When planning family trips, it's best to keep kids busy with activities from crafting and music lessons to hiking and swimming. (No one wants to hear, "Mom, I'm bored" while lounging beach side with a cocktail in hand.)

Travel is one of the most fun ways for a parent to share the cultures and natural wonders of the world. These destinations are safe for kiddos, catering to the picky eaters, adrenaline junkies, nature lovers, and beach bums too. Not only will kids be welcome, they'll find programs and excursions designed just for them on each of these global adventures.

Adventurous Resorts

Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa, Koloa, Hawaii

While it may sound like a lazy beach vacay, this beautiful resort is on one of Hawaii's most exciting islands – and one of the world's top resorts for families. The resort offers tons of kid-friendly activities (think ukulele lessons and lei making) in-house. But families can also find breathtaking hikes, ziplines for the token daredevil, horseback riding and kayaking to name a few. For something more low key, splash in a two-tiered pool or the saltwater lagoon that meanders through the hotel's property. By nightfall, kids will definitely be ready to crash.

Waterfalls at Erawan National Park in Kanchanaburi, Thailand

River Kwai Floating Hotel, Kanchanaburi, Thailand

For the boy (and girl) scouts who are looking for a back-to-nature experience, this Thai getaway won't disappoint. Thailand is one of Asia's best destinations for kids. With a drive and boat ride to this hotel, they may start to feel a bit like Mowgli in The Jungle Book. Bamboo guest rooms float on top of the River Kwai and offer visitors a taste of Mon culture. It's a bit rustic (as in there are wick lamps instead of electricity. But don't worry, in-room bathrooms are a part of the deal). Kids love exploring the nearby jungles atop of a gentle elephant, or visiting natural wonders such as the Lawa Cave or the Sai Yok Waterfall. Get a few thrills without leaving River Kwai by river jumping or bamboo rafting — something to excite even the most adrenaline-seeking tweens.

Morgan's Rock Hacienda and Ecolodge, San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

Nicaragua makes for an affordable, and adventure-filled, Central American trip (and many parents are choosing it over the equally kid-friendly Costa Rica). Visitors won't see nearly as many expats and will get a great taste of the local culture, plus tons of hiking and swimming! In a bungalow at Morgan's Rock, guests are nestled in the treetops and have easy beach access. One of the more exciting excursions to make is to Ometepe Island, formed by two volcanoes, which can be reached by ferry. Explore ancient rock art and petroglyphs and brave the hike up the dormant Maderas Volcano. Parents will appreciate the beaches known for waves that are safe for first-time surfers, zip-line excursions, and an insider look at the lodge's sustainable farm where kids get to collect farm eggs and milk the cows for an awesome family breakfast!

The beaches of Queensland, Australia are a great way to relax

One&Only Hayman Island, Queensland, Australia

A trip to the Great Barrier Reef is an incomparable adventure. While a flight to the Aussie coast may not be ideal for many faraway travelers with tiny tots, the experiences offered through resorts like One&Only can change a nervous parent's mind. If your bucket list includes snorkelling, sailing, kayaking, water skiing or a helicopter adventure above the reef (which is the largest living thing on Earth, mind you), then book a few tickets to Hayman Island. Of course One&Only also offers an entirely kid-centric program called KidsOnly full of excursions and meals from 9am to 6pm if parents need a break.

Traveling Adventures

Camping and cruising may appeal to families that seek adventure on-the-go. Many of these trips welcome first-time campers and those who are especially interested in learning the lay of the land, whether that's in sunny California or rugged Maine. Nature lovers, budding botanists and eager explorers will get animal interactions, sparkling night skies and a new set of skills when signing up for one of these trips.

Trekking the Appalachian Trail in the United States of America

Appalachian Trail

For North Easterners, this trip will make an exciting escape from the bustling city, but any visitors will be in awe of the natural beauty of the Appalachian Trail. Eager hikers can find programs like the Appalachian Mountain Club's Family Camps, which take families with kids as young as five years old around New Hampshire and Maine, near beautiful mountains and full of sleepaway camp-style fun. Expect canoeing, fishing, stream exploration and a classic campfire sing-a-long.

Galapagos Islands

While this isn't exactly a family vacation, road trip style, there is so much kids can learn by a trip to this incredible archipelago. National Geographic is one of the few to organize a cruise to these islands near South America that is geared specifically at budding scientific minds. In the day, kids can snorkel in crystal blue waters and hike the shores among animals like giant tortoises and sea lions, all of which are completely unphased by the presence of humans. Parents will leave with zoologists and nature photographers on their hands.

Klamath River, California is perfect for family camping and trekking

Klamath River, California

This is a fabulous spot to dive into the world of camping as a family for the first time. Whether you're interested in nesting up in an unassuming lodge or setting up a tent under the stars, a trip to this natural Cali beauty guarantees great views and swimming. Several programs like Orange Torpedo and Oars set up multi-day whitewater rafting ventures, but there are hikes to take and plenty of beach lounging to be done as well. On Orange Torpedo's Klamath River Wild and Scenic trip, kids will get to swim in warm water and calm side creeks (the rapid on this trip is exciting, but never dangerous) and the guides will introduce anyone from five years old to the basics of both rafting and camping. These trips can also be as short as two or three days, ideal for any locals or those not wanting to commit to any extensive travel with kids.

  This post was originally published on Hipmunk's Tailwind blog by The Hipmunk on July 19th.

Published in Travel Inspiration

It's no secret that travel is addicting. You cannot take just one trip and then return home without wondering what other spectacular sights, foods and experiences await. Expanding markets like India and China are unleashing more than a hundred million tourists into the foreign travel market a year and still growing steadily. The of rise social media influencers and digital nomads have shown the public that it is possible to travel and have a successful career. That combined with the abundance of professional travel bloggers and vloggers are inspiring a new generation of informed travelers.

Navagio Beach aka Shipwreck Beach in Greece

But once the travel bug bites, what do you do?

Find a way to incorporate work into your travels. In this digital age where so much can be done from a phone or tablet and wifi is never far away, it is easier than ever to work online.

Take amazing photographs?   Consider selling your photos online. You don't even need a portfolio or blog, just join one of the popular stock photography web sites. Alamy and Shutterstock are two of the most popular, both with photographers and customers. Already have a web site? Check out PhotoShelter or SmugMug. In fact here is a great guide on the most profitable places to sell your photos online.

Native English speaker? Bilingual?   English speakers are in demand in a lot of non-English countries. TEFL courses can be taken in person or online, and likewise classes can be held in a physical room or via Skype. Hell some countries don't even care if you have no experience or degree, just that you are a native English speaker. (Like Vietnam!) Professional translation services are also in demand because, let's be honest, Google translate just isn't that reliable.

Already well-traveled or know one location VERY well?   Become a tour guide or travel agent. Several veteran travel bloggers have started their own tour companies. Use your knowledge and eperience to help other people have a rewarding and worry-free trip.

That's what my friends Gunjan and Pranjali did.

Gujan and Pranjali of Tripoetic at Yellowstone National Park in the USA
Gunjan & Pranjali at Yellowstone

After having lived in the United States and traveled around Asia and Europe, Gunjan and Pranjali moved back to India. As more and more Indians are acquiring both the means and the motivation to travel abroad, they soon found themselves using their knowledge to help plan trips for friends and family. Soon they realized their next logical step was to turn this into their career.

Everyone starts off as a tourist and, if they visit enough places, eventually become more traveler than tourist. Travelers learn more, appreciate more and experience more than tourists. That is hands-down the most rewarding way to travel.

The beauty of having an experienced traveler help plan your trip is that they can use their knowledge to ensure that your trip is more of an authentic travel experience, rather than getting caught in an unenjoyable tourist trap. With India's outbound tourism market growing at record numbers, there is no better time for Gunjan and Pranjali to start building toward the future. And thus Tripoetic was born.

Gujan and Pranjali of Tripoetic in Athens, Greece

Using contacts and friendships from their travels around the world, not to mention all their experiences from planning their own journeys, these two travel addicts are now planning trips for all sorts of people with many varied backgrounds. Every trip is custom planned based around your interests, goals, must-see sights, timeframe, budget and of course stomach. (That's right, if you want to make sure you can have your favorite comfort food once every other day, Tripoetic will ensure that an appropriate restaurant is worked into the itinerary.)

Beyond just simply making reservations and handling transportation, Tripoetic takes it one step further by provided extra little services to make your journey smoother. For example, every traveler is also given a daily sightseeing itinerary -- kind of like a miniature guide to everything nearby that might be of interest to you. After all, nothing worse than getting home and learning that you not only missed out on a spectacular site, but that you actually were within minutes of it and didn't even realize.

If you are thinking about heading abroad for the very first time and are a little nervous or only have a short time to pull off a perfect vacation, make sure to get with Gunjan and Pranjali at Tripoetic. They'll handle everything to ensure that you have a wonderful trip.

  Remember: The beauty of travel is that it is a powerful force towards economic uplifting and great tool for putting foreign money directly in the hands of the locals who need it the most -- but only if we avoid the massive international chains and trust in local, family-owned businesses. Travel far, buy local. And always trust in your fellow travelers. Because as Mark Twain famously said, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness."

Published in India

South Carolina's long summers, unique Southern flavors, and geographic beauty make it a picture-perfect travel destination. To get the most out of your trip, get out your checklist and make sure you have all your unforgettables. As you pack, keep these five travel essentials at the fore of your mind.

Weather-Appropriate Clothing

South Carolina is in a subtropical zone so its summers are hot and humid. Winters are mild at about 60 degrees average but temperatures can certainly drop to the 30s in the early mornings and nights. Factor in the storm season, which runs from summer to fall, and sporadic rain throughout the year.

You’ll need light, breathable, cotton clothes for the humid months as well as sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats. Carry layers for the winter season so you can adjust to changing temperatures. Bring rain gear such as a collapsible travel umbrella and a thin poncho you can fold up and tuck out of sight in the corner of your handbag.

Your Best Beachwear

Most of the things you'll need will really depend on your itinerary and how you plan to spend your time. If you have your sights set on the beach, pack a bathing suit. A destination like Isle of Palms, a barrier island in the Charleston area, has miles and miles of raw shore for great strolls and phenomenal sunsets. Don’t forget your cover-up and several beach towels, plus your hat, shades, and healthy sun protection for your skin. Pack a stylish tote that can hold everything you’ll need for your beach outing.

No-Nonsense Fitness Gear

Sometimes getting away is the perfect time to assess your fitness level and amp up your goals for physical health, so pack your fitness gear. A resort town like Hilton Head Island gives you a lot to tackle at once. It has 12 miles of beach, yoga studios, gyms, world-class tennis facilities, and over 60 miles of biking trails. Pack sneakers with great foot support, comfortable athletic clothes, a visor, sports shades, and extra cash for renting any equipment you might need.

Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
Hilton Head Island

Must-Haves for Outdoor Expeditions

South Carolina's seductive landscapes and coastal proximity offer great opportunities for adventure-lovers. Whether you're sailing in ocean waters among bottlenose dolphins, horse-back riding across golden fields, or canoeing among old bald cypresses in the Congaree National Park in Columbia, there are plenty of options that will get you closer to Mother Nature. Among the items you might need are: binoculars, waterproof footwear, a backpack, sketchbooks and journals, camera film and memory cards, insect repellant, hats, and long-sleeve shirts and pants for bug protection.

Essentials for Walking Tours

The South's urban vibrance combined with its significant heritage offers up unique experiences, from extravagant shopping tours to the stunning architecture that defines Charleston, and phenomenal learning experiences like those you'll find at the Boone Hall Plantation in Mount Pleasant. You’ll probably do a lot of walking, so you’ll need dependable walking shoes, a daypack, and a good plan for water and refreshments.

Most importantly, plan your itinerary for your entire trip. The more prepared you are when you get there, the more you can focus on creating amazing memories to bring back home.

This article is part of Hipmunk’s Destination Unknown travel series.

  This post was published on Heart & Soul by Kemba Banton.
AUTHOR: Kemba Banton is a writer, artist, and mother, passionate about life, social change, and personal empowerment. She has a B.A. in Anthropology and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing. She’s teamed up with Heart & Soul and Hipmunk to bring intriguing tidbits about travel destinations across the world.

Published in United States

I've been on more than my fair share of cruises. I'm actually not certain how many I've been on. More than 100. To be fair, I worked on cruise ships. And yes, some days it actually was work. Really, the amount of time you spend working depends on your job. The first three years I worked quite a bit. I was a youth counselor.

The last two years I spent on ships were as a "Computer Lecturer." I taught computer classes to passengers. I was technically a crew member with "Passenger Status." It was the best of all worlds. It meant that when I wasn't working, I was playing. I got to use the pools and hot tubs, fitness facilities and eat in the dining rooms. I got to play in the ports and explore fantastic new places. Things that normal crew members aren't allowed to do. Also I was able to have a guest sail with me for free nearly every cruise. It was the perfect job. Truly.

Over five years I worked on ten different ships for two different cruise lines. It was life-changing. And eye-opening. So if you're planning a cruise, take advantage of my industry insider experience to help streamline your process.

Cruising has become a huge vacation industry. And by huge, I mean just look at the sheer tonnage afloat these days. Before airplanes, one had to sail across the seas to travel. Inter-continental traveling was a lengthy and difficult affair. One group of my ancestors immigrated from Sweden to the US in 1866. They traveled from Stockholm to Hamburg and then from Hamburg to New York. The journey from Hamburg took nearly nine weeks to complete. The ship had only provisioned for three to four weeks at sea. It was a harrowing journey to say the least. These days you can hop on a plane in New York and be in London in six hours. Current Cruise liners make the journey using massive propulsion systems in five days, laden with enough food to feed their passengers and crew for nearly double that time and stocked with amenities enough to keep even the most finicky traveler happy.

Cruising has evolved. Ships have evolved. Case in point, Titanic vs. The Oasis of the Seas.

The Titanic
(Titanic Image from the deep, dark recesses of the interweb....)

The Oasis of the Seas cruise ship
(Image courtesy of Royal Caribbean. I'm only spotlighting the Oasis because she is currently the largest ship afloat.)

The Titanic was said to have been the largest ship afloat in her day, a "modern marvel." Titanic and her sister ship, the Olympic weighed in at 46,328 tons. In 2010, Royal Caribbean line launched their new ship Oasis of the Seas, which is the largest ship built to date. It weighs in at 225,282 tons, more than five times the Titanic!

The Oasis of the Seas boasts living luxury at sea with it's Spa & Fitness center, four pools, ten hot tubs, surf machines, sport courts, mini-golf, zip line, casino, theatres, nightclub, and youth and teen centers. And don’t forget the FOOD, FOOD, FOOD. Aside from the traditional dining rooms and buffets there are also cafes and fine-dining restaurants galore.

The Oasis of the Seas cruise ship
Odyssey Restaurant on Holland America's Zuiderdam

There are more cruise ships sailing today than ever before and that translates to price drops for passengers. The most expensive suite on Titanic cost around $4500 per person, given inflation, in 2008 that would have been the equivalent of $95,860 USD! Today, depending on the cruise line you sail, you can sail a transatlantic cruise in a luxury suite (but keep in mind, a standard room isn't exactly steerage these days either!) for between $2500-$5000/person or only $500-$1000 for a basic, inside cabin.

The view out of a cruise ship porthole

With the huge number of cruise ships sailing the seas these days, it is safe to say that just about anyone can find a cruise they will love. To help streamline the confusing process of finding your perfect cruise, let's walk through a few things:

1.   Is This Your First Cruise?   First-time cruisers could potentially set sail in a bucket and love it. As you go on more cruises you become much pickier. It's just a fact of cruising. So if you've never been and don't know what to expect, I'd recommend sailing a less expensive itinerary/ship to get your sea legs. Also, go on a shorter cruise -- a two or three-day itinerary, just to see if you like it.

2.   Luxury Vs Budget Cruise (Is budget a large factor?)   If so, stick to larger cruise lines and larger ships. Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian are good bets for finding great deals. But keep in mind, with the larger, budget cruise lines you will have more passengers per square foot than on other lines.

When you book will play a big part in determining the price of your cruise. If you plan your cruise a year in advance you'll be able to ensure you get the room you want and the itinerary you want, but you'll pay full listing price. If you can wait until 60-90 days within sailing, the prices drop, sometimes a drastic 50-70% below list price.

A resource I use to help find cruise deals for friends is vacationstogo.com. Sign up for their newsletter and they'll send you weekly updates on all of the great deals happening at sea. (Again, no sponsorship on their part. And no animals were harmed in the making of this guide.)

Lastly, don't forget to figure in your airfare. If budget is a determining factor, stick to a homeport near you. If you live in Seattle, you can find cruises to Vancouver/Victoria and even Alaska that sail out of your home city. Omit airfare entirely, if possible, to help push your hard-earned cash further. If you have to fly to meet a ship, find a ship that departs from an airline hub city like LA, Miami, Fort Lauderdale or New York. Flights to those places will be immensely less expensive than flying to a small island in the South Pacific to meet a ship.

If flight price isn't really a big deal to you, try flying into San Juan, Puerto Rico or Bridgetown, Barbados to catch a Southern Caribbean cruise. They're my absolute favorite Caribbean cruises. If you're able, spend a few days in the city you're sailing out of before or after your cruise and explore.

If money is no object, try a very small luxury ship or yacht. Seabourn, Crystal and Windstar cruises are all very highly rated small luxury lines. Some of these lines include alcohol in the price of your cruise. FYI: These lines often have strict dress codes.

3.   Large Ship vs Small Ship (And Age Group)   Size does matter. If you're looking for a cheap, spring break cruise go for a larger ship in a region that is ship-dense (ie: Caribbean or Alaska in the summer). But if you want to go to places a bit off the beaten path, smaller ships are often the only ships that will take you there (because the big ones don't fit into port!)

Large ships offer more stuff. More pools. Ice Skating rinks. Rock Climbing walls. More stuff to do on those days at sea. If you're sailing with children/teens, you want a ship that has a diverse offering of things to do. Disney cruises are ALWAYS a great idea for children, but you will pay a premium to sail with Disney. Other cruise lines offer phenomenal childrens' centers and activity programs to keep your kids occupied and having fun the whole cruise. Generally the larger (and newer) the ship, the better the kids facilities.

Small ships are great for a quieter, more intimate cruise. Less people, less crowding = more relaxation time and less regiment. Smaller ships will offer more traditional cruise activities like quoits and shuffleboard and group games to keep you entertained.

Age   Specific Cruise lines cater to specific age groups. Carnival and Royal Caribbean go for the younger crowd. Celebrity and Princess cater best to the 25-50 crowd. Holland America is generally known for retirement cruising. No matter what the age target for the cruise line, every ship will offer something for all age groups.

4.   Do Ship Amenities Matter?   Some people simply like to spend their vacations reading or sitting by the pool. If this is you, you'll want to ensure you find a ship with a larger passenger to square footage ratio. Less passengers = less crowding = less crowding in ports and easier access to ammenities. Generally you can look to smaller ships on cruise lines like Holland America, Princess or Cunard for great passenger to space ratios. These are your best bet to finding a quiet hideaway.

Enjoying a nearly empty cruise ship whilst anchored in Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii
Enjoying a nearly empty ship whilst anchored in Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii

5.   Cruise Length   It's up to you, really. For that quick getaway you can find cruises that run 2-3 days. If you've got time on your hands, try an around-the-world itinerary (90-120 days). If seven days isn't enough you can sail two seven-day cruises on the same ship in the same cabin back to back. Personally I like 10-day cruises. In my time working on ships I met several elderly passengers who were full-time cruisers. Basically, instead of going into retirement homes, they lived on ships. Pretty great idea. And fairly cost-effective. For about the same price as a retirement home they received a luxury home with extremely attentive service.

6.   Destination & Timing   Where you want to go will often limit when you can go. Ships are generally assigned to a specific region for a season, but some can be assigned a region indefinitely. For instance, the Oasis of the Seas is currently dedicated to cruising the Caribbean. It offers several itineraries in the Caribbean. On the other hand, in 2010, the Splendour of the Seas will sail South America, Transatlantic, Europe, Transatlantic and back to South America.

Generally in the winter ships move to warm places; in the summer they sail Alaska, Europe and the Baltic. Spring is the season for Hawaii and Mexico, and in the fall you can find cruises to Canada and New England. When the seasons change, the ships reposition. Repositioning cruises are generally a bit longer and have more sea-days.

Relaxing on the beach while a cruise ship passes by

Regardless of where or when you cruise, I always recommend cruising a newer ship, or an older ship that has been dry-docked recently (within the last year). Ships are taken out of service every few years and put into dry dock. Dry docks usually mean a ship will be gutted and redone. Sometimes the ships in drydock will have major structural work done – enlargements or complete renovations to certain areas. When dry dock is over, ships return to service good as new, sometimes better.

Happy Cruising!

Published in Cruises

So you've decided to hit the road, by yourself – talk about being adventurous and brave!! Congrats! :) Whether this is something daunting or just a walk in the park for you, here are a few thoughts I'd like to share with you...

  1. Have a meal by yourself in a restaurant (before leaving home) – This might not be a big deal to some, however, I've met a couple of women who refuse to sit down in a restaurant and eat alone. Personally, I still have days where it gets difficult to be the only person in the whole restaurant eating by myself – especially during an extended journey and homesickness is setting in. I would look around and every other table is either occupied by a lovey-dovey couple, a group of friends or a family. You will meet new friends as you travel (trust me, you will!) who'd share meals with you but there will always be a meal or two where you have to go it alone and room service isn't an option. So this could be an experiment for you. Take yourself to a nice restaurant tonight. Do not check your smartphone every 5 seconds. Do not plug in your headphones. Do not bring a book / magazine / newspaper. Try to enjoy your meal and the atmosphere of the restaurant. Crack a joke with the wait staff. Surprise yourself.

  2. Familiarize yourself with your camera – Especially if you bought yourself a new one for this upcoming trip. I have done it before and will probably do it again in the future – treat myself to a new camera and not have enough time to learn the functions. Aside from learning how to turn the camera on and off, it's nice to know a few more basic functions. For example the Date/Time setting, I have countless photos taken during the day but the date stamp says ‘pm’ – very silly, really. The camera manufacturers are coming out with very user friendly models, however, sometimes it’s more fun to leave the Automatic setting behind and play around with the other shooting modes. If the User Manual isn't too bulky, take it along on that long haul plane ride.

  3. Be able to read a city map and/or a transit system map – unless you are comfortable with wandering endlessly. These days with many people dependent on their cars and navigation systems, it is not surprising that people are not able to orient themselves with a map. That familiar robotic voice might not be there, suggesting you make a left turn in 500m. I'm not suggesting you need to know how to use a compass...well you should if you are going camping or hiking. It just increases your independence and confidence when you can get yourself from point A to point B with minimal assistance. [N.B. The free maps they hand out in Paris do not show many of the little streets/alleys. So pay attention to street names instead of just keeping count how many street you have crossed – personal experience.]

  4. Upload photos of your family and friends onto your phone OR carry the prints with you – You never know when you need to look at a familiar face to comfort you. They are great for those homesick days. They are also great as conversation starters. Many times on my travels, complete strangers who are locals have approached me to start a conversation – sometimes they are simply curious and friendly, sometimes to practice their English. It is fun and it's safe.

  5. Take a walk in a park or down a quiet street at night – Find your comfort level. You are still in your "backyard" so you know the area but a street can feel completely different at night and empty. To minimize the potential shock to your system of being alone, test your boundaries beforehand. Take along a small flashlight or torch (waterproof if possible) on your trip, it will come in handy, especially if your destination is known for brown outs.

Sometimes a little mental preparation can help make your journey a lot more enjoyable. Bon Voyage!

Published in First Time Backpacking
 

As the countdown to Antarctica begins, I’m looking online for past travellers blogs and write-ups. However, at the end of the day, I think I will rely on my own past experiences and tailor the gear to my own biological behaviours.

Spending portions of my childhood between Hong Kong and Winnipeg, and now my adult life in Toronto, Canada have proven to be very helpful.

Hong Kong is known for its humid, hot summers and humid, cool winters. The “coldest” day I’ve experienced in Hong Kong, I saw the thermostat dip down to +10 degree Celsius. Flocks of people rushed to the top of The Peak to see frost. These days, I walk around in Hong Kong with a long sleeve shirt and a pair of jeans while my friends don 4 layers of clothing plus a heavy down coat/parka.

Winnipeg, Canada has a nickname “WinterPeg”. It’s known for its dry, COLD winters with lots and lots of snow. The “coldest” days I’ve experienced in Winnipeg, the thermostat hovered around the -35 degree Celsius mark. Then there’s the “Windchill factor” to consider; it is a measure of the cold with consideration of the Wind speed felt on exposed skin. Trust me when the wind is gusting at 40 km/hr when it is already -30 degree Celsius outside, you’d want to crawl right back in bed under layers of blankets and not know that it feels like -45 outside!! However, all that’s really necessary for me is a good windproof jacket, a fleece, a pair of gloves, a hat of some sort and a pair of boots.

Toronto, Canada is a bit of both those scenarios. Downtown Toronto is humid and cold with less and less snow as I live here longer and longer. Thanks to global warming, Toronto’s thermostat doesn’t really dip below -20 degree Celsius and there was hardly any snow in 2011. Because of the humidity though, I have resorted to buying my first down filled parka 3 years ago. Humid cold is the type of cold that goes to my bones and some days I can’t warm up. I’ve also invested in some waterproof rubber boots as I’m tired of the salt saturated slush destroying my precious leather boots. Just remember to wear a pair of nice thick wool socks, or you can buy the fleece liners that Hunter sells for their gum boots.

Human beings are very resilient – we adapt to our environments; sooner or later. I still prefer the dry, cold winters but am slowly accepting the humid, cold winters.

So what to consider as warm clothing when you want to travel to a COLD country in the middle of their winter or Antarctica / the Arctic in their summer?! Here are a few things to consider…

Find out their humidity levels

Humid (40% or higher) => consider getting a down filled jacket or parka, especially if you have always lived in a warm climate zone and this is your first trip.

Dry (less than 40%) => depending on the thermostat, perhaps a warm fleece is sufficient. On windy days, make sure the windproof or wind-resistant shell is handy. They are also good for rainy or snowy days (clothing with double duty are great!).

Is indoor heating available?

There are many countries or regions within a country which do not have central indoor heating. This means walking around the hotel, shops with as much clothing as you would wear while walking around outside in nature.

Boots – Rubber / WaterProof / Fashion statements?

Judge according to the weather condition but if you’re doing lots of walking in the city or in nature, I would consider a pair of waterproof hiking boots with warm, wool socks to be a good alternative.

Must Have’s:

Gloves OR Mitts – whether they are made from leather, wool, cotton or some synthetic material do your fingers and thumbs a favour –wear them. Your hand will thank you.

Hats OR Beanies OR Toques OR Hood – about 10% of your body heat is loss through your head. Also, I can assure you when I heard one of my blood vessels burst in my ear – it’s a very scary experience! Luckily I wasn’t outside long enough to get frostbitten.

Sunglasses – sunlight reflected off snow can be very, very bright. Also, you’ll see snow falling while the Sun is out with a blue sky overhead. This is why I prefer snow over rain – any day.

Sunscreen or Sunblock – any exposed skin in the winter time is subjected to the wind and UV. Also, I think I read somewhere that the ozone is thinner in the winter time. Don’t forget to apply sunscreen under your chin, UV rays will bounce off the snow and give you a nice sunburn there.

Optional’s:

Scarves OR Neck Gaiters – when the air is really cold and dry, it’s nice to breathe through some layers of fabric so the moisture from your breath gets trapped.

Earmuffs – if you chose the hat gear option and your ears are still left exposed, this would be a good consideration.

Long johns OR Thermal underwear – if you know you’ll be outside in the cold, consider investing in some synthetic or wool or silk thermal underwear. I would personally rather be warm than freezing cold and cutting short on the outing.

ALWAYS dress in Layers. I never lived by this rule as a child, I would walk out of the house with a t-shirt under my ski jacket. However, as I mature, I understand the benefits of dressing in layers. Having the option to add or remove a layer provides flexibility of your activities during the day.

NEVER stick your tongue to anything metallic!!!! This is fair warning, if you insist on trying it for yourself, have a friend close-by with a bucket of luke warm water handy…

Now go pack and learn to make some snow angels! Bon Voyage!

Published in Travel Tips

Although in recent years I’ve largely travelled alone, my first steps into the big wide world of foreign adventures (with my parent’s safely on the other side of the world) were within a group environment. Traveling as a group can be fun, there is always someone to talk to, and there can be a lot of variety, meaning that usually there is never a dull moment. Travelling as a group can also be a little stressful, with added logistics, politics and the formation of cliques, especially among larger groups. Here are some ideas to help keep the chaos to a minimum:

Too Many Cooks Spoil the Broth

It is a fact that having a lot of people in one place, with limited space and facilities can be very stressful. It’s nice to be inclusive when planning a trip, but there is a point when it is wise to limit numbers – accommodation and transportation are usually the deciding factors. Think about what you are trying to accomplish – 2 weeks doing practical volunteer work lends itself to different numbers than inter-railing around Europe (e.g. 4 people building a school in Kenya? 20 people cramming onto a Deutsche Bahn ICE and expecting to sit in the same carriage, let alone near each other? Think again!). Have a reasonable idea of how many people on the trip is practical, and comfortable, and stick with that number.

Hong Kong & China 2008 - My team had a really good sense of humour and kept positive even when our accommodation in Guangzhou fell through and we had no idea where we would be staying.

 

Two’s Company. Three’s a Crowd

Trust me. In certain situations this works (e.g. you are all family, have hung out as the Three Musketeers for years, you’ve somehow managed to make a ménage-a-trois work, etc.) but generally it’s something to avoid. Typically there are either two situations: someone gets left out, or the “third wheel” begins to piss one or both other people off. While prime numbers are good for making majority decisions, it probably sucks to be the one ending up on their own (refer to Walter, Gary & Mary’s trip to LA in “The Muppets” for a case study).

 

Sharing is Caring

I recently stayed in a hostel in Rio de Janeiro and was driven crazy by Dutch travellers (particularly f the female variety) each taking 30 minutes in the bathroom – twice a day! If it’s important respecting fellow traveller’s need for facilities and space when you don’t know them, it is even more important to respect those you are actually travelling with. Limited number of electrical outlets? Even more limited number of socket converters? That means the person spending hours on their laptop (You fly half way around the world to use a laptop? ) can kick that habit and let other people charge their phones and cameras, and use electricity for more important things than checking non-essential emails and playing solitaire for hours on end.

If there are introverts in your group, allow them time and space to unwind alone. If someone has a case of Dehli Belly, maybe consider that you taking hours in the bathroom might actually be making their plight worse. If someone is jetlagged, give them time to sleep it off. Offer to help out with chores like cleaning when you leave and washing up rather than letting the same person do it all the time. And never, ever, EVER walk across someone’s futon with your dirty feet (Because I DESPISE sleeping in a gritty bed!).

 

Teambuilding

Before going to China we spent time getting to know 

each other through various activities such as playing 

sports on a surprisingly sunny Scottish beach

Before you go try to get to know everyone a bit better, especially the people you don’t know so well, whether be going for a drink together, having a pizza and movie night, fundraise as a team (if you are doing some kind of voluntary work) etc. It breaks the ice for sure, and might give you an idea of other people’s personalities, needs and quirks before you go.

 

Culture Shock

By this I don’t mean culture shock from being in a different country, but culture shock from being among people from different backgrounds can arise too. In Swaziland I was the second youngest person on the team (the youngest was there with their parents, and the oldest was a 79 year old woman there with her daughter!) while in China I was the second oldest person there not leading the team (and most others were still in high school). Different generations (particularly older generations) can have very different outlooks, which can be frustrating, especially if they don’t give you an easy time for being young (or credit for having more experience than them).

Then there can be problems caused by different social, educational and religious backgrounds – the list goes on. Basically anything in the country that can give you culture shock, you can probably also find in your travel group (if it is a very mixed group, or you are the odd one out). The best thing is to realise you have as much to learn from your fellow travellers as you can learn from the foreign culture. Be open, be flexible, talk and share what you are thinking and feeling.

 

Cameras

Imagine the amount of time it takes for one person to take a good group photograph. Now multiply that by a factor of the number of cameras in the group. Add a few extra minutes in for good measure. Now multiply that by the amount of things you’ll want to photograph while away. The answer? A lot of wasted time.

For that reason, limit the number of people taking photos at any time. To keep happysnapping to a minimum, assign a few people to be responsible for photos each day. Take 20% of the total number of cameras with you. If someone has a good camera and is really into photography, let them take most of the photos (but also give them the opportunity to be in some of them as well). Also as a guide, the person photographing EVERYTHING (usually repeatedly) is probably not the best photographer – a good photographer has an eye for a good shot, and so will only take photographs when they have a good shot. This means you get a smaller number of consistently very good photos that you can use, rather than endless bad photographs not even worthy of Facebook.

 

Remember the Outsiders

Be aware of people not interacting much with the rest of the group or seem a little withdrawn. Check they are ok, and give them plenty of (varied) opportunities to join in. Do things that can involve the whole group. Include them in conversations and invite them to give their opinion. Even ask them what they would like to do. They might just want some alone time, but they might also want to be involved but are struggling to interact with the rest of the group, perhaps due to strong personalities, unfamiliarity with people, in-jokes or activities, or simply being shy.

 

Cliques

Don’t invite a known clique to be part of your group – it should be all or nothing, simple as that. Likewise inviting a loved-up, young couple to be part of a group of singles can also be a bad idea (as if claiming the double bed, spending all their time together and not interacting with everyone else was bad enough, don’t even think about the consequences of a lover’s quarrel, let alone a break-up!). Let couples go on couples’ holidays and strong cliques go on holidays by themselves. If a clique forms while away, don’t panic too much (unless you are all out there for months) – people do have their preferences of whom they get on well with. As long as you get them mixing with other people and it doesn’t become a problem, you should be fine, at least until the end of the trip.

 

Chill Out

Be gracious, overlook imperfections, laugh things off, don’t make a big deal about insignificant things… etc. Take a deep breath, count to ten and relax. As we say in the UK “Keep Calm & Carry On”.

 

Conflict Resolution

Sometimes taking a moment doesn’t work and tempers can still flare up. Deal with conflict as soon as possible, long before it flares up. Talk. Try to see it from the other person’s side. Take some time out if need be. And ALWAYS be the first to say sorry. Forgive and forget – it’s not worth your trip being ruined.

 

Choose Wisely

Malta 2010 - A bike trip with some guys I knew 
well from a previous trip - no problems!

Ultimately choose wisely who you take with you. The person with the fiery temper or the serial drunkard causing all sorts of problems? Probably not a good idea. The really disorganised one or the girl who always brings too many clothes? Think again too. Or at least be aware of their behaviour before you go, and don’t be surprised if they let it all hang out when free from the confines of home. And remember, even if you don’t pick wisely, it isn’t forever and do your best to enjoy it while it lasts.

 

Fortunately for me, I've not had a particularly difficult time traveling in a group. Perhaps I've been lucky, but getting to know each other and having a good sense of humour have definitely helped gel the group together. Certainly I've had a much easier time than my siblings when traveling (my brother in particular has some horror stories). 

 

There's no point worrying about having a bad time. Most likely you will have a good time with a group of people, and never a dull moment for sure. But do bear in mind some of the pitfalls that can occur. By thinking ahead and identifying potential problems before they occur, you can avoid any mishaps and make sure your trip is an enjoyable one.

Published in Travel Tips

Regardless of your thoughts on the TSA, they are here to stay. So we have to deal with long check in lines, bags being scanned and searched and ever changing rules on what you can and cannot take on board flights. There are some things you want to make sure to include for your carry on bag in case things go wrong or so you can have them when needed.

1. Any electronics you don't want to wind up missing or stolen. Thieves still target checked in bags so put cameras, laptops and cell phones in your carry on.

2. Take your medications in your carry on. I am not talking about aspirin or other over the counter drugs but any prescription medication. You don't want to arrive at your destination to find out your luggage is lost and your stuck trying to find a way to get your meds. As a side note be careful with medications, some countries look at certain medications differently so make sure your name is on the bottle. You don't want to be sitting in an interrogation room trying to explain to some customs official why you are smuggling unmarked medicine into the country.

3. Take a small battery operated flashlight. They cost a few dollars at any mega retailer and don't take up any room. Trying to rummage through your stuff late at night in a new place can be a pain, especially if you stay in Hostels or you are just trying to find something in the dark.

4. Pack a change of clothes. This could be a t-shirt, extra shorts or whatever. If you have ever traveled and had lost luggage you know what I mean. A change of clothes in your carry on can be a life saver. At least you won't have to wear the same clothes for 3 days while your luggage catches up to you.

5. Things that should be common sense, but if your like me you always forget one of them. Or instead of your carry on you bury it in your checked bags. Passport for International travel, extra passport photos for getting visas and extensions, Drivers License for extra ID, ATM cards and copies of itineraries and flight confirmations. I usually go to my local bank and get $100 changed into the destination currency before I leave so I can have a little spending money when I get there for taxis, buses or whatever. And my pet peeve, bring a damn pen. Every international flight I am on no one has a pen and you know you are going to have to fill out immigration and custom forms.

Those are my 5 carry on essentials, what do you have to add?

Published in Travel Tips

These are some of the lessons I have learned while traveling.

  1. Pack smart and only take what you need. Then unpack 20% of that.
  2. Expect things to go wrong because they will. Delayed flights, cancelled flights, bad weather and more are all part of traveling. Things are going to go wrong just pack a good book, fire up the computer or have a chat with others at a bar and it will eventually get better.
  3. No matter what, do not follow the pretty girl downstairs to the club in Piccadilly Square London. Just trust me.
  4. There is no real need to pack loads of cash, ATM's are everywhere.
  5. Let your bank know what countries you will be traveling in or they might think your card is being used illegally and cut off the funds.
  6. A group of little kids crowding around you are not always just curious. Sometimes they are skilled pickpockets.
  7. German police don't have much sense of humor.
  8. An extra large t-shirt in the Philippines is only extra large if you are a teenage girl.
  9. In Thailand when they tell you your meal is a little spicy, they lie.
  10. Don't be so aloof. Talk to everyone, the waiter, the hotel clerk, shop keepers and even strangers. You meet some really good people and they can give you insight into the area others will never discover.
  11. Tequila tastes better when you're in Mexico.
  12. Beer tastes better in Munich and Prague.
  13. Bugs, insects and other local delicacies taste like you think they will no matter where you are.
  14. People for the most part are pretty decent but there are a few jerks out there.
  15. Relaxing at an outdoor café drinking a cold beer is a good way to pass the time and do some people watching.
  16. Foregoing the “must see” attractions and exploring the area on your own can be rewarding.
  17. Whether in Mexico, Bangkok or the train station in Frankfurt, street food is pretty tasty.
  18. Japanese Police don't have much sense of humor either.
  19. The pretty Russian female tourist at the bar in Dubai is not a tourist.
  20. Just when I think I have things figured out something new happens and catches me by surprise.

What have you learned?

  Share your comments below

Published in Travel Tips

While looking at the best Android apps for travel purposes there are so many to chose from. I decided to eliminate from the list city guides, hotel specific guides, airline guides and the major reservation sites. I also eliminated all specific discount apps like AAA because not everyone is a member of such organizations. I instead focused on Travel Apps that everyone could use and for the most part can use worldwide. And they are all FREE.

Tourist Language Learn

TripJournal

A useful translation device that offers tourist phrases for situations such as transportation, dealing with airports, buses and taxis. It also has phrases for food and accommodations, emergency situations, greetings and small talk. The APP currently translates into Spanish, Portuguese, German, French, Italian, Polish, Korean, Japanese and Chinese.

  App Page

After traveling all day and seeing wonderful sights, taking photos and being awed how do you keep track of it all so you can get it all organized? This App is pretty handy it will let you record your trip and GPS geotag photos and videos. Write notes in the journal to describe experiences, share with YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and more or upload to your blog.

  App Page

SuperShuttle

AccuWeather

Leaving work for the airport or don't want to leave your car parked there for weeks? What about when you arrive back at your destination? If you don't want to worry about a taxi or arrange to have someone pick you up this might be a good alternative They will provide door to door ground transportation in over 50 cities in the US and have now expanded to Paris. They offer email reservations and confirmations along with the ability to earn airline miles.

  App Page

Your on vacation and and you want to make sure the weather is decent when you go to that outdoor festival or reserve that spot on the fishing boat. A good weather app is essential and this is one of the better ones. It has all of the accurate and localized weather information and interactive features that you need. This full-featured app offers forecasts updated every hour, interactive Google Maps™, and severe weather notices. It also offers weather in 23 languages and social media sharing.

  App Page

SpotOn

Budget Places

You got checked in to a hotel and decided to hit the streets. I don't know about you but I like to walk around, explore the area and see what I can find. After a few hours I have to stop and kind of get my bearings, figure out where I am and where I need to be going. This little App does the trick. It is a navigation App that does not require any data traffic. When you leave the hotel you just store the location and when your ready to return pick up your phone and SpotOn will point you in the right direction. That way you can hit the Pub and have fun trying to read the little red dot after a few drinks.

  App Page

I know I said no reservation sites but I had to add this one. Here you will find some places not listed on the big boys. You can find and book budget places all over the world. Choose from over 5,550 establishments and book up to 12 months in advance. Show the confirmation on your phone when you check in. It's great for when you are traveling to multiple locations and want to find something at the last minute.

  App Page

Skype

ConvertPad

Who doesn't use Skype these days? Probably one of the most essential apps you can have to stay in touch with everyone while on the road. Call computers, call others that have Skype, video chat and more. If you don't want to run up those roaming charges while out of the country this is the answer.

  App Page

ConvertPad Plus is a unit converter, currency converter, measures, temperature, length, volume and more. Difference between US and UK gallon? Got it. Kilometers to miles? Got it. Dollars to yen? Got it. It will give you real time currency conversion and comes in handy anytime you need to convert anything.

  App Page

Gas Buddy

Frugal Flyer

This App only works in the US and Canada. I use it and it comes in handy with gas prices being what they are. All you do is hit the "Find Gas near Me" function and a screen comes up with the name, location and price. It will allow you to screen the results from lowest price to highest. You can also convert that to a GPS navigation to guide you to the location. The App can be refined to show prices of different grades of gas and diesel. It will also allow the user to report and update the system so when you are filling up you can input the most current prices. Every time you report prices you become eligible for giveaways.

  App Page

I saved the best for last. Voted “Best Travel App” by TabletPCReview.com October 25, 2011 this App gives you the best offers direct from the vendors website. Along with the best offers direct from the vendors it has phone numbers for all the major airlines, hotels, car rentals and travel agencies. You can find out flight statuses, store frequent flier, hotel and rental car program info. It consists of over 700 airlines worldwide, searches rental car and hotel info in over 40,000 cities and also stores boarding pass and passport photos. This is an all in one travel app for reservations and deals direct from the vendors.

  App Page

There are lots more that are city specific or brand specific but these are the best all around Travel Apps for Android that I have found. Do you have some others?

Published in Travel Technology

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