Spot Cool Stuff recently published a review comparison of the best Bora Bora luxury resorts. As we mentioned in that review, each of the nine resorts would looked at was spectacular in its own way. Each featured amazing views and impeccable service. Each also had nightly rates somewhere between expensive and exorbitant. So what’s a budget traveler to do?
Contrary to image of Bora Bora as a destination only for the well healed, the tropical Pacific island can definitely be enjoyed on the cheap. There are a handful of B&Bs and small family-run pensions where couples can stay for under €100 (or even under €50). Among those, Spot Cool Stuff’s favorite is the wonderful little Sunset Hill Lodge.
A joke we overheard in a coffee shop in Italy:
Question: What’s the difference between yogurt and the United States of America?
Answer: Yogurt has culture.
Okay, maybe that’s a little funny. The problem is, it isn’t true. The United States is full of culture. It isn’t as gourmet as, say, Italy. Nor is it as old as China or as all-encompassing as India, or as snobby as France. But it most certainly is there. American culture is diverse and interesting; we’d argue it is one of the most fun national cultures on the planet.
Want proof? Below is our recommendation for five distinctly American cultural experiences that you are unlikely to find written up in any guidebook. For this post we only considered experiences that are available across the country. Anything that’s exclusive to a specific ethnic group or region—attending Burning Man in Nevada or eating gumbo in New Orleans or getting yelled at by a taxi driver in New York City, for instance—was disqualified. We also nixed holiday events, like the 4th of July American Independence Day.
While this post was written with non-American travelers in mind, those from the United States may also gain some travel tips by reading on . . .
Want to see Cirque du Soleil? A single ticket to a live performance of the impossibly acrobatic dancers will set you back as much as £85 in London. You’ll have to part with S$148 in Singapore. In Las Vegas, you’ll pay $359 for a center seat vaguely close to the front of the stage. But in Quebec City, Canada you’ll pay C$0. At current exchange rates, that works out to US$0, €0 or ¥0.
And there’s no gimmick. You don’t have to win a contest, hear a sales pitch for a timeshare or creatively acquire someone else’s ticket. Anyone can show up at a Cirque du Soleil performance in Quebec City and watch it—for free.
The world’s highest tower is now in Japan. The recently-completed Tokyo Skytree rockets up a breathtaking 634 meters† (2,080 ft) above the Japanese capital. And now visitors can go up and check out the view.
How high is 634 meters? It’s twice the height of the Eiffel Tower. On a clear, day you can have lunch in the Skytree’s lower observation area and gaze out—way out—to Mt. Fuji on the horizon. From the upper observation deck you can distinctly see the curvature of the planet!
Every day around dusk the world’s smallest penguins waddle up on a stretch of coast near Oamaru, New Zealand
Is it possible to dislike penguins? There’s something universally adorable about them. Maybe it’s their waddling. Or their tuxedo outfits. Or how they are portrayed in popular culture, as in the wonderful March of the Penguins documentary.
Most penguin stories, including March, take place in Antarctica. However there are several other places on the planet to see wild penguins. At a few of those you can hop in the water and swim along side these friendly, feathered creatures. Here’s a look at our favorite:
The Kryziu Kalnas (“The Hill of Crosses”) in northern Lithuania might be the world’s most spontaneous unusual man-made attraction. No one owns it. No one runs it. No one even knows how it came to be.
What is known is this: For as long as anyone can remember, there’s been a 10-meter high mount of earth near the town of Šiauliai that’s been covered in crosses.
One of Spot Cool Stuff’s biggest travel peeves: Hotels that charge for in-room wireless internet. We somewhat understand budget no-frills hotels adding an optional internet fee, but it is usually those very hotels that don’t. The hotels that typically charge the most for internet access are those that already charge the highest room rates. What sort of luxury experience is that? To Spot Cool Stuff it is the equivalent of a hotel putting an electricity meter outside every room and charging their guests extra for their power usage.
For whatever reason, hotels and resorts in Orlando are especially prone to charging for internet access. We’ve found hotels in Central Florida that charge up to $30 per day! Fortunately we’ve always found a few hotels that offer an upmarket experience, that are convenient to Orlando’s theme parks and attractions and that provide free wifi.
Here are the three best:
Update: Amen! The Walt Disney World Resort has recently announced that it will start offering free wifi. Hopefully this means that other Orlando-area resorts will follow their lead.
Travelers spend big money on upgraded airline tickets and medium money on upgraded luggage. Yet, for only a few extra dollars (or pounds or euros or yen or somoni) an upgraded experience can be had on an arguably more significant piece of travel gear: socks.
Travel (save for the armchair variety) tends to involve a lot of standing and walking and being outside. And a surprising percentage of one’s physical comfort starts with one’s feet.
For the previous few months Spot Cool Stuff has been trying out different socks; some were provided to us and others we purchased ourselves. The central take-away from this sock testing frenzy: Don’t purchase generic socks, or at least not exclusively. There’s an impressive variety of socks on the market, produced by several dozen small- and medium-sized manufacturers. Spending a bit more on their socks is worth it, especially for travel.
As for specific sock suggestions, here’s a review of some of our favorites: