Monthly Archives: January 2016

Australia In Secret Travelling Tips

Australia is one of the most popular travel destinations in the world. It’s known as a major backpacking, camping, and driving destination, but no matter what your travel style is, there is something to draw you here. The country is filled with incredible natural beauty from Uluru to the outback, rainforests to pristine white sand beaches, and of course, the Great Barrier Reef. Sydney’s Harbor Bridge and Opera House are iconic man made wonders, and Melbourne’s café culture will make you feel like you are in Europe. Coupled with world class surfing, and it is no wonder people never leave. I’ve been three times, and every trip, I find something new to love. Use my extensive travel guide to help plan your next trip. I know you will love the country as much as I do!

Destination Guides for Australia

  • Alice Springs
  • Brisbane
  • Cairns
  • Gold Coast
  • Fraser Island
  • Melbourne
  • Perth
  • Sydney
  • Whitsunday Islands

Typical Costs

Accommodation – Hostels start at $20 AUD per night for a dorm room, though they get get as high as $40 in the big coastal cities. Private rooms with a double bed and a shared bathroom in hostels range between 80-100 AUD per night. For budget hotels, you are looking to spend at least around $75-95 AUD for a double room, private bathroom, TV, and breakfast. Larger, chain hotels cost closer to $200 AUD. Camping costs between $15-30 AUD per night for a spot that can either be for an RV or tent. Read more: My favorite hostels in Australia.

Food – Food isn’t cheap in Australia! Most decent restaurant entrees cost 20 AUD or more. Originally, I thought I was doing something wrong spending so much, but as many of my Aussie friends told me, “we just get screwed here.” If you cook your meals, expect to pay 100 AUD per week for groceries that will include pasta, vegetables, chicken, and other basic food stuffs. Grab and go places cost around 8-10 AUD for sandwiches. Fast food is around 15 AUD for a meal. The best value food are the ethnic restaurants where you can get a really filling meal for 10!

Transportation – Local city trains and buses cost 3-4 AUD. The easiest way to get around the country is via Greyhound. Passes begin at 145 AUD and go all the way to 3,000 AUD. There are also backpacker buses like the Oz Experience that have multi-city passes starting at 535 AUD (though I don’t like the Oz Experience and wouldn’t recommend it). The most popular and cheapest way to travel is to drive yourself. Camper-van rentals start at 60 AUD per day and can also double as places to sleep. Flying can be very expensive due to limited competition, especially when going from coast to coast. I generally avoid flying in Australia unless I am pressed for time or there is a sale.

Activities – Multi-day activities and tours are expensive, generally costing 400-540 AUD. Day trips will cost about 135-230 AUD. For example, a one day trip to the Great Barrier Reef can cost 230 AUD while a 2 nights sailing the Whitsunday Islands can cost upwards of 540 AUD. A 3 day trip to Uluru from Alice Springs is around 480 AUD. Walking tours are around 50 AUD and day trips to wine regions are between 150-200 AUD.

Money Saving Tips

Get a plan – The telephone company Telstra has really improved their service and offers great phone packages that have great coverage throughout the country. Their call/text rates aren’t that high either, so the credit will last you awhile. Vodafone has amazing deals (sometimes better) too but they have more limited coverage around the country.

Drink goon (box wine) – Goon is infamous on the Australian backpacker hostel trail. This cheap box of wine is a the best way to drink, get a buzz, and save a lot of money at the same time. 4 liters typically costs 13 AUD (compared to a six pack of beer for the same price). Drink this before you go out and save on spending money at the bar (where it is about 10 AUD per drink). Also, blow up the bag when you’re done and have a little pillow to rest your head on!!!

Cook often – Again, eating out is not cheap. The best way to reduce your costs is to cook as many meals as possible. ALDI is the cheapest supermarket in the country, followed by Coles and then Woolworths (though sometimes you don’t get a choice at which place you can shop it! Some small towns only have one!).

Car share – Australia is a big country that can be expensive to get around. If you are traveling with friends, it’s smart to buy a used car or camper-van (or rent a new one from one of the many rental companies in the country) and split the costs of gas. You can also hitch a ride with other travelers using sites like Gumtree, Jayride, or a hostel message board.

Book tours as a package – This country has a lot of exciting activities and tours that eat into any budget. Booking activities together through a hostel or tour agency will get you a discount and save you hundreds of dollars as a repeat customer.

Get free internet – The internet in Australia is painfully slow and expensive (just ask any Australian how they feel about this), but libraries and McDonalds have free wi-fi that you can use.

Work for your room – Many hostels offer travelers the chance to work for their accommodation. In exchange for a few hours a day of cleaning, you get a free bed. Commitments vary but most hostels ask you stay at least a week.

WWOOF it! – WWOOFing is a program that allows you to work at farms in exchange for free room and board. Everyone I’ve met who stays in the country long term does it for at least one month. You don’t even need to know anything about farming – you’re mostly picking fruit the whole time!

Top Things to See and Do in Australia

Visit Uluru — Uluru (Ayer’s Rock) is one of the hottest attractions in the country. Make sure you are there for both sunset and sunrise because both are equally as spectacular. It’s a pretty breathtaking sight considering it’s just a big rock! Also make sure to visit the Aboriginal center nearby where you can learn about the local population. I hated waking up early to see the sunrise but I loved watching the red hues change as the sun rose in the sky (see the photo above!).

Dive the Great Barrier Reef — Find your very own Nemo in the Great Barrier Reef. There’s a ton of marine life and beautiful coral here to explore—this is a must do activity. Even if you don’t dive, you can still take a boat out to the reef and go snorkeling. Try to get on a boat that has a permit to go to dive sites a couple of hours from show so you can avoid the onslaught of other tourist boats and divers that inundate the shallower dive sites closer to shore. Here is a video of my trip to the reef (minus the fish pooping in front of my face):

Explore Fraser Island — The world’s largest sand island is a popular place to do some camping, swim, hike, and avoid dingoes. It’s also extremely popular with the locals because of its rustic beauty is easily accessible from mainland. They camp a lot on the island. You can hire your own 4WD car or take an overnight tour through the island that’s famous for it’s fresh water lake (and dingoes). Sadly, you can’t go in the water nearby as it’s rough and full of sharks!

Sail the Whitsundays — 3 day, 2 night sailing trips are a popular way to see some of the most beautiful sand islands in the world. Whitehaven beach on a clear day is mesmerizing—I even ran into a couple of turtles and dolphins while in the are! A few of the islands have resorts if you want to go on your own and stay longer in paradise but I prefer taking a boat around the islands. It remains one of my favorite activities in the country.

Hike the Daintree — The world’s oldest rainforest (yes, older than the Amazon) offers hikes that range from easy to challenging, dense jungles, beautiful mountains, waterfalls, wildlife, and cliffs. Make sure you spend a few days hiking around and getting out of touristy Cairns. If you really want to get off the beaten path, head all the way up to Cape Tribulation, and enjoy some real peace and quiet (just watch out for jellyfish when you go swimming. There are few folks to help if something goes wrong). There a lot of tour companies in the area but I like Uncle Brian’s tours the best (though he goes more into Atherton Tablelands and not up into the forest up north).

Explore Sydney — Australia’s largest city has a range of activities to keep you busy. Climb the Sydney Harbor bridge, surf in Bondi Beach, party in King’s Cross, sail across the harbor, visit the Opera House, and take in world class innovation in Darling Harbor. Sydney is a bustling big city that still has a laid back, beach vibe too it. It’s amazing (though very expensive). Be sure to head up to the laid backed suburb of Manly and get out of the Bondi beach tourist scene! Another favorite activity of mine is to spend the day in Domain with food and a good book!

Belgium Happiness On Travelling Tips

unduhan (4)Belgium’s central location in the heart of Europe and its Dutch, Austrian, Spanish, and French political ancestry make it a perfect example of blended European sensibilities probably why its most famous city, Brussels, is the capital of the European Union. With delicious food and beer and a dense history of influential art and music, Belgium offers a wide range of historical, cultural, and culinary adventures.

TRANSPORTATION

As Belgium is a member of the Schengen Agreement, it’s easy to access as part of a larger European vacation, whether by air, rail, cruise, or car. As long as you have met the visa requirements for entering one Schengen Zone country, you are generally allowed trips to other countries within the zone, as long as they’re under 90 days. Keep in mind the Schengen Zone and the European Union are not the same thing, and make sure to fully research your visa requirements in advance, as there may be exceptions.

Within Belgium, the train is by far the best way to get around. Belgium is a small country, only 300km at its largest distance, and its train system connects not only its towns but also many of its towns to international train routes. A Go-Pass or Rail Pass booklet is an incredibly cheap way to travel to multiple cities, as it can be used for up to 10 trips per year, including train changes. In the cities, a reliable bus, tram, and metro system is available.

FOOD & CULTURE

French and Dutch are the two main languages spoken in Belgium, Dutch in the northern province of Flanders and mostly French in the southern province of Wallonia. Flanders is well known for having produced an amazing number of famous painters, including Peter Paul Rubens, Anna Boch, and the cartoonist Hergé, creator of The Adventures of Tintin. The country still continues to produce a great number of influential artists, musicians, and architects.

Belgians are well known for both their chocolate, so much so that European laws have been passed to protect its reputation! It tastes especially good drizzled on Belgian waffles, which you can find and enjoy as a street food. To drink, you can find hundreds of local, specially-brewed Abbey beers, which carry on the techniques and traditions of brewing them that were developed in the monasteries which have lasted since the middle ages. Definitely choose a local drink over the big names like Stella Artois you won’t regret the experience.

SIGHTS & ACTIVITIES

Eat & Drink in Brussels Brussels has several pubs who offer beer tastings, over thirty chocolatiers, and numerous bars and restaurants. Take a Beer Tour or a Chocolate Tour to get a wide sampling of everything this delicious city has to offer.

Ghentse Festee This annual festival in Ghent is a ten-day riverfront party of music, dance, and theater. In actuality, it’s made up of several smaller festivals such as the Ghent Jazz Festival, the Ten Days Off electronic festival, and the International Puppetbuskerfestival for puppeteer enthusiasts.

Cathedral of Our Lady   Probably one of the largest and most impressive cathedrals in Northern Europe, this church is in the downtown historical area of Antwerp and houses a number of Rubens’ famous paintings.

Cellar Restaurants in Antwerp  The cellar restaurants in Antwerp were unlike anything I had ever experienced before. From the medieval menu and beer tastings at De Pelgrom to the authentic Belgian cuisine at Estro Armonico, it’s an experience you shouldn’t miss.

How to find City With Natural View

Dusseldorf was my first introduction to Germany and I couldn’t have picked a better city to get a taste of German culture. I did pass through Germany on a European tour in my twenties, but I’ve always had slightly negative feelings about the country after being robbed while sleeping on the train.

I know I can’t judge an entire country based on one incident and on a train nonetheless so when Air Berlin invited me to experience Karneval in Dusseldorf (the Mardi Gras of Europe) it sounded like too much fun to pass up.

I visited Dusseldorf during one of the busiest times of the year and yet I never once felt overwhelmed. I was with a group for part of my visit, but I did have plenty of time to explore the city without a guide. In fact, I barely pay attention to directions, train stops and street names when I’m on a tour, so I figured I’d be constantly lost during my free time in Dusseldorf — which surprisingly wasn’t the case.

PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION IS USER FRIENDLY

Coming from someone who rarely has an opportunity to navigate public transportation at home, I found the buses and trains in Dusseldorf to be very user friendly. When I wasn’t sure which bus to take, I just asked a lot of questions and usually found the drivers to be helpful.

I highly recommend purchasing a Dusseldorf Transportation Card for 24, 48 or 72 hours, which gives you unlimited rides on the subway, bus or the tram (in addition to free or discounted admission to museums) for as low as 9 Euro.

ENGLISH IS WIDELY SPOKEN

Let’s face it: if you are an American, then there is a good chance you don’t speak German. I did my best to learn a few key words and phrases, but for the most part, I spoke English and always received a reply in my native tongue.

INTERNATIONAL CUISINE

Finicky eaters won’t have a problem finding a place to eat here. Once you have had your fill of local dishes, you will have your choice of International restaurants with cuisine from countries like Argentina, Spain, Thailand, Ireland, Italy and Vietnam. Due to its large Japanese community, Dusseldorf also has the best Japanese food outside of Japan!

THE CITY OF SHORT DISTANCES

Dusseldorf is known as the city of short distances, so it’s not even necessary to take public transportation to explore most of the city, especially if you are staying in a hotel in or near Altstadt. I stayed at the Breidenbacher Hof and it was conveniently located near all of the main attractions in the city.

DISTANCE BETWEEN OTHER EUROPEAN CITIES

Air Berlin flies direct to Dusseldorf from Chicago, New York, Miami, and in mid-April they will bring back their direct route from Los Angeles. Dusseldorf is also a great starting point to visit other European cities — many of which can be reached within one hour by plane.

Travelling Tips for Enjoyable

Some of these travel mishaps can be avoided and some of them are just a part of traveling. You simply cannot plan for everything. However, keeping a few important things in mind will make your travels much easier.

BE FLEXIBLE

We always plan for delays and try not to get upset when things inevitably go wrong. Patience is extremely important when traveling!

MAKE A LIST

About a week or so before each trip, I make a mental list of items I don’t want to forget — which I WILL forget if I don’t write them down. I’ve learned that when I think of something, I need to write it down.

–>> Packing lists are essential! Read more: Packing Tips for World Travelers and The Ultimate Carry-On Packing Guide

LEARN COMMON PHRASES OF THE LOCAL LANGUAGE

A simple “Please,” “Thank you,” and “I’m sorry” in the local language goes a long way. I also like to learn the word for beer, but that’s just me.

DON’T FORGET AN EXTRA CAMERA BATTERY (OR TWO)

Have you ever gotten to that epic sunset photo spot and realized your camera battery is dead and you don’t have a back up? I try to bring at least three camera batteries on all of our trips so that we don’t miss out on that perfect shot.

ALWAYS BRING A SARONG

Sarongs can be used as a wrap when you are cold, a towel, a curtain, or a piece of clothing that can be worn dozens of different ways. Solid colors are great, but if you want something that stands out, I love this sarong.

ALWAYS BUY TRAVEL INSURANCE

A medical emergency can wipe out your savings — or even worse. We use and trustWorld Nomads for travel insurance.

MAKE PHOTOCOPIES OF IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS

In my early twenties, I was very good about keeping a copy of my passport in a separate bag from my actual passport. Then I got lazy. Recently, a friend of mine lost her passport at the airport. She was told that if she had brought a copy of it and extra passport photos they would have let her travel. Since she didn’t, she was forced to forfeit a $2,000 flight and a week in Europe. I now carry a copy with me.

PACK EXTRA UNDERWEAR

Undies are small and it’s always a good idea to have a few extra pairs in case of emergencies. Another option is to pack these quick-dry underwear so you can easily wash them on the road.

PRE-PLAN YOUR OUTFITS

I’m a lazy, last-minute packer, so I’ve spent too many trips with all black or all grey outfits because I didn’t plan my outfits before packing. I look back at photos and wish I had put more effort into packing.

PUT ELECTRONICS, MEDICATIONS, TOOTHBRUSH, AND AN EXTRA PAIR OF UNDERWEAR IN YOUR CARRY-ON

A few important items should always go in your carry-on. A swimsuit is also a good idea if you are going on a beach vacation. You can buy most of these things if your bag gets lost, but having them in your carry-on will save you money and time if your luggage gets lost in transit.

ENQUIRE ABOUT THE PRICE BEFORE YOU TAKE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION

It’s a good idea to ask about the price before you hop on a bus, guagua, or other form of public transportation. We learned our lesson in the Dominican Republic.

BRING LOTION IN YOUR CARRY-ON

I fill both sides of a contact lens case with hydrating lotion (I use this all-natural hydrating lotion) because they rarely have it in the lavatories and airplane cabins are exceptionally dry.

STAY HYDRATED ON PLANES

I know it’s fun to get drunk at 30,000 feet, but it’s also much easier to get dehydrated. Staying hydrated — especially on long-haul flights — makes it easier to get over jet lag too.

PUT YOUR ROOM NUMBER & HOTEL ADDRESS IN YOUR PHONE

Am I the only one who can’t remember my hotel room number?? There has to be others out there like me.

Dazzling Tips for Traveller

images (8)Feel free to share your own best travel tips at the end!

1. Patience Is Important

Don’t sweat the stuff you can’t control. Life is much too short to be angry & annoyed all the time. Did you miss your bus? No worries, there will be another one. ATMs out of money? Great! Take an unplanned road trip over to the next town and explore. Sometimes freakouts happen regardless.

2. Wake Up Early

Rise at sunrise to have the best attractions all to yourself while avoiding crowds. It’s also a magical time for photos due to soft diffused light, and usually easier to interact with locals. Sketchy areas are less dangerous in the morning too. Honest hardworking people wake up early; touts, scammers, and criminals sleep in.

3. Laugh At Yourself

You will definitely look like a fool many times when traveling to new places. Rather than get embarrassed, laugh at yourself. Don’t be afraid to screw up, and don’t take life so seriously.

Once a whole bus full of Guatemalans laughed with glee when I forced our driver to stop so I could urgently pee on the side of the road. Returning to the bus and laughing with them gave me new friends for the rest of the journey.

4. Stash Extra Cash

Cash is king around the world. To cover your ass in an emergency, make sure to stash some in a few different places. I recommend at least a couple hundred dollars worth. If you lose your wallet, your card stops working, or the ATMs run out of money, you’ll be glad you did.

Some of my favorite stash spots include socks, under shoe inserts, a toiletry bag, around the frame of a backpack, even sewn behind a patch on your bag.

Make it a point to avoid other travelers from time to time and start conversations with local people. Basic English is spoken widely all over the world, so it’s easier to communicate with them than you might think, especially when you combine hand gestures and body language.

Learn from those who live in the country you’re visiting. People enrich your travels more than sights do.

6. Pack A Scarf

I happen to use a shemagh, but sarongs also work great. This simple piece of cotton cloth is one of my most useful travel accessories with many different practical applications. It’s great for sun protection, a makeshift towel, carrying stuff around, an eye mask, and much more.

I can’t tell you how many times a scarf has come in handy around the world.

7. Observe Daily Life

If you really want to get a feel for the pulse of a place, I recommend spending a few hours sitting in a park or on a busy street corner by yourself just watching day to day life happen in front of you.

Slow down your thoughts and pay close attention to the details around you. The smells, the colors, human interactions, and sounds. It’s a kind of meditation — and you’ll see stuff you never noticed before.

8. Back Everything Up

When my laptop computer was stolen in Panama, having most of my important documents and photos backed up saved my ass. Keep both digital and physical copies of your passport, visas, driver’s license, birth certificate, health insurance card, serial numbers, and important phone numbers ready to go in case of an emergency.

Backup your files & photos on an external hard drive as well as online with software like Backblaze.

9. Take Lots Of Photos

You may only see these places & meet these people once in your lifetime. Remember them forever with plenty of photos. Don’t worry about looking like a “tourist”. Are you traveling to look cool? No one cares. Great photos are the ultimate souvenir.

They don’t cost anything, they’re easy to share with others, and they don’t take up space in your luggage. Just remember once you have your shot to get out from behind the lens and enjoy the view.

10. There’s Always A Way

Nothing is impossible. If you are having trouble going somewhere or doing something, don’t give up. You just haven’t found the best solution or met the right person yet. Don’t listen to those who say it can’t be done.

Perseverance pays off. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told what I want isn’t possible, only to prove it wrong later when I don’t listen to the advice and try anyway.

11. Smile & Say Hello

Having trouble interacting with locals? Do people seem unfriendly? Maybe it’s your body language. One of my best travel tips is to make eye contact and smile as you walk by. If they smile back, say hello in the local language too. This is a fast way to make new friends.

You can’t expect everyone to just walk around with a big stupid grin on their face. That’s your job. Usually all it takes is for you to initiate contact and they’ll open up.

12. Splurge A Bit

I’m a huge fan of budget travel, as it allows you to travel longer and actually experience more of the fascinating world we live in rather than waste your hard-earned money on stuff you don’t need. In fact you can travel many places for $50 a day with no problems.

That said, living on a shoestring gets old after a while. It’s nice (and healthy) to go over your budget occasionally. Book a few days at a nice hotel, eat out at a fancy restaurant, or spend a wild night on the town.

13. Keep An Open Mind

Don’t judge the lifestyles of others if different from your own. Listen to opinions you don’t agree with. It’s arrogant to assume your views are correct and other people are wrong. Practice empathy and put yourself in someone else’s shoes.

Embrace different possibilities, opportunities, people, suggestions and interests. Ask questions. You don’t have to agree, but you may be surprised what you’ll learn.

14. Try Couchsurfing

Couchsurfing.org is a large online community of travelers who share their spare rooms or couches with strangers for free. If you truly want to experience a country and it’s people, staying with a local is the way to go.

There are millions of couchsurfers around the world willing to host you and provide recommendations. It’s fun and safe too. Expensive hotels are not the only option, there are all kinds of cheap travel accommodation optionsout there.

15. Volunteer Occasionally

Make it a point to volunteer some of your time for worthwhile projects when traveling. Not only is it a very rewarding experience, but you’ll often learn more about the country and its people while also making new friends.

There’s a great site called Grassroots Volunteering where you can search for highly recommended volunteer opportunities around the world.

16. Pack Ear Plugs

This should actually be #1 on the list. I love my earplugs! Muffle the sounds of crying babies, drunk Australians, barking dogs, honking horns, dormitory sex, natural gas salesmen, and more. A traveler’s best friend. These are my favorite earplugs for comfort & effectiveness.

17. Don’t Be Afraid

The world is not nearly as dangerous as the media makes it out to be. Keep an eye out for sketchy situations but don’t let that be the focus of your whole trip. Use common sense and you’ll be ok. Most people are friendly, trustworthy, generous, and willing to help you out.

This goes for women too. I realize I’m not a woman, but I’ve met plenty ofexperienced female travelers who agree.

18. Get Lost On Purpose

If you want to see the parts of town where real people live & work, you need to go visit them. The best way to do this is on foot — without knowing exactly where you’re going. Write down the name of your hotel so you can catch a taxi back if needed, then just pick a direction and start walking.

Don’t worry too much about stumbling into dangerous neighborhoods either, as locals will generally warn you before you get that far.