Tipping is a hot topic in the United States these days, as rising minimum wages call into question the standard practice of making servers reliant on tips. For travelers abroad, tipping is an equally sticky issue. Figuring out what to tip when can all too quickly turn a relaxing vacation into a stressful one. Knowing what to tip, on the other hand, can empower travelers to navigate a foreign culture with ease.

Because tipping rules vary by country, region, and place of business, it’s important to research your destination’s customs prior to any trip. Start by consulting this guide, which outlines tipping customs in 20 countries around the world, for restaurants, hotels, and beyond!


Restaurants: While tipping at restaurants and bars isn’t considered a necessity, many tourists often tip around 10%.

Taxis: Tips aren’t expected, but consider rounding up to the nearest whole peso so the driver doesn’t have to sort out change. If they help you with your bags, add on a bit more as a token of appreciation.

Hospitality: Tip tour guides up to 20% and always give bag handlers a small bill or two.


Restaurants: Australian servers are paid decent wages and generally don’t expect tips. Recognize exceptional service by rounding up the bill. In upscale establishments only, tip 10%.

Taxis: While tipping isn’t expected, it’s common courtesy to round up to the nearest whole number.

Hospitality: For the most part, tips aren’t expected within the hospitality industry.


Restaurants: Canada’s tipping protocols are similar to those in the United States (although most Canadian servers are paid minimum wage before tips). Most restaurants expect a minimum 15% tip.

Taxis: It’s customary to tip cab drivers 10% upon arriving at your destination.

Hospitality: Tip concierges for exceptional service only, leave behind a few dollars (or more) for housekeeping, and give bag handlers $1-2 for each bag they carry.

The Caribbean

Restaurants: Most places in the Caribbean islands follow the same tipping standards as the United States, so in general plan to tip 15% or more. One possible exception: If you’re staying in an all-inclusive resort, check to see if the service charge is included.

Taxis: Plan to tip around $1-2 for in-town fares. Tack on a bit extra for late-night or long-distance rides.

Hospitality: Most hotels include a service charge in the bill. If this isn’t the case, be sure to tip bag handlers ($1-2 per bag) and housekeepers ($2 per day). Many resorts discourage tipping, so use your own discretion.


Restaurants: China has a fairly strict no-tipping culture (though some finer establishments may include a 10-15% service charge), so there’s no need to tip at restaurants. If you want to offer a tip for exceptional service, do so out of sight of the server’s employer.

Taxis: Tipping isn’t expected, but it is appreciated (especially in larger cities). Because there’s no customary rate, use your own discretion when deciding how much to tip.

Hospitality: Tipping is usually not expected, although this is changing in more westernized establishments. A good bet is to tip tour guides, housekeepers, and bag handlers a few dollars per day (or bag).

Costa Rica

Restaurants: Tip will be included in the bill at most Costa Rican restaurants. If you want to recognize exceptional service, add another 10% on top.

Taxis: Tips aren’t required, but it’s a friendly gesture to tip a few dollars or round up the fare to the nearest whole number.

Hospitality: Tip tour guides 10-15%, and give a few dollars to bag handlers and housekeeping.

Czech Republic

Restaurants: While tipping wasn’t always standard in the Czech Republic, the custom has been catching on. There’s no need to tip if the bill includes a service charge (though feel free to add on another 10% for great service). If no service charge is included in the bill, tip 10-15%.

Taxis: Round up the fare to the nearest whole number.

Hospitality: Give bag handlers $1-3 per bag, housekeepers $3-5 per day, and concierges $20 if they go above and beyond.


Restaurants: The government requires a 10% service charge on all bills at restaurants, bars, and hotels. While it’s not necessary to tip more than that, you’re free to hand over a few extra dirhams to the server.

Taxis: Cab drivers don’t expect tips, but it’s polite to round up to the nearest 5-dirham note.

Hospitality: Because service charges are included in the bill, there’s little need to tip hotel staff unless you want to recognize great service.


Restaurants: Tip will be included in the bill at most establishments, but plan to tack on another 5-10%.

Taxis: Pay cab drivers 10-15% beyond the stated fare.

Hospitality: Give housekeepers $1-2 per day throughout your stay, tip $1 per bag for bag handlers, and give the concierge $10-20 at the beginning of your stay to ensure great service.


Restaurants: French law requires that service be included in the price, but most locals round up their bills with small change (or up to 10% of the bill).

Taxis: Plan to tip cab drivers about 10%.

Hospitality: Give bag handlers $1-2 per bag and housekeepers around $2-3 per day. Exceptional service from the concierge should warrant 10 or more Euros.


Restaurants: Germany’s tipping customs work much like France’s: Service is included in the price, but it’s customary to round up the bill to an even figure (this usually amounts to 5-10% of the total bill).

Taxis: Round up to the nearest Euro or tack on an extra few Euros if you’re feeling generous.

Hospitality: While tips aren’t required, it’s courteous to leave behind a few Euros for housekeepers and to pay baggage handlers around 2 Euros per item. Slip the concierge 10 or more Euros for great service.


Restaurants: Tip 10% for the waiter, even at upscale restaurants (where a 10% service charge is included in the bill).

Taxis: Tips aren’t expected for short trips. If you hire a driver for a long trip or multiple days, tip around 150-300 rupees per day.

Hospitality: Tip bag handlers around 20 rupees per bag and offer tour guides several hundred rupees.


Restaurants: Tips aren’t expected, but feel free to round up the bill or tip 10% for exceptional service.

Taxis: Tips aren’t expected, but they are appreciated. Use your own discretion.

Hospitality: Ditto the above. Tipping really isn’t expected in Italy, but who doesn’t like being appreciated for good service?


Restaurants: It’s unlikely that a server will accept your tip, so it’s probably most polite not to offer one.

Taxis: Tips are not at all expected. A simple “thank you” will suffice.

Hospitality: Tour guides don’t expect tips but are likely to accept them. Hotel staff may refuse a tip if offered; you’re more likely to transfer cash if you put it in an envelope and leave it behind for staff, rather than foisting cash into their hands.


Restaurants: When service is included in the bill, there’s no need to tip. Otherwise, plan to leave 10-15%.

Taxis: While tips aren’t expected, it’s courteous to round up the fare.

Hospitality: Many hotel staff rely on tips as part of their take-home pay, so be generous. Bag handlers, housekeepers, the concierge, and anyone else who performs a service during your stay warrants a tip. The amount is up to your own discretion.

New Zealand

Restaurants: Like Australia, New Zealand doesn’t have much of a tipping culture. Service and sales tax are almost always included in the bill. Tip only for exceptional service or when the menu states that service is not included.

Taxis: Tipping isn’t expected, but acknowledge great service by rounding up the fair or leaving behind a few small bills.

Hospitality: Ditto the above. Tips aren’t expected, but they’re a nice way to express appreciation for a job well done.


Restaurants: Locals generally leave small change or round up to the nearest euro, so go ahead and follow suit. If you receive great service or are dining at an upscale establishment, leave a 5-10% tip.

Taxis: Small change, rounding up to the nearest Euro, or a couple of extra Euros are all acceptable tips.

Hospitality: Pay the bag handler up to five Euros, the person who delivers room service 1-2 Euros, and housekeepers a few Euros for the stay.

South Africa

Restaurants: In nearly all establishments, it’s customary to leave a 10-15% tip for the waiter.

Taxis: Plan to tip cab drivers around 10%.

Hospitality: Tip bag handlers around $1 per bag. Tip other hotel staff at your own discretion.


Restaurants: Expectations here vary widely: Some sources advocate for not leaving a tip, others suggest leaving 10-15%, and still others suggest leaving $1 per diner. Keep it simple by sticking with 10% or $1 per person, whichever is more generous.

Taxis: Tips aren’t encouraged, but a tip of 20 or 30 Baht is courteous.

Hospitality: It’s standard to tip bag handlers 20 Baht. While there’s no standard tip for housekeepers, it’s respectful to leave behind a tip (the size of which is up to you).

United Kingdom

Restaurants: If a service charge isn’t included in the bill, tip 10% (or higher for exceptional service).

Taxis: Tip 10-15% for black cabs and licensed minicabs, or just round up to the nearest Euro. Tip extra for help with loading or unloading baggage.

Hospitality: Most hotels include a service charge, but it’s still customary to offer small tips to bag handlers and housekeepers.

No matter where you are in the world, remember that servers, cab drivers, and hotel staff are performing a tough (and often thankless) job. Be both appreciative and thoughtful—try to tip in cash and in the local currency so your server can put the money to good use. And practice discretion when handing out tips, particularly in regions where tipping may be frowned upon. Respecting local customs will go a long way toward make any excursion a positive experience.

  This article was posted on Hipmunk's Tailwind blog by The Himpunk on September 9th.

Published in Travel Tips

France — and especially Paris — has a love/hate relationship with tourists. Tourism is an important industry, but if you’re not careful, you can make a nuisance of yourself with locals. Here are five ways you can avoid being that tourist:

  1. Realize you’re not in Kansas anymore. The customs are different. While you’re in France, it’s best to learn to do what the French do, and refrain from doing what they don’t do. People expect tourists to make the occasional cultural faux pas. What they don’t expect is an earful about what’s “wrong” with the way they do things.
  2. Realize that some French people don’t speak English. Most French speak at least some English, especially in the larger cities, and the vast majority of those who work for hotels in Paris or other tourism-related industries speak English relatively well. However, you are in France, and you can’t expect everyone to speak your language. Many who do speak it, don’t speak it well, and some who speak perfectly good English refuse to do so. After all, vous êtes en France. Pick up a French phrase book (or, hey, it’s 2015, download a French app to your smartphone. You’ll find that French people speak much better English after you’ve at least made an attempt to communicate in French. Most importantly, if someone doesn’t appear to understand you, don’t repeat yourself louder and slower. If they speak English, you’ll offend them. If they don’t, volume won’t help.
  3. Refrain from asking where to find the nearest McDonald’s, Starbucks and so on. You’re in France! Enjoy the local cuisine. If you absolutely must have Chicken McNuggets, at least don’t announce it. If you have to ask, quietly ask the concierge at your hotel. It really does irritate the French when tourists ask for American chain restaurants.
  4. Follow the protocol on the Metro. This one’s pretty simple. You let everyone exiting the train get out before you go in. When you’re in, if the train is crowded, stand up. Only sit if there’s a clear place to do so.
  5. Don’t tip. Seriously. It’s not part of the French culture. Many of the people we typically tip in America, such as wait staff, are paid considerably better in France, and your attempt to tip can be interpreted as an insult.

Remember, to the French, France isn’t a tourist destination, it’s home. You’re the guest and the one who has to adapt, not them. Try to fit in, and you’re sure to have a great time.

  This article was posted by The Hipmunk on Hipmunk's Tailwind blog on August 19th.

Published in France

As the sultry summer rolls in, the desire to travel peaks for many. According to a TripAdvisor survey, 67% of U.S. travelers are planning to embark on an international leisure trip this year. In 2014, only 50% of the travelers were reported taking one. The survey also revealed that 95% of travelers from the country have plans for a domestic trip this year.

The survey features 44,000 global responses from hotel sectors and travelers, including over 6,700 U.S. respondents. It also indicated that the travel budgets in the country are likely to average $8,700 in 2015. One quarter of the respondents in the U.S. are planning to keep their 2015 travel budget similar to last year, whereas 43% have plans to spend more and another 23% are anticipating cutbacks.

The TripBarometer "Global Travel Economy" report from TripAdvisor also names the “Top 5 Dream Destinations for U.S. Travelers” in 2015:

  • Italy
  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • Ireland
  • Greece

These are places that U.S. travellers said they would like to visit, if money is no object. But for many travelers money is an object and therefore we have created this list of 5 international budget vacation destinations:

1. Northern Italy

Since Italy is one of the top dream destinations of the U.S. travelers, we could not help but include it in our list. 2015 is indeed the year if you have always dreamt about visiting this land of art and ancient ruins. Expo Milano, from May 1 to Oct. 31, is expected to bring in over 20 million visitors to the country.

Udine, Italy

But we are not just talking about big cities like Rome, Venice and Milan. There are several other breathtaking beautiful cities in Northern Italy that deserve all your attention. Visit the Roman Theatre in Aosta; the beautiful Lake Como; the magical seaport city of Trieste with its scenic Città Vecchia; the mediaval city of Udine and its Venetian-Gothic style buildings and castles, and hundreds of other tiny picturesque towns that are literally begging to be explored.

2. Tbilisi, Georgia


If you are foodie and have budget constraints, visit this gourmet paradise this summer. The colorful Georgian life of Tbilisi awaits you. Don’t forget to savor a healthy portion of their scrumptious meat dumplings (locally known as khinkhali) and khackapuri, which is the Georgian equivalent to the pizza and wash it down with some of the finest rich red wine. You will be surprised to know that the tradition of wine growing in Georgia goes back to 6000 BC and the country has some interesting grape varieties.

Apart from being a gourmet paradise, Tbilisi has a rich history. This ancient city was founded in the 5th century and has been rebuilt 29 times. For all the history buffs, the city offers an exotic mix of classical, medieval, Art Deco and Soviet structures.

Explore the 4th century Persian citadel, the churches and museums all day through and relax in the steam of the famous sulphur baths in the Old Town. The summer weather makes it a perfect vacation destination and its insanely low holiday prices are added bonus.

3. Bali, Indonesia


This Pacific paradise has good news for budget travellers this year: hotel prices in Bali are down 12 percent, as per Hotel Price Index. The Island of the Gods is popular for its distinctive black sand beaches and rugged coastlines. If you are inclined to it, enjoy the island’s world-class surfing and diving and explore the jungle interior that houses 10,000 picturesque temples (including the renowned hillside temple Pura Luhur Batukau) and volcanoes.

Take a walk around Ubud, the Balinese bustling metropolis, to explore its stunning royal palace and soak your soul in the heavenly gamelan music; the traditional local market is a shopper’s paradise.

If you want a laid-back vacation, the hotel pools are great places to laze around. After all Bali, with its natural beauty, cultural attractions and unique music, is a place to sooth your mind and body into a state of perfect relaxation.

4. İzmir, Turkey


If you think Istanbul is the only place to visit in Turkey, İzmir will stun you with its liberal and laid-back feel. Located along the Central Aegean coastline, this historic and happening port city lives by its seafront kordon. Visit the hip bars in the Alsancak District or its collective art exhibition spaces if you want to experience İzmir’s distinct culture.

June is a great time to visit the city when it hosts the International Izmir Festival, where you can enjoy classical and contemporary ballet, music and theatre performances. The city with its Mediterranean Europe atmosphere is a chic alternative to other popular and more expensive Turkish destinations.

5. Porto, Portugal


Porto or Oporto is one of the most charismatic cities of Europe. In fact, you won’t find another European budget spot finer than this second largest metropolis of Portugal. The motto of this picturesque city, where Port Wine was named and originated, is: “You’ve tried the wine; now try the city!”

The Ribeira Square, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and lies next to the Douro River, is the place to start off. Enjoy the art of people watching from a quiet corner while sipping your morning ‘bica’, which is the Portuguese espresso. The Crystal Palace Gardens are just a short walk away from the Ribeira Square where you can see roaming peacocks along with other love birds. Head towards the Romantic Museum or explore the city’s renowned architects.

Don’t forget to indulge in the culinary feast of a classic Porto lunch, the ‘Francesinha’, a meat-delight served with layers of various meats and melted cheese and drenched in tomato sauce. It is served with a chilled Portuguese beer.

The romantic Porto awaits you this summer with its intriguing and majestic beauty for that ultimate budget European vacation.

A Final Word

While these are some of the best international budget holiday destinations you can think of this summer, you can further cut the cost by opting for a budget hotel and bargained deals instead of staying in a luxury resort. Whether you are looking to explore a royal European city or relax on the beach, we have tried to include vacation options for every budget and taste.

  flickr   //   cmichel67   vshioshvili   kailehmann   ligthelm

Published in Travel Tips

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

Do I need warm clothes? Do I need to bring my hiking boots? Or is my toothbrush, tickets and passport enough? In only a few days before I'm off to Thailand. I'm excited, chaotic and nervous. Its my third or fourth time that I will be visiting Thailand but I'm still worried. Worried I'll forget something.

Now I have to pack my backpack and every time its a challenge. I always pack too much, but for the first time I’m going backpacking for a short time. Only two weeks, which means that I don’t need a lot and anything which I forget I can buy in Thailand.

This is my packing list:

    Basic Necessities
  • Passport
  • Photocopy passport
  • International drivers license (for renting a scooter)
  • ATM card
  • Credit card (just in case)
  • Student ID (for discounts when available)
  • Moneybelt (to keep everything in one place)
  • A small purse
    Clothing & Apparel
  • (1) long plants
  • (1) sweater
  • (1) long sleeve shirt
  • (2) T-shirts
  • (4) socks
  • (4) sets of underwear
  • (1) night shirt
  • (1) short and 1 skirt
  • (1) bikini
  • (1) harem pants
  • (2) tank tops
    Tech / Travel Gear
  • Iphone and charger
  • Photocamera and charger
  • SD-card for camera
  • Lonely planet Thailand
  • Book to read
  • Notebook and pen
  • Sunglasses
  • Walking shoes
  • Flip flops
  • Comb
  • Shampoo
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Deodorant
  • Basic make-up
  • Quick-dry towel
  • First aid kit
  • Sunscreen
  • Deet bugspray
  • Earplugs

Backpacking Thailand and my gear is ready to go!

Any Questions?

What else do you recommend for backpacking Thailand?

Published in Thailand

This coastal metropolis is India’s Gotham City. Home to more than fifteen million people, Mumbai shows extremes of both, debauchery and deprivation. Do not be surprised to find a custom-made Jaguar navigating its way through a street saturated with bicycles, foot-traffic and a variety of animals. The disparity of the city is as striking as it is omnipresent.

Formerly known as Bombay, the city was rechristened with its original moniker of Mumbai, derived from the Hindu goddess Mumba Devi, a few years ago. Mumbai has a lot to offer for the eager traveler. The city is full of ancient temples and places of worship for all religions from Judaism to Zoroastrianism. It boasts of striking colonial era architecture, scenic locales, walkways, parks, as well as a wide assortment of malls, bars and pubs.

But one of the first questions usually asked by anyone travelling to Mumbai is how safe the city really is? The city thrives on chaos; like in all metros in India, Mumbai has a vast migrant population often blamed for the ills of the city. The recent spate of rape cases in the country has once again shifted the spotlight on the safety the city offers to travelers. But contrary to most opinions, Mumbai is one of the safest cities for solo female travelers in India.

Thousands of tourists visit the city each year, on business or for pleasure. There are always certain precautions you need to take when travelling to a foreign country. With Mumbai though, these precautions become a little more specific.

Research the City   India can be a sensory overload to a novice traveler. Much unlike other countries India is diverse, ancient and exists in a precarious balance of traditional values and modern understanding. Knowing as much as you can about the culture, traditions and values espoused by the people of the cities you are visiting will hold you in good stead.

There will be places that you will visit, like the Leopold pub and café, made famous by Gregory David Roberts’ seminal novel on Mumbai, Shantaram, which will feel much the same like any pub back home. But a few hundred meters away you will find yourself in dense lanes, packed with people and wares from wall to wall.

Finding out which area the hotel you will be living in is situated will help you get a better idea of measures you need to take. Check out important numbers like police stations, ambulance services and hospitals close to your place of stay or locations you want to visit.

Understanding the city will take time, coming to terms with the disparity it presents, even more so. Doing your research before you land is the best weapon you have against getting any more culture shocks than necessary.

Play It Safe   India is currently on the cusp of a massive change. Centuries old traditional values exist here alongside modern understanding and the latest technology and often find it hard to maintain a balance. This is not a run-of-the-mill tourist destination; you can’t do here what you will do in, say, Italy.

For example, kissing your wife or companion on the street in Bombay may not only earn you a lot of uncomfortable stares but also a reprimand by the police for indecent behavior in public. Avoid wearing revealing clothes and being overfriendly with unknown men. Your nicety might be interpreted as a come on. Something as simple as walking into a temple with your footwear on, or stepping into a mosque without your head covered can get you into trouble.

Mumbai is the safest city in India for solo female travelers

Project Confidence   Many people travelling to India, specifically to Mumbai, have said that projecting a certain amount of confidence in your dealings with the locals will help avoid you getting taken advantage of. Walk briskly and know exactly where you want to go.

Do not indulge beggars or street urchins; ignoring them, while seeming heartless, is the best way to protect yourself against losing your purse or getting groped. This is one of the most basic tips of travelling to Mumbai. Being polite does not work in this city, it requires a firm hand and a confident demeanor to ensure you are left alone.

Learn the Language   Hindi is the national language of India and is spoken widely in Mumbai. Marathi, on the other hand, is the language that is predominantly spoken by the locals. Getting a handle on some useful local phrases in Hindi and, if you can manage it, in Marathi also, is a good idea.

For example, “chalo” means let’s go, “ruko” means stop and “nahi” means no in Hindi. Understanding and learning these few phrases will not only earn you the respect of the locals but also make your task of navigating through the city much easier.

Plan Your Transportation Carefully   It is never a good idea to be stranded on the streets of a strange city without transportation, especially a strange city in India. Taxis ply through the streets at all hours of the day. The night-time charges though can be steeper than the morning rates, roughly one and a half times more.

Auto-rickshaws, the yellow and green two-stroke wonder of the Indian transport system, are also available at all hours of the day. The thing to take care with autos and taxis is the meter reading; always pay according to the meter regardless of what the driver says. Local trains are one of the biggest means of public transport in the city, followed closely by buses, but are a hotbed for “accidental” touching and theft. There are women special trains and coaches, which you can use for travelling cheaply and safely.

If you are leaving a bar or a restaurant late at night, have someone accompany you to a taxi or an auto-rickshaw. Arriving in the middle of the night can pose more problems; if your flight lands at night make sure you have a pick-up arranged from the hotel you have reserved. Keep your friends and family informed of where you are through the phone or social media. Staying connected will help you ensure that someone is always informed of your whereabouts.

Beware of Pickpockets   Pickpockets are a perpetual nuisance in the crowded streets and public transport systems of this city. Avoid travelling with a lot of cash, and always be careful with your purses and wallets. Keeping your wallet in your front pocket is a good idea. If you have a back pack do not sling it over your back, instead wear it in front where you can see it.

Mumbai is a melting pot of a multitude of cultures, values and modern day thinking. One of the biggest cities in the world it is a much loved tourist destination and has a lot to offer a traveler. But as is the case with traveling to any country, follow the old adage of “when in Rome do as the Romans do.” This will not only ensure you stay safe, but also show you a perspective of the city you may not see otherwise.

  flickr   //   tataimitra   skyevidur

Published in Travel Tips

Traveling is expensive, that's no secret. From booking flights to hotels, cheap is never really a word we would use to describe traveling. When you can lighten the financial load, that's always a plus. I often find it helpful if I pack items that you might typically buy when you're traveling.

Most of these items will often cost you more if you buy them at the airport or once you've reached your destination. If you take a moment to check these items off your list before leaving then you will be saving yourself both time and money. (Two things we all need a little bit more of, no?)

Reading Material

Whether it's a book or a magazine make sure you've got it ready to go before your trip. If you're a Kindle person like me and consequently have Amazon Prime, you will find that they offer plenty of free books and discounted magazines. I always make sure I stock up my Kindle with plenty of light-reads for each trip. Magazines are another staple of mine but can be very costly at airports. Your best bet is to check your local bookstore or see if any of your friends have old issues they will lend you.


I had to capitalize this one, not only because I'm a foodie but because airport food costs a fortune! I like to hit up a local store and buy a box of protein bars, usually at a pretty discounted price. They pack easily and will fill you up for those in between waiting times. Trail mix is also another great snack to pack, it's even cheaper if you buy the nuts and dried fruit yourself and create small baggy's for them. You could easily spend $10 and more on airport snacks that aren't even that great.

Water Bottle (With Purifier)

Now we all know you can't bring liquids through airport security BUT if you wise up and purchase a water bottle with built-in purifier you can fill your bottle up at the water fountain after you've gone through security. A bottle of water cost at least $3 at the airport -- who feels like that?


Not traveling to some place tropical? Skip this one. However if you are on the verge of a tropical vacation bring your own sunblock. Vendors in tropical climates realize that many tourists will either not pack sunblock, or run out. That being said, its no surprise that they will jack up the prices on sunblock, because they know they can make money on it. (One of the best tricks I've used is to take a regular 6oz bottle of sunblock and squeeze it into two 3oz travel sized bottles. This is very clever if you don't want to check your luggage...you'll be able to save quite a bit of money this way.)

Headphones, Chargers, Accessories

These items you think would be a no-brainer but how many times have you seen people purchasing ear-buds and chargers from those Best Buy machines? Generic chargers and headphones can cost around $5-25 depending on where in the world you are, airport prices will charge at least double. And sure, you can buy some off the street if you happen to be backpacking through some Southeast Asian country, but those crappy fake products will only last a few days before they break. Trust me, repeatedly experience. (And always remember: you get what you pay for...unless you are buying it at the airport)

Other Recommended Items

  • Neck Pillow
  • Travel Blanket
  • Eye-Mask
  • Sleep Aids
  • Headache/Cold Pills

If you take the time to purchase a few of these before your travels you will be pleasantly surprised how less stressed you will be not only mentally but financially as well. Having a snack handy and a good book can go a long way. Happy travels!

Having the opportunity, freedom and desire to travel has created endless opportunities for me to visit countries outside of my own, explore different cultures and meet a variety of diverse and interesting characters. I've lost count of the lessons I've learned along the way, but here are my most memorable:

The Top 5 Things I've Learnt from Travelling

  1. Freedom is the greatest gift in life
  2. Every child has a right to a childhood
  3. There's a difference between being poor and living in poverty
  4. The most memorable moments happen when things don't go according to plan
  5. The greatest enabler of change is education

On a lighter note, the Top 20 Things I've Learnt Whilst ‘On The Road’

  1. There is always one annoying person in each group and if you don't know who it is – it's you
  2. It's impossible to stay dry or clean during a Cambodian or Laotian new year celebration
  3. Ice in beer or red wine is not only acceptable in Southeast Asia, but essential
  4. There's nothing like the topic of “volunteering in developing countries” to start a heated debate with fellow travellers
  5. Burger King after a month of Burmese food will make you sick. McDonald's after two months of African camp food will make you sick. KFC after two weeks on a motorbike in the Vietnamese Central Highlands will make you sick.
  6. The Spanish word for "flea" is "pulga" and the only cure for more than five hundred infected bites is antibiotics
  7. An elderly woman dressed in traditional Tibetan clothing, stopping traffic in the middle of a road in Shangri La to chant whilst pointing a crooked stick at you...is not a friendly local greeting
  8. Sometimes ‘no toilet’ is more hygienic than the toilet provided
  9. It's not easy standing on the back of an elephant whilst washing him in the Mekong River, but it sure is fun
  10. Paying $1 for a meal cooked by locals on a street stall and sitting on a 'too small' plastic stool to eat with them in Myanmar is better than any 5 star restaurant in the world
  11. Spiders and insects cooked in garlic in Cambodia simply taste like garlic
  12. The definition of international stardom is having a 76-year-old blind Malawian village chief break the news of your death to foreign travellers.   RIP Michael Jackson
  13. Karaoke is only taken seriously in Japan and Los Angeles.
  14. It's impossible to walk past Victoria Falls in Africa without getting soaked through
  15. "The bus is full" is not part of the Southeast Asian vocabulary
  16. There has never been a more accurate saying than the Burmese quote of “why use ten words when you can use ten thousand”
  17. Be prepared to lose weight in Bhutan if you don't like spicy food
  18. You can get your hair washed, scalp massaged and hair dried in Monywa, Myanmar for less than $5
  19. If the month of Spanish lessons you took in Bolivia doesn't help you understand your co-workers at a village day care centre, it's possible they are speaking their own indigenous dialect of Quecha
  20. Altitude sickness doesn't always prey on the weak and reward the fit.

And the greatest lesson of all?

There's no greater education than the one taught outside the classroom

Vietnam is slowly but surely emerging as the preferred Southeast Asian destination for backpackers all over the globe. And why not? With so much to offer in terms of exotic street food, long pristine beaches with clear waters, ethnic people and lifestyles, ancient cities and monuments with rich history, breathtaking trekking locations, gorgeous landscapes and a vibrant nightlife, it truly does have all the ingredients that go into making a perfect holiday destination!

Vietnam is increasingly finding favor among eager backpackers in South Asia as well. An increasing number of Indian backpackers head to Vietnam due to its proximity as well as for its budget-friendliness.

Saigon aka Ho Chi Minh City in southern Vietnam

So my Indian friend, if you too are contemplating a backpacking trip in the near future, better put Vietnam on the top of your list. Get your hands on your passport, apply for a Vietnam visa, book your flight tickets and say chao to Vietnam!

Mentioned ahead are some tips for the first-time Indian backpacker making his way through this Asian wonder:

1. Know Your Destination

Before you head to a new location, it is better to equip yourself with pertinent information about it. Did you know Vietnam is officially known as Socialist Republic of Vietnam? Hanoi is the capital city and Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city in this country. The official language here is Vietnamese, and the currency is Dong.

The climate in Vietnam is hot and dry for most part of the year. Heavy rainfall is experienced between May and October, so you might want to avoid travelling in these months.

2. Take Important Documents Along

It is advisable to take along several photocopies of all important documents like your passport, the visa papers, the driver’s license, and so on. These documents should be kept in another bag, away from the originals as a backup (just in case you misplace your original papers). To be extra safe, scan these documents and upload them electronically to the cloud (or in your email) so that you can access them whenever required.

3. Get Vaccinated

It is a good idea to refer to reliable websites/travel guides on health precautions that you need to take before leaving for Vietnam. Depending on the places you plan to visit, figure out what vaccinations you need to go for.

In many countries, a cholera vaccination certificate needs to be produced as a condition of entry. Keep the vaccination certificates along with your travel documents so that you can show them at the airport if necessary. Also, do take along other medical supplies, mosquito repellants and sunblock lotions.

4. Money and Currency

Try and carry along some local currency and spend that wherever possible. Do give travel money cards a thought as it is not advisable to carry a lot of cash. Watch out for the special “tourist rates” that the locals might try to charge you. To minimize your chances of getting ripped off, research the going rates of staples such as food and drinks, transport and accommodation.

Vietnamese Dong

5. Accommodation and Transport

The post-war Vietnam has rapidly evolved into a traveler’s heaven, thanks to the development of its tourism industry. You can expect to find all kinds of hotels in major cities. Whether it is a budget lodging facility or a luxurious 5-star hotel you’re looking for, finding one shouldn’t be a problem. Make sure you book your hotel in advance if you’re going to travel in the high season.

Use public transport wherever possible. Buses are available too, but they may not be as comfortable as you would want them to be. You could opt for VIP buses though. Travelers also have the option of riding on/renting scooters. Tuk-tuks are one of the most popular means of commuting as they’re easily available. Apart from these, you can also use trains and planes.

6. Places of Interest

Take your time to explore the beauty of Vietnam. Do visit Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi for their gleaming skyscrapers, the caves of the Halong Bay for their exquisite splendor, Hoi An for its architecture and food, Dalat for its tranquility, Mui Ne for its stunning natural landscape, Nha Trang for its panoramic coastline, and Ha Giang to experience a different world altogether. Get there and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Halong Bay in Vietnam
See More: Halong Bay Photo Gallery

7. Travel Light

Make sure your backpack does not weigh more than what you can carry. Keep it light by taking along only what is necessary. Keeping the Vietnamese weather in mind, it is better to carry lightweight and washable cotton garments, as you can stay cool and comfortable in them. Although you might want to look stunning in your photographs, remember, you’re going backpacking and not on a fashion parade. This reminds me – don’t forget to pack your camera!

8. Try the Local Cuisine

One of the best ways of experiencing a new place is through its authentic and exotic culinary delights. Vietnamese cuisine is colorful, aromatic, delicious, with some flavors similar to those back home in India. So do give the local cuisine a try. You don’t have to be over-adventurous with food though. Stick to what you’re comfortable with. There are ample options available for vegetarians too.

9. Always Confirm the Rates

Always ask for the price before you buy something to wear, eat on the street side, or get into a tuk-tuk (or the local auto rickshaw). Confirming rates beforehand will deter locals from taking you for a ride and ripping you off. We’ve all heard stories about foreigners being charged substantially more than others for everything. In such cases, forewarned is forearmed.

Hear it from both sides: Why Most Tourists Never Return To Vietnam

10. Be Careful with Your Drinks

To be on the safer side, avoid unpackaged water and drink only bottled and filtered water. Do give the local beers a try. Another interesting (and daring) option to be sampled here is the Vietnamese snake wine.

Conclusion   Each city in Vietnam has different experiences to offer. Make sure you lap those up. Keep the above tips in mind for a fun and safe backpacking journey in one of the most wondrous countries in the world.

  flickr   //   xiquinho   jmparrone

Published in Vietnam

This was my first trip to Cuba and I had a few questions that even veteran Cuba travelers couldn’t remember answers to.

What currency do I pay in? Do they exchange Canadian or American dollars?   As a traveler, they will exchange your money into Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC almost 1:1). Cuban Pesos are local currencies that are not exchanged to travelers. We brought both American and Canadian currency with us and had no issues with exchange either at our hotel. However, they do not accept coins.

Where do I get my currency exchange?   Our flight was late at night so the exchange at the airport was closed (although we were told we can get slightly better rates here). Of course, our hotel also provided currency exchange as long as we have our passport and (duh) cash.

Who do I look for when my flight lands?   There will be someone holding up a sign of the tour company you signed up with. As you board the bus, this will be the first time you tip so be prepared to bring some American dollar bills.

Should I book an ocean view room?   At our hotel, to get an ocean view room, we had to pay an extra $10/day/person + 13% HST so we decided against it. When we arrived at the reception, I tried my luck and asked if there’s a possibility of an upgrade. She showed me a list of prices and it was for $110 to upgrade so we shook our head, but then she told us that since it’s our first time in Cuba, we can get it for $65 and of course we accepted.

Should I tip in gifts or money? How much should I tip?   I did both! Every day I left a gift – some clothes I’ve never worn, or jewelry that I never used – along with $1 CUC. For the first day of the week and the last day before I left, I left a nicer gift as well as $2 CUC.

Where should I buy those famous Cuban cigars?   There were cigars available for purchase in the hotel gift shop. However, if you have time, go for an excursion to a cigar factory! They’re much cheaper, and honestly, the tour guide will also have some sort of hook up in the city to sell way cheaper cigars from the factory workers. But that’s at your own discretion.

My flight leaves at 9pm, what do I do between check out and time to the airport?   You have two options. You can either pay extra for a late check out or have your baggage locked up while you soak up the sun! We paid the extra money for a late check out – reason being that after you’re in the sun you’d want a nice shower and possibly a nap! The public shower at our resort closed at 4pm and we didn’t leave till 6pm. Also, if you’re staying at a resort similar to ours, the resort was entirely outdoors and there’s no such thing as cooling down in an air conditioned bar/restaurant.

Are there any other charges?   There is actually a $25 CUC departure tax you have to pay before you leave the airport so be sure not to spend it all! There is no way around it.

Any other questions?

Published in Cuba
Page 1 of 2

Login to The HoliDaze to submit articles and comments or register your blog.