The Highlights of Central America for Backpackers

The Southeast Asian and European backpacker trails are well known and well traveled. Another backpacker region of the world that has a lot to offer is that of Central America.

Countries like Nicaragua, Costa Rice and Belize offer some wonderful attractions. It can be challenging deciding where to go on your Central America adventure; here are some highlights that are not to be missed.

Caye Caulker, Belize

This island paradise off the coast of Belize is known for its low key backpacker vibe and lower price tag than nearby Caye Ambergris. Diving and snorkeling are not to be missed here due to its proximity to a beautiful reef and the infamous Blue Hole. Relax, eat great food, and dance at reggae bars until the wee hours.

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

The towns surrounding Lake Atitlan are all incredibly unique in their own ways so don’t spend all of your time at just one. Panajachel is a backpacker haven with great souvenir shopping. San Marcos is perfect for the yoga lover and hippie. San Pedro is a great place to relax and enjoy the company of locals and backpackers alike at Sublime Bar.

El Tunco, El Salvador

Many backpackers drive through or only have a stop over in San Salvador in El Salvador but the ocean side town of El Tunco can be a great place for backpackers to chill, surf and enjoy some Pupusas. The town is perfectly nestled in the middle between Antigua, Guatemala and Leon, Nicaragua and has therefore become a stopping point for most backpackers traveling North or South along the Pacific coast.

León, Nicaragua

The town itself is very peaceful and full of bright colors, but the real can’t miss part about León is the opportunity to go volcano boarding. Named one of the most thrilling activities in the world, travelers can ride a sled-like contraption down the side of a building topping out at 50-60 mph.

San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua

Known for the infamous Sunday Funday party, this beach town has been transformed into a backpacker town. There are cheap taco stands and amazing beaches to relax on during the day and bar crawls and hostel pool parties late into the evenings.

Playa Conchal, Manual Antonio, Costa Rica

A trip to Costa Rica wouldn’t be compelte without a stop at the beach. Playa Conchal is arguably one of the most beautiful options in the country. The jungle of Costa Rica actually goes all the way down to the ocean here so swimmers can enjoy the shade.

6 Unexpected Places You Can Cruise

When you think of a cruise you probably think of a tropical Carribbean destination like the Virgin Islands or the Bahamas, or perhaps Alaska comes to mind. Although, these are great destinations to hop on a boat to get to, cruising offers a plethora of other options that are often very unexpected.

Asian cruises have long been visiting far-flung regions of the world. Seoul, South Korea is an easy destination to get to with a cruise that docks in Incheon, a popular South Korean stopping point. Seoul is known for its fascinating history, brilliant food scene, great shopping and a modern culture make this city an easy one for tourists to get around in.

Phuket is another unexpected Asian stopping point for cruise ships. This island off the coast of South Western Thailand is well known for its incredible beaches. Surprisingly, Phuket is also home to a large coral reef that can be easily accessed, a national park rainforest and a sea turtle nesting ground.

Another unexpected place is the Panama Canal. As a part of a cruise with stopping points in Mexico, Guatemala or Colombia, oftentimes, cruise ships will utilize the Panama Canal for its intended purpose: a pass through from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean. Repositioning cruises in which cruise ships are being moved from one itinerary to another will often utilize the Panama Canal in their routes between the Caribbean and Asia or Alaska.

One of the most unexpected places of all that a cruise can take you to is Oman and the city of Muscat. Having only been open to tourism for  less than 40 years, this is a unique opportunity. Muscat is known for its high level of hospitality and off the hook cuisine. With excursions like date plantations or hundred-year-old forts, Oman should definitely be on your radar.

Alaska has quickly grown in popularity as a cruising destination but there are a number of other destinations in that region of the world that are also becoming popular unexpected stops. Vancouver is one such stop. It doesn’t sound exotic but this British Colombian stop has a totem pole garden, a vivid Chinatown that offers incredible food and even a lush rainforest in the middle of it! Are thrilling adventures more your style? Try crossing the 450-foot suspension bridge!

Finally, you can visit one of the most unexpected destinations of them all, Cape Horn or the southern most tip of South America. The sailing route down around the tip of South America used to be the only way to get from the Atlantic to the Pacific, now with the Panama Canal, this route is virtually never made. Cruises, however, still venture down there today. By completing the journey from one side to the other passengers actually get a certificate!

Next time you’re thinking about booking a cruise look into some of these unique destinations. Repositioning cruises often offer even more unexpected stopovers. Off the beaten path cruising destinations offer a unique way to see places that would otherwise be extremely difficult and extremely expensive to experience otherwise.

Scandinavia in the Summer: Where to Visit

Sweden, Norway and Denmark are popular destinations for summertime travel. The winters in Scandinavia can be exceptionally brutal so what better time is there to visit than the warmer months of summer.

Planning a trip to this region can prove daunting, however. With a ton of destinations and hot spots to choose from, choosing a few to plan a trip around is a challenge. Here is a great list to get you started in planning where to visit in Scandinavia this summer.

Iceland’s Blue Lagoon

Though it is a far cry from the other countries in the Scandinavian realm, Iceland’s Blue Lagoon is worth the trip. The natural hot springs’ ice blue color is incredibly unique and its waters are known for their restorative powers. It also happens to be close to Iceland’s capital of Reykjavik thus making a trip there very simple.

Visit castles in Denmark

Denmark is rich with history and much of it can be found in its intricate network of towering castles sprinkled across the country. Scandinavian kings and queens were unique and the architecture within the walls of these castles are sure to wow. Find yourself a few of the biggest and best and set out to be wowed.

Tour Stockholm

As one of Scandinavia’s top destinations, it is a can’t miss stop this summer. In the warmer months, a walking tour of the city can be a great way to get insider info not found in the guidebooks. Try to find a tour that caters to photographers as the city is extremely photo friendly and you’ll be wanting to stop at every corner.

The Danish Royal Gardens near Copenhagen in Denmark

Copenhagen is a no brainer of a destination to visit when planning a visit to Scandinavia but the Danish Royal Gardens could be overlooked hence why they made this list. These gardens have a unique flair to them that comes from the Baroque period in which they were planted. The French influence is strong in these gardens and offers visitors a peaceful retreat from the bustle of Copenhagen.

Whale Watching in Norway

There are very few areas of the world where whales can be viewed and off the coast of Norway is one of those places. Book yourself a tour and get out early. Unique to Norway is the opportunity to even swim with the whales, give it a shot.

Packing for Long Term Travel

When it comes to packing for a long trip, there are a virtually unlimited number of factors to consider. From what kind of socks to bring to how to fit everything into one bag, packing what seems like your entire life into one bag for an extended period of time can seem daunting. And it is.

A few key tips will help any type of traveler to whittle their belongings down to the necessities and to make sure you have everything you will need for long term travel.

Clothing

Choose clothing that is multifunctional. For women, think a top that can be dressed up with a piece of jewelry or pants that are breathable for hiking yet can look polished for a nice dinner. For men, look for fabrics that won’t wrinkle and shirts that can be dressed up with nicer pants but also work for more casual days with gym shorts.

Colors matter when choosing clothing. Leave your whites behind. First, laundry options on the road may be less than ideal, you probably won’t have access to a permanent press cycle. Those whites are going to get faded or stained from a rogue fried noodle very easily. And at the very basic level, having whites or light colors in your pack means you would have to do two loads of laundry each time, thus, costing you money, which will certainly add up.

Stick with dark greys, earth tones, and blacks for a wardrobe that works together as well as separately.

Fabrics also matter. Leave anything that requires an iron or dry cleaning at home. If it can’t be shaken out and worn it shouldn’t make it into your bag.

Bring at least one nice outfit. Men that means a button up shirt and women that means a nicer top and bottoms or a dress. There will be situations, whether you’re heading out for a nice night on the town or just want to go out to dinner at a sit down restaurant that isn’t locating on the sidewalk of a busy street. You’ll be happy to have an outfit to dress up in at times.

Gadgets

Get all of your converters before you go. As annoying as it is carrying around the extra weight, you will save a lot of money and stress in the long run. You never know if you’ll arrive in a new city with a dead cell phone and no way to access the internet to find the address for your hotel.

Condense as much as possible. A cell phone can act as a lot of things at once. From a calculator to a dictionary to a camera, cell phones can cover a lot of your needs with one small device.

Toiletries

Leave the shampoos and soap at home. Things that can easily be purchased on the road should be. That goes for sunscreen (although make sure to get this BEFORE getting to the beach to save the most money), detergent, lotion and so much more.

Do make sure to bring a sewing kit and first aid kit. Things happen on the road that you can’t plan for or even imagine at times. Having every tool possible to better help you when those times arise is smart planning.

The most important tip of them all: use packing cubes! These will help you repack in a pinch and be able to find something very quickly and easily and just ultimately alleviate a lot of stress when it comes to keeping your belongings in check.

Ideal Itinerary for a Month in Thailand

Nestled in Southeast Asia between Myanmar, Malaysia and Cambodia lays Thailand. Known as the, “Land of Smiles”, Thailand is a popular stop for travelers to Southeast Asia.

The country isn’t overwhelming but deciding where to go during a month of traveling can be. The country holds the mountainous regions of the north and exotic beaches and islands of the south. It holds a little something for everyone and can be an incredibly full month of travel.

Use this itinerary to help you plan your month long visit (or more!) to Thailand.

Fly into Bangkok

This city has a lot to offer as your first stop in Thailand. It is a great jumping off point as it is pretty much in the middle of the country. You can easily spend 5-7 days exploring the city and its surroundings. Plan your visit for a weekend and hit up Chatuchak market to get all of your shopping done.

Spend time exploring the main street of Sukhumvit and the massive malls that line the street and venture to the side streets for scrumptious street food.

Day trips include the UNESCO world heritage site of Ayutthaya, the National Park of Kho Yai and the infamous floating markets.

Chiang Mai

Hop on a train bus or plane and head to the north for a week. Chiang Mai is a bustling little town built around a moat. Take some time wandering the streets or time your visit with the Lantern Festival in October/November for a breathtaking view.

A great day trip includes The Elephant Nature Park to give some rescued elephants a bath or a hug.

Pai

If scootering is in your repertoire, rent a motorbike and traverse the winding roads up to this hill town. Spend a night or two among the locals and practice yoga, get a massage or go shopping for some unique finds.

Krabi

Either bus or train down to this province with a stop over in Bangkok where you can hit up Koh San Road to restock on tank tops or chill with friends. Or if time is of the essence, hop on a cheap flight for less than $100 USD to jet down to Krabi.

Here you can pick whether to stay in Krabi Town for a couple days and venture around that area, take day trips to some of the most beautiful beaches in Krabi including Railay beach or jump on a ferry to an island for truly unique experience.

Each island has a completely different vibe so choose one that fits your desires. Koh Tao is great for divers or Koh Phangan is a yoga paradise one day or a raging full moon party another.

Ideal Itinerary for a Month in China

China is a massive country with a landscape that varies just as massively. From some of the largest and most chaotic cities in the world to serene, peaceful natural views, China allows something for every type of explorer.

If you are lucky enough to have a month to explore China, you can check off quite a few stops on your China bucket list. Knowing where to start with your China adventure is whole other issue, however.

Use this itinerary to get you started on your China planning and to create a template for your adventures. This is only a rough starting point, amend and add or subtract locations and experiences that interest you.

Shanghai

Home to the world’s largest international airport, Shanghai will more than likely be where you begin. This city is the most Western of all Chinese cities and the metro makes it an easy starting point. Kill any jet lag and spend a few days exploring some of the cities modern areas like Lugiazui, a futuristic neighborhood or Bund which offers beautiful views of the Shanghai skyline.

Spend a day on the West side of the river, Puxi eating street food on East Nanjing Road and visiting the Shanghai museum.

Beijing

It’s easy to occupy yourself in and around Beijing for a week. This city is an extremely difficult to navigate one and is far more chaotic than Shanghai and will be a shock to your system when you venture off the train. Plan to explore historical areas like the Forbidden Square or Tian’anmen Spruare or brilliant Summer Palace.

For an interesting perspective on post communist China, head over the Bird’s Nest stadium where the 2008 summer Olympics were held.

Finally, spend a day adventuring on the Great Wall of China located just outside of Beijing. The wall is easily accessed by train.

Terracotta Warriors at Xi’an

A quick stop of 2 or 3 days is great to explore this historical area. The city is well known for its deliciously unique food and the iconic statues known as the Terracotta warriors.
Sichuan Province

Spend a few days here if not for anything else to experience the food. Known for the Sichuan pepper, the food in this province is all about spice. If hiking appeals to you this is a great place to add a few extra days and go on a trek.

Hong Kong

As a bonus to your trip if you have time, jet over to Hong Kong to experience a much less Chinese piece of the world for a few days. Cantonese food, a very Big Buddha and intricate gardens await every explorer.

How To Travel in NYC on a Budget

The city that never sleeps is also a city known for being a money pit. With cocktails setting you back $15-$20 USD and the subway costing you a few dollars each trip, New York City can be a wallet’s enemy. Armed with the right knowledge and some handy tips and tricks, however, a trip to New York City doesn’t have to break the bank.

The first thing to consider when trying to plan a trip to New York City on a budget is the time of year for your visit. Avoid peak times and plan your visit for January or Febraury, the cheapest months to visit or even August is known for being a bit cheaper due to the hot weather.

When choosing accommodations, it may be cheaper to stay in a borough slightly away from Manhattan like Brooklyn or Queens, but you need to take into account the cost of traveling into the city each day, sometimes multiple times per day. If you are looking to explore a certain borough in particular, plan on staying in that borough to cut down on transportation costs.

Once you’ve decided on a location look for deals on hotels through popular booking sites like Priceline or Expedia. These sites will often have last minute or cheaper booking options. Airbnbs are becoming extremely popular in the city and often run significantly cheaper than hotels in the same areas. Airbnbs also allow you the opportunity to prepare your own food to save even more money on meals.

To plan your visit, group attractions by area. Jumping from one borough to the other is going to cost you in transportation expenses, if you plan to only visit one area of the city each day you can cut down on those in between travel costs.

For attractions, check on coupon sites like Groupon.com or LivingSocial.com for deals. Make sure to read the fine print of these coupons as many are time sensitive. There are a good number of free museums or attractions in New York City as well. Central park is free at all times and there are often street performers or shopping stands set up around the park. Some museums even offer free or discounted times, for example, the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) has a period on Friday where admission is free. Do your research ahead of time and plan around these discounted time frames to save significant dollars.

If you are ok with waiting until the last minute, Broadway shows can even be affordable. Many theaters will sell left over tickets a few hours prior to the show for significantly reduced prices. Discount sites like BroadwayBox.com or TKTS booths around the city may also have reduced price tickets.

When it comes to meals, New York City is chock full of street food options that are significantly cheaper than eating at posh restaurants and that offer an unlimited variety of dining options. You can spend your vacation basically eating your way around the world from Lebanese to Chinese to El Salvadorian; the street options are limitless.

A vacation to New York City doesn’t have to break the bank. With these simple tips you can save yourself hundreds of dollars and still enjoy all of the sights and attractions that make a trip to New York City appealing. Do your research ahead of time and plan things out in advance and you will be well on your way to an affordable trip to New York City.

How to Tell Cool Travel Stories Through Social Media (without needing a blog)

It is a well known fact that today’s society is shaped by social media. Gone are the days when we just talked about our travels or shared stories simply over an elegant dinner party. We live in a connected world.

When on a trip, it’s natural to want to share your experiences and stories with loved ones back at home. You don’t have to start a blog in order to do so. Social media is a great way to share as much or as little of a story as you’d like. You can post long-winded accounts of your travels or just a picture to tell a thousand words. Find what works for you.

Here are some tips on how to tell cool travel stories through social media.

Have a beginning, middle and end.

Maybe not explicitly defined as simply as a beginning, middle and end, a story should have structure. Think about where it started, what happened during it that made you want to share it and what happened after or what finished it. Put a little thought into the order in which you post pieces of your story. You don’t jump to the end of the book and read it first, or maybe you do, but most people don’t. Don’t share the finale before sharing how you got there.

One exception being if it’s a really BIG finale.

If you went skydiving, or you got mugged or it’s something else that will really capture people’s attentions, you can lead with that to hook people and then share snipbits of how you got there.

Pick your platform.

Don’t post the same thing on every social media channel that you use. If you want to tweet your experience then tweet it, if you’d rather share photos or videos than stick to Instagram. Your friends and family don’t want to see the same picture and words about a cow on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Post pictures or video of YOU.

Your friends want to hear about your stories because they of you, so make sure to include yourself in your posts! Even just a photo of you in front of the something you’re talking about creates depth in your story. Get creative with it! But most of all remember people are reading your post because of YOU!

Be concise when possible but not too consice.

It is important to remember you’re telling a story, include the details that are necessary to the story but leave out fluff that doesn’t add to it. Most people aren’t going to sit down to read a 5 paragraph Facebook update about your snorkeling experience. If you find you are constantly leaning towards wordy social media entries, maybe you should consider starting a blog afterall!

Can You Stay In Hostels If You’re Over 30?

Hostels have long been renowned as youth backpacker party havens. Stories of all night ragers, sexual relations in the bed below you and filthy conditions have long since plagued the hostel reputations. For these reasons and many others, travelers not in their early twenties and into the party scene may be weary about staying at one of these establishments.

Consider these points, however, before counting out hostel stays for your next over 30 adventure.

Hostels are not always dirty, dingy, and gross.

Yes, some hostels still fit that model but most are getting phased out as travelers’ standards are increasing and as hostels are upping the stakes. Around the world, hostels are beginning to understand that they can offer an experience that is unique to hotels and in order to draw people in they need to up their quality. It’s customary to find complimentary water, towels, and even social events. Many hostels are even higher quality than neighboring hotels because they’ve begun to understand that the backpacker trail communicates and that a dirty bed can carry through conversations down the road for weeks.

They are quickly becoming the affordable accommodation option.

Travelers of all ages are realizing that shelling out hundreds for a place to store your things and sleep for a night isn’t worth it. Hostel goers are united in this thinking. It also applies to travelers of all ages. In Europe, aristocrat travelers that are over 30 are choosing hostels for their cheaper price tag.

Many hostels have private rooms.

If you aren’t looking to share a room with 20+ strangers, hostels can still be for you. Most hostels are now offering private or very small dorm rooms for 3-4 people. These rooms will have slightly higher rates than the dorm beds but they will still be significantly cheaper than a comparable hotel bed.

Many hostels are now targeting older generations.

The popular international hostel chain, Hostelling International, offers discounts to members over 55 years of age. This chain also happens to be one of the only ones in the United States.

Check reviews and go for a hostel further away from town.

Reviews will help you to determine if a hostel is a party hostel or not. Depending on your preferences you will know whether you want to choose a certain hostel based on their social scene. Also, location is often a determining factor in the age ratio at a particular hostel. This is due to a very basic principle, in most countries you need to be 25 to rent a car, therefor, hostels that are only reachable by car will probably only be occupied by travelers over 25.

As a traveler over 30, hostels are a great place to stay. They aren’t all the binge drinking, party festivals like you see in movies. Many are respectable and even tailor to mature travelers. Do your research and you will find hostels that fit your needs.

Busabout vs Eurail: Which is better?

If you are planning a trip to Europe, planning you travel between countries can be a daunting task. There are a plethora of options to choose from including air, train, bus or walking. Well, not walking. Some methods are more expensive but take less time while others are cheaper but what they lack in price they also lack in quality and timeliness. It can get very confusing and time consuming to sift through all the information about different methods of transportation.

Two of the most popular methods are Busabout and Eurail. Busabout is a bus company that operates in Western Europe while Eurail is a train service throughout most of Europe. Each have their pros and cons and it is important to weigh your options when deciding on transportation.

Busabout

This budget accommodation option typically caters to the backpacker community within Europe. This is because Busabout offers a “Hop on hop off” pass that makes traveling to many destinations in one trip within Europe, both cost effective and simple. The pass allows Busabout goers to stay at a destination for as long or as short as they desire with these open ended tickets.

Busabout will even drop you directly at your hostel door, thus saving you even more money on expensive taxis.

The backpacker community has embraced the Busabout method of transportation whole-heartedly. In this community of travelers, Busabout makes for a great way to make travel companions and life long friends. Many European backpackers follow the same route and therefore run into the same people constantly on their Busabouts.

The staff on the Busabout buses are also well known for their hospitality and helpfulness. It is easy to find a staff member that is willing to share local hot spots or snipbits of their local language to help fellow travelers.

If you are looking for a laid back or party filled trip, Busabout is definitely the option for you.

Eurail

Eurail is a massive train network covering 24 countries in Europe. It allows travelers the freedom to literally make their own schedule. If one day you are craving a good authentic German beer, you can easily hop on the train and be there in a few hours.

The Eurail Saver Pass is the best option if you are looking to travel extensively within Europe on one go. The pass allows you unlimited travel wherever the train goes. When purchasing your pass, simply choose the countries you plan to visit and that determines the cost of your pass.

The perks for Eurail include time; train travel is significantly faster than bus travel within Europe. The train isn’t as easy to meet and make friends or fellow travelers on, however. For solo travelers, the train can make for an isolating or lonely experience. Depending on what your looking for in a social scene, Eurail may or may not be for you.

Weigh your options when considering transportation within Europe. Both Eurail and Busabout offer different perks and appeal to different demographics. Both are cost effect ways, however, to see as much of Europe as possible!