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Go Local: Four Tips to Explore a New Place When You Travel

MetroSMFour tips for getting the most out of a new place you are visiting.


We really love to plunk ourselves down in the middle of town and wing it when we travel, not enslaving ourselves to guidebooks or hotel staff, but leaving ourselves open to whatever catches our fancy. Granted you might not see every landmark or frequent the restaurant that the concierge is promoting, but with a little advance preparation, real and digital, you can make your experience more real and rewarding:

Photos: Russ Johnson

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Heavy Reading: Too Fat to Fly [Audio]

Heavy Reading

Books are just too fat.

I usually go to a bookstore before I head off on a long flight, even though, except at airports, they are bit hard to find these days. My nostalgic favorite is a century-old shop in San Francisco with so many volumes on the second floor that I always feared it would collapse and I would perish under several tons of weighty words. When my kids were small we did family outings there where we disappeared into the stacks and our own private universes.

I paid a visit a few weeks ago, wanting to finally take the plunge into Christopher Hitchens' briar patch of lush verbosity Arguably. But I picked it up off the display table and muttered "uh-uh."

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Tweaky Travel Trends: Deprivation Travel and Scents of Place


It is like the Eurovision Awards that gave rise to Abba. Every year I look forward to learning what tweaky new travel trends the research firm Euromonitor have to announce. Each November, at the World Travel Mart in London, it issues a report that usually defines one or more off-the-wall reasons people step forth into this wonderful weird world. A couple of years ago it was "Debauchery Travel" and a certain demographic labeled "debaucherist," for whom travel is a moveable frat party. This year, for North Americans, it is...sound the kazoo: Deprivation Holidays, the notion that torturing oneself can be a good thing. For Asians it is just as weird, but more on that later.

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Edward Hopper and Company: American Landscapes


Too often we look at cultural and physical landscapes of places we visit as tourist brochures: America as the massive architecture of New York City and Chicago, quaint New England villages, the Bridge and Bay in San Francisco and pinkish western landscapes. One of the best examples of cliché America is a propaganda film called Portraits of America produced by Disney for the US State Department and Homeland Security in an effort to boost our damaged image post-9/11. It depicts America as a Magic Kingdom, cleansed of all of the quirks and nasty bits that make us interesting: (you need only watch a minute of it to get the point). A slick video brochure, for sure, but when I previewed it with a group of tourism executives it received a unanimous thumbs down as being ingenuous.

Edward Hopper and Company at the Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco until May 2, 2009, offers a different sort of travelogue. 

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Photography As Theatre - Vanity Fair Portraits: Photographs 1913–2008

Vanity Fair Photos


Review by Russell Johnson


Most travel photographers work casually, keeping an eye out for the serendipitous or waiting for a mashup of subject, action and light in one magic "aha!" moment. Unlike Disney, I have never chased lemmings over a cliff or like Geographic, lit a cave with a thousand flashbulbs. My highest level of management is usually simply waiting for something to happen: for the light to change color and move across a landscape, or two tots on a teeter totter to teeter just right (the fat kid on top and the skinny on the bottom). Sometimes I anticipate a moment and prepare for it, rushing in front of an oxcart so it will line up perfectly with a temple when it passes by.


Vanity Fair Portraits: Photographs 1913-2008 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art through March 1 illustrates a different kind of art: photography as theatre.

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Democracy and Debauchery


Oh, we Americans are a wild and crazy bunch: toiling hard and productively, spreading democracy by day...partying hard by night. Or is it partying day and night? According to a new report on travel trends, we Yanks are binge drinking, G-string snapping "debaucherists," longing for the eternal spring break.

This report, put out by the UK research firm Euromonitor International, says the hot trend among the British is traveling with pets. Western Europe likes Slow Travel (an analogy to Slow Food) and South America "End of the World Tourism" inspired by "March of the Penguins." For the Middle East it is Halal or Islam-safe travel. But we North Americans are cut from a different cloth. We pine for the lifestyles of the rich and vacuous, of Britney and Kevin and the rest for whom life is one endless DUI. I'll admit that I share the helpless anguish of millions of Americans about the state of our Union and have entertained the notion that finding a pal in Yukon Jack until Bush lets go of the football might be less toxic than watching cable news, but is this a for-real trend or a fashionable whack at US culture drawn from the backside of The Queen?

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Taxis of the World

Taking a taxi ride is an instant way to form some conclusions about a place. In Beijing, for example, I was assaulted by a silent driver and Chinese rap song that kept going on and on and on.for about 100 minutes. China, it seems, is embracing the rhythms of western economics and culture faster than China's leaders would like to admit. In a similar musical assault in Brazil a few years ago, Brazilian pop blasted through a torn speaker in back of me as the cabbie blew kisses at young women we passed.who completely ignored this Latin Lothario.

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