Yesterday, I introduced you to my recent first, and hopefully last, trip to Las Vegas. I left off with me heading out to the Las Vegas “strip” in search of a reasonably priced meal. For pedestrians, the strip is a horizontal and vertical maze of walkways, as you are forced to step up to pedestrian bridges over each intersecting road, then back down to street level sidewalks in between streets. The entire strip reeks of cigarettes. I spotted a McDonald’s sign, which appeared to be just across the street. Unfortunately, this was before I realized there were no foot street crossings allowed, which forced me to backtrack to the nearest pedestrian bridge to get there. Even my McDonald’s value meal topped seven dollars, but this was a bargain in comparison to the price gougers that surrounded it.
After eating my quarter pounder, I ventured back out in search for a pressed penny souvenir for my child. On the lower street level, there was a small band performing an Eagles song – actually quite well. But then, I was forced to step back up over the next street, and, presto-chango, the sound turned hideous, as I found myself walking past the blaring sound of a bagpiper. I’m thinking, “WTF?” To make it more annoying, it was as if the guy was just trying to annoy me, as he soon stopped his “performance” after I passed by.
As I descended back down to street level, a couple of guys, who appeared to be thoroughly stoned, were mindlessly and mechanically gesturing for me to take tickets and/or cards from them. I don’t know what they were handing out, but I formed a pretty good idea as I saw a cluster of nearby newspaper dispensing machines housing advertisements for various prostitution services. I soldiered onward to the souvenir shops, where I had to settle for a sales rack T-shirt for the boy.
I then left the shop, passed back by the stoned guys plying their wares, and headed back up to the escalator, where my good friend the bagpiper was back at it. As I crossed back over the strip, more guys were offering me cards. One, a relatively clean-cut and comprehensible young fellow, looked me in the eye and said, “Check it out, man, strip club.” At this point, I ducked into the Cosmopolitan, which gave me safe, indoor passage to the neighboring Vdara. I marveled at the masses of people who sat at slot machines with expensive drinks, throwing their money away, literally hand over fist.
I finally made my way back to the hotel, where I settled in for the night, eager to leave the place the next morning. Oh, and as I walked through the airport terminal to my customarily farthest away gate possible, I passed other travelers enjoying one last visit to slot machines, the better to throw away any remaining loose change.
So what did I learn, other than the already obvious need to avoid Las Vegas like the plague? One lesson is the need to pack easily transportable food. I had brought a couple packages of nabs and protein bars, mainly to protect me from the price gouging that would occur courtesy of the airline during the long flight. That plan worked well and, as noted, also saved me from bending over to receive my breakfast. The reason this simple step is so valuable is that it frees you from becoming what I call a captive consumer. Yes, I was still confined to the space of the airplane, but I did not have to pay the airline four bucks for a pathetic snack.
I learned from Vegas, however, that sometimes the entire city can constitute a price-gouging hostage scenario. Consequently, it’s important to take more. I recommend fruits, like a simple apple, orange or banana, which can combine for a quality vegetarian meal. Add to the fruit a protein bar, and you still get the protein you need as well. I recommend a minimum of two bars per day.
Las Vegas also confirmed a frugal living principle that I’ve known for years: the need to avoid temptation. I could have started playing one of those slot machines, and, if I had, I might very well have found enjoyment in them. As with smoking, however, I never tried and, consequently, I have no interest or desire in throwing my money down these contraptions. I’m sure I could have obtained free admission to any number of strip clubs if I had just taken what the stoned dudes were offering me, and, believe me, I like beautiful women as much as the next guy. But I have no doubt in my mind that I am better off financially (and spiritually) for having steered clear of the places. Why? Because temptation has a way of building on itself. You can rest assured those strip clubs wouldn’t beg you to come inside for free unless they are confident you will drop far more than your inhibitions inside. So why bother? Why start the snowball? Aren’t I better off returning home with my savings in place and my conscience clear? The best way to avoid giving in to temptation is to avoid it altogether. No place proves this better than Las Vegas.
I’ve beat up on Las Vegas pretty strongly here, but realize that these same lessons apply to any vacation spot. You can get soaked visiting Boston, Atlanta, Miami – you name it. The temptations may not be as commonplace, but they are there, and, more importantly, you are just as vulnerable whenever and wherever you travel. So think ahead, think it through, and pack your meals.