smog, sprawl and the ghosts of the Tian’anmen Square protestors be damned: Beijing is one of my favorite cities on the planet.
It isn’t priceless world heritage – the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven or the nearby Great Wall of China – although that helps; nor is it the towering skyscrapers lurking in their shadows. It isn’t the way Beijingers over-enunciate their “r” sounds like pirates; and it is certainly not their penchant for spitting at any time, any place and for any reason.
Frankly, my love for Beijing isn’t something I’m going to attempt to explain now. Today’s post is for the indoctrinated Beijing-o-phile and, absent that, for the traveler curious about becoming one.
All you need to find out if Beijing is your type of city is a taste – and you can get a sumptuous sampling of China’s capital in just a few days.
My Pick for the Best Beijing Hotel
I’ve sampled lots of hotels in Beijing, but my very favorite was the one I stayed at this past January, Shichahai Shadow Art Performance Hotel. Situated amid rows of hutongs, the old-style water houses that made up the majority of Beijing up until a few decades ago, this hotel mixes a great location – it’s just steps from Beijing’s picturesque Houhai Lake, as well as the Beijing Metro – with boutique style.
Day One: Beijing’s Timeless Past
Begin the first of your three days in Beijing before the crack of dawn. Take a taxi (or, if you’re awake and directionally inclined enough, walk) to Jingshan Park (Chinese: jing shan gong yuan), which is located just to the north of the Forbidden City, and whose pagoda-crowned hill is the perfect place to catch your first Beijing sunrise. (Hint: The pollution in the air makes these extra brilliant.)
Hang a right out of Jingshan Park’s main gate and walk north through the hutongs, where you’ll find dozens of vendors selling jian bing, an egg pancake that’s a classic Beijing breakfast. Walk to the nearest Beijing Metro station (which should be Nanluoguxiang) and take it to Tiantandongmen station, which is where you’ll find the Temple of Heaven, a prayer hall that dates back to the early 15th century.
Once you’ve taken your fill of selfies at the Temple of Heaven, head back to Tiantandongmen station and ride the metro to Yonghegong station, which is just steps from the Lama Temple. A Tibetan temple (no, you’re not imagining the irony here) from the 17th century, Lama Temple’s main attraction is a 75-foot Buddha carved from a single piece of sandalwood.
Enjoy lunch at one of the many nearby restaurants – I particularly like the buffet at Xu Xiang Zhai vegetarian restaurant, located just across the street from the temple exit – before getting back in the metro once more.
Your next journey, to Beigongmen station, will be the longest of your first day in Beijing, but the destination that awaits you – the Summer Palace, a former imperial retreat – is also the most spectacular. Watch the sunset here and take your time getting back to your hotel, where you can enjoy a free shadow puppet show and, if you’ve got some energy left, an evening stroll around Houhai.
Day Two: Chinese Capitalism
If you know anything about Beijing, you’ll realize I left what is perhaps its most important attraction – the Forbidden City – off the list of activities on day one. There are many reasons for this, but the main one is that for me anyway, the massive Forbidden City (which I recommend entering right when it opens at 8:30) foreshadows the huge-scale greatness of modern China. To get here, take the Beijing Metro to either Tian’anmen East or Tian’anmen West stations.
Of course, you won’t immediately make the connection between ancient and modern, at least not literally. Instead, you’ll cross the street from the Forbidden City to Tian’anmen Square, whose Mao-era grandeur both contrasts with and compliments the imperial pomp and circumstance of its neighbor.
It’s easy to get distracted taking photos (and, depending on your age, reminiscing on the dramatic events that went down here a few decades ago), but please don’t fall for the “Do you want to go get a coffee?” scam that several pairs of pretty girls will no doubt try on you. You should, however, grab lunch before heading back into the metro, which you will ride to Guomao station.
You’ll only have traveled for 15 minutes by the time you re-emerge from the underground, but the world around you will be completely different. Beijing’s massive central business district, with iconic structures like the CCTV Building and the China World Trade Center rising around you, making you feel – appropriately – that you have moved forward in time several thousand years.
It should be evening by this time, so enjoy dinner at one of the upmarket noodle or dumpling restaurants inside the China World Trade Center Mall, and end the evening with cocktails on the observation deck of the China World Trade Center Tower III.
Alternatively, if it’s still pretty early when you finish up at Tian’anmen Square, you could get off at Silk Street Market (Metro: Yong’anli) and try your hand at bargaining. (Hint: the phrase tai gui le, which means “That’s too expensive!”, is a handy one to know.) Or, you could explore the grounds of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, which are located at Metro stop Olympic Green.
Day Three: The Great Wall of China
It’s a given that you will spend one of your three days in Beijing at the nearby Great Wall of China. What isn’t so simple is where you will choose to see the wall, which of course stretches thousands of miles and has several viewing points in the Beijing area alone.
If you want to have the easiest experience seeing the Great Wall, take a train from Beijing North Railway Station to Badaling, which departs every two hours and takes about 90 minutes. Badaling isn’t my favorite portion of the Great Wall – it’s filled with tourists – but it gets the job done.
Instead, I recommend you hire a taxi and visit Simatai, which is close enough to Beijing to do on a day trip, but far enough away that it isn’t totally infested. How much you pay for the taxi will depend on how much your receptionist likes you and, beyond that, on your haggling skills, but you should really pay no more than 100 USD for your car, which means that if you’re traveling alone, you should see if other hotel guests want to come with you.
As to how you should wrap up your three days in Beijing? That’s up to you. You could return to one of your favorite Beijing attractions to see it lit up at night, or you could simply enjoy a stroll around Houhai lake, taking in the ambiance of the hutongs. It doesn’t really matter, though – unless your mind is completely closed, you should plan on returning to Beijing at some point in the future.
The Bottom Line
My guide to three days in Beijing is meant to be used as a starting point, not (necessarily) a Bible: You could easily spend three weeks in Beijing or three months in Beijing and not see everything. Shit, Beijing has had more than three millennia to figure itself out and it’s still evolving.
Indeed, when deciding how many days to spend in Beijing, the best strategy might instead be to take a larger look at your trip to China (my one month in China itinerary is a great place to start for that) and go from there.
With more than two centuries of history, architecture and culture on offer, Washington D.C. is one of the most rewarding U.S. cities to discover. In spite of this, its land area of just 68 square miles can make it feel claustrophobic, even if you’re only visiting for a couple of days.
Thankfully, Washington D.C.’s location on the highly-populated eastern seaboard of the United States puts it in easy reach of several incredible day trip destinations. Whether you want to explore another city for a day, or just want to connect with nature, consider these ideas for your next D.C. day trip.
Baltimore is close to Washington, D.C. both in proximity – it’s around an hour by car or train – and in the general feel of the city, but a day trip to Baltimore is more rewarding than you think. Whether you catch an Orioles game at Camden Yards, visit the National Aquarium or walk along the picturesque Inner Harbor, it’s difficult not to feel charmed as you explore Maryland’s aptly-named “Charm City.”
Civil War Battlefields
History in the D.C. area extends much deeper than than Washington’s many museums. Several Civil War battlefields are around an hour away from our nation’s capital by car or bus, and make the perfect counterpoint to stately monuments like the Lincoln Memorial, Reflecting Pool and the Washington Monument. Whether you visit Antietam, Fredricksburg, Spotsylvania or even iconic Gettysburg, you’ll gain a new appreciation for all the sacrifices that went into making our union a more perfect one.
Shenandoah National Park
Speaking of iconic places near D.C., few words ring out a note as quintessentially American as “Shenandoah.” If you don’t find yourself humming the classic tune during the 70-minute drive to the park from Washington, D.C., I imagine you will once you begin hiking into the waterfall-filled forests of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. The virgin scenery on offer in Shenandoah National Park is as far from the neatly-arranged streets of Washington as we are today from the days of Pocahontas and John Smith.
Assateague Island National Seashore
“Beach” probably isn’t the first word that comes to your mind when you think of Washington, D.C. Indeed, while the shores of the Potomac River are beautiful enough, they’re nothing compared to the idyllic beaches of Assateague Island National Seashore, a barrier island just off the coast of the Delmarva Peninsula, less than two hours from D.C. Oceanside beauty notwithstanding, the star attractions of Assateague Island are the dozens of wild horses that roam its sandy beaches.
No matter where you select for your day trip, spending time outside the capital won’t diminish from your Washington, D.C. experience. If anything, the sheer variety of amazing activities within a short drive of D.C. simply highlights what a rich and fulfilling place it is to visit, whether it’s your first trip or your fiftieth.
Main image credit
It may be hard to get to Nepal, but it’s even harder to leave this wonderful country. We had only 10 days there, so we had to organize our time precisely, to be sure to enjoy the place as much as possible. And we did! I hope it will inspire you to discover this fantastic country! Namaste.
We stayed two days in Kathmandu, where we found a guide and got our trekking permits for the Himalayas. Then we took a eight-hour, dangerous (mental?) bus ride to Syabrubesi, the trek starting point.
On our fourth day in Nepal, our trek in Langtang Valley was starting, from Syabrubesi to Kyanjin Gompa, up to 4800m, then back down to Syabrubesi. It was a five-day expedition. Then we had to take a ride back to Kathmandu, plus a day visiting the city – you always need a buffer day, so you don’t miss your flight!
Ten days in Nepal is short. But it’s enough to get an idea of the country, to discover Kathmandu and see the beauty of the mountains. Among all our beautiful discoveries, here are the highlights of our trip.
Stroll in Katmandhu’s beautiful chaos
The moment you exit the airport, you’re already immersed in the chaotic atmosphere that’s so unique to Nepal. Kathmandu is a super intense city. It’s big, polluted, traffic-jammed, colorful, authentic, busy, noisy, all cheered up by some stunning old temples and gorgeous traditional markets.
To observe all its beauty, you have to look up, down and all around –watch out for the crazy taxis or scooters crossing your way full speed. Two eyes and two ears are not enough to enjoy this city. You’ll probably feel like a kid: impatient, excited, afraid sometimes, and amazed. All. The. Time.
We stayed in Thamel district, where all the tourists & expats are. It’s very convenient, well-centered, close to the trekking shops, markets, lots of nice restaurants. It’s not traditional, but when you don’t have time, just think practical.
Eat up some momos
I heard a lot about the Nepalese food before going – the trekkers I’ve met told me there’s nothing interesting to taste there. I was glad to see how wrong they were!
There are maaany delicious things to try! First, start with a plate of momos accompanied by a local beer. It’s a kind of dumpling filled with cheese, veggies or anything else. And it’s delicious, especially after a seven-hour hike in the cold!
Take a nap in the Garden of Dreams
In the middle of busy Thamel, there is a hidden paradise that deserves its name well: the Garden of Dreams. Leave the traffic behind you and enter the tiny door of the garden – you’ll find yourself in a peaceful, green, serene place, where time is literally stopped. It’s superbly restored, flowery, colorful, quiet. Quiet. Silence is priceless in Kathmandu! It’s the perfect spot for a nap in the shade of a tree…
We tried the restaurant of the garden to celebrate our arrival in ‘the promised land’. It’s not cheap, but it’s absolutely delicious, and the perfect place to gather strength before the expedition !
Circle Boudhanath Stupa
This is one of the strongest symbols of Nepal. There is something unreal about being there. Like if this place only existed in books and movies. But no. It does exists, and it’s huge. A pure beauty with a sense of calm and spirituality. It’s very special.
Many Buddhists take pilgrimages to Boudhanath. It’s one of the holiest Buddhist sites in Kathmandu. Everyday, you can see monks and people ritually walking around the stupa, engrossed in their prayer while circling clockwise. As everyone circles clockwise, it creates energy spirals.
Walk on the Roof of the World
Nowadays, it’s very simple to organize a trek in the Himalayas. There are plenty of options, from three days to three months. Of course, the more time you have, the more remote you can go.
We chose the Langtang Valley for many reasons: it’s one of the closest treks from Kathmandu; it’s not too crowded yet; and it’s neither too hard or too easy. It was beautiful. And the Himalaya Chain itself is a natural wonder anyway.
I have no words to describe what I felt up there, at 4800m high – it’s a very unique experience, something everyone should live once in his life.
Run After Pigeons in Durbar Square
Durbar Square’s medieval architecture is spectacular – you can easily spend hours there, strolling from a temple to another, taking unique pictures and meeting local people. I love that place. Red brick walls, art exhibitions on the streets, thousands of pigeons, many tuk tuks, a beautiful cultural mix, colorful saris: Kathmandu as you pictured it.
Take your camera and get lost in this incredible atmosphere – in Durbar Square and everywhere in Nepal.