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Archive for the ‘Travel Tips’ Category

Solo Travel: Should you hit the road alone?

15 Feb

solo travelSafe solo travel: Assessing dangers

It’s especially important for solo travel that you do some research about the countries you are going to. Some countries are notoriously dangerous and always make the travel advisory list. Others have specific issues you need to be aware of, and more so if you plan on solo travel. However, if you are informed and aware, you will likely not find trouble. (This is not to say that going to a country in the middle of a civil war, or traveling through jungles known for violent gang activity is safe. Of course, if you are going to Somalia or the likes, that is a whole different story. Not only will you be required to hire a personal bodyguard, but you might want to start praying too!)

It’s not a bad idea to read your government’s travel advisories, but don’t let them scare you off of going; remember that anything you do in life, including walking out your front door and driving down your street, carries danger. It is up to you to determine if the odds are strong enough to discourage you from doing something, as well as to make sure that you inform yourself so that you can take precautions to avoid many danger scenarios. Also, assess yourself honestly. Not everyone is cut out for solo travel. If you are very shy and find it painfully difficult or torturous to talk to random people, perhaps your should travel in a group. If you find yourself nervous or fearful in neighborhoods you don’t know, or so suspicious of people’s intentions that you can’t let your guard down, solo travel may not be for you. The point is to be alert and aware.

Solo travel: Doing your research and being prepared

In general, trouble strikes solo travelers most when they simply aren’t paying attention. Good resources for country-specific information are Lonely Planet guidebooks, which also give details on current scams happening in each area, as well as your government’s travel advice website. Don’t let it scare you, however; government sites seem to exagerate. The point is to be informed and aware. If you know what to look out for and act accordingly, you should be fine.

It’s a good idea to invest in a few things that will make you feel more safe and secure, such as a good money belt with wire waistband, a belt with built-in money stash, and a bag with strap that crosses your body. A hat which can help obscure your gender and nationality, GPS and whistle are some other items that are worth carrying if they will help you feel more secure. Do what you need to do to make yourself feel comfortable to solo travel; it is well worth it!

Read more specific safety tips for solo travel here.

Solo travel versus traveling with a friend or group

Deciding on solo travel necessitates being more aware and cautious. Traveling in a group of course give some safety just from sheer numbers, and the luxury of letting your guard down a little. Please don’t let that discourage you, however; there are so many reasons to travel solo, and in doing so you are more open to meeting people who can not only enrich or transform your experience and perception of a place, but also become friends for life. I highly recommend solo travel. Just because you board that first flight alone, does not mean that you are relegated to solo travel forever. On the contrary, as a solo traveler you will be more approachable for other travelers and often the people you meet on the road can be more compatible with your travel style than your friends at home (the ones who couldn’t go because of their job, boyfriend, or fear of staying in hostels…). Sadly, many friends leave their country for a big international trip together and don’t return friends. Travel, and especially solo travel tests your character; traveling with a friend tests your relationship.

 

Pre-travel planning checklist: Essential things to do before you go

09 Feb

travel planning checklistPre-Travel Planning Checklist

  Passport. Make sure your passport is valid through the length of your trip, even better if you have at least six months to spare. Check, because some countries will not issue you a visa if you have less than six months’ remaining on your passport.

Banking. Buy travelers’ cheques if you plan to use them. Call your bank(s) to be sure your ATM/debit cards can be used overseas. Ask what the fees are for using your card abroad, such as transaction and foreign currency conversion fees. Tell them what countries you will be visiting and when. Get phone numbers to call from overseas if you need to. Most banks have international collect numbers that you can call from a pay phone if need be.

NOTE: Look at your bank cards and credit cards to be sure they won’t expire during your trip. It’s a very easy thing to overlook, but the biggest pain in the butt to fix!

  Documents. Photocopy important documents such as your passport, credit cards, visas, travelers’ cheques, travel insurance policy and itinerary. Leave a copy with a reliable loved one so that if need be you can call and have the documents faxed/emailed to you. Email a copy to yourself, and make sure your email password is as tight as Uncle Scrooge.

  Travelers insurance. You will probably never have to use it, but it’s a must. Compare policies. Nomad and travel1 are excellent companies I’ve used.

  Keeping in Touch. If you are planning to take your mobile phone with you, call your carrier to find out exactly what the rates are to make and receive calls and texts in each country you plan to travel to. Even better, get your phone unlocked and buy a local SIM card when you arrive. Usually for just a few dollars, you can have your own number on which you can receive calls for free (someday, hopefully the United States will get on board with the rest of the world and not charge you to receive calls…).

Skype. If you don’t already have a skype account, set one up now. This is your best bet for calling home or anywhere else. Not only can you talk for free with your friends who have skype, you can also call anywhere you want to for pennies through the computer. You can get a local Skype number that for just a few dollars a month that you have forwarded to you wherever you are (watch out, though; with this option, YOU pay to receive calls). Most internet cafes now have skype-ready machines. If it’s the middle of the night or you can’t find an internet cafe (they do seem much less plentiful, what with every cafe, hotel and even hostel offering wi-fi these days), an international calling card is a good idea. Even the worst ones will give you far better rates than your mobile carrier from home will give you for international calls.

  Bills. If you are going away for a month or more, make sure to pay any monthly bills that will come due while you are gone. Even better, set up online banking so that you pay all of your bills with a few clicks of a mouse. It’s free, provided by your bank (if not, you need to find a bank that has entered the 21st century! Hello!), your payments arrive faster because they are sent electronically, and you don’t have to find envelopes or lick stamps. Done.

  First night accommodations. It’s a good idea to make a room or bed reservation for your first night. Write down their address, phone number and directions.

  Know how to get out of the airport. If you plan to navigate yourself with public transportation, write down specific directions, and don’t be shy about double checking with the bus driver to make sure you’re going the right way. If you plan to take a taxi, find out what the distance is and/or what the taxi fare should be, and don’t be shy about disputing the fare if the driver tries to charge you three times what you expected. Unscrupulous taxi drivers routinely rip off tourists in every city in the world, but when you call them out on it, you usually end up paying a more fair price.

 

Traveler’s diarrhea prevention and treatment

02 Feb

prevent and treat traveler's diarrhea

Traveler’s Diarrhea: Prevention and Treatment

The dreaded travelers’ diarrhea can put a big damper on any trip, but don’t worry, there is a lot you can do to prevent it. Your risk of getting sick while traveling can be greatly reduced by being careful what you eat and being aware of how the food is prepared and handled.

If you aren’t used to spicy food, but you want to try some local specialties, ease in! Experiencing local cuisine is a wonderful element of traveling abroad and not to be missed. Realize, however, that the stomach needs time to adjust to radical changes in diet, and may react violently if thrown outside its comfort zone too suddenly!

Take note of your surroundings. If everything around you is filthy, or you see raw meat sitting out, or the same hands that handle money are touching your food, you would be wise to find somewhere else to eat. Avoiding salads and any other raw vegetables or fruit, unless it has a thick peel or shell. Any cooked food which sits out for a long period of time carries the danger of bacteria. A good rule of thumb is, if it is prepared cold and meant to be eaten cold, it should be stored cold. Likewise with hot food: if it is meant to be eaten hot, it should be kept hot. If something is pre-prepared and you don’t know how long it has been sitting there, you’re much better off ordering something that has to be prepared for you fresh, and even better, in front of you.

Rehydration and Recovery

Dehydration resulting from diarrhea can be life threatening. It is essential to replace lost fluids immediately. Carrot soup, rice water, gruel, fruit juice, green coconut water and weak tea are all good things to consume to help restore fluids. Alternatively, or additionally, you can buy or make rehydration fluids.
Here is a simple rehydration solution that you can make anywhere that can literally save your life.

Rehydration Solution

  • one teaspoon salt
  • eight teaspoons sugar
  • one liter of clean fresh, or boiled and cooled, drinking water

Stir all together until sugar and salt are dissolved. Molasses or cane sugar are good substitutes for white sugar if available.

Once you begin eating again, be gentle on the stomach. Avoid spicy and greasy foods. The BRAT diet of Bananas, Rice, Apples and Toast is easy on the stomach while also helping to absorb and flush away and remaining unfriendly bits.

 

Don't travel without this! Why I love Amazon Kindle

08 Nov
amazon kindle

Amazon Kindle

Amazon Kindle is the best thing since sliced bread, no, better! Ok, so this website is about my travel shenanigans, but I absolutely had to write about my Kindle because I will never travel without it again, and it’s at the top of my list of recommended Must Have Travel Items (which still actually exists only in my head, but it’s coming soon!) Especially if you are traveling continuously in foreign countries where English books may not be so easy to find, electronic readers are indeed a godsend, and Amazon’s Kindle is the best of the bunch.

Sorry if I’m going on and on about it, but really this is the most wonderful travel companion… it entertains for hours, doesn’t snore and will never flood the bathroom floor! Here’s why I love it and highly recommend getting one before you hit the road. Decide for yourself.

What is so great about Amazon Kindle?

The Kindle is thinner than a magazine and weighs practically nothing. What this translates to for us travelers, is you can carry dozens (well, thousands, actually) of books with you without taking up tons of space and weighing your bag down (especially useful if you’re traveling with any of those low-cost carriers who are getting stingier and stingier with their baggage restrictions. Basically, Amazon Kindle is about the size of a skinny paperback novel.

Read-to-Me. This so cool! This is my favorite feature, because after hours of being in front of the computer, my eyes get tired! The Amazon Kindle will read your English language content out load for you. Just select text to speech, kick off your shoes and close your eyes!

For more info, check out the Amazon Kindle here.

Amazon Kindle on the road

Download books on the road easily with built-in 3G connecitivity (newer ones now have wi-fi) and download a book in under a minute. Even if you’ve got lots of time on trains and in airports, no need to worry because the battery lasts forever. Okay, up to a month. Which is pretty awesome if, like me, you’re wandering pretty far off the beaten path sometimes and staying in lots of places with limited electricity. (Incidentally the very places where you most likely will want lots of good reading material! :) ) There’s also a really cool Share feature which lets you share your favorite passages directly from your Kindle on Facebook and Twitter. A fun way to keep in touch while you’re on the road.

I’m not sure why Amazon isn’t marketing Kindle more as a travel companion, because that is precisely when it is most useful. When you’re on the road in remote places and in countries where English books are not so easy to find, this is the perfect solution. Even better than the fact that you don’t have to lug all those heavy books around (once you find them!), is the fact that the download versions are cheaper (try finding an English book in Botswana, Turkey or Colombia for less than ten bucks!). And there’s no up-front commitment: you can download the first chapter or two to see if you want to buy the whole thing.

Free Books! Some of the best things in life are indeed free! Who knew? Out of copyright (pre-1923) books are available for free. Over 1.8 million of them.

If you’re doing some work on the road, the Amazon Kindle is handy because you can sync it with all your other devices and read PDFs, with notes highlights and dictionary lookup. And no need to worry about storage, because the newest Kindle holds up to 3.500 books!

Check out the Amazon Kindle.

 

Nottingham Must Do and See List

08 Oct

Nottingham: Sherwood Forest and Beyond

If you make it to Nottingham, (and why on earth wouldn’t you?!), of course you need to go to Sherwood Forest, the home of Robin Hood legend, and see The Fifth Most Important Tree in England. I didn’t know there was such a list, but now I do.  And now, so do you.

England’s Oldest Pub

Did you know that the oldest pub in England is in Nottingham? Okay, I’ll admit it, I didn’t either, until I went there. England’s oldest pub, Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, is on Castle Road (yep, you guessed it, right by Nottingham Castle). They’ve been serving beer since 1189, and the second you step inside, you feel transported back to the days of knights and uprisings. While you’re there, check out the medieval times version of darts. A small metal hoop hangs from the ceiling, and you have to swing it just right to make it land on the hook on the opposite wall. Much easier said than done! www.yeoldetriptojerusalem.com

Once you’ve gotten that requisite bit of historical exploration out of the way, and hopefully enjoyed a nice thick pint of something and given the medieval darts a go, there are still some fun and interesting things await back in the city.

  1. Visit the caves of Nottingham where you can see 750 years of history in the sandstone caves right underneath the city center.
  2. Go to the rooftop terrace of Saltwater, above The Cornerhouse, to have a relatively inexpensive cocktail and enjoy a sunset from the best view in Nottingham.
  3. See a movie in the world’s smallest cinema. There are just 21 seats at The Screen Room on Broad Street, they play cult classics, and tickets are only £4 for students.
  4. Trendy Hockly restaurant Shimla Pink’s does an all-you-can-eat Indian buffet on Sunday. Students can stuff themselves for around £10.
  5. Or, Splurge and treat yourself to a delicious meal of Indian food, England’s number one most popular cuisine, at 4550 Miles to Delhi.
  6.  
 

Best British Books, Movies and Music

04 Oct

Before you go: Culture Trip!

Enjoy a little British culture before you set foot on the island. What better, or more fun, way to get into the mindset of a place, than enjoying some of their cultural (or at least noteworthy) contributions…

16 of the Best British Films

  1. Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994, Mike Newell)
  2. James Bond 007: The Spy Who Loved Me (1977, Lewis Gilbert)(or any other Bond flick)
  3. The Full Monty (1997, Peter Cattaneo)
  4. Brazil (1985, Terry Gilliam)
  5. The English Patient (1996, Anthony Minghella)
  6. Monty Python The Life of Brian (1979, Terry Jones)(and any and all Monty Python films)
  7. The Ipcress File (1965, Sidney J. Furie)
  8. A Room with a View (1985, James Ivory)
  9. Tom Jones (1963, Tony Richardson)
  10. A Fish Called Wanda (1988, Charles Crighton)
  11. Trainspotting (1996, Danny Boyle)
  12. Love Actually (2003, Richard Curtis)
  13. About a Boy (2002, Chris Weitz & Paul Weitz)
  14. Secrets and Lies (1995, Mike Leigh)
  15. A Clockwork Orange (1971, Stanley Kubrick)
  16. Sliding Doors (1998, Peter Howitt)

Classic British Television Shows

Television can indeed often be a more accurate and timely mirror of a country by giving a peek into their humor and sensibilities. Check out these beloved classics for a peek into the mindset of those who call Great Britain home.

  1. Absolutely Fabulous
  2. Only Fools and Horses
  3. Fawlty Towers
  4. The Office
  5. Peep Show
  6. Two Ronnies

10 Best British Rock Bands

  1. Kaiser Chiefs
  2. Arctic Monkeys
  3. Starsailor
  4. Razorlight
  5. Stereophonics
  6. Bloc Party
  7. Muse
  8. Coldplay
  9. Zutons
  10. Keane

(Many people think the Killers, my absolute favorite band, are British, but they are in fact American. :) )

11 of the Best British Books

Yes, there does appear to be a pattern: most have been made into a movie. Still, the books are excellent, usually better than the movie.

  1. Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding. This is NOT just for chicks! I had this book with me on a road trip with a guy friend, and we were absolutely rolling with laughter! Great fun to read, the movie was good, but the book outdoes it a hundred times over. Really gets into the female psyche, with a lot of British particulars.
  2. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling. Okay, so you’ve probably already seen the movies. But honestly, the books were very well written and a fun suspension of realty.
  3. The Yes Man by Danny Wallace (Scotland). Ride along on the journey of the guy who decided to change the way his life was going, quit his office job, traveled for a year, and started saying “yes” to everything, with amazing results that transformed his life.
  4. Animal Farm by George Orwell. Classic. Of course you know this one. If not, read it now!
  5. 1984 by George Orwell. Another classic. Again, if you haven’t read it already, now is the time.
  6. Kiss Kiss by Roald Dahl. This one may difficult to find, but it’s a deliciously dark collection of short stories that you will never forget.
  7. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
  8. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  9. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
  10. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  11. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Note:  Obviously I wouldn’t dream of calling myself an expert of any sort on British culture. I’ve simply had the privilege of being exposed to a lot of fun stuff by my dear British friends. If I’ve left anything out that absolutely should be included, please send me a message and I’ll take a look. Thanks!

 
 

London Top 12 Must Do List

29 Sep

Top Ten (Oops, 12!) Things to Do and See in London

  1. The Tate Modern This is probably my favorite museum in London… It is my first stop when I arrive, and I usually go more than once, depending how long I’m staying.  Their collection is so huge, that even in this massive building, there isn’t room to show everything at once, so the displays change frequently, and they often have huge exhibits on the ground floor. Even better, it’s FREE! Hop on the Tate Boat to get to Tate Britain and the Tower of London.
  2. The Tower of London Here you can view the crown jewels and stand on the execution site of three English queens.
  3. Buckingham Palace No trip to London could possibly be complete without seeing the famous changing of the guards. This is the Queen’s official residence, and State Rooms are open to visitors in August and September.
  4. The British Museum is full of treasures British soldiers brought back from faraway places. The Rosetta Stone, the Elgin marbles, Easter Island statue, and the earliest known image of Christ.
  5. Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum See the world’s best collection of art and design, along with 3000 years’ worth of artifacts from some of the world’s richest cultures.
  6. Natural History Museum Near the Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum, in South Kensington, this one is fun for all ages. Here you can see dinosaurs, walk underneath a massive, life-sized Blue Whale, and experience what an earthquake feels like.
  7. Houses of Parliament Here you can see Big Ben, the clock tower that chimes every 15 minutes and is the most famous symbol of London. Cross the Westminster bridge to get the best view of the Houses of Parliament, from the South Bank.
  8. Trafalgar Square is an icon of London. Not just a tourist attraction, this is also a hot spot for political demonstrations. See Nelson’s column and the four lion statues, but don’t feed the pigeons! The National Gallery is also here, free and worth a visit. If you’re here in December, you can see a beautiful Christmas tree donated by Norway each year.
  9. Museum of London.  London history from Roman times to present.
  10. Street Markets. London is well known for its bustling street markets. Camden Market and Portobello Market are two of the most popular.
  11. Covent Garden Market Enjoy free entertainment every afternoon in the West Piazza. Sreet performers here are not only licensed, but have had to pass an audition before being allowed to perform here!
  12. London Eye.  Last but not least, this 32 capsule ferris wheel carries 10,000 people each day. Because of the way they are suspended, you get a perfect 360 degree view of London at the top. Avoid the long queues by booking online.

Money Saving Tips for Travelers in Pricey London

Museums are free! and London has some of the best museums in the world.  The Tate Modern and the British Museum are absolute musts. The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) is impressive, and also worthwhile are the Natural History Museum, and the Museum of London.

Don’t take taxis. Walk where you can, take the bus, or buy an Oyster Pass for the metro (the famous Underground, the Tube). You pay something like five pounds deposit for the pass, then you buy credit for it, and travel for a lot less. Last time I checked, a one way ride on the tube costed four pounds!

Eat a big lunch. If you’re eating out, try to make lunch your big meal of the day and get buy with something light, fast (cheap!) for dinner.

Get out of London and see the rest of the country! If you’re planning to explore outside London (and you should!), try booking a bus online ahead of time. Fares can be as cheap as five (yes, 5!) pounds if you book enough in advance. Most other towns in England are much less expensive than London.

 
 

Getting around cheaply: bus, train, thumb and more

25 Sep

Getting around by Bus

If you’re traveling on a really low budget, you’re probably going to be taking a lot of buses. Some countries are so dependent on bus travel that many companies provide hop on, hop off service to many different cities, or even across the continent. Bus service varies hugely from country to country, with some places offering first class service with flat beds, hot meals and movies, and others giving merely a reclining seat and window, but the one constant is that bus travel is almost always cheaper than train travel.

Train Passes

Do, however, check to see if a train pass would be worthwhile to you. Many countries, such as Japan and western Europe, where train travel is quite expensive, offer train passes that you can purchase in advance which will let you travel at a fraction of the cost.

Hitchhiking

If you’re so inclined, hitchhiking or ride sharing is by far the cheapest way to travel. Hitchhikers.org is a sort of classifieds or meeting place where you can find drivers with room in their cars, starting and finishing in cities all over Europe. Listen to and trust your instincts if anything does not feel right. This is NOT the safest option, and NOT recommended for single travelers, especially women.

 

Where to stay for free or cheap

23 Sep

Where to stay for free or cheap

If you’ve got a house or apartment to swap, check out Home Exchange, where you can find someone to trade houses with you in the destination of your choice.  You won’t have to deal with expensive hotels, or hostels with loud roommates stumbling past your bed in the wee hours of the night.

Couch surfing… if you’d rather meet locals than other travelers, check out Couch Surfing to find local hosts offering their couch to travelers. Stay for free, but remember to give your hosts a nice gift, or cook them a typical dinner from home.

Global Freeloaders is an online community and a meeting place to bringing people together
to find free accommodation around the world.

Stay4Free brings people together with free accommodation all over the world.

 

Planning your trip overseas

01 Sep

Entry Requirements: Visas and Vaccinations

First things first! Find out if you need a visa and how long you are allowed to stay, as well as other specifics, such as vaccinations, minimum six months validity left on your passport, proof of funds or onward travel. Many countries will allow you to pay for your visa upon arrival, but check ahead to be sure.
Foreign entry requirements and travel advice for citizens of:

United States
United Kingdom
Australia
New Zealand
Ireland
South Africa

Alternatively, go directly to the official government sites for the countries you want to visit. It’s a good idea to double check anyway, in case there has been a recent change not listed on your country’s government website.

Research: Culture and Language

Read about the history and the people of the land you are traveling to. Finding out about the local culture and customs will enrich your experience by increasing your understanding. It will also help you to avoid offending anyone with the wrong gestures or attire. Also, if you have some flexibility as to when you can go, check for festivals, holidays and high and low season. If you are a party animal, make sure you go when the crowds are flooding in, and if you want peace and quiet, look to go off season.

It’s also important to inform yourself about the water and hygiene situation in your destination country. The easiest way to make sure you don’t ingest unsafe water is to simply ask when you get there, and always drink bottled water if the tap water is unsafe. However, it’s also a good idea to learn about preventing food-borne illness and purifying your water, just in case. Find out how to prevent and treat traveler’s diarrhea and other health precautions you should take before traveling abroad.

Learn a few words of the local language. It’s easy and fun, and you’d be surprised at all the smiles and warm receptions you’ll get if you can just say Hello, Please, Thank You, and Where is the Bathroom. It makes people feel good when you put in this extra bit of effort, and sets you apart from the rest of the tourists, making you far more likely to get to know the locals a bit and have a genuine and memorable experience as they give you a peek into their world, beyond the tourist buses and trinket shops.

Shopping and Assembling: Travel-Related Items

Assuming you are an independent traveler on a budget, there are a handful of very useful things you will want to have with you throughout all of your travels. Some can be scrounged out of your kitchen drawers (or mom’s), such as duct tape, sewing kit, first aid kit. Others you’ll want to get from a travel store. Such as travel towel, sleepsack, nalgene bottles, toiletries bag with a hook, electrical adapters, an inflatable neck pillow, sink stopper, clothesline, head torch and compass.

Also useful (whether you’re in five star hotels or hostels) is a flash drive, and for women, a sarong. More on all of this in the Packing section.

Planning your trip overseas: Putting it all together

Now that you’ve picked a destination, it’s time to tie up loose ends and make sure that your life stays on track while you’re gone. Ensure a worry-free journey and no nasty surprises when you get back. Well, not the kind your bank or phone carrier can deliver, anyway! :)

Travel planning pre-takeoff checklist