Prepare to Binge on Budget Travel's Addictive Coast-to-Coast Video Series!
My name is Robert and I am addicted to Budget Travel's Coast-to-Coast by Word of Mouth video series.
I honestly thought I was immune. After all, I'm the editor in chief who greenlighted the crazy coast-to-coast concept: Our photo editor, Whitney Tressel, would drive from Los Angeles to Charleston, sans GPS, sans guidebooks, following only the advice of locals she met along the way; Whitney would shoot video and still photography and deliver dispatches from the road, which our senior, Jamie Beckman, turned into fun blog posts, a huge feature, and a pleasantly endless slideshow.
But I'm not immune to binging on this incredible video series. From the moment Whitney hits the Pacific Coast Highway in Los Angeles to her final sunset in South Carolina, these short films keep me watching and smiling. And I'm not the only one: The great travel tips, amazing food, and friendly faces of Whitney's informal "tour guides" earned Coast-to-Coast by Word of Mouth a nomination for MIN's Best of the Web award for multi-media feature.
To watch our Coast-to-Coast by Word of Mouth preview and episodes 1 through 4, visit Budget Travel's video collection (where you'll also find incredible "day-in-the-life" footage of Cuba, Antigua, Miami, Berlin, Bangkok, and more).
"Secret Menus" of America's Favorite Fast Food Joints
"Off the menu" has an elegant ring to it, no? We associate the phrase with high rollers and celebs who are certain the chef has something up his or her sleeve that they're not broadcasting to the world. Well, it turns out you don't have to be on the A-list to order off the menu—and you don't have to be dining at a white tablecloth joint to make special requests. Our friends at Foursquare have compiled tips left by their users—always a great resource for real-life feedback—about some of America's favorite off-the-menu orders from affordable, quality chain restaurants. From imaginative and messy riffs on burgers to unusual twists on pizza, sandwiches, and burritos, there's a little something here for everyone. IN-N-OUT BURGER, a regional chain in Arizona, California, Nevada, Texas, and Utah, has a devoted following for its better-than-fast-food burgers. Foursquare user Jessica says, "It's not on the menu, but they'll substitute a veggie burger if you ask!" Nick recommends, "Ask for your burger Animal Style [with extra spread, pickles, and grilled onions]. Not on the menu, but the only way to go." And Andy says, "Get the 'grilled cheese' off the secret menu." M BURGER, in Chicago, offers its own "secret menu," too. Samantha says to order "Doctor Betty! Beef burger with avocado, tomato, and pepper jack cheese." Mikinzie says, "Try the cheese frieds with jalapeños on the secret menu. You won't regret it." TORCHY'S TACOS, in Texas, has a following statewide and beyond. Bryan recommends "Go for the Ace of Spades on the secret menu. Sausage, brisket, cheese, queso, Diablo sauce, sour cream and a fried egg. It made me a believer." Marc says, "LOVED The Matador." Nick insists, "Order the Hillbilly. You won't regret it." UMAMI BURGER, with locations in California, Illinois, Nevada, and New York, also boasts a secret menu. "Must order their cheesy tots and truffle fries," says Betty. Rameen recommends, "Spicy Bird (turkey burger)." JAMBA JUICE, with 800 locations in 26 state, the Bahamas, Canada, the Philippines, Mexico, and South Korea, helped jump-start the smoothie worldwide. It continues to delight the taste buds with off-the-menu specialities. "The Pink Star is my favorite," says April. "It tastes like a pink Starburst. Ingredients: lemonade, soymilk, raspberry sherbert, frozen yogurt, sorbet, and fresh strawberries." Continuing the candy-flavored theme, Alex says, "Ask for the White Gummy Bear. So good." FOOSACKLEY'S, a local chicken restaurant with locations across coastal Alabama, offers some tasty variations you must be in-the-know to ask for. "It's not on the menu, but try a Buf-foo-lo Chicken Sandwich. It's chicken dipped in buffalo sauce, topped with ranch on a bun. Delicious!" says Whitney. "For a vegetarian option, or just a tasty alternative, try the Grilled Cheese! It's not on the menu, but it is worth ordering! And to spice it up, try dipping it in ranch! Mmmmm!!" says Brandon. PAPALOTE MEXICAN GRILL, with two locations in San Francisco, includes a Super Adobo chicken burrito you won't find on the menu, according to Foursquare user The Feast. PANERA BREAD, with locations across the U.S. and Canada, will serve up a Steak and Egg Protein Bowl with onions and cheese if you ask them to, says Dee. MELLOW MUSHROOM, with locations across the U.S., mostly in the Southeast, includes some surprising pizza options that only insiders know. "Ask for the Maui Wowie pizza," says Jhim. "Pesto sauce, mozzarella, banana peppers, pineapple, jerk chicken, ham & bacon. Heaven!" Johanna says, "Order a chicken Caesar pizza. It's not on the menu, but they'll still make it and it's awesome!"
Raise A Glass To Argentina's Wine Culture
This article was written by Will Collier on behalf of Say Hueque, a company specializing in tours to Argentina and Chile. Located in the Southern Cone of South America, Argentina is the 8th largest country in the world. Home to high mountains, immense plains, lush vegetation, and extreme deserts, Argentina is one of the world's biggest ecological reserves and has proven to be the perfect environment for wine making. Considering Argentina's history of Spanish, Italian, and French immigration, the country has a unique European heritage that has nurtured several generations of vine growers and winemakers. Stretching from latitude 22° south to latitude 42° south and encompassing more than 228,575 hectares of cultivated area, Argentina's biggest wine region is located in the western portion of the country, at the foot of the Andes Mountain Range. Most often associated with Mendoza, this region is commonly referred to as Argentina's wine country and is known to be one of the top wine making regions in South America. According to the Huffington Post, the Mendoza region ranks as the 4th best wine destination in the world. So what distinguishes Mendoza from other great wine destinations? In addition to the more than 1,200 wineries that account for 80 percent of the country's wine production, the fertile land of the region is perfectly suited for the conditions needed to grow Malbec, Argentina's most popular wine—the grapes used to produce Malbec are rarely found in other parts of the world. Although originally from France, Mendoza's high elevation and warmer climate have resulted in a very advantageous environment for growing Malbec. For this reason, many people mistakenly believe that Malbec is an Argentine creation. While Argentina can't claim responsibility for Malbec, the country is actually the birthplace of another type of wine: Torrontes. Grown in the Cafayate Valley in the province of Salta, just north of the Mendoza region, Torrontes is a white wine grape variety that has been growing in popularity in the last few decades. With a special microclimate, the Cafayate Valley region is well suited for production of this fruity and aromatic type of grape and has seen outstanding vineyard development in recent years. While it has not yet reached the level of world-wide recognition that Argentina's Malbec has, this local invention is well on its way to becoming equally as famous. For wine lovers, now is the time to discover the up and coming wine destination of Argentina. On a trip to South America, you will not only have the chance to taste some delicious wine, but can also take advantage of the unique activities that surround the wine region like hiking in the Andes Mountains in Mendoza and visiting local Andean villages in Salta.
Five myths about Moscow
Moscow is a city that carries with it a whole host of associations — some good (soaring ballerinas at the Bolshoi, anyone?), some not so good (brutish oligarchs with flashy cars, maybe?), some merited, and some not. The tourism industry that works to bring travelers to and through the city is aware of its perception and is addressing these "myths" systematically in order to improve both the way Moscow is perceived and the actually tourism experience on the ground, according to Sergey Shpilko, chairman of the committee on tourism and the hotel industry in Moscow, whom I met with while visiting the Russian capital last month. Myth #1) Moscow is not safe. According to Shpilko, there were only 24 criminal reports filed by tourists in Moscow in 2010, and 39 filed in 2009. And while he admitted that the bombing at the Domodedovo airport in Moscow earlier this year in which dozens were killed raised concerns about the city's safety, he is hoping to get the word out about the other — safer — side of Moscow. Indeed, while visiting the city, often times wandering completely on my own, I never felt unsafe and the threat of Chechen rebels remained deep in the back of my mind, rarely surfacing. As for my personal safety, I just kept my bag zipped up and my tourist map folded up, and never felt uncomfortable. It's a big city, it's easy to blend. Myth #2) Moscow is expensive. Okay, now this is where Shpilko and I are going to have to agree to disagree a bit. He cited information that the average cost of a business-level hotel room in 2010 was 6,664 Russian rubles or about $230 (that's not really that inexpensive). He also noted that there are mainstream and budget operators that offer all-inclusive tours with $100 per diems. Okay, that's a little cheaper. But generally speaking, I didn't find Moscow or Russia in general to be cheap. It might not be as expensive as Western Europe or the United Kingdom where the currency exchange rates put the dollar at a disadvantage, but prices were often on par with New York. Myth #3) There's nothing to see in Moscow but the Kremlin or the Bolshoi Theatre. Shpilko said this was a myth about Moscow, and I don't know if people actually think this or not, but it probably goes without saying that this is far from true. The city is teeming with museums and galleries (new and old), churches and monasteries, and theatre and performance venues, not to mention endless shopping options and a whole host of hip bars and restaurants (check out the Red October or Krasny Oktyabr island across from the Kremlin). One could easily spend four or five days in Moscow without getting bored. Myth #4) Moscow is the economic capital of Russia and St. Petersburg is the cultural capital. This kind of goes with Myth #3, but this was something I was actually told by several people who had been to Russia and that I pretty much disagree with wholeheartedly. Well, yes, Moscow is the political and economic hub of the country, and yes, St. Petersburg is incredibly charming and full of cultural institutions and happenings. But, Moscow has its own charms and cultural offerings. And what's with people thinking Moscow is one big, ugly business center? I didn't get that at all. It's big, but the city is on par architecturally and culturally with many major European cities. At least in my opinion. Myth #5) Moscow's traffic is horrendous. This is no myth. Shpilko admitted it, I experienced it. There's no getting around it. According to Shpilko, plans are in place to address the issue, especially in the lead-up to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia and the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. On the plus side, I got around very easily and with much delight on Moscow's metro system, which in addition to being efficient and clean, is home to numerous unbelievably beautiful stations (they put New York's subway stops to shame) worthy of touring as much for their design and decoration as a means to bypassing said nasty traffic. More from Budget Travel: Moscow Made Easier Russia's Hermitage opens a "wing" in Amsterdam Why your Russian river ship shouldn't sink
London riots: One expat's take, on the ground
I finally fell in love with London during the riots. Stiff upper lip, and all that. By writing a positive blog post about the riots, I don't—by any stretch of the imagination—mean to trivialize the suffering of the more than 200 people made homeless by arson or the countless shops—many of them family run—that were wrecked in a terrifying way that no amount of property insurance can forgive. I also don't want to ignore how upsetting it is to live in a place experiencing unrest. The uncertainty can be intense. On Monday in South London (where I live, far from the tourist circuit), shops and pubs that ordinarily remain open until eleven o'clock were spookily closed by five. Helicopters flew overhead. Police were nowhere to be seen. The Balham mosque, roughly 300 feet away from my flat, was being guarded by its black-bearded worshippers. Hours later, shops about 150-feet and farther from my flat were hit by stupid violence. The echo-chamber of TV news and the worried messages from neighbors made it a sleepless night. But enough with the bad part. What hasn't been said enough is that Londoners are a wonderfully resilient and open-hearted people—as their response to the riots demonstrates. They're very much worth visiting on your next major vacation. The Blitz-era slogan of "Keep Calm and Carry On" became a visible reality as I worked side-by-side with neighbors in cleaning up. The signature photograph in newspapers and on websites has been of citizens carrying brooms in the streets. Naturally, new friendships have been microwave fast. Within hours of Monday night's widespread looting and arson, the Twitter feed @RiotCleanUp received more than 80,000 followers. I followed its instructions, bringing a broom to nearby Clapham Junction, which had been hard hit during the looting. In this one neighborhood on a weekday morning, there were hundreds of Londoners ready and willing to clean up. They had marched there from a previous borough where they had found there was nothing to clean up because the residents had already been busy at work since dawn. Keep calm and carry on, indeed. Why did people riot? We have to wait for smarter people than me to explain why the riots happened. In the meantime, I have sympathy for the view expressed online by a fellow travel writer, Benji Lanyado: "A sad underlying factor: Their lives are boring. This is thrilling for them. Suddenly they matter." He says that, and I repeat it, without condoning the rioters: They're morons, and they deserve criminal punishment. But I agree with Lanyado that it was the illicit thrill that probably caused many of them to take to the streets. When I moved here as an ex-pat a year ago, I had immense respect and curiosity for England. Who couldn't? But admiration isn't the same thing as affection. Having seen the city's classy response to trouble, I'm now totally enamoured. I never expected the moment I would fall in real love with London would be while sweeping up broken glass and smashed electronics in a street. But Londoners have never seemed more impressive. Stiff upper lip and all that. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT LONDON'S RIOTS? SOUND OFF IN THE COMMENTS. THANKS. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL London still welcoming tourists amid riots London: Tours led by the homeless London: Top fish and chip shops