The Backpackers’ Guide to Las Vegas

I suppose this post could also be called, “The poor man’s Vegas,” because that’s pretty much what it was. As it happened, David and I had already decided to drive to Los Angeles to fly out of LAX for our trip to Central America, and since his birthday was just a few days prior, I decided to surprise him with a trip to Vegas, which is roughly in that direction. (And by roughly I mean in vaguely southward). Though we had but little budget and two big backpacks, we managed to have a really great time–combining here a few tips and tricks for those similarly financially limited.

1. Don’t believe in the wristbands.
Almost everyone on the street in Vegas is a tourist, but those who aren’t are, between the hours of 5 p.m. and 2 a.m., trying heartily to give away as many wristbands as humanly possible. The wristbands seem like a great a deal at first, offering free drinks all night, or no cover with the purchase of one drink. We quickly found out that these were scammy promises used to lure you the velvet-roped lines, where you learned that “one drink” will run you about $25, or that “all night” meant until 3 a.m., and only for ladies. Of course for some, those prices or conditions might be completely reasonable. But this is a budget-angled blog post, and to save cash, we opted to head to a bar that had its own DJ, no cover, and 2-for-1 specials (thanks to coupons hawked by the same girl trying to give us a wristband for another place). We had plenty to drink for the same price it would have cost one of us to get into the fancier club, and still got to dance and be part of the scene. Bottom line? You don’t need a nightclub experience to enjoy the nightlife.

*For those who do want the nightclub experience, don’t be shy about haggling. Friends of ours who had a little more cash to spend wound up talking the doormen into significantly reducing the cover, and got a few free drinks out of the deal on top. Can’t hurt to try!

2. First time gamblers, bring cash.
We wanted to try our luck (because who doesn’t in Vegas?), but quickly ran short of the few bucks we happened to have on hand. Bally’s had a ton of ATMs around, so we figured it’d be an easy way to quickly grab a few more dollars to play with. Bad news: the ATMs all added a $6 surcharge to any withdrawal, on top of your bank’s fees. So next time we’ll be bringing some more cash to start with.

3. Find food you can split.
As evidenced by the fact that every celebrity chef you’ve ever heard of has a restaurant there, Vegas is a big foodie scene. If you’re staying on the Strip, try to get a buffet included in your room booking. A lot of times they’ll be thrown in for incentives, and they can be great way to try a bunch of food without having to pay too much. We also tried to share meals whenever possible–our favorite shared plates were a margherita pizza from 800 Degrees (right below the Monte Carlo) and a GINORMOUS plate of nachos from Tequila Bar (inside Bally’s) that could have easily fed two more. In fact, we had so much leftover that we ate some for lunch the following day.

4. Save your feet–take the tram.
We took the tram a lot, both to save our feet and to beat the heat. But we were surprised to find few of our fellow vacationers doing the same thing. While it’s true that on one side of the Strip it does cost money to ride the monorail, the series of trams on the opposite side of the street are completely free (if a little hard to find within the sprawling casinos). Best of all, since they run until 2 a.m., they can even save you a few bucks on a cab at the end of the night (provided you’re of the right mind to find them!).

5. Catch a free show where you can.
Big spenders in Vegas can drop quite a few dollars on a big name show, but for those with smaller wallets, there’s plenty of free entertainment to be found. The Venetian, Caesar’s Palace, Monte Carlo, and the Mirage all have some form of free entertainment–whether it’s a parade, mock battle, or a short play performed by Carnival actors. It may be short on time, but it’s got all the drama, flair, and flamboyance you’d expect from one of the bigger venues.

(Sorry for the dearth of photos! We’re in Colombia on the second leg of our journey, and WordPress for iPad is proving way more temperamental that I’d thought.)


Las Vegas in Photos

Oof—David has a pretty rough week last week, despite it being his birthday. It led off with a birthday festivity that most closely resembled this:tumblr_ljrr75Aiiy1qj4o5ko1_500

Why the long face? Well, he followed up his birthday with three grueling days of taking the California bar exam. So to cheer him up, I planned a little surprise: tacking on a stop in Las Vegas before we head out on our bar trip to Central America. Of course, can’t show you all the photos (since what happens in Vegas, yadda yadda), but here are shots from some of my favorite moments of the weekend:

Grab a Drink with Virgin Atlantic

Just got a whiff of some tropical beaches via these travel ads from Virgin Atlantic. All of them feature the same earnestly quirky bartender, who extols the virtues of each location while sloshing together its signature cocktail: the Grand Margarita for Mexico, the Palmer’s Punch for Jamaica, and the classic Mojito for Cuba.

It’s a amusing way to present the destinations without your cheesy, run-of-the-mill, wide-pan “exotic” shots—and they must have been plenty fun to write. I’m not sure whether it’s the bartender’s accent, the sight of all of those ingredients being whipped around, or the kitchsy bar accoutrements that surround him, but something about it all is both charming and silly at the same time. So what the heck, Virgin—I’ll take two of the Palmer’s Punch (hold the cherries).

Check the rest of the series over at Ads of the World.

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A perpetual tourist who makes his own souvenirs: The intriguing work of artist Jorge Mañes Rubio

Originally posted on TED Blog:

Jorge Mañes Rubio explains he makes his new souvenirs to create interesting interactions at TED2014. Photo: Ryan Lash

Jorge Mañes Rubio makes his own souvenirs—to have a reminder of his travels and create interactions with locals. Photo: Ryan Lash

From China’s underwater cities to Amsterdam’s neglected neighborhoods to Italy’s looted ruins, Jorge Mañes Rubio seeks out forsaken places and makes art that memorializes, reimagines and reengages them with the world. His project “Normal Pool Level” — which emerged from his exploration of the cities, towns and villages submerged by China’s Three Gorges Dam Project — is on exhibition at the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art in Manchester, England, until September 7. So it felt like the perfect time to ask Rubio more about this exhibit, as well as about the experiences that led him from a stable career in design to life as a perpetual tourist.

Let’s start with your current exhibition. How did you end up in China, looking for abandoned underwater cities?

My project in China was something very special…

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From Stadium Seats to Sitting Rooms: Turning World Cup Stadiums Into Housing

Wow—what an incredible idea. As the World Cup medal ceremony commenced, I had more than a pang of sadness at the thought of these colossal structures going to waste. But then I came across this article on Fast Company that showcases two architects with a brilliant idea of turning the World Cup stadiums into high-density housing. With the public enraged at the use of government spending for the FIFA tournament, what better way to spin the situation into a positive than by turning them into a public benefit? Click the link above for the rest of the story and pics!



Travel Guides for Design Snobs

Ever wish you could find a travel guide that had as much personality as the place you were visiting? Sure, Frommers and Lonely Planet have plenty of solid information, but they’re not very pretty too look at. I recently stumbled across the London-based Herb Lester, which produces some of the most gorgeously illustrated, cheerily written city guides I’ve seen.

A little about them, via the Herb Lester Associates website:

“We research, write, print and distribute travel guides to the world’s great cities. We seek out the well-used and much-loved, and enjoy the extraordinary as well as the everyday. Old bookshops and new coffee shops, park benches and dive bars, hat shops and haberdashers: this is the world according to Herb Lester.”

So not only do a get a comprehensive guide to your locale of choice—off-the-beaten paths included—you also get what are essentially beautifully-wrought maps that could easily be framed and hung on the wall once you return from your trip.

In other words, happy shopping.

Images via



The BookBenches of London

Lucky Londoners (and visitors) have a new option for free fun in their city—a hunt for the latest art installations: Books about Town – Around London with Fifty BookBenches. Designed to look like a flipped open paperback and painted by artists to display scenes from popular tales, these books are scattered throughout the city, providing both form and function for locals and tourists alike. A partnership between the National Literacy Trust and Wild in Art, the benches “opened” on July 2 and will remain through September 15.

Here are a few of my favorites:


War Horse. Artist: Rae Smith (original illustration) Created by Gerard Strong


Mary Poppins. Artist: Darel Seow


Around the World in 80 Days. Artist: Valerie Osment


One of the best parts about traveling, in my humble opinion, is the opportunity to invest in a few new books for the trip. So I love this idea of sprinkling books throughout a city (especially one known for it’s literary prominence) and encouraging the public to interact with them. In some cases this means literally: certain benches will have themed-events, including a Meercat Flashmob, Mary Poppins Book Giveaway, and an attempt to break the world record of people dressed up as Sherlock (will Benedict Cumberbatch be there? One can only hope!)

Books About Town will run through mid-September—and if you happen upon a bench you can’t imagine life without, all the benches will be auctioned off in October to raise funds for the National Literacy Trust’s vital work to raise literacy levels in the UK.

All images via The National Literacy Trust