travel tips

Before University, Absorb A Culture Completely Different To Your Own

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We all know the stereotype, and we often have a friend just like it. We’re talking about the undergraduate who takes a gap year before they head into the trenches of their academic pursuit of achievement. The friend who only talks about how interesting and perceptively challenging their foray abroad was. For those who haven’t taken a gap year, or an extended holiday before their academic career begins or continues, this might seem annoying or frankly unnecessary to talk about all the time. However, there are always two ways to look at something, and in this case the excitement of the person who has experienced the new adventure is arguably truer.

Life is only understood by those who challenge their comfort zones well. If you’ve been raised in a relatively sheltered environment, such as a loving family home which you haven’t gone outside the borders of to an interesting degree, then taking one of these holidays could be just the ticket you need. You could take a profoundly cultural holiday, such as walking the Spanish Camino De Santiago to experience the integrity and belief of those taking a pilgrimage to monasteries in centuries past, sampling the local culture and food the entire way. You could find Hong Kong North Point hotel best rates and spend your time meeting giant panda’s or traveling up to the famous peak overlooking the city.

Still not convinced? Here’s what you could be experiencing:

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Travelling Challenges Your Worldview

It’s very easy to form your identity without truly knowing about the environment around you, let alone the world around you. No matter what country you hail from, you are in the foremost and final analysis a citizen of Earth. Understanding how separate cultures work and what the cultural attitudes are can be found in textbooks or in forum posts, but the only way you’ll truly KNOW is to experience it yourself.

This gives you the opportunity to see the aspects of a city which are less easy to digest through words and must be seen in person. Doing so will expand your understanding of how societies can interconnect, and it’ll inform your traveling bug to expand your knowledge in future. Who knows, you may find the place you hope to live one day after your career is established.

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Traveling Can Be Cheap

There’s no reason why traveling should cost you over the odds. There are many ways to overcome intense costs and explore cultures on the cheap. Your ability to acquire a passport and tickets are costs which aren’t negotiable, but how you travel and rest in a country is subject to simply finding the best deal. For student travelers, hostels are always the best method of saving money. Backpacking can save you the costs of traveling heavy. If you really need to and if the country you’re in allows, finding a part time job at the location you’re at can sustain your travel costs while you explore the environment. There’s arguably no better way to understand a people than to work with them, so long as you make sure the language barrier is overcome through study of its basics.

Over time, you will build a wealth of instinctual understanding which will inform your future trips, and vice versa. As the travel bug bites you, you will have formed a hobby before University which has genuinely made you a better and more worldly person. So what are you waiting for?

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travel tips

The Many Ways a Smartphone Can Enhance Your Holiday

Many people prefer to travel without too much gear. They like to pack lightly so they can travel around wherever they choose, and it helps to keep them focused on the experience and not their smartphone or tablet. However, a smartphone (if used properly) can enhance almost any holiday, and here are just a couple of reasons why.

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Record Your Memories

One of the biggest reasons for taking a smartphone with you on holiday is to help you record memories. Smartphone cameras are surprisingly good nowadays and even cheap phones have decent capabilities when it comes to snapping shots and even recording videos. You can do a lot with the photos and videos you record. For instance, you could use a postcard app to turn your pictures into digital postcards to send to all your friends. It’s a great way of showing them what you’re up to, and it’s a creative way of using the photos that you’ve taken. If you travel often then look for a phone with a fantastic camera to bolster the quality of all your shots. You don’t need an expensive camera, but it does help to have a high-quality camera if you want to record your memories in higher quality.

Keep in Touch

Smartphones are fantastic devices for connectivity. They allow you to keep in touch when you’re abroad, and thanks to generous smartphone plans that many carriers are rolling out, it’s now cheaper than ever to keep in touch with friends and family back home while you’re out travelling. All you need is a WiFi connection which can be achieved in most hotels and hostels. If you’re travelling around and meeting lots of people, then it’s not rude to ask them if you can temporarily use their internet connection either. Some countries have pretty good 3G and 4G connections as well, but it’s recommended that you get in touch with local carriers and possibly swap your sim for better deals.

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Never Get Lost

One of the best things about smartphones is their ability to use GPS. Most countries in the world have support for things like Google Maps, so if you have a smartphone with you there’s no excuse for getting lost unless you’re travelling to these locations. However, almost every country has their own mapping tools, so don’t be afraid to ask locals for advice or even download maps to your phone instead of using your phone connection.

Be Adventurous

Life should be filled with adventure, and it’s our smartphones that help us become a lot braver when we’re visiting a foreign country. In addition to these wonderful ways that a smartphone can improve our holidays, we have to give an honourable mention to translation services. Google’s own translator app has the ability to translate directly from photographs that you take, which is indispensable if you’re travelling in unfamiliar territory. It goes without saying that a smartphone can enhance practically every holiday you go on, so don’t be afraid to invest in a good one and lots of protective gear (such as a case) to keep it safe.

resources, saving money, travel tips

11 Travel Hacks that Don’t Require Credit Cards 

Do you love the idea of getting flights, lodging, ground transportation, meals, and attractions for free or steeply discounted? Who wouldn’t want that! This is what makes travel hacking so enticing. But this can be too daunting when it comes to churning credit cards and running up a big bill. 

Never fear, there are plenty of travel hacks where owning a credit card is completely optional! Below are credit-free hacks based on my personal experience, as well as a few collected from others in my travel networks.

Last trip of the summer with a free trip to Lava Beds

Plan your costly attractions around free times.

I wish I would have kept records of how much I have saved with this one simple hack; it’s probably hundreds. In Madrid, I waited to visit the art museums until after 5pm, when they are free. I happened to be in Athens for a national holiday I didn’t even know about, yet celebrated with free admission to all the ruins, including Acropolis. I’ve had even more success stateside. I planned my San Francisco schedule around free admission times to Golden Gate Park’s attractions, found a rare free day to visit Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo, and I have gone on several trips to various National Park Sites on their free entry days. Just last month,  I was spelunking in over a dozen lava tubes at Lava Beds National Monument, and it only cost me the gas to drive there!

Camp in your car, even in Amish country! My Explorer in Holmes County, Ohio.

Make a bed in the back of your car.

When I first visited the Subaru dealership, I brought measuring tape with me. I wanted to make sure I was able to lay down in the trunk with the back seat down. If you road trip in a van or SUV, this could be a comfortable and cheap option for overnights. For me, I started doing this as a kid. Before getting my own tent for Christmas, I would often choose to sleep in the back of my dad’s Jeep Cherokee during family camping trips. My first car was a 2000 Ford Explorer. I bought it for about $1750, and made a large portion of that back in savings by sleeping in it at free campgrounds and WalMart parking lots. Since then, I’ve learned to fit an inflated air mattress in the back, how to make temporary privacy curtains, and that my favorite free spot to stay the night is casinos that allow RVs overnight. Just a few steps away, I have access to bathrooms, WiFi, and security!

Before arriving at Disney World that day, I responded to a medical emergency on my plane and got a free snack box. Apparently even more snacks were justified

Help others for airline perks.

Back when I was an EMT, I helped out with someone having an emergency while boarding our plane. Had this person stayed on the flight, the crew would have offered to refund my ticket to sit with her. Although this didn’t happen, a flight attendant gave me one of those super-expensive snack boxes I would never afford to buy myself. Megan Parsons shared, “this couple asked if they could help me because I am flying alone with a baby. I said yes and their boarding position jumped significantly.” Obviously opportunities like these don’t always arise, but it always helps to keep an eye out!

Even in Europe, you can find public toilets (and bidets!) for free

Use free toilets.

“Go when you can, not when you must.” I heard this from a NYC tourguide ten years ago, and it’s stuck with me as a useful, albeit awkward travel motto. Of course needing to use the bathroom when there isn’t one available can result in ruined clothes, laundry expenses, smelly luggage, and embarrassment. I’ve pointed several visitors to free bathrooms in a small tourist town near where I live, and look out for free restrooms while I travel. This tip is especially useful in areas where most public toilets cost money, since they’re still usually free at restaurants, paid attractions, churches, trains, and porta potties. (Bonus tip: always carry a pack of travel tissues. Your stall may be out of toilet paper, and in some countries the stalls don’t always have toilet roll holders!)

I even brought Laduree macarons home from Paris in my carry-on so my family could taste them.

Get free food and drinks in the airport with this simple tip.

We know that the shops and restaurants in airports are overpriced. But do you know how to get food and drinks past TSA security? More and more people are realizing that you can bring an empty bottle and fill it with water once past security, instead of dropping several dollars for a disposable plastic bottle. (If you do forget your water bottle, some airport fast food places might give you a free water cup.) You can add single-serve flavor packs if you wish. As for food, it’s totally okay to go through security as long as it doesn’t contain many liquid-based components. (Mustard on a sandwich should be fine; a heavily-frosted cupcake is a no-go.) You don’t even have to fit your food in your carry-on or personal item as long as it’s consumed before boarding. 

I planned my entire Tennessee trip around a good airline deal.

Find mistake fares and airline sales. 

Stephan Mark Smith shared, “Check each day until you find a mistake fare.” While I personally have yet to find a mistake fare, I did take advantage of a cheap airline sale a few years ago. As long as you’re not too picky about your destination, you could plan a great trip around a cheap flight!

Last year I found a gift certificate on Groupon to take my family to Trees of Mystery

Fund your trip with gift cards.

Just about every aspect of travel can be paid for with a gift card. If you have partially- used gift cards lying around, get creative and brainstorm how they can be used towards upcoming travels. For everything else, check out Swagbucks. Many people think of this site as a rebate program. But I promised that none of these travel hacks require a credit card, and this one doesn’t have to, either. On Swagbucks, you can earn points by watching videos, playing games, taking surveys, and my favorite, using a search engine. These points then translate into gift cards for gas, hotels, cruises, restaurants, Groupon, and more. You even get free points just for signing up!

Do an online search before booking tickets or making a reservation. You could find steeply discounted prices to places like Wildlife Safari.

Check the fine print on coupons.

Between free travel gear and free souvenirs, this hack has saved me a lot of money, and provided me with wonderful things I never would have gotten if I had to pay for them! I ignore most coupons because their stipulations require me to buy something I don’t need. But years ago, while backpacking Nashville, I found a coupon that offered $3 off at a local candy store- no minimum purchase!  I even surprised the cashier when I got a $2.50 nut log for free. Since then, I stay on the lookout for coupons offering free food, free souvenirs, and free gear. I also like stores that allow coupon stacking or using coupons on already-discounted items. My favorite coupon right now is the $10 rewards coupon I get from Eddie Bauer twice a year. I have to spend at least $10 to get $10 off, but it’s still a good deal for useful gear and clearance items!

Books make wonderful cheap, unplugged entertainment for camping trips. And that’s just one free thing you can get from the library!

Visit your library before leaving.

A library is more than books. When planning my trip to Europe, I learned about Rick Steves, and wanted more of his advice than what was offered online and on PBS. I went to the library and found his Europe Through the Back Door guidebook as well as a few seasons of his show on DVD. Of course my rental time wasn’t long enough to bring these with me in Europe for 90 days, but I could take notes on the most useful information for me. For shorter trips, a borrowed library book is great for downtime, as long as you make sure not to lose it. With a lot of weekend road trips I’ve been taking lately, I enjoy getting an audio book or two from the library to listen to in the car. I’ve also taken periodicals from the free magazine rack. Your library may have other perks that benefit travel as well.

Soda was just one of many sponsor freebies at Paris’ Tour de France street fair!

Double up on freebies at events.

Some of my favorite travel memories have been at free local events. I went to some of these at the advice of a local person or fellow traveler. Others I stumbled onto completely by accident. Either way, you’re likely to find a free concert, play, or street fair, especially in large cities. Not only is the event free, but you can often double up on freebies at events like this since the sponsors often give free items away. This could mean food, apparel, pens, and other items that make excellent souvenirs.

Upsides of a totaled car: massages, rentals, cash for a new car…

If something goes wrong, cash in on all you can.

I definitely would not recommend getting into a car crash as a way to travel hack. With recent personal experience, it’s a hassle, it’s costly, and it can ruin the joy of travel, at least temporarily. But if something like this does happen to you, milk it for all it’s worth. My favorite car crash perk has been the free massages and chiropractic adjustments, especially helpful since my health insurance ended just a couple weeks after my crash. You can enjoy this benefit even if you were only a passenger in a crash. When I got my rental car, I planned a weekend getaway to Redding, California. While I paid for the gas, the rental was covered by insurance, and it didn’t add mileage to my own car. Speaking of mileage, since my car was totalled before its warranty ended, I got most of it refunded. While each situation differs, look into what’s available in the event of an unfortunate incident involving a car, plane, hotel, restaurant, event, or attraction. Don’t be demanding or threatening, but be sure to get what you’re owed.

What travel hacks have you done? Let me know in the comments!

travel tips

5 Peace of Mind Tips for the Nervous Traveler

Traveling is, without doubt, one of the most fun, enriching experiences that a person can have. But it’s not all a box of chocolates. While most people love the idea of exploring the world, many are held back by fear, and nervousness that something might go wrong once they’re out into the big, bad world. Though the world is a much kinder, safer place than most people realize, that doesn’t mean that people’s nerves aren’t legitimate. Below, we take a look at five ways you can minimize the nerves and focus on having an awesome trip.

adventure, blur, cartographySource: Pexels.com

Know Your Destination

Knowledge is power, so they say, and this is true of traveling. Unless you’re going to some far flung destination not explored by man, there will be pages and pages of online resources that’ll tell you all the important information you need to know before you travel. Most cities are super safe, but everywhere has areas that should be avoided. If you read up on all the safe zones to stay in, you won’t have to worry about wandering into the wrong neighborhood.

 

Be Prepared

It’s easier to forget all the hypothetical things that could go wrong if you’re too busy thinking of all the fun stuff you’re going to do! Before a trip, make a plan of all the things you want to see and do while you’re there. You’ll also have a more relaxed state of mind if you know you’ll be covered in case something goes wrong. Before you travel, make sure you get travel insurance from a site like GoBear.com, and also find out where the major police stations and hospitals in your destination are. You can’t always stop bad things from happening, but if you’re sufficiently prepared, then you’ll be able to reduce the impact those things have.  

 

Keep The Essentials Safe

Ultimately, most of what you’re traveling with doesn’t really matter. Losing a material item might dampen your trip, but it won’t ruin it. What will ruin your trip is if you lose your passport, all your money, and your phone. If it’s these things that are causing you to lose sleep, then do your mind a favor by leaving them somewhere safe. You don’t need to carry all your cash and passport around with you; leave them in the hotel safe, only taking what you need for that day.

 

Hire a Guide

If you don’t feel comfortable navigating a city you’ve never been in before, then why not hire a guide? They’ll be full of insider information that’ll make your trip even more special than if you’d done it all on your own, and they’ll also ensure that you’re kept safe.

 

Embrace the Mistakes

Finally, remember that travel is an opportunity to grow. If you make a mistake or something goes wrong, don’t see it as a sign that you should not have traveled: embrace it. We can learn a lot from our errors if we choose to. In any case, you’re sure to have much more good moments than bad ones when you travel!

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Exploring The Pearl Of The Orient: Shanghai

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For those living in the West, Asia has been the topic of awe and wonderment for a very long time. With cultures which are very different to those found elsewhere, along with a rich history which has been largely uninfluenced by the rest of the world, this continent is a very interesting one. Along with this, though, it’s also incredibly large. This can make it impossible to decided exactly where you’d like to go in this part of the world, with all of the options you have. So, to help you out, this post will be going through one of the most popular Asian cities of all; Shanghai.

  • The City Itself

Being the most populous city in the world, with over 24 million permanent residents, Shanghai is constantly moving and changing. From one year to the next, the city grows by a huge amount, while also improving the areas they already have. This has created a very dynamic feel to Shanghai which isn’t found anywhere else around the globe. The area is thought to have been originally settled in around 4000 BC and has had loads of time to gather interesting landmarks and history for tourists to enjoy.

  • Things To Do

Of course, though, there wouldn’t be much point in going to a place like this if there wasn’t anything for you to do when you get there. Shanghai has a wide variety of attractions and days out to enjoy, and a lot of them are designed for families. Start with the most popular, Disneyland can be found here, providing a great way for families to enjoy their break. Along with this, though, you also have access to numerous temples, monuments, and other religious areas. A trip to Shanghai wouldn’t be complete with some exploration of the old towns, though. Heavy with culture and unique design, buildings in towns like Qibao are like no others in the world. Exploring a place like this will leave most tourists feeling in awe, especially considering the tools, materials, and techniques used by the builders who made them.

  • Places To Stay

As a very well populated city, Shanghai has its fair share of places to stay when you’re on your visit. Along with this, the diversity and economy in the area gives you the chance to find accommodation to match almost any budget. Finding the best Shanghai Hotel to stay in will take some work. To start, you should look at some reviews to give yourself an idea of how other guests enjoyed their stay somewhere. Once you have some good options, you can start to look for articles and blog posts specific to the place. With this sort of work being done, it should be easy to for you to find a hotel which fits both your requirements and your budget.

Shanghai is a truly amazing city. With such a huge population, there’s always something going on, and you never have to be too far from the action. This makes it the perfect location for anyone starting their exploration of Asia. But, it could also be the best option for those looking for an Asian city break.

Recap, travel tips

Six Summer Faves

Since this week marks the start of school for my area, I decided to reflect on my own summer. While I didn’t have any big trips planned and faced some difficult challenges, it turned out all right!

I decided to experiment with a different type of travel this year. Instead of taking time off work, I utilized my days off for maximum adventures. This mostly involved weekend road trips. Although my per-day costs of travel mostly increased with this style of trip, I wasn’t losing money by not going to work. I was also motivated to pack more into each day of these shorter getaways. As a result, here are my top six favorite trips of this summer!

6. Southern Oregon Staycations

5. Lava Beds National Monument

 

4. Bend, Oregon

3. Eugene and the Oregon Coast

2. Redding to Tahoe, California

1. Lion Sleepover at Wildlife Safari

Even though my schedule changes at the end of summer, I’m still determined to travel. I especially want to since it’s hard to travel in Oregon right now- everything’s up in smoke! Recommend where I should go next in the comments.