Living the Vicarious World Cup Dream

Experiencing the World Cup in Germany is a completely different level of soccer satisfaction than glueing oneself to a TV for weeks on end.

Johnny G., a friend of a friend of mine and all-American soccer fanatic, is living the soccer dream and blogging from Germany about the World Cup. Peek into the European borders to catch a glimpse of life on the road at a world sporting event with Johnny G.

Sunday, 18 June 2006
Italy 1 -1 US
I just got back to Geneva after what feels like 24 hours on trains. Omigosh! But what fun! Anders, Eugie and her friend Mahmet are awesome travel partners. We started drinking wine as soon as we got on the train yesterday and emptied four bottles before we got to our first stop. We played cribbage all afternoon and picnicked on bread and ham and cheese -- and wine. Actually, we slowed considerably. The third train was jam packed and we just didn't deal with the wine. The game was awesome! Did you watch? I'm sure most of America is looking at a 1-1 tie and thinking "where is the scoring?" But the game was way more exciting than any sports event I've ever witnessed. The crowd was on its feet for the entire game, chanting, clapping, cheering, whistling, booing. It was electric. I started losing my voice in the first 30 minutes. I relied on my whistle for the rest of the game, except when it really counted. That final 30 minutes were a complete emotional drain. Hoping -- praying to the soccer gods -- for the US to prevail. 1-1 isn't a win, but it felt like it. And because of the surprise result in the other game in our group yesterday (Ghana 2-0 Czech Republic) we still have a real fighting chance. We have to beat Ghana and we need some help in the other game (Italy/Czech Republic). Stranger things have happened in the world of soccer...

Johnny goes on about his post-game celebration and return to Geneva, summarizing the journey with this:

Now it's a beautiful June morning in Geneva, and I need to take a nap.

World Cup Attracts Groups

World Cup mania has taken over the global airwaves. Like the Olympics, it's a time when the world can unite (and compete) via celebration, triumph, and hope. It's a time when national news covers spirited international sports figures, reminding us there is a world outside our offices and home towns.

Whoever you're rooting for, whatever country you call home, chances are you or someone you know is tuned into the World Cup. A good friend of mine from Microsoft has Tivo, cable, direct TV, and multiple televisions in his super tech home all ready to maximize his soccer/football pleasure.

In case you don't have one of your own, here are links for coverage. Any others?

Even if you didn't get to travel to Germany this time, you can gather in groups to watch World Cup games for the next month, and raise a glass of frothy beer to cheer for your team.

Want to plan a last-minute get together with friends for the final days?

Adventure Travel, Risks and All

Life is not without risks. But for those who hike the extra mile, grip that extra chunk of cliff while rock-climbing, or sail, paddle, or kayak the less traveled waterways of the world, your life of adventure likely teeters on the edge of danger from time to time.

Richard Bangs, adventure travel veteran, award-winning author and filmmaker, and founding partner in small-ground travel company Mountain Travel-Sobek (operating since 1969), writes about the inherent risks in any adventure. He contemplates how far you should go to risk your life in seeking lifetime thrills, and when to consider promptly removing your adrenaline-powered foot from the pedal.

These days, I'm a fairly tame person with spontaneous adventures when life gets too dull or predictable. Adventure travel for me includes river rafting, kayaking, hiking, mountain biking, sailing with wind (as opposed to floating on calm waters, which is also enjoyable with a tall, cool beer in hand).

For adrenaline junkies out there, I say good luck. For occasional adventurers like myself, I also say good luck. The only certainty on any adventure vacation is your decision to go for it. The rest is up to the whims of fate (or the skill of an experienced tour guide, if you're on a guided expedition). How far are you willing to go for an adventure?

Hooked on Mountain Biking

No, not via foot clips. I'm not ready to be clipped to my pedals. Apparently, shocks, wrist pads, sleek biker wear and other cool upgrades flew past me while my mountain bike collected dust.

I mountain biked on off-pavement trails with friends and saw other groups on the trail doing the same. It's been years since I've been on a bike or off-road trekked. In talking to one of my trail pals about biking tours, biking trips, and the mountain biking world (he's much more advanced than I am), I realized this is a whole new world of exploring for me. I've biked before, but not like this.

Of course, like usual, I'm late. I got into Pearl Jam after the grunge era had died, so it's no surprise that I'm "discovering" the joys of off-road mountain biking long after most others have. It's never too late to tackle a new adventure, right?

Weaving through trees on a trail of soil, bare roots, and other forms of earth, my rigid bike frame left my wrists a wee bit jarred this weekend. But the thrill of zipping around corners, splattering mud, and enjoying this with good friends was exhilarating. I'm hooked.

Here are ideas for mountain biking travel with groups:

1. Mix camping and mountain biking. Mountain biking is a great way to justify sitting by the fire or campsite the remainder of the vacation. Plus, camping already brings you to the great outdoors; might as well pedal through more of it.

2. Family reunions are great for visiting with family, eating way too much potato salad, and sometimes can be daunting. Perhaps organize a group of adventure-minded family members together to rent bikes for a few hours.

3. Plan a mountain biking excursion with friends. Gas prices keep rising. You can road trip to an area then keep exploring (without the petroleum price tag) by bike.

4. Book an escorted bike tour through Tuscany, the French countryside, or anywhere else with gentle slopes, lush scenery, and flavorful food when stopping for breaks.

5. Join a mountain biking club such as Washington-based Backcountry Bicycle Trail Club to meet others that share your passion for pedal power, puddle jumping, hill climbing (ahem, or pushing your bike up steeper hills, like I do), and go on group biking adventures this summer.

Sound like fun but a hassle to plan and organize? TripHub can help simplify the trip planning process by giving you tools to organize RSVPs, money matters, and ability to discuss hotel room options, for example.

I'd love to hear of any other mountain biking clubs or quality tours (or any other ways to incorporate mountain biking into a vacation). What did I miss?

Diet and Exercise While Vacationing?

At one point or another, haven't we all wanted six-pack abs, buns of steel, or people on the street to drop jaws when we walk by? In the 80s it was aerobics that took the masses to the gym. The 90s' return to nature brought people back outdoors to get fit via skiing, boarding, hiking, biking, maratons, walk-a-thons, water sports, and more.

The first decade of the 21st century seems to be a hybrid of
1) back-to-nature activities (kayaking, scuba, rafting, adventure travel),
2) extreme sports (Ironman races, extreme skiing, diving with sharks)
3) a kinder, gentler retreat to alternative activities getting mind, body and spirit to achieve balance (yoga, Tai Chi, spa-health retreats) and
4) gym activities for the 80s die-hards with a new twist: Pilates and more personal trainers.

And I haven't even started to mention all the diet fads. Low or no carb diets seem to be the biggest hit for shedding pounds quickly.

Whether it is for health reasons, vanity reasons, self-esteem reasons or any combination, dieting and exercise have a place in our lives; but vacations can make sticking to any regime a bit more challenging. Especially when with a group of good friends, old college pals, at a family reunion, on a golf trip with the guys (who might consider you a wimp for ordering a salad as an entree), bachelor or bachelorette party, wedding, you name it.

Special occasions like this seem ripe for indulgence. One of my aunts sticks to a dieting plan while at home, but lets herself cheat a bit on vacation, knowing she'll work extra hard when she returns. A sound philosophy. But she also cuts back more than others at our reunions since her mind frame is focused on health and diet. I admire this.

Any other tips or philosophies on dieting or exercise while traveling?

Group-Friendly Golf Meccas

Where do the expert golfers go? You know – the smooth swingers with enviable handicaps. Don’t we all long to tee off at a place of undisputed beauty and repute? And nothing’s better than sharing such a grand moment with friends.

Here’s a list of group-friendly golf meccas (listed alphabetically - who can rank these?) for you to plan a group golf get-away with friends and put your link lovin’ ways to practice.

1. Arizona
The greater Phoenix and Scottsdale region is one of the biggest golf areas in the U.S. due to the combination of quality and quantity of golf courses, making it an ideal place for group golf travel. Plus, there’s plenty of après golf entertainment: shopping, nightlife, desert tours, a botanical desert garden, spas and more.

The Greater Phoenix visitors bureau boasts that their "courses deliver with playable, diverse designs and dedication to course maintenance, relaxed environments and professional customer service."

Scottsdale, a close neighbor to Phoenix, rivals (and may beat) its Southwest sister city in golf quality and quantity.

2. Hawaiian Islands
The Aloha State is a brilliantly natural spot for golf. With the sea as scenery (and course hazard) and a naturally hilly landscape to challenge any golfer, it’s no wonder Hawaii boasts so many glorious courses.

Other Hawaii golf courses to explore (all bookable on TripHub):

Maui's renowned Makena South Golf Course
One of the islands most prestigious courses in Hawaii has unobstructed views of the blue Pacific, neighboring islands, and humpback whales breaching during whale season.

Oahu’s famous Ko’olau Golf Course
Considered to be "The World's Most Challenging Golf Course" from the back tees, Ko'olau promises a memorable golf experience for golfers of all skill levels. Rated in Golf Magazine's "Top 100 Courses to Play" and named the "#1 Golf Course on Oahu" by Golf Digest.

3. Hilton Head, SC
Hilton Head Island, just off the coast of South Carolina, serves as a fairway haven to numerous golf courses. With the first course opening in 1961, and slowly building 20 more over the past few decades, Hilton Head has earned its title "The Golf Island," through careful craftsmanship.

Groups shouldn't have any complaints at Hilton Head, with numerous year-round tours, golf excellence, and sweeping Atlantic Ocean beauty. With a variety of accommodations, numerous restaurants, shops and services, Hilton Head seems built for groups, however small or large.

4. Myrtle Beach, SC
This self-proclaimed Seaside Golf Capital of the World lives up to its name with 100 golf courses laid out over undulating low country land and the majority of the Myrtle Beach golf courses being open to the public. Plus, many host professional and amateur tournaments. If you want a golf challenge and picturesque beauty, Myrtle Beach offers both with courses crafted by a host of world-renowned architects.

In 2002, the Myrtle Beach area was designated "Golf Destination of the Year" by the International Association of Golf Tour Operators. This giant outdoor playground is also great for families. With 60 miles of beach, a plethora of courses and numerous accommodations (hotels, villas, etc.) you could also plan a family reunion here and incorporate golf into the mix.

See a directory of all 100 golf courses in Myrtle Beach, from the Myrtle Beach Golf Association.

5. Pebble Beach, CA
Four stunning courses make up the Pebble Beach Resort: Pebble Beach Golf Links, The Links at Spanish Bay, Spyglass Hill Golf Course, and Del Monte Golf Course. They all either hug the Pacific coast or have spectacular views of the water. There are hotels and resorts close to the courses and in nearby seaside towns such as Monterey and Carmel.

At each course, a pro staffer offers individual and group instruction, clinics and group tournaments. Pebble Beach Resorts has this to brag about itself:

Pebble Beach Resorts, ranked the No. 1 golf resort in America by Golf Digest Magazine in 2004. Each of Pebble Beach Resorts' four courses offers a unique heritage, breathtaking beauty, and a once in a lifetime experience.

I’m an amateur golfer and haven’t (yet) golfed Pebble Beach, but I’ve cruised along its famous 17-Mile Drive. Brief but memorable, it’s a gorgeous way to drink in California’s rugged coastal beauty and stop for those classic vacation photo ops.

6. Scotland
Birthplace of golf, motherland of the green, a trip to Scotland is not out of the cards if you’re a true golf believer. The classic that comes to mind is St. Andrews. Here you’ll find six golf courses all open to the public (as are the clubhouse and golf practice center), and all worth a visit for historic purposes, if anything else. Older than most other sports, golf got its start here 600 years ago.

There are many other glorious golf spots or courses for a group gathering. If you know of any you think others should discover, please post a comment and share your insight. Any questions? Just post it online and I’ll answer.

Ready to plan a group golf trip with friends or family? TripHub makes it easy to communicate and coordinate on itineraries with your fellow golfers.

Travel Light, Sans Golf Clubs or Other Sports Equipment

Now, here's a hassle-free way to go for a golf get-away, ski trip, or other active vacation.

Let your clubs, skis, board, kayak, bike or other sporting equipment get picked up (valet style) with Sports Express, a new company that shuttles your gear (and luggage if you desire) between your front door and your vacation destination.

What a nice way to simplify the traveling process and offer peace of mind. Plus, you won't have to rent equipment once you arrive.

Here are some quick highlights of their service:

1. Sports Express may be able to take any size of equipment. You'll need to provide the dimensions to them first (either online or via phone). If the package is more than 150 pounds or if the length +(2 x width) +(2 x height) is greater than 130 inches, you won't be able to order the service online, but can call their 800 number.

2. They offer free insurance for $500 per item shipped.

3. They deliver mainly in the U.S., but also some international destinations such as Canada, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, France, Switzerland, Spain, and the Caribbean.

4. They use world-class courier service providers such as FedEx Express, UPS, and DHL.

5. Prices are not cheap - $125 to ship standard-sized golf clubs from Seattle to Honolulu. But if you're going on a personal golf (or ski or kayak) junket with pals and can spend a little extra cash on convenience, it seems like a great service.

For more information, visit Sports Express.

Tips for Group Golf Trips

Golf is one sport that you can play year-around... at least if you're willing to travel.  So, there's always an opportunity to get out the clubs and enjoy the sunny fairways on a challenging course. It's tee time somewhere.

Tips for planning a memorable golf trip with friends:

  • Reserve your tee times before you leave home. If you plan nothing else, plan ahead on this. It's no fun waiting around for a tee time if you want to be first to tee off.
  • Make sure your rental car has enough capacity to pack in all your clubs and luggage. The best bet is a minivan or a full-size SUV. Plan ahead and match the vehicle(s) capacity to your group size.
  • Save money and double your fun by sharing hotel/condo rooms. Your golf trip instantly becomes more memorable when you share sleeping space. It makes the trip more like camp. Take ear plugs in case your roomie snores.
  • Pre-arrange a second daily activity. For some of you, this is another 18 rounds. But, most people want a break at least half of one day. Consider a sightseeing activity/tour or fit in time for "required" shopping for those left at home.
  • Set an overall budget and stick to it. This will help you from overspending and regretting it later. It will also help you think about how many top Zagat restaurants you want to visit. You can easily coordinate food and meal preferences among your group using TripHub.
  • Get a massage. Golf and spa often go hand in hand as many golf destinations are also spa havens. If you're traveling to a golf resort, chances are you'll find a premier spa on site. Unwind from an active day of swinging clubs with a pampering massage (or a quick short neck/shoulder chair massage if you're on a budget).
  • Throw in a swimsuit. Ahhh... it just might help to soak in the hot tub after those seldom-used muscles are re-discovered.