10 Things We Fear When Traveling, and How To Get Over Them

Last week I brought up how fear is likely the most limiting factor to many people’s travels. Let’s look at a few of the biggest things people fear about traveling and hopefully debunk them.

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Fear: The Enemy of Travel

It never ceases to amaze me how much fear people have about traveling.  I’m tempted to just roll my eyes and think, “silly ignorant Americans,” but then I realize I too once shared that fear of traveling.  We fear the unknown and for most Americans, the unknown is the rest of the world.

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The 10 Best Things to do in Costa Rica

1. Zip lining

Imagen 151Also referred to as canopy tours, zip lining entails putting on a harness and attaching to a series of cables strung throughout the trees. These tours are everywhere throughout Costa Rica and run between $50-100 depending on the location and amount of runs you get.  Between 8-12 runs seems to be average.  High in both adrenaline and excitement!  As scary as it sounds, it’s actually very safe and the most difficult part is usually walking between the cables.

2. Hike a volcano

DSCN0333Costa Rica is littered with volcanoes.  Some are active, like the popular Arenal which offers visitors views of red falling lava at night and constant rumbles throughout the day.  Most volcanoes are located on federally reserved national park land and offer great hikes with amazing views.  The Poás Volcano is a popular day trip from the San Jose area and a big tourist draw.

3. River rafting

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photo by BallGame68

With the amount of rainfall Costa Rica receives it’s no surprise that white water rafting is a popular activity.  Most rafters set out for Turrialba, about two hours from San Jose where they can ride the Pacuare or the Reventazon for anywhere from four hours to three days.

4. Surfing

photo by DLH Creative

photo by DLH Creative

It’s no secret that Costa Rica is one of the top surf destinations in the world.  Surfing legends like Robert August now make their homes in Costa Rica for it’s legendary surf.  Breaks like Jaco and Playa Hermosa provide surfers with consistent waves on the Pacific side while Puerto Viejo de Talmanca and many others are great in the Caribbean.

5. Play with monkeys

DSCN0785Who doesn’t love monkeys? They are everywhere in Costa Rica swinging from trees or digging through restaurant’s trash cans (please don’t feed the monkeys).  National parks like Manuel Antonio provide great opportunities for hikers to see capuchin monkeys swinging overhead or even sharing the trail with them.  Other areas like the Arenal Volcano are filled with Howler monkeys who can nearly deafen nearby visitors with their calls.

6. Watch turtles lay eggs

photo by Arthur Chapman

photo by Arthur Chapman

Turtle lover?  Head up to Tortuguero where conservationists are working hard to preserve the endangered turtles who make the beaches their nesting grounds.  Only reachable by boat or plane, Tortuguero is a prime example of eco-tourism.

7. Volunteer

photo by theburied.life

photo by theburied.life

There are lots of opportunities to volunteer in Costa Rica, especially if you are interested in animal conservation.  Tortuguero, mentioned above, is a wildlife conservationist’s dream.

8. Drink coffee

IMG_0256What better way to start your day than enjoying some Costa Rican coffee.  Stop by a grocery store and pick up a bag to take back home.  Not only does it taste better than anything you can find back home–it’s a lot cheaper!

9. Climb a waterfall

DSCN0749Climbing and rappelling a waterfall is an extremely fun and exciting activity in Costa Rica.  There are tour operators all over the country that offer waterfall rappels, but if you find yourself in the Quepos/Manuel Antonio area, give Quepo Canyoning a call as they are the only one (currently) allowing you to climb a waterfall.  Believe it or not, going up is actually more exciting than going down!

10. Kayak through mangroves

photo by bawish

photo by bawish

If you’re looking for something a little slower paced but still plenty of fun, rent a kayak and explore the mangroves.  You’ll see wildlife you never imagined.

New and Innovative Cameras for Adventurous Travelers

If you’re anything like me you love gadgets, especially cameras.  I’ve done a lot with digital cameras and video cameras over the years and the innovations that are constantly being released never cease to amaze me.  If you’re an independent traveler, you better have a camera with you.  And, chances are, you find yourself in some interesting places and environments so let’s take a look at some of the coolest cameras for these various uses.

Note: How to Choose the Best Digital Camera for Traveling has been discussed here before.  The truth is, just about any camera will work for most jobs.  But if you’re picky, a gadget freak, or find yourself in some adventurous and unique shooting environments, you might want to consider these innovative cameras.

Olympus Stylus Waterproof Cameras

olympus-stylus-1050sw-rugged-cameraOlympus really is the leader in consumer waterproof digital cameras.  They come out with more models than anybody else and really, they’re all pretty good.  Definitely do your research and find the one that fits your needs the best, but I personally like the slightly outdated Olympus Stylus 1050SW since it is considerably cheaper than some of the newer models and still a very capable camera.  They’re pocketable and work just as well in standard weather as they do underwater

Olympus PEN E-P1

olympus10e-p1I have nothing against Olympus, but I never thought I would write about their cameras twice in the same post.  Then again, it wasn’t until earlier today that I learned about the Olympus PEN E-P1.  This camera looks SLICK.  Every camera aficionado loves classic rangefinders and the PEN is certainly stylish.

But it’s not impressive just because of its looks.  The small size packed body is equipped with a micro four-thirds sensor that offers both the quality and features of a standard DSLR.  It is nothing to ignore, especially for travelers.  I’ve found it too difficult to travel with a DSLR camera lately and usually opt to leave it home.  The Olympus PEN E-P1 just might be what photography enthusiasts need for traveling.

The PEN E-P1 starts at $749 and is available for pre-order.  It’s set to ship in July.

Nikon D5000

d5000view_01Sure, I just finished telling you how I don’t like to travel with a DSLR anymore but that’s just me.  Many still do and let’s face it, they are the ultimate in quality.  If you are serious about photography, you’re either currently using, or planning to start using, a Digital SLR camera.

There are higher end cameras available, but the Nikon D5000 is a great mid-range model.  Lots of features, great quality, and best of all, the first articulating LCD screen on a DSLR.  This can come in very handy in many awkward shooting angles.

The Nikon D5000 is available with an 18-55mm kit lens for $799 or less (sale prices have been common lately)

VholdR ContourHD Helmet Video Camera

contourhd-wearable-camcorderThe ContourHD helmetcam is part of the new wave of affordable helmet cameras available for extreme sports.  Of course these can be used for plenty activities like hiking or rock climbing.  I’m considering one for a motorcycle trip to Peru this fall.

What sets the ContourHD apart from the rest of the pack is, if you couldn’t tell by its name, the ability to shoot in HD.  It records about 8 hours of 720p H.264 encoded video to a microSD in a very compact unit.  The best part? They list for only $299.

The VholdR ContourHD is currently on sale for $279 at Amazon and if you purchase before June 27th, you’ll receive a $50 gift card, bringing the price down to only $229 with free shipping.  Hard to beat that!

Canon VIXIA High Definition Camcorders

VIXIA_HF200_1_LCanon keeps updating their VIXIA line of HD camcorders faster than I can memorize them.  They’re sold to consumers, but don’t let the sub-$600 prices and soccer mom followings fool you.  These are very capable devices!  If you’re pretty serious about producing travel video, these are a great start.

A standard camcorder will rarely make professional quality video right out of the box, but the VIXIA line of camcorders are darn close.  Add on a decent microphone and wide-angle lens, then learn how to shoot, and you can be making 1080p HD footage that rivals most Travel Channel shows.

Canon VIXIA camcorders come in several different models with built in hard drives, flash memory, or HDV tape recording and start at $599.

Flip MinoHD Pocket HD Camcorder

flip-minohdThe 3.3oz Flip MinoHD pocket camcorder is the ultimate in portability.  If you are shooting memories, you’d be hard pressed not to justify owning one of these to slip in your pocket or bag and be able to shoot decent quality HD video wherever you are.

They are extremely easy and convenient to use, but the video quality is nowhere near as good as the above mentioned Canon camcorders.  Nor should you expect it to be for less than $200.  But if you want to capture memories and share them online, you can’t beat it.

The Flip MinoHD costs less than $200 and also comes in various flashy colorings as well.

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Protecting Your Belongings and Valuables While Traveling

With the subject of hostels last week I started thinking more about protecting your belongings while traveling.  There are very few real dangers around the world that you actually have to be worried about.  People love to exaggerate claims of violence and terrorism around the world (thanks media) but the truth is that your biggest concern is petty theft.  Here are a few ways you can fight back.

Money belt

moneybeltThese have become pretty popular over the last few years.  If you’re going to crowded places where pick pocketing might be a problem, a money belt is a good answer.  They’re made of soft fabric that won’t irritate your skin.  You were it around your waist and under your clothes and it’s nearly impossible to know you’re wearing it.

Here’s a tip though: I once traveled with a girl who wore one every day but she held all of her money in it.  So every time she had to pay for something, she had to open it up in public.  Not a wise idea.  Instead, keep a little bit of cash in a separate pocket so that you don’t have to reach into your money belt every time.  It is supposed to be hidden, right?

Pacsafe

pacsafetravelsafe100Pacsafe has a few great solutions for securing your valuables or luggage in your room while you’re away.  It’s difficult to enjoy your traveling if you can’t leave things back in your room.  While many hostels are offering lockers, some leave you without a way to secure your valuables.  Hostels are, for the most part, very safe, but it doesn’t hurt to make sure your things are secure.  Here’s where Pacsafe comes in.

The Travelsafe 100 is essentially, a portable safe.  It’s a small pouch that is virtually indestructible.  Just put your money, passport, or even small camera inside and lock it to a bedpost or other secure place.

pacsafe55The other popular product by Pacsafe is Pacsafe55.  A small bag contains an expandable eXomesh cover that will wrap around your backpack and make it nearly impossible to get anything in or out of it.  Same as before, you lock it up to a bed post and it’s not going anywhere.  I don’t believe your clothes are in very much danger in a hostel, but this is a good option for people traveling with cameras or other expensive equipment that has its own bag.  These come in various sizes for different types and styles of backpacks.

If you have any other tips or recommendations on protecting your valuables while traveling please feel free to share them in the comments below.

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article photo by squacco

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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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.

What to Pack For Morocco

This is the first in a series of posts about what to pack for specific destinations.  I noticed an unbelievable amount of Google traffic searching for information on what to pack for Morocco, one of my favorite previous trips.  Since I never touched  on what I packed for Morocco, I decided to write a post about it.  Occasionally I’ll revisit this topic for other destinations that require certain types of clothing or gear.

Morocco is a very unique destination.  Located in North Africa but still carrying the vibe of the Middle East.  Morocco is full of culture, languages, sights, great food, amazing landscapes, and best of all, relatively safe.  This makes it a popular destination for independent travelers and backpackers flock to the various areas around the country.

Morocco is not your every day tourist destination though.  Being a conservative Islamic republic, you should be mindful of Moroccan’s customs and be respectful in your dress.  This means that, despite the often warm temperatures, you should not plan on walking around in shorts and short-sleeved t-shirts.  This goes for both men and women.

For men, jeans, khaki’s and cargo pants are acceptable and long sleeved t-shirts, thin jackets, or lightweight casual button-down shirts are recommended.

Women can generally follow the above recommendations but just be mindful to not wear tops that expose cleavage or have short sleeves.  It may not be considered risque in western culture, but these items are generally unacceptable in Moroccan culture.

Recommended Packing List:

  • 4-5 shirts (or blouses) – preferably long sleeved
  • 1 jacket or sweater
  • 2 pairs of comfortable pants
  • swim suit – if you’re visiting the beach
  • hat – especially if you’re visiting the desert
  • enough socks and underwear
  • comfortable sneakers or hiking shoes
  • toiletries – don’t go overboard, but shopping for your typical toiletries in Morocco might be difficult
  • digital camera – smaller is better

Morocco isn’t particularly dangerous, but places like Tangiers do suffer from slightly more than normal amounts of petty theft.  If you are spending time in any medina areas and want to take photographs, a small camera is a better idea.  Remember, this is where Moroccan’s live and work and aren’t necessarily tourist areas, despite the popularity of them.

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Staying Connected Abroad Without Going Overboard

Year after year more gadgets come out that help us stay connected.  Blackberries, iPhones, laptops, netbooks, etc.  There are an absurd amount of gizmos that we carry around.

Traveling independently, usually with nothing more than a backpack, limits what you can carry, and something is going to have to go.

I used to be guilty of carrying too much with me when I traveled for work.  Not only did I pack a suitcase for one week in a fancy hotel, but I also carried my Apple Powerbook, iPod, digital camera (often a large digital SLR in addition to a pocket digital camera), and my old Sidekick cellphone.  Once you include all the power adapters and other miscellaneous required junk, that’s 15-20 pounds of gear in a daypack!

I’ve learned to live a more simple life, even when traveling for work.  For instance, I no longer need to travel with a laptop.  In fact, the only reason I carried it was to watch movies on airplanes and in my hotel room.

I’ve also consolidated my iPod and cell phone with an iPhone. This lovely gadget never leaves my side and also does most of the work my laptop used to do.  I can easily check my email, surf the web, watch movies, listen to music, and even update my website!

When I travel abroad I turn the cellular data off as I don’t need or want to pay for expensive calls, text messages, or data charges.  I find that most hostels and hotels now have free wireless internet and I’m able to keep up on my email, send messages to my family, and of course, TWITTER!

I’ve also ditched the digital SLRcamera for most trips.  As much as I loved it, it was just too much to carry and in some places, a security liability.  I have a Nikon Coolpix S610pocket digital camera that fits in my pocket and takes great photos.  It’s not the same, but it’s all I need.  Er, want.  Plus, it shoots pretty good quality movies so there’s no need for a video camera either.

In addition to my iPhone and digital camera, the only thing I would consider or recommend carrying would be a Netbook.  These small portable laptops are less than 10″ and usually weigh only 2 or 3 pounds!  To me, they’re not a necessity unless you I was going to be traveling for an extended period of time.  They can come in handy for storing your photographs, writing emails and blog posts, or even using Skype to call back home.

ASUS is arguably the most popular maker of Netbooks today and their latest, the ASUS Eee PC 1000HE is quite appealing.

Consolidating is your friend.  You don’t need every gadget and gizmo out there!  Many people have iPhones and Blackberries that can connect to the internet via WiFi now and that can substitute a laptop for the majority of budget travelers.  Don’t forget that many hostels and hotels now provide computers and if not, internet cafes are always around the corner!

OK now, be honest. What are you guilty of carrying? Share  your good (or bad) habits in the comments section!

That Taxi Driver is Probably NOT Your Friend

Taxi drivers.  You’ve got to love them.  It doesn’t matter what country you are in.  They always have a unique trinket dangling from their mirror and are happy to provide you with lots of advice on wherever it is you are traveling.  Especially so if they pick you up at the airport and you have a big backpack or you’re dragging some luggage behind you.

Unfortunately the first person you usually meet in a new country isn’t always the most trustworthy.

You hop in the car and tell the driver where you’d like to go.  Often times they respond by telling you that hotel is booked, it’s dirty, or unsafe.  If you don’t know any better, you might believe him and let him take you to a place he recommends.

Of course what he doesn’t tell you is that he is getting a commission for taking you to that place.

This is the oldest trick in the book and happens more often than you might believe.  Just last week I had it happen to me.  Twice.

So how do you avoid this? First of all, stick to your plans and know what you are getting in to.  If you are arriving somewhere late at night, it’s probably a good idea to book accommodation for your first night.

Another trick is charging you a flat rate versus using the meter.  This hardly works out in your favor.  Some places I have been (Morocco for instance) generally don’t use the meter and offer you a flat rate before you get in.  My experiences were fair and the prices were very cheap.  Recently in Costa Rica though, we agreed to pay 4,000 colones (about $8) for the three of us to be driven across town to a restaurant late at night.  We had a tough time finding a cab so we just agreed and off we went.  After dinner we flagged down another cab and headed back to our hotel room.  He turned on the meter and it came to 1,000 colones.  We realized we were ripped off the first time and always insisted on using the meter from then on.

All this negative talk about taxi drivers probably makes me look like a pessimist.  In reality, I’ve had some great conversations with taxi drivers and they are often very nice and enjoy meeting foreigners.  Especially if they want to practice your language.  I’ve had full conversations about American politics, tourism and the economy–all in various, and probably butchered, languages.  Often they can be insightful and entertaining, looking for somebody to chat with just like you are.

On the other hand, I’ve been ripped off (usually for such an insignifigant amount it’s laughable) and attempted to be taken advantage of.  So be careful and have a plan.  Don’t let a taxi driver boss you around.  They usually will take “no” for an answer very easily so insist on going where you want to go.

Have any funny (or horror) stories about taking taxis around the world? Share them in the comments below!

Photo credit: daveknapik