travel tips

Tips For Any Road Trip Across The Country

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Those of you who like to get up and get out of the house will know what to do with regard to travel. You will know the plans and the habits like the backs of your hands. Not everyone is so keen to leave the house and experience new things all of the time. The idea of ever travelling around London or visiting the other side of the planet seems very alien to a big chunk of the population. 

Road trips are excellent for anyone looking to begin their travelling adventure. It’s a simple way of finding new places and making all kinds of discoveries. You don’t have to commit too much and you’ll have a wonderful time – whether you’re on your own or with friends. You will have to get a few things right if you’re to have a successful trip, however. It’s not too stressful, but you have to make sure you’ve got everyone on point. Here are five tips for a successful trip across the country: 

Plan Out The Exact Route(s) 

If you know exactly where you’re going, then it makes the entire trip so much easier to deal with. There’s a certain joy in just heading out and following signs/your instinct, but you’ll get there a lot smoother with genuine directions and knowledge. There will be a lot less stress too as one thing often leads to another and it can be very stressful. 

Have More Than One Destination 

Sure, you’ll have the main place that you’re heading to, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have other destinations along the way. During a road trip, you’re going to want to stop off at some pretty cool places and make even more memories. If you like driving then being on the road a lot is probably ideal, but not everyone wants to stay on the highway throughout the entire time. 

Ensure The Car’s In A Good Place

If your vehicle is good to go, then it’s going to make the trip a lot simpler for you and any other driver that takes over the role. Any slight hitch and you could find yourselves in a spot of trouble. You won’t want to get halfway there and find out that your car is in ruins. Head online and check out cars that would be suitable – whether it’s Vauxhall Astra Offers or something a little more suited to larger families. Also, be sure to check things out with the mechanic before you move – you can never be too sure. 

Keep Yourselves Energized At All Times

It can be quite tedious at times, so make sure that you have a lot of food and water to consume. When you’re cranky, it’s not ideal whatsoever. As a driver, you’ll need to concentrate, too, as a slight mistake could obviously be an issue. 

Pack Absolutely All Essentials 

Before you even think about luxury items, make sure that your packing list contains everything you absolutely need before anything else. A lot of people ignore this and then regret it later on down the line. 

travel tips

Going Abroad? You Need To Do These Things First

Do you think you are ready for that once-in-a-lifetime trip? Whether it is for studying abroad, a foreign internship, job experience abroad, or just a well-deserved beach vacation on an exotic island, the amount of planning you do before boarding the plane would make a significant difference in your trip. Take the time now to prepare and organize so that you can get the most out of your time overseas.

Meandering through the local streets, enjoying delicious food and making new friends and amazing memories sounds much more like the experience that you want – not worrying about little things like your phone connecting to the local network.

Here, we look at some of the things that you must do before heading abroad.

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Check your passport and other documentation

To leave the country and visit any other country in the world, whether by road, plane or sea, you must have a valid passport. Many countries require you to have six months left on your passport after the date you are due to arrive back. Some countries may also require you to have visas, or if you are planning on going to the United States, an ESTA – electronic system for travel authorization. You can find out more about this on their homepage. The last thing you want is to book everything, get hyped up, turn up and be refused entry because of a problem with your documentation. Do it in plenty of time so that should any issues arrive, you can get it sorted in time.

Pay a visit to your doctor

This is not necessary for every destination but plenty of places around the world require you, or at the very least advise you to have certain vaccinations before entering the country. These include things like malaria, yellow fever, zika, dengue and typhoid fever.  Some of these require being done well in advance, others can be done close to your departure, but be aware that you could feel a little under the weather after some of them. As the world starts to move on from the COVID-19 pandemic, it may also become a rule to have tests or period of quarantine or vaccination prior to travel, so again, check online regularly for the most up to date news. 

Make sure you have a way to communicate with your loved ones back home

Even if the purpose of your trips is to escape everything and everyone, you still need to make sure that you have a way to get in touch with family and friends back at home should there be a problem, or you begin to feel a little homesick. Your family would probably appreciate knowing that you are safe and sound wherever you are, too. 

This is now simpler than ever before thanks to new technology. Try out free services that you can use from anywhere in the world if you have an internet connection, such as Skype, Zoom or WhatsApp. Check your mobile phone plan; some can be used in other countries, but many will not.

Make sure you have travel and health insurance

Hopefully, you will not need to call on this, but you can guarantee if you try skimping and not bothering, it is something that you will need and seriously regret not paying for. Find one that covers any problems with flights or having to miss the trip altogether and the most comprehensive health cover that you can afford. Always make sure that you read the small print to ensure any activities that you are planning on doing are covered. Many, for example, will not cover you for using a jet ski or going scuba diving

Set a budget

This is especially useful if you will be spending a significant amount of time abroad as part of a study or volunteer programme. Investigate the cost of living in that country and determine where your monthly expenses will be spent: lodging, food, transportation, and entertainment. If you are only going on a personal vacation, estimate how much you will spend on hotels, jaunts, meals, and other expenses.

In any case, be reasonable about your expenses and bring more money than you think you will need. Not just because popping out for one drink and easily become an all nighter but also because emergencies and unforeseen opportunities are often happen. Make sure that you are fully prepared.

For bigger purchases, using a credit card is usually the most-cost effective option but make sure you have local cash on you as well. 

Do your research into the location

You will probably experience some degree of culture shock no matter how trendy and open-minded you are. That is something that no amount of research will be able to alter. However, itis always a good idea to plan ahead so that you can spend your time abroad travelling and enjoying rather than scrolling through new guidebooks. Find out about the places you want to go and any events that are taking place during the period you wll be there.

It is also important to red up on particular cultural norms and traditions – are you expected to cover certain parts of your body or greet people in a certain way? Knowing this sort of thing before you get there can decrease your chances of embarrassing yourself and/or causing offence to the locals.

It is also a good idea to try and learn just a few basic words or phrases in the language, if it is different. Even if you do not pronounce it quite right, the fact you have made the effort will not go unnoticed.

Pack appropriately

If you are going to the middle of the Nevada desert, you probably won’t need that big padded jacket. Conversely, you might want to pack a wooly hat if you are going to New York in December. Look at things that you can easily pick up there and things that you need to take such as prescribed medication (with a note from your doctor) and other essentials. 

travel tips

How is Corona Changing the Travel Industry?

My website’s been on hiatus for several months. No worries, I didn’t die from an attack of bubonic plague squirrels leading an army of murder hornets with coronavirus. It’s just that when travel became discouraged for health reasons, I saw a drop in readers after sharing my story of almost getting trapped in Europe after the pandemic was announced. With no one reading here, it was best to divert my writing to other projects.

That doesn’t mean I wasn’t busy. Since arriving back in the United States, I’ve…

  • Published three books
  • Written a novel (not published yet!)
  • Started a second edition of Uncommon Adventures that will be revised and expanded for your post-pandemic travels
  • Earned money from shopping by using apps and programs like Fetch Rewards, Swagbucks, and Ibotta
  • Moved to another state… twice!
  • Observed how travel-focused businesses are adapting in our changing world

Those last two things go hand-in-hand and I’m especially excited to share more about those topics with you. (Yes, I’m excited about the book news too. In August, I celebrated my first author anniversary.) As you can imagine, both moving and working in the travel industry have become more complicated recently. But neither are impossible, and they’ve become a lot more creative!

As you may have guessed, the motivation behind my moves were to get boots-on-the-ground experience observing what is going on with those whose livelihoods depend on other people going out-of-town. Armed with hand sanitizer and an arsenal of washable face masks, I even discovered ways to explore right now that are both safe and fun.

I just finished spending five weeks in Colorado, working at the only hostel in Colorado Springs. ColoRADo Adventure Hostel quickly made some adaptations to their hostel model, like turning some of their dorm rooms into private rooms and only allowing people to reserve bottom bunks in the dorm rooms to leave them at a roomier 50% capacity. I really appreciate those changes; I know I personally have not shared a bedroom with anyone since my time in Europe. (Okay, there were two nights in Oklahoma where I shared a room. But I was on the opposite side of a very large bedroom, and it was with people I’m living with anyway.) The hostel closed the big kitchen and living room to guests since there was too much that they would have to keep clean, and instead opened up a lounge with a kitchenette and small breakfast of individually-wrapped items.

I then went to work at a camp in Missouri, where I’m still at today. But during this time, I’ve also visited other camps in other states to see how they’re operating… and simply because it’s fun to visit camps. In all places, camper numbers have definitely dropped, but it’s been interesting to see how camps adapted for the valued guests they did get to serve. From temperature checks, to installing plastic barriers in rooms, to doing fewer activities indoors and instead using those spaces as more spread-out eating areas, to altering to day camps, weekend events, and other non-residential programs, these camps have set a great example for how to be flexible during trying times.

Besides working in Colorado and then Missouri, I’ve been to a total of twelve states in 2020, including my very first visits to Kansas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. So although I don’t think I will be able to make it to my 30-before-30 goal of visiting 30 countries before my 30th birthday, I did reach another 30-before-30 goal of visiting 30 states! In all states, I’ve been practicing social distancing, mask-wearing, hand washing, and other safety measures.

I’m excited to report more on the travel industry as it restarts in a new way. Whether you’re excited to be a part of funding the travel industry or are keeping everyone safe by remaining at home, I hope you’ll follow along on my adventures.

(Links may be affiliates)

travel tips

Something For Your Bucket List: Quepos, Costa Rica

https://www.pexels.com/photo/aerial-photo-of-trees-near-beach-3066240/

Located on the Pacific Ocean side of Costa Rica, there is an awful lot to like about Quepos as not only a vacation venue, but also as the venue for the fishing trip of a lifetime. It is one of Costa Rica’s most popular tourist destinations, with plenty of bars and restaurants – along with great nightlife – making it a well-liked spot, as well as being the “gateway” to the Manuel Antonio National Park. It’s the perfect spot for your next vacation after lockdown. 

Most people who go to Quepos describe it as paradise. Even if you’re not a keen angler, booking a fishing trip should be part of your vacation. Of course, checking out the wildlife and relaxing on the beach should be included too. Head to https://www.eyeglasses.com to get quality sunglasses before your travels so that your eyes are protected.

When it comes to Quepos fishing, it is a destination that really does stand out head and shoulders above all of the other surrounding areas. Quepos fishing charters organise daily trips for tourists and visitors. Quepos charters can be tailored to the specific needs of the individual group, meaning that all can have a great experience, whether they are experienced fishermen or novice anglers.

There is also a great range of different species of fish that can be found off Quepos boats. From the more commonly found Sailfish or Marlin, to Yellowfin Tuna and Dorado, and even the much less commonly found Roosterfish. If someone gets their hands on one of these, they know that their trip has been a success.

So, for a destination that offers great tourist spots, a favourable climate and top-class fishing activity, there is nowhere better for people to go than Quepos.

What factors should be taken into account for a great Quepos fishing trip?

As a country, Costa Rica is able to boast a wealth of world-class fishing locations. The country’s forte, as it were, is deep sea fishing, but there is something for absolutely everyone when it comes to trying to land a great catch and nowhere better to do it than with Quepos fishing charters.

For someone looking to book their fishing trip, however, there are certain factors that they should consider. Things like how reputable the company is and how much experience with fishing boats the crew have can be big factors in whether or not the trip is a success – it is wise to make use of people who know Quepos and its waters well and can offer their customers the best trip possible.

For some groups, it is also worth looking into what sort of Quepos fishing trips the company is able to provide. Many companies offering these charters now also cater to children, too, giving the youngsters a fantastic opportunity to enjoy their first sportfishing expedition in just about the best location possible, anywhere in the world. 

Researching the available companies beforehand can be a massive part of making a Quepos fishing trip a great success, and looking for experience, helpfulness and a wide range of options is a good marker for how good a service they can provide.

Accommodations, camp, coronavirus, saving money, staycation, Things to Do, travel tips

A Camping Staycation in Your Own Backyard

What do you do when you want to travel, but can’t? A staycation, of course! But without a theme or a plan, a “staycation” can devolve into little more than a Netflix binge. With the government shutdown and no tourist places open right now, I had to take travel matters into my own hands. I ended up having a pretty fun camping trip in my yard. You can try these ideas while you’re quarantined, or come back to this post anytime for staycation ideas that won’t break the bank.

Pitch a Tent

What’s camping without a tent? Okay, you may choose to use an RV or camper instead, but choose something that will get you in a different element, at least for the night.

If you don’t have any camping equipment, you can post online and perhaps one of your local friends will let you borrow theirs. If not, get creative! If it’s warm enough, you could sleep in a hammock or on an air mattress on the lawn. If the back seat of your car folds down or you have a truck bed, that can make a great sleeping area- make it cozy by filling it with pillows and blankets. Even a living room camp out can be a fun experience for families.I remember years ago, some coworkers and I got really creative and saved a bunch of cardboard boxes that were destined for the recycling bin. We turned that into a makeshift outdoor village, and a couple of us were brave enough to spend the night in it! (You can read that whole story in my first book, Uncommon Adventures.)

If you have a large yard or property area, then you probably have several choices for a flat surface area that would make a decent tent space. Pick an area that will give you a scenic view. But if you live in an apartment, don’t despair. You can still pitch a tent on your porch or balcony if you have one of those, or perhaps a shared communal yard. Going back to camping in your living room, you could do that with just sleeping bags on the floor, but popping up a tent inside can add some extra fun.

Build a Fire

I’m lucky enough to be staying at a place with an outdoor fire pit and pre-chopped wood. But even if you don’t think you can build a fire where you are, you may be surprised! You can collect kindling from moss, leaves, pine needles, twigs, and other things that fall off trees. You can even order firewood online to be shipped right to you. While you’re ordering firewood, consider adding an outdoor fire pit to your basket. That makes for a safe and easy place to start a fire. Check your local burn laws if you’d prefer to build a fire ring, or make use of the charcoal barbecue you already have.

Indoors, you can use a fireplace, or make an imaginary fire. Back in first grade, my class had an end-of-year “camping party” where we decorated the classroom ourselves, and then sat around a “campfire” that one kid made out of paper to tell stories. If you’re lacking kids or creativity, just look up “yule log” on YouTube or a streaming service.

There are several ways you can build a fire. My two preferred ways are tepee and log cabin, both of which are built to look exactly as the name implies. If you build a tepee, put kindling in the center of the area that you plan to set up your logs around. If you build a log cabin, you can put kindling in the center after you’ve built the walls. (Note on kindling: this is a good opportunity to make use of that junk mail and other paper waste.) Once you light the fire, keep an eye on it. Feel free to tell stories and sing songs around the campfire!

Cook Out

Cooking outside can be as easy as roasting sausages and s’mores over a campfire, or you can turn it into a complicated craft. But before we get into food, let’s start with what to cook on.

If you can start a fire as aforementioned, that can be both a fun and challenging way to cook. Of course, if you have some sort of barbecue, that makes for an easier way to cook out. Also consider building a solar oven, which could be constructed using materials found around the house. (I made my last solar oven out of a shoe box, black paint, a thick piece of clear plastic, and some reflective shipping insulation.) Most camp recipes that you make outdoors can be modified for a standard kitchen, but if you’re camping indoors, it’s a fun novelty to roast a mini marshmallow on a toothpick over an unscented candle or a lighter.

My family has been celebrating with a “Fire Friday” every week of quarantining together. Since I don’t eat hot dogs, when they roast those, I’ve put chicken sausage on a roasting stick. We’ve also made “hobo meals” by putting meat, veggies, and seasonings into a foil packet and sticking that on top of the coals. If you get really creative, you can make almost anything. I remember some of my camp coworkers once stuck leftover personal-size pizzas on their roasting stick and cooked them over a campfire. I’m looking forward to a pizza cooked in cast iron. And don’t forget dessert! Last week I made an easy dump cake in a dutch oven over the campfire coals.

Get Immersed in Nature

A camping staycation may be just for one night, but you can include camping activities during the daytime too. Go for a hike, or at least a walk around the neighborhood. Look for wildlife around your home. (I’ve been seeing lots of lizards lately.) Just one look on Pinterest can give you lots of camp-themed ideas, such as:

  • Whittle
  • Make bracelets
  • Play board games (Doing this with my family recently led to a very interesting story that I’ll share someday!)
  • Read books or magazines
  • Create and compete in a scavenger hunt
  • Make candles
  • Send out postcards (bonus if you make them yourself)
  • Play with glow sticks
  • Tie-dye shirts, pillowcases, or bandannas (especially fun if you use squirt guns)
  • Play yard games
  • Plant potted seeds or bulbs
  • Race in an obstacle course
  • Paint rocks
  • Journal or write

Just take a look around your house and see what supplies you can creatively use for a fun and memorable camping experience. The other day, I got a delivery that was kept cool with dry ice. I decided to use the blocks of dry ice to make smoke, to make metal scream, and to flash-freeze a variety of foods. The point of a camping staycation is to have fun and take a break from the normal.

What is your favorite camp-themed activity? Share in the comments below!

Want more camping and staycation ideas? I’ve written a couple books on the subject that I think you’ll find useful:

The Ultimate Survival Guide to Working at Camp is a look at both the fun activities and hard work that goes on year-round at camps.
My first book, Uncommon Adventures, gives tips for several different aspects of travel. There’s even a whole chapter dedicated to adventures in your own backyard!
Inspired by stay-at-home orders, but useful to get the creative juices flowing anytime, Diary of a Girl 4 Christ is a journal that includes quizzes, activities, coloring pages, and more. And yes, of course there are lined pages for your own free writing!
Accommodations, coronavirus, destinations, film, Things to Do, Travel Life, travel tips

Escaping Austria: Von Trapped in Salzburg

Backpacking Europe on the brink of a pandemic sure brought on a lot of interesting travel experiences! I think the most unusual was what was supposed to be a week-long trip to Salzburg, Austria: home of The Sound of Music.

escaping salzburg

My original plan was to start in Bavaria, Germany, then go to Salzburg, Italy, Switzerland, and back through Austria on my way to seven other countries. When I realized that Italy was no longer a possibility due to safety concerns, I restructured my time in Switzerland and Austria, including adding a sixth night to my five nights in Salzburg. A week later, the seven other countries I wanted to go to were no longer an option due to border closures. At the time, I wasn’t sure if I would go to a different part of Europe, explore Germany, Austria, and Switzerland more deeply until the borders started reopening, or fly home early, but since Salzburg was next on my schedule and still available, I would head that way and figure out what to do from there.

I had literally just checked out of a Munich hostel and was headed to the bus station for Salzburg, but decided to check my email while still connected to the hostel WiFi. I’m glad I did, as the Salzburg hostel sent me an email at that exact moment! It read:

How are you?

Unfortunately we have to cancel your bookings from the 16th of March till the 14th of April 2020.

So that means that you just can stay two nights with us!!

The hostel and actually all of the accommodations in the county of Salzburg have to shut down due to safety precautions. The parliament decided to take stricter measures to combat the spread of the Coronavirus.

We are very sorry that we can’t accommodate you this time.

Thanks for understanding.

We hope to see you another time here in Salzburg.

I considered turning around and checking back into the Munich hostel. But what good would that do? I decided to make the most of the two nights I would have in Salzburg. After the bus left the Munich station, I reconnected to Flixbus’ WiFi and started researching what to do.

With all the museums in Salzburg closed, I wouldn’t need the three-day museum pass that I was planning to buy. That meant I could do everything else I’d been planning to do in two nights, or three days. I decided to stay as long as I could on the last day and take the last bus back into Munich unless I could find another destination from Salzburg. Flixbus ran the Munich-Salzburg route back and forth several times throughout the day. So once I talked with the hostel about how late I was allowed to check out on March 16th, I would figure out which bus to take then.

Flixbus actually dropped us off a few miles outside away from my hostel. I asked a young, English speaking local how to take the city bus to Mirabelle Gardens, which was the bus stop closest to the hostel. She told me the bus number to take and even saved me money by telling me to buy a ticket from the kiosk instead of from the bus driver.

As I rode into town, I enjoyed the scenery. The scenery on the ride from Germany into Austria was beautiful the few times I looked up, but I was so busy stressing out and researching ideas that I hadn’t had much time for viewing then. But now on this short ride, I saw the mountains, the castle, and people filling the streets. When I got off at my bus stop, I walked in the opposite direction from Mirabelle Gardens, knowing I’d go back there as soon as I checked in and dropped off my suitcase. And that’s exactly what I did.

The Hills Are Alive

While many Austrians hate “The Sound of Music”, it sure does a lot for the tourism industry in Salzburg. That’s because it’s the setting for the classic movie, and some scenes were even filmed on location. There is a Sound of Music Tour that seemed to be the only tourist activity that was still running during my weekend there, but in order to practice social distancing (and save some money), I decided to see the sights on my own.

Mirabelle Gardens, just a short walk from YoHo Hostel and thus my most-visited site in Salzburg, can be seen toward the end of the famous “Do Re Mi” song. Julie Andrews and the seven Von Trapp children run through a garden tunnel, march around a fountain featuring a pegasus statue, and then hop up the famous unicorn-guarded Do-Re-Mi Steps before finishing the song on a literal high note. I got to see all these filming locations, plus step inside parts of the Mirabelle Palace.

The Hills surround Salzburg. Although I didn’t hear the sound of music while hiking them, I enjoyed spending several hours walking around the city from this height. I found some art pieces, churches, and even a green grassy hill that looked similar to the opening scene of “The Sound of Music.” (The real location for that scene is on private property in Germany.)

The Castle makes a couple appearances in establishing shots of the film, but its history and magnificence are so much more. While home to several museums that were all closed during my visit, I did get free range of the castle grounds, including walking around inside its walls. It was my final destination uphill, but I walked down to a fabulous area.

Saint Peter’s Cemetery, just downhill at the foot of the castle, seemed oddly familiar, even though I knew I hadn’t seen it before. It turned out that it served as inspiration for the cemetery where the Von Trapp family hid before escaping to the mountains. However, that scene of the movie was played out on a film lot instead of on-location. The real site is even more beautiful, filled with miniature gardens tended by the survivors of the departed. While the cemetery is clearly named after the adjacent Saint Peter’s Church, it is surrounded by a total of three churches.

Downtown Salzburg was an interesting place to take a Rick Steves audio tour. Naturally, most attractions in this area were closed during this time, but even the shops that were open were closing down as the sun set. Still, lots of people were walking around just because it’s such a fun place to explore. The Von Trapps enjoyed exploring this area too. In the movie, just before the kids learn how to sing, the explore their town in their play clothes made of curtains, including buying produce from the downtown open-air markets.

Toscanini Hof is the festival hall where the Von Trapps sang “Edelweiss” before escaping the Nazis. I should use this moment to point out that “Edelweiss” is not a true Austrian song and was made just for the musical. But this festival hall is really real and really historic.

YoHo didn’t come along until long after everything else I saw in Salzburg, but it’s worth mentioning since it was where I was staying. This hostel offers a free apfelstudel shot, free salad in the evening, and free toast in the morning. But they’re best known for probably being the only accommodation in the world to show “The Sound of Music” every single night in their theater. I settled in to watch the 3-hour movie while stress-eating a chocolate bar and casually researching what to do once I got back to Germany, which was where I decided I was going to go when I got kicked out of the hostel. But it was fun to watch the movie with a new perspective, noticing all the locations I had been to earlier, and getting ideas for where else I still needed to go. When the movie ended, I went to bed. I was in a six-bed female dorm, but it turned out that I was the only one staying that night. Maybe that should have been a sign to leave sooner.

Nonnberg Abbey involved another hike up the hill first thing in the morning. But since I decided to better practice social distancing on this day, I wanted to go to more out-of-the-way attractions. While this wasn’t the abbey used in “The Sound of Music”, this is the real-life abbey that the real-life Maria was a novice at, but then left to go live with the Von Trapps. It was the perfect place to social distance: the entire time I was there, I only saw one nun who came into the sanctuary, set up some things, and then promptly left. And this was a Sunday morning! I considered joining this abbey like Maria did, just as an attempt to get away from all the crazy going on in the world!

Schloss Leopoldskron was one of the mansions used in the movie. The Von Trapp mansion from the movie is actually three different locations: one for the front, one for the back (which is up against a lake), and then the interior which was actually just a soundstage. This mansion is the one used for the front exterior shots, making it our first view of the Von Trapp property in the movie’s runtime. It was a nice, sunny walk out there, but the property was only open to guests of the hotel.

This gazebo, now at Hellbrunn Gardens, was used in the “16 Going on 17” number.

Hellbrunn Gardens is pretty far outside of the main part of town, but I enjoyed the nature path to get there. Although the gardens and palace are not featured in “The Sound of Music” there is a very important movie prop located there. The song “16 going on 17” takes place in a gazebo that the movie producers gifted to Salzburg. The city of Salzburg decided to place it in Hellbrunn.

Villa Trapp was the final Sound of Music-themed location I visited, but it was not featured in the movie at all. Even the star, Julie Andrews, hadn’t seen this location until just a few years ago. This is the mansion that belonged to the REAL Von Trapp family. It’s not as big and flashy as the other mansion was, but this one is also a hotel now, and I was able to sneak onto the grounds for a few minutes. The movie took a lot of liberties when compared to what happened to the family in real life.

More Music with Mozart

Salzburg was a musical city long before the Von Trapps came to town. Globally, Salzburg is even better known as the birthplace of the classic composer Mozart. Mozartplatz is a big centrally-located pedestrian square with a statue of the namesake’s likeness. I walked by his birthplace downtown, though with the closures all you could really see was the place where you could normally buy tickets. I also went to another house where he lived until he left Salzburg. Unfortunately, he left his hometown in bad circumstances. Come to think of it, the Von Trapps left under bad circumstances too. And as it turned out, I also left Salzburg under bad circumstances.

Escaping Austria

After a long day of walking, I settled back into YoHo for the evening. I was trying to decide what Austrian food to order from the hostel restaurant when it opened, and looking forward to another night featuring “The Sound of Music.” While I waited, I figured this would be a good time to schedule my return trip to Germany.

There were always several buses between Salzburg and Munich, and my double-decker ride there only had seven passengers. But when I opened the Flixbus app, there weren’t any buses scheduled for the next day. Or the next. Or the next. In fact, there was only one ride available at all, scheduled for that evening.

I quickly searched the news to see what was going on. Germany was closing their border with Austria with only a few hours’ notice. I had to get back that night, or else I’d be a homeless refugee!

The Flixbus app was having some issue where I couldn’t book a seat on the remaining bus. I tried on my phone’s browser, and I had the same issue. I even tried using the hostel’s desktop computer, but the problem was with the website itself. When I finally could get through, even that one remaining bus ride had disappeared. I would have to take the train, for more than five times the price of a bus ticket. I’d also lose out on what I spent on that night’s booking and have to pay for an additional hostel back in Munich, but it was a small price to pay to escape the crazy situation.

I hadn’t been to the train station yet, but it wasn’t too far from YoHo, so it was easy to walk there even with my luggage. A receptionist at the hostel had told me the best kind of ticket to buy to get back to Munich, so after entering the large, modern-style station, I found a kiosk and did as he told me. But I was confused by the ticket and where to go to catch my train. I found two cute Germans who also spoke English to help me out. After a while of waiting and worrying, I was soon on the train and zipping out of Austria, just in time.

I had already stayed at two different hostels in Munich, but that night, I checked into yet another hostel. I only booked one night, but in reality I had no idea what I’d be doing the next day, or if I even could extend my stay. But I knew that it was time to start figuring out how to get home early, even if it cost me a lot extra in buying a brand-new ticket. It turned out that many of the guests at this hostel had also just rushed back from Austria and were stressing out about what to do. Instead of figuring out how to rearrange our travels as we had previously done, we were now focused on getting back to our home countries.

Relating to the Von Trapps

On the train ride, I realized that my experience escaping Salzburg was similar to the Von Trapps. Now, the real Von Trapps and the movie Von Trapps both escaped Austria in very different ways, but somehow I related to both of them.

In the movie, when Captain Von Trapp is hiding his family in the cemetery and speaking with the nuns about what to do, he looks out to a distant mountain, and declares that his family will climb over it to get to Switzerland. Unfortunately, Switzerland is pretty far away from Salzburg, and you can’t see the Swiss Alps from this city. If that was the mountain they climbed, they would be headed right into Germany! That would be a terrible idea for them at the time, but escaping to Germany was the best option for me. (I had to cancel the Switzerland portion of my trip that day since Germany was also closing borders with them.)

The real Von Trapps’ actual escape wasn’t quite so dramatic. They left their mansion with backpacks and went to the train station. It wasn’t the same train station I went to. In fact, I saw where there used to be a stop very close to their house. That train thankfully didn’t take them into Germany, nor did it go to Switzerland. It went to Italy. Italy was originally going to be my next stop, but in my situation, going into Italy would lead to more danger instead of taking me away from it. I probably relate to the real story more because even though it’s urgent, scary, and stressful, it isn’t too dramatic. So you’ll probably never see my Salzburg escape on the silver screen. But at least I didn’t have to climb every mountain!

saving money, Things to Do, travel tips

What Credit Cards Do I Use for Travel?

I use travel prep as an opportunity to do some minor upgrades in my life. I just ordered a new phone. (My current one cracked on my first day in Dublin and I haven’t replaced it for the past eight months.) And I typically get a new credit card too. Prepaying for transit and accommodation for my trip allows me to easily reach the minimum spend to get sign-up bonuses.

For this upcoming trip, my new credit card is Capital One Quicksilver.

I signed up for my first Capital One card on my trip to the British Isles. That was a Savor card, and I really enjoyed the sign-up bonus, free currency conversion, and cashback, among other benefits. But that one was Mastercard, which isn’t quite as widely accepted as Visa. It also had an annual fee.

That’s why I was excited that Capital One Quicksilver (which is a Visa card) had no annual fee and 1.5% cash back for every purchase, plus a signup bonus after you spend $500. It also has the benefits you can find in every Capital One card, like not freezing your card just because you’re in a different country. My experience has been that Capital One is very traveler-friendly.

Sign up for a Capital One Quicksilver Card here.

Cashback

I’m not as deep into the rabbit hole as many credit card-hacking travelers, but I do take advantage of the perks when I can. Unlike others, I typically prefer cards that have cashback bonuses instead of airline miles or hotel points. With cashback, you know exactly what you’re getting. With “miles” or “points”, the values of these pseudo-currencies can change on a whim. Plus, with cashback, I can use my reward to pay for whatever I want. I can use cashback for bus trips, meals, gear, or even paying my bills when I’m back at home. This allows greater freedom than being tied to a certain airline or hotel chain.

I try to get more than 1% cash back on every purchase I make. That’s why I like how Quicksilver gives 1.5% cash back across the board. While making purchases for this trip, I’ve been using the Swagbucks shopping portal for their partners at online stores like Tracfone and Hotels.com. Then I get a percentage of cash back from Swagbucks in addition to the cashback offered by the credit card company. It’s like getting a 3-10% discount without having to clip coupons or scour sales!

Signing Up

Nowadays, it’s so easy to sign up for new credit cards. I remember when I had to go to my bank every time I was interested in changing my spending medium. Just go to the website and sign up! This is a big advantage when you want to use a bank that doesn’t have a physical location near you. I’ve done all my Capital One banking exclusively online, which makes it simple to keep tabs on how much I’m spending. And by monitoring my spending and saving, I can redirect funds to things that are more important to me (like trips).

It only took me a couple minutes to apply for Capital One Quicksilver online. The hardest part was deciding which credit card I wanted to get next, but I guess I already did that legwork for you!

Making Your Credit Card Work for You (and not the other way around)

As our society becomes more and more cashless, I’m assuming most people reading this already have at least one credit card. And it’s obvious that I’m encouraging you to sign up for another one. (You should always travel with at least two credit cards in case one gets lost, stolen, or frozen.) I think credit cards have a lot of benefits that paper money doesn’t, like theft protection, spending reports, and, of course, cashback and bonuses.

However, I don’t think EVERYONE should get a credit card. If you’re in debt or struggle to pay on time or in full, then, by all means, get rid of your credit cards! Cashback and bonuses are only useful if you’re not paying late fees and interest. If you’re not in a place where you can be smart with a credit card, go all Dave Ramsey and focus on managing your money in more physical ways.

If you have a track record of being responsible with money and paying bills on time but don’t yet have a credit card, this might be a good time to consider building your way to an excellent credit score. Apply for a credit card and you can literally fund your next trip or any big monetary goals you have!

2020 Capital One Quicksilver Reviews - 1.5% Cash Back

Do you use a credit card to help you travel? What do you think are the biggest advantages/disadvantages?

Disclosure: This is not a paid ad. I do get a signup bonus for the first five people to use this link and qualify for Quicksilver card, but no other compensation has been or will be made. I just get excited about credit card benefits that travelers can take advantage of!

Suggestions for the Travel Industry, Travel Life, travel tips

The Best Travel Advice from Home Alone Movies

Christmas came a few days early for me this year! Delta Airlines sent me a check for $685.03. That extra three cents seems odd, but that’s because it’s an exchange of 600EUR, which I earned just for filling out a form and having a flight delay in Europe four years ago.

EU Flight Delay Payout from Delta

I only just found out about an EU law that says if your flight is delayed for mechanical reasons in Europe, you can request that the airline compensate you up to 600EUR. I wasn’t sure if my flight from Paris back in 2015 was outside the statutes of limitations, but I decided to check it out and fill out the form anyway. Sure enough, it worked! Part of me is kind of hoping that my flight home from my upcoming European trip will have a mechanical delay; this reimbursement check would end up being more than what the flight cost me!

While my first flight delay for a Eurotrip ended up paying me royally, I had another experience with delays on my second trip to Europe that was a nightmare. But first, since this is a Christmas blog post, let’s talk about popular movies for this time of year.

Home Alone and Home Alone 2

Oh, that Kevin! Most of us remember these Christmastime movies for the booby traps a lonely boy pulled that should have killed the two robbers multiple times over. (Remind me how this puts us in the holiday spirit?) Like many Americans, I spent part of this December watching Home Alone and Home Alone 2, while pretending that Home Alone 3, 4, and 5 never happened. (And now Disney+ is making a sixth movie? I don’t think I ever got around to seeing 4 or 5.) But this time around, something struck me in the earlier scenes of the movies.

Eiffel Tower Paris France Europe
I managed to make it to Paris without forgetting anyone.

In the original Home Alone, Kevin McCallister’s family forgets him at home on their flight to Paris. As soon as they get to Europe, his mom doesn’t even get a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower as she immediately tries to turn around and go back home. Since most flights are fully booked, she has to bribe passengers and go to places other than her hometown airport in Chicago. She ends up in Scranton, which at the time was a mostly-unheard-of city, but now is pretty well-known thanks to The Office. While I spent a few more hours at the Charles de Gaulle airport than I would have liked, I’m thankful that most of my time in the area was spent enjoying Paris. I knew I couldn’t accidentally leave anyone behind because I was traveling solo.

In the sequel, the family manages to make it to the airport with Kevin, but then immediately loses him. Thanks to being a decade before 9/11, Kevin accidentally hitchhikes on a plane to New York while the rest of his family headed to Florida. Were my mom and I supposed to bring Kevin on our Christmas trip to Florida earlier this month? Oops.

Fort Lauderdale
Despite Kevin’s protests, Florida is a great place to spend Christmas… although I went for a pre-Christmas celebration

What do both of the McCallister’s horrific flight mishaps have in common?

American Airlines

I never had a problem with American before my flight to Dublin this past May. Then again, I can’t specifically recall any flights I previously took with them before this. Now, in their defense, when everything goes exactly as planned, flying on American can be pleasant. I even got ice cream on my flight from London Heathrow to Phoenix, Arizona. But if one hiccup happens, you have to deal with their customer service. That’s where the problems happen.

aeroplane air travel airbus aircraft
Photo by Quintin Gellar on Pexels.com

I had a Chicago layover, but my flight there couldn’t land on time, supposedly due to weather. (If there’s a delay they can blame on weather, airlines aren’t entitled to compensate you anything. However, if it’s solely the airline’s fault… see my beautiful payout above.) However, I’m not entirely sure how weather-related it was because my flight to Dublin took off on time. So of course, I missed that connection.

The captain told us that if we missed our connecting flight, our new schedule would be emailed to us. The problem was, when I was boarding that plane, the gate agent took my carryon from me without any warning and told me it would be checked all the way to Dublin. Unfortunately, I had packed my charger in my carryon so I really had to conserve my cell phone battery. I hesitantly turned on my phone and checked my email, but I had no email from American Airlines.

I went to the nearest American Airlines gate agent and asked what they could do. They told me to check my email, duh. They seemed completely uninterested in helping any of the stranded passengers. But eventually, they gave me a phone number to call. At least they pointed me to some payphones when I explained my carryon and phone charger were taken away. (When I asked if I could get my carryon back, they told me probably not, but the only way to find out was to leave security and ask at the check-in desk. But, because it was so late the desk may already be closed and I wouldn’t be able to get back into the secure area.)

I called the customer service number and the first person sounded really helpful. He told me a flight was currently boarding to London Heathrow, and he could get me a ticket that had a layover there on the way to Dublin. I happily accepted, and he told me I could pick up a boarding pass from the gate agent. I dashed over to the boarding gate, but when I got there, the two gate agents said I couldn’t board. I explained that customer service just sent a ticket for me, and they said that wasn’t possible, because my original ticket was going to Dublin, not Heathrow. They told me I would have to wait until the next night for the next Dublin flight. I still wonder what really happened between that customer service agent and those gate agents.

I ran back to the phones and called customer service again. That representative confirmed that they weren’t allowed to reschedule me on the Heathrow flight and didn’t know what the other customer service rep was talking about. This rep apparently tried to find a better flight for me so I didn’t have to spend an entire day in the Chicago airport, but instead hung up on me. During the third call, after I explained how rude and unprofessional his coworkers had been, this representative finally figured out that if I flew to Philadelphia the next day for another layover, I could catch a flight that would arrive a few hours earlier than if I waited in Chicago. I would be missing my first day in Dublin no matter what at this point, but I was ready to get out of Chicago as soon as possible. I still had to spend the night inside that airport. That was incredibly miserable. (I would rather sleep in the Chicago Greyhound station than the Chicago airport, and this is coming from someone who’s slept in both!)

The worst part? My original plan was to arrive in Dublin the day before my birthday. Instead, my 28th year started out on a cramped plane with hardly any of my personal belongings and no sleep or showering for days. Due to the time change, I also lost 6 hours of my birthday. I’m not sure if I fully turned 28 if my birthday was only an 18-hour day.

Dublin
Crossing Dublin’s Ha’penny Bridge on my birthday (but did I really turn 28?)

Of course, I still had a great time in Ireland as well as England later in the trip. But my American Airlines flights home experienced delays as well. I decided on this trip to no longer support this airline. While some of the events were out of their control, friendlier customer service would have made this ordeal a completely different experience. Even before I found out about compensation for my Delta flight, this company provided extra in-person customer service reps to answer passengers’ questions as well as extra snacks. I could easily spin my Delta delay into a positive experience, while American Airlines’ indifference kicked my trip off with a nightmare.

Watching Home Alone will Never Be the Same

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Guess what airline the McCallisters took in both of their Home Alone movies? That’s right, American Airlines! While the airline obviously agreed to this product placement, these movies will now forever serve as a reminder of how horrible their customer service can be when things go wrong. I can’t blame the airline for leaving Kevin at home, granted. But as I watch the ticket agent shrug her shoulders and tell the mom no to her requests to get back home, I’m reminded of how little the customer service reps cared when I was alone and needed help.

The funny thing was, I didn’t realize it at the time, but the Chicago airport that I was stranded at was the same airport that started both of the McCallisters’ misadventures. (At least they just barely managed to make their flights at this airport… well, everyone except Kevin, that is.) Maybe Chicago O’Hare and American Airlines together create the perfect epicenter for travel mishaps, whether real or fictional.

Whether you travel this season or having future trips on your Christmas list, I wish you the best of travel. Merry Christmas!

Have you ever experienced a flight delay, cancellation, or missed connection? Share how it turned out in the comments!

destinations, Recap, The Bahamas, Travel Life, travel tips, Winter

Postcards from Sunny Florida and The Bahamas

It’s finally happened: the cruise I’ve been planning for months! Although I didn’t get the chance to send postcards even to close relatives, here are a few “Christmas postcards” I hope you all can share. Wish you were here!

Fort Lauderdale

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It’s been a fun time in Florida. My mom and I arrived to our beachside hotel, and the next morning, we walked the less populated section of Las Olas, and the afternoon was spent at the beach. The food’s been good too: a French cafe, Pimenti Brothers sandwiches, and Bubba Gump’s! As much fun as we’ve had, I bet the cruise will be even better.

Carnival Sunrise

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The newly remodeled ship, Carnival Sunrise, was packed with so many great things, like a minigolf course, two waterslides, and a high ropes course overlooking the sea. I spent my time onboard playing games, eating from several restaurants, watching ice carving and other art, going to great performances, and just relaxing in our stateroom or on the Lido deck. Our cruise director was The Flying Scotsman, so we were always in for a treat of his singing and kilted comedy.

Princess Cays

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This exclusive section of the island of Eleuthera, The Bahamas, is only available by cruise ship. As the name implies, the resort is owned by Princess Cruise Lines, but since Carnival is owned by the same company, we were allowed to enjoy. Most of our first day in my 14th country and my mom’s 4th was spent relaxing in lounge chairs on the beach, enjoying a barbecue buffet, and snorkeling with the tropical fish.

Nassau

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Prior to our day in the capital city of The Bahamas, I designed my own walking tour. It was fun to follow the sites I’d been planning on seeing plus a few more surprises along the way! We went to places like Fort Fincastle, the Queen’s Staircase, Government House, a chocolate factory, a church, and so much more! And since the cruise port is right in the middle of downtown, we could easily get back on in the middle of our time there for a free lunch, which was good because I started feeling landsick while at the Straw Market! (Okay, it was actually vertigo, but it’s funny how being on land can start to feel strange after a couple days at sea.) It was also pretty neat to see so many flowers in bloom at the same time that Christmas decorations were being put up! Overall, it was a jam-packed day exploring all over (the safe part of) Nassau on foot.

Freeport

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Our last stop in The Bahamas involved an incredible shore excursion. We boarded a glass-bottom boat and saw the city from a unique point of view. Below us, we saw yellowtail and blue tang. Then when we went to deeper waters, I saw a shark! Pretty soon, dozens of sharks were swarming the boat. When we safely returned to shore, we spent some time at Port Lucaya and picked up a souvenir or two before bussing back to the cruise port.

Everglades

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Just because our cruise ended doesn’t mean that the shore excursions had to end! Our last trip before headed to the airport for our flight home was my first visit to the Everglades. They were a lot different than I imagined! First, we had an hour-long airboat ride where we learned about the local flora, fed the birds, and saw two wild alligators. We saw even more gators, all of whom were rescues, at a gator show where a handler stuck her head in one of their mouths! Last on the schedule for me was to order alligator tacos, which tasted like chicken. It was a fun time in Florida and on this whole sunny vacation!

 

I hope you enjoyed these “postcards”. Of course, you can read even more like this when you follow me on Instagram.

If you want even more to read, be sure to check out my books. They make great Christmas gifts! See the books I’ve authored here. 

travel tips

5 Activities for Rainy Travel Days

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Image Credit: Pexels. Free to Use Licence.

As much as we may wish for them, clear skies don’t always grace us while we’re travelling, especially in some parts of the world where it’s more likely to rain than shine. Of course, rain doesn’t need to stop you from getting outside and exploring whichever destination you have visited but if you’re feeling a little more like staying dry then here are 5 activities that you could do to escape the rain.

 

  1. Go bowling
    Bowling is a popular sport all around the world which means you probably won’t need to look too far to find a bowling alley near you. A great way to stay inside and away from the rain, bowling is also a really easy sport for people to understand so even if there’s a language barrier between yourself and some of the people you have met on your travels you’re bound to still have a great time and make some fun memories.
  2. Visit an indoor museum
    It’s likely that museums were on your travel itinerary anyway so why not switch around what you had planned for certain days and visit the museums on a day when the weather isn’t being so kind. Don’t rush your way around the museum, take your time and purchase the audio guide to make sure you really take in everything that the museum has to offer and remember to check out the gift shop to help support the museum.
  3. Go swimming
    If you’re going to get wet anyway why not go swimming! If you’re in a city then you’ll be able to find a swimming bathe or leisure centre near you for you to have a splash around in, or if you’re by the beach and the waves are still safe, then why not take a dip anyway and enjoy the beach while it’s a little quieter. Snorkelling can be a whole new experience when it rains and the raindrops landing on the surface of the sea look magical from underneath, an experience you have to try at least once.
  4. Check out a shopping mall
    Another fun rainy day activity is to go shopping and find some gifts and souvenirs for your friends and family back home. To stay dry and undercover try to find a shopping centre, market or mall which is all enclosed and undercover, or if you are going to brave the streets then just pack a trusted umbrella and make your way from shop to shop ensuring to have plenty of food and drink stops along the way.
  5. Visit the local library
    Almost every major city has a library and many smaller ones do too. Libraries are great places to cosy up on a rainy day, you can either bring your own book and simply enjoy the ambience and read or why not do some more research on your travel destination by searching for some local maps, guide books and magazines? Some libraries also have postal services which make them a great place to sit and write your postcards before sending them off to your friends and families.