5 Things that surprised me about Las Vegas

Las Vegas Strip at night

This past weekend Audrey and I had the opportunity to explore Las Vegas. Personally, it was my first time to visit and I had serious reservations as to whether or not I would actually enjoy the experience. In many ways, I’ve always assumed Vegas was unabashedly cheesy and equally parts sleazy; essentially, nothing more than a Disneyland for adults.

What shocked me is that it didn’t take me long to change my mind about the place. Yes, it is a bit tacky and sleazy in some regards; however, it is an undeniably fun place to be. The energy and excitement swept me up and believe me when I say I don’t exactly need an excuse to get over-the-moon thrilled about temporarily escaping the shackles of teacher’s college.

I desperately needed a temporary escape from reality and Las Vegas provided that in spades. There are many aspects of Las Vegas that totally surprised me. Here are the top five:

Red Rock Canyon as seen from the perspective of a cactus

Adventure playground for outdoor enthusiasts

I had absolutely no idea how many day trip opportunities exist for those seeking outdoor adventures. Red Rock Canyon, a national park that seems lifted straight from Northern Argentina, is within short driving distance. Lake Mead is only a few minutes drive from The Strip. If you’ve got a few more hours to spare the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon are quite accessible. In theory, one could come to Las Vegas and engage in absolutely none of the nightlife, gambling, eating, shopping and entertainment and still not even scratch the surface of rugged outdoors adventures over the course of a weekend (or even a full week in the city). When I return to Vegas in the future I’m definitely hoping to stay longer and use the city as a launch pad for escaping it all.

Salmon sashimi lunch special in Las Vegas

Value for all budgets

Las Vegas is a destination for people of all budgets. You can live it up like an A-lister by gormandizing at only the most posh restaurants, drinking at the most exclusive nightclubs and sipping on nothing but the finest of drinks; however, if you’re not filthy rich and/or famous it’s a place where value is everywhere. There are plenty of free shows and entertainment (the Bellagio water show being one of my favorites) and most hotels and casinos welcome you with open arms even if you’re merely people watching. You can go for a $10 buffet or gobble down a burger with single digit greenbacks. Personally, I had the opportunity to do both. I ate the $50 steak and watched the Cirque du Soleil performance and I also indulged in many free attractions and wolfed down the otherworldly tasty Shake Shack burger.

Las Vegas Strip during the day

Distances are not what they seem

“It’s only five minutes on foot,” I proclaimed to Audrey gauging the distance of the hotel we wanted to visit. Five minutes later it didn’t appear to be any closer. Ten minutes later it still looked just about the same: “Okay, maybe it’ll take us over a half an hour.” This is a frequent conversation we had numerous times during our weekend in Vegas. The desert plays tricks on your eyes; nothing is what it seems. We learned, given the extreme time scarcity we had, that taking a cab wasn’t a bad idea when we wanted to jam activities into a few hours.

People gambling at a casino in Las Vegas

You can enjoy Vegas without Gambling

I remember reading recently that over 80% of people who visit Las Vegas gamble during their visit. This is obviously understandable. Vegas without gambling is like a tuna fish sandwich sans the tuna. For those adverse to gambling – or simply disinterested – it is totally feasible to enjoy your experience in Sin City without rolling dice, pulling the lever on a slot machine or placing a bet. There is simply so much one can do both on and off The Strip that gambling is entirely optional; however, you will notice people in hotels/casinos that are ONLY in Vegas to do just that. If you’re observant enough, you start to spot familiar faces in familiar places at all hours of the day.

A photo of Nomadic Samuel wearing a newsboy cap while filming in Las Vegas

You can rock any style and get away with it

Are you up to date with the latest fashion from New York City? Total hipster? Cowboy? Retro? Redneck? Regular? Or anything in between? Whatever it is that you do (or don’t) sport, you’ll fit right in when you come to Vegas. I saw everything from staggering cowboys from Texas to pasty white sun deprived Canadians looking like they belonged here. It doesn’t matter if you’re dressed to the nines or looking like you just went on a hunting expedition. It’s all just fine and dandy over here.

The unofficial sixth surprise is that I’d be more than willing to come back. I had a grand old time in Vegas and I tried my best to sample as many different aspects of the city and the surrounding nearby areas as I possibly could. I left wishing I had a few more days to linger when I thought initially I’d be thrilled to eventually leave. Vegas, I’m hooked – the biggest surprise of all.

More to come of our weekend trip to Las Vegas with Expedia Canada.


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  1. You’re right on the money with this post (no pun intended)! You could definitely hit up Vegas for a week and never even find the time to gamble. I visited a few years ago, and had packed days walking around the strip (never tought I’d be doing so much urban hiking), taking day trips to Hoover, the desert and Lake Mead, and going on a self-guided foodie tour with the same budget spectrum you described. One of the best trips I’ve ever had.

  2. says: Cynthia

    I definitely experienced the walking distance mirage, I am so used to walking everywhere that I thought I would do the same in Vegas. It turns out that the hotels are so huge that it’s seems to take forever to walk from one to the other!

  3. I have always been against gambling. Actually my belief system does not allow it. But I dont think I will be able to resist when if I ever go to Vegas. I see inside the casinos in movies and stuff. It kinda feels like an Arcade game house to me XD.

  4. We lived in Vegas for 3 years and it was hard. A town like that with all of the distractions and the ever present places to gamble is hard, especially if you are like both of us and do like to gamble.

    Two things that we did find is you can play low limit poker for hours and hours without spending a lot of money, and you can watch a lot of sports without spending anything.

    The two best deals in Vegas.

  5. We visited Vegas and sort of had the same doubts about the town before going but thought we should visit at least once. Ended up having a great time event though we’re not really gamblers. What we liked about Vegas? The weather, people watching, food, shopping, the spectacular lights at night. Would we go back again? Yes and this time we would visit the older part of Vegas.

  6. says: Tazz

    Las Vegas Strip is the most visited place on earth and people have many misconception about this place…. people think it’s just “a Disneyland for adults” as you mentioned…
    But you post make it clear what are the other reasons Vegas is so popular…
    I personally didn’t know that there are lots of free things to see and do in there and it has something for almost everybody….

  7. says: John @ TravelerLife

    Vegas can be a great time as you said for anyone, no matter if you plan to gamble or not. Personally I went for my first time a year ago as a participant in a nation wide adult kickball (yes the playground sport for kids) tournament and had an absolute blast! Needless to say, it was a lot of drinking partying, gambling and juuuust a little bit of kickball. But me and one f my buddies took a day to visit Grand Canyon and a trip to lake mead as well. We also had a friend showing us all the good deals and locals hang outs away from all the super touristy stuff so that helped.

  8. says: Laura

    Haha totally agree! Vegas captures the heart in a different way to other travels, but definitely leaves you longing for more and with a pang to return at ANY time…my favourite thing about it is definitely that ANYTHING or ANYONE goes in Vegas! You can do it in whatever style you like and it’s totally accepted! Love it!

  9. says: Bob

    I agree with “Distances are not what they seem”, last time I was there I walked outside the hotel and saw a Casino I wanted to visit “next door”. I’m talking two buildings away. I swear it took 35 minutes of steady walking to get there. It’s like a maze trying to get anywhere.

  10. says: Maxime

    I never been to Vegas but it’s good to know that it good value for all budget. I’ve always associated Vegas with Gambling (which i’m not) and rich people (… which i’m not haha)

  11. I was also completely impressed at how much I was able to do when I went to Las Vegas when I was….TWELVE. Yes, the gambling and booze is off-limits, but the Freemont Street Experience is awesome, as well as hiking in the canyons, and exploring all the hotels.

  12. says: Heather

    I’ve heard that distance thing from one of my English students. I live in Detroit, and I’m so used to driving everywhere that I’m not sure I’d think t walk between two places anyway!

  13. says: Ryan

    Wow, pretty wild points to bring up and I had never thought of it that way. Once upon a time I lived and worked in Vegas, and I couldn’t stand it. Most of Vegas is slummy and shady, but the strip is really flashy. But when I revisited on my 22nd birthday, I had an incredibly fun few days. But, I didn’t do much else when it came to exploring the desert and such around.

  14. I have a friend who goes back to Vegas all the time, but not to party, to explore the outdoors. I am a bit of a poker player myself so when I finally make it there someday will get the best of both worlds: poker and nature! 🙂

  15. says: Ekner

    Been there 7 times now, love to come back here, plan for the next trip is to stay at Fremont street for a change. I can definitely recommend 1 thing to do though , it is expensive but a once in your life thing. Take the excursion that starts with a flight to the Grand Canyon, then a helicopter down into the canyon and short boat ride on the Colorado river.
    Costs between 350$ and 450$ (my gf did not want to do it (too expensive) but I persuaded her) and it was FANTASTIC.

  16. says: Mike | VagabondingMike

    I took my girlfriend to Vegas once (as she’d never been there) and gave her $10 to put in the slot machine (to teach her how gamblers rarely win). Sure enough, after one pull on the ‘one arm bandit’, she won $100.

    Talk about backfiring!

  17. says: jennifer

    I have been to Vegas approximately 893473429 times. It is such a value destination until you get to the gambling. But even gambling can be done on a budget. I played nickel Keno on my last trip and won $900 on a twenty cent bet. Anything can happen in that city and this is why I always go back.

  18. says: Robin

    I lived in Vegas for a year and people back home were always shocked when I said it was a fairly normal city once you got off the strip and that there were tons of other things to do. Where I lived, Red Rock was practically in my backyard, so not only could we go hiking often, but it was awesome to be able to see it just driving home. We also used to go to Mt Charleston a lot. My favorite thing about living there was all of the awesome hiking opportunities. The Hoover Dam (and Boulder City) are also really worth seeing.

    It can also be nice to have the Strip there to venture up occasionally for a show or dinner (see a Cirque show!) or shopping. There’s so much more to do than gambling! I only gambled once when I lived there and that wasn’t even on the Strip… it was at Red Rock Casino, which is awesome. I highly recommend the off-the-Strip Station Casinos if you actually want to gamble.

  19. says: Diann

    Nice write-up Samuel. I felt the same way as I see many others have as well. One thing that struck me was what we can do with our imagination. I love how you enjoyed the city and found Nature nearby ~

  20. says: bikeboy999

    My SO and i spent 2 weeks in vegas and did not drop a dime on gambling. There are shows to be had as well as buffets on 50% off deals. Sometimes a smile gets you a coupon for drinks or food. Made mistake of not renting car to go to Grand Canyon, if time is short go with tour bus. You can get passes for 15 day bus trips so you can get from strip to Freemont St fairly quickly. Each mall has great galleries with fine photos and art. As blog said there is something for every budget sketchy right to fabulously weathy budgets. During graduation and wedding season there are lots of revelers. Go with lots of research and you can see millions of dollars worth of cars in the Quad for free.

  21. says: Mike

    I live in Reno and have been to Vegas more times than I can possibly remember. The irony is that I’ve only gambled 3 times in the past 30 years and that was twice on the quarter machines and once at blackjack. That’s it. I find it be such a huge waste of money. You quickly found out that there are many hidden gems to enjoy in Sin City! 🙂

  22. says: Carlotta

    The same for me! I wasn’t even sure if to include it on my trip, but at the end I had lots of fun! I really liked the Fremont street area with all the retrò signs and casino. And you can find lots of good deals!

    1. Thanks Jeremy! Yeah man, definitely go there sometime if you have the chance when you’re back home. I have to admit, give my current situation, I’d just about be willing to go anywhere but Vegas is somewhere I’d return again.

  23. says: Tom Bartel

    I recommend learning to play blackjack. It can be cheap entertainment, and if you play “perfectly” you could actually get away with winning a little or only losing a little. I also recommend poker, which is how I pay for my Vegas vacations. If you play that right, you almost always win in Vegas. Or at least I do.

    1. That’s cool Manouk! We did the same as well. I’m really excited to share our helicopter video in just a few days. It’s easily one of the coolest travel experiences I’ve had in a LONG time 🙂

  24. says: budget jan

    You’ve given me hope. I’ve always thought of Vegas as slightly tacky and only good if you like gambling. Knowing it won you over has opened my eyes. I understand the escapism aspect of it too.

    1. Thanks Jan! Indeed, the escapism aspect was definitely part of the appeal. I think I still would have enjoyed my trip to Vegas had I been in full on travel mode; however, the fact that I’m stuck in one place for a while made this trip special.

  25. says: Carmen

    We didn’t like Vegas but then again we hardly had any money when we were there, and we stayed in a motel where drugs were being dealt in the parking lot! Hardly classy.

  26. Vegas is such a fun place for the first few times! I remember how starstruck I was the first time seeing the Strip. Everything is just bigger and better there. I’m sort of over Vegas now that I’ve been so many times, but I haven’t done any outdoor activities so maybe a trip to Red Rock Canyon is in my future if I go back.

    1. Thanks Katrina! I can understand where you’re coming from because I feel the same way about quite a few places myself. In particular, I’ve been to Angkor Wat five times so it just doesn’t move me the way it once did. If you do go back again be sure to check out the surrounding area.