Five Exotic Places in the World (that you can still afford to visit)

Budget travelers are constantly looking for the best possible places they can visit on the cheap.  Here are five exotic places around the world that are still affordable for the budget traveler.  Read on!

Panama

2235524340_aa8034b4d9_oEverybody knows it for the Panama Canal, a must see engineering marvel, but Panama offers much more for budget travelers seeking an exotic trip.  Plenty of great beaches in places like Bocas del Torro or for the more adventurous, explore the Darién Gap (with a guide of course, this is one extremely dangerous place).  It’s easy to spend several weeks in this exotic country without ever staying in one place for too long.

Panama is served by many North American carriers at reasonable prices.  The roads are much easier than Costa Rica but the main means of transport over large distances is by small plane.  You can fly to most places in the country on Air Panama or AeroPerlas for $50-100.

Hawaii

DSCN1302Thought by many to be an expensive tourist trap five hours off the coast of California, Hawaii is actually a great trip for budget travelers who enjoy doing their own thing.  Amazing beaches with the best surf in North America, scuba and snorkeling opportunities everywhere and plenty of diversity with rain forest and volcanoes for nature lovers.

Read more about Hawaii becoming a budget traveler’s dream.

Bali

124680557_1549fb2b10_oThe most visitor friendly island in Indonesia, Bali may be small in size but not in stature, despite not being the cheapest place in the world to fly to.  Flights can cost up to around $1,000 but amenities once you are there can be had at very reasonable prices.  Don’t worry, big hotels are available for those who need pampering, but for travelers that require less your dollar can go a long way in Bali.

Costa Rica

3491606318_38338e7ff4_bApparently in order to be considered “exotic” you need ocean and rain forest so close to each other in the same country that you can literally feel as if you are in another world in the same day.  Not only does Costa Rica allow you to do that, you can literally walk from a gorgeous beach where you might not see another person all day, to forest where you will be surrounded by monkeys and sloths.  Costa Rica has to be the ecotourism capital of the world and luckily for budget travelers, prices are still reasonable.  A bus ride across the country costs less than $5 and there are many hostels for around $10 per night.  Tourism is huge though and there are plenty of resorts and tourists traps but you can still easily get by spending $3 for dinner eating with the locals at a small soda.

Morocco

2389557556_2b8698f6dd_oMorocco stands out on this list because it’s not known for its nature although it does have plenty of that to go around.  Fancy a camel ride across the Sahara? No problem.  The majority of travelers are here for Morocco’s immense culture though.  It’s a taste of the middle east in North Africa.  Imperial cities like Fez are home to life in the medinas and souks that has been relatively unchanged for a thousand years.  Food lovers will be in heaven enjoying chicken or lamb tagines meticulously steamed for several hours.

1,000 Places to See Before You Die

Inspired by the roaring #1 New York Times bestseller with more than 1 million copies in print, 1,000 Places to See Before You Die Traveler’s Journal is perfect for giving–it’s specially designed for people who love to travel and want an elegant place to record their experiences. Scattered throughout the journal are traveler’s lists (“Unforgettable Destinations for the ‘Been There, Done That’ Crowd”and “10 Experiences Guaranteed to Give You the Shivers”) and quotes that will spark insight and provide writerly inspiration. At the back of the diary is helpful nuts-and-bolts info: time zones, conversion charts, telephone codes, mini-translation guides, and more.

Taking Your Travel Blog to the Next Level

Last week in an article about various forms of travel blogs I mentioned that the most popular was the travel journal which are often written by travelers posting a blurb or two about where they are, what they’re doing, and who they’re with.

I wrote that “nobody cares about these unless they are the writer’s friends and family.” Boy did I get some criticism for that! Quite a few readers commented on the post and twitter that they in fact, love those types of blogs.  The most popular reason was that readers want an unbiased view from an actual traveler instead of a PR-fluffed piece or even info from a guidebook.

While I can admit when I’m wrong, I think many people took my opinion out of context or maybe we just weren’t on the same page.  I still find hundreds of blogs about travel with little value because the writer isn’t focusing on their audience.  In all honesty, I’m sure I am somewhat guilty of this as I used to jot down my trip reports as if they were happening to me then and there and never worried about who was going to read them.  Actually, I never expected anybody to read them.  Now that this site has a decent readership, for better or for worse, quite a few people read my old trip reports.

Who is your audience?

If you are writing a travel blog, publishing your trip reports, or doing any type of writing about your journeys, you want to take a step back and consider your audience.  Are you writing to keep your friends and family updated on your whereabouts? Are you hoping the public will come out of nowhere to read your blog? Maybe you want other travelers to use your experience as a springboard for their own journeys.  These are all things that should affect your travel blog.

If your family is the sole reader of your blog, you don’t have much to worry about.  Keep them informed and you’re doing your job.

If your audience is bigger than that, you have more things to consider.

First of all, your writing needs to be clean.  It doesn’t have to be perfect, but attempt to at least use proper grammar, punctuation, and capitalization. Nothing takes away from your writing than when it’s plagued with errors.  Also, it doesn’t need to be that colorful.  I remember when teachers would force students to consult the thesaurus on every writing assignment.  That helped build basic vocabulary skills and a bit of style when you were in junior high, but by this point, you should know enough adjectives to describe a person, place, or event from your travels without an abundance of colorful adjectives that some readers won’t even be familiar with.

Remember that you aren’t a public relations department.  You’re simply sharing your experiences with other people.  You don’t have to say that everything was perfect.  Nearly every one of my travel experiences has included some type of negative experience.  Not every place smells like roses, looks like paradise, or is filled with heaven-sent people.  That’s reality and there is no sense in hiding it.

The travel narrative

I have to admit, I don’t consider myself a great writer so I’m trying to stay away from simply handing out writing advice.  There are far better people who can do that.  Instead, I want to explain what I look for when reading travel blogs and what I feel makes one stand out from the rest.

If it weren’t for reading Rolf Potts‘ compilation book of travel stories, Marco Polo Didn’t Go There: Stories and Revelations from One Decade as a Postmodern Travel Writer, I wouldn’t have been exposed to the travel narrative which has given me a new sense of writing.  As simply as I can explain, the travel narrative is a story created around your travel experience.  It’s not a list of what happened where and when, but instead a piece of non-fiction utilizing characters and experiences from your travels and turning them into a stylized story.  Often the characters become the centerpiece of the tale and form a personal connection between the reader and the story.

Travel narratives are just another option for publishing your travels and can appeal to readers whether they are interested in your location or not, whereas a standard journal entry likely only interested people already considering the location.

Uniqueness sets you apart from the rest

One thing I hadn’t previously considered was uniqueness, or niche travel blogging.  You hear a lot about niche blogging but not necessarily related to travel.

I received several messages from people who pointed out that the main appeal to their blogs were the fact that their travels were rather unique.  Heading to places like Myanmar or racing bicycles in Africa, Canada’s Adventure Couple’s blog really stands out.

Certainly, heading somewhere unique or even insane (Iraq anybody?) not only sets you apart from the thousands of blogs about Paris or London but your blog’s traffic will certainly benefit from being one of the few places for information on these places as well.

If you have. or are planning on starting a travel blog, I hope these ideas have you thinking a bit. If you have your own travel blog please feel free to share it by posting a link in the comments.

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3 Travelers Share Their Favorite Budget Destinations

I asked some fellow travel writers what their favorite budget travel destination was and received some great responses.  Here are my two favorite, followed by one of my own. I’d like to continue this theme in the future so if you are interested in contributing please contact me.

Krakow, Poland

photo by Kirstysplodge

photo by Kirstysplodge

Krakow is quickly becoming one of the top European hotspots for travelers. It has filled the void for people that were looking to go elsewhere once trendy, and overly tourist saturated Prague became too expensive. Krakow offers so much to do for travelers on a budget. Since the exchange rate is so good to Americans and food and beer are already cheap, it is a win-win! Check out Rynek Glowny, which is the world’s largest Medieval town square. This beautiful piece of architecture is the meeting spot for most Poles and tourists alike. It is filled with popular bars, top restaurants, cute cafes and chic shopping. After stuffing your face with local fare like pierogies and Zywiec beer, head on over to Wawal Castle. This popular tourist attraction was built in the 14th century and like most of Krakow’s architecture, it has been extremely well preserved. The castle offers a low admission, and in for certain individuals reduced and free admission is available. Check their website for more information. Krakow is a very accessible city as well. Whether you want to trek by foot or take the train, this city has got you covered. I prefer to rent a bike, which cost about 20 zloty per day ($6 US), and ride along the many beautiful streets of this bustling former capital of Poland. But since my last trip to Krakow, they have debuted a new bike program, similar to the one in Amsterdam, which provides locals and tourists with bike rental stations throughout the city. There are about 15 of these “BikeOne” stations throughout the city and more will be introduced this year. Best part about the bike rentals is that you do not have to return it to the same station. Just drop it off at whatever locale you like. This is just a little taste of what Poland’s hippest and lively city has to offer. Four and five star hotels are priced at what most Americans would pay for a two star locale. There are plenty of cheap eats…and drinks. Plus Krakow is one of the best cities to offer most of their attractions at little or no cost you tourists. Flights, which have been notoriously high in the past, have dropped due to the weak economy. While I suggest spring and summer as the ideal time to visit, this city truly is a year round great and affordable European destination.

Andrew Hickey writes TheBrooklynNomad and obsessed with travel. He is constantly on the look out for a great deal to…well anywhere. He has visited numerous destinations around this planet and never gets sick of talking travel. Andrew has written articles and appeared in the travel sections of such media outlets as USA Today, New York Times, MSNBC , AOL, Travel Muse, and Yahoo! You can also follow him on Twitter.

Thailand

Photo by Shane Brown

Photo by Shane Brown

Thailand is one of those places that once visited, will leave you with a special memory etched in your heart. Like a Lucy loves Aaron proclamation on a tree in the botanical garden. Well, it would if you were Lucy or Aaron. For some people it’s the smiles beaming from every local you meet. For others it’s the knock-off shoes and ‘iPood’ t-shirts found in all the shops on Khao San road. For a select few it’s the “entertainment” found in areas like Pattaya, but that’s best left for another blog post. For me it’s the incredible food, made with fresh local ingredients, which you can find in pretty much every market in the country (and on quite a few street corners too). From seafood Laksa’s to Green Curry veggies on Rice, all the staples are covered – and at a price which easily falls within even the thriftiest traveler’s budget. It’s not just Asian fare which can be found on the cheap. The best Spaghetti marinara I’ve ever tasted was from the restaurant attached to a guesthouse on Koh Lanta, in Thailand’s Krabi region (easily reached via a very cheap overnight train from Bangkok). Prepared with fresh seafood brought in by the fishermen that day, it was rich in flavour, pasta cooked to a perfect al dente, and at about a tenth of the price I was used to paying back home. Which of course left me with a few baht to spend on some Singha beers, a couple of cheap DVD’s, and well, you can never have enough ‘iPood’ t-shirts.

Shane Brown considers himself a professional Lion Wrangler.  You can follow his blog on TravelPod. You can also follow him on Twitter.

Costa Rica

Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

I’ve heard just about everything about Costa Rica from many different people. From “it’s too touristy,” to “it’s unsafe,” and I’ve found none of the negative things I’ve heard to be true. Once you visit Costa Rica you’ll realize that whoever said those things has never been there to experience the pure beauty that Costa Rica has to offer. I’ve been twice over the past year and an always thinking about returning.  While Costa Rica is maximizing on their tourism industry, nearly everything is still extremely affordable.  The majority of hostels are around $10, and some of the nicest I’ve ever seen, traditional meals can be purchased at “soda’s” for $3-4, and it doesn’t cost much to take in the beauty and nature found all across the country.  I say much, because a lot of land in Costa Rica has been declared part of various national parks and often charge small fees to enter. The advantage is that the land is protected and will be up kept and remain undeveloped. Whether you want to surf some of the best waves in the world, hike up active volcanos, or walk through the rain forest with monkeys at your feet, Costa Rica will delight you.  Just remember to bring some insect repellent.

Jeffery Patch writes Have Pack, Will Travel and does everything possible to see the world while taking vacation from his 9-5 life in California. You can also follow him on Twitter.

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How to Choose the Best Digital Camera for Traveling

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Some people love to go camera shopping and others dread it.  Some find it fun, others find it difficult.  The simple truth about finding the best digital camera these days is that almost any will do for most people.  But there are some things to consider if you are a traveler and if you can spend a little extra time deciding on the best digital camera, you can find one that stands out above the crowd.

The good news about digital cameras is that while the market has created hundreds of modern models, the quality has become top notch.  Just about any digital camera will take perfectly acceptable photos out of the box for nearly every user.  But what can you look for if you’re a traveler?  There are certain things travelers demand out of cameras and taking time to consider these can be very beneficial.

Megapixels

Several years ago the megapixel war started.  Manufacturers started squeezing more and more megapixels out of their sensors and consumers were swayed by the higher ratings.  Don’t fall for this marketing push.  Chances are you won’t notice a difference between 6mp or 8mp, or even 10mp.  You probably can’t purchase anything below 6mp these days but for printing, I wouldn’t go any lower.  Anything above that is overkill so don’t let yourself get fooled into paying more for a camera just because it has a slightly higher megapixel rating.

Lens

Most people will never take a second thought about the lens on their digital camera but travelers should consider finding a camera with a wide-angle lens.  Most wide angle lenses have a focal length of 28mm as opposed to the standard 35mm.  It may not sound like much, but it is very noticeable and can mean the difference between fitting that entire statue in your frame, or cutting off its head or feet.

You’ll often find yourself in places where you have no control over whether or not you can move to get a different view.  A wider lens will allow you fit more in your frame whether you are indoors or taking pictures of landscapes.  Once you shoot with a wide lens, you’ll never buy another camera without one.

You should also take a look at the optical zoom range of a lens.  3x is pretty standard but higher is nice, although it shouldn’t be a deal breaker.

Always ignore the digital zoom rating of a lens.  Digital zoom is another marketing tactic and results in a terrible looking photograph.  Turn off digital zoom in your camera and never use it (it is typically marked by a line in your zoom meter on the camera’s LCD screen).  Manufacturers will often put a ridiculous zoom rating such as 12x or higher on their packaging to entice customers who aren’t knowledgeable about digital cameras.  If you accidentally use your digital zoom, you’ll be very disappointed once you look at the photograph on your computer and see that it is unusable.  All a digital zoom function does is increase the size of your pixels to the point that they look like big ugly blocks.

Battery

Some budget priced digital cameras will use replaceable AA batteries which many people like since you can find them anywhere, but those same people haven’t tried shopping in a souk in Morocco.  Most digital cameras made today include a rechargeable battery.  I’ve never had one last less than 2-3 days of moderate use which is respectable.  They all come with their own battery chargers which, from my experience, are always multi-voltage.  The only thing you’ll need is a plug adapter to plug it in to foreign outlets.

Weather-resistance

Over the past couple of years manufacturers like Olympus and Pentax have been producing waterproof models that can not only get wet, but be fully submerged in moderate depths of water.  They don’t cost much more than an equivalent camera so these are good options for travelers who enjoy snorkeling or other water sports.

I have used and enjoyed both the Olympus 1030SW and the 1050SW. Amazon typically has some great prices on these models so check them out. The new Olympus Stylus Tough-6000 is pretty enticing.

Pocketability

I just made that word up.  I don’t know if it really exists or not but it describes the final thing that you should consider when buying a digital camera for travel.  Size.  I use professional digital SLR equipment for lots of things, but not travel.  I find it too difficult to carry it around so I found a camera that has all features I need and also fits inside my pocket.  It’s convenient and will let you take photos when you might have otherwise left your camera behind.

The good news is that most cameras now are relatively small and easy to conceal.  Check if the lens protrudes from the body when not in use.  There are also a few models out there that have a grip on the right side of the camera which make it difficult to slip into your pocket.

Recommendations

It’s hard to recommend specific models since new ones are released every few months.  For my money, I always look at Nikon and Canon first.  They’re all I use for my professional photography and I have found their compact digital cameras to be just as good of quality as their higher end models.

If you have any questions or recommendations on digital cameras please feel free to share them in the comments below.

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18 Easy Ways to Save Money Traveling

Saving money is an important thing to consider when traveling.  I think of myself as a budget traveler, but I try to balance my spending.  I’m not extremely cheap about everything, but I do my best to not waste money when it doesn’t need to be wasted.  Do that, and you can have extra money to splurge on other things.

Here are 18 ways you can save money while traveling.  I don’t recommend doing every one of them, but practicing a few can greatly decrease your spending and help make your trip more affordable.

1. Stay in a hostel

This is a no brainer.  Hostels are usually only a fraction of price of a hotel room.  If you don’t mind sharing dorm style accommodation, you can save a bunch of money every night and also meet other like-minded travelers.

2. Share hotel rooms

Traveling with a group?  Squeeze as many people as you can in a hotel room.  Some smaller hotels will charge you per person though so you’ll have to decide what the best deal is for your situation.

3. Use public transport

Do your best to steer clear of car rentals.  They’re usually pretty expensive and driving in a foreign country can be a nightmare.  Best to leave it to the professionals and help the environment by taking trains and buses.

4. Share rides

Trying to hail a taxi in front of your hostel or hotel? Ask other travelers where they are going and maybe you’ll be heading in the same direction.  If so, split the fare!

5. Walk

Burn some calories and walk around town.  Enjoy the area and do some sightseeing.

6. Camp

If you enjoy the great outdoors why not pack your tent and sleeping bag and make camp somewhere.  Campsites are cheap and common all over the world if you aren’t able to make camp somewhere in nature itself.

7. Enjoy outdoor activities

Not everything you do has to cost money.  Go hiking, lay on the beach, go for a swim, or just spend an evening looking up at the stars.

8. Cook your own meals

This is one tip that you won’t find me practicing very often.  I love to eat out and enjoy the local cuisine.  But if spending money on food isn’t on your agenda, most hostels have a kitchen and everything you need to make your own dinner.  Just head out to the grocery store or local market and pick up something to cook up.  Cooking is even better if you have a group of people that can chip in to buy more food and split everything.

9. Eat on the street

Street vendors and small food stalls have some of the tastiest food as well as the most authentic.  It’s usually pretty cheap too!  No comment on how healthy it may be though.

10. Explore

Getting out and exploring the area can not only be a fun way to spend an afternoon, it can also lead to bargains.  You’ll likely find plenty of restaurants and shops that the locals use and are out of the touristy areas.

11. CouchSurf

CouchSurfing is not only about saving money but also about making friends and experiencing the area from a different point of view.  I highly recommend it, as I’ve written before, but for the sake of the community, do not use it solely as a way to sleep for free.

11. People watch

Another great, and free, way to spend some time is to just sit and watch the people go by.  This is a favorite past time of Moroccan men by the way.

12. Share tours

I’m not a huge fan of taking organized tours but sometimes it is the best way to explore an area that you otherwise might not be able to navigate on your own.  In that case, check with others who are staying at your hostel and consider splitting the tour among multiple people.  The tour guide might charge a bit more, but it should still be cheaper than doing it solo.

13. Bring a guidebook

I don’t always recommend following every word the guidebook says, but they will often warn of possible tourist traps and will recommend cheaper places to eat, sleep, and shop.  The only problem is that once a place is listed in a guidebook, they tend to raise their prices in response to their new popularity.  So be sure to continue to shop around.

14. Bring a water bottle, refill it

Bring a BPA-free water bottle with you and refill it with tap water if it is safe to drink.  Not only will you save money over buying bottled water, you’re helping the environment and probably encouraging yourself to drink more water as well.

15. Pack common medications

It’s a wise idea to pack some common medications with you if there is a chance you might need them.  I always bring ibuprofen for headaches or other aches, and loperamide in case you get a little bout of food sickness.  Sure, you can find these everywhere, but they’ll likely cost a lot more.

16. Bring enough batteries and film

I know, who still uses regular batteries or film? I certainly don’t.  But if you do, pack extras because they’ll cost a lot more when traveling.

17. Barter

Shopping in bazaars or other open air markets? Bartering is a common practice in many places around the world.  Don’t be insulting though and understand that (depending on where you are) you might make more money in a week than the person on the other end of the transaction makes in a year.

18. Just bring a backpack

Don’t over pack! Figure out a way to stuff your things in a backpack and avoid the checked bag fees that nearly every airline is charging now.  I’m convinced that everybody can fit their life into a Kelty Redwing 3100 or similar backpack.

If you have any other tips on saving money while traveling please feel free to share them in the comments below.

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10 Easy Ways to Stay In Shape While Traveling

creative commons license by aarmono

creative commons license by aarmono

I’ve already touched on ways to stay healthy and combat sickness while traveling, but how about if you want to keep in shape?

For those who keep up on eating healthy, working out, and generally staying in shape, taking a week or longer off can really put a damper on your physical goals.  Here are a few ideas to help keep up your fitness while traveling.

1. Go for a run

Why not start your day off with a nice run?  Head out in the morning for a run down the beach or wherever you may be.  Scenic outdoor destinations will probably be more encouraging than others.

2. Find a local gym

If you have a gym pass at home check and see if your gym has locations where you’ll be traveling.  Some cities will have local gyms that will allow you to work out for a small fee.  I found a tiny gym in Quepos, Costa Rica that only charged $2 per workout.  Many larger hotels also have their own gym facilities.

3. Walk

If you’re considering hopping on the subway for a few stops, driving or even taking a taxi, why not just walk?  Some cities are best experienced by foot anyway.

4. Outdoor Activities

Are there any hiking trails where you’ll be going?  What about other activities like rock climbing or rafting? If you’re staying at a beach, go for a swim or rent a surfboard. Do anything you can to enjoy the outdoors and be physically active at the same time.

5. Eat healthy

I’m not one to pass up the local cuisine, but you might want to do so in moderation.  Skip candy bars and chips for snacks and look for fresh fruit stands when you’re between meals.

6. Drink plenty of water

Most people don’t drink enough water during the day when at home, let alone while traveling.  This is especially important if you’re doing a lot of physical activity and sweating.  If you are somewhere warm and not used to warmer climates, realize that you’ll need a lot more water than you are used to.  Carry a bottle or two with you all the time.

7. Exercise in your room

Can’t make it to the gym?  If your workout usually consists of weight lifting, do some push ups and sit ups in your room.  You can also use your bed or a chair for dips and other body weight exercises.

8. Carry your own luggage

Carry your own backpack or luggage if possible.  Don’t bother paying porters at the airport or your hotel when you could be doing it yourself and getting a quick and easy workout at the same time.

9. Try a martial art

Whether you are already into martial arts or not, consider trying a local gym.  Many will give you a free guest pass just to check them out while others will charge a small fee for your participation in their program.  Boxing and Brazilian jiu jitsu are two things I train in and it’s common for students to travel to other gyms and take classes with various well-known teachers.  You can even schedule a private lesson with some coaches to get a taste of their training.  You’ll almost always learn something new and different than your current regimen.

10. Rent a bike

Whether you want to go on a nice long bike ride or just use one as an alternative means of transportation, bicycles are typically pretty cheap and readily available in most places.  Cities like Paris even have bike rental kiosks around the city that are available 24 hours a day with your credit card AND you don’t have to return it to the same place.  It’s a great system.

If you have any other tips on staying, or getting in shape while traveling please feel free to share them in the comments below.

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Top Travel Resources on the Web

We have a little bit of a theme going this week which all about travel and the internet.  Today I’ve outlined a few of my favorite travel resources online.

Kayak

To me, Kayak is simply the best airline search engine out there.  Plug in where you want to go and they’ll automatically show you a list of recently found fares for many specific dates.  You can easily browse the calender and get an idea of what dates have the lowest fares.  In addition, they do a great job of piecing together flights on multiple carriers if your destination requires several legs (although expedia.com might do a slightly better job at that).  Best of all, Kayak will direct you to the carrier’s booking page so you can book it with them, rather than through Kayak with an additional fee.

Lonely Planet

Most travelers know and love Lonely Planet guidebooks. Sure, you can criticize some of their books, but no matter how you look at it, their website is a great resource for initial travel planning.  They offer great overviews of nearly every country in the world, weather statistics, basic transportation information, and recommendations on the top areas to visit.

U.S. State Department

Going somewhere with questionable political stability and possible danger? The U.S. State Department does a good job of providing information on these topics with recommendations on whether or not it’s safe to travel.  They err on the side of caution though and just because they say it might not be a good idea, doesn’t mean it’s a bad place to go.  Check it out, but don’t use them as a final say.

One Bag

OneBag.com is a great resource to teach you to lighten your load whether you are heading out for adventure travel or simply business.  They have great packing lists, tips on how to pack, and even luggage recommendations.  The amount you can learn about packing from OneBag is truly unbelievable.

TripAdvisor

Over the past few years I’ve had small hotels and tour companies ask me to give them a review on TripAdvisor which, unfortunately, has actually made me use the site less.  But when I am interested in a hotel or hostel but can’t find much information on it elsewhere, I’ll check it out on TripAdvisor and see what kind of reviews they are receiving.  One of the nice things is that they allow users to upload photos so you can get an idea of what the hotel looks like.  I’m not too picky usually but it doesn’t hurt to check out.

Hostel World

Hostel World is a huge directory of hostels all over the world.  You can even book right on the website.  There are reviews and photos which, like Trip Advisor, I like very much when trying to decide on a hostel if there are many to choose from.

CouchSurfing

If you’re using CouchSurfing you’re a different kind of traveler and I’ve written about that in the past.  There are people all over the world who are willing to share their living space with you.  Sure, it’s a way to get free accommodation, but that’s not the point.  Meet people, make friends, and experience the area’s culture from a different perspective.

I hope these links help you in your travel planning.  If you have any to add please feel free to list them in the comments below.

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Taking a Year Off After School to Travel

Graduation joy

Creative Commons by Robert Crum

Spring break is wrapping up and the home stretch for many students is now in full force. Soon, students will be graduating from high school or college and ready to move on to the next chapter in life.

Going on to college? Starting their career? These are just the two most likely choices students are facing, but some will contemplate taking a year off. Some will be lazy and do nothing worthwhile, some will get meaningless jobs to make enough money to move out and live off of, and others will venture out into the world. It’s the later that we’ll be looking at today.

Deciding to Travel

Are you considering taking time off from your normal routine to travel for a while? Let’s look at the pros and cons.

Pros:

  • Experience other cultures
  • Learn about world history
  • Make new friends
  • Learn real-life skills

Cons:

  • Potentially expensive
  • Putting off job or school acceptance

For High School Grads

If you are about to graduate high school, I’ll assume you are planning on attending college. I’m not saying you should or shouldn’t, but that is the typical route students take here in America. Often, the school application process begins in the beginning of the student’s senior year and it might be damaging to put off going directly to college if you have already been accepted. Many times though, admission can be delayed by simply contacting the school in question. If it is a typical public university, this likely is not a problem. If it is Ivy League or a private institution, you might run into problems and if that is the case, you should heavily weigh your options before making a decision.

For those who do decide to take some time off before starting their higher education, they’ll learn valuable real life skills. Spending time traveling around the world can truly help expose you to so many different cultures and experiences that you will certainly not only learn, but possibly be steered to a path that you will eventually want to follow in school.

For College Grads

If you are about to graduate college you’re likely looking at potential employers, brushing up your resume, and determining what type of job you are qualified for.

There’s only one problem: the economy.

The economy is absolutely terrible right now and while I hate to add to the hype surrounding it, the simple truth is that there are very few jobs out there, and definitely even less for new grads. The job pool is huge thanks to all of the layoffs we have experienced across the country and chances are that there is somebody more qualified than you and willing to work for less than they would normally. What does this mean for grads? Get ready for a tough time.

But what if you have the financial means to do some traveling for awhile? Go for it. I can’t guarantee that the economy will recover by the time you get back, but it can’t get that much worse… can it? Maybe I shouldn’t ask that.

So why not hit the road? Find a way to make your travels appeal to employers in the future. Consider volunteering somewhere or doing some writing. It might be difficult to make a living by traveling but you can certainly use your experiences to your advantage. Give this article on making your travels look good on your resume over at Matador Network a read and see if you can come up with some good ideas of your own.

Be sure to check back this week for two more articles about ways to spend a year abroad.

Did you, or are you currently on a gap year? Tell us about it!

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Five Wonderful Travel Books You Should Read

Here’s a list of five great travel-related books (in no particular order) that I recommend any and all to give a read.  They’re all quite different from each other and each author provides his own unique outlook on the world.  They should be on every travelers bookshelf.

Babylon by Bus: Or, the true story of two friends who gave up their valuable franchise selling YANKEES SUCK T-shirts at Fenway to find meaning and adventure in Iraq,

Two young Americans ditch their Yankees Suck t-shirt business and make their way to Iraq during the first year of the American Invasion.  That was all I needed to read before I purchased this book!  Babylon by Bus chronicles their experience in and out of the green zone from their drug use to mask the sounds of bombs exploding to their interactions with coalition forces which result in NGO work aiming to help Iraqis.

It’s an easy read, fun, and also allows you to step inside Baghdad from an outsider’s point of view.

Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?: A Swashbuckling Tale of High Adventures, Questionable Ethics, and Professional Hedonism

Drugs, debauchery, and writing for Lonely Planet.  That’s Do Travel Writers Go to Hell? in a nutshell.  Thomas Kohnstamm chronicles his experience in giving up everything he had in life to go to Brazil and write for Lonely Planet.  This results is more trouble than you could ever one person getting into, an impossible writing workload and the author’s conflicted feelings about guidebooks and the gringo trail.

The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World

Part travel narrative, part scientific study, NPR’s Eric Weiner aims to find the happiest countries on earth and figure out what makes the people so happy.  Wealth, social equality, and beautiful weather are popular explanations yet Weiner realized they have little to do with the places that are happiest.

Marco Polo Didn’t Go There: Stories and Revelations from One Decade as a Postmodern Travel Writer

I previously reviewed Marco Polo Didn’t Go There but decided it needed to be included in this list as well.

This collection of Rollf Potts’ travel stories include a commentary about why and how he wrote each and every one.

A great resource for the aspiring travel writer, but also a great read for anybody who will enjoy Potts unique outlook on his experiences and encounters around the world.

The Great Railway Bazaar

Paul Theroux’s classic travel narrative of his journey along the Trans-Siberian Express is over 30 years old but still holds up remarkably well.  Theroux has become one of the most respected and read authors in the world and this is the book that started it all.

Sometimes brash and unapologetic about the characters he meets, some people find him off putting but it’s his brutal honesty that gains respect from everybody else.  His vivid descriptions of the people he meets and places he sees is colorful, but not overly adjectve-laiden like many lesser authors.  You will definitely feel as if you are on the railway car over 30 years ago while reading this classic.

Marco Polo Didn’t Go There – Book Review

marco_polo_rolf_coverAttending the LA Travel and Adventure show last month I stopped by to see some of the books they were selling.  My eyes were drawn to the half price Lonely Planet books but unfortunately for me, I had just purchased my guidebook for Costa Rica and didn’t have any other trips on the agenda at the moment.

Then I noticed and picked up Rolf Potts’ Marco Polo Didn’t Go There: Stories and Revelations from One Decade as a Postmodern Travel Writer. I am ashamed to admit I had never heard of Potts before nor had I read any of his stories.  The stories in the book sounded good though so I went ahead and purchased a copy.

Essentially a collection of Potts’ stories for various websites and glossy print magazines, Marco Polo Didn’t Go There turned out to be one of my best impulse book purchases ever.  You probably could skip buying the book and find them all archived online, but then you would miss out on the great commentary Potts adds at the end of each story.  These commentaries give more information about the characters, events or even about his state of mind when experiencing or writing the story.  With no need to please a magazine editor or make sure a story captures the reader, they also act as a place where Potts can be more honest than in the original story.

Who this book will really interest ,though, is the aspiring travel writer, such as myself.  Potts shares not just the details of the experience, but why he included certain elements, excluded specific characters or exaggerated various details.  He shares his opinion on what made the story work, and will be honest about what didnt’ work.  Potts also talks about the many styles and forms of travel writing and points out why he chose to use various techniques.

Whether you are a writer or not, you will be engaged in his stories, feeling as if you know the characters. Not because of vivid, adjective heavy descriptions, but because most of stories revolve around personal interactions that you’ve certainly experienced in one form or another.

This is the first book I have read with the author’s commentary after each chapter and it was a welcomed change.  I truly enjoyed getting in to his head and understanding the why and how of his stories.

Marco Polo Didn’t Go There: Stories and Revelations from One Decade as a Postmodern Travel Writer is available on Amazon.com at a discounted price.

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