Tuesday, December 2, 2014

10 Things To Do Before Wanderlusting

There are approximately a bazillion checklists out there of things to do to before you go sightseeing. So I figured...why not?

Atlanta, Midtown Skyline as seen from Piedmont Park
Atlanta, Midtown Skyline as seen from Piedmont Park

Here’s 10 of my top items, in no particular order, that you should be sure you do before heading out to wanderlust in Atlanta…

  •  Charge your camera batteries!
Yes, I said "batteries"...plural. If you have only one, invest in a second battery...and remember to fully charge both before going to a museum or attraction you've been dreaming of seeing. 

When I went to Day Butterfly Center at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia--this was before the advent of the digital camera--I shot through three rolls of film and had to go waaaaaay back to the car for more! Today, invariably, the time I run out of battery juice (fortunately a rare occasion now from having learned my lesson) is right at the moment I'm about to capture "the" moment that would have been the perfect memory of my visit. 

Charge your batteries!

  • Make sure where you're going is in fact open. Especially if you're visiting later in the day. 
Many of today's museums and tourist attractions generate much-needed revenue by doubling as a special events facility. Check their website and Facebook page before you head out--especially if you don't have a backup destination. You wouldn't want to get there and find out that they're about to close. Not everyone is as lucky as I am.

Imagine driving to Hapeville to visit the Delta Flight Museum--one of my favorites!--to learn that they've closed early to get ready for a high school prom or a wedding reception. You didn't get to fly the flight simulator or tour the inside of The Spirit of Delta because you didn't double check. 

It's relatively rare that you'll happen upon an early closing, but do yourself the favor of not being disappointed double-check in advance.

  • Bring backup snacks.
Especially if you have kids or are prone to low blood sugar (something my friends know about much too well), bring backup snacks when you're playing tourist. Of course, observe a destination's "no outside food" policy (it's not always about snack shop sales!), but have something on hand for emergencies, even if it's a few protein bars that you keep in the car.

If you're visiting on the weekend, and sometimes during the week, you may have the good fortune to happen upon one of our amazing farmers markets near some of our fantastic tourist destinations, such as Green Market in Piedmont Park, Freedom Farmers Market at the Carter Center, or Grant Park Farmers Market near Zoo Atlanta.

  • Water! Water! Water!
I can't tell you the number of times I've allowed myself to become dehydrated. Not good! Bring water, for yourself and the kids and your other guests...they'll love you for it. If you're hiking Stone Mountain or visiting Piedmont Park, you want to stay hydrated. Remember, if you get thirsty, you're dehydrated at that point...stay hydrated, especially in summer. Water! Water! Water!

Everywhere has a water fountain, but some places are massive! Think about the 221 acres of Gibbs Gardens! They have water fountains, but not out in the middle of their vast gardens. There's usually water at the Manor House and the cafe is amazing--they make their own bread! Just remember to hydrate before you head out and when you see the next water fountain--not water feature...water fountain!

  • Remember your reading glasses.
This one may seem silly, but I've been out playing tourist and then gone directly to dinner countless times...sometimes with friends who didn't remember their glasses. If you're dining at ONE Midtown Kitchen, you luck out because they have reading glasses at the hostess stand. If you find yourself with your glasses, ask your server if the restaurant has any--don't be embarrassed to ask!

And that's just the post-tour dinner. What if you get to where you're going--let's say the Atlanta History Center--and you can't read the map? That's 33 acres of attraction, much of which you're likely to miss out on if you can't see the map. That'd be horrible. Remember your glasses!

  • Wear comfortable shoes.
I've always been active and I can go forever in work shoes and even in a tie and jacket, but I've been on tours with friends who didn't wear comfortable shoes and weren't able to enjoy an attraction to its fullest. 

I've seen high heels at Six Flags Over Georgia! I can't imagine those would be comfortable on Dare Devil Dive Coaster or Mind Bender. Wear your tennies and go enjoy the new in 2014 "Holiday in the Park" at Six Flags! Millions of lights, Santa, AND thrill rides...but not in high heels.

  • Wear appropriate clothing.
This one might be more of a pet peeve, but if I spent a considerable amount of money to go to the Atlanta Ballet, for instance, I'd love to not have the experience diminished by the clacking of flip flops.

Yes, I find the old movies of when people "dressed" for cultural affairs as romantic. The first time I went to see Phantom of the Opera at The Fox Theatre, I arrived in a limousine and wore a tuxedo (and my theatre companions that evening also wore tuxes and formal gowns). It was magnificent!

At the same time, why would you wear a tie and jacket to the Atlanta Bar-B-Q Festival? Wouldn't make one very approachable.

Now the, with that said, I urge everyone to show some Southern Hospitality and not ridicule or ostracize anyone for the way they're dressed, at any cultural affair. You never know why they're dressed the way they are. Someone in flip flops at the Ballet may have been invited at the last minute...and who would say no? Someone in a jacket and tie at the Bar-B-Q Festival may have just come from an important business meeting. Don't judge.

By the way, I am going to see "Atlanta Ballet's Nutcracker" at The Fox Theatre this season...a seasonal classic here, to which I'll wear my seasonal favorite. See you there?

  • Charge your phone!
Remember to put a full charge on your phone before you leave the house...and bring your charger! Running out of phone battery when I'm playing tourist is never fun. And it's the reason I have multiple charging cords (I need one at work, too). 

Sometimes you don't want to lug around a camera, but you want to capture an experience to remember later. That and you may want to text, check-in, post, or call someone.

Always, always...please, oh please...honor an exhibit's photography policy. As a volunteer, I can tell you that it's not at all fun to have to remind a visitor that photographs aren't permitted, even with a phone camera. 

I'd much rather tell you something fascinating about the exhibit you're enjoying. I don't want you to remember your people interaction as less than fantastic. If photos aren't permitted, it's for a reason (a very hard lesson for me to digest sometimes, as a photographer). This one is all about respecting the museum's agreement with the curator or loaning museum.

  • Remember to bring money.
This one is hard for someone like me who uses plastic all the time. I don't make a practice of carrying cash. But, there are times when you're going to need it. Not all the time, for sure, and not too much.

Also, just because a place doesn't have an ATM, doesn't mean you're out of luck. For instance, the Atlanta Botanical Garden is open Thursday nights during the summer for "Cocktails in the Garden" and for seven weeks of evenings during the holidays for "Garden Lights". There's no ATM on-premise, BUT the bars, gift shop and parking deck are all set up to take credit and debit cards. Remember...when the answer is "No" when you ask "Do you have an ATM?", the follow up question is "Do you take plastic?"

  • Save money on membership.
This especially applies to local and neighboring tourists...if you absolutely loved the place you just visited, ask if that day's admission counts toward the purchase of an annual membership. In many cases, it does!

Also, here in Atlanta, we have Swaptember. During the month of September--I know that's not now, but remember this for next year--being a member of a particular museum or attraction may give you a discount toward membership at another museum or attraction.

  • Ask questions!
At most attractions and museums, the staff and volunteers are there because they love providing visitors a wonderful experience. Many of them have institutional knowledge that few others possess...and most are anxious to share that knowledge.

As a tour guide myself, I can tell you that I know more about the places where I give tours than I could possibly impart in a single tour. I love it when people ask me questions. It allows me to tailor my tour, it allows me to share my excitement for having learned so much about a place, and it enriches the experience of the person who asked the question. Ask away!

  • Stop by the gift shop!
Was I paid to include that one? No. But I get it. I get it from the point of the non-profit museum or attraction and I get it as a tourist. 

Many museums and attractions depend on gift shop proceeds to help keep them in business--I don't want to imagine an Atlanta without the Michael C. Carlos Museum or Georgia Aquarium. And as a tourist, I've found many, many a memento and gifts for friends and family in those gift shops. Believe me...there's much more than the standard shot glasses and t-shirts.

Probably my favorite gift shop right now is the one at the end of "Goose Bumps: The Science of Fear" exhibition at Fernbank Museum of Natural History. It's the most brilliant gift shop I've ever seen! And yes, I shopped at it. It was impossible not to...it's just that much fun...and incredibly clever!

Okay, okay...I admit it, as embarrassing as it is in front of my mathematician friends, that was twelve tips, not 10. But let's consider your favorite two a bonus, shall we?

Now...go wanderlust in Atlanta!

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