The Six Airports I Passed Through on This Trip — Ranked

As much as going to airports can be a bit of a nightmare for the novice traveler, I still enjoy and look forward to passing through new airports to see the quirks, similarities and differences. Elegant and stylish train stations are few and far between (Denver’s Union Station is a wow!) and bus stations are just atrocious places to be any time of day.

I hadn’t flown in two years, so I got to experience the modern upgrades (faster check-in, bag tracking) and aspects that haven’t changed (weak food selections, repugnant bathrooms). On this trip, I got to walk through four new airports. Here are all them ranked.

1. Vancouver — The whole airport (which is actually in Richmond) reminded me of the best in European airports. It makes you feel like your in a wide-open space and not closed off from the outside world. On top of that, some design flourishes makes it more of an experience. Coming in at around 8pm, you’re greeted with a criss-cross pattern of overhead lights as you walk through some artificial scenes of natures. It was like arriving at a natural history museum.

There’s a train that will take you to all points north into downtown Vancouver for about $7.50CAD that you can purchase at the kiosks. Although to get to the train, you have to go outside and play Frogger with passing traffic. Leaving, there’s an overpass that gets you to arrivals.

When I checked in going out on Delta, they actually secretly took a photo of your checked baggage. When I got through passport control, the agent showed me a photo of my luggage and asked if that was mine. That’s some deep secret ops shit right there. As an added bonus, I finally saved time with my Global Entry.

In the international terminal, there is the ubiquitous Tim Horton’s along with Asian fast food options. Pho to go, anyone? There was a nice wine bar, which every airport has to have, but can we get a decent beer bar going? The bar dedicated to the Vancouver Chanucks is unspectacular.

As I walked around, you can see some North American Indian art and totem polls like this one below. RAWWWWW, enjoy your flight!

2. Denver — The Denver International Airport has the distinction of being the largest airport in America by total land area with the longest public use runway. It’s also one of the most energy efficient with one of the fastest snow removal systems in the world.

Within the past year, they’ve added a highspeed rail that will take you to downtown Union Station for $9 in about 40 minutes with a few stops in-between. This has been a big deal for the city in hopes to give the town some improved infrastructure to relieve traffic. Even though I switched cars because the first one I was in smelled like a toilet, it worked like a charm. As an added bonus, the airport station has this funky mood lighting that’s support to resemble the northern lights I guess. It was as if Brian Eno designed a transit hub.

DEN is one of those airport where you have to take a quick train to get to the terminals from arrivals and departure halls. For a little levity, when the train arrives you hear the first chords of Fulsom City Blues (I hear the train a comin’) and a steam train whistle. Inside the voice of the Mayor of Denver welcomes you and tells you what the city has to offer.

On the Friday morning I left, the East terminal was a hub activity. There are dozen of places to eat but particularly appealed to me. I did three laps to determine what overpriced, calorie laden breakfast sandwich I can inhale that will sustain me through two flights. I went with Quiznos and an iced coffee from Dunks. While the main hub of the terminal has some large abstract art, the rest of the terminal wasn’t just sort of there — nothing offensive, but nothing that stands out.

3. Minneapolis — Natural light is important with airports and Minneapolis-St. Paul is flooded with it. That helps when you step out from a full, cramped flight.

When I was switching flights, I had a 15-minute walk where I passed two portraits of Prince alongside elementary kid’s artwork. I’m trying to figure out the connection.

While I only had an hour in the airport, I didn’t see any eating that stood out besides a Chik-Fil-A with a 20-person deep line. That’s just cruel. They should build a hot vending machine that dispenses chicken sandwiches and waffle fries.

4. Newark — This is my home airport and never ceases to amaze me how it’s been under construction for the 21 years I lived in the area. The motto should be — EWR: We’re Working On It Since 1928.

More than ever, I can’t escape Terminal B. It’s where Delta, American and Virgin Atlantic fly from and it feels like a place you’re trapped in. There’s a small Ruby Tuesday and a forgettable fish place that sells $14 fish tacos.

On the plus side, they finally set-up a TSA Pre-Check in the Delta/Virgin gates. This is my first trip where I finally used the service the whole way.

As a side note, I love how people in the premium check-in are determined to use their special lane when clearly the regular coach check-in line is shorter.

5. Salt Lake City — They’ve got nice views out the window. The main photo is from out the window. You can enjoy it while eating from Krispy Kreme, because that’s the first thing that’s greeting you when you enter. That’s about the extent of your options. I had an 80-minute layover so I could find a bar to see if they had local beer. I find the random airport bar and asked if they had any local beer. That confused the bartender as he fumbled to form an answer, so I asked what’s on tap instead.

6. Phoenix — When good air conditioning is your highest compliment, you know you should spend as little as possible in the terminal. I had been there in 1999 and it seems nothing has changed. Sad looking shops and a restaurant not designed for people with carry-on suitcases. There’s that dance you have to do when your dragging something around a terminal. I gate check mine so I am free of it. Unfortunately, other people don’t do this. I wanted to sit at the bar and pretty much had to climb over obstacle of pilot suitcases and rolling duffles.

I Think I’m Done With Airbnb

Your intrepid traveler is back at HQ safely and without incident … mostly.

I’ve come to view that booking Airbnb should be a last minute/everything is booked or “I’m broke and can’t afford real accommodations” situation. After this Vancouver and Denver trip, I’ve staid in ten Airbnbs, seven of them in the past three months. Now that I’m back to being gainfully employed, it’s time to pony up for a decent hotel.

Here’s my first complaint: that Airbnb builds community and promotes friendships between guests and hosts, according to founder Brian Chesky. I call bullshit on that. They made portray that in ads and on their website with professional looking photos and clip art, but the reality is something else.

Let’s face it, Airbnb is way for people to make money for as little effort as possible. You have a spare room? Put a few towels on the bed, a few local travel brochures and a spare key and expect money to come in.

I’m sure there are spectacular places for rent run by outstanding people who have made a difference in travelers lives. When I come across something like that I’ll let you know.

My experience on my past two journeys soured me on the Airbnb experience. I’ve told you about the owner’s cat escaping on my July road trip through the south. Also on that road trip, the Airbnb host asking me three times if I wanted to stay for breakfast. The first time I said “That’s nice, but I need to be on the road early and I’m going to check out the town’s baked goods, coffee, etc.” Second time, I said, “No thanks, but I really want to do my own thing tomorrow morning.” Third time they asked as I was packing up the car, I had to take a breathe so as not to sound rude. “No thank you. I’m good, but thanks you for the offer.” As a little background, the room and bathroom was filled with bible verses. I knew where that was going.

On this trip, I decided to pony up a bit with the Airbnb since the flights were free. One place I paid $100+ a night that looked like a large house in a “great, quiet neighborhood convenient to downtown.”  What it turned out to be was a glorified boarding house in a basement with little effort to details in their three rooms they were renting out. Let me rattle off the list — barely functioning wifi or none at all, no toilet paper holder, empty shampoo and soap bottles, no bathmat by the shower, a shower that ran that was either burn your skin off hot or freeze your nuts off cold, a showerhead that wouldn’t stay in place and just fell limp, no art on the walls, the cheapest pillows and duvet cover (No sheet or bed linear), a handy list of more ways I could give them more money,  constant noise from the boiler next door, a small window to let light in, no desk or chair and five cheap plastic hangers in the closet. The neighborhood? It was very nice … with nothing of note around and about 40-minute bus ride to downtown if you time it right. So a few late night taxis were in play (there’s no Uber in Vancouver).

Add in the fact that the hosts never bothered to me greet me and I never saw or spoke to them and this led to my first 3-star review on a 4.9 listing. It had to be done. On night two when the wifi wasn’t working, I looked on the Hotels Tonight app and saw I could be at the downtown Radisson for $119 a night. I just didn’t feel like packing up and ordering a taxi.

Then the other Airbnb I got, a very nice couple with a young son. Room and shower was nice, had everything a regular hotel would include. Again, far from downtown via a 45-minute bus ride or $20 Lyft.

This happened. I got back to the Airbnb at 11:15pm. Not that late, but not staggering home drunk at 2am. They gave me all they keys I needed, but THEY PUT THE CHAIN ON THE DOOR FROM THE INSIDE. They were all asleep. I didn’t want to wake the kid so I had to call the host. Second try she finally answered so she could let the chain off. They forgot I was staying there.

As you can see, I might be breaking up with Airbnb. The little inconveniences add up to a major hassle. At this point in my travel life, I don’t want to be sleeping in a stranger’s house just to save some money. I’m gainfully employed again and hopefully can plan out my next journey months in advance.

Hotels, especially those who offer a little style for not much more money, are always practically located, don’t have cats escaping, not trying to sell you on religion, having working wifi, 24-hour help and don’t put chains on your door. My best travel experiences include memories staying at great hotels.

While I  don’t think there’s a lesson to be learned, I think saving money towards accommodations is better than saving money with your accommodations.

It’s always been one of my travel guidelines — skimp on travel (air,bus,train,boat), splurge on hotels.

My First Four Hours in Denver Included This Burger and a Lyft Driver Almost Driving Off With My Luggage

The hamburger, Graham Cracker porter from the Denver Beer Co. and green chili is courtesy of City Grille in downtown Denver. It’s the consistently top rated top hamburger in Denver. While the bun was a little over-sized, it was eaten within minutes. The green chili was perfectly hot, very flavorful without being toxic.

Before that burger feast, I had another insane Lyft experience. To get from Denver Airport to the AirBnb, I took the new speedy train that will take you to Union Station for $9. Although the train car smelled like a toilet, it was $9 and simple to navigate. The plan was to get off at the nearest train station by the place and take a Lyft the rest of the way.

Order it on my phone and I can see the driver is 5 minutes away. Five minutes later she’s still five minutes away and making several u-turns. She gets within a minute and calls me, “Hi, I’m at the station. Do you see me?” I look at the phone and I’m standing right on the pin. I see she’s a block away at the bus station. I say, “it’s the train station. The address is Central Park Train Station.” If a train hadn’t arrived right at that second, I’d probably still be standing there.

She finds me and she sees my luggage. “Go ahead and put it in the trunk,” she says. The trunk is popped, but my crap in and close the trunk. She then drives away … without me.

I start scream and running like the opening credits of What’s Happening where Rerun chases after the truck. She got a good four car lengths ahead of me until she realized that I was not in the car, unless she thought I got in the trunk with my suitcase. For split second, I thought she was steeling my shit.

“I don’t know what I was thinking,” she says. She has a 5-star rating. Not anymore.

 

Impressions of Vancouver

Take the landscape of Los Angeles, mix it with the crunchy granola and rainfall of Seattle and set it up behind the skyline of Hong Kong without the showy lights and you have Vancouver.

With the comparison to Los Angeles, it’s a sprawling city with a massive downtown area surrounded by low-lying suburbs.  If Toronto is the City of Neighborhoods, Vancouver is the City of “What Neighborhood is This?” Then you have the movie industry that’s larger then you think, not only from American production but the Asian market as well. I came across three movie shoots during my four days.

Also with the local hipster population reminds me immensely of the prototypical L.A. scenster who trek from trendy places and complain that their movie can’t get funding.

With Seattle, Vancouver is a progressive city, filled with foodie options, an overwhelming craft beer scene and a small music scene where rainfull is expected every day. Sunday was 24-hours of rain, Monday was about 10-hours of rain with some hail thrown in. As a result, their are several coffee joints on every block.

When you cross the bridge from the South into Vancouver or take a transit ferry from the North, the skyline towers over everything. It reminds me of Hong Kong harbor in terms of the actually length and heights, but just no fancy lights.

The Canadian city is probably the most unassuming major city I’ve visited. There is pride in the city, but not boastful. The 30% Asian population have integrated into Canadian life seamlessly. You’re more like to hear or see an Asian language before you see French. Thus, you see Asian restaurants are the most dominate type in the city. That means glorious dumplings and tiny Japanese style eateries.

Just like Toronto, everything and everybody is chill. The transportation is extensive, with buses and a simple subway system. Most importantly, it’s cheap. $10CAN ($8US) for a whole day of travel.

There is a major problem in the city, and in every major city — the homeless population. It’s pretty rampant downtown and in small areas nearby where you see a great artist area with eateries, art galleries, breweries and the like, right across from a shantytown. You’re enjoying a wine flight with your good-looking, well-to-do friends talking about the latest TED talk. Meanwhile, there’s a tent city directly next door.

More on this and other sights and eats later. Onto Denver, where hopefully my AirBnb will having working wifi.

If Your Carry On Is a Garbage Bag, You’ve Failed in Life and Other Travel Observations

It’s been almost two years since I’ve flown, and ohhhhh, how I missed being around idiot tourists, weirdos and near-do-wells. I’ve done Newark to Phoenix with a two hour layovers, let’s get some thoughts down to pass the time.

I took NJ Transit to Newark Airport, not the quickest way, but it’s cheap and somewhat reliable. The toughest part of the journey is the block walk from the shebeen to the train station. I have my mobile train ticket. Another lady has luggage as well and sits across from me  — no ticket. The conductor starts to scold her, which you want before you travel, and she says, “I’m sorry. I didn’t know you have to buy a ticket before you get on the train.” I’m going to leave that little nugget there for you.

Then, on NJ Transit, you can move between cars, you just need to press the big green button that says PRESS HERE TO OPEN DOOR. A man struggled to grasp this concept as a tried to pull the door open manually for 10 seconds as I watched him. I yelled, “Press the button!” And he did and walked though. The struggle is real.

Check-in and TSA pre-check was normal. The metal buttons on my shirt set off the beeper. The guy let me through anyway.

Since this was a last minute trip, I got stuck in the middle seat for the 4+ hour flight, which I’m fine with. I’m not picky or fidgety. The man in the window was already there and he was on the phone. And I swear everything I’m telling you is true, this was his conversation on the phone, told in louder then normal voice, “Snookums, don’t worry about it … baby, I’ll be back … I know … I know … that guy is just a schmuck … he’s a suit …. he’s just a suit …. I’m telling you he’s a suit … I hear you, but he’s a suit.”

I felt like grabbing the phone and yelling into it, “Bitch, he’s a suit!”

He gets off the phone and says, “Hello.” I say “Hello” back. I noticed that has a Whole Foods shopping bag between his legs. “They made me check in my stuff at the gate, can you believe that?”

I said, “Okay.” That deflated the guy, because he was hoping I would join him in a rebellion over checked carry-on.

Then the man in the aisle seat arrived, he was carrying a white garbage bag as his carry on. Okay, if you can afford a Uniqlo puffer jacket and Oakelys, you can spring for a $20 backpack at Target for your shit.

We take off, I get out my book (Oral History of the Daily Show) and settle in for the flight. Both dudes fall asleep, which is fine by me. Window guy wakes up, fumbled through his grocery bag and gets out gum. One falls on the floor and he sort of screams (a tad above normal speaking voice), “Mother fuckers!” (plural) Loud enough that the guy in front of him turned around. Yes, all the outrage because your gum fell on the floor.

We land, window guy asks me if I’m from Phoenix. I said, “No.” He then asks if I play golf. I said, “No.”

Don’t know what he was trying to get at, but I’m glad he’s not moving onto Vancouver.

More to come…

 

It Should Take You 20 Minutes to Pack If You Follow These Simple Guidelines

If your stressing out about packing for a trip, you’re doing it wrong or you have some deep seeded neurosis that you should consult your doctor.

I’ve detailed previous my folding techniques, toiletries checklist and thinking behind what clothes to bring, so let’s boil it down in some easy to follow paragraphs with bold text subheads.

Wear the same clothes for trip, based on seasons
For this trip Vancouver and Denver, I’ll wearing the same outfit I do on every flight — blue cotton stretch pants, denim/chambray shirt, blue blazer and black shoes. A slightly classier, but comfortable outfit will get you respected by crew and fellow passengers. Plus, I’ll have lounge access so I should look like belong.

In terms of what I packed, I have the same items from previous trips — blue jeans, black jeans, traveler khakis (pants cut like jeans), white shirt, blue-stripped shirt and black and white check shirt. I subbed out a green light jacket for a new camo shirt jacket that adds versatility, warmth and a little color. Sneakers are packed because they take up less rooms than the shoes.

Thus, I don’t have to decide. I’ve made the choice before, it worked and it will work again.

Pick clothes that match with each other.
Everything matches with jeans and beige khakis. The blue cotton stretch pants and blue blazer I’m wearing on the flight will go with anything I’m packing.

Keep it simple — solids, strips and simple patterns.
See above. If want to add something with some personality — add a fun scarf or sweater.

Blue is your friend
It’s the no-brainer color. It ties everything together and makes you feel comfortable. Light blue in the summer, dark blue in the winter and every shade of blue in-between.

Refresh your travel toiletries in your dopp kit when you return to save time when you go back out.
This is my best travel hack. All I had to do was throw my kit in my suitcase. When I returned from my roadtrip, I put in new toothpaste, replaced my razor blade, filled my tiny bottles and added more drugs and vitamins. The shaver, toothbrush, deodorant and comb all stay in the kit. Thus, I was all set.

Take no more than 10 pairs of undies, socks and t-shirts.
I’m out for 7 nights, so I went with the 7 sets. I could do four sets and do a quick wash when I got to Denver. If you’re out 12 nights, take 6 pairs and do a wash with a Tide Travel Pack.

 

The Next Destination — Denver, Colorado

John Denver’s was born Henry John Deutschendorf Jr. Bob Denver’s real name is Robert Denver, but Bob Denver never sang “Rocky Mountain High” as far I know.

After getting my fill of fresh Canadian air, I’ll be inhaling some Rocky Mountain air in-between pints. Denver won out over Chicago for a second destination on my trip this weekend into next. I had never been to Denver and since the weather will not be deathly cold, it was a good time to visit a city that’s known for several things.

  • The mountains
  • The Broncos
  • The beer
  • The athletic residents
  • The omelets
  • The legal weed

Weed tourism has been a boom for local business. Unfortunately, I’m not a weed guy because my allergies and my displeasure of smelling like weed.  In any event, it was inevitable that the Mile High City would be the Mile “High” City.

Denver has always been a beer city even before the craft beer boom of the past decade. Golden and the Coors facility is 20 minutes out of the city. Dare a craft beer guy go to the place where crappy, watery beer is made? Hell, yeah. If anything, it’s chance to look at old timey beer cans.

There’s a confounding amount of big names in Denver and in neighboring towns  — New Belgium, Oskar Blues, Odell, Left Hand and Breckenridge are in the Top 50 of Craft Breweries in America. Then you have Great Divide, Crooked Stave, Avery, 10 Barrel and TRVE. My hope is I find the next big craft brewery to come from the area. There are only 100 to choose from. It’s why the Great American Beer Festival, the Super Bowl of beer, is held in Denver every October.

While the weed, beer and omelets are all well in good, Denver is one of the most psychically fit cities in America. This is due to the mild summers, low rain fall, low humidity and 300 days of sunshine. Then, the city, by design, is filled with public parks, bike lanes, running tracks and sports areas. As a result, it brings in young professional to study sports medicine, tech companies build offices there to appeal to fit people and obesity is at low levels. Let’s not forget that Colorado is one the great ski destinations in the world.

I’ll be spending 3 nights in the joint. I have to tell myself that I won’t be able to drink at all the breweries, but damn it I will try.