About Robert Schrader

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

On the How To Plan a Trip to India….

July 6, 2016 by  

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Elephants in Jaipur, India

To say India’s a chaotic place is an understatement. With as many different languages and ethnic groups as landscapes and culinary styles, India is diverse enough that thinking of its as a single country almost seems counter-intuitive, to say nothing of its long history.

The great news is that in spite of the chaos and schizophrenia that defines India culturally, physically and historically, it’s remarkably well connected. Here are some of the most popular ways to travel in India—and a couple you probably wouldn’t expect.

Train

India maintains one of the world’s most extensive train networks, much of which is leftover from the British period. You can travel almost anywhere in India by train, from the beaches of Goa, to the vast urban expanses of Kolkata, to the Himalayan peaks of Darjeeling. Fares are low, but while the bureaucracy of the English has remained, the promptness they’re known for is often overlooked. Don’t be surprised if you have to enjoy several cups of chai at the station before your train finally rolls in!

Motorcycle

Although India’s highway network is not nearly as modern as Western countries or even China, the massive subcontinent has roads that are nonetheless far-reaching. As a result, while you might not initially think of India as a suitable place for a motorcycle tour, it’s actually not a bad idea, nor one that’s particularly difficult to execute.

One advantage of traveling through India this way is that you can stop in the little towns—and restaurants!—public transport passes by. Just make sure to drive with caution and to wear a helmet. It’s a poorly-kept secret that Indian drivers can be some of the most reckless in the world!

Animals

Many people know India as a Hindu majority country, but did you know that India actually has the world’s largest population of Muslims? I bring this up not to start a discussion on religion, but to illuminate that the cow (and its sacredness) is not the end-all, be-all of interesting animal traditions in India.

In the Thar Desert of Rajasthan in India’s northwest, for example, animals like camels and elephants provide traditional transport for local people. Tourists can ride these animals, too (such as to go up the Amber Fort in Jaipur), although some ethical questions about doing so exist.

Boat

Although India has one of the longest coastlines in the world, you might not think of it as a marine destination. In fact, boat is not only one of the most common ways to travel in India, but also among the most picturesque. If you visit Kerala, for instances, which is located in southwestern India, staying on a houseboat is a relaxing and beautiful way to enjoy the backwaters that are so important to this region.

Can you think of any other ways to travel in India? Leave your answer below in a comment, no matter how off-the-wall you think it might be.

Macau: Las Vegas of the East?

July 3, 2016 by  

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Macau Casinos

When you think about premier global gaming destinations, which cities spring to mind? Maybe it’s Monte Carlo in Monaco, small but perfectly-formed, with a classy air and vintage feel that appeals to those less keen on neon.

Or perhaps you’ve got your eye on up-and-coming Singapore, the island city-state that neighbors Malaysia. Although gaming here hasn’t long been legal, casinos and large-scale resorts are already being combined with theme parks, nightclubs and other significant leisure complexes to create an all-round dream destination with gambling at its heart.

However, for most people, whichever continent they hail from, Las Vegas is the last word in iconic gambling destinations. Rising triumphantly from the hot, dry sands of the desert and built specifically to appeal to far-flung visitors and boasting a veritable jungle of destination casinos, all vying for your dollar, Las Vegas is an incredible city. Hot-colored lights flash and glare, architects run wild with outlandish designs and the atmosphere pulses with expectation in Sin City.

But what if there were a pretender to Las Vegas’ throne? Could a very different city in a very different country hope to steal Sin City’s glory? Welcome to Macau.

Over 7,000 miles from Nevada, on a Chinese peninsula across the Pearl River Delta from Hong Kong, this glitzy city stands like a beacon, welcoming gamers from all over the world to try their hand each night. Known by many as the “Vegas of China,” Macau’s aspirations to become the globe’s number one gambling city are no secret—and if visitor numbers are anything to go by, it’s well on its way.

Each year, the city opens its arms to welcome an astronomical 14.96 million international visitors. That figure puts Macau ahead of fellow Chinese city Shanghai (6.3 million), Miami (7.3 million), Rome (8.8 million) and, incredibly, Dubai (11.4 million).

So, what is it about Macau that appeals to such vast numbers of people? It could be the stunning architectural design of Macau’s casinos and resorts or the New Century’s fun ancient Greek-themed hotel, The Venetian, complete with canals and gondolas, or the Grand Lisboa, with its ornate façade and stunning interiors.

Another of Macau’s most amazing complexes is the City of Dreams. Its architectural highlight is the hotel tower, which has an external skeleton and an organic form that includes three huge holes penetrating the building’s full girth to create an effect that looks almost impossible. Designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, this building seems to have been turned inside out, so complex and fascinating are its lines and curves.

Of course, when it comes to incredible casino design, Macau has stiff competition in Las Vegas. The Nevada city has treated its patrons to such delights as heritage-drenched Caesars Palace, the fun-loving Golden Nugget, the sumptuous Bellagio and the somewhat surreal Luxor.

However, Macau is the new kid on the block. And it could be that in these times when everyone’s constantly looking for the next fresh idea, the Vegas of China may usurp the original.

Image credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gambling_in_Macau#/media/File:Casino_Lights_In_Macau.jpg

5 Fun Things To Do In Chicago

June 30, 2016 by  

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Downtown Chicago at Night

Image via Flickr by ifmuth

The hub of the Midwest and America’s third-largest city, Chicago has a well-deserved reputation as one of the world’s most important cities, whether you travel there for business or for pleasure. One fact about the proverbial “Windy City” travelers often miss, however, is its diversity — Chicago is world-class, no matter what you hope to accomplish on your trip. Here’s how your ideal trip to Chicago might look, based on what type of traveler you are.

The Adventurer

One aspect of Chicago that often surprises travelers as they land at one of the city’s airports is how vast the skyline is. Specifically, how vast and how tall. The Willis Tower (formerly known as Sears Tower) is the second-tallest building in the U.S., rising to a height of 1,450 feet. If enjoying a panorama from the glass-bottomed Sky Deck is not thrilling enough, consider riding one of the record-breaking coasters at Six Flags Great America in the Chicago suburb of Gurney.

The Homebody

The idea of staying inside in a sprawling city like Chicago might seem counterintuitive, particularly if you visit during the pleasant spring and autumn months. But whether the trademark wind keeps you off the streets, or you simply find an amazing Chicago hotel that’s too comfy not to curl up in, Chi-town is just as great for ordering room service as it is exploring restaurants and food halls.

The Creative

Chicago’s penchant for theatrical excellence reached world fame thanks to the Broadway shows of the same name, but its own creative scene rivals New York’s — and most everywhere else, for that matter. Take in a show (“Chicago” or otherwise) at the iconic Chicago Theatre, update yourself on the latest design trends at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, or snap a selfie at the iconic Chicago “Bean,” which transforms the reflection of the city into a stretched and skewed work of art.

The Foodie

Latin American food might not be the first cuisine that comes to your mind when you think of Chicago, on account of its northerly location, but when you step foot into the Latinicity food hall, you’ll feel transported into the street food scene of South or Central America. Then again, Chicago’s food scene is as varied as its population, whether you pop pierogies in the Polish Downtown, chase carbonara in Little Italy, or slurp down pho beef soup in Little Saigon, Chicago’s Vietnamese quarter.

The Urban Explorer

Few American cities are as well laid out for urban explorers as Chicago. Downtown — and most of the central city, for that matter — is flat, which makes neighborhoods like Hyde Park, The Loop, and Uptown easy to explore on foot. Or, put on a wider lens and take advantage of Chicago’s impressive public transportation network, the CTA Bus and Train System, and gain an understanding of the city on a broader level.

Of course, since travelers are as diverse as a box — the big, big box — of crayons, this list is only the beginning of the eclectic adventures you can have in Chicago. Have you ever been to Chicago? If so, what are your favorite things to do here?

5 Destinations for a L’il Sauce & Fun!

June 29, 2016 by  

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Special events in Thailand

When you think of special events, the event is typically the most “special” part. While it’s true that many cities and countries have invested in unique and high-quality venues, events just as often take place in soulless convention halls in central business districts that are otherwise dead after sunset.

These destinations are different. Whether you choose them for a business event or for a personal extravaganza such as a wedding, you’ll be just as delighted to discover your surroundings as you are to take part in the festivities.

Thailand

Did you know that Thailand has one of the most robust MICE (meeting, incentives, convention and exhibition) industries in Asia? From the skyscrapers of Bangkok, to the temples of Chiang Mai, to the palm-fringed shores of paradise islands like Phuket, Thailand can accommodate any business event you can imagine. Speaking of islands, Thailand is also a great spot to get married on the beach for a fraction of what you would pay in, say, Hawaii.

South Africa

If you know anything about the economy of Africa (namely, that Johannesburg is the continent’s financial hub), it probably isn’t a surprise to learn that South Africa is a premier destination for business events. What you might not realize is that the aptly-named Rainbow Nation specializes in events of all stripes, whether you get married on safari at Kruger National Park or celebrate a milestone at the wineries just outside of Cape Town.

Chile

Although the Chilean capital of Santiago isn’t as important to the South American economy as Johannesburg is to the African one, it’s nonetheless a hub of business and innovation—the largest one West of the Andes, by far.

To be sure, whether you’re looking out onto the Andes as you do business in one of the sky-scraping venues in Santiago’s financial district, getting festive amid the lunar landscapes of the Atacama desert in the north, or any combination thereof at Concha y Toro Winery in the central valley or the national parks of Chilean Patagonia, Chile’s capacity for special events is as large as its geographical footprint is long.

New Zealand

Like South Africa and Chile, New Zealand is home to a spate of wineries whose spacious acreages welcome events that range from romantic to rousing in ambiance. On the other hand, if your event is on the more professional end of the spectrum, more traditional venues in Auckland and Wellington might suit you better. Meanwhile, the adventure activities on offer in Queenstown (skydiving with NZone, anyone?) are the perfect venue for an incentives group.

United Arab Emirates

Can you imagine negotiating deals from a conference center overlooking the Dubai skyline, with the Burj Khalifa towering overhead? Or getting married and then frolicking onto Jumeirah Beach in your tuxedo or wedding dress? Whether you choose better-known Dubai or alternative Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates is a colorful, eclectic place to hold your next event. Even better, many special events are also exempt from the country’s strict laws on alcohol consumption!

Of course, the places are only the beginning of the exotic event destinations you’ll find around the world. Can you think of any others?

The Brits Really Voted Leave??

June 28, 2016 by  

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Robert Schrader in Kuala Lumpur

June 23 didn’t exist for me.

Only the engines of a 787 Dreamliner and a nightmare in all my cells. The overflying of half a billion people and the solitude of being suspended at 35,000 feet. The falling away of the eastern Pacific Ocean and then the sinking in: If only the emerald mountains of the Malay peninsula had been taller, the clouds that blanketed them less like whipped cream and more like merengue, the palm groves wild and un-manicured instead of latticed and oil-producing, then I could’ve mistaken the piece of land where I touched down for Central America.

“They voted ‘Leave’?” the twenty-something Englishman, who’d been stuck in the same pressurized time capsule as me, gasped as we stepped into the airport people mover early on the morning of the 24th.

The rest of Britain wishes June 23 hadn’t existed either, I smiled, but only halfway—I would soon be faced with a referendum of my own.

I fell in love recently, you see. Actually, it was a long time ago, as the loves of my life go, but what’s important about this love and my fall into it was that I had recently compromised it.

I considered explaining this to my driver, to account for the rude way I ignored his attempt at playing tour guide as we sped into the core of Kuala Lumpur. Instead, I tuned in every third or fourth minute to give him the impression I cared about what he was saying.

“The National Mosque,” I completed his sentence, not because I’d actually looked at the building he was preparing to introduce, but because I remembered it was approximately as far from KL Sentral station as we would’ve traveled at highway speed.

He laughed. “I see you need no help.”

If you only knew, I thought, looking down at my phone to see if my partner had said anything—he hadn’t.

Following some good old-fashioned fit-throwing—in spite of being advertised as “Best KL City View,” the first room I was taken to had a view of absolutely nothing—I settled in to my skyline-facing apartment to ask Danilo if he wanted to take a video tour.

No, he replied with a full stop, explaining that hearing my voice (or, worse, seeing my face) would actually make the distance between us harder to bear. Enjoy your day.

That would be a tall order: I was despondent in my longing for him. We’d spent the entirety of the previous eight weeks together, him having stayed with me in Texas after a planned four-day visit from his native Costa Rica.

But it wasn’t just that I missed him: My trip was predicated on a broken promise. I’d agreed, when Danilo told me he would live with me this is, to cancel all travel until August. Although he told me before we said goodbye that he’d made peace with my reneging, the cancer I planted in his heart had managed to metastasize straight through the Earth to mine.

I thought a nap would aid in my acceptance of it all. But when I awoke sometime after nightfall, the Petronas Twin Towers flickering outside my window like a pair of giant interrogation bulbs, I knew there was only one way to cut the tumor out—and it didn’t involve seeing any more of Malaysia than what I could take in from my 29th-floor perch. I took a deep breath, turned my back to the skyline strobing behind me and pressed the “Call” button

“Yes,” I answered and stopped talking, after an hour and a half of maybes, might-coulds, should’ves, would’ves, wishes, hopes and second-guesses. “I’ll come home to you.”

Yes: I shaved 13 days off a two-week trip, and flew halfway around the world (and back!) in two days so that I could make things right—and garden, bake brownies and watch the season finale of Veep—with the love of my life.

I feel redeemed, but also terrified: It will be August, four months since my last trip, before Danilo and I take our first one together. Going four months between trips could ruin my image as a tireless road dog and the credibility I’ve earned along with it.

But it probably won’t. And I won’t dwell on my aborted ghost vacation anymore than I will on how the specter of subsonic air travel deleted a day from my life. Like the U.K., I chose to leave my better half, and I only hope Europe’s love remains as strong as Danilo’s when Lady Brittania has the sense to come back home.

6 Off-the-Wall Technology Products for the Avid Traveler

June 27, 2016 by  

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Modobag

Technology is weird by definition and travel, as you can observe by clicking through the articles on this channel, can be pretty darn weird, too. It should come as no surprise, then, that travel tech is a decidedly weird sphere.

Then again, the following weird travel tech items are nothing, if not surprising. OK, perhaps occasionally a bit scary and mind-boggling, as well. You might find it difficult to pinpoint exactly which of these pieces of weird travel tech shocks and amazes you the most.

1.  The Suitcase You Can Ride

Are you too lazy to drag a rollaboard suitcase behind you, but too strapped for time to rent one of those motorized carts every time you visit an airport? If so, Modobag is the luggage for you. Although Modobag boasts a host of interesting features in addition to its ridability, its main selling point is that it allows fully-grown adults to play choo-choo in crowded public places. The epitome of laziness—and of fun!

2.  Movie Theater Glasses

More and more airlines are installing seat-back entertainment systems, but if you want the ultimate private viewing experience, buy PowerLead’s “Movie Theater Video Glasses,” which project the equivalent of a 52″ image directly in front of your face. The glasses let you access movies in several ways, be it by inserting an SD Card into the glasses themselves, or by connecting to smartphones such as Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge with its powerful Snapdragon 820 processor, tablets such as the Apple iPad, or even your laptop computer.

3.  A Terrifying Sleep Aid

Most travel neck pillows look obnoxious at their worst. The Ostrich Pillow, however, not only has nothing in common with its namesake animal, but is actually terrifying to look at—isn’t this the type of device they used to restrain Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs? You’ll get a good night’s sleep wearing this, but the rest of us will be in fear for our lives. Thanks a lot!

4.  Personal Seat Covers

No, not personal toilet seat covers, personal seat covers for 15K or 34J. Even better is the fact that airplane seat covers by NewSeat.com come in multi-packs and also include wet wipes, just in case you’re scared the germs that probably aren’t on your seat to begin with will travel through antimicrobial fabric of the cover. Note that these covers are designed for economy-class seats, so if you happen to be a germophobe that can afford $5,000 for business class, well, you probably still have more money than the rest of us have germs.

5.  Shewee

Women travelers have it hard in a lot of ways, including the most fundamental, which is an inequity Shewee hopes to correct. It’s on you to visit Shewee’s website and learn more about the particulars of how to use the device, but it isn’t inaccurate to say that you’ll feel like one of the boys after you use this baby for the first time. The good news is that while the Shewee is functional, it’s not anatomically accurate, so you won’t look like one of the boys.

6.  Wenger’s “Giant” Swiss Army Knife

If an ordinary Swiss Army knife is not functional (or confusing) enough for you, try this “giant” variant on for size. Its seven-pound weight and nine-inch length notwithstanding, Wenger’s largest Swiss Army Knife has 87 implements and boasts 141 functions, including a cigar cutter, a mineral crystal magnifier, and a toothpick, in case you eat at a restaurant that doesn’t have them. Obviously, you should check this puppy if you plan to travel by plane—there’s no way it’s getting through security.

The craziest part? Since weird things get weirder every day, and travel is among the world’s fastest-growing industries, you know this is only the beginning of the bizarreness when it comes to travel tech. Can you even imagine what the 2020 or, God forbid, 2026 version of this list would look like?

A Visual Wonder of Costa Rica’s Natural Beauty

June 5, 2016 by  

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Robert Schrader in Costa Rica

I came to the Costa Rica party late. Costa Rica, as I saw it, was the place where Americans who never traveled went, then returned feeling as if they were Indiana Jones, the Promised Land of sloths and colorful birds and pura vida I always knew was overhyped—certainly for anyone who’d actually seen a double-digit percentage of the world’s countries.

My first trip to Costa Rica, which was only late last year, seemed to confirm this. Although, to be fair, I hadn’t even come to see the country itself, but rather a charming tico I’d met online and subsequently fallen in love with. This love was the only reason I made a second trip to Costa Rica. Or a third or a fourth. Or a fifth.

And what I realized over the course of these trips, during which I saw almost every region of the country, is that Costa Rica really has a way of growing on you.

When I look back on all the photos I’ve snapped in Costa Rica over the past six months, it puzzles me that my love for the country wasn’t at first sight, like it was with the man who held my hand as I explored it. I can’t postulate as to how long it will take you to fall in love with Costa Rica, but I do imagine these pictures will make you want to see for yourself, if you haven’t already.

Behind the Scenes in Natural & Cultural Ethiopia

May 16, 2016 by  

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I spent several days of my trip to Ethiopia wishing I was somewhere else. This started about 24 hours after touching down in the country, when I arrived in the dusty city of Bahir Dar. Touts there hustled me so relentlessly that by the time I reached each of the places I wanted to see, be they mighty waterfalls or ancient lakeside monasteries, I was so spent I couldn’t even enjoy them.

Although my tumultuous ride north to a place called Gondar heightened this anxiety, my experience in the town itself briefly reversed it. Gondar, and especially Fasilides Castles—aptly-dubbed the “Ethiopian Camelot”—saw me, for the first time on my trip, truly impressed by Ethiopia.

I expected this feeling to height in Lalibela, home to St. George’s Church, which is probably the most famous structure in East Africa. But the town greatly disappointed me—and not just because I got food poisoning there. Even with its impressive churches it felt hollow, like if Siem Reap was nothing more than Angkor Wat, or Cusco only Machu Picchu.

Axum was more interesting to me—until I got robbed by an elementary school student during a hike, that is. Likewise, while I found myself taken aback by the rock-hewn cliff churches I visited en route to the city of Mekele, the resurgence of the hustling that had kicked off my trip—both my driver and my guide asked me for large sums of money, even though my tour operator said she’d paid them—soured my mood.

“No,” the British traveler resting inside the chapel of Abuja Yemata Guh reassured me when I ranted to him, “you’re not crazy. Ethiopia’s a hard country—a really fucking hard country.”

This allowed me both to breathe easier during the final chapter of my trip—my excursion to the Danakil Depression—and to feel more accomplished once it was all over. Accomplished and, I’m not shy to admit, relieved.

Would I recommend Ethiopia? If you’re willing to work, to persevere and to laugh as the country flushes out your emotions, your ego and your digestive tract over and over again, then absolutely. But if you’re looking for someplace easy or more than occasionally enjoyable, peeking at my pictures is a better choice for you than actually making the trek—trust me on this one.

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