Here were a few of my favorite things in Thessaloniki:
Taking a Walking Tour
I’ve taken a lot of walking tours, but the Thessaloniki Free Walking Tour was among the best. I took the upper town tour, and I got to see a lot of things that I never would have discovered on my own. The guide is great; he played music, gave travel tips, and really made the tour personalized.
Visiting the White Tower and City Walls
As the most iconic site in Thessaloniki, the White Tower is fun to go inside and explore. It is one of two remaining towers from the old city wall. The remaining walls and northern tower aren’t quite as popular, though their lack of tourism does make them free to visit. If you enjoy history, seeing the towers and walls are a must-do on your visit.
Having a Rotunda View
I stayed in RentRooms, a hostel with a view of the Rotunda. I loved eating breakfast at their outdoor cafe for the scenic view as well as the food. The Rotunda is a UNESCO World Heritage Site from the 4th century. I enjoyed being able to go inside, though the exterior seemed more ornate. Nearby is another ancient structure, the Kamara.
Thessaloniki is in Greece, but while there you can also visit Turkey. There’s a little bit of Turkish soil in the middle of this city! Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, was actually born in Thessaloniki. His family home is now a museum owned and run by Turkey. I enjoyed going through the house and learning about Turkey, especially since Istanbul was my next stop in my Mediterranean Trek.
I visited a few Thessalonian museums. I saw ancient ruins, Jewish history, and photography. Even outside of the museums, art abounds. A long stroll along the boardwalk is not only good for seeing the sea, but also all kinds of statues and other art. Wherever you go in Thessaloniki, keep your eyes open and you’re sure to find art.
These are just a few of the most memorable of the many things I enjoyed in Thessaloniki. What is most enticing to you in this part of Greece?
If you are an animal lover, or would like to experience biodiversity on a new level, you might want to take a break from natural reserves and zoos, and go out there to see how animals live in their natural environment. Below you will find a few location suggestions, so you can start planning your family trip and see some of the rarest and strangest animals on the planet.
Costa Rica’s rainforests and shores are a home for many endangered and rare species. If you would like to see how they live and how they contribute to the ecosystem, you might want to book an eco tour to the country. No matter if you visit the mountain ranges or the seaside, you are likely to come across animals and plants you cannot see anywhere else. Costa Rica’s flora and fauna represents six percent of the world’s biodiversity.
From the rainforests to the pristine beaches, and the unique species of animals, there are plenty to see and do on one of the 14 islands. Only 14 of the islands are open for tourists, as some of the animal species are endangered. If you book a tour, you are going to start off on the main island, in Ecuador, and see some of the most untouched places on Earth, where animals live in peace. If you want to visit Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands it is better to book through a local tour operator than setting off on your own.
Located in MesoAmerica, this is one of the top 25 biodiversity destinations in the world. You will find that there are 14 ecoregions and 66 unique ecosystems with over ten thousand species, most of which live in the tropical forests. You will also find wetlands and freshwater reef. You should certainly visit The Sleeping Child Reserve in the highlands of Western Guatemala, where you can meet different species of treefrogs.
If you want to experience nature in a new way, and you have been to wildlife safaris before, you will need to check out what Belize has to offer. You should book a tour to the Maya forest and explore the Rio Bravo conservation area. The marine biodiversity of the country is outstanding, with over 700 species of fish living around the country’s shores.
You might think about Brazil as a modern and urbanized country, but it has a great biodiversity, too. In fact, it has 20 percent of the fresh water found on Earth, and – as a result – there are over one thousand amphibians living in the country along with over 700 reptiles. Of course, this is also the best place to start an Amazon Rainforest adventure.
Visiting tourist resorts, going to the zoo, and taking a safari trip are all great ways of experiencing nature and getting to know the different species. However, if you would like to meet the unique creatures in their natural environment, you might want to check out one of these countries.
With a wonderful trip to Ireland and the UK in May, June was a time to transition back into saving for travel. Here are a few things I did, as well as what I’m looking forward to.
The Pacific Crest Trail
I only took one overnight trip this month. Although it wasn’t too far from home, I got to experience a new campground, new friends, and a new learning experience. Best of all, it was FREE!
The Pacific Crest Trail Association is a nonprofit organization that maintains the long National Scenic Trail that goes from Mexico to Canada while crossing through California, Oregon, and Washington. Since a section of the trail goes through the mountains near me, I was able to attend one of their Trail Skills College weekends this past month. Most people traveled a lot farther than I did to attend- some people traveled seven hours! Although Trail Skills College is offered in several spots along the Pacific Crest Trail, a lot of people like Southern Oregon’s “Big Bend” section or the classes that the PCTA offered here.
I joined this two-night weekend camping trip at Hyatt Lake. On Saturday, I spent the day taking the “Cooking and Camping with the Crew” class, where I learned some planning, cooking, and hygiene skills that could be used in all my travels, but particularly when I volunteer with the PCTA in the future. Although I didn’t sign up for any Sunday classes, I was able to take advantage of kayaking on the beautiful Hyatt Lake.
The next weekend, I found myself back on the PCT! I haven’t had the opportunity to volunteer on a trail project with the PCTA yet, but I did lead a hiking group around the Green Springs Loop outside of Ashland, Oregon. So all of my June travels involved this little slice of the Pacific Crest Trail.
Sick Days and Syria
To be honest, my PCTA Trail Skills College experience wasn’t as great as I expected it to be. Sure, everyone was nice, the food was good, and I learned some good skills. But I ended up with some GI troubles. To make matters worse, the campground we were using had its water shut off, so no bathrooms or running water! Not the best way to spend a sick weekend, but I was just well enough that I didn’t want to go home and miss out.
A week later, I made sure that I was starting off healthy, because I was going to do an eating challenge. I took The Ration Challenge, which meant for one week, I would eat the same food distributed to Syrian refugees. I had to make two substitutions. (Since I’m soy intolerant, I replaced the vegetable oil ration with coconut oil. I also exchanged sardines for a vegan protein alternative since I don’t eat seafood.) I learned to get creative with the little I had. With only a few ounces of flour, I learned to make really thin crepes. With rice outweighing the rest of my rations combined, I learned to make congee, rice milk, puffed rice, and extending everything else by sneaking in some rice. I enjoyed the lentils and think I’ll start adding more to my regular diet. Although I prefer to add tahini and spices, hummus made out of just chickpeas and oil is still delicious. But most of all, I gained empathy for these hardworking people and joined a global movement.
All was going well until my second-to-last day of the challenge. As recommended, I limited my physical activity that week. However, I still went on three walks, the last one was to get to a CPR and First Aid class I had to take. I had only eaten a few spoonfuls of congee for breakfast that day, and I brought some crepes with a little protein spread on them. One hour into the class, I wasn’t feeling well. I felt like I was going to pass out. That would have been super embarrassing for me. My classmates and instructor would have thought I was being squeamish over the course material, when in reality I used to be an EMT. It was just that I didn’t have enough sustenance. As my table partner wrapped the fake injury on my arm, I used my free arm to pull out my crepes and eat them. I also drank my water. It wasn’t enough. I excused myself to the bathroom, still feeling faint. I found a roll of Lifesaver mints in my purse and ate half a roll of them. The fast-acting sugar made me feel better within minutes, so I decided it was safe to continue with the Ration Challenge. Later that day I attended an evening church service where I took communion without thinking, but that was my only “cheat” day, and even then I had two ounces of oil and two pounds of rice left over at the end of the challenge!
But sickness seemed to be a weekend theme this month. The last Saturday of the month was also spent in sickness. On a positive note, it means I wasn’t spending all my money on weekend adventures!
Restarting the Savings
From January to April of this year, I kept a log of my savings. I took a break in May so I could enjoy the fruits of my savings with half the month spent on a trip to the British Isles. Although I got back to saving this June, I ended up not keeping a spreadsheet. My plan is to modify my old spreadsheet and start using it again this July. But just because I didn’t record everything doesn’t mean I didn’t save!
I didn’t really spend any money on travel. Two nights of camping with the PCTA was free, as was the day hike on the PCT. Before the camp, I stopped in Ashland for their free First Friday Art Walk. I just had to cover the cost of getting to these places in my car. I’d say that was a good deal!
When I wasn’t sick or on the PCT, I enjoyed my hometown. I did two other hikes, one up Table Rock and the other through Denman Wildlife Area and Touvelle State Park (I visited on a free admission weekend). The Medford Parks and Rec department hosts summer movies, and I attended the first two. The first movie was a drive-in, which was extra fun!
I’ve also been walking a lot. One day, I walked 15 miles! That day included a walk to a beauty college to get a discount pedicure. Unfortunately, two days later I got a blister on my toe while walking, so I didn’t get much time to show off the pedi! I try to replace driving with walking whenever possible, even when it means coming home from the grocery store with a bag stuffed full of collard greens that were on clearance for fifty cents a pound! Walking is my main form of exercise, but I also got in some free cross-training!
Although I don’t have any gym membership, I did end up getting a good workout at two YMCAs. I was recently contacted by two young adults that used to live with my friend’s family when they were little girls, and they asked me to visit them since they recently moved to Grants Pass, Oregon. It’s been nine years since we last saw each other, so it was awesome to reunite. We went to their local Y, and they were nice enough to give me a guest pass so we could all go swimming. A week later, I went to my own YMCA for their free Family Night.
From now through November, my savings focus will be on my cruise to The Bahamas. I’m flying out on Thanksgiving evening for a week of fun in Florida and three Bahamian islands. I’ll be keeping track of my savings and should update you at the end of the month with a savings spreadsheet. Since I got such a great deal on the cruise, there isn’t much that still needs to be paid for on this trip, so I might need to set another travel goal in the next month or two! Where should I go in 2020?
I also joined Plastic-Free July. As I travel, seeing garbage where there should be beauty has been discouraging. Pollution is a global problem, and reducing single-use plastic is a visual and effective way we can all work to combat this. I’ve been working on reducing my footprint for a while, but maybe this month will give me new ideas and inspiration. I think it might help grow my travel fund, too.
As far as travel, I don’t have anything set in stone for July, but I know that will change soon!
A great thing about the travel community is that people are always happy to share their advice. However, sometimes people give travel tips about a place they’ve never even been to, or haven’t been to in several years. This is the 21st century! The world has changed, but people are still spreading these totally-outdated travel tips.
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“Make sure to bring traveler’s checks!”
I made the mistake of taking out a traveler’s check. Once. Never again.
I was moving and needed to close my local bank account. They gave me the option of getting my money in cash or traveler’s check. I chose the check just because it seemed safer than driving with a dozen Benjamins over 800 miles to my new home. This was silly thinking because, A) I had all my worldly possessions in my car anyway, and B) if I lost the traveler’s check, it would be just as devastating as losing the equivalent paper money. And once I did arrive in my new hometown, I had the hardest time finding a place that would convert it back into cash.
This experience was from six years ago. Traveler’s checks would be even more difficult nowadays, and especially in foreign countries. Skip the checks altogether and just bring plastic.
“Bring enough money to exchange!”
Currency exchange booths are the worst. It’s a guaranteed way to lose money. I still bring some US bills tucked away in case of some sort of bank emergency, but as mentioned above, I now rely on plastic.
I bring a debit card for when I need to withdraw cash from an ATM. Many ATMs offer free withdrawals, though your bank will still likely charge you. However, depending on the amount you withdraw, this will probably cost less than exchanging money. (Talk with your bank before you go to make sure that you have the best kind of card they offer for international travel.)
On my most recent trip, I only used my debit card once in the two weeks I was there- and that was on my last full day! Credit cards are becoming the global currency. If you find a credit card that doesn’t charge an international conversion fee, this is the only way to use foreign money without losing money. And using your credit card wisely can even make you money!
Just about everyone who’s gone to Europe for a length of time has been asked by well-meaning older folks if they’ve bought a rail pass yet. On my first trip to Europe, it seemed like it was a requirement for any cross-continent backpacker. So I bought my two-month, ten-trip Eurail pass. What a waste of money.
While they may have been great for backpackers in the 70s, rail passes are no longer the best for saving time or money. I still had to wait in line to ask a desk agent which trains I could ride with my Eurail, and if I needed to make reservations to go on those trains. (Reservations were usually 10 euro extra on top of the price of the Eurail pass.) If I ride the rails again, I will just buy point-to-point tickets in advance, or even at the kiosks in the train station. However, for my first month of European travel, I booked long-distance buses instead of trains. That cost a lot less than the trains did, and in some countries was much more practical. On my most recent trip, I found a cheap flight from Ireland to England, and I’m not the only one taking advantage of discount European airlines whose city-hopping fares are less than the train.
“Bring an adapter and converter so your electronics don’t blow up!”
A quick explanation on adapters and converters: an adapter makes your plug fit into a differently-shaped socket. A converter changes the amount of currency that flows into your charging electronic. There are some bulky 2-in-1 adapter/converter combos, but nowadays I only bring an adapter.
Most modern electronics are made for international distribution, meaning they have built-in converters so that they can handle whatever current they’re connected to. I only travel with a phone and compact camera, neither of which requires an external converter. Even larger electronics like laptops and tablets are fine without a converter. High-voltage items like hair dryers do need a converter. (It will fry if you try to use it without, but I don’t think it will blow up!) However, most accommodations have hair dryers available, so don’t bother bringing your own from home. If you don’t see one in your room, they may be kept at the front desk.
I still bring an adapter, but within a few years, I can see that being outdated as well. On my last trip, I saw planes, bus, and even hostel charging ports for USB cords. USB ports are becoming more universal, and I’m looking forward to the day when I can just bring a USB cord and leave the wall adapter and international adapter at home.
“Only drink bottled water!”
In many places, there’s nothing wrong with the water that flows straight from the tap. Check to see if your destination has safe drinking water, and pack a refillable bottle to avoid wasting money and time searching for overpriced bottled beverages.
Even in countries with unsafe tap water, you may still be able to avoid the single-use plastic bottles all the time. When I visited Istanbul, there was a reverse osmosis filter tap where I was staying. If you’re given drinking water at a restaurant, you can use whatever you don’t drink there to refill your bottle. You can also clean the tap water yourself by bringing a Lifestraw or purification kit. If all else fails, buy your water in bulk instead of little bottles. Simple refill your reusable bottle from the larger jug, and that way you’ll still save money and plastic!
“Don’t eat street food!”
If you skip the street food, you’re missing out on some of the best culture! With the rising popularity of food trucks (formerly dubbed “roach coaches”) in the US, I haven’t heard as many complaints about street food around the world in recent years. But wherever you go, remember that street food vendors have government-regulated cleanliness standards that they have to keep up with, too. In fact, seeing my food prepared right in front of me often gives me a better peace of mind in how it was made.
“Hostels are creepy and disgusting!”
Stop watching horror films! Okay, I’ve never actually seen that movie before, but if I made a movie called “Hostel”, it would be about a traveler who has a great time in a new destination, gets insider tips from her roommates and the staff who work there, enjoys freebies like breakfast, internet, and city maps, and leaves paying only a fraction of the cost that the people in the hotel next door paid. But I have a feeling that Hollywood isn’t interested in this story that millions of travelers live out.
Hostels are great! If you’ve ever been to summer camp, you’re already familiar with the dorm-style lodging. Basically, just imagine an indoor summer camp in the middle of the city. Or picture renting a twin bed in a hotel instead of a room. It’s really not that bad, and can actually enrich your experience. Along with the low cost of admission, you’ll also get a free cultural exchange with other excited travelers from around the world.
I’ve had an occasional run-in with a hostel that didn’t live up to my expectations, but I’ve experienced that with hotels as well. In fact, some of the hostels I’ve stayed in have been more unique than any hotel. Since most hostels have some sort of online presence, go ahead and check them out ahead of time. You’ll see that they have security measures, cleanliness standards, and a welcoming atmosphere. And if you’re still not sold on sharing a room with strangers new friends, many hostels offer private rooms.
As I prepared to travel to London, almost every blog post I read told me to get the Oyster card. “It will save you so much money when riding the Tube” they said. Even on my first day in London, when I was checking into my hostel, the receptionist asked, “did you get your Oyster card yet?” He then pointed me to the nearest tube station and told me how to get one. Since I wouldn’t be taking the tube that day, I decided not to get one that day.
Or the next day.
Or the next.
I was staying in the Westminster area, and I could walk to so many of the attractions I wanted to see. But I did have a bus trip to Bath and Stonehenge scheduled. When I boarded that bus, the Mary Poppins-esque guide gave us some travel tips for London, including, of course, to save money on the tube by getting an Oyster card. “Or, if your credit card has what looks like the WiFi symbol printed on it, you can just tap your card when you get on and off the tube just like the Oyster card, and you’ll pay the same price as the Oyster card.” I checked, and my credit card did have that symbol. That would mean no waiting in line to buy or return the card or worrying about running out of credit. Score!
I actually didn’t take the tube at all until my last day there, when I headed from Greenwich to Heathrow. So I only spent about $7 in tube fare. I got to see a lot more of London by walking, taking the hop-on hop-off bus, and taking a river cruise. I’d encourage you to explore above ground as much as possible, no matter what city you visit.
“Always wear a money belt!”
I recently was watching a travel lecture where Rick Steves himself mentioned that even he doesn’t wear a money belt all the time anymore. I used a neck stash for so many international trips, and it was uncomfortable, sweaty, and looked weird underneath my clothes. If you don’t like the feeling of your money belt and instead opt to put it in your bag or leave it in your room, it’s kind of pointless.
There are so many travel security items on the market today, you can find one that’s right for you. I use a combination of items. I wear a scarf that has a hidden zippered pocket. It’s big enough to fit my passport and money. I also use my Lewis N Clark convertipack, which has locking zippers and a strap that you can secure to yourself , a chair, bed rail, etc. Even attaching your luggage zippers together with a carabiner can deter thieves. If your accommodation seems safe enough, leave valuables in a safe or locker there. Zip-up pants pockets can prevent pickpockets. There’s also bra stashes and even underwear with hidden pockets! Use what works for you, but remember that the best way to make sure your items don’t get stolen is to minimize what you’re traveling with and keep an eye on what you do bring.
“You’ll have to learn a foreign language!”
I’m visiting three different countries this year. (Four if you count the USA.) All of them are English-fluent countries. But even in countries with another national language, you’ll find an abundance of English speakers. If you used Google Translate to read this blog post, I would encourage you to learn English, as that is the global language of business and the go-to language for travelers. But if you are fluent in English, learn how to simplify what you say, and you should be able to get along fine.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying to expect everyone to speak English to you or to refuse to learn another language. The more you know in a local language, the more you’ll be able to talk about, and you definitely will have an advantage over English-only speakers. But if you’re visiting multiple countries that all speak a different language, don’t stress yourself out or worse, cancel your trip due to not knowing how to speak. If you learn how to say a few courtesy words (like “hello”, “thank you”, or “do you speak English?”) you’ll be more than fine. And may I remind you that we are in the 21st century? Most people carry devices capable of translating languages around in their pockets!
“Your phone won’t work outside of the country!”
This one may be true, but only sort of. My phone service only works when I’m within the United States (though I was able to make a phone call from Niagara Falls, Canada once). However, I still bring my phone with me everywhere I go. WiFi is increasingly abundant, and you can use apps to text and make international calls for free. I brought an international phone on my first trip to Europe, but my regular smartphone provided me with all my communication needs.
There are other ways you can communicate, too. Sending postcards is still a thing, but Instagram is a more instant method of sending the same type of message. You can find pay phones in some areas (those red London phone booths are still abundant despite hardly anyone using them). Be creative and you won’t even miss your phone service.
“Bring extra film for your camera!”
Okay, I’m not sure if anyone actually says this anymore. My mom always asks me if I brought enough film whenever she drives me to the airport just as a joke to make me feel like I’ve forgotten something. (I return the favor by letting her know her car’s low on blinker fluid.) Your camera’s SIM card should be big enough to take at least a thousand pictures, but if you do run low on space, upload some of your pictures to an online cloud as you go.
What totally outdated travel tips have YOU heard? Let us know in the comments so we can all have a chuckle!
I had a great time in Ireland and England! I took a break from writing here so that it could truly be a vacation, but now that I’m back, you can expect a lot of posts with advice for the British Isles in the coming weeks. To start out, I’d like to go back to the very first item I purchased for this trip. I bought it before I bought plane tickets, or even knew what time of year I’d go to Europe: it’s The London Pass.
What I Did With My London Pass
I bought a three-day pass, and those three days were packed! Here’s a quick breakdown, along with the approximate normal price in pounds:
Tower of London (normally 28, but the pass also includes a skip-the-line at the entrance)
Tower Bridge (normally 10)
HMS Belfast (normally 16)
The View from the Shard (normally 32)
Churchill War Rooms (normally 22)
Westminster Abbey (normally 23)
Big Bus Hop-On Hop-Off (normally 34)
St. Peter’s Cathedral (normally 20)
Royal Mews (normally 12)
Kensington Palace (normally 20)
City Cruises (normally 19)
The Fan Museum (normally 5)
Cutty Sark (normally 15)
Royal Observatory (normally 16)
National Maritime Museum (admission is free to everyone, but passholders get a free book worth 5)
Feel free to use my itinerary on your own trip or tailor it to fit your personal preferences.
Although I met my goal of doing an average of five activities per day, I did feel rushed in some areas. A lot of the attractions have fairly short hours (10am-6pm seemed common), so I was never really sure what to do early in the morning or late in the evening. If opening times were longer, I would have been able to see more, plus spend more time in places like Tower of London.
What About Other Cities?
The London Pass is just one item sold by The Leisure Pass Group. They offer passes similar to The London Pass in different cities around the world. The only time I ever considered another one of these passes was when I was heading to Paris. It offered admission to a lot of the museums that I wanted to see. However, so did the Paris Museum Pass, which was just a fraction of the price. The Paris Pass did offer a few extras, but none that I was willing to pay the extra price for.
To sum it up, out of all the city passes sold by this company, The London Pass seems to offer the best value.
How to Save Money When Buying the Pass
The London Pass is a huge expense. The per-day cost was more than my hostel bed and meals combined. Currently, a three-day pass is 125 pounds, which exchanges into more than the $50-a-day that many modern urban backpackers try to budget by. Even the cheapest-per-day pass for 10 days is more than $25 a day, which doesn’t leave much room for housing and food in one of the world’s most expensive cities. So many of us budget-conscious travelers will have to accept the fact that if you really want to experience all that London has to offer, you’ll have to spend more than your usual per diem. You can always balance it out later with some less expensive trips. (I’ve got nearly-free camping trips planned out this summer.)
However, spending money in an expensive city doesn’t mean I’m not going to try to save where I can! The London Pass often offers some money-saving options.
For starters, decide how many days you want your pass to last. Obviously, the more days your pass is valid, the more expensive it is, but the less it costs per day. As a first-timer to London, I found that a three-day pass was perfect for my one-week trip. I fit in everything I came to see (plus a couple pleasant surprises). That left me with a few days without a pass, which were still chocked full as I spent those visiting free attractions (like parks, free museums, and iconic places like Abbey Road), and well as some attractions that weren’t part of The London Pass, such as London Eye and Up at the O2.
If you plan in advance, you can keep an eye on The London Pass’ website to look out for sales. I bought my pass during a sale, and ever since then, I’ve noticed that they often offer online sale prices.
You can also find discount codes online. I won’t share any here since they’re always changing, but a quick search on Google should give you the most up-to-date promo codes. You can combine a promo code with a sale for maximum savings.
One more way I saved with The London Pass was by using The London Concierge. The London Concierge is a discount ticket purchasing website exclusively for people who have purchased The London Pass. You can buy tickets from The London Concierge even before you activate The London Pass. This is where I bought my bus trip to Bath and Stonehenge, making it a good deal.
But Is It Really Worth It?
If you total up the amount I could have spent at the attractions I went to during my three-day pass: 86+131+60= 277. Even at the normal retail price of 125 pounds for a 3-day adult pass, I got more than double my money’s worth. Or did I?
As I mentioned before, there were a couple of attractions I would have liked to spend more time in (namely Tower of London and St. Paul’s Cathedral). However, I felt pressured to rush through these a bit so I could fit more attractions into the day and get my money’s worth. If I had been paying directly for these attractions, I would have spent more time at them. There were also a couple attractions I went into just because I had the pass. Although I ended up enjoying the HMS Belfast, I never would have entered without The London Pass.
There were some attractions that I didn’t feel were worth it. The View from the Shard was little more than a rooftop bar with a big cover charge (and it wasn’t even on the roof). Touring Westminster Abbey was okay, but I had a much better time at the free Evensong service I attended there a few days before I started using The London Pass. Of course, every person’s opinion is different, so I didn’t know how I’d personally feel about these attractions until I went there myself. Now that I know, I know not to go back to those places if and when I return to London.
In fact, while The London Pass was good for a first-time visitor to London like me, I don’t think it would be a very good value for a returning traveler. Some of the attractions were one-and-done deals. For those that I would be interested in seeing again, I would plan out my visit ahead of time and try to find discount tickets specifically for those attractions. Or I would just enjoy the abundance of free museums, church services, and parks available to everyone in London. Although you might miss out on a few must-dos, it is possible to spend nothing on attractions and still have an enjoyable time in London.
Conclusion: For London first-timers who are spending several days or more in the city, go ahead and buy The London Pass. Buy a short-length pass (three days seemed almost perfect), and supplement your non-London-Pass days with an abundance of free attractions and sites not included in the London Pass. If you’ve been to London before or are only going for a very short trip (say, a weekend getaway or a business conference where you won’t be available during the daytime), try to find other ways to save on the attractions you want to visit.
Do you have the holiday of a lifetime booked for this summer? Perhaps you’re counting down the days- as maybe after years of wanderlust you finally went ahead and booked that bucket list trip that you’ve always dreamed about. If so, you’ll want to make sure you remember every detail when you get home, and capture as many moments as you can. Here are just a few ways you can go about it!
Bring a good quality camera
Almost everyone these days owns a smartphone with a decent camera on it, however, the pictures taken on these devices will never be as good as ‘proper’ cameras. If you’re going on the holiday of a lifetime, you’ll want to take the best pictures you possibly can and so it’s worth investing in the best camera possible. Something like a bridge or DSLR can give you some really professional shots, but with so many shooting options you might want to go on a short course beforehand so you know how to use it properly. Otherwise, even point and shoot cameras these days can give you excellent clear photos and are something that anyone can use. You could still use your smartphone as well, but it’s worth taking out a decent camera at least on a few of the days, especially if you know you’re going somewhere really scenic.
Have some professional photographs taken
Another option for capturing the best pictures you can is to hire a professional. This is a good choice as it enables you to get pictures of all of your party together, rather than one of you always having to be behind the camera. Do some research before you go. For example if you’re heading to Santorini, you could search for a professional photographer in Santorini and see who is available for the dates you’ll be there. In some locations there will be professional photographers already out and about that you could utilise if you see them. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment when you’re away, but once you return home your pictures are so important as they help you to remember everything. So it really is worth booking something like this.
Create a scrapbook
All of those ticket stubs, receipts, luggage tags and more can all be kept and added to a travel scrapbook when you get home. Add some pictures and some cute embellishments and you have something really interesting you can look back on for years to come. Keep hold of any interesting bits of paperwork and other items you accumulate while you’re away, and purchase a scrapbook once you’re home. It’s the perfect way to remember your holiday!
If this is a really special trip, maybe even the holiday of a lifetime then you might never return to this place. So it makes sense to soak up every moment, and capture all of the details you can so you can remember it as clearly as possible.
April had a lot going on. I worked a ton of hours, but I also traveled a ton of days. And yet I still had time and energy to focus on saving. In fact, I far surpassed my goal of couponing $2000 this year! How did I do it all?
My main job doesn’t usually allow us to work overtime, but I was given a few exceptions this month because there were shifts that no one else was available to cover. (Like me, pretty much everyone who works there has multiple jobs, and some take time off to travel too.) Yay for extra hourly pay! I also got paid time-and-a-half for working several hours on Easter evening. Since I did all the Easter activities in the morning and afternoon, I didn’t miss out on the holiday while earning holiday pay.
Besides the pay and knowing that my work makes a difference in the world, another perk to working more hours is that I’m not tempted to spend money while I’m at work. Still, I’m excited to turn the pay from this work time into fun during travel time!
Travel, Travel, Travel
To be honest, I thought I’d be further along in preparing for my trip to Europe. But here I am, just a week away and I haven’t even packed yet! (On my last trip to Europe, I was all packed over a month ahead of time.) But other travel opportunities kept popping up, and I wanted to take advantage of them all! I don’t think there will be any more travel until I head to the airport on Wednesday, so now I’ll be able to focus on getting ready to go. But everything else was definitely worth it!
I mentioned last month that I got a super discount on a cruise to The Bahamas. My mom and I decided to buy our plane tickets to the departure port a few weeks ago. While that would normally cost less than the cruise itself, because of how much I saved, the plane tickets will be the biggest expense! I also purchased two excursions through the cruise line and saved a total of 19%. (That’s 10% off during a sale weekend, and another 10% back for using the cruise’s credit card.)
But the real fun was all the travel I got to do in April. The first weekend was sort of a camp weekend, except it didn’t take place up at camp. It was my first time participating in the annual coast trip. Even though it rained the entire time, we stayed in a cool rental home and did get to go out a little.
It felt more like camp last weekend when I went up to the mountains on my own. I visited the church we attend during most weekend camps, and afterward, I went a few miles up the road to hike a bit of the PCT. Despite being a native Oregonian, I don’t have much experience with the Pacific Crest Trail. This was the longest I’ve ever hiked on it, and my first time hiking it in the state of Oregon. It made for a pretty good day trip, all for the cost of just a little gas in my car!
That wasn’t my only hike this month. I spent one of my days off hiking on Roxy Ann, which is just a few miles from my house. I went up to the summit of the peak and then explored a new trail I hadn’t been on before.
Another outdoor adventure was a day trip to the Lava Beds National Monument. While this normally isn’t a cheap excursion (it’s now $25 dollars per vehicle entry), I time my visits to Lava Beds around the National Parks Service’s free entry days. With a free entry day to kick off National Park Week, I got to explore about a dozen lava tubes for just the cost of getting there. I also made short stops at Tulelake National Wildlife Refuge and Valor in the Pacific’s Camp Tulelake on my way there and back.
Pear Blossom is my city’s annual big festival. Although I ended up working the morning of the parade, I did attend the street fair the day before while I was babysitting. I actually walked there with the kids, which was an adventure on its own. While they each bought a snack, we mostly walked around to snag freebies from some of the booths. I got some good stuff! Some of it, like a travel tube of sunscreen, will be useful on my trip to Europe.
I housesat for a few days. It was just while my parents were on a camping trip, but being in a different environment (and using their hot tub) is a change of pace.
But my biggest trip of the month was at the very end, and actually went into May. I knew I’d have to go to a passport agency if my passport didn’t come, so I made an appointment in Seattle. It did end up shipping, but I decided to head north anyway. Like March, I was invited to another advance screening of a Christian movie. However, they didn’t offer this screening in Medford. Although know I spent more in gas to get there than what a movie ticket would cost, I did get to see the upcoming Kendrick Brothers’ movie Overcomer. I took a friend along, and we both really liked it.
Portland was just supposed to be an extended day trip, with me driving there while my friend slept and her driving home while I slept. However, shortly before we left, she decided to get an AirBnB reservation. This extended our trip by a day and allowed us to pack in more adventure. (Since May 1st involved travel up until my scheduled work time, and then I went to bed immediately after work, that’s why I’m posting this update late.)
Save, Save, Save
I’ve saved $2,243.91. I also made a lot of extra money working, but I decided to stop counting that as I’ve already met my earning goals and it was getting difficult to keep track of all the extra time I worked.
One fun way I saved this month was while babysitting on National Pretzel Day. After picking the kids up from school, we all headed to Wetzel’s Pretzels to grab a free soft pretzel.
Overcomer wasn’t the only movie I saw this past month. I saw Unplanned during my local theater’s discount Tuesday. I used my Cinemark Rewards to get a $3 off coupon for my movie snack pack. My local library also had a free movie day this month, and they provided popcorn and soda for free! The library was also a good place to borrow materials and attend a lecture about a local historical area.
I bought a Groupon last year that I wasn’t able to use, but Groupon allowed me to exchange it for another one. I used it towards a massage and used a coupon code on top of that. So I got a super-inexpensive-yet-quality massage!
Lowe’s had a spring sale a few days ago. When I first saw someone post about it on Instagram, I thought it was a scam. Why would they send you a gift card just for texting them that was good for one day only? Later when I found out this was legit, they had already run out of coupons. However, I’m a part of a few Facebook saving groups, and someone from one of those groups gave me a $10 code that she wasn’t going to use. I used it to buy potting soil (for free seeds I got at Pear Blossom) and some spinach seedlings. I’m now growing a variety of herbs and veggies in containers on my front steps.
I was a little lacking in Swagbucks this month, but I did end up earning enough to get a discount Visa gift card as well as a discounted gift card to Domino’s.
The biggest savings was using my Carnival credit card towards my cruise. Not only do I get savings when I book shore excursions, but I also got a $200 credit with my first use! Two of my credit cards actually owe me money right now due to rewards.
What May Will Look Like
I’ll still be saving money, at least for parts of May. It’s my birthday month, so of course I’ll be redeeming a few birthday freebies! But since I’ll be on my trip for the majority of the month, I will also be taking a vacation from tracking my savings. I may travel frugally, but am willing to spend money if it’s worth it. At this point, my savings have added up to a big amount. With it, I’ve been able to pay for my flights, hostel reservations, and packaged attractions. Basically, the only extra expenses will be food, ground transportation, and maybe a souvenir or two. I’ve been working so long for this, but I can’t believe that it’s finally here!
Ecuador often gets overshadowed by its neighbour Peru, but the country is just as fascinating – it has some unique natural sights and a rich history. Here are just five things you must do whilst in Ecuador.
Explore the unique wildlife of The Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands are Ecuador’s biggest tourist pull – these islands are renowned for their unique species of animals including Galapagos penguins, the marine iguana and the flightless cormorant. The islands are also home to some of the oldest giant tortoises in the world and contain a large population of sea lions.
There are lots of ways to explore the Galapagos Island. Taking a boat such as the Camila catamaran could be a way to tour the islands in style – you can find out more details about the Camila catamaran. Alternatively, you may wish to stay on the islands and do some hiking.
Ecuador’s capital Quito is tucked away high in the Andes and is the second-highest city in the world. It’s colonial architecture is some of the most well preserved in South America – this includes a cathedral and several churches dating back to the 16th and 17th century. There are plenty of restaurants here for trying some of the country’s best food and a number of museums for learning about the city’s history.
There are lots of hotels and hostels to try in Quito. Those wanting to absorb the history should stay in Quito Old Town, whilst those looking for nightlife should stay in La Mariscal.
Trek your way to the ruins of Ingapirca
The ancient ruins of Ingapirca may not be as impressive as Machu Picchu, but they’re still a sight to behold. The ex-Inca stronghold is made up of several buildings – the most notable being the Temple of the Sun. It also contains a museum run by indigenous Canari and the grass around it is grazed by llamas.
Cotopaxi is an active volcano in the Andes and the second largest summit in Ecuador. It offers some of the most picturesque views in the country and is one of the best places to spot condors.
Climbing Cotopaxi is no easy task and is best done with a guide. Most people begin the climb at midnight – it can take five to ten hours to reach the top.
Spot dolphins in the Amazon river
The Amazon river also stretches into Ecuador as does much of the rainforest. Here you can spot all kinds of diverse wildlife including howler monkeys and caimans. One of the most unique creatures in this part of the Amazon is the pink river dolphin – by taking a boat trip from Dolphin Lodge, you may be able to spot one of these creatures.
You’re best off travelling to Panacocha via bus. You’ll find many tours that you can take throughout this region.
Can you believe there was an upcoming road trip that I DIDN’T want to go on? I really didn’t want to go to Seattle. It’s not that I don’t like Seattle. In fact, that’s the city where I first really fell in love with travel. But I wasn’t looking forward to the reason that I might have to go there.
The government was forcing me.
This is my personal experience in getting two passports in twelve years. Read to the end for tips on how to save money when getting YOUR passport!
You see, when I was fifteen, I applied for my very first passport. I was headed to Peru with my youth group. Unfortunately, this was 2007, when it first became a requirement that US citizens have a passport to go to Mexico and Canada. That really increased the demand for passports, and mine somehow got misplaced or pushed to the back burner in the passport-producing office. No matter how many times I called to check on it or how many times it got expedited, it was just not coming on time. And I applied months in advance! My mom had to drive me to an appointment in Seattle to get a same-day passport just a few days before I left. My original passport ended up arriving the day before I RETURNED from Peru! So I ended up having two US passports for a short period of time, but since that’s illegal I had to send the unused one back. (I also ended up with two birth certificates due to this fiasco, but apparently, that’s allowed.)
On that trip up to Seattle, I was excited. I had been a couple times before on choir trips. I think I fell in love because it was my first time being out of state for multiple days without any relatives. Who knew this independence would cultivate a solo female traveler? Even though I was going with a family member now, I was excited to see things on my own terms this time. My mom had never been to Seattle, but she wasn’t nearly as excited. She warned me that she would turn the car around if we heard word that my passport was being shipped. She wanted to leave Seattle pretty much as soon as I had a passport in hand. However, it did take several hours between our appointment and the time that the passport got printed, so I did have time to show her the main sights. While I did understand that this excursion was unplanned for and an inconvenience, I didn’t get why we couldn’t think of it as a fun bonus trip. Now that I’ve had experience as an adult getting my second passport (well, technically it’s my third if you count the one I had to return), I’m definitely more understanding.
I Almost Repeated this Seattle Incident
For my upcoming trip to Ireland and England, I made plans. I bought tickets. I made reservations. I saved money. I kept you all updated in my progress for getting there. I even booked another international trip for later this year. I was excited to go, and nothing could stop me. Except for maybe the fact that I didn’t have a valid passport.
My first passport expired in 2017. I originally planned to renew it six months before its expiration so that I would always be ready to jump at any opportunity to visit another country. I even got my passport photos taken and filled out an application. But then I decided not to send it in. I didn’t have any travel plans in the works. I figured that I would wait until I actually needed a passport again. Since an adult US passport is valid for 10 years, I could extend the validity by waiting. Unfortunately, I waited a bit too long.
I applied for my passport seven weeks before my departure date. The government asks for 4-6 weeks for processing, and lately, I’ve heard most people getting their passports in less than four weeks. So I figured I was good to go.
Four weeks passed. No passport. I started checking online. All it said was that it was “being processed”. Finally, I had to do it. I made an appointment at Seattle’s passport agency.
There’s actually a closer passport agency in San Francisco. I couldn’t go there in 2007 because it was all booked up for weeks. (It probably wasn’t as bad as the agency I saw when I went to New York City in June 2007. The line of people waiting to get passports there wrapped around the block! If I’d known that my passport wouldn’t be coming, I would have stood in line with them.) I considered going there this time, but I’ve driven in San Francisco traffic before. It might be faster to drive to Seattle. I also wanted to take a quick trip to Portland, so I could just tack on a detour to Seattle after that.
Thankfully, the day after I made my appointment to go to Seattle one week before I leave the country, I got an update that my passport was being shipped. This not only saved me time and stress, but also saved me the extra day I would have to take off of work to get to Seattle, the costs associated with driving up there, the night in a hostel, and parking fees, not to mention the expedited fees.
Did I Save Money?
So yes, I guess I saved money by planning ahead (although I barely squeaked by with only a one-week buffer). I won’t have to cover the costs of a mandatory bonus trip. But even when I did have to take this bonus trip for my first passport, my family was surprised that we still ended up saving some money.
At the recommendations of friends, my mom and I stayed in SeaTac, the Washington city between Seattle and Tacoma that houses the airport. A motel there was cheaper than downtown Seattle. On the way there, we did have to stop in Salem, Oregon so I could get a new birth certificate. (My original birth certificate was wherever my original passport was.) That cost money, but even today it’s nice to know that I have a backup birth certificate in case something happens.
We knew there was an additional expedited fee, and my mom assumed that we’d also have to pay the passport fee. When we got to our appointment, we found out we didn’t have to pay the passport fee again (we already paid it when we applied for the original passport). But it was a nice surprise to find out that we didn’t have to pay the expedited fee either. It wasn’t our fault that my passport was left untouched for months, so the government was nice enough to cover their mistake. Since the agency is in a metropolitan area, we did have to pay for parking. But while we waited for the passport to print, we were able to sightsee on foot for free. We went to the sports stadiums, the Space Needle, and so much more!
Renewing a passport is a little less expensive than applying for a first-time passport IF you send in your previous passport. I kept my old passport in my dedicated travel supply drawer, so I sent that in with the lower fee. The renewal application is something you just have to print and mail, which saved time. I paid extra for tracking with the postal service, but overall spent less than my first-time passport.
Or did I?
Here’s the super-special way I saved on my first passport that I like to brag about, since I don’t think it could ever be replicated.
How old was I when I applied for my passport? Fifteen. For children who apply for passports at age fifteen and younger, the passport is only valid for five years. It costs less than an adult passport. If you apply after your sixteenth birthday, you have to pay for a full-fledged adult passport, but that is valid for ten years.
By the time I was headed to Seattle to get my same-day passport, I had already turned sixteen. That meant they had to give me the ten-year adult passport. But the agency considered the payment that was sent with my original passport application as payment in full. That meant I got a ten-year passport for the price of a five-year passport. When I did receive the original passport, it was indeed only valid for five years. Actually, it was never really valid at all since the government demanded that we send it back. But I definitely enjoyed those extra five years on my first passport. For the first five years on that passport, I took two trips to Peru and a trip to Mexico. With my five free years, I walked to Canada a couple times. (Yes, I walked to Canada. Okay, I was staying less than a mile from the border in Niagara Falls, so it wasn’t that big of a feat.) It was also during those five free years that I spent three months backpacking across the Mediterranean. That’s a well-used discount passport!
How to Save Money on Your Passport
Note that these are based on my experience in the US. Your results may vary.
If you have an expired passport, keep it in a safe place so you can use it to save time and money on your next passport application.
If you don’t have travel plans, consider waiting to apply for a passport. (But don’t wait too long!)
Don’t get your passport photos taken only to not apply for a passport. It’s illegal to send in photos that are older than six months, so these pricey pictures are pretty much worthless after that.
Don’t pay to expedite your passport. Apply for it more than six weeks before your departure date. If it doesn’t look like it will come in time with this precaution, call to have the government expedite it for free due to their delay.
Spring on the few extra dollars to get tracking when mailing in your passport application. Once it’s arrived at the processing center, you can track it for free at passportstatus.state.gov.
If you do end up having to visit a passport agency, make the most of your trip. Check to see which agency is closest to your home, but also consider further agencies if it will save you money or make your trip more fun. Depending on the circumstances, you may have to pay the expedited fee at the agency, but if it’s due to a processing error, you should be able to get your passport at no extra cost. Make sure you have all the needed documents (and maybe some extras, just in case), so you don’t take this trip for nothing. There are only a handful of passport agencies scattered across the United States, so it will be an ordeal of a trip for most of us!
Did you think it was possible to save money on a passport before you read this? Did anyone besides me end up with a discount passport? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Thailand is one of the most popular destinations for people that are on their gap year and that’s what people tend to associate it with. People have this picture of Thailand as being a place filled with 20 somethings that are looking to party, but that’s not all it is. Bangkok is a pretty hectic place and if you’re looking for a more relaxing trip, it might not be ideal to stay there for the whole time, but you shouldn’t write off Thailand completely because it’s an incredible country to visit. If you’ve never been there before and you’re planning your first trip, here are some great tips to help you get the best out of this amazing country.
If you want the true gap year travelers experience then you’ll probably end up in a hostel somewhere, but if that’s not what you’re looking for then you should avoid them. They’re very basic and they’re not the kind of place you want to stay if you’re looking for a relaxing trip. They’re better suited to people that just need somewhere to keep their bag and catch a few hours of sleep before heading out again. A lot of people think that all of the accommodation in Thailand is going to be like that but that isn’t the case. In fact, there are some great hotels like the ones run by the New Nordic Group which offer a luxurious experience. According to their CEO Kurt Svendheim, Pattaya is the next place that they’re going to start renovations and new developments on their hotels. If you want to stay somewhere more comfortable than the classic hostels, that’s where you should head.
Always Carry Cash
You’re probably used to paying for everything on a card these days and a lot of people never carry cash at all, but that isn’t going to work out very well for you in Thailand. You’ll be fine paying on a card at your hotel and a few of the more high-end restaurants, but apart from that, everywhere is going to expect payment in cash. You can usually find ATMs in most places but if you’re heading somewhere off the beaten track, make sure you get plenty of cash out beforehand.
Watch Out For Scams
Thailand gets a lot of tourists and there are plenty of people out there that will try to rip them off. Most of the locals are very friendly which often means that people get careless and fall victim to scams. Before you go, you should read up on the most common scams in Thailand so you know what to look out for. Tuk Tuk scams are one of the most common. When you get in, they’ll ask you where you’re heading. Then they’ll tell you that the place that you’re going to is overpriced or not worth visiting and recommend somewhere better. The thing is, they’re getting paid to deliver you to an overpriced shop or underwhelming tourist attraction where you’ll waste money. Do your own research first and stick to your itinerary. This is just one of the many scams that you need to watch out for.
Thailand is a great place to visit and you’ll have a brilliant trip as long as you follow these simple tips.