Tag Archives: comparison

Choosing the Right Form of Accommodation for Each of Your Trips

Every holiday or trip away from home is unique. You’ll be heading to different places and travelling for different purposes. In short, you’ll expect something different from each place that you visit. So you can’t expect one form of accommodation to cater to all of your needs regardless of the situation. It only makes sense that you should consider where you’re going to stay during each of your journeys before setting off and ensuring that you choose the option that best suits your needs at that given time. Here are a few different types of accommodation to consider next time you’re away from home.

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Hotels

Hotels are perhaps the most commonly used form of accommodation when people go on their travels. It’s not surprising. They’re comfortable, luxurious, and offer you pretty much anything and everything that you could possibly wish for as part of your vacation. They are ideal for those who want rest, relaxation and recuperation. If the weather is fine, you can take advantages of common features such as pools and sun loungers. Many also offer spas where you can receive massages, facials, and other treatments. Perhaps the best part? Large buffets or other forms of catering that keep your appetite satiated day and night. They may be relatively expensive, but they are great for a treat.

Hostels

Hostels are like budget versions of hotels. You may lack privacy, as you will likely have to share your room or dorm with other weary travellers, but you will have somewhere to rest your head for the night. This doesn’t sound ideal, but their low price makes up for what facilities and luxuries they lack. Hostels are the ideal form of accommodation for backpacking. You can save the money that you do have for food and activities, without having to resort to sleeping on the streets or forking out for lavish hotels. So, if you merely need somewhere to sleep, this is the option for you. You can simply get your head down, the set off on your new adventures the following day. Job done!

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Corporate Housing

Many people will not have heard of this option before, but corporate housing is great for business trips or extended leisure trips where you want a home away from home. Decorated and furnished apartments are let out for short periods of time. They are often located in large cities, so provide the perfect option for those who are considering a city break. While you explore by day, you can rest safe in the knowledge that you have a comfortable home to return to at night with all the amenities and home comforts you could wish for.

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Tents

If you’re seeking an experience a little further out from the city and the wilderness calls, camping could be the best option for you. What do you camp in? A tent. However, things nowadays are a little more complicated when it comes to purchasing the right tent for your needs. Different styles are designed for different purposes, and prices can vary from low to extremely expensive. So work out how long you’re going to be out in the elements for and how severe weather conditions are likely to be. For even the shortest of trips, you’re going to want something that is watertight and water resistant. If you are going to be camping for a while, you will want something a little larger to avoid feeling cooped up or claustrophobic. At the same time, you want everything to be as lightweight as possible, as you’re going to have to carry it to and from your designated campsite. Tents, however, aren’t just for those looking to venture into the woods. They are also a must-have for festival-goers who are planning on seeing all of their favourite bands over an extended weekend.

Log Cabin

If you fancy heading out of the city and into the countryside, but fancy a little more comfort than the humble tent can provide, you may want to consider a more permanent fixture. A log cabin, to be precise. These give you a taste of the rural at the same time as guaranteeing your warmth and security. They are rustic, homely, and a great way for you to escape from the rush and hubbub of the inner city without having just a thin layer of material between you and the elements.

These are just a few different forms of accommodation that you might experience on your travels. Remember that there’s so much more out there than the standard hotel room. Broaden your experience and be adventurous!

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Road Trip Weekend, Part 3: Explore Old Places in New Ways

It’s the weekend! What a great time for a road trip! Each day of this weekend, I’ve shared a recent road trip I took. My hope is that, even if you don’t take the route I did, you’ll get some tips and inspiration for wherever you go! Friday gave advice on things like how to meet your role models on the road. Then on Saturday, I shared tips for overcoming fear and having fun. Today brings us to new places never mentioned on this site before, as well as a few that we mentioned recently. But all these places will be explored differently.

I made it all the way through June without going on a single overnight trip. You could say I was having road trip withdrawals. After getting my new car, I was really itching to put some pavement behind me. I looked at my next weekend, and my only commitment was a chiropractic appointment on Saturday morning. I couldn’t change it to an earlier time, and I didn’t want to cancel it, so I wasn’t sure if travel would be a possibility that day. But when I woke up Saturday morning, I decided that I’d just work some travel around that.

There was an interesting-sounding hostel in Eugene, Oregon that I had never stayed at before. On the morning of, there was only one bed left to book, which just so happened to be in the female dorm. I quickly got ready (not packing much at all), made a rough plan of stops I would make, and headed off to the chiropractor. The doctor typically asks if I have anything exciting planned for that day, so it was nice to go in and tell him something interesting for a change!

Seven Feathers
Leaving Seven Feathers… after about five minutes!

My first stop was at Seven Feathers. I’ve only stopped there once, and that was back when my sister was underage, so I never actually walked through the casino part of the resort. However, I didn’t gamble. It was just a quick stop to use the bathroom, get on the WiFi, and take a picture with the world’s largest cast iron eagle.

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The front of the hostel. My room is the one with the balcony!

After a couple more hours of driving up the I-5, I checked into Eugene Whiteaker International Hostel. While on the medium-to-small side as far as hostels go, this became one of my top hostels in the character and comfort categories.

Owen Rose Garden
Flowers coincidentally matching my shirt.

I didn’t stay long, however, because I only had the afternoon to explore Eugene. Thankfully, everything I wanted to see could be access from the Eugene Riverwalk, which was just a few blocks from the hostel. Before I got on the trail, I smelled the Owen Rose Garden.

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On the Riverwalk, which went by parks, businesses, and natural areas.

After walking towards downtown for a bit, I came across a planet. Saturn, to be exact. This was a good sign, since my goal was to make it to the sun. Okay, maybe I should explain. The city of Eugene displays a lot of permanent public art.  One of those is a scale model of the solar system. The sun, moon, and all the planets (including Pluto!) are all the correct size and distance from each other… if they shrunk to a billionth of what they actually are! While I would have loved to see Neptune and Pluto, they were miles away from the other planets distributed through a park and along the Riverwalk. After Saturn, I had to walk quite a bit further before I reached Jupiter. Then it would be a long time before I saw Mars.

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Following the footprints to University of Oregon. Go Ducks!

But before I saw the small planets, I made a stop at University of Oregon. I didn’t end up in the central part of campus, but I enjoyed walking through an art department. Due to summer break, it seemed like a ghost town. If you want to visit Eugene for the culture, I would recommend going during the school year!

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One of the U of O student gardens had a peace pole.

I should mention how beautiful the parks lining the river are. It’s neat that even a semi-large city like Eugene purposely sets aside prime locations for the public to enjoy. At one point, I was walking through a forested area! It was a long walk of many miles, but the beautiful urban nature and finding the planets kept me going. On my way back, I even walked further than I needed to so that I could see Uranus!

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The sun in comparison to the moon and Earth.
Back at the hostel, I ate, relaxed, and did something artsy for the first time in a long time. Most importantly, I rested up for an even bigger day following.

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Despite me supposedly booking the last bed, I ended up with just one roommate in our four-bed dorm. That meant no one on my top bunk!

On Sunday morning, I got ready, enjoyed the free hostel pancakes, and looked up where I needed to go that day. It all started with over an hour of driving to the Oregon Coast. I headed up to Yachats to begin my day at Thor’s Well. I had seen pictures of this blowhole online over the past few years, and I wanted to be able to see it for myself. Most of the pictures online were taken at high tide, which just could not work with my itinerary that day. But it was still a fantastic sight when I saw the water shoot up from the ground. And I had the added advantage of being able to walk right up to it!

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A beautiful blowhole by the name of Thor’s Well.

Thor’s Well was the only planned attraction of this trip, but there was more to see on the Central Oregon Coast. While I’ve been to much of the Oregon Coast, I’m most familiar with the Southern part since it’s the most accessible from my home. I think the last time I was on the Central Oregon Coast, I was in middle or elementary school!

Heceta Head
Hiking up to Heceta Head Lighthouse.

It was surprising how many stops I ended up taking just between Yachats and the neighboring town of Florence. There was Heceta Head Lighthouse which I of course had to tour, which was right next to a beach that was perfect for eating lunch at. Then I decided that, while expensive (at $14 a head!), I should check out the Sea Lion Caves.

Sea Lion Caves
See the sea lions?

In the past, when I told a former coworker about my solo travels, she would say that the only solo trip she’d ever done was driving out to the Sea Lion Caves by herself. That was what sold me on going here, just following in her footsteps I suppose. I was surprised at how many other people traveled out here; some were even from other countries! After entering through the gift shop, I ended up on a trail outside facing the Pacific Ocean. To the left, there was a lookout point where you could look down and see dozens of sea lions enjoying the sun and sea. Then to the right, there was an elevator that went deep down into the cave.

Sea Lion Cave
Inside the cave. If you look closely, you’ll find sea lions on the rock in the middle of the water.

The cave had a looping video, skeletons of sea lions, and informational panels about the different species. Of course, there was an opening to look into the part of the cave where the sea lions were, all piled on a rock. It was fairly distant, and at first I was a little disappointed in this place when you can see the San Francisco sea lions a lot closer, and for free. But then I found out that the staff member overseeing that area had a pair of binoculars that she loaned out to visitors, and she had plenty of stories to tell about the sea lions that I could now see up-close!

Sand Dunes
I watched some sandboarders play around on this dune for a bit.

I stopped for some s’mores flavored ice cream at a Florence ice cream shoppe called BJ’s, and then went behind the Fred Meyer to enjoy the sand dunes. (I wish I brought a sandboard or toboggan!) I continued driving south. I got a tip when planning for my NorCal road trip to San Francisco last summer that, if you go on a one-way trip along the West Coast, make sure you go south. That way, your side of the road has better views of the ocean. Good advice!

Coast Mirror
Mirror selfie! (With a lighthouse in the background!)

I stopped at another lighthouse (though the tour was too expensive for this one) and an ocean overlook. I even went on a little nature walk through a patch of darlingtonia, which is a carnivorous pitcher plant. I tried stopping at an old favorite coffee shop in Coos Bay, but it was closed by the time I got there. Finally, I made it to Old Town Bandon.

Old Town Bandon
My booth at the Mexican restaurant overlooked all the boats in the harbor.

I enjoyed many of the same places as I did the last time I stopped in Bandon, including the delicious Cranberry Sweets. But for some reason, I was craving Mexican food. Maybe it was because a favorite place to go when I worked in Bandon was El Jalepeno, a restaurant with big, unique, tasty burritos. Sadly, that closed down years ago. So I searched on my GPS to see if there were any Mexican restaurants still standing in Bandon. There was, and it just happened to be in Old Town! I walked there and enjoyed a feast. I think it was my first time eating solo at a sit-down Mexican restaurant, and it was a revelation to realize that I could double-dip my chips in the salsa!

Kissing Rock
The sun setting over Kissing Rock in Gold Beach.

With a full belly, I pondered where to go from here. Everything south of Bandon would just be a repeat of my trip to Brookings a couple months prior. It would be faster to head back to the I-5, but that would also be a repeat but with less scenery. I decided to take the long way home so that I could enjoy more of the coastal views. Most of it was drive-by enjoyment, such as through the Mount Humbug and Prehistoric Gardens area. But I did make a quick stop at Kissing Rock in Gold Beach as the sun was setting. I even stopped at Oregon’s highest bridge, which I’ve driven over several times but never actually stopped to look at. I took an even longer break in Brookings so I could explore Azalea Park, which was too rainy to enjoy the last time I was there. When I was a kid and camped near Brookings, the Azalea Park playground was like a castle. I played on it for a few seconds for old time’s sake, but was now more impressed with the garden and the capella.

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Inside the Azalea Park Capella

After that, it was a dark, eerie-but-fun drive through the redwoods. I work the overnight shift between Sunday and Monday, and I made it there with ten minutes to spare!

Other than Yachats, I had already been to all the towns that I stopped at on this road trip. Yet it felt like an entirely new experience. Enjoying different attractions or seeing the same attractions in different ways (such as different times of day or even different ages!) made it a whole new experience.

Have you ever visited a destination more than once? What felt different on subsequent trips? Let me know in the comments!

This trip was made possible because I found a reservation for Eugene Whiteaker International Hostel on Hostelz.com. I recommend Hostelz.com to find the biggest selection of hostels out there. Click here to save money on accommodations while simultaneously helping this site!

Hostelling International: Is It Worth the Membership?

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This non-HI hostel was probably one of the worst values I’ve gotten from a hostel. But can a Hostelling International membership really make travel better?

This morning I decided to crunch some numbers and find out how many different hostels I’ve stayed at in my lifetime.

The answer?

Twenty two. And then I made a booking for my twenty-third hostel this morning.

Because I hear a lot about the benefits of a Hostelling International membership, I wondered how much money I could have saved in my past twenty-two hostel visits if I had the membership.

That answer?

Way less than twenty two.

Out of the twenty two hostels I have stayed at, only two of them were HI (Hostelling International) hostels. The hostel I booked today also happens to be HI. Hostelling International memberships cost $18, but can result in discounts on stays.  There are plenty of reasons I have chosen independent hostels over HI hostels most of the time:

-There are way more independent hostels than HI hostels. Hostels are rare in the United States and any rural area. HI tends to have hostels in most big cities, but even then they’ve let lots of cities slip through the cracks. My first hostel trip was to Nashville, and it seems like Hostelling International doesn’t even know that the entire South exists!

-Other hostels have been better located. Last year I was making a hostel reservation during my trip to Europe and thought I found a pretty good HI hostel in Florence. However, when I looked up more information on it, I realized the hostel was outside of the city! Since my goal was to explore the city on foot, this was not an option.

-Other hostels have been cheaper. Most HI hostels accept non-HI members, but add on an extra fee. Even without this added cost, I’ve found independent hostels in the same area that are a comparable price or possibly less expensive.

-HI hostels are not necessarily a quality guarantee. There are a few requirements for HI hostels to be part of this network. However, these are requirements that most travelers have come to expect from a hostel, so most hostels will offer the same features anyway. And if there’s any questions, the hostel website and review sites can give more than enough insight.

So why did I ever stay in HI hostels? Well, I shouldn’t be too hard on them. I enjoyed the time I stayed in both of them:

Chicago Hostel
HI Chicago Reception

HI Chicago

The main reason I stayed one night at HI Chicago was because it was the closest hostel to the bus station that had availability during the busy Labor Day weekend! Since I was moving at the time, I had a lot of luggage to drag with me, so walking to my hostel was not an option, and I didn’t want to spend too much on cab fare. This is actually a very centrally located place to stay, and the jumbo-size hostel had some nice amenities. Since I only stayed one night, the extra charge didn’t set me back too much, and definitely not enough to justify buying a membership.

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Exterior of HI Sacramento

HI Sacramento

The main reason I stayed one night at HI Sacramento is because it really is the only hostel in California’s capital! I reserved a private room since I was using this as an opportunity to introduce my mom to hostelling. Our room was probably around the same price as a cheap motel in the same city, but we did have some features here that we may of not otherwise been able to enjoy- such as free breakfast or staying in a historic mansion! The parking fee plus the non-member fee did add to the cost, but again, staying only one night was not enough the justify the cost of being a member.

Why I’m Staying in an HI Hostel on my Upcoming Trip

I reserved a HI hostel because it was the only hostel in the city that provided parking, which is incredibly important for a road trip! It was also in a good part of town, unlike others that may have been cheaper (or not). And because it’s located on a National Park Site, they state that they aren’t allowed to charge an extra fee to non-members. So even though I’m staying more than one night, an HI membership wouldn’t even save me a penny!

I’m not against Hostelling International, and it’s possible that I may even get a membership one day if it ends up being worthwhile. But for now, I’ll enjoy being an independent traveler staying at hostels independently!

Is It Worth It-

Do you think an HI membership would be worth the cost? Have you ever been an HI member?

Places Change

A little over a year ago, I made a stop at the historic Butte Creek Mill. It hadn’t changed much since it opened in 1872.

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But recently, I was driving through Eagle Point, and decided to make a quick detour to go by Butte Creek Mill. Here’s what it looks like now:

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Christmas morning brought many surprises as usual, but an unexpected and unwanted surprise was hearing the news that this beautiful historic mill caught fire. It was shocking to comprehend that something that had stood the test of time had so suddenly disappeared as it literally went up in smoke.

In the following weeks, residents from my area kept up on the news of what would happen to the site where Butte Creek Mill once stood. I was filled with hope when the owner announced that just enough survived to justify rebuilding and restoring the mill. However, it would take a lot of help. I made a small donation within the month of the fire, but after seeing the burned-down mill with my own eyes, I recently made another donation. You can help rebuild Butte Creek Mill, too! I look forward to the day when Butte Creek Mill once again resembles the top photo!

A Tale of Two Parthenons

I have visited two Parthenons. What, you didn’t know there were two of them? You’re probably aware of the most famous Parthenon sitting atop the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. I visited that one a few months ago as part of my three-month Mediterranean Trek.

But this wasn’t the first Parthenon I’ve been to.

Several years ago, I took my first “official” solo trip to Nashville, Tennessee. Like most visitors to this city, I enjoyed the music scene, but I also explored other elements of Nashville, like its history, its Bible belt Christianity, and its parks. Yes, Nashville has some excellent parks that alone may be enough to warrant a trip! There’s the huge Bicentennial Park, the Riverfront Park along the Cumberland, and Centennial Park. The centerpiece of Centennial park is a full-scale replica of Athens’ Parthenon. Seeing this Parthenon is what initially motivated me to visit Greece.

Although Tennessee’s Parthenon is a copy of the one in Greece, each have their own unique characteristics. If you’ve seen one, you may want to plan a trip to go see the other. If you have yet to see either, maybe this comparison will help you decide which to see first!

History

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The Acropolis in the center of Athens

Athens: Obviously, Athens’ ancient Acropolis and Parthenon has a long, rich history, so I’ll just go over some of the highlights that makes it what it is today. The Parthenon was built in ancient Greece as part of the Acropolis, or “City on High”. However, it wasn’t actually a city, but a mountain in the center of Athens where several temples were erected for various gods. The biggest, the Parthenon, was dedicated to Athena, a goddess who is the virgin patron of her namesake city. After thousands of years, the building is understandably in ruins, but some events, such as thievery and an accidental explosion when it was used for military storage, left it in even further shambles.

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The Parthenon in the center of Centennial Park

Nashville: The Parthenon’s replica was one of many buildings constructed on a piece of acreage in celebration of the city’s 100th year. The land aptly became known as Centennial Park. If you visit today, the only building you’ll find in the park is the Parthenon. What happened to all the other buildings? All of the exposition buildings were made to be temporary, but Nashville citizens fell in love with their version of the Parthenon. They protested until the city officials decided to make some structural adjustments to the Parthenon so that it would stand the test of time.

Location

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Behind me is another temple dedicated to Zeus. If you look in the background, you can see that the Parthenon is visible from most other ruins.

Athens: The Parthenon is located on a hill called the Acropolis, in the center of downtown. Back in the day, it was a convenient reminder for the Greeks to pay respect to their religion, especially since they could only travel by feet or chariot. Today, it makes it conveniently located for travelers, who may not even need to take the subway to reach it! I stayed at two hostels in Athens. Most of my time was spent at Athens Backpackers, but one night was spent in AthenStyle. Both of these hostels had a rooftop lookout where you could see the Parthenon, which was especially beautiful lit-up at night. During the day, it was just a short walk (albeit uphill) from both of these places to reach the entrance.

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Downtown Nashville in the backdrop of the Parthenon

Nashville: Because this park was created one hundred years after the downtown area was established, it’s a couple of miles away from other city sites. That doesn’t mean that the Parthenon isn’t accessible, though! Since many people drive to Nashville, they will appreciate that it’s much easier to park here than it is in the city center. I did not visit with a car, but there were several days when I would walk both in the downtown and Centennial Park areas. I stayed at Music City Hostel, which was at an ideal location between the Parthenon and other Nashville attractions.

Condition

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Scaffolding to help preserve the ruins of Athens’ Parthenon

Athens: As mentioned above, the original Parthenon is in disrepair. However, there are people working on its preservation. Many of the original attached pieces of art were taken by the British. (I would love to see a fight break out in this post’s comments about whether or not they were stolen!) Other remaining pieces were moved to the neighboring Acropolis Museum. Regardless, this is in every sense an ancient ruin, and visitors have to stay behind the roped-off area which is several meters away from the Parthenon itself.

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One of the art pieces inside Nashville’s Parthenon

Nashville: Unlike the Athens version, this replica invites people to come inside! While it’s not made with expensive marble like Greece’s, it is structurally sound and fully intact. In addition, of the original Parthenon’s sculptures were replicated and displayed on this Parthenon’s exterior. In other words, it is not a replica of the Greek Parthenon as we see it today. Other than the material it’s made of, it looks exactly like what the Parthenon would have looked like shortly after its construction.

Features

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I’m standing on Areopagus with the Acropolis entrance on the hill behind me

Athens: Surrounding the Parthenon are several other ancient Greek temples. Because it’s on a hill, the views of the city are stunning from up here. Although you can’t touch any of the buildings, you can walk among many pieces of original marble lying around. On the side of the hill is also a historic site that includes two theaters. If you’re into art, you will only see replica sculptures at the Acropolis, but visiting the Acropolis Museum down the hill may be worth the admission. My favorite thing to do at the Acropolis was listen to Rick Steves’ audio tour, which you can download for free onto your phone. On this tour, he even mentions the merit of the other Parthenon, located in…

Nashville: Entering through the basement of the Parthenon, you’ll find lockers and a gift shop. You can then walk up through the next several floors, which is a history museum. The displayed history is a combination of Nashville history (particularly pertaining to the Parthenon) and ancient history of the Athens Acropolis. When you reach the top level, you’ll find yourself face-to-face with a 42-foot statue of Athena, the tallest indoor sculpture in the western world. This is a replica of what was originally found in the Athens Parthenon, but no one knows what happened to that one. It’s even painted in the gold and bright colors that all the Acropolis statues were once painted with. (Though they did use fake gold instead of the real thing!)

Cost

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Athens light up the Parthenon

Athens: Admission to the Acropolis is typically 12 euros, or free for those under 19. I was fortunate enough to be in Athens during European Heritage Days. During this last weekend in September, all visits are free! (A few other Greek holidays also provide free admission.) The ticket also includes admission to other ancient Greek sites around Athens, so this ticket alone may be your only expense in Athens besides, food, accommodations, and transportation. If you don’t want to see the Parthenon up-close (although I don’t see why you wouldn’t want to!), there are several surrounding hills and buildings that offer a great view.

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Nashville lights up the Parthenon

Nashville: Normal admission is $6 for adults or $4 for children and seniors. There are sometimes events outside of normal museum hours that would involve a different rate. However, if you don’t want to go inside (again, I don’t see why you wouldn’t want to!), no one can stop you from enjoying the exterior, and the rest of Centennial Park, for absolutely free! Unlike the other Parthenon, you can touch, walk on, and get up close to building at no expense. It’s even lit up at night like the original! The only caveat is that it’s not on a hill, so you can’t see it outside of Centennial Park.

Which Parthenon would you like to visit next? Let me know in the comments!

 

In Sickness…

Today I feel sick. Sore throat, stuffy nose, lethargic brain… you’ve felt it before. So while I will continue the story of my Mediterranean Trek later, today I would like to share what to do when illness strikes during travel.

Mediterranean Medicine

1973342_1201200929906958_7559396040635860694_oI was sick twice during my Mediterranean Trek. The first one happened before I was even two weeks into the trip. On my last full day in Paris, I watched Le Tour de France in person! To keep my good viewing spot, I had to stand there all day, no matter what. This also happened to be the only day during my time in Paris that it was cold and rainy instead of hot and muggy. Needless to say, I caught a cold. Even worse, I had to take a 17-hour bus ride the next afternoon. That bus dropped me off in Madrid the next morning several miles away from my hostel, and I walked there. I arrived at UHostels sick and tired, despite wanting to go out and see the city.

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I got sick again about a month later. I had just arrived in Venice earlier that day. For dinner, I went out to get a pizza, and then found a place to eat it. I noticed that I didn’t have much of an appetite, but didn’t reach too much into that. A little bit later, it struck. I had an awful stomach bug, possibly even the flu. I had only booked two nights in Venice, and both of those days were spent either in the bathroom or in bed.

Supplies to Soften the Sickness

Pack a few of these items with you in case you get ill during your travels, or otherwise ask the front desk of your hotel or hostel for nearby places to buy these items.

-Diphenhydramine: Better known as Benadryl, I carried this around mainly for allergic reactions. But it turned out to be very beneficial as it was the only reason I was able to get any sleep when I had my cold. It can cause drowsiness, so it’s usually best to take it at night.

-Tissues and Handkerchief: I had a mini pack of tissues in my backpack. On the bus ride to Madrid, I used almost all of them up. I wanted to save a couple in case I needed more later, so I instead found something I could turn into a handkerchief: my Campack towel! It’s the same size as a handkerchief, and it’s quick-drying too! (Sorry if I grossed you out a bit on this one, but rest assured that thing went straight into the washing machine!)

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Traditional Medicinals Herbal Tea: A hot beverage usually makes everything better, but this brand of herbals simply cannot be beat. Gypsy Cold Care was a great flavor during my cold, and Ginger Aid helped my stomach during the recovery process. Just add hot water!

-Extra Privacy: My sleeping arrangements during my cold included sharing a bus with fifty other people and a hostel dorm room. Although my stomach bug was even worse, it was nicer to deal with that in the privacy of my own hotel room with ensuite bathroom! It was very coincidental that I happened to have that bug on the only two days that I had booked a private hotel room. But if you can afford it, there’s often the option to upgrade to a private room, or even a private ensuite room.

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-Gatorade: This was one of about four beverages I bought during my entire trip, but it was oh so worth it! Since I was staying just a block away from Venice’s main tourist spot, St. Mark’s Square, there weren’t very many real grocery stores nearby. I was dizzy, overheated, and tired, so I just went to the closest beverage sales I could find and bought an overpriced bottle of Gatorade. The next day, I was feeling better, but still needed to rehydrate and be gentle with my stomach. I walked further and found a real grocery store, where I got a bottle of Gatorade twice the size for half the price!

-Saltine Crackers: I found these in the same grocery store as the Gatorade. (I tried eating rice crackers from a snack shop the day before, and that wasn’t too bad.) For some reason, in Italy, they only sell saltines in packages of extra large or extra extra large. That was fine by me, as I lived off of them for the next week!

-Cipro: I got a prescription for this just out of precaution, but thankfully I did not have to use it. I considered it when I had flu-like symptoms, but in a way, it was motivation to get better. “I may be sick, but at least I’m not so sick that I have to take Cipro!”

11027449_1201785996515118_110808406398825797_o-Rest: This one was hard for me to do all the time, but it’s helpful in both preventing illness and getting better. Sometimes annoying roommates interrupt your sleep. Sometimes there’s something happening that you’ll want to stay up late or wake up early. Sometimes the excitement of being in a new city just makes you want to go out there and get exhausted from a full day of discovery! Do whatever it takes to suppress your urges enough to get some decent sleep every night.

-Flexibility: All travel plans have some degree of flexibility. While going from Paris to Madrid, I couldn’t make changes in travel plans due to my tight schedule and tight budget. But I did have more control once I got to Madrid. I could stop to rest whenever I felt it was necessary. In Venice, I had more flexibility as I hadn’t yet made reservations for my next destination. On my checkout day, I booked two more nights in a downgraded room so I could actually enjoy all the city had to offer.

 

Just thinking about all the resources I have to help with recovery is making me feel better already! I was able to get better from both illnesses in the Mediterranean in just a couple of days, so here’s to hoping I can heal just as quickly at home!

What’s your secret to recovering from illness?

Money Monday: How to Book Your Hostel

Money Monday is a weekly post about ways you can save during your travels. Enjoy!
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It should be a given that hostels will save individual travelers more money than a hotel would. (Of course there are exceptions. Last spring, I stayed at a hotel in Reno. Out of curiousity I looked up a bed in a Reno hostel, and it was twice the price!) For those of you unfamiliar with hostels, let me give you a brief description: you rent a bed in a dorm room, so you typically end up with roommates from around the world. Hostels are a much more social way to travel, which is especially great for the solo traveler. Plus, since you only book a bed and not an entire room, the hostel charges you less. Huge savings! In fact, my European trip would not have been affordable except for the abundance of great hostels.

So hostels in and of themselves save money, but there are ways to save even more on your hostel. When booking, of course consider whether or not breakfast is included, if you will need to bring your own towel, and little factors like that which could affect the cost. Also consider where you book your hostel. I use a mix of websites to book depending on what is the most advantageous for my bank account. Here are the perks of each:image

Hostelworld This is the most popular hostel booking site. The concept is pretty simple, you find a hostel in their database, pay 10% of the total to hold your place, and pay the other 90% when you arrive at the hostel. It is easy to get acquainted with this, but it is actually one of my least favorite booking sites. Sure, I may go there when they are running a contest or something like that, but Hostelworld does not really have any rewards system for people who book with them. This is why I prefer some of the lesser known booking sites.

Hostelz This has been a longtime favorite of mine. It is not exactly a booking site itself, but it uses several other popular booking sites to find you the cheapest rates. Because it is a culmination of booking sites, it is the biggest hostel database I have found to date. The only downside to this is that it is a little harder to organize the plethora of hostels in big cities and weed it down to the one where you should stay. Some listed hostels are not on any booking sites, which is cool because you can still contact them directly for a bed, but sometimes this means they closed years ago and did not inform Hostelz. The best part of Hostelz is that I write for them! Browse around their website to find my city descriptions and hostel reviews.

HostelsClub This is a hostel that I found out about just before leaving for Europe, and it has been well used over the past several weeks! They are currently running a promotion where if you book so much, you can get free nights at a hotel in Venice. I was able to get two free nights at a centrally located hotel while in Venice thanks to this. The only problem with HostelsClub is that they do charge a service fee for every booking, but that can be avoided by getting a HostelsClub membership. With the membership, you qualify for discounts at some hostels. So my membership paid for itself after just a few nights of booking! Best of all, every time you submit a review after a stay, HostelsClub gives members a 2 euro credit to use when booking future stays. It is almost like getting paid to stay at hostels!

Booking Directly with the Hostel While hostel booking sites are ideal for the long term traveler, any booking deposit you pay online does not actually go to the hostel itself. If you want to support the local economy where you visit, the best thing to do is book directly with the hostel so they can get the most money. This can be done by phone calls, emails, or booking on the website. Sometimes it is difficult to communicate with the staff, or their booking program does not really work. But sometimes, you can get a better deal because of this. While booking the Pisa Hostel, I saved 5% by booking with them as opposed to a booking site. They made a little more, and I saved a little more, so everyone won!image

There is no one best way to make a booking to save money. The important thing to do is compare the above (and any other sites you have found useful) to maximize your travel money!

The Packing Experiment

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During after-Christmas sales last December, I got a bargain on the kind of luggage I wanted to take to Europe. It was a wheeled suitcase that not only featured a long enough handle so that my 6’1″ body didn’t have to slump over to roll it around, but it also contained hidden backpack straps for when I realize that a roller suitcase is not ideal for cobblestone streets! The front part (not shown in picture above) zipped off so it could be used as a daypack. It had nearly everything I could wish for in a a suitcase. It’s even the maximum carry-on size!

I’ve used this backpack a few times since buying it, kind of like a test drive in preparation for the big trip. I’ve taken it to Wilderness Trails. I used it over the course of my tri-state California road trip. I also used it this past weekend for the outdoor retreat. This time, I wanted to study my packing, and see if I can use this experience to learn to pack better.

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Packing Clothes

Since this retreat was for two nights, I would only need two changes of clothes, right? However, there were a few variables. I would probably want shorts or capris for this trip, but I had no idea where I was actually going. Would there be a breeze? Would we be in a shaded area? Would cold weather hit? Not knowing these kinds of variables, I decided to pack a pair of jeans and a long-sleeved under armor shirt. I also decided to pack three shirts since I figured I had a good chance of getting one dirty or sweaty. I also needed to pack swimwear. Since I don’t wear standard swimsuits, this meant that an extra swim tunic, bikini top, swim shorties, and sarong had to be packed. Still, in total, all these clothes took up about one-fourth of the main compartment. (Socks, hats, and undergarments took up little room in the front pocket.) Of course I had completely forgotten about sleepwear until the last minute, so I did shove in pajama pants and a three-quarter sleeved shirt right before leaving.

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Packing Everything Else!

Most of my luggage weight consisted of non-clothing. Since this was a camping type of experience, I would need to bring a pillow and sleeping bag. These two items on their own were larger than my suitcase, but for most trips (like Europe), these things are not necessary. The other items, as you can see in this picture, include sandals, towel, Camelbak, wallet, phone, glasses, sunglasses Bible, notebook, car keys, head lamp, flashlight, pedometer, mug, and bag of toiletries. I put the Camelbak and the small items that are normally found in my purse into the daypack compartment to ensure I had easy access to them. Everything else fit into the remaining space of the main compartment.

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Things I Didn’t Use

Clothing was the main thing I over-packed. I ended up wearing my capris on both Saturday and Sunday (since there were only a few hours on Sunday that I wasn’t in my swimwear), which meant that both the shorts and jeans were unused. I did end up using the long-sleeved shirt as an extra shirt, but I still had one extra shirt even after that. I don’t drink coffee, and although there was some tempting-sounding hot chocolate, I ended up only drinking water during the entire trip. That meant my mug stayed clean and inside my bag. I only used my head lamp for light, so my flashlight was unnecessary. Other than that, there were several toiletries I did not use. I didn’t use soap (hey, we didn’t have a shower!), nail clippers, hair tie, bug wipe (I had bug spray instead), cotton swabs, or the icy-hot patch.

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Things I Learned

Most of the things I brought that I didn’t end up using were brought because I was unsure of what to expect. Now I know that it’s very important to do my research for every city I plan to go to in Europe. I will definitely be taking more clothes there than I did on this trip, but I’ll know that I can wear things multiple times, especially legwear. One piece of clothing it seemed like everyone but I wore was athletic leggings or fitted yoga pants. Seeing how versatile they were for sleeping, exercising, getting wet, staying warm, and simply hanging out, I went out and bought a pair yesterday!

A few items I brought on this trip will not go to Europe in order to save space. The biggest thing I will not bring is a beach towel. Most hostels provide towels, and I’ll have a small towel for the ones that don’t, so this will free up about a quarter of the main compartment. I will also not bring my Bible. Now, as a Christian going on a trip for three months, that sounds weird, but hear me out. I love my full-size waterproof Bible for trips like these, but it’s just too heavy and space-consuming for Europe. Instead, I will bring the miniature New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs that the Gideons give out for free. If I want to read a passage of scripture not included in that Bible, I can always access it on my phone. Speaking of my phone, I will use that as my flashlight in Europe instead of bringing a redundant item.

There were some “emergency-only” items in my toiletry bag that I actually ended up using. Fortunately I didn’t need these things for myself, but as the EMT/former Girl Scout of the group, others ended up benefiting. I offered a sample pack of bacitracin and a band-aid for a tick wound, and afterwards when everyone was doing a tick check, several ladies used my nit comb for closer examination. Hand sanitizer was also very useful throughout the trip- it was the only way to wash hands! One thing I didn’t bring, but someone else gave to me, was a Benedryl pill. This helped will all the allergens collected from the outdoors and also helped me fall asleep that night. Benedryl (well, the store brand of Diphenhydramine, at least) was already on my packing list for Europe, so I made sure to buy that yesterday, along with a couple other useful medications. Needless to say, I will bring first aid supplies along with me!

These are just a few results from my packing experiment this weekend. I know that an outdoor retreat and urban backpacking Europe are two completely different beasts, so I guess I still have plenty to learn before cramming three months of my life into a carry-on and setting off!

What is your all-time best packing tip? 

15 Actual Ways a Budget Traveler Can Save for a Trip

Have you ever seen these not-so-unique ways to save for your trip?

Instead of a hotel, book a private room inside a hostel. That would be great, except I already stay in the absolute cheapest dorm room in hostels. If I took this piece of “budget” advice, my trip would probably cost twice as much!

Use a credit card to rack up enough airline miles for your trip. I’m sorry, but have you ever stopped to calculate how much you’re spending on your credit card versus how much it costs to just buy a plane ticket? Most of these rewards programs require that you put at least $1000 a month on your card. I don’t even know how I would spend $1000 every single month, unless I was buying a thousand-dollar plane ticket every month!

Fly with an airline that offers free checked bags. Here’s a better idea: don’t take checked bags! Seriously, it’s been so long since I’ve taken checked luggage on a vacation, that I don’t even remember how I filled that bag! A carry-on and small backpack provide plenty of space, and is less that can be lost, stolen, or slowing me down!

If you’re like me, you want to save a lot of money so you can have an amazing trip. But after hours and days of scouring the internet looking for some advice, all you find are these not-so-budget-minded “savings” tips. For awhile, I was convinced that I saved so much already, that there was no possible way that I could save anything “extra” for my trip. But every once in a blue moon, I would find a golden nugget of travel tips. Here they all are in one place so you don’t have to waste as much time as I did!

1. Keep your cash safe for free. Money belts can be handy, but the key to not getting all your money stolen is to distribute your cash throughout your person. A twenty dollar bill inside the sole of your shoe is a place that thieves won’t easily be able to get to!

2. Don’t spend money on beverages. Many saving tips say to order water in restaurants (and if you’re in Europe, be sure to order table water to avoid being charged for a bottle), but this can translate into not even buying beverages at the grocery store. When I travel, I carry a reusable water bottle or reservoir with me, and most convenience stores and restaurants don’t mind me using their fountain when I need a refill. (However, I always ask first, especially if I’m not buying anything else!) This rule applies to alcoholic beverages too, especially since they tend to be the priciest. I don’t drink, and the thought of spending hundreds to thousands of dollars per year on alcohol is one of the reasons I never want to start that habit! If you like to travel but also like to drink, consider that cutting alcohol for one year could save enough to fund a decent trip for yourself!

One more note on water: there are some countries where drinking the water would be unsafe. Do your research ahead of your trip to confirm this. If your destination does indeed have dangerous drinking water, you will have to buy bottled water, but there’s still a way to do it cheaply! Instead of buying individual water bottles each day, buy the biggest bottle you can find in the store. (When I was in Peru, all the convenience stores offered 3-liter water bottles which we would use to refill our personal-sized bottles.)

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I would buy the largest bottles of Inca Kola in Peru, too!

3. Buy multipurpose products. My hands can get dry in certain climates. I also sometimes have trouble falling asleep in uncomfortable or unfamiliar places. And although I enjoy the rush of traveling, it sometimes makes me nervous. I could purchase lotion, melatonin tablets, and anxiety medication to solve each of these problems individually, or I could just get one bar of lavender-scented lotion. (Lavender is a natural herb that can calm nerves and help you fall asleep.) Dr. Bronner’s Castille Soap is a traveler’s favorite, as it can be used as soap, shampoo, dish soap, and laundry detergent, just to name a few. A thermos not only holds soup and hot beverages, but it can be used as a water bottle, and it could even carry meal leftovers! Even a large scarf can quickly transform into a shawl, swimming cover-up, blanket, or head covering. Multipurpose products not only save you money by putting less on your shopping list, but as a bonus it will also save room in your suitcase.

4. Earn more from your savings. No matter how you travel, planning for a trip involves saving up a chunk of cash. Talk with your bank and tell them your plans to see how you can gain the most interest. Sometimes, putting money in a CD can earn you the most interest, even if you have to pay a small fee to cash it early. If your banker knows about your travel plans, they might be able to provide you with special offers, such as exchange-free credit cards and short-term savings plans. These will all vary by your bank’s services and your personal saving habits, so it’s best to schedule an appointment with your bank to see how they can maximize your savings.

5. Make your own food. Cooking at home can greatly help contribute to your trip savings. Generally, the less packaged and processed your ingredients are, the more you’ll save (and it’s healthier that way, too)! Before I leave on a trip, I try to eat out of my pantry as much as possible to avoid food spoiling while I’m away. I also prepare some snacks to take along with me. As long as I have oatmeal, I can throw in just about anything from my kitchen (nuts, sweets, spices, dried fruit, seeds) and make a batch of granola. I also try to eat out for only one meal per day while traveling, but if you’re not as much of a cultural foodie I’m sure you could go with even less dining out. I usually stay at accommodations that provide free breakfast, and then I eat out at lunchtime (since that’s usually cheaper than eating dinner out). For dinner, I’ll either eat my lunch leftovers or fix something in the kitchen of the place I’m staying. Virtually all hostels and guesthouses provide a guest kitchen, and many hotels and even camps are jumping on board with this idea. Because it’s tricky to travel with perishable food, map out inexpensive grocery stores near your destination so you can buy food from there.

Bonus Foodie Tip: Turn your food-making into a memory, like I did with this dessert-building team.
Bonus Foodie Tip: Turn your food-making into a memory, like I did with this dessert-building team.

6. Use your feet. This tip could save you hundreds on travel costs, plus give you a good alternative to your gym membership! When traveling, I stay near downtown so that I can walk to all the attractions I want to visit. There have been days where I’ve logged upwards of ten miles, but that’s okay because it means that I’ll get a great night of sleep! It also adds a new perspective to travel, as the slower place allows you to notice more of the scenery and culture. You can use this tip before a trip, too. I’ve seen so many people park in the parking lot of one store, shop there, and then get back in their car and drive to another store…which is right next to the first store! It’s okay to leave your car in one parking lot. I will sometimes even stick my bicycle in the back of the car so I can bike to places near my destination.

7. Volunteer or get an extra job. The obvious advantage to getting another job is that you’ll make extra money. But even if you don’t get a paying job, I believe a volunteer job provides many benefits as well. Getting a job or otherwise involved in the community will introduce you to more connections. I worked a part-time retail job while going to college, and because everyone that worked there was broke to some degree, we often exchanged ways that we save. You may meet people that could turn out to be travel companions, mission trip sponsors, or simply someone who encourages you to reach your dreams. Some volunteer jobs offer things like free meals, free entertainment, and possibly free travel. This of course shouldn’t be your goal behind volunteering, but it is a nice reward. Another great benefit of spending some extra time working is that these are a few extra hours each day where you won’t be tempted to spend your hard-earned cash!

Sometimes, your job may involve doing some hard work, like going on an all-expense-paid conference in the Northern Wisconsin where you get to jump from the second floor of a building.
Sometimes, your job may involve doing some hard work, like going on an all-expense-paid conference in the Northern Wisconsin where you get to jump from the second floor of a building.

8. Ask for discounts! Many tourist companies that don’t post discount rates may still have them. If you’re a student, AAA member, AARP card holder, veteran, or anything else that could possibly qualify you for a discount, ask about it! Oftentimes at independent and locally-owned businesses, you can get a discount just by asking the owner (often cleverly disguised as receptionist in these small businesses). Even if they can’t offer you a discount on what you asked for, they may be able to throw in a freebie or offer insider information that could help your trip. Ask on a discount for everything, from the food you eat to the bed you sleep in. The worst that can happen is they’ll say no, and the best that can happen is you’ll get everything free! (But don’t expect to get anything for free, and definitely don’t be pushy or annoying when asking!)

9. Enter contests. This isn’t a guaranteed way to save, but someone out there has to win that all-expense-paid trip! I have yet to win a travel contest (probably because I forget to enter every day), but I have won books, food, gift cards, and scholarships that ultimately helped me put more money towards travel.

10. D.E.Y. (Do EVERYTHING Yourself!) I fully back up making homemade laundry detergent (especially since it’s concentrated for easy travel), but as a single person that only saves me about $20 per year. But combined with money saved from patching up my old clothes, making more creative gifts, growing herbs in the windowsill, and making some of my own toiletries and cleaning products, it eventually adds up to a lot! I know I spend hundreds on car maintenance, but if I could learn a few auto mechanic skills, I wouldn’t have to pay nearly as much. The more you can do yourself, the more money you’ll save.

D.E.Y.-ing doesn't mean missing out on the fun, it just means getting creative. Got invited to a costume party? Make your own costume!
D.E.Y.-ing doesn’t mean missing out on the fun, it just means getting creative. Got invited to a costume party? Make your own costume!

11. Don’t sell on eBay. Unless you are selling an in-demand product for an incredible profit, using sites that charge you to sell is often a waste of money. If you’re just trying to sell some items you no longer want, Craigslist is probably the best option. Plus, since you’re selling to someone nearby, you won’t have to spend money on shipping. To get even more local, many communities have Facebook groups where you can buy and sell from neighbors. In my experience, these tend to be fairly effective. Even posting your for-sale items on your social media could garner your friends’ interests!

12. Take care of yourself. The right foods, a little bit of exercise, enough sleep, and taking care of your physical and emotional self will work wonders. You’ll have a better trip (and ultimately, life), and you’ll save money on doctors, medications, and numerous other consequences that you can expect when you neglect your health.

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Biking does double duty: It’s a good overall workout, and it’s a fun way to travel locally!

13. Need something? Phone a friend. Ask your friends and family if you can raid their castoffs before they’re sent to the thrift store. (Of course, offer to let them do the same with your things- you could even plan a castoff swap!) If you’re looking for a specific item for your trip, such as a backpack or an ice chest, ask your friends before you buy one. These kind of items are often kept in storage, and your friend probably won’t mind you borrowing it for a few weeks.

14. Give up whatever you use most. Cut out one frequently-bought item cold turkey. Maybe it’s junk food. Maybe it’s movies. Maybe it’s coffee. Maybe it’s clothes. If you find that you’re craving it, ask yourself if you really want to spend your money on short-term gratification, or use it to take a trip with memories that last a lifetime. Even if you’re only spending money on necessities, think about cheaper substitutions you could make.

15. Take online surveys. These don’t pay much, but can help fill the time when you’re bored or waiting for something. They’re are a ton of survey sites that pay their users, so look up a few and choose which one you think is best for you. (Or sign up for them all!) You can use your earnings to buy gift cards, airline miles, or other rewards.

Am I missing any important travel information? Leave a comment with your best ways to save!

#TBT: In The News

One fun perk about traveling is that it makes news. I mean, I don’t expect a reporter to follow me around whenever I travel (although for celebrities, this does seem to make for good reality TV), but every now and then, on a day when the world is pretty much at peace, whether near or far, travel can make headlines.

I was first featured in the newspaper as a preschooler. I was visiting the now-defunct Jacksonville Children’s Museum, which was a four-year-old’s paradise housed in a historic prison. I was using the plastic food in the play kitchen to create fine dining, when someone with a camera started to set up her equipment. I ran off, afraid I would be in the way of her picture, but then she came over to my mom and asked if she could take a picture of me! So my first published photo was me tasting a pretend dish to head an article about the museum. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a record of that article, but I was able to find the next news snippet I was in:

My preschool class was going on a field trip. Sure, it was just to the public library that was two blocks away from the school, but even though we were in walking distance, it was made quite the adventure on a rainy day. My ex-scout parents passed on the “Be Prepared” motto and had sent me to class with an umbrella. It only made sense to share my umbrella with my walking buddy. On the way there, I glanced back and noticed that someone behind me was holding a camera, as if they had just taken a picture. I didn’t know I was featured in the paper until a few days later when my neighbor came over and showed us his clipping!

When I got older, Girl Scout events were a good source of getting into the newspaper. Sometimes it was completely accidentally, like this time I was off to the right in the background of the photo:

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But seriously, all those service projects were good for slow news days. Once, when my troop went on a trip to the coast to participate in the annual beach clean-up, one of our chaperones ran into a news channel reporter, and they agreed to do a segment of us for the evening news! Other times, our helping the community helped the paper get a story, like when the Central Point Sun was released, we helped fill their very first issue!

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As I got older, I was still mentioned in the newspaper for things like being on the honor roll, but being in the paper wasn’t nearly as desirable as it was before. Maybe it was because people stopped reading the newspaper, or perhaps I just didn’t like the way I looked, but regardless, there were several years when no more but my name and GPA were published. But in my late teens, when I started professionally writing, I started seeing my face in print again. But this time, instead of being in an outdated newspaper, I was in magazines. Many of my articles didn’t include my own pictures, but there were some, like the one below, that featured several pics!

In the past five or six years, I have had my picture featured with my written work several times. But there’s always the goal to make it as the cover feature. This past summer, when I served as the guest editor for Camp Business, I was told that my photo would be featured. When I received the issue, this is what I saw:

No, I’m not that girl. (C’mon, I would NEVER do a swimsuit shoot!)

Remember on Monsters Inc how Mike Wazowski was so amazed when he made it on a magazine cover, even though his face was covered by a barcode? This past summer, I had a Mike Wazowski moment. I finally make a cover debut… my name and photo is literally right underneath the shipping label!