Tracy’s King Crab Shack in Juneau

One of the only disappointing moments that occurred during our cruise through the Alaska Inside Passage was crab night on the ship. Despite what you might think, the crab on the ship was just a rubbery and tasteless vehicle for butter. Thankfully, however, our experience was redeemed by the freshest, most delicious crab I’ve ever tasted in Juneau.

Stumbling upon Tracy’s King Crab Shack was kind of an accident. We had spent the day hiking to Juneau’s enormous Mendenhall Glacier and only had about an hour left before we had to get back on the boat. The crab shack looked cool, it was basically an outdoor biergarten with an open kitchen “shack” right in the middle and a gorgeous backdrop of mountains and glaciers (pictured with a cruise ship blocking the view).

The menu is pretty simple: king crab legs, local Dungeness crab legs – all of it fresh, none of it cheap. If you order the king crab bucket, it comes with a few rolls and all of the melted butter and slaw you could ask for. I love shellfish like crab, lobster, oysters, and mussels because I really enjoy food that involves some work on your end. Mastering the art of hammering open a lobster claw with a wooden mallet and prying out the meat in one slab was something I learned at a young age from my Boston-bred parents. When eating requires that a skill, I’m always up for the challenge.

Tracy's King Crab Shack Alaska

Without knowing, we found ourselves the best seats in the house at Tracy’s when we sat right at the counter of the open kitchen shack. If you ever get the chance to go here, SIT AT THE COUNTER. The crab on the menu is expensive, though worth it, but the chefs give you more bang for your buck when you sit at the counter by throwing you any scraps of hot crab meat fresh out the pot. We must’ve gotten 4 or 5 pieces, and I’ll never forget the first tantalizing bite I took into the crab meat that seemed to melt in my mouth without the aid of butter. Yummm!

Being a foodie doesn’t always mean finding the most elaborate recipes and intriguing flavor combinations. One of the great parts about food in Alaska is its simplicity – the food coincides with the pure beauty of the surrounding wilderness. When it comes to a meal in Alaska, the focus is freshness. Fish caught that day, jam made from fresh berries, smoked reindeer sausages in a bun are a few staples that seem simple enough, but taste unlike anywhere else in the country because of the environment they come from. That was the lasting impression Tracy’s crab left me with.

The Oldest Jazz Pub in New Orleans

Anyone visiting New Orleans knows to hit up Bourbon Street. And if you’ve ever actually made it there, you’ll know that it’s a total shit show every night of the week. Bourbon Street is one of those magical places where the streets smell like piss, there are tons of people around you at all times and everyone is drinking outside, and yet you still somehow feel like a celebrity as people yell down to you from balconies and throw beads your way. I can’t even imagine how crazy this place is around Mardis Gras time, but I have heard stories. Tip for going to Bourbon Street on Mardis Gras – wear shoes you don’t care about, because they will get destroyed in 2.5 seconds of walking.

As you walk down the street, there are people standing outside of every jazz bar paid to solicit you into the bar, whether with drink coupons or just sheer southern charm. If you haven’t done your research, it’s pretty easy to get enticed into nearly any spot on the street. But my recommendation to you is to keep walking until you get about 8 blocks down, where you’ll find Fritzel’s, the oldest jazz pub in New Orleans.

In any other city, Fritzel’s would be considered one of those grimy yet charming hole-in-the-wall joints with a charming French-style, twinkle-lit brick patio in the back. But of course what takes it to that next level is small stage placed smack dab in the middle of everything where jazz players from all over the country congregate and jam together, without any preparation ahead of time. Unlike the other jazz pubs, the music in Fritzel’s is not a performance, it’s an immersive experience. We just happened to be shooed right into the front row, but even three rows back you would still have that trombone right in your face.

Being so small and intimate, Fritzel’s is the place to go to really experience good jazz music. The players often take recommendations from the audience, as they’re mostly just picking songs as they go anyway. And halfway through, there’s an intermission where everyone grabs a drink and you get a chance to sit and chat with some of the players.

Richard Scott Pianist
Photo Cred: richardpianoscott.com

My fiance and I sat with the pianist, whose fingers were like fire moving so fast with the music it was hard to look away. He turned out to be a pretty famous jazz player of both the piano and trombone, Richard Scott, who told us all about how he was born in Virginia and started playing piano at age 4, and traveled all over the place to do shows. He was actually only in New Orleans for the weekend and explained to us about how musicians just signed up for different nights of the week if they wanted to play, and then whoever showed up was your band for the night.

“The beauty of jazz,” he said, “is that once you know how to play it, you really can pick it up and play together easily even if you don’t know what song you’re playing.”

I loved hearing about this, and actually took the liberty of looking up “jam session,” only to find out that it originated from jazz music in the 1920s (sorry Phishheads). The term came about when white and black players would congregate after their regular gigs to play the jazz they couldn’t play in their “Paul Whiteman” style bands. When Bing Crosby would join on these sessions, people would say he was “jammin’ the beat” as he clapped on the one and the three beat. Thus, jam sessions were born and became more and more popular, especially in New York during World War II.

And now, after hours in New Orleans, you can find jam sessions happening every night of the week at Fritzel’s. If you want a really good experience of jazz music, I urge you to check it out.

Packing Tips for Road Trips

Over the past two years of traveling the United States, I’ve backed my entire life into the Jeep Cherokee 9 times. At first, I refused to give up certain things, even if I couldn’t fully justify taking them with me. By now, however, I only take what I use on a daily or weekly basis, a list of items that gets reassessed every 3 months right before we pack up the car again. While I certainly don’t carry a burdening amount of stuff anymore, it still helps to have some tips and tricks for condensing stuff to maximize my space as much as possible.

Whether you’re going on a road trip or packing up the car for a move across town, these tips will make your life immensely easier, especially during the unloading process:

1. Tie your hangers together with zip ties. 

You might think hangers are easy space fillers, but packing them loosely creates all sorts of chaos in the car and often leads to hooked items or broken hangers before you’re done. Instead, use zip ties to organize them into neat little packs, which can still be used as space fillers. Zip ties are cheap to buy at Home Depot or Target – I recommend buying the strong kind. I like to tie the hangers together in groups of 10 with two zip ties, one on top near the hook and one on the bottom to keep either end from flailing out. Trust me, doing this will make shoving hangers into empty spaces way less regrettable later when you go to unpack.

2. Use minimal amounts of boxes.

Packing with Bags not Boxes

Had to learn this one the hard way. This is pretty much the golden rule for all road trips, especially for clothes. It just saves so much space to not have bulky boxes for items that can easily be malleable around other stuff. After a year into traveling, we decided to get a roof bag and put all of our clothes up there, which is amazing and would never work with boxes. But even without a roof bag, it’s just smarter to use bags for clothes.

3. Learn the skills of bundle wrapping.

Have you ever heard of bundle wrapping your clothes? If not, you’re welcome. Try this once and you’ll never pack your clothes the same again, whether it’s for a road trip, camping, or a flight. Bundle wrapping is exactly as it sounds like, layering clothes in a certain fashion and then wrapping them all together into a very tight bundle. It’s kind of like vacuum sealing your clothes in a way, and allows you to fit way more pieces than you thought imaginable into any space. One tip I have for bundle wrapping is to throw small items like underwear, socks, scarves, and even shoes into the center of the bundle before you wrap it up all tight.

There are a lot of long, wordy videos about how to do bundle wrapping properly, but as a visual learner, I find this one the most useful:

The best way to learn how to do it is to try it for yourself!

4. Use shoes as space fillers.

Don’t pack your shoes into boxes or bags, it’s completely unnecessary. Even with super nice shoes that I don’t want to lose their shape, I mostly still don’t pack them separately – you’d be surprised how durable your nice shoes are. Instead, shove those babies in unused spots when you’re all done packing the big stuff into the car. My shoes usually end up between the crevices of my bike (which is foldable so it goes in the trunk), under seats, and shoved easily into side pockets of the car. For long boots, just roll them up from the sole of the shoe, but not too tightly so as not to stretch, crease, or scratch the material.

5. If you run out of space, use Amtrak!

Did you know that you can ship with Amtrak? Shipping with Amtrak is so helpful if you’re going across country, as it cuts down on your gas mileage and doesn’t cost very much at all! You can ship up to 100lbs for $49, and then it’s 0.46 cents per pound after that. Here are some details you need to know:

  • You can ship up to 500lbs per day. If your stuff is over 500lbs, you can ship it over multiple days
  • Each box should not be larger than 3ft x 3ft x 3ft and should not weigh over 50lbs
  • You cannot ship perishable or fragile items, furniture, or electronics (for security reasons)

Figure out how much shipping your stuff will cost with this Amtrak price estimator.

6. Most importantly, just pack less stuff.

Packing for Road Trips

The best advice I can give you for traveling is to cut back on how much you take with you. If you’re headed on a road trip for the sake of adventure, you can always buy stuff along the way. Pack clothing that is versatile, that can be dressed up or down, to save space. Leave behind clothes that you never wear but keep because of their sentimental value. Leave behind EVERYTHING that doesn’t fit you. You don’t have time to wait for your clothes to fit, just ditch them and buy better fitting stuff later. You’ll thank yourself.

One helpful question I ask myself when deciding whether or not to get rid of a clothing item: “Is this something that I absolutely love? Or is this something that I wear?” You’d be surprised how many articles of clothing we LOVE to have in our closet, but don’t actually wear very often at all. The same goes for jewelry.

As for book lovers, limit yourself to 3 books and don’t bring any you’ve already read. Even if you love to reread it, open yourself up to new books – you’re on an adventure after all! If you’re not opposed to it, condense all your reading material onto a Kindle or iPad.